Almost Fearless

Finding Home


Do you remember that 2009 movie with John Krasinski from The Office and Maya Rudolph from Saturday Night Live? She was pregnant and his parents suddenly decided to move overseas so they had no family tying them to where they lived. So they went on a roadtrip to all these different cities — where their friends lived, her sister, his brother and so on, trying to find their new home, testing each place to see if it fit.

In the end, they returned to her parents home, the empty house she had avoided since her parents died in her twenties. They would start their family here and make their own community. It would all be okay.

away title

I saw this movie when I was pregnant with Cole and Drew and I have joked that we’ve since been on the world tour of “Away We Go” trying on different countries instead of cities, dabbling in new cultures instead of old relationships. We traveled to about two dozen countries since then and each time I’ve wondered, “Could I live here, is this the place?”

The answer was either: no, hells no, or maybe. But never a ‘yes’.

Drew and I have both learned some things about what we’re looking for in a home, even though we’ve never found the perfect place.

Here are some the factors we’re considering:

Beauty is overrated

The most beautiful places tend to be the least friendly to long term living. Whether it’s poor infrastructure like the satelite-only internet on many tropical islands, the drug and alcohol problems of the locals (beautiful often means no industry, which means no jobs, which means high unemployment rates) or a big local vs. expat divide, often augmented with a lot of temporary residents, friends who will float in and out of your life for a few weeks then they are gone forever.

I noticed this in Chiang Mai, and I completely offended someone when I was at dinner with a bunch of travelers. My friend leaned over and asked, ¨Have you met the X-couple? They are just down the table over there.”

I was half-joking but I said, “What’s the point? They’ll be gone in a few days.”

That didn’t go over well, but that was my growing feeling. I became jaded to making new friends because investing hours and days into a friendship that would dissolve a week later was exhausting. I think the locals become jaded too, so it makes it especially hard to make friends in places with a highly mobile expat population. You aren’t a real person until you’ve been there for a few years.

Of course some beauty is still important

I think having access to nature and having a beautiful view are important, but I guess not at the price of having a home so overrun with tourists that you can never fully enjoy it.

Weather really does matter

I have been in denial of this, but after so many attempts at living somewhere that’s too cold (Beijing in January) or too hot (Mexico in the summer) Drew and I have come to embrace that fact that I can not tolerate winters that dip below freezing and he can not tolerate long stretches of weather over 90 degrees. And it would be best is it was sunny for at least half the year.

Living somewhere with good weather is like liquid joy. It just makes you happy. It softens the edges. It’s like 30 minutes of walking — nothing drastic but you just feel better.

We like living a city, but not too much of a city

I lived in the megoplex of Dallas – Forth Worth and it was insane trying to drive everywhere. I get overwelmed by cities I can’t walk around in, I need to be able to explore on my feet. I want to walk out my door and walk to the market. If I have to take a metro to get around, that’s okay too, but living in concrete isolation with no car is the worst, it’s like forced agoraphobia.

It can’t be too small either

I liked some cities in Nicaragua, but it seemed too tiny. In Bali, even after the first week, I was running into the same people all the time. Once you visited all the best restaurants and cafes, you’re sort of left wondering, now what?

Language and Culture

I would like somewhere that speaks either a romance language (Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, or Catalan) or Arabic or Mandarin, just because I’ve spent so much time studying these languages, I’d hate to lose them.

Close to writing assignments and an international airport

For my writing career, it needs to be somewhere that has a good market for freelance writing, like Europe, Asia, the Gulf coast, Oceania, etc. There isn’t as much writing work for Central/South America (I know someone is going to contradict me in the comments) but from what I’ve found is that outside Hawaii and Carribbean, Europe is the big travel writing market with smaller markets for Asia, UAE, South Pacific and so on.

Good health care and good schools

Of course most places have great private hospitals and schools, even if the public ones are sub-par, so this is rather easy to accomplish.

Where should we live?

If Cole is in school full time, I’ll have 6-12 weeks of vacation time during the year and a 2-3 month summer break (depending on the country and school) to travel with the family. That’s plenty of travel! So given that we’re talking about living somewhere long term, for the next 20 years or so, where do you think we should live?

 Image: Luis Hernandez

Christine Gilbert

I’ve been dragging my husband around the world since 2008 always with the promise that, “Yes, Drew there will definitely be hammocks there.”



  • Mallorca. As someone said to me just recently,”It’s the best compromise there is.” Palma offers a lovely, easy to get around city, you have the sea and the mountains, international and good local schools, good health care and an international airport. It is a tourist destination and yes people do come and go from your life, but we have a circle of permanent friends who are also the first people we met. Three months of school holidays will give you plenty of time to travel (and escape the heat) and a lot just on your doorstep. It is also quite inexpensive to live in comparison with a lot of Europe and would be a great destination to give blog weekends! It has taken me a long time to realise it, but coming home after our summer holidays this year, I suddenly felt very grateful for where I lived. Nowhere is perfect but Mallorca sure ticks a lot of boxes. Good luck.

  • You know Christine, you just described Sydney for me. It has all of the above factors you are looking for. The downside however is the cost of living here and obtaining a visa to live/work here (if you aren’t already an Aussie or married to one).

    I have just moved back to Sydney after living in U.S for 22 years and for me, it’s bliss. The weather is great, people are lovely everywhere, customer service is a happy, friendly experience, the food is unbelievably fresh, varied and tasty and yep, there is beauty everywhere. I am fortunate to be able to walk to my local market, library, bank, chemist, and can even catch the train or bus into the city if I want a day of tourists and city sites.

    So, keep looking. You will find your place eventually. Meanwhile, i’m going to check out that movie!

  • Sydney ticks most of the boxes. I’ve been living in Sydney for 8 years now and I am loving it. It’s a big city but not too big, there are quiet suburbs, there is so much nature in and around the city, it’s multicultural, weather is great all year round. Locals are friendly and opened. Is a very easy life here. The only problematic thing would be getting the residency, but it’s doable.

  • I am absolutely with you on this “luxury problem”. Isn’t it great to have the freedom to live EVERYWHERE! Personally, I have never been very good with choices (I started crying in a KL food court once – pathetic) and so I actually made an EXCEL LIST this year to try and find out where my boyfriend and I should move. Also pathetic – but it’s so important, I didn’t want to take any chances 😉 We have tried a few places yet and I think we will try Barcelona next, for most of the reasons you described in your post. I learned I can’t be on an island for too long, especially when it is so far from the main land that shipping goods and supplies is limited/ expensive. This includes Australia in a way, which was my dream destination for so long. What we also learned in Australia: for creative people it is SO important to have a “creative vibe” around and by that I don’t mean museums, which are pretty awesome in Australia, but an actual culture. My boyfriend was growing frustrated with the so called comic book shops (normal book shops aren’t great either), and when we travelled through Asia on our way back to Germany, we suddenly knew what we had been missing. It may be better in Melbourne, which seems to be the place to be for creative people (“Oh, you are an illustrator – you should go to Melbourne!”). Just adding an extra column to your spreadsheet 😉

    • The creative vibe is so important to us! Especially for my husband, he’s an animator and illustrator, and he’d like to pick up painting again. He really loves having other creatives to hang out with, it’s one thing you lose when you’re self-employed.

  • My partner and I are heading to France later this year to test the waters in much the same way – looking for a place to immerse ourselves in a new language, build on our writing and design careers, have a base from which to continue to explore, and one day start a family. A bonus for us is that it is also close to our family and friends back home in England. I’ve been doing a lot of research, and France might be a great fit for you guys too. Just think of all the cheese and pastries!

    • France is on the list. I´m not sure where though, I always said I’d want to live in Paris, but I haven’t been to anywhere else in France…

      • Lyon is also a beautiful city in France – its the capital of French food and locals are very lovely. I lived there for 6 months and adored it. While its not near water, its very close to all other European cities and is on the TGV line. Good luck with your choice! Seville, Spain, is also GORGEOUS ♥

  • Wow, what a hard job to find such a place to live in !! Well, I think my first choice would be Barcelona (but you already know very well the place….), if Barcelona seems “too much of a city” to you than give a look to Italy – Ancona: 100k inhabitants, 300k in the urban area, over the sea and not far from mountains, a decent airport and a pretty good university too. And Italy (if you don’t bother politics and could cope with inefficient burocracy) is still a very nice place to live in !

    • Barcelona is on the list. I like that it’s also near the water, you can do short road trips out to the country and it’s so full of art and culture.

      • You should consider Valencia, Spain. Similar to Barcelona and only 4 hours by bus/train from both Barca and Madrid but less “touristy” and in my opinion more friendly. Beautiful park space in the rio Turia and right near the ocean…incredibly walkable. I think its pretty much got everything on your list.

  • Ah, the million dollar question. I can understand the struggle of finding the right place to settle down, especially for your kids. I, like the movie (which I will have to see) ended up back home in New York after a decade away and swearing I could never live here long-term. (Now, am starting to think I may like it. Go figure.) But on days when I am not so sure that this is the place I want to be forever, I remind myself that it doesn’t have to be forever, or even 20-years. Even if you do pick a place – you can always change it (and it will still be relatively easy while the kids are young.)

    Good luck. And I agree – still plenty of time to travel. Can’t wait to see where you end up.

  • Christine, I agree with Mallorca. I, too, LOVE Sydney – but it IS extremely hot in the summer months. Europe is a great market for you and so many easy trips for exploration. Southern France, Italy…seems like there would be lots of perfect-sized cities. Take a good look at the health care situation, too (not sure how that works for you). Good luck – I’m sure whatever you choose will be wonderful. Best wishes on your book.

  • Come visit me in Panama? It does get quite toasty in the summer but other than that I think we can check all of the boxes on the list — not too big, not too small, great healthcare, hablamos espanol, beautiful city skyline and beaches outside of the city, nearby international airport where Copa Airlines has its hub. The public schools are terrible so private schooling would be required. However, it’s booming — lots of development economically and we’re building the first subway system in Central America. A few months ago I wrote a cheeky article on the top 8 ways Panama can make you sexier. Mostly, it’s true.

  • I agree with all of your points! The only thing that I don’t like about where I call home is that there is no nearby ocean, however it meets every other point you made, so I feel like I’ve found a great place to put down roots.

  • My first thoughts when I read your title was “I KNEW IT!” See, hubby and I have this ‘discussion’ about travel and while he says he just wants to experience and see new things, I believe that what really prompts travel is that inner, innate desire to find a place that truly feels like home:) I love the US Northwest for its beauty and temperate climate. Our winters are getting milder and milder thanks to global warming. Can’t stand humidity, so another plus for our area. I lived in Texas for almost 30 years against my will. I used to cry because I couldn’t be one of those people who “bloom where you’re planted.” I’d love to live in Europe, at least until I’m sick of all the great architecture:) Hoping you the best in your search, Christine!! [PS once again, thanks for your candor, Christine. I have said more than once that I noticed most travel writers never really talk about the locals …..]

    • RE: the locals, you can almost miss it, I think. You get so swept up in everything else, you don’t really notice it. But once you stay a little longer those social issues become more apparent.

  • Another place that I visited that seemed beautiful, had a great quality of life, easy access to markets and public transportation, while still being able to have a car is Cadiz or El Puerto de Santa Maria in Spain. I don’t know anything about the schools, but it has great access to beaches which also makes the hot summers more manageable. I stayed in an Airbnb there with a couple. One of them is native to Cadiz and the other is an American expat. The expat made the conscious decision to move there. It’s been six years now and he still loves it. I can put you in touch with them if you want to explore more.

    By the way, I appreciate your candor! I have followed your blog because it is one of the very few talks about having a family on the road and all its advantages and challenges. For those of us not wanting to work in a standard corporate job and own a home, your blog is very inspirational!

  • For a moment I was sure Norway would tick all your boxes, but the winter weather here would probably not be what you are looking for!! I agree with Hannah that France could be a good choice, but what really bothered me when I was living there for a while was the bureaucracy inflicted on all the foreigners, even though I’m from another EU country. It’s been a while though so things might have changed, I hope so! Good luck in your quest for a perfect home, we found ours here in Norway, despite the winters (read: partly because). 🙂

      • True…. Something I’m not used to or didn’t think about as in Europe it is so easy (normally) for us to travel/move around!

  • Lisbon or Barcelona? They have large Arab populations so you could use a variety of language skills. They’re beautiful too. I think the economy should be figured in as well, and there are few places where the economy is really good these days. I’ve always had a dream to live in Florence or Genoa. Then again in other dreams a small vineyard in Tuscany…but isn’t that everyone’s dream? Especially since the movie “Under the Tuscan Sun”? Good luck! At least you are planning on a home base in a temperate climate. Houston has all these things, but our heat is about the same as many areas of Mexico.

    • Interesting… just googled Arabic in Barcelona and there are over 500,000 muslims living there. There’s even Arabic and Islam classes for people who want to learn more. Thanks for the tip, I was not aware of this! Could be the best of both worlds.

      • Living in Barcelona is on my bucket list. A little apartment over a cafe within view of something made by Gaudi. I really don’t care what…just something unusual to gather inspiration and write about.

    • I love Seattle but I had mild seasonal depression while there! I am super sensitive to the lack of sunshine — that’s how I ended up in Dallas, I was like, “I’ll take whatever job offer has the most sun!” Dallas offered more money than the Arizona offer, so off we went. Then Drew HATED it, because we has 90 days straight of over 100 degree weather. 😛

  • I instantly had to think of Lisbon (and, a little, Barcelona). Lisbon is just about the perfect size of a city, theres plenty of culture, a LOT of beautiful and untouched nature nearby, the food is excellent (while not as good as in Italy) and yes, there is tourists, but every nice city has them. Its also close by the beach, and while it does get quite hot in the summer, theres usually a nice breeze. Also, Porto isn’t too far away, which is a lovely. I’ve been to a lot of cities around Europe and the world, but Lisbon is pretty much the only one that kind of fits all your wishes. I dont really know about schools, but im quite sure they’ll have international private schools, its, after all, a place with a decent amount of expats. Sydney is great too, i really love it there, but its superexpensive, far away from everywhere and quite big. But – maybe Melbourne? So many choices, but id stick to Europe. So convenient for traveling and loads of awesome culture!

  • I noticed this in Chiang Mai, and I completely offended someone when I was at dinner with a bunch of travelers. My friend leaned over and asked, ¨Have you met the X-couple? They are just down the table over there.”

    I was half-joking but I said, “What’s the point? They’ll be gone in a few days.”

    I’m just surprised anyone would be offended by that. We used to live in Chiang Mai, have visited multiple times since then, we’re midway through probably a three month visit to Chiang Mai right now.

    People vanishing is like a running joke. Some of the long timers here won’t even bother learning your name until you’ve been here for at least a year. I’ve lost count of how many people I’ve met who say “I love it here. I’m starting a new life and will be here forever.” and then we never ever see them again…

  • If you’re after destination suggestions consider Taiwan. Good healthcare, Mandarin speaking. Taipei in particular is a great city although you’re only a short bus or train ride from mountains. The locals were certainly always very friendly with us. Japan, Hong Kong, Korea and the Philippines in particular are accessible from Taiwan.

    It does get quite warm and humid at times and they do have a “typhoon season” but thats not as bad as it sounds. We were there for three typhoons from memory. A few days of heavy rain to catch up on work.

  • Christine,
    What I love about you is the way you write what’s on my mind. Thanks for doing the thinking for me 😉

    We’re in Bali and do love living here in this phase of our lives, but it’s not our ideal for the future. One of the biggest things I miss is having beautiful outdoor recreation spaces to enjoy with my little children: forests to hike in, playgrounds that function, and open vistas to inspire. In Ubud, I cannot go for a leisurely walk without the roar and whoosh of motorbikes, especially with my children.

    We have yet to be in Europe as a family. I do have a EU passport and will need to go through the paperwork for my children and husband, but it is an option…we just haven’t explored it yet. Sounds like Spain is pulling the lead from the comments below.

    I’ll be following the suggestions posted here. Thanks.

    • Lucky you with an EU passport! Spain’s definitely on the short list and it’s one of the easier places to immigrate, the income requirement is reasonable if you’re self employed.

  • I was wondering when you would ask this question. I’ve actually thought about this for myself a while ago. So is the nesting instinct squashing the traveling bug? LOL

    Having traveled to so many countries I’m glad I wound up in Southern California. We have the best weather. But I know you are wanting the expat experience so my choice would be any number of places in Spain.

    You’ve mastered Spanish so you would just need to remember when to lisp (C & Z) and remember a few minor accent inflections. Someone mentioned Cadiz. Funny, I stayed at this beautiful hotel there and loved it! While it is beautiful there I think the seas can be a bit rough and stormy at times versus the Mediterranean side of Espana.

    It would just be a matter of doing some research to pinpoint the exact spot to settle, i.e. airport, hospitals, schools and so on. Granted, Europe is a bit more expensive to live than Asia however I believe the market demand you spoke of would balance things out.

    Good luck and I’m glad you’re feeling better.

    • Yeah it snuck up on me, I still want to travel but I want some periods of non-travel too. I think I’ll appreciate it even more when we do go out.

  • As you, um, know now, I’m in a similar position, though at a slightly different stage in the process (still pregnant! wheee!). We are temporarily back in Canada (my family stuff) after being temporarily back in the UK (his family stuff) after having left China in early July (*cough cough*). Our plans have shifted so much and so often that we’ve had a million ideas for where to go next over the past few weeks alone. Currently trying to wrangle a UK spouse visa for me so I can at least have the baby somewhere where I’m able to speak the lingo and understand the culture before we head out into the rest of the world again. I really didn’t fancy revisiting Chinese or Turkish hospitals again (not that they’re bad, I just don’t agree with their approaches to maternity stuff, based on friends who had given birth when I was living there).

    The funny thing is, that visa is not at all a given, due to tightening visa restrictions in the UK and our internationally prolific pasts (he needs to demonstrate having a job in the UK even though he hasn’t lived there in years…) and my inability to fly after some time in November (end of 2nd trimester). This means everything is still totally up in the air and we could end up anywhere and at the last minute with a massive belly full of baby– and that’s actually okay. But whenever the ‘where are you living now?’ question comes up, we both have to shrug and admit we have no idea.

    Hell, we may see you in Mexico… 😉

  • I think you know my vote. Hint, it’s sunny, they speak Spanish, and Dan and I live here. Although Granada gets super hot in the summer, I’m told most people just take a trip somewhere during this time, and it’s splendid the rest of the year. Also, I can attest to the fact that you can walk everywhere, and I like that people don’t start speaking English to me when they see me. I try to use my Spanish, and the people are really helpful here even when my Spanish is bad, which is pretty much every day. Oh yeah, and tapas… lots of tapas.

  • I think Spain would be the perfect place for you. Many people have already suggested Barcelona (which I absolutely love) and I’d like to add Valencia to the list. I fell in love with this city the first time I went. Good weather, beach access, cheap flights to many European cities, just 2 hours from Madrid, Spanish language, not too big, not too small, lots of culture and art and they invented paella!

  • Come to Playa! We’ve spent almost 10 months here in the last year and it feels more like home to me than anywhere else I’ve been in the world. We weren’t consciously looking for a home on this adventure, yet it found us. I think wherever you are, finding a way to engage in the community is essential, especially for those of us who work online. Again, not something I was aware of until I started working on a few local projects, but which has contributed to the sense of belonging I now feel here. It’s gonna be really tough to leave here, even just temporarily.

  • I didn’t know you lived in Dallas! That’s where we are, funny how we have such different experiences in the same place. I use my car very little. My office is only about 4 miles away, so I run to and from work most days (a perfect little 8 mile workout), and we live in a neighborhood with a bunch of awesome restaurants and shops, so we have several options for eating within a 30 second walk, and many more if we want to walk a couple minutes. And with 20 minutes in a car, we can be at a huge airport to go anywhere. But um, yeah, no mountains or ocean, and there’s the whole summer thing. Last year I think we had something like 90 days in a row over 100 (this year is much milder, only maybe 18 days so far, and we’ll probably end the year with about 25, but you never know when a bad summer will hit again!). We like warm weather though, and we like travelling overseas for just about a month per year while having jobs that let us save seriously for early retirement, so this is the right place for us, but clearly not for you! Southern Italy maybe? That’s where we are planning to move when we leave the US.

  • I would look into the Basque region of Spain! It has beautiful green mountains and wonderful cities and towns! The city of San Sebastian is stunning and has amazing beaches! It’s not too big, but big enough. I wouldn’t recommend southern or eastern Spain unless you like deserts! Plus it’s right on the border of France!

  • South of France! Then again I am totally biased 🙂 Fantastic schools ( I went to the CIV in Sophia Antipolis; Mougins school is also good), great weather, superb non GMO food, everyone I went to school with was multilingual in at least 3 languages.

  • This post really resonated with me because I feel exactly the same way. Every country we visit we ask ourselves “could we live here?” and the answer has always been a no or a maybe, but just like you said, never a yes.

    I’m almost beginning to feel as if my dream location actually doesn’t exist, but I still don’t want to settle for second best.

    The closest to the perfect place I’ve found was Australia or New Zealand, but it’s too far away from “the rest of the world” I think :).

    I hope you find your dream home!

  • Hi Christine! =) Sydney has a very big Mandarin-speaking community, and a lot of immigrants from Italy as well. 1 in 4 people here were born overseas. It would be easy to find Arabic, French, Spanish and Portuguese speakers as well. But it doesn’t have the kind of arts scene Europe has.

  • Spain. Hands down, Spain. I know, I know, the economy is going kaput at the moment – my husband and I left Spain due to the recession and now live in the UK – but we have every intention of going back. My husband’s from Andalucía, the Southern region. Neither of us can really tolerate the desert summer heat that hits the south, so when we return it will be to one of the Northern regions. Asturias and Cantabria are know for being wonderfully green, and the international airport in Madrid is usually a 1-4 hour comfy train ride away, depending on which part of a region you live in. Also – and the reality of the situation is very unfortunate in terms of the country’s state of economy – if you’re English-speaking with some Spanish under your belt, you’ll fare far better than most Spaniards at the moment. Especially if you’re planning on writing and working for yourself. And as long as you stay away from the big cities, living expenses can be quite cheap, and education is free. 😉

  • I sort of enjoyed going through the article and admire the information that has been included, for it surely proves to be of immense benefit to the future trekkers and travelers.
    Trekking in Nepal