“Let’s Move There!” – The South (Part 1) Edition

The inspiration for our now nomadic lifestyle came about as we were evaluating our living situation in California’s San Francisco Bay Area. The high cost of renting, and even higher cost of home ownership, led us to the conclusion that if we wanted to be able to enjoy the fruits of our labor, we would need to branch out geographically to do so. Since August 2017, we have been traveling around North America, while working remotely, to explore, broaden our horizons, and search for our new home! So far, we have explored most of the Pacific Northwest, the Southwest, and are now making our way through parts of the South.

This is our third installment of the “Let’s Move There Series!”, the first highlighted the PacNorth region, and the second covered our Southwest journey. Having just completed part 1 of our Southern tour, we wanted to pause, reflect, and write our “Let’s Move There!”- South (Part 1) Edition, while it is still fresh in our heads. The South Part 1 piece will highlight Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Kentucky (we had to head north and cut our southern tour short to visit family, so the “part 2” edition will come later after we have had time to see more of the South).

How these pieces work is that we will independently write a short blurb about which city (or cities) we would move to, if we had to make a decision today, based on the highlighted region. Once we have finished writing our pieces, we will share them with each other (and you) to see how, or if, our choices align.

Without further ado…

 

Christelle’s choice:

 

From January through March, we covered a lot of ground and had the chance to “live” in so many great locations. I was excited to discover many new areas I had never been to and never even heard of, and am drawn to a few of them for different reasons. Weighing factors of climate, geography, cost-of-living, proximity to an international airport, and nearby amenities, below are three cities that stood out for me amongst our Southern (part 1) travels.

Austin, Texas is one of those rare urban centers where I can actually see myself living directly in the city. I tend to like the option of hustle & bustle with the comfort of separation and gravitate to urban suburbs right on the cusp of a major metro area. There are a few major urban centers in America where I would actually prefer to live directly in the “big city”, and Austin is one of those cities. Austin is quirky, fun, and more assessable than many major cities in terms of getting around and affordability. While public transit, other than buses, is a bit behind the times here, Austin is a relatively compact city, and we found we could walk just about anywhere we needed to get to in the downtown area and surrounding neighborhoods. Thanks to park development, like an extensive trail system that circles Lady Bird Lake, the city not only embraces getting out and staying active, but also promotes a bike culture, which is our preferred mode of commute.

Like most urban centers, Austin offers a plethora of activities and cultural outlets, and more, as it maintains its unique funky vibe and open atmosphere. I love roaming the neighborhoods in Austin and visiting establishments that occupy houses and other homey environments rather than a smattering of high-rises and corporate looking buildings. Austin is urban, without feeling the need to build the world’s tallest skyscraper or the second coming of Wall Street, and I love it for that.

One of the reasons I find myself shying away from living in major cities is that in terms of housing: (a) you pay too much for too little; and (b) I need separation from neighbors and don’t want to live in a high-rise or row house that is sandwiched in between two other row houses. Austin has several neighborhoods in and around downtown where you can actually own a home, with a yard, as the architectural layout of these neighborhoods has more of a suburban feel, and while the cost is certainly higher than average, it isn’t unreasonably high, yet, like San Francisco or Seattle.

We checked out several of the surrounding suburbs, like Round Rock, Georgetown, Leander, Cedar Park, Lakeaway, Hutton, Pflugerville, and other “hill country” suburbs, and while each one was cute and had reasonable housing options, none of them stood out as a mini urban oasis, as each one we visited had very limited downtown/ “main street” corridors, with Georgetown having the most lively downtown scene of the group.

Austin would be my choice of the set because it is both urban and suburban enough, bohemian in the way I personally adore, and offers one of the last havens in America with that perfect symbiotic blend of the two. However, to be fair, one thing we both felt and commented on during our two stays in Austin, is that it feels like an isolated island inside of Texas. This does concern us as we are not stationary creatures (clearly), like to leave our “bubble” to explore during our free time, and we don’t yet have a good feel for what else the immediate area has to offer aside from traveling out to other surrounding cities, like San Antonio, Houston, or Galveston. This “isolation impression” is something worth serious consideration and may simply be a matter of getting more familiar with the area.

Having never been to Louisiana, this was one of the states I was most looking forward to visiting, as I find Cajun-Creole food to be some of the best in the country, and from everything I had read, was excited to learn more about this state’s unique cultural heritage.  Being half French myself, I was naturally drawn to the fact that this state celebrated its melting pot heritage of Acadian, African, English, Spanish, and of course, French, ancestors, among others. With all that, New Orleans has been the one major urban city that I have not yet been to, that excited me the most. We timed our visit for the ultimate of all events, Mardi Gras. The architecture, food, energy, and southern hospitality of this beautiful city did not disappoint and our time went by too quickly.

Right after we left the city of New Orleans, we crossed Lake Pontchartrain on the causeway, the longest bridge I have ever ridden across, to check-out some of the “north shore” communities. Having absolutely no prior knowledge of this area, we had zero expectations, and I was soon entirely enthralled with this region. Located about an hour outside of the city (basically what it takes to drive across the bridge) are several communities nestled in lush green marshy forests and along rivers that offer the charm of a slower, relaxed, pace of life right across from one of the liveliest cities in the country. We explored a few of the surrounding towns, including: Madisonville, Slidell, Abita Springs, and Covington, and each one is very charming.

I was very taken with the town of Covington, LA, which is a small-ish town with a population of around 9,000 people. This town is along two rivers and feels like a lush sanctuary of green open spaces, old growth Live Oak trees, and outdoor activities, such as the Tammany Trace (31-mile multi-use trail).

While scattered new constructions are emerging, the community largely has a historic feel with well maintained older homes on large plots of land. A real drawing point for Covington over its surrounding neighbors is that despite its small population, it boasts a relatively large downtown scene, with several blocks of shops and eateries occupying historic buildings amongst revitalized parks, outdoor community spaces, and randomly, the largest statue of Ronald Reagan in the States. Covington is even home to the Abita brewery and taproom, which despite its name, is not located in Abita Springs. Being only about 1 hour outside of New Orleans, Covington feels like a relaxed sanctuary nestled amongst state parks, lakes, and rivers with urban commerce and debauchery nearby.

Some negative consideration points: With the main mode of transportation into New Orleans being limited to driving on a bridge, this would seriously concern me if either of us were commuting each day to New Orleans, as I am sure it would get tiresome, and delays on a bridge due to accidents or construction would be agonizing. So this factor, coupled with no public transit, would be major considerations about this location. Hurricanes and flooding are also valid concerns. Covington is more inland and higher in elevation, which affords it some protection from hurricanes, and this is comforting, but, Covington is not entirely out of harm’s way, as it did suffer extreme wind damage due to Hurricane Katrina. I am not sure what development plans are being considered for area public transit, but this would definitely be something we would want to look into further if considering moving out to the area.

 

Having never been to Nashville, TN or the surrounding areas before, this was another destination that was entirely new to both of us. The weekend before we headed into Nashville, we stayed out in the southern suburbs to explore some surrounding communities. One of the communities we visited was Franklin, TN, which definitely leans more on the “polished” and affluent side, but struck a chord with me as the neighborhoods immediately in and around the main downtown were are a charming scattering of older homes with full yards and lots of history. Throughout the neighborhood are several historic structures that are now preserved and protected, as well as a memorial park that serves as a historical marker for a civil war battle.

Franklin is one of the older communities in the area, and as such, has a very established downtown area with lots of mom & pop type establishments mixed with familiar commercial retailers. In addition to its bustling downtown scene, the landscape of Franklin is one of its big selling points for me as it is composed of lush, green open spaces and hills and many of the outskirt homes favor an equestrian flair with rolling green pastures.

On the negative, homes here are definitely on the pricier side, but there are still some modest options to be had. Franklin is about a 45-minute drive from Nashville, making it close enough to city life and commerce. However, there does not appear to be much in the way of public transit to Nashville, and relying on automobiles is certainly a way of life here. In speaking with Nashville locals, we understand that there has been a push for public transit development in recent years, but that the largely conservative population frequently rejects the proposals, as they often call for taxes to help pay for this development. Consequently, without funds to pay for public transit, and an agreement on the source of funds, it is likely to be years in coming before any public transit gets started, if at all. Which, makes this another serious consideration in moving to the area.

 

Of my three top picks for our Southern (part 1) tour, I find myself being most drawn to either Austin, TX or Covington, LA and I am having a hard time choosing between the two as they are both so different. One good stay deserves another, and I look forward to re-visiting both in the future!

 

 

Cayetano’s choice:

 

After spending a few months in the South it’s time to look back at all those places we called “home” for a few days. The goal here is to highlight the ones that I personally see as a possible option for us. To be honest, this time I couldn’t find a particular winner but I’m narrowing my selection to 3 different areas. These areas have a few aspects in common (great food, live music spots, international airports…), and some important differences, but nothing that really makes one of them stand out over the others.

 

 

First, I’ll talk about Austin, Texas. It was not our first time since we had already spent some time together here a couple of years ago, but we wanted to repeat and have the opportunity to learn a little bit more about this city. The fact that our campground was so close to downtown and to all kinds of entertainment options in the South Lamar area was a plus, but we also had the opportunity to explore some of the surrounding areas during the weekends. 
While Austin is a really fun city, with options like the Alamo Drafthouse, so many food truck options, barbecue, opportunities to be active outdoors… at the end of the day, it always felt like we were in an “island” in the middle of the huge amount of terrain that is the state of Texas.

 

Another factor that would go against this pick would be that the housing prices are on the expensive side. A few important tech companies are either based or have offices here, so the prices are growing and growing. From all the suburbs and different towns around Austin that we got to explore, probably Georgetown is the only one that I would highlight. We are trying to stay away from fenced housing communities and similar options, and that’s pretty much what we could see around Austin. Truth is that San Antonio and Houston are not far from there as well and luckily we were able to experience both for some time.

To sum up: Austin is great and I can’t wait to go back again, but in case we ended up moving out there, the airport would be probably our preferred road trip option.

 

 

Louisiana was a nice surprise and without any doubt one of the highlights of this leg. It was my first time coming to this state, and couldn’t wait to see everything that it has to offer.

Our initial plan was to spend some time in New Orleans around the Mardi Gras time, so we were lucky to explore a few different towns on our way there. We felt welcome by their people wherever we would go, so we can say that there is a lot of truth to that “southern hospitality”. 
Driving around was a treat with wildlife, lots of vegetation and water everywhere. Looking back it was such a nice contrast compared to the latest days of winter we are living here now in the Midwest, and also so different from our long journey crossing the state of Texas. 
Not lying if I say that we may have eaten more than we should during all that time in Louisiana, but it was definitely worth it. We were lucky to find some great “holes in the wall” where we were able to enjoy great plates, meet some of the locals and learn about this area. Missing that crawfish!

 

Talking about New Orleans, we really liked some areas away from the touristy and busy French Quarter, like the Garden District and other neighborhoods on the Westside. I feel like we didn’t have enough time to see everything that we would have wanted to, but I think we made the best of our days there. Mardi Gras was a great experience, we got to enjoy the parades, some live music, and great food, and really feel the energy and character of the city. Another thing that I really liked is the influence of different cultures, which makes for a rich and fun environment. It’s kind of funny that both our French and Spanish heritages hold strong influence all over the place down here. Truth is that there were some times where we didn’t feel that safe in some of the areas, but we didn’t have any problems while using all the normal precautions that you would typically take in big cities.

North of Lake Pontchartrain, (after driving through the longest bridge ever 🙂 ) we got to spend some time in a couple of towns on our way to Baton Rouge. While the capital feels like it is undergoing a revival process, lots of businesses and activities are flourishing there, and we loved the other smaller towns, with their lively downtowns, surrounded by nature and not far from the big cities.

 

Anyway, to be more precise my pick within this state is the New Orleans and North of the Lake Pontchartrain area (Covington, Madisonville…) This is a place where I can see us enjoying our day to day while still having many options in terms of road trips and fun weekends exploring different towns and finding little gems without too much effort.

 

 

Finally, it’s time for me to talk about Nashville and the Franklin area in Tennessee. This was another good surprise, and although we didn’t spend that much time here compared to Louisiana, we got to enjoy a few sites while exploring these two places.

 

Franklin is a beautiful town with lots of history, 30 minutes South of Nashville. While really charming and fun, the downtown felt touristy and reminded us of what we got used to in Palo Alto, CA, but definitely on a smaller scale. Housing and prices in general were on the expensive side, but we really loved that it felt very safe, its proximity to the big city, and the fact that it is surrounded by beautiful countryside.

 

Nashville, on the other hand, showed itself as a really diverse city. You can find lots of Country music, a crazy downtown with lots of live music options, a college town area, lots of breweries, hipster areas, etc. Although our campground was a little bit removed from the city itself (as it happens normally in big cities), we were able to explore some of the different neighborhoods, mainly based on recommendations and some research. Funny enough, we really enjoyed their Public Library which served us well as our base of operations in terms of work during the week. Extra points for being located right in the downtown area.

 

One of our biggest disappointments, apart from the lack of good public transit options, was the East Side of town. This is mostly after hearing so much about it, but feeling like new establishments there were trying to be way too hipster for our personal taste. Feels like much of what we’ve seen in the Bay Area (and what we are running away from), is happening there too. Personally, I enjoyed other areas like Germantown, Midtown and the Downtown area with some pockets south of Broadway Street. A nice riverfront, stadiums right in the middle of the city, lots of live music and bars, good food (that spicy “hot” chicken!)… what’s not to love? 
One point against this pick would be a similar concern we had with Austin, feeling a little bit isolated. But I’m curious if the proximity to the south of Kentucky and the rest of Tennessee going East, which we didn’t have the opportunity to see would change my mind about that.

 

To sum up, I really wouldn’t mind spending some time living in any of these three picks, and once again this makes me appreciate so much the opportunity we have exploring all of these new places. All of them have really good things to offer and I’m pretty sure we would make the best of our time if we decided to move into any of them, but I have the feeling we certainly would be missing things from the western part of the country, that’s for sure.

 

 

The Verdict:

Once again, we both like some of the same areas, and made some of the same comments, which makes sense as we are sharing the same experiences.  Though it was pretty amusing (to us) to read that we focused on the same three areas and highlighted identical talking-points.  With a growing list of places we enjoy, and no # 1 stand-out, these cities will be added to our “re-visit list” and the search continues for our new home!

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: