Living someplace else temporarily leads to discoveries in that new place and back home

We lived for a month just off the corner of Haight and Ashbury in San Francisco — we could see the iconic intersection from our bedroom window.

Returning from another wonderfully enjoyable and inspiring visit to one of America’s most iconic, unique cities has me reflecting on the benefits of living elsewhere for a month or longer.

While we were in San Francisco for September, several people asked what made us want to switch coasts temporarily.

Besides wanting to immerse myself in the city’s thriving tech scene and explore the food trends of an innovative city, a few broader motivations for our wanderlust included:

  • Discovering new things in the city we’re visiting – John and I love to explore, both at home and when we travel, so it’s such a joy to visit a city whose neighborhoods are jam-packed with interesting sights and sounds. We took long walks, often with no specific agenda, and popped into stores, bars and restaurants as the spirit moved us. (In our vernacular, this is called Jeff and Racheling, taken from our friends whose vacationing strategy is to walk for a while then eat, walk for a while then have a glass of wine, rinse and repeat.) Along the way we enjoyed some delicious meals, friendly conversations and beautiful views.
  • Appreciating the city we call home – The cliché is true for us, absence does make the heart grow fonder. I think it helps to leave a place to recognize the aspects we might take for granted when we’re around them day after day. Upon trying pizza at a charming place several people insisted is fantastic, we shrugged and allowed as how we’re spoiled with multiple high-quality New York pizza places within a short walk of our apartment. After yet another cool, windy, foggy day, I was grateful for New York’s distinct seasons and its abundance of sunshine.
  • Shaking up our routine – I’ve heard many times that going a different way to work, for example, as opposed to taking the same route back and forth every time, helps keep the brain nimble. You can’t go on autopilot and ignore your surroundings if you turn on a different street every day. Living in a different home, in a different neighborhood, in a different city, means every activity takes conscious thought. We had to learn the quirks of a new home, the layout of a new grocery store, the payment methods of a new public transportation system.
  • Working from home in San Francisco often meant sitting at this giant window in our bedroom, with a view of SF’s beautifully painted Victorians on our street and abundant trees on the nearby hills.

    Practicing adaptability – Living in another place, whether it’s a hotel room or someone else’s home, requires adaptation. Cooking in a foreign kitchen is always something of a challenge, as I figure out what is and isn’t available and where to find it. In San Francisco, we didn’t have an automatic coffee maker and I learned to use a French press. We didn’t have a TV in the house or an alarm clock in our bedroom. We slept in a bed smaller than ours, in a fourth-floor walk up, sharing a bathroom with two young guys and a kitchen with our five roommates. All of that felt normal and unremarkable in no time.

  • We rode an open-topped double-decker tour bus around town, which gave us stunning views and a brisk breeze across the Golden Gate Bridge.

    Making do with less – No one will accuse me of being a light packer. Still, even stuffing my suitcase meant tough choices since I was preparing for a month in a city with average highs in the 70s and average lows in the 50s, plus routine fog and radically different weather neighborhood to neighborhood requiring lots of layers. I was also packing for a business conference and Burning Man, and there aren’t many items of clothing that go from Burning Man to San Francisco to conference trade show very well. (Unless maybe you’re in a different line of work than mine.) That meant I wore the same pair of jeans quite a bit, along with the same few sweaters, for example. And even though I left a full closet behind in Brooklyn, I did just fine with my more limited wardrobe. When we’re packing, John always says that anything I don’t take we can borrow, buy or do without, and he’s pretty much right.

  • Spending time with far-away friends and new friends – Obviously when you’re thousands of miles from home, you can’t spend Saturday night with your usual social circle. That means trying a little harder, since we can’t just rely on inbound invites and instead have to make an effort to make plans with people we already know and who have their own busy lives in the city we’re visiting, as well as getting to know new people. The payoff is worth it, as we’ve been so fortunate to enjoy home-cooked meals, long thoughtful conversations and entertaining hangouts.
  • Inspiring us to bring our travels homeWhen we lived in New Orleans temporarily last year, I sometimes worked from Molly’s, an excellent bar in the French Quarter with free wifi, friendly bartenders and a reputation for being a media hangout. I loved the low-key vibe, with the front door open and good music playing on the jukebox, and I returned to Brooklyn looking for the local equivalent. (I think Pete’s Waterfront Alehouse and Abilene are both pretty close.) Likewise I joined a NOLA coworking facility called Launch Pad and enjoyed being part of that community, so I’ve just joined Brooklyn Creative League.

What do we hope to bring home from San Francisco? Look for an upcoming post on observations and inspirations from the Bay Area.

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Categories: lifestyle

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8 replies

  1. nice post. I was in san francisco yesterday. Just missed you guys.

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