Is Living in Big City America Worth it?
Why Big City L.A. Sucks… Traffic
I apologize, I haven’t updated in almost a month. Aside from my terrible job and daily four hour commute (yes, you read that correctly, four hours), I have been busy with my favorite hobby:
When I was younger, all I could think about was how to get out of the United States rather than travel in it. The arches of Moab are nothing compared to the Great Wall of China, I sighed. The Grand Canyon simply pales in comparison to the intellectual beauty of Paris’ Eiffel Tower and the Champs Elysses.
Now that I’m back in the states, I have a new found respect for my homeland. Since I’ll be in the USA for at least two or three years, I figure that now is the best time to discover the great wilderness that is the United States.
Two weeks ago my boyfriend and I went on a road trip across the Southwestern United States stopping at the Grand Canyon, Bryce and Zion National Park and Las Vegas.
But today I’m not writing about Utah or Arizona—today, I’m writing about:
Boise, The City of Trees
My best friend relocated to Boise for work, and much to my surprise she gave me a raving review of the place. I had to go and see it for myself.
Hip bars, countless breweries, a lively downtown, abundance of nature, friendly folk and most of all—trees.
If there’s one thing Mary loves more than anything, it’s trees. And lots of them. Since I grew up in the deserts of Utah, my lust for green, lush environments will never be satiated. While California may have gorgeous beaches, it’s definitely lacking in green (California is basically a desert with an ocean next to it).
Idaho has what California cannot give me:
Some of the fall foliage in Boise was comparable to that of Japan. Blood red trees, golden yellow leaves and hues of sunrise and sunset splashed across the plains of Boise.
Parks filled with laughing families, flying geese and lakes full of wildlife; a bustling downtown with an endearing farmer’s market, friendly pubs with bartenders boasting of their local ale, and multiple local getaways including a hot springs resort within an hour’s drive.
“I had no idea Boise was so… hip, cool and friendly,” I said to the bartender as I sipped on the Pumpkin ale she recommended me. “This place is a hidden gem.”
“Let’s keep it that way,” she winked before scurrying off to serve another customer.
My lust for big city America is gone.
When I was young, I wanted to move to Los Angeles so badly. For a small town girl like me, neighboring Los Angeles was full of diversity, culture and glamour. When I found out that I couldn’t afford out-of-state tuition to attend college in Los Angeles, I literally broke down on the floor and sobbed. I’ll never leave backwater Utah, I cried, I’ll never make it to the big city.
Now, I yearn for Utah. No traffic, affordable housing, nice people and nature?
Alternatives to Big City America
Lately I’ve been reading statistics for millenials, and they aren’t pretty.
If you have $10,000 in savings, then congratulations—you’re richer than most millenials.
On top of that, most Americans make under $19.00/hour. That’s about $35,000 a year if you work full time.
With these startling statistics, it’s ironic to see that millenials are moving into Big City America in droves, causing rent to soar and housing prices to reach unrealistic numbers.
A one bedroom apartment in San Francisco can set you back $1-2k a month—minimum. The same applies to Los Angeles. Tack on the price of car and insurance, and you can kiss $2,500 dollars of your paycheck goodbye. If you only make $35,000 annually then that’s, what… 90% of your paycheck?
So why don’t more people move to amazing places like Boise? I thought, while I sipped on my local Boise brew in one of the hippest Gastropubs I’ve ever set foot in. Good food, good beer, good people and a thriving local community and art scene? Isn’t this what millenials want?
Living in a place like Boise not only cuts your cost of living in half with low rent, but it also improves your peace of mind. Kiss those one hour commutes goodbye and say hello to more time to yourself. Stress free communities with nearby hiking trails, hot springs, and glorious nature?
Boise is ranked as one of the best cities to move to in 2014 to live in the United States. In terms of beer, it ranks with the big dogs Seattle and Portland in for local craft breweries.
Still, I know some of us aren’t suited for the simple Boise life. Maybe you need a place that can offer more than Boise. You need throngs of people, culture, diversity—you need a real city.
Forget San Francisco, New York and L.A. and just..
In Shanghai, I had a NYC lifestyle for half the cost. I paid $500/monthly for my apartment in the heart of the city. I had an expansive and affordable metro system at my fingertips, and a dirt-cheap taxi backup for those late nights out. I was surrounded by 4,000 skyscrapers (more than anywhere in the world), Fortune 500 companies, and a diverse crowd of ex-pats and locals.
Shanghai makes Los Angeles look like a kiddie wading pool. Even Anthony Bourdain said that it can give New York a run for its money.
In Shanghai I dined at the finest restaurants, enjoyed cocktails on top of the world and danced at some of the world’s best nightclubs—for a fraction of what it would cost in L.A. or NYC.
And it’s not just Shanghai. Many large cities in the world are far more affordable than what the U.S. can offer.
Istanbul, Seoul, Bangkok, Shanghai, Taiwan, Berlin—even Tokyo is more affordable than Los Angeles or San Francisco (finding a decent apartment in Tokyo city proper for under 1,000 USD is very doable).
It’s no surprise that more Americans than ever are relocating abroad for retirement.
I say… why what?
Living abroad may sound expensive, but actually, it’s far more affordable than big city America.. and definitely more fun.
And while I’m not recommending all Americans forever flee the homeland, I do honestly believe that everyone should live abroad at least once. It’s an amazing, life-changing experience.
27 thoughts on “Is Living in Big City America Worth it?”
I imagine casually picking up Chinese in order to live in Shanghai will be no problem!
But more seriously, Boise sounds great! Like a nice, nearby, better(?) alternative to SLC.
A friend of mine moved to Denver a few years back, apparently you should add that to your list of amazing places to live.
Sounds like you’re regretting the move to LA. Japan trip, stat!
Yeah Boise was amazing. It’s basically Utah minus the mormons (with more trees, too!). There are so many cool bars and breweries in Boise I was floored as to how they all stay in business (Danny said Boise folk love their booze and keeps ’em going). Craft breweries and local bars are so endearing, close and friendly… I really loved it there!!
Yeah I heard Denver is awesome too–but so has everyone else. Seems like rent in Denver is going up and it’s actually getting pricey. Boise is still a hidden gem, but I think more people will flood in there in upcoming years.
And yes, LA sucks, haha. I wanted to hang in here for another year but I might have to put an escape plan into action earlier than I thought.
I actually might go to Japan next year for a visit–the yen is so low!! Shiet! We gotta karaoke!
So low indeed. Lost about $200 when I transferred some yen into USD last month. (T_T)
ouch!!! Well look like you’ll have to stay in Japan until it goes up again 😀
Until then I’ll come visit! I’m seriously planning to go there next year, too cheap to pass up!
Thank ya Dave! I should add Texas to this list eh?
I seriously was looking at Idaho when I was looking for affordable places to live and work. So, I’m not surprised at all that it is a hidden gem. It’s probably the cold and the reputation for gun-tottin’ weirdos that also scares folks off. But if I went back it would be the American SW or someplace like Idaho for sure.
Until then, I’m happy living abroad for all the reasons you’ve stated and already know. It’s affordable! Here’s to hoping that America starts to turn itself around.
Welcome back 😉 I already missed your blog posts 😉 But a 4 hour commute sounds horrible. Do you go there by car?
Since I am getting older (lol) I more and more prefer the country-side with its nature and quietness rather than living in a big city. Maybe a small city or town would be a good compromise …
Heyyyy Hanna! So nice to have your comments on here! You always write such nice things 🙂
No I actually take the train, because the traffic is sooooo horrible. It would take about the same amount of time, but at least on the train I can read/sleep/watch TV… I’m not much for driving, especially in California–terrible drivers! Four hours is far too long, but I live in the suburbs with my boyfriend in order to save on rent money (rent downtown is like ２０万円/month, I wouldn’t be able to save!).
Yes I am the same way, I guess we’re both getting old and need to return to the inaka huh? haha…
But really, I do miss nature and friendly people and the closeness of a community. I really enjoyed living in Nagano, and sometimes Yokohama kind of felt like a tolerable version of Tokyo. I think the super inaka is hard to live in, but Tokyo is a bit overboard sometime. Need something in between…
Wow that’s a coincidence! Initially I was a terrible snob that scoffed at Idaho, but when my friend said nothing but good things about it I realized that Boise, Idaho is an up and coming ‘hip’ community. But more than that, it’s just a nice place to live. After moving to LA I really appreciated the Salt Lake City life, and going to a place like Boise that is so friendly and hospitable… it was a very nice change of pace.
Haha yeah I’m sure there are some crazy conservatives in Idaho. I think Boise is the most liberal of the state, but still, I could count the number of minorities I saw on my finger. Not the most diverse place, that’s for sure!
Yeah living abroad is super affordable–way more than the USA! It may seem contradictory, but actually, living in Asia can save you big bucks. I’m half tempted to drop everything and move to Thailand!
I had never heard of Boise. The pictures are lovely!
4 hours commuting every day? That is longer than what it would take me to go to Shanghai if I worked there and continued living in Suzhou…
BTW, 500 USD an apartment in central Shanghai? Where??? I have been looking at apartments around Jing An and cheapest is around 3000 rmb for a room in a shared flat :_
Yeah me either! I was such a snob when my friend told me that Boise was a great place–mostly because it was in the middle of nowhere and even I had barely heard of it… but I was pleasantly surprised! Such an amazing place–definitely not as exciting as the big city of Shanghai or Beijing, but the friendly people and open space definitely makes it cozy.
Yeah the commute here is awful. It takes me 2 hours one way, but luckily I ride the train and have a computer (yay, TV!). No need to battle traffic.
In L.A. having a one hour commute is very normal. I really can’t get used to it.. I might even move… again 🙁
Anyhoo. My apartment in Shanghai was 3200 and shared (it was near Shanxinan lu stop). I did, once, have my own apartment in the Nanjing West Road area for a mere 3,000–which was a steal (everything was new, apartment was renovated, etc..). Anyway, as I later learned, an apartment like this is hard to find.
I think getting your own, private apartment for 500 USD (2,800 RMB)/mo might be a little difficult, but under 1,000USD (6,000 RMB) is definitely possible.
I shared my apartment, but it was super new, nice, clean and spacious. My roommates were also extremely nice and, luckily, never home 😛 I also kind of preferred living with ex-pats that already had a contract in place, that way I had an easy escape plan (didn’t have to deal with signing a contract, etc..).
Let me know if you need help house hunting in Shanghai! Are you and C moving?
I am moving alone for the moment! I got a job in Shanghai, I just knew a few hours ago ^_^ I will get a studio or room in a shared flat, and go back to Suzhou on the weekends! So we will be in a short-distance relationship, haha.
Tomorrow I will start looking for a place. My new office is right next to Jing An Temple. If you happen to know about anyone that is looking for a roommate right now let me know! haha 😉
Haha I’ll ask around! I still have friends in Shanghai. I know one of my Italian friends has an empty room but she lives near 法振华路 (near jiaotong, not jing’an).
So happy you found a job! Congratulations! You must be happy! And Suzhou is not that from Shanghai, definitely doable! I love the term short distance relationship, haha.
Yes, I’m very happy! It is exactly the job I wanted *^_^* (I will be doing localization in a computer games company). And I already found a room 10 minutes away from my office! Everything is going so smoothly it is suspicious, haha. I just went to cancel my work permit in Suzhou and I was expecting a big mafan, but it was all very fast 😀
Whaaaaaaaaa I’m so jealous! That’s amazing!!!! That job sounds really fun! I can’t wait to hear about your Shanghai adventures 🙂
I love Boise. I love the river, the downtown, the foothills. It’s beautiful there. Maybe after a couple of years I’d get bored. I don’t know. Yet I was impressed and hardly anyone believes me when I gush how lovely it is. There are flamenco teachers there so that is important and raw goat’s milk at the co-op. It’s not diverse like NYC but enough diversity to have a nice social life in the town as well as enjoy nature.
Yeah, I had to see it to believe it! Boise really is everything my friend made it out to be. It seems like the perfect place to live.
I considered moving to Boise (and I might still), but I think like you I would worry about the lack in diversity. While Boise is great, it’s still just a little speck compared to NYC or even Shanghai. Still, I think quality of life in Boise is much better–no traffic, less work, beautiful nature, and fresh air! I guess the grass is always greener, huh?
Wow flamenco teachers, really? I LOVE flameno! Another reason for me to go to Boise…
What a cute place! 🙂
I used to want to leave Maine in a heartbeat but the last time I went back I’ve realized that it’s a cool place to live. I’ve talked to foreigners from other countries who talked about how their lives improved for moving to my State. It brought tears to my eyes. The last time I went to Portland was a huge eye opener. It was always a cute European feel city but now the locals there even dress pretty damn nice! I was shocked. We used to be known to dress really, really bad. A Portland Native talked about this in agreement and she finds this all so amusing. Portland is becoming more and more diverse and I am very happy about it.
Dawen thought about moving to Maine but he is an interior designer – forget about it. I mean, with his career, he has no choice but to go to the big cities. Boston is way too expensive and it breaks my heart. I guess living in New England is not in my stars right now. We’re not even planning to go back to the States like we thought we would. The cost is way too great. Almost $1000 EACH with plane tickets (If we are just going to California), car, rent (with deposit) and it goes on. We decided to go back to Shanghai to save money and see where we can go from there.
Thank you for including me in your blog list. I find that to be really flattering considering I always check out your blog when I get online. My new blog is Storiesbetweenborders (I got rid of the bedtime), though because it is shorter and easier to remember. xD
Yeah I heard great things about Maine! There is a certain charm about the East Coast and I always wanted to try out living there. I’m sure it’s amazing 😀
Portland is a super hip city now. I heard the cost of living and housing there is also on the rise, since people are now starting to realize that living in the big three cities (SF, LA and NYC) are definitely not worth it. Portland has stunning nature, nice folk and good food–really, that’s all I need to be happy. I have yet to go to Portland, but was actually considering moving there myself. Can’t wait to go visit!
I think the biggest culture shock I had upon returning to the USA was cost of living. I knew it was going to be expensive, but the pay…? Salaries in America are terribly low and, quite frankly, between health insurance and car payments I don’t know how anyone actually survives here. Surprisingly, for the kind of opportunities and life you get in Shanghai, the cost of living is quite reasonable.
Are you excited to go back to Shanghai!? You and Marta both are moving back to Shanghai, haha, maybe I should join the club..
And of course, your blog is such a fun little read I really enjoy it! I like the new name too 🙂 Very fitting since you’re always on the move between borders (USA, Taiwan, China)!
Yeah, I am excited go back to Shanghai but we really needed that break from there. I think my husband was going mad. xD He goes there simply for financial purposes but maybe my positive outlook will help him to adjust even more. He has more culture shock in China than in the US. He feels very foreign.
Thank you! I hope I get to see you in Shanghai one day .. or maybe in Maine! If you like beer, try the Samuel Addams over there. I am Kosher but I would recommend getting the Maine lobster, New England Clam Chowder and other classics. Many of the local restaurants you can get a whole Maine lobster for $13, which is a huge deal. Tip: Bigger lobster doesn’t mean it will be tastier. My Uncle is a lobsterman living in Bar Harbor. The only relative who can afford to live there. My dad was born there but has to move due to being so expensive. Go at least after Labor day because many tourists will be gone. You don’t want to go to Bar Harbor during the high season. Pain in the ass. Besides, it wouldn’t be too hot or too cold (yet). As a local I don’t go to many places because it gets so crowded. I tried to go to Arcadia State Park and it was traffic jam every time I go. It took forever. Maybe it’s different now. I don’t know.
Just in case when you ask for directions: When a local says, “It’s down the road.” It really isn’t. He or she just means it’s within 40 miles. Haha.
Oh man, famous Maine lobster!!! Usually I’m too poor to eat lobster, but if I were ever in Maine I would definitely have to try it (and thanks for the tips, will keep it tucked away until I travel to the east coast. And wow, I had no idea Maine was so expensive!! Wha? I heard Boston prices were skyrocketing, but now Maine? Sheesh, nowhere on the coast is safe nowadays!
I LOVE Samuel Adams! It’s one of the more ‘mainstream’ beers nowadays, but I think it blows some craft brews out of the water. It’s golden in my book!
And as for Shanghai breaks: I whole heartedly agree. I loooooooooove the place, but if you threw me back in there to live for another six months I would probably be begging for a holiday. I think there’s something about all the pollution and people that just… well, drive you crazy. I can see how your boyfriend would have culture shock as well; when I moved from Japan to China I was expecting different–but not THAT different! China is just another species entirely.
Best of luck to you two and keep me updated!
It is rather cold in Shanghai right now but if I came from Maine, I wouldn’t think so. I remember my days in Maine where at night time it’s usually around negative 25 degrees when there is a cold front. I like wearing my jacket, scarf and seeing the architecture in this time of year. Maybe I am just strange. My curly hair finally looks good for once, which is a plus. I try to have a positive attitude despite I am in a very small closet, er, apartment as I am typing this. It’s okay, I will only be here for a week. I don’t like the fact that I have two doors but I can only lock one of them so basically anybody can go into my bathroom. Not liking that. It’s not supposed to be a shared bathroom but I just don’t trust people. Not only that, the place where to put my clothes is in the hallway where I can’t lock. The hell? I am not leaving my brand name jacket where people can go in and take it. The Boston in me is not comfortable. I found another place for 4,200 and I have a kitchen, washer, and a place to put my clothes. Also, I am in walking distance of a gym. Win. The area is very local but that just means it’s less bullshit, which I like. 🙂
I did miss the Muslim noodle shops – one of few places where everything is not pork. So far so good. Shanghai is treating me well. I see less people eating on the MRT or maybe I am just lucky. I remember I saw some, um, not so pleasant stuff with food on the MRT.
I read some of the previous comments before mine and just wanted to add a few of my thoughts in regards to the posts. Firstly about the cold reputation, the locals including some transplants say the coldest it gets is around the 20s in winter. That’s not bad to me.
Also while I don’t think it’s diverse phenotype wise, it still has diversity. There is the Basque section, as Boise has the largest Basque population in the country. I saw a Greek restaurant owned by Turks (I guess Turkish is still too exotic there), Indian, French, Argentinean, sushi, Thai, Mexican and surely the all to common Chinese and Italian restaurants to name a few. Then there is the wonderful outdoor farmer’s market on the weekend.
At least to me diversity isn’t solely ethnic background but diversity in values, hobbies, personalities, etc. I love the various topography all within 15 minutes from almost desert to green. I’m in Phoenix at the moment, while it may have more “colorful” shades of people, it’s not as diverse in lifestyle, values, or topography, and especially weather. The weather is always hot or warm to varying degrees during the day. To me there is hardly any spice in Phoenix.
Who knows maybe if I were to live in Boise, the people would seem too bland as well but at least the natural terrain and weather changes up. I think it’s charm is that it is not NYC, San Francisco, Seattle etc. It’s just itself (I hope) and I hope it doesn’t become too similar as so many cities in America and even the world are looking alike with the same restaurant chains or similar menus and food trucks and same retail shops.
Very well written, and definitely very convincing! I hear you on the weather aspect, it’s the same weather here in Los Angeles and… frankly… it just doesn’t feel like Christmas. I really miss wearing scarves, coats, mittens… while it’s nice to have sunshine all the time, I actually really miss the seasons.
My friend has been in Boise for five months now and still raves about it just as much as the first day she got there.
When I was talking to locals at the farmer’s market, pubs, stores etc.. I kept raving about how Boise is such a hidden treasure–and the locals not only agreed with me, they wanted it to stay that way. Although they want more visitors and more people to come into the city, I got this feeling they are trying to keep it the way it is: A very cozy and friendly city that has yet to be commercialized by the masses. It really feels like a tight knit community, and I was only there for five days. Let’s hope it stays that way.
The Basque section of Boise was amazing BTW! Augh! All this Boise talk makes me want to go back haha…
In April 2015 I was lucky enough to travel to Boise from Australia to attend a wildland fire conference, with a small number of colleagues. Each of us travelled independently but found each other wide eyed and smiling at the Saturday morning street fair, in one (or two) of the many breweries in town or just walking the streets.
I have been lucky to travel to many laces and I had heard good things about Boise before I got there. But it does have all the charms of the great small cities or big towns visitors and tourists crave to experience. Things like being flat and easy to walk around, the trails, the central or downtown area, the civic places, the breweries and eateries. Just a very pleasant place to visit!
At the end of the conference time, one of my colleagues had thought well ahead and had hired a car to get him back to Seattle over a few days. And seeing his photos later on – I wish I had done the same.
So after prattling on about the good things about the western US and things not California, my son and his partner did a road trip from Las Vegas (eek) to San Franciso to fly home. Not on the freeways, but on the rural back roads to experience ‘real’ people and places in just a few days.
(Tonopah NV – interesting place! Even the Highway Patrol Office (who had pulled my son over) said: ‘why are you going to Tonopah?’. In the good family tradition the answer was: ‘because it is there’.)
I also got to meet some fantastic locals in Boise, and have even hosted one couple I met back there back here in Australia. While the years are getting on, I have now retired, and limitations on travel with COVID – I can’t say I will get back to Boise and road trip to say, the Sawtooth National Park.
But it remains on my bucket list!