My six-month stay in Seattle ended on October 31st. On November 1st I flew to Tucson with the goal of finding a short-term apartment to rent for the winter. Mission accomplished — I found an apartment with a 7-month lease (with the possibility of leaving early for a fee of $195). My new lease begins on January 1st.
The weather in Seattle
First, let’s talk about the obvious thing — the weather! Many people warned me about the cloudy, rainy, weather in Seattle, but since I was there from May through October, I didn’t see much of that. Practically every day was sunny or partly cloudy, with at most a little drizzle for a few hours that cleared up later in the day. In fact, there were many days in a row where we had non-stop sun! It was lovely. There were only a few hot days in late July, with mostly very nice weather in the 70s and low 80s. I became like the locals and never carried an umbrella, only a light water-repellant jacket for the few times of drizzle. I never even unpacked the long waterproof raincoat that I used in New England. Perfect.
It turns out that most of the cloudy weather and rain is packed into the other half of the year in Seattle.
The weather in Tucson
From November 1st through the 12th, I rented a cute backyard cottage on Airbnb. It was the perfect place to stay while I was apartment hunting without a car. The host provided a bicycle and I used that to explore the neighborhoods I was interested in. Tucson is very easy to bike in, being mostly flat (the opposite of Seattle), with many wide bike-lanes. I enjoyed biking around.
For my last couple of days in Seattle it was cloudy and rainy (more of a steady downpour), and a bit chilly, so it was wonderful to suddenly be in the 70s and 80s again, with completely sunny weather! I wore shorts and sneakers most days. People told me I came at the perfect time, because it was still too hot in October, with temperatures in the 90s. Now it was perfect. There was often a nice breeze — the comfortable kind of breeze that smells fresh.
Friendly locals in Tucson
One thing I noticed in Tucson was how friendly and talkative the local people are. I usually chat with workers at the coffee shops I spend time working in — and coffee shop workers are also friendly in Seattle. But the thing about Tucson that was different was that people seemed not to be in a hurry. Even strangers on the street will strike up conversations and talk while you’re waiting for the light to change and then walking down the block. A woman who sat next to me at a counter in a coffee shop ended up chatting with me for half an hour and it was a very enjoyable conversation.
One thing that I always enjoy about being in a new place is that locals like to tell you what they love about living in their location. Several people in Tucson told me how they hate winter, and don’t mind the very hot summers. They like the monsoon season in July and August because it results in beautiful cloud formations that make for beautiful sunsets. And it cools things off and makes them greener. I didn’t even know there was a monsoon season in Tucson!
Best of both worlds
Of course it seems to me that the best thing would be to live in Seattle during the summer and Tucson during the winter, with maybe a month off in the spring or fall to travel to other interesting places. Since I’m location-flexible, I’m thinking about something like this for the future. Perhaps in a year or two, I’ll want to be more settled and have a regular place to go back to. For now though, I’m still enjoying testing different locations without having a permanent home.
Two kinds of natural beauty
It’s quite a contrast to go from the beautiful giant trees and water of Seattle to the different kind of beauty of the Tucson area. The first thing I noticed was the giant, expansive, blue sky. Maybe it’s because of the small number of tall buildings and the overall flatness of the city — somehow the sky seems bigger and bluer. I grew up in Omaha, Nebraska and the sky there also feels big — it’s a city in the prairie on rolling hills (not flat, like some assume), and you can usually see far off into the distance. In New England (where I spent my whole adult life until two years ago), it seemed like you could never see the horizon unless you were right on a beach. Everything there is rolling hills and winding roads with trees nearby.
I also noticed many different sounding birds. And more green trees and bushes than I expected from photos I had seen. And of course, all the different kinds of cactus everywhere — interesting!
Tucson is surrounded by mountains and I’m looking forward to some hiking trips in them. So far, I’ve only biked around the following neighborhoods: Armory Park, Downtown West University, and Sam Hughes. The apartment I found is in a neighborhood called Iron Horse — it’s very convenient to walk to a food co-op, coffee shops, an independent bookstore, the new streetcar, the University of Arizona campus, really good Mexican food, and downtown.
There seems to be a lot of arts and culture in downtown Tucson, especially associated with the university. So it’s my kind of neighborhood.
Finding an apartment in Tucson
When I go to a new location, it usually takes me one to two weeks to find an apartment. That’s how it was in Oaxaca (where I lived for five months last year), and in Seattle (for six months). Before arriving in Tucson I researched neighborhoods that might work for being car-free. Walkscore.com is my favorite site for this. The neighborhood where I found my apartment has a walk score of 86 and a bike score of 99.
Before arriving, I searched Craigslist apartment listings to get familiar with the prices in the neighborhoods I was interested in. When I got to Tucson I had certain listings in mind that I visited right away. The most difficult thing was finding a place that would allow a lease of less than 12 months. Those were few and far between.
One of the reasons I chose Tucson (besides good winter weather) was the low prices for rent. Compared to other cities in the U.S., Tucson is significantly cheaper. There are many studios or 1-bedrooms listed for between $400 and $600 a month. In Boston (Davis Square, Somerville) I paid $1,200 a month for a tiny studio in a great location. In Seattle I paid $1,000 a month for a micro-apartment also in a great location, semi-furnished, all utilities included (even internet). So let’s call that $900 before utilities. It would have been $950 (all inclusive) if I could have committed to a 12-month lease — they add a premium for six-month leases.
Also keep in mind, that I’m only considering walkable neighborhoods (not suburban or out in the country). Walkable neighborhoods usually have higher rents (but it’s worth it to me to live car-free).
So I was hoping for one of those cheaper apartments in Tucson. However, every one of them wanted a 12-month lease. Luckily, the company I ended up renting from offers leases from January through July 31. That’s because students come back to school in August and they can turn places over at that time.
So I’m going to pay $950, plus electricity. Luckily it’s completely furnished (yay! no furniture shopping), and includes internet (previous tenant told me it’s a fast, reliable connection). And it’s in a beautiful historic building in a perfect location for walking everywhere. It’s a one-bedroom on the second floor of a two-story building, so no one will be above me. It’s got hardwood floors and air conditioning, which I probably won’t use until May.
My lease is from January through July. I may stay that whole time, or I might leave at the end of May. They have a deal where either I can find someone to take over my lease, or they can do it for a fee of $195. That seems worth it to me. I’d like to do a couple of short trips in June to Omaha (visit my sister) and Boston (visit old friends). After that, I may head back to Seattle for another beautiful summer and more exploration of the Pacific Northwest.
Back in New England for the holidays
On November 12 I came to New England in order to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas with my closest friends (they are like family to me). Instead of flying at the busiest times and doing two short trips, I decided to stay in New England for a total of seven weeks. That’s a big advantage of being location-flexible. My work comes with me, so I don’t have to use limited vacation time and I can choose travel dates a bit farther out from major holidays.
I happened to find a flight from Tucson to Boston that involved a 7-hour layover in San Francisco. For most people that would be a pain, but for me it was perfect. I wanted to arrive in Boston before 8 pm Eastern because the friends I was staying with go to bed and get up very early. I could have taken a crack of dawn flight from Tucson, but I’m not a morning person. I always schedule flights that leave around 10 or 11 am or later.
One of my best friends lives in San Francisco now, so this allowed me to be there long enough to go to a movie and have dinner with him. My flight left Tucson at 1:45 pm mountain time and got to SFO around 3 pm Pacific time. I took BART to meet him in the Mission and we went to a movie and then had sushi (veggie for me). That was fun, since he was my main movie buddy in Boston for so many years. It was like old times. I then headed back to the airport for a red-eye flight to Boston, arriving at 7 am Eastern. This was perfect for arriving at my friends’ place at a time that syncs with their early schedule. With travel plans like this, the world seems very small.
By the way, I’m on a tight budget these days while my business is young. I no longer have the good, steady salary of past years. So I use advice from “travel hacking” blogs to get great deals on frequent flyer points from credit card usage (I always pay in full). Because of this advice I have TONS of points for flights. So it’s not an expense for me. Rent and food are my biggest expenses right now.
Enjoying Vermont with my friends who are family
For more than 20 years I have spent Thanksgiving with one set of friends (in Montpelier, VT), and Christmas with another set of friends (in Brattleboro, VT). My Brattleboro friends are a large, extended family to me, and their kids (now college age and older) are like nieces and nephews to me. Some of us have lived together at different times over the years (Melissa and her son Xavier were my housemates on Martha’s Vineyard in the early 90s, for example). So I want to maintain our holiday traditions no matter where I’m currently living.
I’m currently in Montpelier with my Thanksgiving friends (all vegetarian, like me), and feel lucky that I’m able to stay at their house for three weeks instead of just the usual long weekend. In early December I will head to Brattleboro to stay with my Christmas friends for a few weeks. Then I’ll head back to Boston for a few days before I fly back to Tucson on January 1st.
Seven weeks of winter is enough for me. I’m looking forward to nice weather in Tucson and making some new friends there.
Living in multiple locations – learning more
If you’re thinking of living a location-flexible life, I highly recommend it! If you can find a way to work completely online (whether for an employer or freelance), it has much to recommend it. You don’t necessarily have to live outside of the U.S. (though I hope to again at some point). You don’t even have to move around like I do. You can stay in one place. But if you want to go for a longer visit somewhere, you can do it! Just bring your laptop with you. Is someone in your family having a baby? Or getting married? Or do you want to go to a family funeral far away? You can stay as long as you like when your work is online.
You can also follow the nice weather like I’m doing this year (and loving it).
Here are some recommended resources on topics I discussed in this post:
- Researching walkable neighborhoods: Walkscore.com
- Monthly weather averages in Tucson and Seattle
- Average apartment rental prices in Tucson and Seattle.
- Micro-apartments in Seattle
- Airbnb – my best way to find places to live for one-month or less (referral link – get $25 off your first visit)
- Arts & culture in downtown Tucson – all of these venues are within walking distance of my new place