If you looked at a map and could pick any place in the whole world to live, where would you choose? Maybe you're partial to the sun and sand. Maybe you crave the mountains. Maybe you love a bustling city or the quiet countryside. Whatever it is, we all have our preferences when it comes to a place to live. A few years ago, my husband Michael and I decided we wanted to live in Europe. We traveled there every chance we could, but wanted a way to really explore all it had to offer. Europe was our goal. But where would we live? And how could we leave our home, family, friends, and create a life abroad? In this post, I hope to explain why we chose Heidelberg, Germany, our thought and decision making process, and why I still think this might be the best place in the world to live.
Before moving abroad, we did extensive research on the best places in the world to live. One thing about Michael and I: we do our fair share of investigation before making decisions. Especially Michael. Most people love the part in the engagement process when you register for gifts. Not me. Michael took painstaking analysis of toasters and towels. He'd stop and look up Consumer Reports on which blenders were best. So when we decided to move abroad he made spreadsheets, read everything he could, divided everything into our needs, and the pros and cons of each country. So, whether it's something huge, like a place in the world to live, or something smaller like what camera to buy, we take our time when making a decision and weigh all the options. I hope to use my blog as a way to show our path of decision making, and hopefully make yours easier.
Whether you want to move abroad or not, I think it's interesting to understand why we chose what we did, and how it now compares to where I've traveled. I've been living in Germany for over a year so I think I can testify to what it's really been like.
Why we moved
Many people think that I moved abroad for my job, or Michael's. The thing is we moved abroad with absolutely no visa, no friends, and no jobs. We simply wanted to travel Europe and the best way to do that is live there. Our first step was to make sure I could make the move, aka, be away from my parents. So we moved to Nashville. At the time, I was working from home at a marketing and social media job. Michael convinced his company that he could work remotely. So we made the move to Nashville and found out we absolutely loved it. Later that year, I started blogging full time. Michael resolved that he'd quit his job when the time came for us to go overseas.
As for our decision to move abroad it came about as a if we both had the same thought at the same time. I can't tell you who said it first because it's like we both dreamed it together. When we went to Paris for the first time, I got tears in my eyes watching the Eiffel tower light up. I thought to myself, “I'll probably never see this again.” And then I realized that's ridiculous. If I want to see it again, I can and should. Our short trips to Europe before made me realize how much I wanted to at least try this out.
When we told people about our plan they most often responded in two ways: “Wow, you guys are so lucky!” or my favorite: “Why?”
The shocking truth is that most people in the US don't hold passports (it's under 50%!) and many don't spend time traveling. There's nothing wrong with that. We all have our wants and needs. I don't care at all about handbags. Some girls prize a Louis Vuitton. I would rather go to Italy. The fact that we all have different preferences is what makes the world go 'round. To me, life is about figuring out exactly what you want then doing absolutely everything you can to get it. I think the part of figuring out what you want is actually the hardest. For years and years I had no idea what to do with my life. I remember in college I wasn't really sure what to study. There's only one thing I knew I liked: working for myself. Finding out that I should be a blogger took all kinds of different paths before landing on this.
Moving abroad became a necessary part of our life. What if we didn't do it? I knew that if we didn't at least try we would regret it forever. Lastly, the world is more connected. The internet makes it easier for me to stay in touch with family and friends. I can talk on Facetime or see what's happening on social media. Do I miss out sometimes? Of course. But I wouldn't trade it.
Our wants/needs in a place to live
When we started researching, we first went at it with a broad approach. We read articles to see why certain countries were ranked as the best places to live. For example, we looked at Business Insider, which listed out the best places to live based on a number of factors such as life expectancy, education, gender equality, and financial wealth.
Time and time again, we kept seeing Germany high on the list. But I wanted to make sure. So, we nailed down some criteria for what we wanted in a country:
– Centrally located in Europe
– Easy to travel within and out of
– Good economy
– Speak some English
– Is a big enough city to find what we need
– Feels European
Now, let me walk you through that criteria. First and foremost, we wanted to live somewhere that was easy to travel around. While I think about Spain and England are lovely, they are not very centrally located in Europe. The great thing about countries like Germany and France is that they are central in Europe, so it's easy to take any means of transportation to anywhere else. Train travel is big here so it makes sense to hop on a train and be in a completely different country.
I think Greece is absolutely gorgeous. I am amazed by the white walled city of Santorini and the history in Athens. But the economy is in fairly bad shape and again it's not centrally located. It wouldn't be easy to go from Greece to say Denmark.
Next, we wanted somewhere that had a good grasp of English. We fully planned on learning the language (although that's proved much more difficult than expected) so finding a place that spoke English was necessary. Luckily, many places in Europe speak English extremely well. Particularly Germans. I swear they might be the best besides the Nordic countries.
I'm from Dallas and am a big city girl, so I wanted a city that would have what I needed. I knew moving to Europe would mean no more Target or CVS, so I wanted to still have grocery stores and convenience stores close by. Most of Europe is fairly densely populated, so smaller towns tend to have everything you need. But still, I didn't want anything too remote.
Places like Frankfurt and Berlin are big cities with great transportation, but they are very modern looking. You won't see as many half-timbered homes or old churches. The fact is these cities were bombed in WWII so they've been completely rebuilt. They are still lovely, but they don't have that quintessential Europe feel that I was looking for.
Norway was named the happiest country on earth but it's incredibly expensive and not centrally located. And really cold. So while this might be a great place for many, it didn't fit in with our criteria for where we wanted to live. By the way, European countries make up 7 of the 10 happiest countries in the world with the first 6 places being all European countries. We ended up putting together a list of what we researched with notes about why each place made sense for a move.
After researching and hemming and haw-wing, we picked Germany. It was the clear winner in all categories and ranks very high on so many different lists of countries to live in. The next step was to choose where in Germany. We went through a similar process of slimming down our choices. We came up with about 10 cities in Germany that made sense based on location, looks (don't judge! But hey, we wanted something that felt European), temperature (we didn't want a place that would always be freezing), size, and access to transportation.
After each making our own excel spreadsheets, we got together to hammer out which picks were the best for us. We decided on three cities: Dusseldorf, Cologne, and Heidelberg. Then we decided to independently do some research. Time was ticking and we needed to know where we were moving so we could start making real plans. After a couple days of reading articles, Googling images, and scanning Pinterest, we “met” in our guest bedroom/Michael's office to pick a place.
We both sat there grinning, I think we both knew what we were going to say. On a count of three we both shouted, “Heidelberg!” Excited, we started making the big plans. Little did we know what was in store for us- despite all the research. I announced it on the blog, sold practically all my stuff, we tried to rent an apartment from afar to no avail, and tried to secure visas. Emphasis on tried.
If you'd like to read more on that process, read this post from when we made the move over.
Now that I've traveled through Europe more I'm able to really compare Heidelberg to other cities in Europe. Has it been a good choice? Would I still live in Heidelberg, Germany, given the option? Luckily, that answer is a resounding yes. There are, of course, some things that are more difficult about living abroad (I've outlined that in what I've learned about Germans since living in Germany here and part 2 here). Being an expat is definitely a very different lifestyle. But Heidelberg makes so much sense as a place to live.
Here's why Heidelberg was the perfect pick to live abroad:
– It's freaking gorgeous. Almost every season is just lovely. Spring is full of flowers, Summer has incredible weather, Fall is brightly colored, and Winter brings the Christmas Markets. The castle overlooking the river is stunning and every morning I walk the dogs to a lush green park with rolling hills in the distance. The traditional stacked European houses are so quaint.
– The city is smaller compared to where I've lived before – Dallas and Nashville. But that's not a problem because it's fairly touristy. We have all the “big” European stores and the Hauptstrasse is a my own personal outdoor mall.
– There's a market that occurs just down our street every Wednesday and Saturday that offers some of the best cheese I've ever had in my life, sausage, and beautiful flowers.
– The location is incredible. We are a 45 minute drive from pretty Strasbourg, France, Frankfurt airport – one of the biggest airport hubs in Europe- is a 30 minute train ride, or Stuttgart airport is 45 minutes away. The train connections are awesome (Paris is 3 hours away by train) and the public transportation system here is phenomenal.
-It's not overly busy. Many popular cities can feel overly crowded but that's not the case with Heidelberg. During the Christmas markets and the late Spring and early Summer it seems to get busier but it's nothing like a big city like London or Paris.
– It's also a great place to get away. We can drive about 15 minutes and be in the hills with the dogs. Having that capability is a huge benefit.
– It's a university town, so there are a lot of young people. That means there's an active nightlife and bar scene. There's also an active community of expats here.
– Heidelberg is basically dead center of Europe. So it's so easy (and convenient) to get anywhere.
Some drawbacks are that it's not as big as some other cities, so there's not always as many activities as there might be in somewhere like Munich. It's not a huge city, so if we were to look for jobs (that's not our need) then it would be harder. Although there is a “bigger” city close by, Mannheim. That's also the city we go to if we want to see a movie. There also aren't as many food choices because it's a smaller city, but this also helps us save cost on food.
I truly feel like Heidelberg was the best choice for us when picking out where to move abroad. It's beautiful, quaint, a great location, and still feels like a fairytale.
If you're interested in learning about our unusual process of getting a Freelance visa, check out this post. It goes into detail about our situation, how we got denied initially, and how we secured a visa. It's worth the read!
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