Searching the Southeast for a Temporary Home

by jdroth on 29 September 2015 · 2 comments

It’s been more than a month now since Kim and I began to feel road-weary. To add to the fatigue, we spent a week in Charlotte, North Carolina for Fincon, the annual conference for all things financial. Then we spent a week driving all over the Southeast in the Mini Cooper, searching for a place to live.

Note: To add to our desire to settle, I’ve begun working in earnest on my new personal-finance site, Money Boss; meanwhile, Kim has been exploring the possibility of opening an online store.

On the Road Again

Last Monday morning, we piled all of our stuff into the Mini Cooper and drove south out of Charlotte. Initially, we were aiming for Jacksonville, Florida. Our idea was to explore the Sunshine State to see if we could find someplace to stay for the winter. (Yes, we’re well aware that many people have the same idea every year.)

Staying true to our motto as a couple — “go with the flow” — we changed course midstream. While stopped for lunch, I browsed for rentals on Craigslist. For some reason (I can’t remember why), I started with Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

“There are a lot of cheap places in Myrtle Beach,” I told Kim. “I don’t know anything about the city, but maybe we should start our search there instead of Jacksonville.”

“Sounds good,” she said, and so we veered east. As we drove, we continued to research. “I’m not sure there’s much for us to do in Myrtle Beach,” Kim said. “What about Charleston instead?”

“Charleston works,” I said, and we altered our path once more. Kim, who is a Priceline ninja, snagged a cheap hotel room as we drove, and by late afternoon we were exploring the city.

We liked Charleston just fine. It has some funky neighborhoods and interesting restaurants. Plus it’s filled with history (Fort Sumter!) and close to the beach. Still, it didn’t feel like home to us. In the morning, we drove south toward Georgia. We spent a couple of hours in and around Hilton Head, South Carolina before crossing the state line to visit Savannah.

Savannah! Now here was a city we loved.

Savannah, Georgia

First, Savannah’s setting is strange and wonderful. It’s lush. It’s swampy. It’s flat. The area is heavily forested, and there’s lots of Spanish moss hanging from branches, both in town and outside of it. The trees are filled with noisy birds whose songs and cries are completely unfamiliar to me. Plus, there are tons of turtles in the area. (I like turtles.)

But we loved more than just the city’s setting. Because Savannah is one of the few southern cities to have not been destroyed during the Civil War, there are many old buildings in the area. Plus, large parts have a sort of “seventies” feel that always appeals to me. There’s also a vibrant culture of diverse people in the city, which is something that our home in Portland lacks. The historic district is peppered with parks squares (much like London) and good restaurants and funky shops.

“I could live here,” Kim said. I agreed. (One downside? Except for downtown, Savannah is pedestrian-hostile. There are no sidewalks, cars don’t stop for pedestrians in crosswalks, etc. For a walker like me, this isn’t a good thing.)

Orlando, Florida

Our next stop was Orlando, where our friend Toni Anderson lives. “You should come down here and check it out,” she’d told us at Fincon. “My husband’s parents might even have a room where you could stay for a few weeks.”

We met Toni’s in-laws for lunch and then stayed the night at their house. There company was terrific and the room was perfect — but Orlando didn’t match our vibe. Maybe because we didn’t see enough of it, the place reminded us of any other sprawling, generic medium-sized U.S. city. It could have been Sacramento or Indianapolis or Spokane.

“I keep thinking about Savannah,” I told Kim.

“Me too,” she said. “Cindy and David are great, but I don’t want to live in Orlando. I want to live in Savannah.”

“Let’s go back!” I said. And so we did.

Downtown Savannah

As I sat behind the wheel for six hours, Kim browsed Craigslist and called property managers. We soon realized that our budget — $1000 per month for a six-month rental — wasn’t realistic. Places downtown were renting for at least three times that amount. Even on the outskirts, people were asking for $2000 in rent.

The first place we visited had an ideal location at the edge of the historic city center. It was surrounded by restaurants and shops and park and was only a few blocks from the river. The unit itself was a 500-square-foot loft with hardwood floors and quality fixtures. The downsides? It felt crowded with so much furniture in so little space. Plus, it was a little expensive ($1750 per month). My biggest complaint, however, was the mold we saw everywhere. “I know it’s humid in Savannah, but I’m worried that much mold will screw with my allergies,” I said.

We were tempted to take the place without looking at anything else. We filled out the rental application and paid our $40.

“How soon could we move in?” Kim asked.

“You could move in tomorrow, if you wanted,” the agent told us.

“That’s tempting,” Kim said, laughing. “But we should probably go look at least one more place.”

In the Suburbs

The second place we saw was completely different, a condo between the city of Savannah and nearby Tybee Island. The home was twice as big as the first place and much more modern. It didn’t have as much character, but it provided a number of other advantages:

  • Free parking (for the Mini Cooper, not the motorhome).
  • A community pool and hot tub. (We love hot tubs!)
  • A fitness center just outside the front door. (Seriously, a thirty second walk from door to door.)
  • Perhaps best of all, two bathtubs in the unit.

Plus, the unit would only cost $1325 per month (plus utilities).

“What do you think?” Kim asked after our tour of the condo. “Should we start a list of pros and cons?”

“I’ll be honest,” I said. “I love the place downtown and it’d be a lot of fun to live there, but it doesn’t match our goals for the next six months. We want to work. We want to eat right. We want to exercise. In town, there’d be too many temptations and distractions. Out here, we still have access to that stuff when we want it, but there’s a twenty minute barrier between us and bad behavior.”

“That’s true,” Kim said. “Plus, out here there’d be no excuses with the exercise. We’d have a gym outside our front door.”

“Exactly,” I said.

“And I’ll be honest too,” said Kim. “My heart sunk when I saw there wasn’t a bathtub in the apartment downtown. Here we’d have two bathtubs — one for you and one for me. Not to mention the community hot tub and pool.”

“See,” I said. “I don’t think we need to make a list of pros and cons. I think the choice is obvious. We can save $400 per month by living out here, and we’ll be better able to do the things we want to do. Let’s take it.”

Home Sweet Home

So, there you go. Kim and I will spend the next six months as residents of Savannah, Georgia. We plan to spend most of our time exercising and working, but we’ll make some weekend trips to Florida and the Carolinas and possibly even New Orleans. For me, it’ll be fun to live somewhere other than Oregon for a while. I’ve lived my entire life within a 25-mile radius of the town where I grew up. Now I can experience something different.

As you can guess, this means Far Away Places will be on hiatus for a while. In a week or two, I’ll publish a stats breakdown of our first six months on the road. Plus, I’ll post updates here whenever we take jaunts outside Savannah. But until the end of March, I’ll be focusing my attention on two places: writing about radical personal finance at Money Boss and writing about personal development at my personal site.

So, until the spring: Be well, my friends!

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 PawPrint 05 October 2015 at 10:37

Nice! I’ve always wanted to visit Savannah. Do hope you’ll write a bit more about it while you’re there. Looking forward to Money Boss. Have fun!


2 lefawn 06 October 2015 at 07:24

I spent my middle and high school years in Savannah and really loved living there. Last year I went back for a long weekend. That was the first time I had visited in over a decade. I was reminded once again at how vibrant a city it is. Enjoy your time there!


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