Step One — Find the Right Place

Start with maps and demographics: If you’re looking for a weekend getaway, consider drawing a circle on the map with your present location as the center and the radius equal to the distance (or time) you’re willing to travel. Explore communities within that travel circle.

For retirement or a move to a new location explore your options here:

  • Real estate search and community information — start with these:

    1. "US News & World Report" —This site has a large city and town database with information about cost of living, house prices, jobs,  climate, culture, health, and air quality. It is focused on retirement locations but the advanced search can look at non-retirement areas as well. Here's helpful state information for jobs information: Wages, unemployment & layoffs. You can use Wikipedia for history and demographic information on most towns and counties in the US.

    2. "Sperling's Best Places" —A site where you can compare towns by just typing in the city and state. You can look at housing price trends of any US neighborhood by zip code. This also has a similar search feature as the Money site for finding the right climate, jobs, schools or cost of living.

    3. " house search" —Use this form to input a city or zip code, the type of house and the price range you are interested in. In a few moments the database will come back with listings, maps, and usually pictures of the houses that match your criteria. There are amazing differences in housing prices between locations. When you find a house you like, copy and paste the address into Google Earth (below) and bore down to street view to explore pictures of the neighborhood. You can also search for just land and then zoom into Google Earth for a birds eye view.

  • Map Links — Nothing is changing faster:
    Google Maps (one of the best) Once you find a location click the "satellite" and "hybrid" buttons in the upper right to see the topography.
    Google Earth - Take a tour of our favorite planet! In two years this will be a fantastic video game/travel tool. Load this free download onto your computer only if you have a broadband Internet connection and a modern fast computer. Amazing and being updated all the time!
    Delorme Maps (look at the atlas for your state)
    — Try MapQuest where you can put in an zip code or town name and zoom up or down.
    Topographic picture maps and other state information.
    Outline Maps for marking up with your plans. Also some good climate maps.
    USGS topographic map viewer (you can call: 1-800-USA-MAPS)
    TerraServer Interactive maps allow you to zoom in and print topo and aerial views
    US Forest Service maps
    — Get a good paper road atlas for getting around and to mark up with you own notes. Rand McNally atlases are available everywhere.

Right brain ways of finding out what land is best for you. Note: this may be a little "new age spacey" for some. Skip this if you already know where you're headed. But remember, the vitally important choices in life: career, spouse and where to live, should never be trusted to just the logical mind.

  • Research places where you can imagine yourself living. Spend a day at the library and look for picture or travel books on the area. Check the current weather. Find out the length of the winter and when the first planting day of spring is. What types of crops, trees and landscape plants grow there? A good gardening book for the area will tell you much about climate, weather and soil. Even if you won't be gardening this can tell you much about a place.
  • Do you have a particularly memorable fragrance? Perhaps it was pinon pine, eucalyptus, or magnolia, or maybe the smell of salt spray, turned soil or the damp woods. Each of these smells come from a specific type of environment. Look in that environment.
  • Mentally put yourself into the place you are thinking of living. Go through each of the seasons and think about a normal day’s activities. What are you doing? What do you see when you look out the window? What does it feel like?

Those areas that still seem attractive after your research should be on your short list of places to visit. Go there and immerse yourself in the land and the people who live there. The right place will feel right — you will be more alive, more clear headed and perhaps feel lighter. Colors will be more vivid and people will be more attractive. The place will have a ring of authenticity. While there...

  • Find out how the local native people lived. What did they eat, what did they build for shelter, and what did they use for medicine? Were they a high culture that spent much time on art and rituals, or were they more engaged with day to day survival? This is the baseline for living off the land.
  • Consider what living there will mean in terms of cost of living. Do you envision a simple life or are you expecting to have a similar or more expensive lifestyle than you have now? What will your money needs be and can they be met in this location? What will your initial needs be? What do you need to get set up here (what clothes, vehicles, tools, etc)?
  • As you visit an area your vision of living there will evolve — especially as you interact with the communities in the area. Check these out with the Next link below.

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