In late November, just a couple of days before Thanksgiving , my family and I uprooted ourselves from the Atlanta suburbs, and moved 1,200 north to New Hampshire. A strange move, wouldn’t you say? In fact, some may say it’s even downright un-American: we moved from the South to New England. After all, everyone else seems to be heading the other way.
So why did we do it?
We’re a Little Bit – Different
We don’t exactly fit the profile of the typical American family, if such a mythical composition even actually exists. For starters, I’m a blogger – that’s my primary occupation. Though I worked in the corporate world for number of years, I am not a corporate person. For that matter, I’m not an organizational person at all.
My son is a video editor – there’s no corporate in his universe either. And what would you say about a family that has a preference for rats as pets? The Brady Bunch we’re not.
In much of the Sun Belt, conformity seems to be the rule. At least that’s the case in suburban Atlanta. I have a theory about this. I think that people, from different parts of the country – often the northern states – move to the Sun Belt to start over in life. That do-over often results in constructing a life that looks curiously similar to everyone else in the area, like a kind of mass homogenization. It’s easy to do in the Sun Belt because everything is relatively new and standardized, and the traditional local cultures have largely been pushed out in favor of rapid growth.
It’s almost as if people are leaving their old selves behind, and trying to blend neatly with the predominant culture. In Atlanta at least, and much of the Sun Belt from what I’ve seen, it’s fairly easy to do. Atlanta is filled with thousands of largely similar subdivisions, made up of largely similar homes. People overwhelmingly tend to hold corporate jobs, drive similar cars, and encourage their children to participate in the same activities as other kids.
From what I can see, there’s not a whole lot of room there for the kid or even the adult who is a non-conformist. Don’t get me wrong – I was happy living in Atlanta – but I also knew I was out of step with the predominant culture there.
Though that type of conformity was something that I aspired to as a younger man, both my wife and I came to dislike it intensely as we got older. Now that our kids are young adults, we don’t think that it’s the best environment for them either. My son agrees. And my daughter – the jury is still out.
Family and Familiarity
My wife and I are originally from New Jersey, and we have always harbored the notion that someday we would return. Not necessarily to New Jersey, but to some other state up north. Both her family and mine reside almost entirely in the Northeast. We have family here in New Hampshire, but most live in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. And though we are 300 miles away from those states, we’re a heck of a lot closer than what we were in Georgia. Family is important, and seems to become even more so as you get older and realize the brevity of life.
There’s also the familiarity that we had known so well in the Northeast. Though we were perfectly willing to leave it all behind and move to the South more than 20 years ago, that familiarity remained with us. It’s amazing how you yearn to return to it as you get older.
We came to miss the pronounced changes of the seasons, the brilliant fall foliage, the closeness of both the mountains and the beaches, and the cornucopia of ethnic foods.
We also missed the people. The Northeast has always been a stomping ground for very diverse people types. I’m not referring to ethnic differences, though I’m not excluding it, but more like lifestyle and career diversity.
In Atlanta, most people seem to work in corporate America. There are plenty who do the same in the Northeast, but there seem to be a lot more who work outside of it. More people seem to be self-employed, to be artists, to be shop owners, to be independently wealthy, to work on beach boardwalks, and all kinds of unconventional careers. That all seems more appealing now than it did years ago.
In the Sun Belt, people live in subdivisions, condominiums, and in large garden style apartments, the vast majority being relatively new. In the Northeast, people live in apartments over downtown storefronts, in restored Victorian homes, in beach bungalows, in attics, in basement apartments, in garage apartments, in refurbished factory buildings, and even in carriage houses. There’s diversity in everything. And the people themselves – that’s a post for another day.
We Missed Quaint – A Lot
One of the big reasons why people move to the Sun Belt is to escape the fact that much of the Northeast is old. Old as in much of it was constructed before World War II, and a good bit of it goes back as much as 200 years before that. The appeal of the newness of the Sun Belt is a major draw.
But that newness tends to exclude something that’s very important to us as human beings, and that’s culture. The old towns and cities, though many of them are well past their prime, reflect the continuity of civilization, American civilization in particular. That doesn’t exist and can’t be reconstructed in the endless miles of new construction in the suburban Sun Belt.
There are towns here that are 100 or 200 years old or more, and have accumulated a lot of history. They are built around town squares comprised of nearly ancient churches and commercial buildings, that represent the nucleus of community life. The buildings of the towns themselves are historic, and have a charm about them that doesn’t exist in newer areas of the country.
Living in these communities, or simply spending time in them, is almost like putting on a beloved old shirt – it doesn’t necessarily look good, but it just feels so good when you’re wearing it. And for what it’s worth, many of those old communities have been rehabilitated, and look pretty darned good too.
My Opinion: The Sun Belt Isn’t as Attractive as it Once Was
20 or 30 years ago the advantages of living in the Sun Belt were a lot more obvious than they are now. People left the north to take advantage of a lower cost of living, lower taxes, and more abundant employment.
But a lot has changed over the years. For one thing, the Sun Belt is a lot more crowded than it used to be. When my wife and I moved to Atlanta the metro area had just over 3 million people. Right now, it’s close to 6 million. That’s lot more people and a lot less room. Much of the Sun Belt is now as crowded or more crowded than the northern states that millions of people left behind.
With that population explosion has come chronic traffic problems. It reached the point where nearly anywhere we wanted to go, at nearly any time of the day, had us stuck in traffic for at least part of the trip. More cars, more shopping centers, more subdivisions, and more traffic lights equal gridlock. That results in a deterioration of the quality of your life, because it’s something that you have to face virtually every day.
The flood of people into the area has also led to a weaker job market. In fact the Atlanta area has consistently had a higher unemployment rate than the nation in general. That’s ever since the Dot.com bust of the early 2000s. But people are still flocking there looking for employment nirvana.
Taxes have risen substantially. The sales tax was around 4% when we moved to Georgia, it’s now 7%. For what it’s worth, New Hampshire has no sales tax. Georgia’s income tax caps out at 6% (at an income of just $20,000); New Hampshire has no income tax, and I think Pennsylvania tops out at 3%. And real estate taxes have been increasing as more of suburban Atlanta incorporates and develop their own municipal systems. By contrast, Areavibes.com gives Manchester, NH, a rating of 73 (“Very Livable”) based on a number of factors including cost of living, crime, education, employment, housing and weather.
Something else we noticed over the years was a rise in suburban crime. This has been chronicled throughout the Sun Belt and it’s certainly true in suburban Atlanta. People who moved to the Sun Belt didn’t move into the cities, but rather to the suburbs. This is causing rapid urbanization and bringing big-city problems, including crime.
The Summer Heat: The Sun Belt’s Dirty Little Secret
One of the main reasons people move to the Sun Belt is to escape the northern cold. That is not without a price. The mild winters are a true delight, but summer is payback. In our experience, the South turned out to be much hotter in the summer than we were led to believe.
The published numbers on summertime in Atlanta has peak temperatures in the upper eighties during July and August. In more than 20 summers, my experience is that average afternoon temperatures during the peak months is more like low to mid nineties. Overnight lows are well into the seventies, and humidity runs near 100%. Nighttime cools down only a little, and you can’t sleep with the windows open – even at night it’s still too hot and there’s no breeze. You’re locked in an air conditioned house from early May to early October.
Humidity is a story all its own. While the first six months of the year are fairly dry in Georgia, the humidity gets progressively higher once you get past Fourth of July. By late July it’s unbearable. In combination with the fact that there’s close to no wind during the peak summer months, summers are oppressively hot. By August, even going to the pool isn’t much help, because the pool turns into bathwater.
The same cabin fever that you get in the northern states during the wintertime hits in the Sun Belt, only it hits in the summer months. It’s simply too hot to go anywhere or do anything that doesn’t involve air conditioning – not to mention the toll that heat takes on your car. And Atlanta is hardly the hottest place in the Sun Belt.
I suppose that some people prefer extreme summer heat to extreme winter cold, but I’m not one of them, and neither is my wife. But as I said earlier, we’re kind of different. I’ll take extreme winter cold and mild summers, over the opposite any day.
Sometimes You Just Need to Make a Change
Sometimes you just reach a point where you need to make a change in your life. There may be no single reason for doing it, but we understand that change can bring about welcome benefits. It becomes something that you want to do from time to time. My career as a blogger provides the type of career mobility that makes this kind of move possible, enabling us to relocate from a large metropolis to a much smaller city in a more thinly populated area. Have laptop, will travel.
I realize that a lot of people want nothing more than to live in the same house, in the same community, and work in the same career for their entire lives. But in my family, we’re not wired that way. Periodically, we just need to make some changes. There’s something exhilarating about overcoming the challenges that change brings, and it never gets old.
The name of this website is Out Of Your Rut, because sometimes that’s exactly what you need to do in order to improve your life. I don’t know what the future holds, but so far this move to New Hampshire is looking pretty promising.
If you live in the Sun Belt, or would like to someday, have you ever considered that the Sun Belt isn’t quite the place that it once was? Do you ever yearn to live someplace different? What’s stopping you from going?
Best wishes on enjoying your new location. I hear you on preferring cooler summers. After a couple of summer months spent in Alaska, I’m ready to endure their winters in order to enjoy the paradise during the summer. Now all I need is those Lotto winnings 😉 I’ve always pictured New England as a place that respects local commerce, with an appreciation for handcrafted furniture and small scale food production. Along with the diversity of the population, I wonder how you find the political climate. I’ve sort of presumed you trend a little bit right of center and I picture New Hampshire to be the other direction. New Hampshire has no state income tax? I didn’t know that. Is it a recent change in their tax law. I do think they tax interest and dividends don’t they? Anyway, keep us up to date on your assimilation into the new location. It will be interesting to hear about what you love and what you regret.
Hi Kathy – Your take on New England is right on the money. They have the big box and chain retailers, but they’re surrounded by a sea of small independent businesses. The political climate is something I’ll have to wade through. As far as my political leanings, I’m mostly libertarian, and if I appear right of center, it’s because I strongly favor small enterprise. I became very non-political in Georgia, but that may change here. NH is smaller, and voices seem to get heard. That may be why they have the primary here. Politics are closer to the ground.
And yes, New Hampshire has no income tax, and no investment tax that I’m aware of. There are several other states with no income tax, including Texas, Florida, Tennessee, Washington, Alaska, South Dakota, Wyoming and Nevada, I believe.
My sister and brother-in-law traveled to Alaska and said the same things about it that you did. We’ll have to get up there one day.
Thank you! U expressed everything I’m experiencing & have witnessed here in North Atlanta. My family & I have only been here for 3 years & i’m unhappy. It’s like no matter what I do if I don’t conform to the customs I’m an outsider doomed for resistance & judgement. Even some of my friends from New York have adopted this way of thinking. Just disgusting I tell you. Georgia is cheaper than Connecticut (my native state) but not that much cheaper and wages here suck like the cost of living doesn’t rise. I’ve already started looking for a change elsewhere like California or Massachusetts where different is embraced because no one is the same so you can’t emulate anyone’s life, only live your own!
Hi Olivia – That was pretty much my experience as well. I continued to be me, but conformity is the rule there. I think that tends to be true in most upper middle class areas, such as the Northside of Atlanta. Instead of moving up the financial ladder freeing people to be who they are, it seems to put them in a straight jacket of conformity. As if there is “A Way” to be successful, and you don’t deviate. I’m planning to do an article on that topic soon. I did see some of that in NJ so I know what you’re talking about with NY, except that you had both the conformists and a very large number of people who were different, so you could be different and still be comfortable.
That said, New Hampshire is full of non-conformists, and I find life here to be easier. People aren’t as polite and tame up here, but they’re real, if you know what I mean. I fit much better in this environment. Atlanta and other sun belt cities may be great for others, but for me and my wife…it was time to go!
And ditto on the cost of living. When we moved to ATL in 1993 it was a lot cheaper than it is now. Once you get past housing, NH is less expensive than Atlanta. Hard to believe, and not covered in the media, but true nonetheless. Oh, and you also save money by not having to compete with others. That can save a fortune! (Yet another solid reason to be suspicious of conformity.)
Hi Kevin- Thank you so much for writing this Blog! This is what I needed to read, I want to move back to the North and I was thinking NH or MA. I currently live in North Carolina ( been here 15 years) from New York. I echo every word you said about living in the south. The Summer months are killing me!
Hi Kyla – We had enough of those searing hot elongated Southern summers. So now it’s mid-September in New Hampshire, and I have this overwhelming feeling that I’m living in the greatest place this side of Heaven! The trees are starting to turn, the heat and humidity are gone, the sky is bright blue and the air is crystal clear. The sunsets are breathtaking just about every night. It’s one magnificent day after another. Fall/Halloween/harvest festivals are springing up everywhere. Everyday it feels good to be alive. Fall up here is classic, it’s everything you see on TV. As much as I hated Southern summers, I really missed Northern Falls. They’re worth coming back to.
If you’re thinking of MA or NH, I’d go with NH (well, actually that’s exactly what we did!). There’s no income tax and no general sales tax, and the cost of living is generally lower than in MA. Meanwhile the unemployment rate in NH is less than 3%. Anything you want to see in MA is a short drive away. But Maine and Vermont and Canada are closer, and there’s plenty to see in those places. My wife and I have been very pleasantly surprised about Maine. You don’t hear much about it in the South, but it’s a real pleasure to visit. We haven’t regretted moving up here for even one day. Hope you can make it back.
Hi Kevin- Thank you for such valuable information, you answered all my questions about my moving to NH.
Would you happen to know a good realtor? You can send it to my email address at
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx. I am so glad I found you Blog, you have helped me MORE than you know.
Hi Kyla – I don’t know any real estate agents up here – we did our move entirely through Craigslist (I categorically dispute those who say it’s nothing but scams!). We found our place and even our movers there. I X’d out your email address, so that you won’t be a target for spammers (that DOES happen!).
Your comment has made me decide to write more articles about New Hampshire and New England. The area gets so little attention while everyone else writes endlessly about the Sun Belt. Today is so beautiful – bright skies, temps in the 70s, gentle breeze – that my wife and I are about to have a picnic at a lake that’s less than two miles from our house (and we live in the city!). We’ll watch the sailboats, the ducks and the seagulls (they’re everywhere up here) while we eat lunch, and then take a hike through the woods to take in the early fall foliage.
You’ll love it up here.
Kevin- one last question, what part of NH would you recommend? I work from home,but would still like to be able to get to town. No kids just me and my husband.
Wow, through Craig’s list. Thank you for Xiang out my email address.
I can’t wait to move now! 🙂
I moved to Atlanta from New Hampshire about two years ago for work and to escape the snow. I am now looking for a job back up north. I can’t wait to leave Atlanta. The crime and traffic are too much. Then there are the hot summers and the tornados…
Hi Nikki – The crime, traffic and summer heat are three negatives you don’t hear much about in connection with Atlanta, but you learn fast when you move there. I was also never certain that the job market was as strong as the media and city promoters said. In some fields definitely, but not across the board by any means. My wife was having trouble getting a job in banking, which shouldn’t be that hard. But all that were available was part-time jobs 20-30 miles from home. Meanwhile there always seemed to be a long line for any job. That’s because a lot of job seekers flock to Atlanta each year. The job market gets swamped quickly in different fields. We’re 2.5 years in New Hampshire now and wouldn’t think about leaving.
This is amazing. I live in California and everything you mentioned about Atlanta is the exact same in San Diego. The summers are 7 months long at 97% humidity.
I have my eye set on Bethel, Maine buy am considering others. I’m trying to keep an open mind but the more I learn about Maine the more I love it.
Hi Aislen – Yeah, we enjoyed our time in Atlanta, but it was time to go. I really love New Hampshire, and it’s been going on three years since we made the move. The longer we’re here, and the more we explore and learn about it, the more we like it. The weather in summer and fall is incredible, as are the scenery, the sunsets and the seafood. And even though we live in town, we see wild turkeys, coyotes and bears close to home. We also like going to the different cities and towns in NH, Mass and Maine. Each has its own culture and history (some from the 1600s), as well as community festivals. Oh, and there are privately owned farms selling fresh produce, milk and eggs all over the place. In the cities and towns, there’s a lot of street culture too, which we didn’t see in Atlanta. They have free concerts, most restaurants have outdoor dining, and the musical talent up here is surprisingly good.
If I had to move to any other state it would be Maine, for all of the reasons we love it in New Hampshire. I do have to warn you that people up here are on the course side. They don’t have much in the way of the superficial politeness that you see in some other parts of the country, but they’re genuine. That is, they are what they are, with little pretense. Being from New Jersey originally, I actually find that to be refreshing, but I get that not everyone would be comfortable with it. I will say this, once you get past the course exterior, the people up here are solid and “well versed”. In fact, I read that 60% of the people in NH over age 25 have college degrees, which is one of the highest rates in the country.
I’d also advise being careful if you have a corporate job, as those are more scarce up here than they are in large metropolitan areas. I knew a CPA a few years ago who moved from New Jersey to the Maine Mid-coast region. Unable to find work, he moved back within two years. I wasn’t surprised. A lot of people up here have two or three occupations or are self-employed, particularly in the rural areas. We were able to move up here because I’m a blogger, which is totally portable (I was back at work the day after we arrived, and didn’t miss a “paycheck” due to the move). If you have the income part figured out, you should be fine.
I love this article!! My husband and I are looking to go back to New England. We are living in NC and are wanting to go back but have been very worried about if it’s the right choice and have been weighing our options so heavily it’s driving me crazy. The summers are so hot and it’s getting so crowded here; all the schools are so over capacity and kids are shuffled everywhere. And I ABSOLUTELY agree that once you get past the housing NH is cheaper. I spend a fortune on groceries and my pets vet bills are always crazy!!! I miss visiting the White Mountain region of Nh; one of my favorite places ?.
Hi Nicole – That sounds like me, my wife and my kids! All that you’re saying about NC is similar to Atlanta. The heat, the crowding, the schools, the higher food prices (not to mention the income and sales taxes we don’t have in NH). At every school our kids were in in GA, there were multiple trailers where they had some of their classes. And for me, the conformity of life in the Sun Belt got a bit suffocating. It’s easy enough to say “ignore it and live your own life”, but that’s not so easy when you’re surrounded by it every day.
NH isn’t paradise, but individuality is the norm up here, and we all seem to be doing much better with it. Don’t get me wrong, if conformity works for you, you’re better off in the Sun Belt. But I like that everyone lives in different looking houses, that we’re surrounded by history, that each community is unique, that people are doing so many different things to earn a living (often outside Corporate America), and that everyone speaks their minds (I really enjoy having conversations with strangers, and it’s amazing how deep that can go with New Englanders).
We also love the scenery, with mountains, lakes and rivers all around us, and the incredibly brilliant skyscapes. That’s the cloud formations and the sunsets that look like you’re watching a roaring fire as nightfall sets in. Speaking of colors, fall is incredible up here. Oh, and then there’s the towns on the Seacoast (Portsmouth, Gloucester, Salem, Portland, etc) and the family farms and town festivals. It looks and feels like the America we learned about in school, rather than the sanitized corners of endless suburbia most people live in and have come to consider normal.
I will say that two issues to be concerned with are the frigid winters and the job market. But since you’re from here you already know about the cold. As to the job situation, while the unemployment rate here is lower than the national average, I don’t see too many people who work in corporate jobs, unless they commute to Eastern Mass. If you have the income situation worked out before you get here, I don’t think there’s much to worry about. But then I’m saying that as a blogger with a thoroughly portable business. Please be careful about this.
I grew up in Connecticut my whole life. A year and a half ago i moved to Orlando florida. Tomorrow, i’m returning to connecticut and i feel we have the same reasoning. you put feelings into words for me. i just always felt it was a facade. everything was too new. too shiny. i can’t trust new and shiny for some reason. everyone keeps saying something about taxes and higher cost of living. but i’m willing to pay a little more for some comfort, nature, hills, character and history.
Hi Molly – You’ve said what I said in the article, but in far fewer words. If I could boil it down to one word it would be authenticity. It’s all around in New England, while the Sun Belt too often felt like living on a movie set. I’ve heard that from other people as well – the facade thing. I think some people can live in brand new and be deliriously happy. But for me, I like living in a place that isn’t perfect, that has evidence of longstanding human occupation, with all the history, culture and authenticity that comes with it. For me, it just feels right in a way that living in the Sun Belt never did. I suppose that since ATL is so new, it always had a temporary feel to me. After 21 years, it still felt temporary, which is never a good sign.
More than a few people thought we were crazy, but that just confirmed in my mind that we were doing the right thing. Maybe I’m a bit neurotic, but going against the grain just feels better to me. Maybe it’s that “taking the road less traveled thing.” I’m contrary by nature, so going North while everyone is going South feels so right to me. Maybe that describes you too, Molly. We just need to do what we feel and learn to get comfortable with it, even if it is out-of-the-box. The only thing I’ve ever regretted about going against the grain is not doing it sooner!
I am also very ready to move to a quaint little town but am having trouble pinpointing a place. We can’t afford a $300,000 home. Aren’t there places that cost less but still retain that wonderful New England charm?
Hi Melinda – You can check out small, rural towns. But there you have to be careful about finding work. Obviously, the more remote the community, the lower house prices will be. You also have to be concerned about long commutes. Winter can be long and deep here, and commuting more than a few miles is tough. Though I know a lot of people who do it. It is of course much easier if you’re retired or if you have a portable business.
We’ve found housing to be the biggest challenge here. It’s more expensive than much of the rest of the country, but less so than the big metropolitan areas (Boston, NY, DC). Though there are a number of really pretty locations that have big city price tags, especially along the Seacoast. I’d recommend finding a place to rent that’s close to where you’ll work. Spend a year or two learning the lay of the land, and then buy.
Hi Kevin. At one time, in another post, I mentioned that we were considering moving south, and while you didn’t tell me not to, of course, you gave me your thoughts in a polite and considerate manner. The more I think about it, the more pictures of see of both places, the more I know I belong in New England. My soul seems to come alive here. I’m currently in Vermont because our work is here, but come retirement, if that ever happens, it will be NH or Maine. I just can’t shake that feeling I get when I see the mountains and the seacoast, the architecture, the history, the small towns, etc. I love Vermont and would stay here, but it is more expensive than the other two states when considering retirement. I’m just reading some of your old posts I haven’t seen before and keep getting soaked up in all of them.
Gee, thanks Bev! I’m with you on New England. One of my daughter’s girlfriends from Atlanta was just staying with us for the week, and she was confirming that the crowding and the traffic has only gotten worse since we left. I confess that the warmer winters of the South do seem appealing in Jan/Feb, but I’ve been happier in NE than I ever was in the South. Your description “my soul seems to come alive” describes my feelings perfectly. I feel alive here in a way that I never have. It’s not Nirvana, but we’ll never find that place anyway.
What my wife and I are finding is that the more we explore NE the more fascinated we are with it. We’ve been visiting the seacoast of ME, NH and Mass regularly, and two weeks ago we took a foliage drive through Northern NH and NE Vermont, and found the scenery breathtaking (particularly the Kancamagus Highway through the White Mountains in NH). We spent this past weekend in Salem for the Horror Fest and had a great time. We’re never bored up here. There’s always a quaint town, a family farm, or a new restaurant to go to. When we lived in ATL, we went to the mall and the movies a lot. But up here, we almost never do. There’s no reason to.
If we move anywhere it will be to the Maine Coast, but I’d be perfectly content to live the rest of my life in NH, and visit the surrounding states. No regrets about moving up here, no desire to go anywhere else. I think I’ve found my promised land.
We are considering moving from Florida to either Maine or New Hampshire. As you mentioned, we are tired of the congestion here among other things. Any recommendation between the two states? I am a financial advisor and my husband is in Physical Therapy. We are excited to start making our plans in the spring. I am a little nervous about finding clients and being too isolated. My husband loves the idea-the less people the better for him. Any advice?
Hi Penny – With that career profile I would think the two of you would be fine just about anywhere. But since you’re concerned about getting clients, Southeastern NH might be the better location. That’s because it’s a spillover of the Boston metro area and has a higher concentration of well-to-do people. Communities like Bedford and Londonderry would work well, and I’d think Portsmouth too. SE NH would also give you access to Northern Mass, which will definitely help. That said, Maine has some wealth concentrations on the coast. Kenebunkport and the Portland area are possibilities. I’ve heard Bar Harbor is another such community though I haven’t been there (yet).
But as a financial advisor I’d think you could basically work nationally. I write for some financial planners, and they have a nationwide client base. Geography isn’t as important as it is with so many other careers.
Your concerns about isolation are real. You can get about as isolated as you want in Northern NH and the inland areas of Maine. But you’ll have trouble making a living if you do. The other alternative is to live in a remote community and commute to work. But you have to take the winter weather into account if you do. In my house, I work form home and my wife ad kids work within a few miles of home. You can do that if you get into the right town, especially given the work you both do.
We are about to make the same move in August! Atlanta to Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Any and all helpful suggestions are welcome. My biggest concern now is finding a place to rent for 1 year starting in August. There isn?t as much real estate available from what I?ve seen. That?s a good thing, but I just need to make sure we get a place in a great school district for my second grader. Portsmouth is not set in stone we can have a commute if needed. Thank you so much for this!!
Hi Amy – You’re probably already aware of the “sticker shock” with rents in Portsmouth, compared to Atlanta. That’s the “Seacoast area”, and it’s high. Lower rents may be available in nearby Somersworth, Durham, Newmarket, Dover or Rochester, which are inland. Also, the Concord area is nice and reasonably priced, but it’s about a 45 minute commute to Portsmouth.
As to the schools, check out GreatSchools.org. They give numeric ratings on schools, from 1 – 10, with 10 being the highest. Since we moved up here after our kids graduated high school, I haven’t kept up with school quality.
Thank you for this wonderful article! My husband and I are 100% on this path — we currently live in Atlanta and relocating to Massachusetts. Tired of the ‘cookie cutter’ scene, gridlocked traffic and frankly, we just need a change! Looking forward to a sense of community, history, culture and of course, wonderful seafood!
Hi Laura – I wish you and your husband well. I can tell you this much, after living in New Hampshire for almost four years, I haven’t regretted it even once. Quite the opposite in fact. I thank God nearly every day for being here. Atlanta may gather more headlines and new residents, but in my experience the quality of life is just so much better here. I can go on and on about this. The longer we’re here, the better it gets. You hit all circuits with community, history, culture and wonderful seafood. I’ll also add beautiful scenery and breathtaking sunsets and skyscapes. And as severe as the weather is here in the winter, the warm weather months are spectacular. Based on your awareness of the fine points of New England, I’m guessing the two of you are originally from this neck of the woods.
I’m from Alabama and have lived in Florida as well as Georgia, although I’m back in Montgomery now. I’m about to move to Pennsylvania because my wife is from there and she wants to. I don’t want to. Nevertheless, you kept referring to the Sunbelt as a whole, while the subborbs of Atlanta are a far cry from the rest of the South. And that’s an understatement. So first off, you were critical of an area that covers multiple states without living in all of them, probably just one, and the worst part of that one to boot. If you don’t like it leave it. Your right, it is a bit more crowded down here than we like it and it’s mainly due to people who want to get out of the cold but but can’t take a little heat. Take some Yankee friends back up with ya if ya can. You don’t know what livin in high cotton means.
Hi Joseph – You’re the first dissenter to this article, either by comment or by email. But I understand, and welcome your point. You’re correct, Atlanta is not typical of the South, but it is typical of the Sunbelt areas, and that’s what I’m getting at. While living in Atlanta I sometimes heard it described as an island, because it is different from much of the rest of the South. But it’s also typical of large sunbelt cities, like Charlotte, Orlando, Phoenix, Las Vegas, etc. Those are the areas most northerners are flocking to, and not so much the small towns of the South. They’re the places people think of when they think of the sunbelt. And yes, they’re becoming overcrowded with people and traffic, and the quality of life is going downhill. From what I’ve seen of the small town South, not much has changed while Atlanta and it’s sister sunbelt cities are bursting at the seams. It’s really two very different worlds, occupying the same space.
Thank you for responding. I’m sorry for being so forward in my first response. But I read your article because I was looking for some pointers on how a southerner should prepare to move North. And by the time I finished reading I just couldn’t help but feel somewhat offended because it seemed as if you were harping on the negatives of the Sunbelt and it’s downsides more than anything. Alabama is in the Sunbelt and it’s my home state and it’s not as you described. So I hope you will understand me getting slightly defensive. This is the first time I’ve ever commented on one of these. Good luck to you and yours up there. I’ll be headed north myself soon.
Hi Joseph – No offense taken! As a blogger part of what I do is to look at things from a different angle. The mainstream media is telling everyone how great the sunbelt is and how everyone should move there. I don’t think it will work for everybody. I’ve been to Alabama, and I don’t consider it to be the sunbelt, mainly because it isn’t being overwhelmed by transplants, the way Georgia, Florida and North Carolina are. There are corners of the South that are absolutely charming. For example, Savannah, GA, is one of my favorite cities, precisely because it is’t “sunbelt”. It’s a well-preserved historic, Southern city that’s retained it’s character. I think Tennessee in general is one of the best places to live in America (no income tax too), because of it’s natural beauty, not-to-extreme heat, and Nashville. I’ve been to Nashville a couple of times and think it’s one of the most livable big cities in America. But then it doesn’t have the telltail sunbelt sprawl of Atlanta or Charlotte. Again, it remains true to it’s Southern heritage, even with people moving in there.
But much of the sunbelt is turning into a caricature of itself, with the same subdivisions, strip malls, and dependence on the automobile. And the conformity of it, for a person like me, is stifling. If you’ve ever heard the Rush song Subdivisions, and read the lyrics, I think it fits. Too many people trying too hard to blend.
As far as moving north, the people will take some getting used to. Politeness is part of the Southern way, but it isn’t a given in the Northeast. Language is raw (I’m being kind), people say what’s on their minds, and it takes getting used to. I can imagine it being a big transition for a lifelong Southerner. But then you might get points for having a Southern accent (if you have one);-)
But all that aside, much of the seeming roughness is a facade. Once you get to know people up here, they’re genuine, often to the nth degree. I hope you adjust, but I’ve seen a lot of Southerners come and go who couldn’t. From living there for 21 years I came to realize the South is as much a lifestyle as it is a place, and it is different than the Northeast. A friend of mine from the South (Alabama no less) lived in NJ for a couple of years, and became convinced everyone up there hates each other. I don’t know if that’s true, but I can see how he drew that conclusion.
Oh, and watch out for the drivers up here. They’re not pretending – they really don’t care. But Pennsylvania is a very diverse state so it really depends on where you are. Philly is a lot different than Lancaster, which is a lot different than the Pocono Mountains area. If you don’t mind, I’d appreciate an update on your experience in a few months. A lifelong Southerner can identify things about the North and Northerners that we can’t see ourselves.
Thanks so much for for your post. I?m happy I came across it because my hubby and I are currently feeling the strain of a hectic work life here in Hawaii.
We have a bunch of little ones and struggle to find the time to ?be with them? due to the cost of living. You can easily make over 100k here but be considered poor. So we are looking to possibly relocate. Don?t get me wrong, we love the weather, the ocean, the food, etc. but I?d trade all these things to be able to spend more time with my kids because we won?t have to work as much.
I?ve been doing a lot of research on NH and more and more liking what I read. I?m not a stranger to cold as I grew up in Ontario Canada.
My question is, what location would u suggest as a good place to raise little ones but still be in close proximity to the amenities of the city? I?ve been looking at Durham (bc it?s close to Portsmouth) and the possibility of renting a room or two to a college student but we also love seeing mountains and water like here in Hawaii. We are an active family, the hubby surfs and kids are always ready to go outside.
Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!!
Hi Amy – Durham is a solid choice. You’re in a college town (UNH), you’re right near Portsmouth and Rye Beach (as well as Hampton Beach and various Maine beaches up and down I-95), and on the Amtrak line into Boston (if you don’t feel like fighting the I-95 traffic).
Moved from Tampa Bay area Florida to New England 21 yrs ago. Financially. stuck here and hate every second since ..people are low class and mean and odd,many unkept amd dirty…cities are old and run down, winters are horrible here and last 7 months out of the year…New England sucks, its that simple!
You may be surprised to learn I don’t completely disagree with you. A lot of the people here fit the description you’re giving. But I think it has to do with the postindustrial economy here that wasn’t so much a thing in the South. A lot of people here were factory workers a generation or so ago, and are struggling to survive in what’s become a radically different economy. I see it too, but I try not to judge it. And I also recognize that it’s a national problem. Tens of millions of people are being left behind by the techno/financial economy. It’s completely obvious in New England, where some are thriving because of it while others are being run over by it, living just a few blocks away.
As far as the cities being old and run down, they certainly are old. And while some are run down, and most have run down sections, others have turned an impressive recovery. And what you call old I call historic, and I find that to be one of the benefits to living in this area.
But having lived in the south myself for more than 20 years, I understand where you’re coming from. Because the South has largely been built up over the past 30 years or so, it is newer and much more suburbanitized. You don’t have the urban cores or the abandoned industrial parks to deal with. And yet the South has been steadily urbanizing with each year. Even some newer areas are starting to become rundown as there’s a strong tendency of homeowners to sell and move into newer houses in new subdivisions. (Suburban poverty has become a real thing in much of suburban Atlanta.)
As far as the weather, I get that too – you’re from Tampa and the winters are tough to stomach. For myself, though I don’t necessarily like the winters, I love the change of seasons. I revel in the not-so-searing-hot summers here, but love the fall best of all. And we deal with the winter doldrums by keeping plenty busy.
Something I also noticed growing up in the New York area is that many Southerners are not comfortable living outside the South. We had a lot of Southern transplants where I grew up, and they could never wait to go back home. When we were living in Atlanta, a friend of ours (originally from Alabama) transferred to Chicago with her husband’s job. She was completely miserable.
I think it’s the “different strokes for different folks” factor going on here. I generally liked living in the South, and there were things about it that I loved. But after 20+ years, I was just over it and ready for a change. It’s a blessing that we can all find our own happy place in the world, even if that’s not the same place as it is for someone else.
And please don’t take this the wrong way, but you mentioned being financially stuck and I think that’s definitely a factor. If you’re financially stuck in any situation, whether it’s a place, a neighborhood, a house, a job, or a social situation, you can’t be happy if you can get out of it. I’ve been in that situation myself and know that beast all too well. But I love the saying “Bloom where you’re planted”. Even if that’s not your favorite place, you owe it to yourself. Life’s to short to do otherwise.
I was born an Army brat in NJ but only spent a few months there. Traveled all over, was lucky to spend the 50s in Northern CA before the state went crazy. Have lived in coastal VA the past 45 yrs in a small rural town a stone’s throw from the Chesapeake Bay.
Our history is a long one, 1607, and “born heres” often turn up their noses at “come heres”, regardless of social status. This is definitely the Old Dominion.
Recently VA has become a second battleground; red vs blue. The old battle flag of the Confederacy has come out of mothballs & flies proudly in many places. I’m not happy with the turn right.
My forebears come from MA & CT so I’m thinking it may be time to drop my “y’all” & come home.
Hi Deb – It’s interesting how people are beginning to move based on political beliefs. Personally, I find New Hampshire (probably the closest thing to a libertarian state in the country, maybe the world) to be more agreeable to me politically than my previous states of residence (GA and NJ). Can’t say that was a deciding factor in moving here, but it definitely has been a bonus.
The latest is people are starting to move due to climate change. I’m not of the belief that human activity is causing it (maybe contributing to it at most) but more of a natural phenomenon that’s been going on for a long time, and there’s not much we can do about it. But the world seems to be getting noticeably hotter in recent years, and there’s been a bigger northward migration than in the past.
Just wanted to add that we just moved here from Asheville, NC, and haven’t been through a winter, yet, but we believe we’ll be happier here. We’re just outside of Bangor, in Holden, ME.
The pace of life is slower and more relaxed, and we were able to get much more land and house than we had in Asheville. We loved Asheville. But it was crowded, the schools were having growing pains; the infrastructure lagged behind all of the people drawn there because Asheville was on too many “top places to live” lists. Housing was crazy expensive. Also Asheville felt more dangerous than Holden does.
So we’re taking a chance on hating winter for all of the other great pluses about living here. The schools are likely better; housing and land (at least where we are)=cheaper; much slower pace of life makes it easier to relax and enjoy life. We think it’s a better place to bring up our toddler.
I read all of your blog and the comments with interest as we just moved from Asheville, NC, to a semi- rural area outside of Bangor, Maine (we being me—a grandmother; my daughter; her husband; and their 2-year-old). We are about 50 minutes from the coast and about 12 minutes to my SIL’s work place in Bangor.
We moved for lifestyle reasons. My SIL is a family physician who was becoming burned out. Here they have 10 acres; a larger house; he works 3 days a week (yes he took a pay cut) and a lot less pressure.
People in Maine are nice. Winter will be hard but we installed a generator. We loved Asheville but crime had become a problem. We lived in an older charming neighborhood but could frequently hear gunshots. In some ways it tore out our hearts to leave as our families go back to the founding of NC and we left our family and all friends behind and know no one here. Or we didn’t; now we do :).
But climate change; the threat of gun violence; school systems in shambles; the feeling that almost half of the state felt the civil war was won by the wrong side (though admittedly the blue half is progressive and a big presence) prompted us to leave. We wanted to bring up the baby somewhere up north. New Hampshire and Vermont were also considered but the Bangor area was the best combination of finances plus close to a small city plus close to villages and to the coast. My daughter and I are sailors and look forward to raising one. She takes swimming at the Bangor Y several mornings a week and loves it.
Massachusetts struck us as too expensive and likely too much of a pressure cooker.
We are happy so far.
Hi Beth – I’m not at all surprised at your story. We’ve been here 8 years next month, and enjoy living in Northern NE more than ever. We love summer and fall, and after a while even the winters kind of grow on you. As you’ve probably seen already, the October foliage is magical, and fall weather is the best. Last year we took a vacation (went glamping) in Acadia and spent a lot of time in Bar Harbor. It was one of the best vacations we’ve ever taken, and we plan to do it again. You should consider visiting Portland, Camden, Boothbay Harbor, Kennebunckport and Ogunquit as well. All look like towns out of a Hallmark movie. We also like being only minutes from farms where we can buy or pick fresh fruits and vegetables, and the abundance of fresh fish from the Seacoast.
Funny that you mention Southerners who have the wrong idea about the Civil War, but I did notice many of the locals in the South do have an ***optimized*** view of the war and the causes behind it. I guess you’d have to in order to have a clear conscience about the history of the region. That said, the South doesn’t have a corner on the biggot market, they’re all over.
I don’t know if this is a problem in Asheville, but Atlanta is plagued by water shortages every summer, some quite severe. That hasn’t been a problem in NH as the population is much smaller and the supply of fresh water is plentiful here. A lot of the problems of the Sunbelt are due to over population, similar to what California has been experiencing for decades now. As people flock into a region, the quality of life gradually degrades until the area can no longer deliver on what people moved there for in the first place. For myself, I’d much rather live where the masses aren’t. Yes, there there may be some disadvantages to that, but in my experience, they’re easily outweighed by the benefits. If I can stay in NH for the rest of my life, I’ll be a happy camper (though my wife wants to move to Maine!).