Is my heart in San Francisco?

April 25, 2012 in Philosophy,Travel

I’ve seen the San Francisco skyline come into view while crossing the Bay Bridge countless times: as a kid, I loved watching for the Alcatraz spotlight and trying to spot the office building where my grandfather worked. Now, I gaze at the city built on seven hills and wonder why I can’t be happy living in San Francisco: a city that captures the heart of visitors from every corner of the world, a city that many of my closest friends call home, a city that I fall in love with a little bit more each time I visit.

Bay Bridge in the rain, San Francisco, California

Sometimes I wonder what I’m searching for—or perhaps, what I’m running away from–as I insist on a semi-nomadic, minimalist life around the globe. I hate the idea of being ordinary, of being average–of being sucked into a life of forgettable weekdays, of living to drink to forget on the weekends. I want every day to be an adventure, every moment to be worth remembering–and for the past two years, it largely has been.

But seeing the world is no small task. There’s always another country to visit, another city to explore. It’s an undertaking that will inherently lead to disappointment: I know that I won’t be able to lie out on every deserted beach or try every local specialty or take every recommendation. As I read through the suggestions for my next destination that you, my readers, so kindly put forward in my survey: I was overwhelmed. South Africa, Norway, Turkey, Morocco, Costa Rica: the world really is at my fingertips, and yet, I don’t know where I want to go, what I want to do next.

Peep toes and daisies on the first day of spring in San Francisco, California

I worry I’ll never be satisfied, that I’ll search the world over for my happiest place all while quietly knowing it was within. I could be happy in San Francisco, I tell myself. Just like I could be happy in Sacramento, in Melbourne, in Paris: I know that my happiness depends less on my surroundings and more on me. I’m happy when I make time for a daily yoga class, when I spend an afternoon with a glossy magazine and a good coffee, when I curl up in sweatpants and a glass of white wine for a long chat with a girlfriend, whether that’s in person or via Skype.

Bay Bridge on a beautiful day in San Francisco, California

I know that the world’s diversity really shines through in nature, in the rolling hills and salty seawater and dense forests that cover the globe. But I’m a city girl, and cities are essentially the same the world over: a canopy of skyscrapers, a collection of patios and parks and soy lattes. There are gorgeous apartments, incredible restaurants, good jobs and fun people in all of the world’s greatest cities.

The variables are important but the differences just add to the nuances of the culture: how many days of sunshine, the political climate, the language, the laws regarding alcohol consumption (seriously: can you drink in a park? How late do the bars stay open? How expensive is a beer?). World-class cities attract interesting people; there are festivals and concerts and fashion, a million reasons to pay an obscenely high rent in a ridiculously small space, a justification to be surrounded by that energy.

How long can I be a long-term traveler? It’s a lifestyle that is difficult to sustain: financially expensive, emotionally isolating. Even living as a constant expat has its challenges: constantly making and leaving friends, settling in and saying goodbye.

#begrateful street art in San Francisco, California

Is my heart in San Francisco? I’m not sure. It worries me that I’m not sure; it worries me more that I’ll never know unless I give it a chance. My real worry? That I’ll be sucked into a life there, a life filled with best friends and sunny afternoons and sourdough bread bowls, and those dreams of sampling the world’s greatest urban centers will slowly shift into a different dream: one that means being a full-time local and a part-time traveler.

  • I think no matter what you do, you’ll always wonder what life would be like at the other end of the spectrum. I know you’ve written before about “fixed life envy” and longing for the things your friends back home have, that you once envisioned yourself having. On the contrary, I’m sure if you traded in your backpack for an apartment in the city, you’d long for the days of travel. Being an expat is an amazing way to balance both, but I know exactly what you mean–saying goodbye to friends year after year doesn’t get easier.

    Finding these answers are never easy, I go through them myself often as I question whether to continue living as an expat in Spain, or move back to the States. In the meantime, try not to worry too much and soak up your time at home, and get excited because you’re going to CROATIA! :)

  • sian_richardson

    I’m feeling you! I’m not a full time traveller, but I get what you mean about knowing what to do & where to settle… 

    I think that if no matter where we go, & where we live, we’ll always want to be somewhere else. It’s the wanderlust that gets us! I love Sydney, and I know I’ll always love it here & be able to call it a home, but I don’t want to live here forever… 

    I would just say never stop exploring… Wether that means you do ‘settle down’ somewhere, and you keep seeing the world whenever you like…
    And if you find that you don’t like part time traveling as much, there’s nothing stopping you from getting back to full time traveling?!

  • Whatever you choose, you’ll wonder what your life would be like if you had chosen something different. We are constantly changing, so the fact that you may want to “settle” in San Francisco now doesn’t mean that you’ll want to stay there the rest of your life. Decisions are not forever (at least not destination and lifestyle decisions!). 

    It’s similar for me. I often wonder whether I should leave London or stay. I waste time just thinking and not doing anything about it. But the fact is: I can stay longer and leave later. Or I can leave now and return some other time. Just choose whatever you feel in the moment, without over thinking it. 

  • Jyadon

    Come with me and live for a month!!! I think I’m really going to do it and you should too!!! Ps this Is an amazing website!!!

  • San Francisco is a great city – and if you did settle there for whatever period of time, I am sure you could have a bunch of awesome adventures despite the city’s familiarity! Although a different situation, I was struggling last year (while living in Madrid) to decide where to attend law school – either in Los Angeles (where I am from) or in San Francisco (where a large majority of my friends are, and close to where I went to college). I ended up in LA and am more than happy with that decision, but I still think about how I left my heart in SF too!

  • Katelyn

    I mean, you obviously know my vote. But seriously, San Francisco will always be here and it will always be an appealing offer for you (close to friends and family…the best of both worlds!) If you don’t feel like settling yet, don’t! You’re too young to feel like you need a fixed life.

    That being said,  if you’re ready to settle down, San Francisco is obviously your best option :).

  • Blair

    I was really hoping that the last line would read “It’s settled, I’m moving to the best city in the world.  San Francisco here I come!”

  • Sounds like your feeling restless.  At least you have options and no matter what you decide you can always choose to do something different.  

  • There is no magic answer – no magic formula for working it out.  It sounds to me as an outsider that you may regret going home.  It is so easy to fall back into familiar ways of home.  Then you think – I should have kept travelling!  But you could just work for a bit and leave again in that case.  

  • I think you nailed it earlier when you said you can be content anywhere.  I used to think that I had to travel far away to really enjoy the benefits of traveling.  However, I also discovered that exploring places close to home have given me some of the best travel experiences of my life. 

    Getting in the daily grind of life can happen no matter where you live.  I just had this discussion this morning with someone about living in Boston and never even doing the Freedom Trail.  We seem to take for granted the places where we live and forget to have that travel mindset at home. 

    For me, I’ve realized travel is an attitude and a mindset more than it is a destination.

  • LostInCheeseland

    Settling into SF doesn’t have to be permanent either – I think rather than place boundaries and time frames on yourself you should follow what your gut is saying NOW. This moment. And if at this moment San Fran is looking like an attractive, viable option that could make you happy, then go for it. If it changes in a year, you switch gears. Chances are the adventurer in you will seek out thrill via travel no matter where you lay your head each night! 

  • Abby

    You took the words out of my mouth!

  • San Francisco is a city of travelers. Who’s to say you don’t find or create a job here that will allow you to continue your world travels and exploration? And I second what Lindsey says. If Frisco is calling you now, come and stay a while. If that changes down the road, you’ve already demonstrated your ability to pick up and go with your gut. So go you will, if the urge for extended time elsewhere strikes you again. No matter where you find yourself, you always have options. Including the option to relocate. I will say this though, if you remain in the Bay, let’s meet up for coffee or a walk around the Lake [Merritt; I’m in Oakland] sometime. Would love to make a connection offline, if you’re down! But in closing, I have no doubt that you’ll keep on traveling in a way that’s right for you. It may change over the years (full-time vs. part-time), but that’s okay. That’s life. And a good one, at that, so long as travel remains a priority!

  • Doesn’t sound like a bad life to be sucked into! And I agree with LIC below, just because you “settle down” in SF doesn’t mean you can’t still travel the world. I’m based in Charlotte, but I leave the country about every 6 weeks. :)

  • Leah Fulford

    You’re putting an awful lot of pressure on yourself! You’re under 25, right? You can’t make a wrong move at this point in your life! Both fixed lives and travel are possible at any point. Planes and hostels will  always exist, as will apartments with long-term leases.

  • Beautiful post. I’ve been traveling for a wee while now, too. And I love it. I love arriving in a new city, lost and having to navigate the streets myself, trying to find new restaurants and new friends. This weekend I was in San Diego for the first time and I had this funny sinking feeling; I could live there. I could be happy there and be really content. The main problem? I’m not American. The second biggest problem is the fact I don’t know what I want to do when I stop traveling.

    At least we’ve got some time, eh? 

  • suzyguese

    Why can’t you have both? I know traveling long term is not for me. It wore me out and I do like having a homebase in Denver. I think you can have a homebase and still travel much of the year.  Let’s Skype!

  • I don’t think it necessarily has to be one or the other – travel or settling down. You really can have both! I personally don’t think the permanent-nomad thing is for me. Yes, I’d like to live abroad, but I would actually want to settle down and have a homebase to come back to after a trip. Living out of a backpack for years on end is not appealing to me in the least. But look how much I still manage to travel! As far as I’m concerned, you really can have the best of both worlds, as long as you find a way to pay the bills that allows you enough flexibility to travel a lot.

  • This post really resonated with me – I think we have a similar view on life, what we want out of it….and not knowing what to do.  I’m totally there too.  The important thing is that you’re actively aware and participating in your life and figuring it out….a lot of people don’t even get that far.

  • I have worked in San Francisco for nearly 4 years and I feel like I know Paris better!  I have so much to explore.  I agree with Lindsey too, go with your gut, it usually leads you in the right direction.

  • When you can literally pack up on a whim and go/live anywhere — how to decide where to go? I know the challenge all too well..and one I’m battling with right now too.

  • I just got home from a very brief trip back to Seattle and I feel the same way. I really want to keep traveling…but it was so nice to be close to my friends and be in familiar settings, and it was harder to leave this time around than when I initially left. We just want to have our cake and eat it too, don’t we?

  • camorose

    I figure everything will happen exactly as it should–I never could have predicted the opportunities that arose in both France and Australia, so I just keep my fingers crossed that my luck doesn’t run out. I definitely prefer being an expat, but it’s always such a hassle to sort out work visas, language differences, etc. We’ll see where I end up–at the very least, I am SO looking forward to France and Croatia in June!

  • camorose

    That’s what I keep telling myself–I feel more apt to be able to pick up and start traveling again any time than I do taking the chance to settle down a bit. Totally the opposite for most people, but I guess you’re more comfortable with what you know :)

  • camorose

    Definitely get what you’re saying–I’ve gotten pretty lucky about the right opportunities coming my way at the right time so far, so I’m just hoping that the universe will send a sign one way or another :)

  • camorose

    Thanks girl! We’ll see what happens–would LOVE to see you in SF again :)

  • camorose

    I think that’s exactly it–just because it’s not very far away from my “home” doesn’t mean that it’s not a brand-new city for me to explore. That novelty, coupled with being so close to family and friends, makes it very appealing!

  • camorose

    Ahhh and having so many fun people like you there is definitely what makes it so much more appealing! We’ll see what happens, at least I know I always have a couch to sleep on in the city :)

  • camorose

    Haha you’ll be the first to know if that ever happens! :)

  • camorose

    That’s what I keep telling myself–these aren’t bad problems to have!!!

  • camorose

    I think that’s what it will probably come down to–get a bit of the settled thing out of the way until I’m feeling restless again!

  • camorose

    SO agree with that last line! I try to keep my “traveling mindset” on even when I’m home and find that I really appreciate the beauty of everything around me so much more–definitely more of an attitude toward the world around you!

  • camorose

    Love that last line, Lindsey–definitely agree, it’s just sorting out exactly where the universe is pulling me :) Too many options!

  • camorose

    Glad you were able to relate :)

  • camorose

    Would definitely love to meet up at some point :) And totally agree with you on SF being a city of travelers, always impressed by how many cool, worldly people I meet who are either living or traveling there. We’ll see what happens :)

  • camorose

    It would definitely just be sorting out a job that allows me that sort of flexibility and funds–we’ll see what happens :)

  • camorose

    Haha yes only 23! Love that bit about not being able to make a wrong move–so true :)

  • camorose

    Haha yes only 23! Love that bit about not being able to make a wrong move–so true :)

  • camorose

    Very true! I definitely know how you feel about SD, I’ve felt that way about other cities and haven’t been quite sure how to make the visa situation work. Plenty of time to figure it all out!

  • camorose

    Very true! I definitely know how you feel about SD, I’ve felt that way about other cities and haven’t been quite sure how to make the visa situation work. Plenty of time to figure it all out!

  • camorose

    I know I know I know we need to Skype!!! It WILL happen!

  • camorose

    I know I know I know we need to Skype!!! It WILL happen!

  • camorose

    And I’ve definitely had that with living in Nice and Melbourne–it’s just figuring out another place where I can live, work, pay the bills and not drain my savings–and come home to “my own bed” at night! We’ll see what happens :)

  • camorose

    And I’ve definitely had that with living in Nice and Melbourne–it’s just figuring out another place where I can live, work, pay the bills and not drain my savings–and come home to “my own bed” at night! We’ll see what happens :)

  • camorose

    Isn’t it crazy how we sometimes explore the cities we love to travel too more than our hometowns? It’s definitely a good problem to have, we’ll see where the universe points me :)

  • camorose

    Too many choices isn’t always a good thing!

  • camorose

    That’s pretty much exactly what it is :)

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  • Sheryll

     I totally know what you mean. Now that I’ve been in Korea, I realized that I much prefer having a home base. I don’t think  could travel constantly long term. I definitely think you could feasibly have both!

    And PS, um girl where did you get those shoes?!?!? I must have them!

  • camorose

    The expat life is definitely my favorite :) Flats are from Nordies, of course!

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