The first time I really spent any time away from home was in Brazil. I lived for about four months in a small city called Luziania, outside the national capital Brasilia.

It was an eye opening experience. In Luziania, I lived in the heart of the town, not far from crumbling colonial buildings and old squares. It was bustling during my time there, and there were shops, restaurants, banks, and people everywhere. I’d get my haircut just below my apartment.

For someone from the suburbs of Los Angeles — where the nearest store was more than a mile away — it was almost unimaginable that I could walk to the market or the barbershop. And the smell of food wafting in from the street was an entirely new experience.

Several years later, I visited Europe first the first time — an activity that to my surprise became a fairly regular event. In London, I learned how to quickly assimilate public transit information. In Paris, I learned how people manage to live the good life in homes that are smaller than some Americans’ walk-in closets. In Seville, I learned how buildings can be strategically placed to create natural cooling.

Eventually I got married, and Laura and I moved into a tiny apartment right next to all the restaurants and music venues and shops in the city we lived in at the time. It was an inexpensive city and our rent would’ve bought more space somewhere else, but the location was just such a joy to experience.

Since then, we’ve moved three times and in each location we’ve chosen places that are near shops and connected to public transit. Eventually, we ditched our car entirely, and most recently we bought a tiny bungalow in a location — walkable, lively — that I think has baffled some of our friends and family. But it fit the bill.

Over the years, I thought a lot about what makes a place appealing, but it wasn’t until a conversation with some friends a year or so ago that I realized how I ended up with those opinions. Ultimately, it boiled down to traveling; if you experience the pleasure of old world cities enough, eventually you’ll realize (even if subconsciously) that you can essentially live that same lifestyle at home.

Which is to say that traveling created, little by little and place by place, a kind of lifestyle philosophy about what makes up the good life. It ranges from big things like city design and architecture all the way down to decor; I’m currently designing part of my house, for example, by adding colors patterns I first saw on trips to Europe and Africa.

Travel inevitably means bringing things home. We all come back with stories about wild experiences, lists of sites we visited, and of course souvenirs. But I think the ideas travelers bring back are potentially more potent — even if they’re harder to pin down or rarely end up in the stories we tell. (After all, who comes back from Europe and, when asked how their trip went, says “great, I learned how to raise a family in a 500 square foot apartment!”)

In the end bringing back ideas is personal, and some people see in the world evidence that their existing lifestyle is the right one for them. That’s fine I suppose, but I know that for me, I’m hard pressed to think of any aspect of my life that hasn’t been deeply shaped, and improved, by seeing the world.

— Jim Dalrymple II


Written by Jim Dalrymple II

Urbanism and travel writer. Also a journalist covering the news.

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