Writers get to make up words sometimes, so in my new book If You Could Live Anywhere: The Surprising Importance of Place in a Work-from-Anywhere World, I came up with the not-particularly-original-yet-to-the-point term “Anywhereist” to describe the fast-growing subset of people who aren’t tied to a particular geography by what they do for a living. They’re location independent—the remote workers and entrepreneurs and semi-retirees and freelancers who don’t have to live in a particular place for their job and thus are free to make their own choices about where their life is going to play out.
It's a big responsibility. For the book, I interviewed Anywhereist Lisa Comingore, who had moved with her wife, Michelle, from Tallahassee to Indianapolis in 2019. But when Indiana wasn’t what they expected—wrath-of-God-level cold, general aura of misery—they began wondering if they’d made a mistake. “It’s almost like, because we can live anywhere, it’s too many choices,” Lisa says.
And yet some people she knows are absolutely breezy about relocation. Recently a friend posted on Facebook that he and his family were moving from Indiana to Naples, Florida. When Lisa asked how they decided to go, he said, “Oh, you know us, we like to move across the country every five years.”
Why is relocation so fraught for some Anywhereists and such a no-brainer for others? That’s because there are three kinds of Anywhereists, each with their own approach to place, to mobility, and to location decision-making.
First are the Wanderers. These are the digital nomads, the vanlifers, the frequent movers, the people who dream of trading a three-bedroom house for a backpack—in other words, people who, left to their own devices, prefer to keep their relationship to place a little loose. Once they have the freedom to work from anywhere, they typically turn “anywhere” into “everywhere.” Motto: There’s a big world out there and I want to see it.
Second are the Seekers, people who take seriously—perhaps too seriously—their right to make a choice about where to live. They do the research, check out towns, maybe move to a new town, find that it’s not working, and try again. The process of finding the best place can bog them down, and they like to keep their options open until the end. Motto: The right place is out there and I’m going to find it.
Third are the Settlers. Give this word its 19th century spin and you think of pioneers establishing a foothold in the western prairie. That’s what Settlers do. They’ve made a place decision—sometimes to move to somewhere entirely new, sometimes to stay in a familiar place or to boomerang back to a long-ago hometown. Now they’re putting down roots, with everything that means: maybe buying real estate, building a business, meeting the neighbors, or volunteering locally. Motto: This is the place.
In some ways, the three kinds of Anywhereists are more like three stages of an evolving relationship with where we live. First we’re a little place promiscuous. Then we’re hunting for the One. Finally we settle into a committed life. It’s a lot like, say, dating in your thirties.
And like dating in your thirties, there’s not always a tidy, orderly progression. Occasionally Wanderers decide to settle. Seekers give up and become Wanderers. Settlers can un-settle too. There is no right town for everyone, just the right town for you right now. As our lives change, a town that was a great fit once upon a time may no longer feel so right anymore. We slide from Settler to Seeker and back again as we reexamine our place decisions.
That’s what happened to Lisa and Michelle, who were dumbfounded by their friend’s cheerful Wanderer approach to moving every five years. Settlers at heart, they’ve unwillingly turned into Seekers who just can’t figure out the best place to be.
Knowing what kind of Anywhereist you are could be the first step to figuring out where you want to live now that you have your pick of places. Who knows? Maybe you’re already home.