What makes a place livable?

Are you thinking of a sea change? Want to escape to the mountains? Or prefer the never-ending action of a bustling metropolis?

You only know what you know, and the beauty of spending a life time of travel and living around the world, is you get to figure out what you don’t like as much as what you do!

We’ve lived in five countries – and several places within the countries – so have figured out the most important things to consider when moving – either abroad or within your own country.

man and girl holding a pint of guinness
At the Brazen Head Pub in Dublin, 2003

After being a nomad for so many years, it’s hard to visit a place without evaluating it in terms of whether it is livable.

On our travels around the world, Craig and I have caught ourselves saying so many times “I could live here”. I’m sure you’ve said it too. But living in a place, and visiting a place, are two very different things!

Before I started traveling, I thought the perfect place was Australia near the beach. Then for the next 10 years, I lived far from the beach in metropolitan areas. My definition of what makes a place livable changed, and if there is a beach or not, rarely gets factored in.

For some, they’d base it on job opportunities, which is understandable, but it’s something that has never really factored into my equation. Most people can find a job in any place if you believe you can.

I try to make the decision based upon the factors that would really make my heart sing the most. After years of exploring, we finally found the home that’s the most livable for us – Raleigh, North Carolina.

You will never find a perfect place, but you can find one that checks off the most important priorities.

Here are some of the factors we considering when deciding what makes a place livable.


a view of the ocean from Burleigh Heads National Park, Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia
View from Burleigh Heads National Park

Climate is a major factor in what makes a place livable. I used to think it was about being hot all the time, so Thailand came up trumps.

But, I lived in Raleigh, North Carolina – where it sometimes snowed – and I loved it. What makes a place livable is more about a balanced and consistent climate.

I can handle cold winters, if I know they just last x number of months each year and the lifestyle caters to the cold. Most of Australia is really slipping in my list because of this.

This may seem crazy to most, as Australia has this image of hot and sunny weather. The north of Australia is HOT, although it has a wet season so it’s not always dry. But, for the past 3 years I’ve found the weather in Australia to be so inconsistent, it’s driving me crazy. And a lot of the places in Australia lack insulation and heating.

When I first started drafting this post in December, I was wearing my UGG boots and freezing. At least in Raleigh, I knew in October it would start to get cold and then in April it would get warm again. Without fail.

Read more: 45 facts about Australia (know before you go)


View of Surfers Paradise from Coolangatta Beach - Queensland, Australia
Coolangatta Gold Coast

The place we eventually settle down in has to be in a location that is accessible and close to a vibrant city, I’m thinking 1 hour maximum and day trips.

Bright, Victoria is one of my favourite places in Australia and is one I could definitely live in, except it’s too far away from a big city. If only it was an hour away from Melbourne instead of three.

I don’t think we could live in Perth, because it is the remotest city in the world and would cost us a fortune if we wanted to go to a lot of places we love, internationally and domestically.


girls on a hillside
Lots of options in Sydney

I need to live in a place that has a little bit of action and lots of OPTIONS. I need restaurants, and cafes and parks and biking trails. Even if I am not going out to enjoy the nightlife, I love it if the option is there for everyone else in the town.

I also need live concerts and festivals, and sporting matches and fun new places to visit.

We felt we were slowly dying in our hometown – you couldn’t get a coffee after 4:00pm. We’ve also previously lived on the Sunshine Coast of Queensland, a beautiful part of the world, but a little quiet for us at the time, and we’re not huge fans of Brisbane, 1 hour to the south. Maybe the Gold Coast, being bigger, would suit us more.

(Update: We now live on the Gold Coast and love it. Here’s why we think the Gold Coast is the best place in Australia to live.)

Open Spaces

people sitting at table with views of downtown raleigh
RAleigh is an uncrowded city

Tokyo would not be for me. I like the vibrancy of a big city, but I don’t like them so big and crazy that I feel squashed and unable to process the frenetic energy.

We absolutely loved our 6 months living in Bangkok, but it used to get a little too much for me with its non-stop buzz and pollution and noise. It was hard to find a place to chill out. (Although these 6 places work!)

London, although big and populated, always seemed so spacious- except for when you rode the tube. And Raleigh, was like the perfect sized city. Enough vibrancy, but plenty of space and clean air.

Melbourne is currently doing a GREAT JOB of checking off vibrancy + open spaces.


man stand up paddle boarding on a lake
Lake Johnson Raleigh

I gotta have nature, any way you can dish it out. I need beaches, lakes or rivers and nearby mountains and forests. Don’t just give me a concrete jungle.

Mentally and energetically, I’d go insane if I lived in a place that did not allow me to connect to nature.

Outdoor living

Bird Island, North Carolina
Kindred Spirit Mailbox hike

I need the focus to be on the outdoors. It’s the biggest reason why we left Dublin. Stuck inside 2/3 of the year due to the incessant drizzle. Hell NO! I want to be out walking and exercising and exploring nature.

I love getting up early on the beach towns of Queensland – 6am and it’s like peak hour, people are up power walking, jogging, kayaking, swimming, letting loose their energy and gathering more for the day ahead.

Good transport system / walkable

peopel walking across The Millennium Bridge, London, England
Walking across the The Millennium Bridge towards St Paul’s Cathedral

Aha, this is one that Raleigh failed on, but London came up trumps! Dublin also won on the most walkable city to live. Melbourne has a ton of great transport options from cycle ways to trams to trains to walking.

I don’t’ like driving much. I‘d much prefer to walk or cycle from point A to B, or if not to easily jump on some form of public transport.

And it MUST have an international airport close by.

Cost of living

woman steering boat down river
affordable living in Bangkok

I’ve always wanted to live in Sydney, but haven’t – it’s probably because of this reason. Although there are some great free things in Sydney as a visitor.

Let’s face it, at the end of the day, we might find the most livable place in the world, but if we can’t afford it, it doesn’t matter.

Job opportunities

woman sitting on balcony with computer
Office views

We’re so fortunate we have our own digital business, so we really don’t have to worry about this. I know many do. You might find your paradise, but if there is no work, then it has to stay just a dream.

When we lived in Raleigh, my teaching job was a 40 minute drive away, so I guess you can say there were no job opportunities in Raleigh. But because it was so livable, we decided to live in Raleigh, and I’d just commute each day.

If you haven’t worked it out already, you can see why Raleigh is probably the most livable place for us at the moment. It really did check off the majority of our lists.

Melbourne comes close, except the weather is a major issue for me, and as mentioned the Gold Coast in Queensland is also attractive.

What makes a place liveable for you? For other places we could live in the world and why click here

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39 thoughts on “What makes a place livable?”

  1. This is a great list of what makes a place liveable! I like big cities, but I also like being outdoors, so that has to play a factor… I think I’ll consult this list when it comes down to decision time! There’s so many places in the world to choose from.

    1. So many places, but I think there is probably only one that is meant for you for long-term. Discovering other places helps you to narrow it down

  2. Honestly I’m coming to the conclusion that nowhere is “livable” as EVERYWHERE gets boring after a few months. I want to do different hikes, not the same X number hikes within an hour of a destination etc.

    1. It is hard to not get bored with certain places, but I reckon when you find the right place it will satisfy all those things you want to do.

  3. Thanks for sharing… This is fascinating, Caz… we currently live in Raleigh! LOL

    We back onto the Neuse River, and since you’ve been here, there’s been a huge push forward on the Mountain to Sea trail. (part of it is directly at the back of our property).

    Even though I have to agree with you about Raleigh, we loved the 5 years we lived in Dallas Texas. That would be our first choice! (and it covers all of your requirements!)

  4. I love this post. And relate entirely. I think you’ve done a superlative job in deciding what makes a place right for you. When we visit a town, city, region, I always do the same … think, “Could I live in this place?” I think one thing that always comes up trumps is the emotional aspect. Without sounding all ‘Woo Woo’, there’s just something about some places that says, “Hi, you’re home, welcome home,” without actually ticking off all the things on my wish list.

    1. Oh gosh yes! That is probably the best and only way to decide. Gut instinct always is right. As soon as I landed in Raleigh and drove past the pine trees, I had a huge welcome home. It was unreal how this place I knew nothing about suddenly spoke to my spirit about being home. It was such a surreal moment.

  5. Our family is constantly looking for the perfect place to live. Oxford, UK was perfect pre-kids, then Christchurch, NZ pre-earthquake. Currently Canberra is home and ticks all our boxes although I am still keeping an eye out for other possibilities.

  6. You should consider Vancouver. It’s one of the often mentioned most liveable cities, and aside from the rain matches almost all of your criteria.

    However, it was also the city that convinced me you can still get out and do things when it’s raining.

      1. That was my concern too, but we only got one (light) snowfall in Van itself – not much different to say, Christchurch in NZ. The mountains nearby get all the snow and the cold 🙂

  7. Definitely walkability, human-scale passive and active public spaces, and great (and affordable) public transport. That mix will make most people feel instantly safe, welcome and connected.

    Loved this thought-provoking post…brought back some lovely memories.

  8. That is a great reflective post. Also interesting to see you open up with a picture of Flinders Street Station – in recent years Melbourne has been getting voted as the most livable city in the world.

    I often think of myself of being someone who prefers the quiet village life and rural, peaceful settings. Yet when I visit cities like Melbourne and Toronto I think I could very easily live there. I very nearly did live in Melbourne, unfortunately the relocation fell through at the last minute.

    1. Melbourne is so attractive to us at the moment, even more so now we are exploring the Mornington Peninsula and Phillip Island. There is so much to do around Melbs.

  9. I agree open spaces and climate are two very important factors for a picking a city to live. Lots of options for recreation is also good. I guess, keeping the cost of living aside, Australia is pretty livable.

  10. I would add Cultural Affinity!! I’ve lived in Paris and although it checks all the boxes for livable I just didn’t like the culture. Alternatively, you can live in a dump in Bangkok but if you love the culture, language, and food, all of those extra boxes can go unnoticed!!

  11. It depends, if I have kids then I rather choose a small town over the city. They need room, playgrounds to play in, fields to play soccer. And you don’t have that in a big city. Maybe a nice, quite suburb will do.

    I was raised in a small town, so I am not really a city person. Love to visit them, but to live is another thing.

    I have to say that If I have to choose a city in Australia where I wanna live, then that would be Melbourne.

    It is laidback, it has sunshine and rain, beaches, nice parks, very artistic and alternative and the people are nice.


    1. Yeah Melbourne has a lot of great things. I think with kids suburbs or small towns are the way to go. They get a bit ratty around the frenetic energy of the big city– I can too actually!

  12. Great checklist to decide a place to live!

    I haven’t made a checklist like yours, but you’re right, like every time I visited a place which I like, usually a laid back city, like in ‘Bukittinggi’ or ‘Ubud’, I would say that I need to stay or even live here longer … Although we know that visiting and living in a city is a two different thing.

    But I should try to make a check list like yours soon, and try to live longer in a place and see 🙂

    1. I LOVED Bukkitinggi. Thanks for bringing back that memory. I spent about 2 weeks there in 97. We were only going to stay there 2 nights. Love that place

  13. I love this post Caz, you’ve really hit on some great criteria. I think climate is pretty high on my list as well, I say to my husband frequently “I want to live where is is 25-35 all year round, where is that?” But, having said that I could live in a place that had a nice balancing act of all four seasons. Here in Adelaide, it’s feels like it’s always too cold or always too hot lol

    1. That would be my perfect as well. I’m not sure there is anywhere. IT’s either going to be tropical or 4 seasons. although South Queensland and mid WA could fall into that category

  14. Great list. I look back and I think of the places I’ve lived, none of them had everything you mention. However, having the mindset that anywhere is as good as you make is the heart of good traveling!

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