Maria’s Note: Maria Bonaventura here, Tom’s longtime managing editor on Postcards From the Fringe. Tom recently caught up with his friend and colleague Dan Denning, coauthor of The Bonner-Denning Letter, in Dan’s home state of Colorado. In a special edition today and tomorrow, we’re giving you an inside look into their conversation. Enjoy…
Dan Denning: Tom, for the past few months you’ve been traveling all over the country, after traveling all over the world. It’s similar to a trip I took in 2017 when I came back from London. I called it the American “Bolthole” Project. I was looking for nice places out of the way in America where you could increase your quality of life and lower your cost of living. But you’ve taken that to a whole other level.
Part of my Bolthole Project when I started it was that there would be a gradual migration out of the cities, for demographic reasons. In other words, as people got wealthier, closer to retirement age, they’d want to simplify their life, they’d want to lower their cost of living, and they could increasingly work from home because of technology.
Of course, COVID accelerated all that.
I saw two polls when I was doing a little research. First, there was a Harris Poll in April, before things got really bad. A third of the people surveyed said they wanted to move to less densely populated areas of the country. And 39% of people aged 18 to 34, who were identified as urban dwellers, said COVID had prompted them to think of leaving the city they lived in. So it was younger people, not just retirees or baby boomers, looking to slow down.
Now, several months later, in July, a Pew Research Service Poll said 20% of the people they surveyed moved already because of COVID. So they’ve either moved back in with their parents, they’ve moved in with a roommate, they’ve moved in with family, or they’ve moved back to their hometown or to a smaller, less densely populated place.
So, for you, it probably started out as a lifestyle trip – hitting the road and camping and being a bit of a nomad. But this idea of a major migration out of the cities into the rural part of the country: Do you think that might be here to stay, or do you think it’s very much COVID-related right now?
Tom Dyson: Both. I don’t think COVID is a temporary phenomenon. I think it might be here to stay. But also, it’s expensive to live in cities, and it’s not quite as nice. Unless you really value the urban lifestyle of being able to walk and take public transport… and there’s bars and restaurants right outside your building… why would you live in a city, if your employment didn’t make you, when you can live with more space elsewhere, for cheaper, and with more community?
And I’ve heard so many stories now of companies saying, “Well, we closed our offices and we’ve made all our employees work from home, and it hasn’t impacted our bottom line at all. So why would we continue renting this very expensive space downtown?”
Dan: Speaking of community and moving out of the city, let me switch gears a little bit. What’s been your favorite place in America so far?
Tom: That’s a really tough question. I don’t think there is. And if there were, it would be related to the people we met and campsites we found, and not so much the place itself. But you know, what’s important to us camping is, first of all, mosquitoes. We get bitten by mosquitoes terribly. Also, we don’t have air conditioning.
So we like cool places where there aren’t too many bugs. We just hit the mountains, where the air seems so crystal clear, it’s nice and cool at night, and there’s hardly any bugs. Whereas places like Wisconsin, Minnesota, or Indiana… Man, they were all over us. And it was hot and muggy. So from that point of view, we like it in Colorado.
My thing is, I love big landscapes and big skies. And so my heart is always called west. I just love those mountains and the big prairies. So the east I don’t find quite as exciting. It’s a lot of forests and rivers. And you know, the Appalachian Mountains are beautiful, I’m not taking that away, but I really love the big vistas of the west.
The other thing is, we’ve been shown so much generosity and kindness everywhere we’ve gone. People have been so welcoming – strangers, friends, and readers. And I don’t notice that changing from state to state. Southern hospitality is great, but the hospitality in the Great Lakes area was also great. And so the short answer to your question: I don’t think we’ve had a favorite place.
Dan: Well, I think you nailed it. It’s the experience that matters more than the location. And a huge shoutout to all of our readers. I know that when I traveled, I had more invitations and more people than I could possibly see. And for those that welcomed me into their home, it’s nice to know there are thousands – maybe hundreds of thousands – of people out there not just reading your work, but involved in the journey with you.
Tom: Absolutely. Thanks to everyone. We’ve really been blown away. It’s nice to know that generosity is alive and well in this country. We’ve been all around the world, and I can safely say that here in America we’ve seen the most generosity.
Dan: I agree. I lived for 15 years overseas. And in some places, it was fashionable to make fun of Americans for being superficially nice, and saying no one’s really that nice, no one’s really that friendly. And there’s an element of truth to that anywhere in the world.
But one of the things Bill Bonner and I started writing about a couple of years ago is you’ve got to measure your wealth in more than just your net worth. It’s the quality of your neighbors and the relationships and the community you’re a part of.
And I think that’s why a lot of people are so interested in your trip, because they’re thinking, “Where could I go where I could be part of a community, maintain my privacy, but get something back that’s missing in a lot of people’s lives?” To me, that was one of the big appeals.
Tom: Yeah, community. Small-town America. I love it. If we were to live anywhere, it would be in a small town.
Maria’s Note: Maria Bonaventura here again. If you’ve been dreaming up your own American road trip, Dyson family-style, keep an eye on your inbox tomorrow. In Part II of his conversation with Dan Denning, Tom will share his No. 1 piece of advice for traveling families – and for anyone wanting to “chuck it in” and hit the road. Stay tuned.
In the meantime, if you want to learn more about the best small towns in America to retire, retreat, or hole up in a crisis, you can read Dan’s American “Bolthole” Project in full here if you’re a paid-up Bonner-Denning Letter subscriber. If you’re not paid-up yet, find out more about a subscription to The Bonner-Denning Letter right here.