Considering a tree change? Read this first.
What do I think about country life?
For starters, I will never get over the thrill of seeing koalas in my own back yard. Falling asleep to the sound of almost deafening cicadas in summer and the cosy patter of rain on our Colorbond roof in the chilly winter months. Parking directly outside the post office and not having to line up for an hour, arguing with the person behind the counter (who damn well knows who you are), brandishing your ID at them, begging them to relinquish your parcel even though you left the collection slip at home. In the country, the post office people deliver your packages to your door personally because you’re ‘on the way home’ and you’ll get a tomato plant or some chestnuts along with it because country people are like human fairies.
Tree change life is excellent. Almost perfect I’d say. My little family and I packed up our inner Melbourne home just over a year ago and moved to North East Victoria, right near Beechworth and we honestly couldn’t be happier.
I have A LOT of people asking me about what our tree change has been like and I totally get it. It’s like being in a restaurant and seeing someone else order the truffle gnocchi. It’s $10 more than the other mains and it looks awesome but you want to make sure it’s really all it’s cracked up to be. The thing is, some people are going to LOVE the truffle gnocchi and other people will think it’s a total rip off and will have wished they got the $15 parma instead.
Honestly, a tree change isn’t going to suit everyone. It also might suit you at one point in your life and it might be a disaster at another point. Just be (really, really) honest with yourself about what your priorities are and you’ll be right! This might mean admitting that Uber Eats and 24-hour bottle-os are essential to your happiness which is fine! Better to admit it early than find yourself begrudgingly baking your own bread in a secluded farmhouse and crying because you’ve run out of wine and can’t get any for another 4 days when you do your ‘big city’ grocery shop.
A few things you need to know about making a tree change…
1. Houses are cheaper in the country.
But employment can be hard to come by. My partner and I both work from home and when the locals found that out, they were visibly relieved because we wouldn’t be adding to the employment strain. If you don’t work from home, it might be a good idea to lock down a job before you make your tree change. If you already work from home – what are you waiting for? Get on it. Also, rent first! We didn’t because we found our dream house and we’re weirdly spontaneous sometimes but if you want to suss the area, give renting a go first.
2. You have more time in the country.
We drive our daughter to daycare which is ten minutes away and there’s zero traffic. We never have to wait for anything. We get served immediately at the post office, at cafes, at the supermarket. We can always get a car park, there’s never a peak hour gridlock. I don’t think I’ve road raged even once since I moved here. It’s amazing. (Note: my version of ‘road raging’ is muttering ‘Twat donkey!’ under my breath if someone pulls out of a car park without head checking first. #thuglife). So different from our city life of driving 30 minutes to get to a supermarket that is literally up the road. A supermarket that is overpopulated, understocked, and expensive. Urgh, I’m getting anxious just thinking about it. There’s just a lot less time spent doing annoying things like sitting in traffic, waiting for trains, filling out forms at the post office, and paying $30 to have them hold your parcels for precisely 12 days when you’re holidays. In the country, you just holler out the window of your car at the post office lady and she goes ‘Don’t worry love, I’ll hold to your packages as long as you like! Have fun!’. In case you can’t tell, I have had a LOT of post office issues that have been immediately resolved with our tree change.
3. It’s imperative that you like your family
Unless you’re moving to a town where you already know a lot of people, you’ll be spending more time with your family than you ever have before. Make sure you like them. A tree change is unlikely to fix a broken marriage or a strained family situation, it’s likely to make it worse. I say that because my partner and I really like each other. We often say ‘How shithouse would this be if didn’t like each other???’. Spoiler alert: It would be VERY shithouse.
4. Country people are marvelous.
We already know all of our neighbors really well (I couldn’t even tell you the name of any of my previous neighbors) and everyone really looks out for each other. It’s been lovely being here on our own with a baby and having a little bit of support. During the bushfires everyone checked on us to make sure we were safe, we often come home to a box of cherry tomatoes for our daughter because the couple next door knows she loves them. It’s a really warm, fuzzy vibe. Caveat: I’ve heard from other tree changers that in some towns you aren’t made to feel like you belong until you’ve been living there for several decades. We haven’t experienced this at all. Sure there are some locals who have 5 generations of their family buried in the local cemetery and half the streets are named after them but we’ve never been made to feel anything but totally welcome.
5. It’s important to choose your town carefully
We had a criteria – preferably gold rush era (because gold rush towns in Australia are GORGEOUS – they are built on gold!), strong tourism industry (lots of festivals, music, events), close to major cities (we’re 3 hours from Melbourne, 4 hours from Canberra and 50 minutes from Albury), well established (lots of trees) and not too popular because that makes the houses really exxy. For example, we looked at Castlemaine (which we loved!) but it’s getting pretty expensive to buy a house there and it was quite far away from Canberra where most of our family and friends are. We also had to be close to an airport because we travel a lot – we’re 50 mins from Albury airport and we can get regional flights to Sydney for about $150. In fact, it takes us less time to get to the airport now than when we lived in Fitzroy in Melbourne. We’re also 30 minutes from about 5 larger towns with Kmarts, Big Ws and major supermarkets. It’s a great location for a tree change and it took us about 2 years to find it – take your time.
6. Your health will probably improve with a tree change
We feel well here. The air is clean and fresh and we walk every day. We previously lived right near a highway in Melbourne and it was just smoggy and ugly. We didn’t like walking around our suburb because it was boring. We don’t even need to force ourselves to walk here – there are koalas, echidnas, and wombats on our daily walk and we often run into our neighbours and stop for a chat. My partner has sinus issues and migraines and even though he’s still not totally well, he’s MUCH better living here. We’re outside tending to our yard every weekend so we’re fitter too. There are only two takeaway options and we have to go into town to get it so we eat less unhealthy food. We lived with a supermarket on our doorstep for a decade and now late-night chocolate runs are a thing of the past. We’re just healthier all around.
7. People are a bit cliquey in the country
That’s probably not the word for it – everyone here has been beyond lovely and I’m working hard at making friends here but it can be difficult to do that when most of the people have known each other since they were in kindergarten. For example, I have a friendship group I’ve been a part of for almost 20 years and it’s impossible to penetrate. Not because we’re assholes and we don’t like other people there’s just 20 years of history that you can’t really catch up on. That’s kind of what it’s like here. Luckily there are lots of new people living in our area and they’re just as keen to make friends as I am so my advice is to aim for the new-ish tree changers just like yourselves!
8. It’s unlikely you will make friends accidentally
You need to get out there and do things. I’ve been going to the gym, I joined a book club and when the theatre company holds auditions again I’m so there. I’ve also been chatting to parents at daycare and making the effort to have play dates with my daughter too.
9. Things are sometimes a little unreliable/dodgy in the country
You might need to buy/learn how to use a generator because power can be a little iffy. We also have to order gas and have our tanks replaced which you really need to stay on top of in winter. This isn’t a bad thing, it’s just a few extra little things you probably haven’t thought about if you’ve been living in a city for a while.
10. You will probably get lots of visitors
This is a massive pro for me but it might not be for other people. We live smack bang between Canberra and Melbourne and we’re very happily an overnight stop for friends and family who want to break up their trip. If you don’t like visitors, try not to move to a convenient location. We’re actually really lucky people DO visit like we thought they might. Visitors are a major part of my enjoyment of living here, so thank god people are actually doing it. I’d be going bananas if they didn’t.
11. Don’t leave the city before you’re ready
We were SO ready – we basically hadn’t been to a concert/event/restaurant in years and when we moved we had a 3-month-old baby so we weren’t doing much but feeding her and staring at her anyway. There are two things I miss about city life – F45 and my two closest girlfriends. That’s it. I’ve managed to patch together a good routine of morning gym classes through the local gym and a few personal trainers so that’s kind of sorted but I do miss the snappy 45 min in and out sessions. I also did F45 at least 5 times a week for 3 years. It was a huge part of my life so I’m still mourning its absence. As for my two closest girlfriends, they come to visit and we’re in Melbourne a lot anyway. One of them is about to move to New Zealand too, so it really is a part of life to not be near your friends. I do miss just being able to go to one of their houses on a Friday night and have a few glasses of wine or go out for dinner. I miss that a lot. But on the plus side, I’m seeing my Canberra friends a lot more. Swings and roundabouts. If there’s a concert or a show I want to see, we just go to Melbourne for the weekend and we love it.
12. The internet might suck
And you might have to pay a lot of money for it to not suck especially if you need it to work from home. It’s tax-deductible for us, but we spend an obscene amount of money on getting good internet here.
13. Country houses tend to need more work/maintenance
If you buy a house in a town, they’re not that different from city houses but if you live on a property (as we do – just under 2 acres) there’s a lot of maintenance. We lived in apartments before buying our place and now we have to mow the lawn on the ride-on, mulch, and prune trees, pick fruit, do flood and fire maintenance. We don’t mind though, it’s good active work and keeps us outside. Our daughter scraps around with us on weekends so it’s pretty wholesome. Just be aware if that doesn’t sound like something you’d enjoy, pick a property with a small back yard or maybe don’t do a tree change.
14. You will spend a lot more money on petrol
We are a 45-minute drive from the nearest major supermarket so there is a lot more driving/petrol expenses.
15. Plan for the future
We made our tree change when our baby was 3 months old but we already knew there were good local schools, a lovely local childcare and a variety of secondary schools to choose from. Before we’d even closed on our house we scoped out the halfway point from here to Canberra to do a kid swap with our parents for the weekend. We checked out domestic flights in Albury and figured out how we’d do an overseas trip. Look at every possible scenario and how you would deal with that scenario in your new location. If you work from home but you’re required to present at a conference twice a month and it takes you a day to get to your nearest airport, that might get a bit tiresome after a while.
16. But also don’t plan for the future
When we made our tree change, we said we’d give it two years and if we didn’t like it we’d leave. Just because you moved somewhere/bought a house/changed your life doesn’t mean you can’t change it again. Thankfully we love it here and are already talking about what we’re going to do with our daughter’s room when she moves out as a young adult. We don’t know what will happen in your future but for the time being our roots are here.
I touch on a few of these things in this week’s episode of S & C. You can listen here or on your favorite podcast app.
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