Charleston, South Carolina. According to Travel + Leisure magazine, “Charleston is a remarkably dynamic place, so it’s no surprise that it has achieved its highest ranking ever in our survey as the year’s best city in the world.”
It’s the first time a U.S. city has received the top honor, but Charleston ranked No. 2 last year and has been ranked the No. 1 city in the U.S. and Canada for four years running. As scored by Travel + Leisure readers, Charleston received its top-ranked status based on six categories: sights/landmarks, culture/arts, restaurants/food, people/friendliness, shopping and value.
But please allow me to give you the top three reasons why my family moved to Charleston two years ago, and the reason we’ll stay (and invite you to join us).
First, a little background. When people ask me where I’m from, the answer is no different today than it has been all my life: Baltimore. I’m a Baltimorean—or, as we lovingly refer to ourselves, Baltimorons. I was born in Bal’mer and never lived outside a 30-mile radius from it for the first 38 years of my life (and that includes my college years). I so loved the place and its people—my people—that I couldn’t imagine leaving its Old Bay-scented landscape.
My beloved family and extended family, including two sets of adoring grandparents, are all in Baltimore, not to mention a lifetime of dear friends and, of course, the Orioles and the Ravens. Baltimore will always be home.
But about three years ago, my wife, Andrea, and I were on one of those peculiar outings called “Date Night,” the domain of parents with young children availing themselves of the rare adult conversation. After an apparently tall glass of red wine, my wife took a very deep breath and announced that she thought we should move. I assumed the suggestion would require replanting only an exit or two along I-695, so I nearly choked on my crab cake when I learned that my bride was lobbying for a much bigger move—to Charleston. South Carolina.
Masking my unarticulated fear of leaving all that I knew behind, I responded with a barrage of practical protestations:
“It’s a celebrated resort town. It probably costs a fortune to live there!”
But she’d done her research, and immediately pulled up several beautiful houses on her phone that we could never have afforded had they been in Baltimore. Yet, they boasted price tags far lower than the home we were currently living in.
“Then there must be bad public schools,” I next objected. “Anything we save on the house, we’ll likely have to shell out for expensive private school!”
Again, she showed me ratings for schools in the Charleston suburb of Mount Pleasant that rivaled or bested those of the excellent schools our children attended in Baltimore.
I was running out of practical excuses not to leave, but there was no chance she could muster an argument to counter the biggest reason of all—my fear of leaving everyone and everything behind. Indeed, she couldn’t do anything to change THE reason I didn’t want to leave my hometown. That change would have to happen on its own:
The Top 3 Reasons We Moved to Charleston:
3 – Lower cost of living
People don’t think of Baltimore as being an expensive city, but it is. No, it’s not as expensive as some of its Northeast rivals, D.C., Philly, New York or Boston, but relative to most of the country, it ain’t cheap. The move to Charleston enabled us to buy the nicest home we’d ever lived in for meaningfully less money. (I must disclaim, however, that as Charleston’s status as a world-class city becomes more well-known, the flood of new residents has closed the gap between Charm City and my hometown, but those from D.C., New York, Boston or Southern California would still find it a bargain.)
2 – Slower pace of life
Yes, Southern hospitality is a real thing, as Travel + Leisure found, with eight of its top 12 best U.S. cities located in the Southeast or Southwest. But Charleston and the surrounding area is also marked by the lesser-known and still elusive “Lowcountry lifestyle.” It’s better felt than explained, but this outsider notes a more deliberate (not “slower”) pace of life with a heightened appreciation for the natural beauty of the region and an emphasis on relationships. Busyness is more a sign of misplaced priorities than a badge of honor here, while a turning tide or spontaneous happy hour are entirely responsible reasons to reschedule a conference call.
1 – A family adventure
But the No. 1 reason to stay in Baltimore became the No. 1 reason to leave. Have you ever wondered what it would look like to leave everything and everyone you know and plop down in a place about which you knew nothing and no one? As I considered this notion, the prospect of moving was transformed from a fear to an attractive step of faith. I feared separating myself—and especially my children—from the relative comfort we’d found in knowing. The change came when we began to yearn for the excitement of discovering. We weren’t so much leaving Baltimore as we were going on an adventure.
The Reason We’ll Stay In Charleston:
In short, it has exceeded our high expectations. Yes, the well-preserved Colonial downtown with an outsized cultural scene nestled among three rivers, countless tidal creeks and several vibrant beach communities is likely what puts it on the world’s map. But the place is far outshined by its people—a confluence of those who exhibit Lowcountry ideals and those in search of just such substance. However, the primary reason we’ll stay has less to do with Charleston and more to do with us.
Marcel Proust said, “The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”
It was the act of choosing to discover that has given us new eyes, even as we enjoy the discovery. As a family of four, we decided to go on an adventure, and we’re just getting started.
Wherever you are—and wherever you may go—what implications might that choice have for you, your work or your family?
This commentary originally appeared July 9 on Forbes.com
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