First Impression Bias

Travelling the way we do creates a very unconventional and biased view of certain places. Little instances (like me almost getting hit by a car two days ago) will skew my opinion of a city so negatively that I don’t ever want to visit again. Even something as simple as the weather being rainy the whole visit can poison the city in my mind. This isn’t really fair, most negative events we face could easily happen anywhere in the world, but because it happened in a specific place that place is tainted for me. This first impression bias is something that I want to get over, I want to give places a fair chance and find the good in all of them.

The same first impression bias can be a positive thing as well. When we meet cool people, have good weather, or have a nice route into the city (even if it isn’t representative of the city as a whole) we end up discussing living there some day. This is particularly true if we meet or stay with super cool people. In fact, as I think about the cities I loved the most it is the people we stayed with that made it a great experience. Just knowing that a network of like-minded people exists in a city is enough to make it a potential place to live. I’m not sure if I should go out of my way to correct for these irrationally positive feelings.

I really do believe that most people can be happy just about anywhere as long as a few basic things are present, but what those things are kind of depends on the individual. Some people need wide open spaces, while others need some sort of active night life. Some need biological family nearby, while others need their logical family nearby. Some need to be able to own a multi-bedroom home, while others just need 9 sq. ft. to call their own. The first step to being happy in a place is recognizing the foundational elements that you need.

I think I’m pretty lucky in this regard, I can be pretty happy in any city of at least 90,000 people (but not too big). I don’t need a rocking night life, though I would like a decent number of food options and maybe a place to see a shitty band or listen to a comedian occasionally. Ideally, I’d like to have a smaller home with space for Higgins to play and a garden to grow vegetables. I want rent to be low enough that I can work part-time online without a supplemental job, and maybe a river or mountains within driving distance. Having a college in town would be a plus to bring a younger, more liberal and tolerant element to the city, and to provide continuing education opportunities. I’m not so concerned with the legal environment in most places, like Heinlein said “I am free, no matter what rules surround me. If I find them tolerable, I tolerate them; if I find them too obnoxious, I break them.”

So far on this bike ride there are about 30 cities that meet this criteria with about half of them having a super positive impression in my mind. There are even some upcoming cities like Austin, TX and Asheville, NC that already have a positive view in my mind.

These are the cities that meet our basic criteria in the order in which we encountered them, with a * next to the ones we loved a lot:

  • San Luis Obispo, CA
  • Santa Cruz, CA
  • Santa Rosa, CA
  • Arcata, CA *
  • Ashland, OR
  • Eugene, OR *
  • Bend, OR *
  • Corvallis, OR
  • Astoria, OR
  • Olympia, WA *
  • Spokane, WA *
  • Missoula, MT *
  • Helena, MT
  • Bozeman, MT *
  • Billings, MT
  • Dickinson, ND
  • Bismarck, ND
  • Fargo, ND *
  • Cloud, MN *
  • Madison, WI *
  • Milwaukee, WI *
  • Green Bay, WI
  • Grand Rapids, MI
  • Kalamazoo, MI *
  • Bloomington, IN *
  • Louis, MO
  • Jefferson City, MO
  • Columbia, MO *
  • Tulsa, OK
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