Place to get away from everything?
September 19, 2005 10:14 AM   Subscribe

I want to isolate myself somewhere for three to six months so that I may read and write without too much distraction from the outside world. I can live and work legally anywhere in the USA and Canada. What are some cheap and scenic locations? How would I go about looking for a sublet/rental in a small town or in the country?

My requirements are:
(a) food store and coffee shop within walking distance.
(b) phone line.
(c) CHEAP.
(d) safe.
(e) neighbors under 1k away (for emergencies)

My (flexible) preferences are:
(a) scenic.
(b) some form of public transit.
(c) serviced by train or greyhound.

I'm okay with cold temperatures, but I don't drive. If the temperatures are frequently below zero, essential services (food, etc.) should be nearby. I prefer somewhat cold to really hot. I like to ride a bicycle, so any place where I can do that is nice.

All suggestions will be appreciated.
posted by ori to Home & Garden (30 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: You could probably find any number of towns in Maine that would fit this criteria. I really like Franklin County in general, and Farmington in particular. I can't remember whether there's a grocery in the middle of town, but there's everything else (resteraunts, coffee, bookstore, theater, etc). If you had a bike you could certainly make it to the Hannaford grocery (and you could probably walk if you had iron legs).

Rents are cheap in Northern and Western Maine, and the scenery is quite nice. The people are usually quite friendly, too. And life is quiet.

I currently live in Portland, Maine, which is probably too large for your purposes but is a great small walking city.
posted by selfnoise at 10:25 AM on September 19, 2005

California/Nevada desert
posted by matteo at 10:32 AM on September 19, 2005

(no heating bills)
posted by matteo at 10:33 AM on September 19, 2005

You could do what we're planning to do, live in an RV and go wherever you want. Older RVs can be found pretty cheap!
posted by knave at 10:39 AM on September 19, 2005

knave, "I don't drive".

Also, while RVing is fun, wandering around in a behemoth that gets 10mpg when gas is $3/gallon hardly fits the criterion of "cheap".
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 10:42 AM on September 19, 2005

If you were doing this in the summer, I'd say go to Kingston, Ontario. It's a University Town and you'd be able to sublet a student place dirt cheap. Plus, most of the students would be gone. Kingston is a beautiful town right on Lake Ontario... in the summer it's one of the nicest places I've ever been. In February, not so much (think Ice Planet Hoth).

Good Luck!
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 10:44 AM on September 19, 2005

On a farm. A pal finished his book at one in Lancaster County, Pa.
If you're interested, you might also try your hand at a bit of the manual labor. I find good, hard work often gets the creative juices flowing.
posted by sixpack at 10:47 AM on September 19, 2005

Upstate NY. ... btw, the leaves are NOT on fire; they just get that bright in the fall...
posted by buzzman at 10:59 AM on September 19, 2005

Best answer: There are some economically depressed areas of upstate New York that consequently have dirt-cheap real estate. The counties of Greene, Warren, Chemung and Tioga come to mind. Of course economic depression and meth labs go hand in hand, so you might want to meet the neighbors before you decide where to rent.
posted by scratch at 11:03 AM on September 19, 2005

On preview: Buzzman's right. It is amazingly beautiful up there, in fall and even in winter (bonus if you like to ski or snowshoe).
posted by scratch at 11:03 AM on September 19, 2005

Response by poster: selfnoise: Maine would be great, I think, and Farmington looks nice. Do you know where (newspapers, etc.) I can search for rentals in that area?

matteo: can you think of any specific towns?

Fuzzy Monster: my family lives in Toronto, so Kingston is a touch too close for isolation proper. I'll also probably be doing this sometime between winter and spring of next year, and bustling student town is out of the question. In general, I'm looking for something smaller. But I do appreciate the tip.

sixpack: I'm not opposed to the idea, but I have no idea where to look. Any suggestions?

buzzman: Isn't upstate NY very expensive? (On preview: ah, thanks scratch!)
posted by ori at 11:07 AM on September 19, 2005

Response by poster: Also, if anyone knows of any newspaper classifieds that apply to any of these area, please post them as well! Thanks a lot for your help so far.
posted by ori at 11:08 AM on September 19, 2005

Best answer: I have a place with all those requirements, but the coffee shop is easily 15 miles away. Lots of central Vermont might work -- people are often looking for winter caretakers and you can move in without too much capital -- but the coffee shops are FAR and public transpo can be sort of lame. You might want to try looking in the Caretaker's Gazette [not cheap, but worth it, it's where I found my last great caretaker], though places in there might expect you to have some sort of available transportation if you're in an area with winter.
posted by jessamyn at 11:14 AM on September 19, 2005

If you want a cheap city to live in, go for Ottawa. There are some nice rural-ish areas on the outskirts (Carleton Place, Carp, Manotick) that should give you the privacy you'd like. It is clean and easy. And boring, but that's what you want, right?
posted by Succa at 11:18 AM on September 19, 2005

Three and a half years ago, I spent one night at the Franciscan Lodge in Grants, NM. (Picture from my travelog, thumbnails from the next day including 9 of the motel) It's a classical Route 66 motel that has seen better days, but at least at the time was kept clean and had more charm than other places I've stayed in on my trips. The cost in March 2002 was $20 a day including tax, and I couldn't help but wonder, "hey, I could probably stay here for $500 a month and not have to worry about renting a place".

Depending on what your budget is, this might or might not be an alternative to prior suggestions. Or extrapolating, maybe it would be a fun idea to move east or west along Route66 and stay in hotels for maybe one month each, and then move on.

I checked, and Greyhound busses stop in Grants. El Malpais and El Morro National Monuments are nearby. Most of your other requirements would probably be met, too; except if you really want to isolate yourself to the extent that you can't see a human soul unless you want to.

One thing to keep in mind though is that in the Southwest, proximity to Route 66 also means you get to hear trains passing by during the night.
posted by ckemp at 11:19 AM on September 19, 2005

Ori - The local paper in Farmington is the Franklin Journal. Unfortunately, they do not have a web site AFAIK.

The best time to rent would probably be in the summer, as UMF (the local uni) will be out and there should be some apts open in town.

I'll poke around for rental listings but that could be an issue... it's not exactly a wired part of Maine.
posted by selfnoise at 11:23 AM on September 19, 2005

Best answer: Vancouver Island in the winter....there are tons of oceanside communities (Chemainus, Ladysmith, Nanaimo, Parksville, Comox, Courtenay, Campbell River, Port Hardy) that drop their rates in the off-season.
posted by acoutu at 11:35 AM on September 19, 2005

Best answer: Very northern WI, along Lake Superior. Towns like Bayfiled, Cornucopia, Herbster... very nice area, remote, scenic. Finding a job may be difficult, but damn, it is nice country
posted by edgeways at 11:36 AM on September 19, 2005

Best answer: Succa, my definition of cheap does not include Manotick. Ottawa's an expensive city by Canadian standards, anyway. (And I'm surprised at some of the other places you folks are suggesting as "cheap.")

Having said that, though, my neck of the woods -- rural western Quebec -- is pretty isolated and ridiculously cheap. I've seen apartments in my town go for C$250/month, and all services are within walking distance. There's no coach bus service (commuter service only), but there is broadband -- go figure. But that's just an example.

A small town on the Canadian Prairies -- or anywhere else in rural Canada where there isn't a tourist industry (this is important) -- would likely be very inexpensive as well. As for cities, anything outside the larger cities, or Ottawa or Calgary, will probably be relatively reasonable. You'll have better luck in places where there isn't a university (Kingston? Please.) because the rental market will be more favourable; lots of students tends to raise rents.

As for finding stuff, my experience is that these places aren't necessarily the most wired; they're not exactly listing apartment vacancies on Craigslist, if you follow me. Searching for a place is likely to be piecemeal: you'll have to scour the classifieds -- online or not -- of the local weekly newspaper. So it may come down to picking a place and seeing if you can make it work, rather than trying to search all places at once.
posted by mcwetboy at 12:00 PM on September 19, 2005

Best answer: Newfoundland. It's stunningly beautiful, great people, public transportation if you're in St. John's (not wonderful, but as good as any small city), you could walk most places anyway. You can get an apartment for under $400CAD by searching the Telegram Classifieds online.
posted by duck at 12:08 PM on September 19, 2005

Succa, my definition of cheap does not include Manotick. Ottawa's an expensive city by Canadian standards, anyway. (And I'm surprised at some of the other places you folks are suggesting as "cheap.")

It's not $200-a-month cheap, but, well...did you see my link there? It's cheap for a big city. Manotick may not be a great rental market but my cousin but a very nice house there on a large lot for peanuts. You could do a lot worse. The OC Transpo serves the area and there's plenty of seclusion. There's no public transit in "real" rural areas.

He could also go for western Quebec, as you say, but perhaps closer to Montreal. I'm thinking Hudson, Doiron, Rigaud, places like that. Not pretty, but cheap, and with commuter rail access into the city should he need it. Or hell, even Quebec City would be a good choice.
posted by Succa at 12:20 PM on September 19, 2005

matteo- deserts can get pretty cold, and in my experience their public transportation hasn't been stellar. I'm happy to be corrected, though.
posted by small_ruminant at 1:51 PM on September 19, 2005

Winnipeg has a huge arts community for the reasons you mention above. You say you don't mind the cold but... it is Winnipeg. Great northern lights if that does it for the "scenic" part. (or Churchill if you really don't mind the cold and really like the northern lights. probably not so cheap, though. there's always the interior of B.C.. Absolutely beautiful, and cheap living, definitely.)
posted by dreamsign at 2:03 PM on September 19, 2005

Seconding St. John's, Newfoundland. It's the closest you'll get to a remote European feel on the North American continent, and while remote, is pretty tight knit. Safe and scenic, but you'd need to work on a plan to get there.. :)
posted by wackybrit at 2:25 PM on September 19, 2005

Cape Cod fits all your criteria, except it is expensive. But if you are only interested in staying for the off-season (winter), you can find beautiful properties rented at very reasonable rates. Probably between $500-$1000 per month for a nice winter rental.

I've never seen a website that did Cape Cod justice, and this one is no exception, but here are some photos.
posted by McGuillicuddy at 2:40 PM on September 19, 2005

Best answer: To build on the idea of upstate New York, northern New York (the part north of I-81 between Syracuse and Albany), especially the Adirondacks, are fairly quiet, sparsely populated, and out of the way, while not completely isolated in case of emergencies. There's no mass transit in most areas except Greyhound (frequently used by the Amish), but the towns there often have less than a thousand people in them and are less than a mile wide. The temperature frequently dips below zero, and occasionally has hit -36°F (-38°C), though 25° to -10°F (-4° to -23°C) is more typical. Massive ice storms have been known to occur, so be sure to have candles and a week's worth of nonperishable food on hand, just in case.

A lot of people there are poor, so it will be possible to live cheaply — I "roughed it" for a few months on the cheap in Canton, a local college town of about 6,000 people, in the summer of 1996 and lived off of bargain ziti at US$0.33/lb (Can$0.85/kg, at today's exchange rate). I'm not sure if Canton specifically meets your needs; I lived in a tipi in a field surrounded by woods and indeed had a lot of time to myself, but I could still hear cars on a nearby road, which you personally might find distracting. However, I'm fairly sure there are more isolated areas in the Adirondacks where that wouldn't happen. Because most of those areas are chronically poor and economically depressed, there's plenty of alcoholism, drunk driving, and domestic violence, but hardly any of the street crime that might threaten a random individual like yourself.

Fun fringe cultures in the North Country: the St. Regis Falls/Akwesasne Reservation near Massena has a lot of Mohawks living there, and Mohawk is taught at the high school in Salmon River. Portions of northern Maine and Vermont adjacent to the Canadian border have pockets of Francophone Americans.

Finally, here's a somewhat useful salary calculator to help determine cost-of-living differences in various U.S. cities. Watertown, NY comes out favorably in comparison to Olympia and Seattle, and Plattsburgh, NY has an even lower cost of living than Yakima.
posted by skoosh at 4:20 PM on September 19, 2005

Best answer: Truth or Consequences NM or hey, just about anywhere in NM. The hostel at Truth or Consequences is always looking for staff who they give free board to. If you work there you would have access to a free natural springs hot tub that is on in the morning and evening.

Be warned, Truth or Consequences is an odd town, but is amusing. And very, very cheap. I toyed with the idea of buying a house there for only $10K. There is an Australian guy in town (the only Australian guy AFAIK) who would rent you one of his places for next to nothing too. And he works as a programmer so you could probably get net access there too.
posted by sien at 6:05 PM on September 19, 2005

Chilliwack, BC. It's a small town about two hours east of Vancouver.

Mostly retirees, some tourist stuff in the summer.

Gorgeous farmland, surrounded by the Coastal Mountain range to the north and the Cascades to the south.

Summer highs reach into the 90s a few days, winter usually brings a couple (small) dumps of snow.

There's quite a bit of public transit but I've never used it. There's a Greyhound station on the Sardis side of town (which is what I'm most familiar with).

Plenty of shopping available in the Sardis area as well as Chilliwack proper. Not much fancy food but there are a couple pubs, Chinese, German, coffee shop (Denny-ish or better) and fast food. Chilliwack proper has a bigger selection (Italian, Greek, Mexican). If you have a bike, you'll probably not bother with public transit except in winter.

Online papers are here and here and it has the largest used book store in BC.

Google map here.

I don't live there any longer but spent about three years in the area, all told. I'm only about an hour away from it now. My email is in my profile if you have any questions.
posted by deborah at 6:33 PM on September 19, 2005

Best answer: MONTANA. There are plenty of locations that meet your criteria...the outskirst of Great Falls, Bozeman, Butte, or some of the smaller communities. Trust me -- if you come to Montana, you will fall in love.
posted by davidmsc at 8:23 PM on September 19, 2005

Best answer: Potsdam, NY is the loveliest town in upstate NY north of Ithaca (3 1/2 hours drive to the south). A college town with State University and Clarkson, an engineering college. St. Lawrence University, a liberal arts college, in Canton 10 minutes away. The Racquette River is beautiful. Great hikes in the Adirondacks nearby, St. Lawrence River and the 1000 Islands only a short drive, 2 hours to Montreal. A great used bookstore in the woods called Birchbark Books. Decent restaurants, nice people. Heaven on earth in many ways. It gets mighty cold there, down to -30 or -20 in the heart of winter. No public transport. Great coffee shop downtown. Check it out.
posted by madstop1 at 8:38 PM on September 19, 2005 [1 favorite]

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