When looking for the best place to live, whether you're retiring, going to school or looking for a fresh start, it's a good idea to look at your options and what you think is an ideal location - just for you.
Size of City or Town
When I was in my twenties and early thirties, I wanted to live in large urban centers, where things were happening, and I felt connected to the city's pulse. Now that I've reached my forties, I find myself looking for a mix of both, where I can still find things I like to do but in a quieter, more connected community.
If you need a little mix of both, then you should look at what size of city or town you prefer. Are you into the urban scene or do you prefer the quiet, easy-going streets of a small town? Is the city you're considering have small neighborhoods that can offer a small-town feel? Can you live in a small town that's close to a larger city, still giving you access to the arts and cultural scene?
To find out the size of cities across the globe, go to City Population; it lists cities by country and provides stats based on the latest country census. Also check out City Data for information on everything you need to know about cities across the US, including weather (Step 2), population stats and unemployment rates.
Weather and climate are probably the most important factors for me when it comes time to choose the best place to live. Having grown up with the long, cold Canadian winters, now that I'm older and can choose where I want to live, I try very hard to make sure I don't ever have to shovel snow again.
When deciding where to live, think about the kind of activities you enjoy and how much weather will affect those activities. Are you a hot weather person, cold weather person or do you like a moderate, year-round spring-like climate? What about the amount of rain or snow you can withstand?
For 10-day forecasts of cities worldwide, go to the Weather Channel's website and get up-to-the-minute information; for climate information, including average temperatures, precipitation, and sea-level pressures, check out World Climate.
Culture, Entertainment, and Lifestyle
Start by making a list of all the things you like to do, including those activities you want to be doing, but can't because your current living space doesn't provide that option. If you're into the great outdoors, you probably don't want to be living in Manhattan or downtown LA, and maybe Seattle or Portland would be a better choice. However, if you're into the arts and prefer a night of opera, Manhattan or LA or San Francisco may suit you better.
While we may not always take advantage of the opportunities that our city or town provides, it's always better to have the option of doing things than no option at all. And to research your options, I recommend spending some time in your local bookstore, perusing the travel guides/city guides, and doing some online surfing. Most cities have their website, and local online newspapers will list activities and cultural events.
If your career comes before anything else, then you should check out Fortune's 100 Best Companies to Work For; here you'll find information on average salaries, turnover rate and just what makes the company so great.
If you need some extra tips and advice for changing your career or preparing your resume, go to About's site for Careers.
Infrastructure (Schools, Hospitals, Transportation)
Are you the kind of person who likes to take public transit to work, or want a short commute, or wants to avoid parking fees, traffic, and high gas prices? Find a city that has a good public transit system. And if you have family members who require good healthcare, then this should be a priority in choosing where to live. Make sure you consider all infrastructure needs of the entire family before you decide on where to live.
If you have children, then you'll want to consider schools and how schools in a neighborhood rank. Of course, neighborhoods with higher ranking schools will be more expensive; it's good to know before you move.
Most people equate a great place to live by the amount of outdoor activities available, the number of days you can be outside enjoying the weather and easy access to parks, beaches and all things green.
Now, some people are surprised that safety ranks so low on my list; that's probably because I'm currently living in Canada, where the crime rates are typically low, even for large cities such as Toronto and Vancouver.
Research the Internet: Using a search engine like Google or Yahoo or MSN, type in the name of the city and "crime statistics by neighborhood." Identify the risk of personal and property crimes for a location. This should generate some information, depending on the size of the city. Most larger urban areas have detailed crime reports, while smaller towns may only have general information. Either way, this is a good place to start. Contact the Local Police Department: The police department will provide details about a particular area. It is probably your best source for information on crime and safety. Most police stations will also provide details on how active the community is if they are involved in crime prevention or community policing.
Think about the way you live, what is important to you and the values you take with you. Ask yourself if you prefer a conservative climate or a more liberal one? How does the city or county usually vote? How important are local politics? Is the social structure of a city or neighborhood important to you?
Cost of Living
For most people, this is a crucial piece of information to access; cost for housing, food, entertainment, and transportation are all factors in your decision. These helpful tools allow you to measure the cost of living in a variety of cities nationwide.
For many people, finding a community that supports one's spiritual needs is important; likewise, some prefer to live in a city that offers a variety of churches, temples, and mosques.
Belief.net offers information on places of worship in cities and neighborhoods across the US. It also provides information on various religions, including history, articles and discussion forums.