Many people throughout North American and Europe dream of getting out of the city and living in a rural area that is cut off from society. Sometimes people do reach this dream location, but they often find it’s not exactly what they expected. I will share the ups and downs I’ve experienced while “living out in the sticks” in northern Sweden.
A little about my background.. I grew up in the hot dusty desert near Palm Springs, CA during my childhood, a fairly populated location that had plenty of activities and work while also having plenty of empty surrounding space. I attended university in Los Angeles, CA when I was 21 for nearly two years where I quickly grew weary of the busy atmosphere and bustling traffic. During that time I became infatuated with the dream of living in a small cabin on ten acres or more out in the desolate California desert.
After leaving Los Angeles, for nearly two years I lived in the low-populated desert town of Joshua Tree, CA, in a small neighborhood outside of Joshua Tree National Park. This was close to my dream of living in the desert, but I was still in a fairly populated and active community that I considered to be considerably connected to society.
A few years later a unique opportunity came up for me to relocate to a small village in the far north of Sweden. This was a completely different environment from what I foresaw myself living in (extreme cold instead of extreme heat), but it was an opportunity I eventually decided to take. The village had a population of approximately 300 people and was a 45 minute drive from the nearest large city that had a population of nearly 9,000. The only businesses in town are a tiny market and a small cafe. This was place was seriously out in the sticks!
After months of thinking about relocating, I decided to hell with it, I’ll give it a try. I relocated to the small Swedish village in April 2016 right when the snow was beginning to melt. Settling in has been a unique experience of ups and downs, and at some points entailed worry and panic attacks. It has certainly tested my mind beyond what I could have ever imagined. I have never experienced such loneliness, meanwhile also feeling a wonderful sense of peace and tranquility.
I also want to note that Sweden is a considerably different social climate than the United States. Swedes are certainly in tune with their cell phones and video games, much like Americans, but they are also relatively anti-social in terms of hosting gatherings, greeting others, etc. Sweden is one of the most anti-social countries in the world, which can be tough for new visitors to handle.
Thankfully I moved to Sweden to live with my Swedish partner who had grown up in the area and was familiar with many people in the community and knew of things to do. Through him I was able to meet people in the community fairly quickly and know the ins and outs of how everything worked. Additionally I was already familiar with Sweden because I had lived in Sweden for ten months ten years earlier as a Rotary International Youth Exchange student. Had I not had the connection with my Swedish partner or was not familiar with Sweden, I would not have chosen to relocate. Visit yes, but not relocate.
On a final note, the village I moved to was on a highway so I was able to at least catch a bus to the nearest large town when I needed to. If my village was away from the highway I would have been even more cut off and had more difficulty settling in and feeling at home.
Here are what I consider to be ups and downs of living out in the sticks..
- Quiet – the only sound I hear occasionally is the humming of snow mobiles.
- Relaxing – no traffic, hardly any people, within walking distance of the forest.
- Practically no crime – there have been a few break-ins, but for the most part there is never crime.
- Close to nature – easy to to take the snowmobile out or go skiing, no need to use a trailer.
- Many outdoor activities – fishing, hunting, skiing, snowmobiling.
- “Homey” – everyone knows everyone and takes care of themselves. People will visit each other in their homes to talk.
- Lack of work – most work is in the nearest large city that is a 45 minute drive.
- Loneliness – the feeling of loneliness can gradually set in and, in my experience, trigger worry and panic attacks.
- Lack of activities – there is lack of activity partly because the Swedes tend to be quiet people, but there is also less selection of activities which is understandable. Example, the nearest large city has dance, yoga, club nights, etc. whereas where I am located there is only yoga and workout sessions.
- Minimal transportation – there is a bus that goes to the nearest large town and returns twice a day. There is also a taxi service but it is fairly expensive since it is such a long drive.
- Far from health services – not good when there’s a health problem.
- Less community unity, poor networking – less business means less of the “competitive” edge, hence people tend to do poorly at communicating and networking.
Thankfully I have been able to return to the US for months at a time where I recuperate from living in a small town. When I first returned to the US I said there is no way I could live in the small village longer, but after being in the states for over a month, I began missing my partner and went back. Surprisingly, I have had a bit more patience every time I have returned back to my small Swedish village. I’ve been back in Sweden my fourth time now and I feel a bit more settled and accustomed to small town living.
I actually read about a campaign an older woman launched in the UK specifically to warn retirees about the challenges of living in a small town. Like many people, this woman dreamed of moving out of the city and living in a small rural community for peace and relaxation for the remainder of her life. However, once she achieved that dream, she quickly learned living in a rural community was not easy.
She noticed many downsides of living in a rural area as what I did. She noted that it was very pricey to have her car fixed because she had to call a tow truck service that was located in the next nearest large town. She was also lonely and did not encounter people frequently, which impacted her mental state and also made her worry about her health as she aged considering less people were around to keep an eye on her.
Eventually she threw in the towel and decided the rural life was not for her. She moved back to the city and decided to enlighten people about the challenges of living in their small dream villages, which I think is a worthy cause.
The rural Swedish village I am living in has been growing on me, but I do wonder what lies in the future. I am somewhat worried about how I will handle children, if that will ever happen. How will they be entertained in a small village? Will I be driving all the time to the nearest village so they can do activities? How will I make it to the hospital if I am about to give birth? I’ll have to look into answers for those questions!
Thankfully the internet has given be projects, such as this blog, to work on while at home. These projects have kept me entertained when I would most likely be pulling out my hair due to loneliness. At the end of the day, though, there have been ups and downs no matter where I’ve lived.
Lauren Ell is an American blogger born and raised in Southern California and is currently based in Sweden. She discusses Epilepsy, Politics and Fun. Professionally Ell is an Online Marketing Consultant and Virtual Assistant. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.