“How’s it feel to be back?”
Kim’s best friend’s husband asked me that last Saturday because, the day before, we’d landed back in Vancouver after living six months in Cape Town.
Since it’s Kim and my fifth-straight year splitting my time between the two cities, I’ve gotten this question dozens of times in both cities.
My answer’s always been the same:
“It feels like I never left.”
It’s true! The second I drop my luggage and head out to stock the fridge with groceries, it feels like a scene change in a movie. Out fades Capetonian Chris walking to Woolworths; in appears Vancouverite Chris doing his weekly Persia Foods produce run.
It’s a double life.
And it’s kind of like having two wives, with similar pains in the ass as I imagine having two Kims would be, but better benefits.
The 150 Percent Life
Swapping back and forth between two cities is like living two parallel lives.
Kim and I miss out on events and gatherings in Cape Town while on the other side of the world in Vancouver—and vice-versa. When we do, the FOMO is stronger. It’s like knowing wife #1 is out wine tasting with friends while you’re stuck watching The Bachelor with wife #2. Except we skip winter in both cities, so usually wife #1 is usually hibernating. So when we land back in town and ask friends, “What’d we miss?”, the answer’s usually, “Same ‘ol, same ‘ol.”
Since Kim and my time is constrained in each city, we feel the urge to squeeze more in—more dinner parties, more adventures, more wine tasting, less sitting on our butts watching The Bachelor. We don’t take the people and opportunities around town for granted as much as we used to back before we adopted our migratory lifestyle. So we do more.
And we have two sets of social circles now. Are they less tightly wound than if we stuck in a single city year-round? Probably. I’ve noticed some connections I’ve made at the end of my time in one town vanish by the time I return. But I don’t get the impression that the relationships we had in Vancouver before taking on a second life in Cape Town have suffered much. Certainly not to the extent we’ve gained by forming new relationships in South Africa.
All in all, I figure we get about 75 percent of the year-round experience of living in each city. So we live 150 percent lives!
The Excruciating Labor
Make that 135 percent lives. Our semiannual relocation ruins a good ten percent of our lives.
This wouldn’t be the case if we were wealthy enough to own homes in both cities. But you don’t pay me nearly enough for this, so Kim and I have to go through what feels like labor twice a year:
- Our worry builds as the date we’re due to depart approaches.
- The process itself—packing, cleaning, saying goodbye, then the reverse in city #2—is excruciatingly unpleasant.
- It takes a while to recover.
But then it’s over. Our minds patch up the unpleasant memories with minimal scarring. And we feel a bit of a rebirth.
The Continuous Refreshment
Everything feels fresher after migrating*.
(*Except for the houseplants that our sublettor drowned.)
Things feel fresher, too. Even silly little objects like my blue plastic water cup and polka dot coffee mug in Vancouver, which I was almost as happy to see again as some of my friends.
For other objects, though, it’s more like, “Oh… you again.” So I toss them into the donation box. That’s the upside of the shittiness of having to pack and unpack twice a year: It prunes our crap.
After unpacking last week, I walked to my mom’s house to pick up pillows we left there and was happy to see the familiar old shops along 4th Avenue, and that a couple of new ones had opened up. So my neighborhood feels fresher.
And I smiled—not just politely, either—when a car stopped to let me cross the road. I’ll get used to such Canadian courtesy within a week, at which point I’ll feel like flipping off any driver who, in South African fashion, plows along like they’re the king of the urban jungle. But it’ll be a mental middle finger, not a physical one, because my expectations won’t fully reset. Before they do, we’ll have moved back to Cape Town, where my expectations will refresh again and I’ll be excited to live where it’s more of an honest free-for-all.
That’s the beauty of living between two cities:
As soon as the grass starts to get greener on the other side, we hop over the fence.
The Different Types of Seasons
When I tell people about my eternal summering between Cape Town and Vancouver, some say, “I’d miss having seasons.”
Fair enough. Maybe they are too traditional for the bigamy of being in a relationship with two towns at once. Or maybe they could try living in two cities in the same hemisphere.
But I rather not wear socks. And it’s not like Kim and I experience no seasons. We ride the tail end of spring through summer, pick a few mushrooms once fall hits, then skedaddle.
We enjoy un-weather-related seasonal changes, too:
- Seasonal drinking: In Cape Town, the wine is as outstanding as it is inexpensive, but the beer isn’t, so we stick to drinking the former. In Vancouver, the wine’s fine, but the beer’s way better value and quality, so we stick to the latter.
- Seasonal eating: In Vancouver, we eat a lot more Asian and vegetarian fare, whereas we’re much more carnivorous in Cape Town.
- Seasonal exercising: In Cape Town, we play with the heavy toys at the wonderful outdoor workout area of our Virgin Active gym. Back in Vancouver, we stick to public parks, our own bodyweight, and the odd rock.
- Seasonal socializing: In Vancouver, we mostly hang out with family and old friends who have young families. In Cape Town, we spend more time vicariously enjoying the freedom of single friends.
- Seasonal identifying: In Vancouver, we blend in as rare born-and-raised locals. In Cape Town, we’re outsiders with easy-to-pick-out accents.
The Financial Balancing
In Cape Town, our income’s in the top tenth percentile. We hire a full-time maid/nanny, eat out frequently, venture off on weekend trips, and live in a swanky beachfront apartment. But if we lived there permanently, we’d get too spoiled to be able to afford to live in Canada.
In Vancouver, our income’s in the bottom tenth percentile. We clean our own toilet, buy groceries from Walmart, go hiking if we can borrow a car, and live in a basic one-bedroom apartment. Living here pushes us to make more money, but if we were here permanently, we’d start to believe we’re poor.
Which city are we happier living in?
Not sure. Maybe Vancouver.
One thing’s for certain:
Spending half our life outside the First World bubble saves us from joining the chorus of Canadian complainers about trivial concerns.
The One Looming Problem
I love both of my cities.
Vancouver’s my beautiful, dutiful housewife. It offers among the highest quality of living in the world. It’s clean, safe, and organized, but also a bit boring and money hungry.
Cape Town’s the exotic second spouse. It’s sexier, less refined, more fun, less organized, more “real,” and less restrictive.
Kim and I would love to continue our bigamous multiliving forever:
- Six months a year in Vancouver (for residency and healthcare purposes)
- Four months in Cape Town.
- Two months in different cities en route, like we did pre-Zac in Essaouira, Morocco.
The problem is, I don’t think Zac or son #2 on his way will appreciate the perks of living in two cities as much as Kim and me. So we’re dreading having to say, “It’s not you, it’s us,” to one of these cities and going steady with just one.
Or maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m just finding excuses to take the easy, conventional route of living in a single city.
So we’ll try to keep multiliving as long as we can.
And I suggest you consider questioning any excuses you might have for not living in two cities, too. Give it a try and you might never turn back.
Whether or not you do, you might find these helpful:
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About the author
I'm Chris. Canadian, husband, dad, writer, investor, athlete, and obsessed explorer of the secrets to living a never-boring, always improving, unfollowable life story.
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