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It seemed like a good idea in lockdown, but is moving to the country right for you?

The idea of moving to the country has gained momentum through the COVID-19 pandemic. Many workplaces have introduced new policies on working from home that give employees the flexibility needed to make the switch.

Lockdowns have shown many just how cramped and uncomfortable life can be when you cannot escape to the usual activities that get you out of the house. And if everything is closed, what is the point of being in the city and paying a higher rent or mortgage anyway? The Reserve Bank has noted rents have gone down and vacancy rates have gone up in major cities.

Read more: Regional Australia's time has come – planning for growth is now vital

At the same time, some real estate agents have noticed an upturn in interest in renting or buying rural and regional properties. The demand in some regional areas has pushed up prices by as much as 30% in the year to October. It seems many are already making the switch to country living.

It sounds idyllic. Escape the rat race, have space to grow veggies and let the kids play outside. You won’t have to commute any more, and you might even be able to buy a house in the country at a time when city prices remain out of reach for many. You could be living the dream.

aerial image of Hopkins River and Warrnambool
The surge of interest in living in coastal towns like Warrnambool in Victoria has already pushed up regional property prices. Greg Brave/Shutterstock

Find a place that matches your values

So how do you know if this is right for you, or a disaster waiting to happen?

In my research with people who moved to the country, I found successful moves came down to how closely aligned people’s values were with the attributes of the place they moved to. For example, some people value space and quiet more than bustle and activity. If they found these attributes in their new home, then they were able to craft a new life that was deeply satisfying.

Read more: How moving house changes you

When you look through the pages of a glossy magazine such as Country Style, you might find yourself yearning for the lifestyle it depicts – the grassy fields, the peaceful but quirky homes filled with flea-market finds, the home-grown abundance and the happy, contented people. These are long-held and highly regarded values that many hold dear.

The roots of these ideals are deep. Representations of the country as a rural idyll, a place to escape to, are centuries older than our current media.

Epicurus (340BC to 270BC) moved from the centre of Athens to the countryside just outside so he could grow vegetables and live simply. Virgil’s (70BC to 19BC) Eclogues emphasised a rural idyll, as did much later painters such as John Constable and Eugene von Guérard. Henry David Thoreau’s Walden (1845) is an oft-quoted classic about an urban dweller moving to a rural place to live a better life (albeit temporarily in his case).

Early Australian writers such as A.B. “Banjo” Paterson and Henry Lawson took up this nostalgic ideal in the fledgling colony. So did artists such as Tom Roberts, Arthur Streeton and Charles Condor when they travelled to then-rural Heidelberg, now part of Melbourne, to paint the uniquely Australian countryside.

More recently, we have seen Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence (1991) sketch a romantic picture of city dwellers moving to rural France. And there are popular television series such as The Good Life (1975-77), Seachange (1998-2000, 2019), River Cottage Australia (2013-16) and most recently Escape from the City.

three women on a rural property
Escape from the City is explicitly pitched at people who ‘dream of a quieter life’. ABC iView

Read more: Imagining your own SeaChange – how media inspire our great escapes

Beware the gap between depictions and reality

We know the media are a powerful factor in helping us develop and share our identity and personal narratives. We respond to television shows, books and magazines that we are interested in by becoming their audience. We might share values, goals, ideas or even similar stories with the media we watch. We then, consciously or unconsciously, learn from or adopt those ideas and values in a process of socialisation that shows us how we might live a better life.

Media are only a representation, however. A multitude of factors, not least of which are sales and advertising revenues, go into the process of decision-making as images and stories are crafted for the various outlets. There can be a tendency for media to adopt stereotypes as a shorthand form of communication, but these do not necessarily reflect the reality they purport to depict.

This might seem obvious, but it is all too easy to accept these images as truth when we are inclined towards that viewpoint anyway.

Do you value the things that make a rural place what it is, whether that is peacefulness, an absence of people, vistas of rolling hills, or the community of a small country town? If you do, there’s a good chance a move to the country will enable you to live more closely in line with your values and so be a successful one.

If, on the other hand, you value city-style living, which includes attractions, shops, events and being close to services, you might want to reassess whether a seachange or treechange is right for you.

Read more: Should I stay or should I go: how 'city girls' can learn to feel at home in the country

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