Crossing Towns Off The List: Missoula, Montana

Sixteen months into our road trip journey, we feel comfortable making some conclusions about our future.

  1. We like our vagabondish lifestyle far too much to give it up anytime soon.
  2. Continuing to pay rent on our storage unit is a waste of money.
  3. We want a home base. Even a small cabin on some acreage will do. Somewhere we don’t have to pay rent. A spot of land that we can go back to in-between our seasonal workamper jobs.
  4. Our goal is to close escrow on something, somewhere, before March, 2009.

With this in mind, our travels are taking on more of a sense of urgency these days.

Missoula Montana RV Park Jim and Mary'sWe’ve been wandering around the Northwest, taking serious looks at places we’ve been curious about. Based on what I’ve heard about Missoula, Montana, it always sounded like a great fit for us, and consistently makes “Best Small Towns” lists. Recently, we visited to learn more for ourselves.

We stayed at this RV park just outside of town. A great park, with a great name; Jim’s parents were also “Jim and Mary.” The days were getting cold, so we only spent a few days there, looking around, talking to economic development people, and getting a feel for the area. We were so busy I hardly took any photos. Here’s what we learned.

Good Things About Missoula:

  • Locals are friendly. Nobody seemed like they were in a hurry, even at rush hour.
  • With a population of 100,000, Missoula still feels like a small town. But it doesn’t have any of the small town sacrifices. There’s tons of character and uniqueness, but still has everything you could possibly need (i.e., killer locally owned organic grocery stores along with big box stores).
  • Because the University is there, it has an exceptional entertainment scene, one not just for kids either.
  • The large downtown area is alive and well, and the business community seems very strong and supportive.
  • There’s lots of activities for everyone, all year long, not just summertime. Skiing, biking, kayaking, you name it, it’s all within a few minutes of town.
  • Bikes and pedestrians rule.
  • Residents are very eco-conscious, but don’t come off as uptight eco Nazis.
  • You can still get a great house there for around $250k.
  • The university plays a huge role, but doesn’t consume the whole town, unlike the way Virginia Tech consumes the town of Blacksburg, which we visited last year. My impression is that if you don’t have anything to do with the University, and you’re not into football, that’s OK, you won’t be an outsider and there are plenty of other things going on.

Why We Aren’t Going Back

If we had been to Missoula before falling in love with Eureka, back in 1998, we probably would’ve moved there instead. It’s right up our alley, and has all of the features we always wished Eureka had. But, after all that we’ve been through since then, here’s why we are crossing it off our list:

  • It is not a true “small town” to us. Way too many people.
  • Housing is affordable, but land is expensive. We couldn’t pay cash for anything.
  • Because it lacks nothing and has so much to offer, materialistically speaking, we’d easily get sucked into the consumer lifestyle/rat race again.
  • We don’t want to be surrounded by the cultural void that is the rest of Montana and rural Northern Idaho.
  • Their weather is so sucky and overcast all year, that a regional “Sunshine Predictability Scale,” indicates that in January, you only have a 20 percent chance of seeing the sun. And in July, just an 80 percent chance. In July!

Jim and I both agree that if we wanted to live exactly as we did back in Eureka, (i.e. running a business and getting heavily involved with the community), we would definitely pick Missoula.

But at this point in our lives, we aren’t out to be upstanding, business-minded citizens anytime soon. Nope, instead we just want to live simply and stay away from debt. We want to lay low until this stupid economy picks up, base ourselves somewhere quiet and rural, and keep on truckin’ in our RV from workamper job to workamper job. For a while, anyways.

11 thoughts on “Crossing Towns Off The List: Missoula, Montana”

  1. What have you found since this article? We too are looking to live a simple life. Currently we are north of Missoula in Kalispell/Bigfork – have even lived in Whitefish. We have considered Eureka, but I have never actually been there. Is it any sunnier than Missoula? Is there a place I can look at what you thought of the other towns you visited?

  2. I really think you guys need to consider Colorado. Lots of small, quaint towns within driving distance to the bigger, commercialized areas. If you head back this way, you are welcome to camp on our property in Westcliffe to get a feel for rural mountain life.

    • What towns in Colorado? My husband and I are from Idaho/Montana. We have heard the Colorado thing mentioned before, but we don’t know where to start. Any suggestions? We want SMALL town. I grew up in a county with around 1000. We are looking for more like up to 5000 but not just a suburb. Lots of places list 100,000 as small town. Obviously our views differ. Please let me know!

  3. Oh, come on, admit it, Humboldt County starts to look pretty darn good compared with most places. I’ll bet you could find something out around Alderpoint or Bridgeville. But of course I’m completely objective ;-).

  4. Wow, you want it all, I like that. However, in some quarters I would venture there’s someone thinking you two are optimal candidates for a Buddhist monastery where they urge you to become the place rather than chase a check list, I could be very wrong cause maybe your destiny lies in opening a bartending school in Vegas but with organic liquor leanings?

    Seems like you’ve got the best problem of all – choices. Even during periods of “stupid economy” having choices is a wonderful thing. I say keep on truckin’ and pitch the storage unit and contents and just keep going.

    If you’re having fun, enjoying each others company, making friends and learning fresh techniques for maintaining your wagon then who needs a grand scheme? Buying anything comes with sacrifice cause if you did get that cabin (with the type writer missing a key) with acres and the like you’ll have once again nailed your feet to the ground, think taxes, upgrades, furniture, stuff, stuff, stuff.

    Why not a commune where you can share some costs and come and go as desired? We recently had a friend visit who knows 11 couples living together on this property and things appear to be working, most of these folks are middle-aged and without kids so most of the youthful conflicts and behaviors have moved on. Just a thought.

    Or, move in with Rene’s parents? Buy a property with you in-laws and again drift in an out, I know a couple who have four kids and have pursued this arrangement. One of the positives is they don’t have to travel all that far to pick a fight if one side gets the urge.

    Just trying help you think outside of the RV.

    Be good you two – Eric.

  5. You had me on edge reading this post. I couldn’t imagine why you were crossing this off your list when I read about the plusses. Sorry to hear that this isn’t the right place either! It’s hard to find just the right place in my experience. In both our cases, it will probably take a bit more searching. We are really enjoying Oregon but there are too many people in the Portland area and we keep hearing how high taxes are.


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