Stories from the Road
More and more people are choosing to travel the world and have found a way to make a living while doing so. This article features stories from the road, to inspire and educate.
article by: Susan Rensberger
Two blocks from my modern glass high-rise apartment building in Mendoza, Argentina, a traditional corner store sells produce from wooden crates stacked near the door.
A few days go, I went to buy honeydew melon, and instead found Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and fennel. Speaking slowly, the owner taught me their names in Spanish, explaining that summer was over. Now it is autumn.
This news unsettles me, though in theory I know that March in the southern hemisphere is September in the north, the month of the equinox. But for me, autumn is more than a new set of names for vegetables and a wardrobe change. It's a call to action.
For the past year, I've followed the sun and summer, from Panama to Argentina, to Spain and back to Argentina. Before that, I spent five years in Panama's eternal summer. Now I must decide whether to take flight again ... or stay and put down some roots.
Six years ago, I left a "normal" life in California to move to Panama. My life was being turned upside down by changes I couldn't control, so I made one decision I could: Where, in what culture and language, to make a new life.
In Panama, I learned Spanish, as well as how to live and do business -- and how not to -- in Latin culture. But most importantly, I learned what is essential to my personal happiness ... so that I could leave the rest behind.
When I left, I made a trade-off: Space for flexibility. I gave up my large apartment and sold my car and household goods, putting into a small storage unit only what I couldn't bear to leave forever. I locked the door, got on a plane, and flew to Argentina.
My plan was simple: rent a much smaller, short-term, furnished apartment for about the same rent I had paid on my unfurnished long-term rental, stay for two months to see how I liked living in Mendoza, then when autumn struck -- move on.
I make my living writing and publishing about living, buying real estate and investing internationally, so all I needed was my computer and a wifi connection.
From Mendoza, I moved to Granada, Spain, intending to stay for a few weeks. But the medieval hilltop village where I lived with its view of the Alhambra and the beauty of the city enchanted me. I stayed for almost five months, visiting Nerja and other coastal and mountain towns before leaving in October.
I'm not, at heart, a perpetual traveler, and this time I may stay and make a new life. But I'll never stop traveling, and my favorite style of travel is to live like a local.
That requires renting a place where you can cook, going to the markets and the hardware and the drugstore. Choosing a favorite café or bar where you can hang out and get to know people. All those daily interactions are what give you the flavor of life in your host country, and open doors to meeting travelers, transplants and locals.
It's not necessarily expensive to live or retire abroad, or to travel for a few months, but it does require flexibility. Here are some of my tips for achieving the flexibility to realize your travel dreams.
If you own a house, don't let it own you. My life changed when I realized that if I didn't have fixed expenses in Panama, I could take my work with me and live anywhere. So I sold everything that had no personal significance to me, for travel money.
In Granada, I had a neighbor who was a school teacher on sabbatical. She and her firefighter husband had rented out their house in California for a year, so she could take their two sons to live in Spain. He was able to come for a few months halfway through the year, too. The boys were enrolled in an international school, introducing the whole family to local friends. The flexibility of the parents enriched the whole family's life.
Know what you require to live well. For me, "living well" means that I have what makes me happy: Beauty outside my windows, outdoor living space (a balcony or terrace), a spacious view, abundant sunshine. For those things, I'll pay extra, because they're essential. I've lived in some small and funky places furnished in tastes that aren't mine, in exchange for the adventure of exploring the culture, history and landscape of a new country. But I've learned to choose places that meet my essential needs for happiness.
Choose locales to fit your budget and your taste. The world is so full of beauty, culture, and lovely people that even if you have a relatively small budget, you don't have to choose between "affordable" and "desirable."
You can live at least as well as you do in North America -- or better -- almost anywhere in Latin America and many places in Asia. Household help, eating out, and travel can all be an affordable part of everyday life.
Some people divide their year between a developing country and a first-world locale. Latin America is my developing-world choice, because the landscape and climate is infinitely varied and beautiful; I now know the language; and it's inexpensive, for anyone earning dollars.
For the first world, I prefer Europe. Living in Spain on euros required some lifestyle adjustments: I rented small apartments, did most of the cleaning myself, and didn't eat at expensive restaurants.
But I saw the Alhambra every single day. I walked on cobblestone streets, where the only traffic was on foot and the occasional motorcycle. I shopped in the open-air market for local fruits and vegetables, following the seasons. I met up with friends from England, Scotland, Spain and the U.S. in our neighborhood café...was invited to a service at the local mosque...hiked in the mountains...visited the seacoast at Nerja.
Change your assumptions about what is best. Last November, a local cable company in Mendoza took my internet order three times, but never showed up to install the service. While originally frustrated, I finally took a fresh look at the situation to see what benefit it offered me. In hindsight, it was a blessing. It gave me a reason to get out of the apartment and I saved money, as free wifi is readily available at cafés and restaurants.
Just now, I'm sitting on the terrace of a 5-star international hotel, facing the tree-lined central plaza. My large espresso with foamed milk, which came with a plate of cookies and a glass of sparkling water, set me back 17 pesos: US $3.89.
That makes it outrageously expensive by local standards, where you can still get an espresso for 10 pesos or less, but to me, it's still worth the price. This is the place to be in town. Local business people come here for meetings, tourists for the wine and the view, and expats just because they can.
Three friends from the U.S. who live and work here just strolled in. It's late on Saturday afternoon, and they've spent the day tasting and lunching at two wineries near town. Now they've ordered a bottle of sparkling wine and invited me to join them -- which I just might do, just because I can.
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