Thursday, June 20, 2013

I love Paris in the spring -- but Bogota or Bangkok in October??

I’ve mentioned before how I sometimes took advantage of my dad. This morning I am reminding myself that he too was capable of his own dirty tricks. For all the good things he did for my mother, brother, and me, the Old Man managed to bequeath to me his own particular curse---a pesky and persistent infection he called “wanderlust.”

The symptoms were there at an early age. By seven or eight I was spending hours leafing through the big Rand McNally World Atlas the folks kept under the coffee table. From map to map to map---I did my best to sound out the strange names and tried to imagine the people who lived in those far away countries, wondering what they were like. At twelve I ran away from home, determined to see the world---or at least spend a couple days in Eastern Oregon. Later, I was fortunate to visit a few of those places---as many as our resources and family situation would allow. I was born with that urge to see new and interesting places and meet the people who live there. I’ve never outgrown that. Perhaps you have some of that in you.

Then in my mid-sixties, I retired and moved on to my own October Years. Surprise---it was still there, the undiminished lure of wanderlust. The difference was I finally had time to indulge myself in those fantasies. But how much travel could we afford, even if we wanted to? As always, those with a hefty pension have more choices. Though the pull of friends and family may have them staying close to home in retirement, they could decide that “home” ought to be in the sunny southland---Arizona or Florida for instance.

Of course, some of us who don't have the necessary resources want those same things. In that case, we might find ourselves considering other options. That's where the internet offers a whole new world of possibilities. One of my favorites arrives every couple months, as it has for years. Near as I can tell the message has changed little over the years. I have only to open the email or envelope and recite the first sentence or two to have my wife is heading for another room.

“The hibiscus are in bloom,” the message begins. “As they are every month of the year. The gardner watches over them and the rest of the grounds, while  the maid/cook maintains order in your bright and airy home. Just months before you would never have dreamed the two of you could retire in such luxury for less than $1,800 a month. But now you have learned what so many others have not---that the good life, including affordable health care, is well within your reach.

You’ve probably seen the pitch. You can afford the retirement you dream of---somewhere. And perhaps you find a certain appeal in dreaming about that. I know I do. Fact is, for decades more and more of our fellow Americans have taken advantage of low cost foreign retirement, especially in Mexico. Lately, in the face of an increasingly harsh economic environment, that trend has taken on a new and novel forms.

In this brave new world of ours an updated list of well-publicized retirement havens is enough to send us back to the atlas. Just ask yourself what it would take to make Colombia a viable place to live out your Golden Years? Or Peru, or Thailand, or Uruguay? I see weekly emails advertising $300 seminars that will provide all the information you need to establish a home and live the good life in any of those countries, at a fraction of the cost you’d pay here in the U.S. The sponsors claim they can make the case for that. Could they convince you?

By all accounts the “offshore” retirement trend will continue to accelerate. We read everyday about how many retirees will not have saved enough to fund an decent retirement---at least not in the USA. For a certain portion of that population the lower cost of living “overseas,” especially the reduced cost of health care, will make that sound like a viable option.

Lately the articles I read online tout two particular retirement destinations---Panama and Belize. Certainly Panama has a long history of dealing with and providing for US citizens. Belize, on the other hand, was formerly a British colony. It is the only Central American nation where English is the official language. Each of those countries already hosts a sizable ex-patriot population.

But in the end we’re left to decide what “retirement”---the label we assign to life-after-work---means to us. For a wanderlust junky like me the lure of inexpensive living in new and far-away places, especially some exotic, out-of-the-way locale, is hard to ignore.

Then, about the time I get caught up in the wonderful possibilities, another of those pesky October attributes kicks in. “Is it really practical?” I ask myself. We're a family-oriented family. How would it work, having Grandma and Grandpa living on the seashore of sunny Belize, thousands of miles from the clan, following the grandkids on Skype? Beyond that, both Roma and I are kind of set in our ways. How would we adapt to a very different way of life, no matter how luxurious or inexpensive it was, or how adventurous the challenge?

How about you? Do the possibilities of tropic splendor on a shoestring resonate with you? Or does “Is it practical?” win out? I'd like to hear what you think. 

As always, if you’re so inclined I’d appreciate your comments, posted below. Beyond that, if there are folks with whom you’d like to share this October Years post I hope you’ll pass it on. It’s an easy thing to do. Just click on the “M” at the bottom of this page to email the post, with the video, to any addresses you choose.

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