Tuesday, October 7, 2014

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

I’ve mentioned before how I sometimes took advantage of my dad. Today, however, I was reminding myself that he too was capable of his own dirty tricks. For instance---in spite of all the many good things he did for my mother, brother, and me, he managed to bequeath to me a particularly troublesome bit of himself. You see, I was the one who inherited the Old Man’s lifelong curse---a pesky and persistent infection he called “wanderlust.”
In my case the symptoms began surfacing 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---one colorful country after another---I tried my best to sound out the strange names, while imagining the people who called those far away places home, and wondering what it would be like to live there. At thirteen I ran away from home, determined to see the world for myself---or at least Eastern Oregon. It seemed that I was born with that urge to explore new and interesting places and meet the people who live there. And I’ve never outgrown that. Later, Roma and I were fortunate to visit some of those places, as many as our resources and family situation would allow. It was great, but definitely not a cure for an advanced case of wanderlust.
Then in my mid-sixties, I retired and moved into my own October Years. And surprise---there it was again, that undiminished urge to see the world. But now I had time to indulge those fantasies---to mull the possibility of becoming one of those “strange” people living in one of those far away lands. But how much travel could we afford, even if we had the time? Of course, those with a hefty pension and fat IRA had more choices. Even with the pull of friends and family urging them to stay close to home in retirement, they might decide that “home” ought to be in the sunny southland---Arizona or Florida for instance.

Yet many of us without those resources are likely to want the same things for ourselves. If so, there are other options we might consider---other ways to scratch our travel itch. Today’s internet world offers new possibilities at every turn. My favorite “wanderlust fix” seems to arrive every few months, as it has for years. As near as I can tell the message has never changed in all that time. I have only to open the email or envelope, recite the first sentence or two, and Roma is heading for another room.
“The hibiscus are in bloom,” the message begins. “As they are every month of the year. The gardener 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 that the two of you could retire in such luxury for less than $1,800 a month. But now you know what so many others do not---that the good life and affordable health care are well within your reach.
You’ve probably seen the pitch---how you can afford the retirement you dream about---somewhere. And perhaps you find a certain appeal in dreaming about that. I know I do. For decades our fellow Americans have been taking advantage of low-cost foreign retirement, especially in Mexico and Central America. Lately, in the face of an increasingly harsh economic environment, that trend has taken on 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. At that point ask yourself what it would take to make Colombia a viable place to live out your Golden Years? Or Peru, or Thailand, or Uruguay, or Belize? I see e-mails 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’ll 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 every day that many retirees will not have saved enough to fund a decent retirement---at least not in the USA. For a certain portion of that population the lower cost of “overseas” living, especially the reduced cost of health care, will make that sound like a viable option.
Of late, the articles I have 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 each of us. For a wanderlust junky like me the lure of inexpensive living in new and far-away places, especially an 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 realities kicks in. “Is it practical?” I ask myself. We are a family-oriented family. How would it work to have Grandma and Grandpa living on the seashore of sunny Belize, thousands of miles from the clan, following our grandkids on Facebook or Skype, perhaps visiting them every year or two? That doesn't sound appealing at all. 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? When it’s all said and done chances are I’ll have to settle for being a “strange” person right here at home.
How about you? Do the possibilities of tropical splendor on a shoestring resonate with you? Or does “Is it practical?” win out?

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