I’ve mentioned before how, as a spoiled and self-indulgent boss’s son, I sometimes took advantage of my dad and his willingness to let me “find myself.”. From time to time, however, I am reminded that he too was capable of his own sneaky tricks. For instance---in spite of all the good things he did for my mother, brother, and me, the old guy managed to bequeath to me a particularly troublesome bit of himself---an itch that I have never completely overcome. 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 apparently surfaced at an early age. By seven or eight I was spending hours at a time 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 toured the world. I tried my best to sound out the strange names and imagine the people who called those far-away places home, while wondering what it would be like to live there.
Those questions grew more urgent until, at age thirteen I ran away from home, determined to see the world for myself. In the end I saw a bit of Eastern Oregon and the inside of the Umatilla County Jail. That was a letdown for sure, but not enough to dull that travel itch. Truth is, it’s something I’ve never outgrown. Later, Roma and I were fortunate to visit and even live in some of those places---as many as our resources and family situation would allow. Those were wonderful experiences, but not enough to cure an advanced case of wanderlust.
Then in my mid-sixties, I retired and we moved on to our own October Years. And surprise---it was still there, that undiminished urge to see the world. And now we had the time to indulge those fantasies. We began as tourists---twelve weeks revisiting old haunts in England and Europe. By then I was mulling new possibilities. What if we made our retirement home in one of those far-away places?
But though we now had the time, how much travel could we afford? Certainly, those with a hefty pension and fat IRA had more choices than we did. They could decide that “home” ought to be in Arizona or Florida or Europe---any place they wanted.
Yet what about those of us without those resources? Are we left out in the cold? Those are very real questions. We read every day about the multitude of seniors who will not have saved enough to fund their “dream” retirement---at least not in the USA. Fortunately, in this new globally-connected age we live in a certain portion of that population, the ones inclined to create their own retirement adventure, now have a whole new range of options. For them the low-cost possibilities of “overseas” living, with its substantially reduced cost of living and health care, can make “offshore” retirement an option worth exploring.
For those of us who fancy ourselves as bold, even at our age, there are new ways to scratch our travel itch in retirement. Today’s internet world offers possibilities at every turn. One of my favorite “wanderlust” fixes arrives as an email 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 and recite the first sentence or two to have Roma 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, telling how you can afford the retirement you dream of---somewhere. And perhaps you are one of those who find a certain satisfaction in dreaming about that. I know I do. Besides, the idea itself is not so far-fetched. 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 seems to have taken on new and novel forms.
In this brave new world of ours an up-to-date list of well-publicized retirement havens might be enough to send us back to the atlas---asking retirement questions most of us had never considered. For instance, take a moment to 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 ads for $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?
Of late, the articles I come across online are most often touting 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 some exotic, out-of-the-way locale is a bit seductive and hard to ignore. But then, about the time those exciting possibilities have me thinking like a kid again, another of those pesky, hard-to-avoid October realities kicks in. “Is it practical?” I ask myself.
Perhaps like you, 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? And even if we could manage that, both Roma and I are kind of set in our ways. How would we adapt to a very different culture and lifestyle, no matter how inexpensive it was or how adventurous the challenge? When it’s all said and done we’ve decided to settle for the wilds of the exotic Willamette Valley, and the lifestyle we’ve lived for all these years. But don’t think for a moment that I’ll stop day-dreaming about the sunny beaches of Belize or Panama.
How about you? Do the possibilities of tropical splendor on a shoestring resonate with you? Or does “Is it practical?” win out?