On our first visit to the southern Caribbean island of Bonaire we were so smitten that we immediately said "We are going to move here when we retire."
Then, we had an affair with St. Maarten.
This was before our flings with Curacao and Costa Rica . . .
Yep, we are complete pushovers when it comes to sunny paradises. You do it, too. Admit it!
We all have fallen in love with place after place. Spots that we could envision ourselves just swaying in a hammock during the afternoons before cooking up a fresh dinner on the patio each night. Listening to the birds chirping and waves crashing.
Or strolling amid gorgeous piazzas and sipping coffees at an outdoor eatery while peacefully people watching and reading.
The ex-pat life is very alluring, and Mrs. In The Loop and I endeavor to spend six months a year in a favorite spot (we have narrowed it to a couple of the spots mentioned above, but reserve the right to keep our wandering hearts open to new loves) and six months traveling stateside and elsewhere when we transition into a location-independent lifestyle.
This goal has been in the works for more than a decade for us. So, I was particularly drawn to Liisa Vexler's invitation to check out her new book "The Family Freedom Project: A Step-By-Step Guide to Living Abroad with Kids".
Liisa and her family have lived much of the past few years in Costa Rica, moving down from their native Canada. Liisa and her husband, Derek, work online, so they are truly location independent. (She specializes in creating online content as a health and medical writer.) Infused with a sense of wanderlust through her adventurous parents during childhood, Liisa and Derek's honeymoon to Costa Rica was so wonderful that it almost immediately struck a chord with them that they could envision living there someday.
That's how it starts for most of us. But the bliss of a vacation -- especially a honeymoon -- is not to be trusted when deciding where to live. The daily routine of life is not a vacation, and once you commit to live long-term in a place far away from your homeland, you'd better be sure it's what you really want.
Vexler explains all this in her book, using fabulous anecdotes and useful exercises (actual short-form list-making notes to challenge yourself to think about your goals) that cover all the details and scenarios that crop up. The guide explains ways to make money online to help support your lifestyle, how to handle selling your home (or renting it out) so you can live elsewhere, fitting in a new culture, finding friends, health care, emergencies, transportation, schools and many more items that must be addressed to make a comfortable move, especially when you are bringing children along for your ex-pat adventures.
I think this guide works well for anyone considering a move to any location. After I went through the e-book, Liisa sent me, I followed up with her to see what is new and ask for a bit more insight about living in Costa Rica because it's on our list of prospects for ex-pat living (remember?).
You talk about how in the ex-pat community, "friends" come and go so often. How has it been in making friends and connections?
Meeting people is easy in an expat community. It may take a bit of time to figure out where to go, and for someone less outgoing, it may mean taking more risks and initiating conversations, but it is much easier than it is in a place where people are born and raised. There are a couple of things I would be sensitive about though, when trying to make connections:
1) Understand that long-time expats may be closed off, especially at first. They get tired of saying goodbye to people who are there in the short-term. Don't be offended. Move on to newer expats, like yourself, and give them some time.
2) Don't be a know-it-all about your new home, and more importantly, don't complain or try to change it. That is a big turnoff to people who live in and love a place.
Though people come and go, you can make lasting friendships or connections that are impactful in some way. It's definitely worth putting yourself out there and making a concerted effort.
How often are you able to get friends and family down to see you? Is there any sense of isolationism you cope with?
If you come from a place that it's cold like us, and you move to a place that's warm and tropical, you will have plenty of friends and family come to visit in the winter. And, we go to Canada in the summer. It's perfect. I don't feel isolated, but sometimes I miss specific friends or family members.
Do you live in Costa Rica with the sense that this will always be your life or that it is a segment of your life and that you probably will return home again someday? Or does it all depend on how other factors intervene as they often do?
Since moving here three and half years ago for a six-month adventure, many things have changed, or as you say, factors have intervened. We stayed way longer than we originally planned. However, we are now ready to re-introduce our children to Canadian culture and society. We are location independent when it comes to work, so we plan on spending a couple of months a year here (between the kids' sports seasons).
Speaking specifically about Costa Rica, what would you say the best way to get the authentic experience of the country for a visitor? For someone especially who loves to enjoy active adventures? For the best foods? The best festivals or holidays?
Costa Rica has terrible roads. While this means that driving from place to place is slow, it also means that you truly get to experience the country when you move from town to town. You can fly on local airlines, but I recommend hiring a driver; most love to tell the stories or answer questions as you move through the countryside. There are also no street names and poor signage, so driving here when you don't know the country can be stressful.
As you drive from town to town, or go on any day trips, stop at a local side-of-the-road "soda" or local restaurant, for an authentic experience.
I recommend coming to Costa Rica in what is called the "Green Season." While it may rain while you are here, you will save a ton of cash and avoid crowds completely. Late September and October are quite rainy, but come May through early August for great deals and decent weather.
My final recommendation is to avoid staying in one place. Each area of the country is completely different. Spend at least 10 days, and make sure to check out a beach town and a rainforest spot. Got more time? Check out the cloudforest and the far southern zone, which is almost untouched. The Caribbean side of the country is harder to get to, but if you've got time, enjoy its clear waters and different culture and heritage.
Anything else you have learned since you wrote the book that would be helpful for us to know about living/traveling in Costa Rica specifically and/or pursuing a life of freedom and adventure in general?
I didn't talk a lot about my personal evolution in the book. It has been really interesting to see how much I have learned about myself, being away from my friends and family, my support network, my culture. I have learned what I miss, what I need to survive and what I need to be truly happy.
For me, that means frequent social interaction and quiet time to myself. I created the former with a girlfriend by scheduling weekly women's dinners. We now have almost 50 women on our email list, and between six and 18 come out each week. I get the latter, the quiet time, by taking time for myself every single day, whether it's time in the gym, a walk on the beach, or 30 minutes of reading for pleasure midday.
I think getting out of my comfort zone and removing both the safety net and the responsibility of extended family, afforded me the opportunity to discover these things. Aside from fun, adventure, and education, consider extended travel or life abroad an opportunity for self-discovery and fulfillment.
"The Family Freedom Project: A Step-by-Step Guide to Living Abroad with Kids" is available on Amazon.com. Vexler's website FamilyFreedomProject.com also is full of stories about families who have taken the leap and moved abroad. It also has info about becoming location independent, working online and travel in Costa Rica.
Thanks for reading. Always travel happy.