Changing Directions one Step at a Time

When we first started to imagine and then plan our journey through retirement we had a vague idea of what we were hoping to experience, and what we were ultimately looking for was even more uncertain. As we have said before that was quite all right with us and we remain open to what life throws at us. If we dig far enough back in our memories we had idealistic images of tropical beaches, rainforests and a simple village lifestyle. Many of those ideas have come and gone as we have gathered experience and memories traveling through 10 countries and over 50,000 kilometers.

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Burning leaves and yard debris at Playa Matapalo, Costa Rica

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Sunday afternoon walk across the Millennium Bridge in London

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A Christmas market and the Seville Cathedral in December

Just over a year ago when we actually set out, we had a plan to allow ourselves 5 years of slow travel to see as much of the world as we could before we settled into an area for a more permanent lifestyle. The past 15 months have been wonderful and exciting, but they have also opened our eyes to some of the challenges of extended nomadic travel.

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Playa Espadilla in Manuel Antonio NP, Costa Rica

We want to share some of the factors that have contributed to our decision to apply for residency in Portugal, and base ourselves there for the foreseeable future. Probably the most important lessons we have learned are to be open to change, to pay attention to your instincts when they kick in, and to allow yourself time and experience before making decisions on something as major as moving permanently to another country.

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Cascais and Estoril, outside of Lisbon

We have found accommodation near our budget however it has been quite a challenge. Securing monthly prices certainly helps, but even in less expensive countries finding a place that is comfortable, safe, close to amenities, and with decent services is difficult. It has become apparent to us that unless we are willing to travel for extended periods of time in Southeast Asia or Central America we will be unlikely to find accommodations that work for us unless we go to yearly leases.

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Grocery day in Quepos, Costa Rica – we needed a rental car to get there

Changing homes every month comes with downsides. Even at that slow of a pace we are not in a neighbourhood long enough to become a part of it other than at a surface level. Of course you do get a much better feeling of the community than staying a night or two at a hotel but it takes much longer to really get to know the area, the people who live there, and their way of life. When booking accommodations ahead without seeing them in person, they can be lacking in services and can be below a standard that we are comfortable with and it can often be difficult to change or leave.

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La Libertad, Ecuador

Relying on public transportation also limits the options we consider. One of the first things we look for is the availability of groceries, walking opportunities, and a little bit of outdoor space. In general we are more used to a rural lifestyle so adapting to life in a larger urban center has required some adjustment.

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In Lisbon we were able to get everywhere by bus or metro

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Enjoying a bicycle picnic in Swindon, England

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Montparnasse Station in Paris

This post isn’t intended to be negative, just an expression of reality for us. There are many people who have made the nomadic lifestyle work for them, some on a much lower budget but there are drawbacks that have made us reconsider certain aspects of our approach to travel.

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The huge Allbrook Mall near Panama City, Panama

After spending the past 5 months in South and Central America we feel confident that it is not an area that we want to consider settling into for an extended period of time. This was an important awakening for us, and one that made the entire period worthwhile. Somewhat naively in the past we thought that retirement in the warmth and vibrancy of Latin America sounded like what we wanted. There were many wonderful experiences, places and people along the way that we will always have very fond memories of, but that isn’t enough.

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Local families loved the beach at the end of the day in Ballenita, Ecuador

The sunshine and warmth may seem like paradise in the middle of a cold Canadian winter but in most areas the intense heat and humidity quickly becomes confining and limits the daily activities you can enjoy. Moving to different environments every couple of months takes a toll on your body and it caused us physical adjustments not anticipated. Anne suffers from environmental sensitivities and for much of the time we have spent in the tropics she has experienced hives, muscle pain and low energy making it very uncomfortable. Neither of us were able to spend the time outdoors that we enjoy so much.

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Hanging out in Manuel Antonio NP, Costa Rica

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Exploring the countryside near Atenas, Costa Rica

We have met many wonderful people throughout our travels, both locals and expats but there remains a significant divide between these two groups in most places. While we are not wealthy in Canada, the money, lifestyle and things we have mark us as privileged by the standards in most parts of Latin America.

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Just off the main street in Montanita, Ecuador

Living behind walls and bars, looking over your shoulder, hiding your stuff and growing skeptical of the people you meet changes you, and not for the better in our opinion. Dozens of stray dogs and cats, excessive attempts to get money from you by one means or another, and poor services all contribute to a very different lifestyle. There are opportunities to volunteer locally and help which requires a lot of dedication and emotional energy.

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Broken glass is a common sight on the top of the walls in many Ecuador towns

Obviously millions of people across the world live in these, and much worse, conditions and thousands of expats have made Latin America their home. So the last thing we want to do is sound like spoiled “gringos”, but we can honestly say that it isn’t for us at this stage in our life. Having said all of that we greatly enjoyed both Playas del Coco and Atenas in Costa Rica and look back at our times there with happy memories.

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Our friends in Atenas have made a great life for themselves

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We enjoyed the mountain town of Cuenca, Ecuador which is an expat favorite

Some well-founded advice that we hear often is worth repeating and we’d echo it strongly. Don’t get caught up in the “live in paradise for $1,000 a month” hype. Spend some time in an area you consider moving to first so you can see if it really will work for you. Rent first and buy later is the add-on that is also good advice. This is even more true for a couple who must share the same the goals.

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The lively street market in La Libertad, Ecuador

We are back in Canada now, and have just applied for a Portuguese Residency Visa. We will write a separate post about that process for Canadians after we receive them. For Americans, our good friends at No Particular Place to Go have a great description of what they went through.

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Colourful garden in Praia de Luz, Portugal

What made us take the path to Portugal you might ask. As you can tell from our posts from last fall we loved the time we spent there, both in Lisbon and Lagos. It is safe and relatively affordable, has good services, a temperate climate (no snow!), rich history and culture, and beautiful landscapes. We found the people to be friendly and helpful and in many ways made us feel at home. We just felt very comfortable there. The three months we spent only scratched the surface of this diverse and beautiful country.

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Meia Praia, Lagos, Portugal

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Just one of the many wonderful views in Sintra, Portugal

As a resident we will be free to explore the rest of Europe at a slow pace without having to leave every three months, there is a good health care plan and a relatively easy Residency program (for pensioners at least). We are also looking forward to not having to pack up and move every month. A home base sounds pretty appealing right now. It will allow us to adjust mentally and physically to one area.

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Walking the old Roman Bridge in Cordoba, Spain

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The town of Aljezur, Portugal from the walls of the old fort

We have an apartment in Lagos booked from October until the end of January. We will use that time to file for residency, spend time with friends, get reacquainted with Lagos and start to search for long term living accommodations.

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Wandering the streets of Lagos reveals many interesting finds

Portugal and the Algarve are both very popular right now so prices are going up, rental properties are becoming harder to find, and the country is starting to feel the pressure of increased tourism and an influx of expats. From what we have seen however it is a country that we want to commit more of our lives to and get to know much better. As always, we are open to what life throws our way but we will continue to move forward with open eyes and minds.

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About timannehall

We sold almost all of our belongings and left our home in Nova Scotia in April 2016 to experience as much of the world as we can. We spent over a year slow traveling in Latin America and Europe. For the next stage of our journey we are going to based in Portugal and traveling from there.
This entry was posted in Central America, Europe and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Changing Directions one Step at a Time

  1. The one thing that matters is that you listened to what is best for *you*! It sounds as if you’ve really thought it through, and experience has made it clear for you what’s important and what’s not.
    Somehow we survived 5 years and 8 months of being nomadic and have just settled back into a home in Vancouver – where there is also (mostly) no snow 🙂 (Though we are far from done travelling). I’ll be blogging about it very soon. I too have suffered health issues from the years of being nomadic but am on the mend now I’m staying in one place long enough to get healed.
    We also were not ever drawn to make a home in Latin America even though we’ve spent a total of over 19 months there at various times and had some of the best times during our two stays in La Manzanilla, Mexico. And so it goes. We each find our path, feeling our way by the tips of our fingers. Wishing you all the best in your new home!
    Alison

    Liked by 2 people

    • timannehall says:

      Thanks Alison.The past year has been a very interesting, exciting and educational time for us and something that we had to do. The places we have been and the people we met have all contributed to who we are and what we want from life. It has certainly confirmed for us that unless you actually venture out and explore your dreams you will never know if they are right for you. We always try to keep an open mind and are learning to listen to both our hearts and our heads.

      We both loved your latest blog and could feel the range of emotions that you struggled with. We have experienced only a portion of what you have been through but can relate to the decisions you are faced with. Wishing you both the very best and we look forward to hearing more of your stories too.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Gilda Baxter says:

    Very interesting post, so important to get information like this. We are in the process of downsizing, retiring from our job and starting our travels. We decided to keep a home base in the UK for now, since we don’t know if a nomadic life is for us. We have many adventures planned, but we like to have a place to home to at some point. We love the South of England and have many friends and family here, so having a home base here feels right for us at this stage. But who knows if in the future we might change our minds? Thanks for being so honest and open with your experience 😄

    Liked by 1 person

    • timannehall says:

      Thanks Gilda. We’re so glad that you have found our experiences helpful. When we first started we read a lot of travel blogs and we were drawn to those that were honest about all aspects as far too many paint a very romantic and idealized view of this lifestyle. The constant moving and adapting to a new home every month is challenging so we are looking forward to having a base to return to. Having said that we certainly have benefited from spending more than a night or a weekend in the various places we have been. It really is a matter of trying different approaches and finding a travel and lifestyle that works for us. We hope that your plans continue and look forward to reading about your adventures in the future.

      Like

  3. kemkem says:

    Great post! I’m glad you have found what works for you. I know a lot of people who considered Latin countries as their final destination to retire but then find out that yes, indeed the life they led before was privileged compared to where they ended up and that it is extremely hard to adjust. I think l was lucky coming from Nigeria as a kid. I for sure knew l didn’t want to end up in a third world country. It’s super hard. I always end up spending way more money when l go home because l am a softie and hate to see people with so little and l know l get taken advantage of. People smirk when l tell them l have no desire to see lot of places that nomads consider must visit and all that lunacy about stamps on the passport bullshit :-). No thanks, I’ll revisit a place l like 50 times :-). At this point Lagos is going to turn into little North America..haha! but it’s a good thing. It is a lovely place. I hope you find a wonderful apartment. It does take a lot of time, but l’m sure something will turn up after the summer ends. I always envied the people who can go from place to place. I need to come back “home” wherever that might be (Valencia for now). I look forward to reading your next chapter of life in a new latitude. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • timannehall says:

      Thanks Kemkem. We’re trying to work our way to be as open as you are in your posts but still have a ways to go. We also get taken advantage of, and sometimes that’s OK if you know that you are and do it willingly. One of the challenges we faced over the last few months was trying to figure out the difference between real needs and those who wanted money for the next hit. That’s when the skepticism sets in. We are looking forward to getting back to Lagos and Europe and experiencing it for longer than three months. We have appreciated hearing about your lessons learned on apartment and house hunting in Spain as that will be us in the fall. We have winter accommodations looked after but by April we will need to find something longer. And yes, there are quite a few North Americans there now and several more considering it, it is great to have friends there too.

      Like

  4. Great recap Tim and Anne, and I loved seeing your smiling faces in various locales! As you know, we spent 3 years as nomads in Mexico, Central and South America and some of the Caribbean Islands and had a great time exploring different cultures, learning the histories of many countries and trying out our Spanglish and charades at communicating. We also learned, like you, that once the honeymoon glow of full-time travel fades, it gets harder and harder to haul all you own between bus and taxi and boat and constantly arriving at each new “home” wears a little thin as the months go by. Still nomadic travel is an amazing experience and we learned so much about ourselves as well as the difference between want and need. And finding your “happy place” is wonderful, isn’t it? Having a home base in Portugal is only going to expand your travel options and give you a home that you set off from and look forward to returning to. It doesn’t get too much better than that! 😎 (So looking forward to more road trips with you both!) Anita

    Liked by 1 person

    • timannehall says:

      Thanks Anita. Whenever we were having a bad day or something didn’t go right one of the things we said to each other was that Dick & Anita did this for 3 years. But we agree entirely that it was an amazing experience and without trying it and living it you really can’t say for sure what will be right for you. Without these past 5 months in particular we would always have had in the back of our minds the thought that maybe there is something there for us. Now we know that it was a great experience, there are many beautiful and wonderful places to visit and our lives were enriched by spending time there – but it is time to move on. So we are looking forward to having a little place to call home and return to before setting out on the next adventure. Those adventures may be a day trip to the wonderful countryside, coastline and villages in the Algarve, extended road trips exploring the rest of Portugal or longer sojourns to the rest of Europe and beyond. And we are fortunate to have friends to share some of those with.

      Like

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