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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.