The following post was written by Stitch member, Rita. She shares her story about wanderlust, relocation, spouse separation, and offers her best retirement advice.
Holy Stitch! I’ve never written a blog before but, now that I’m retired, I’m trying new things and that’s what I’d like to talk about. If you haven’t already retired, I sincerely hope that someday you’ll get the chance. It can be the most wonderful, free, fulfilling time in your life. I’d like to share my experience so far because, at 64, that’s what I’ve got. Some of them are worth using and some are good as lessons learned. In August, I’ll have been married for 36 years if the divorce isn’t final by then so let’s just start there.
My most valuable lesson so far is that you have to try things on for size before you commit yourself. Don’t’ be afraid to kick the tires or test the waters. It’s good to know what isn’t a good fit for you before you spend your time and money on something or somewhere that isn’t going to work in the long term. Keep in mind what the realtors always say; location, location, location!
For me, an absolute must was to get out of my hometown. Maybe, for you, staying close to family and friends is an imperative but not for me. I would have loved to stay near the kids and grandkids but the climate was too harsh and variable and we live in the age of Skype and Face Time so I didn’t consider relocating as severing the ties.
I was born and raised in Oswego, New York, which is set on gorgeous Lake Ontario where it intersects with the Oswego River. A sunset in Oswego is as beautiful as a sunset on the Pacific Ocean. Lake Ontario is wide enough so the sun sets into the water on the horizon. While the setting is breathtaking, it’s only good for about five months and then winter sets in. I’d tried to escape the weather several times before but wasn’t able. Retirement was my big chance and I wasn’t going to blow it.
We’d always been a camping kind of family so we thought moving around for a while might be a good way to explore more options. There were a few decent tent excursions but the big storm of 1990 on the Outerbanks of North Carolina was the end of tent camping for us. We sat in the minivan with four teenage girls and watched our tent be pummeled by wind and rain for 4 hours. When the storm was over, everything was soaked and we had nowhere to sleep. The next week, we upgraded to a camping trailer. First a small one, then a larger one, and finally we went for a 36’ Class A motorhome. Didn’t try one on for size by renting one…noooo….we bought it and the mortgage that went with it.
It’s a comfortable little home with two big slides and quite a few amenities. It has served us well but mostly as a summer cottage in our son’s side yard. As we saw it back when we bought it, the retirement plan was to sell the home we’d lived in for 17 years and motor around North America as the weather permitted. Canada, northern US and visiting family in Oswego would be fine in the warm summer months and then head south in the cold winter months. This would have been a great way to see every nook and cranny we wanted to and meet tons of interesting people, including other “snow birds” (term for people who live in cold places who migrate to warmer climates in the winter. Cute, huh!
Retiring into a motorhome or camper of any kind is a great option for a lot of people and some make it a long term lifestyle. There are organizations and campgrounds scattered throughout North America that cater to those who have the urge to become gypsies. If you’re considering this option, think about the size of the home you’ll be happy to live in. Remember that you’re going to have to drive whatever rig you choose across the continent. Camping trailers are wonderful but you have to have a large tow vehicle to handle the extra weight. If you choose a motorhome, chances are you’ll also want to tow a small vehicle so you can leave the motorhome in the campsite and go on short excursions. Both of these options require a good amount of gas. A more expensive rig to buy but one that’s more economical to run is a diesel pusher. I’m sure you’ve seen them on the interstate highways. They’re gorgeous and have all the comforts of home but their price tag is equally impressive.
Holy Stitch! So complicated! Camping sites come in all shapes and sizes and range in price from economy to luxury. Volunteering at a campground can help with the cost because you can get a free or discount campsite plus it’s a good way to help a retiree feel useful. Living in a motorhome might have been a wonderful way to spend a few years but it never really came to pass.
About the time my husband was ready to retire, our older daughter spent a college semester in Costa Rica. She introduced us to the beautiful beaches, gorgeous scenery and Pura Vida lifestyle. We fell in love with the place! It’s funny how life is what happens when you’re making plans. I found Costa Rica to be the most wonderful place I’d traveled so far. There are shell or white sand beaches and black volcanic sand beaches, there are majestic mountains, which is why travelers call it Little Switzerland, and there are jungles and volcanoes. The climate in the mountains never gets below 60 F and rarely gets to 90 F. Of course, the coasts are hot but that’s not a problem if you’re a beach person.
Long story short, after a couple of trips, we bought a piece of land with a nice view, built a house, and moved down, lock, stock and barrel. There was a decent sized foreign population to greet us in Costa Rica (close to 1000 around the lake where I live) and Ticos are a generous and welcoming people. No one needs to feel isolated especially if you’re willing to learn Spanish. With the rest of our lives ahead of us, and the house finished, we settled into building a vegetable garden, meeting new people, and figuring out how to occupy our time. Filling our days was never a problem. A garden is easy because everything grows here except plants that need a freeze to regenerate. When you move to Costa Rica, you soon learn that people just show up at your doorstep and bring family; it’s the norm so meeting new friends was easy. Day and weekend trips around the country also helped us feel more comfortable and at home in our new land.
Relocating to a foreign country also brings surprises and things to adjust to. One of the most surprising things about living 10 degrees north of the Equator was that it gets light in the morning between 4:45 and 5:30 all year around and gets dark between 5:15 and 6:00 every night. This requires a new schedule! If you’re a person who wants to stay up past midnight and sleep until 9AM, you’ve missed a good portion of the daylight hours.
Many people here don’t feel comfortable driving long distances on unfamiliar roads after dark. There’s a lot of undeveloped space in Costa Rica and it doesn’t have the level of service that you might be used to in a first world country. You can travel 50 miles in rural areas without seeing a service station at night and tow trucks are few and far between. AAA doesn’t have a branch here so if your car runs out of gas and or you break down on a rural road at night, you might have to spend the night in your car. There is a lot more planning that has to happen when you live in a developing country. It takes an adaptable and tolerant person to adjust to the every day differences that living happily here requires.
Conversely, Costa Rica is more developed in some ways and simpler in other ways than the US, where I gained most of my experience. In NY State, we had to go to a government building to look up the title on a piece of property. Here, it’s all in the central registry and readily accessible on the internet. The bus system here takes you anywhere you want to go and quite economically. Cell phones get great coverage and an unlimited plan with data only costs about $20.00 a month. People ask me about the cost of heat and air conditioning. My answer is that when it gets cold, I close the doors and when it’s too warm, I open them. Property taxes are also a fraction of anywhere else I’ve lived. Having a healthier diet is also easier here with the year round growing season and abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables. If you want to maintain the lifestyle you are used to in Costa Rica, you certainly can find most products that you’re used to but they are likely very expensive. I have the luxury of garden and housekeeping help, which is common here, and that cost is quite reasonable. A retiree can get really lazy when domestic help is so readily available.
On the other hand, if you are stopped by a traffic officer in Costa Rica and don’t have valid documentation on your car or a current driver’s license, the officer can pull your license plates on the spot. Electricity is expensive because we expats tend to exceed the amount allowed in the base rate which means the more you use, the higher your rate goes for the extra usage. Obtaining residency here is difficult also. The laws have changed in the last couple of years and Costa Rica only gives residency to people who can prove they are self-supporting.
The point to this story is to tell you to please do all your homework if you’re thinking of relocating to another country and, when you’ve found your ideal location, rent for a full year before you buy. Many retirees prefer to rent permanently rather than ever having a place of their own. They choose to be footloose and fancy free.
There are many wonderful places around the world that welcome foreigners. Panama makes it very easy for newcomers to feel wanted and it’s a beautiful country. We have friends who live in the highlands of Guatemala and love it there. Friends, who were originally from England just moved to France after spending two years here in Costa Rica. She found even the moderate mountain climate here a little too warm, especially because she has a tendency for those pesky hot flashes that plague some of us at this age. They’ve rented their house for a year to a nice Canadian couple and are trying different parts of France to see that it’s not too hot for her and not too cold for him. Reminds me of a story: they need their climate “Just Right”!
Another important aspect of a happy and fulfilling retirement is to stay active and involved. I can’t stress how important it is to stay as active as your health will allow. We’re like vintage cars, when we sit, we rust so stay active and keep involved. Make sure the area you try out has activities you enjoy or want to get involved in. Where I live, there are tennis courts and swimming pools available. There’s a women’s group that meets monthly and puts on activities to benefit the needy in the area. There’s a garden club, bridge and other card or board game groups, yoga and Spanish classes, volunteer work, and community events. Other people meet at a local bar once a week just to get together, or have a nice meal at a local restaurant. There are also many people who get together for pot luck dinners at each others’ homes. It’s important to become a part of your local community so you aren’t isolated. Get out there and meet people.
The most important aspect of retirement for me turned out to be whether I enjoyed spending 24/7/365 with my housemate, AKA husband. I’ve read a statistic recently that said the rate of senior divorce has skyrocketed in the last few years. I know that sounds like a vague statement but I’ll stand by it anecdotally.
My husband and I spent a lifetime having demanding but rewarding jobs. Our lives were spent focused on earning a living and raising a family. We didn’t spend any time together as empty nesters before we moved to another country and that was a mistake. When we got to Costa Rica, it didn’t take long to realize we didn’t have much left in common and didn’t agree on a few key issues. It’s a sad thing to be a statistic but this isn’t a sad story by any means. We’ve both learned that we have a lot to give and many years left. We are looking forward to the new chapters in our separate lives.
I’m starting a new life on my own while continuing to live most of the year in Costa Rica. What will the future bring?
Holy Stitch, I don’t know! That’s the beauty of it.
I’m going to work with a sea turtle conservation program for International Volunteers in October and November and I’m planning a trip to the Caribbean coast of Mexico in February of 2017 with my daughters. I’m hoping to take a few weeks to ride my motorcycle, a Can Am Spyder, from Oswego, NY to Austin, TX this September. I’m looking forward to being more active on Stitch, meeting new friends and planning activities together. I’m also going to find us some things to do in Costa Rica and Central America! Anybody want to visit?
The bottom line is, now that I’m single, I can do whatever I want and so can you. My advice is to do a lot of planning and trying out. As I say on my profile, “Life is an adventure and I’ve got a lot more living to do.” Make the most of your retirement and surround yourself with happy people and enriching activities. Does anyone remember the last Calvin and Hobbes cartoon? It was the new year, which gave them a fresh start. They talked about having a clean piece of paper to draw on and having a magical world all around them. They didn’t know what the future would bring so they said “let’s go exploring!’