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Lessons Learned From 5 Months as a Nomad

His takeaways after selling everything at 58 and hitting the road


As boomers, quite a few of us had the fantasy when we were in high school or college of getting in a VW van with our friends and hitting the road for parts unknown or taking a year off to travel. What adventures we would have!

Some of us even did it, and have stories to tell. Most of us, however, didn’t. We settled into more traditional lives. Our adventures and our stories would have to wait. But now, as we get older and the passage of time seems to accelerate, we become more acutely aware that we don’t have unlimited time or unlimited good health, causing many of us to wonder if our adventures will ever happen.

His Current Nomadic Life and Your Future One

My adventures are going on right now. So I wanted to share the lessons I’ve learned in the past five months living the nomadic life in case you’re considering doing the same.

As I wrote on Next Avenue in July, the thought of having regrets too late for a “do over” was too much to bear. So my wife and I — co-founders of the website Best Places in the World to Retire — sold our Tucson house and gave away or sold most of what we owned, packed the remainder into a big, white van, and with our two dogs, we hit the road.

Nothing was as difficult or fearsome as we’d dreaded. What’s more, as we mastered each anxiety, our trepidations were replaced with a sense of confidence.

Plans for Traveling Abroad

Our plans were to first to drive through Mexico, and then to Belize. Most likely, we would also visit Panama and Nicaragua. Portugal is a long shot, but we’re aiming for it. We’re doing a grand tour to sample places and lifestyles; generally staying for six weeks to two months in great vacation rentals in great vacation and expat locations. We’re also trying to broaden our experiences and learn more about the world and about ourselves.

Bolotin05Credit: Bolotin
The nature of my work makes this easy for me. I can handle Best Places in the World to Retire tasks anywhere with a good Internet connection. And I can join the 500+ contributors on our site who write about their experiences and observations firsthand on our web page, our Facebook page and YouTube.

Five months in, we’ve traveled the entire length of Baja California and stayed in a small village just south of La Paz. From there, we took the ferry to Mazatlan and spent more than a week just north of Puerto Vallarta. Then, we drove to the Mexican Highlands and stayed for more than two months in the famous expat haven of Ajijic, on Lake Chapala, where the weather was voted the second best in the world. We’re now in San Miguel de Allende, a picturesque colonial city also in the Mexican Highlands.

6 Lessons He and His Wife Have Learned

Here’s some of what we’ve learned so far:

1. Not only is staying in great vacation locations for weeks to months at a time more interesting, fun and exciting than staying at home, it’s also much less expensive. By my rough calculations, our cost of living has dropped by more than half.

Dinners at very good restaurants are about $4 to $6 each and we’ve paid our housekeepers the going rate of about $2.70 an hour. I had my teeth cleaned by a dentist for $27 and a visit to the podiatrist set me back only $12.50. My wife had facials for $15 each, and, after steeling myself for the outcome, I got my hair cut for $2.76. (You can judge the results of my haircut on this video.)

All these items and services were equal to or better than in the U.S.

Bolotin03Credit: Bolotin
2. You don’t have to worry about your safety or be overly concerned about having anything stolen. We have never once felt physically threatened or been robbed. Quite the contrary, we’ve found the Mexican people to be very friendly, happy, warm, welcoming and honest.

Four separate times, I was told that I’d left too much money for a tip or that I paid too much for something.

3. Mexico probably isn’t like you expect. It’s better. If, like me, your only previous experience with Mexico was at a border town like Tijuana or on vacation in places like Cabo San Lucas, you have very little idea what Mexico is really like.

We’ve been at 5,000 to 6,000 feet elevation for about half our time, where the weather is around 75 degrees daily. A good portion of Mexico is actually in the highlands, where we can go out any time of day without worrying about the sun or heat.

4. You’ll be in for pleasant surprises. We have, precisely because we’ve taken the time to drive through an area or because we were in a place for longer than the standard vacation, offering us the gift of time to just wander around.

For example, we visited a series of magnificent beaches in remote areas of Baja California with calm, clear, warm water, and almost no one was there to share it except our dogs (who are also having a spectacular time).

From locals, we’ve learned of otherwise unknown hiking trails and what could only be described as a full day at an all-inclusive resort for the price of the included lunch.

5. If you’re paying attention and have an open mind, being in a foreign country provides you the opportunity to put to rest stereotypes. (I provide some specifics here.) As you gain a greater understanding of a place or group of people there, you come to the inescapable conclusion that some ideas you had may not be true. In short, being abroad can help you become a deeper, more understanding person.

Bolotin01Credit: Bolotin
6. Most things we fear are worse in anticipation than in reality. We were concerned about lots of things, including: crossing the border with pets, driving in Mexico and communicating in our extremely rudimentary Spanish where there were few English speakers. This is precisely the anxiety and stress that causes many people never to have their adventures in the first place.

As it turned out, however, nothing was as difficult or fearsome as we’d dreaded. What’s more, as we mastered each anxiety and our fear left us, our trepidation was replaced with a sense of confidence. And with that confidence, we received a sense of mastery and well-being that we never would have achieved had we just stayed at home.

As we’ve grown progressively better at conquering our fears, our minds have cleared, we’ve relaxed and we’re enjoying ourselves more. Now, we experience fun and wonder on a whole class of undertakings; even just going to the grocery store.

All in all, our first five months have gone much better than we’d hoped. They’ve certainly been much better than sitting at home, or worse, realizing one day that it’s too late to do any of this at all.

 

By Chuck Bolotin
Chuck Bolotin is a vice president at Best Places in the World to Retire, which has more than 9.500 answers to questions about living abroad, provided by expats already there. He recently published his own family's story, One Year on the Road and Living in Mexico — Adventures, Challenges, Triumphs, Lessons Learned, available for free download.

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