You Are Stronger, Braver, Smarter Than You Think

I was having yet another deep discussion with my wife Diane about leaving the U.S. for Ecuador. We’d spent more than a year researching, scouring the internet, the pages of International Living magazine…now I was suggesting we take a trip down there to check it out.

“Let’s just go!” she said. “Why spend a couple of thousand dollars we don’t have just for a visit? Whatever we run into, we’ll figure it out together once we’re there. Let’s do this! It’ll be fun!”

Man, I love my wife.

Salinas, Ecuador
Salinas, Ecuador

That conversation happened back in late 2011. After the economic crash began in 2008, we took a hard hit and the punches kept coming. Every month that we delayed acting, our situation worsened and we continued to bleed money. I knew this. In fact, I was the one who first brought up the idea of moving abroad. Yet I was the one hesitating.

The solution seemed clear. To salvage our retirement, we’d be much better off outside the U.S., in one of the many places around the globe where a lower cost of living and an improved lifestyle were the norm. These places also guaranteed new adventures and a fresh start.

We’d been beasts about research. We read everything we could find on retiring abroad: magazines, newsletters and countless blogs, financial advisor pieces, and tempting photos accompanying colorful charts and graphs. Finally, we set our sights on Ecuador, a top pick from International Living at that time. We had contacted and regularly communicated with a handful of people who had already made the move.

Yet my fear was holding me back.

Cuenca, Ecuador.
Cuenca, Ecuador.

There were many reasons to be cautious about this move—not least of which was the notion of moving to a small country in South America that we’d never visited. We’d selected an area on Ecuador’s northern coast where virtually no one (except a small, scattered handful of expats) spoke English…and our Spanish was, well, horrid.

But while these issues were worrisome, they didn’t top my list of concerns. After all, the U.S. Air Force had ensured I’d seen a bit of the world… And not once did it ever offer to send me on a look-around visit before telling me to pack my duffle and fly to my next assignment. I’d learned to bloom where I was planted. I figured Diane and I would find our way through the minor discomforts and adjustments that were bound to show up. They’d be part of our adventure.

The one fear I couldn’t shake—and the main reason why I’d been reluctant—was the fear of going broke.

Our plan was to sell all our possessions—whatever remained of the stuff in our lives—and pack three suitcases each. These six suitcases would be the extent of our worldly possessions. We’d be relying entirely on our research to ensure that we’d be able to survive financially, and even thrive, on one Social Security check.

I can’t count how many times I awoke in the middle of the night to slip into my home office and review the spread sheet I used to track our projected expenses against our income. Yes, we were supposed to receive more income in a few months. But approval of those funds was not assured, and we wouldn’t know the exact amount until it happened…if it happened.

View of the mountains, Vilcabamba, Ecuador.
View of the mountains, Vilcabamba, Ecuador.

Could we honestly do what others were regularly telling me they had done? If no other funds materialized, could we live on one Social Security check…with bankable money left over every month? Is this too good to be true? Even though it looked good on paper, I lost a lot of sleep. And I relied on Diane, who rarely showed any doubt. She was thrilled at the prospect of our new adventure.

Only a few days before we boarded the airplane, as I walked through our empty house, I realized Diane was right. We’d sold our cars and furniture and arranged our ride to the airport. For the moment, we were living a rootless existence, untethered from one life and about to create something brand new, in unfamiliar surroundings. Whatever happened, we would find our way through it; we always had.

And we did again. After all, this day-to-day thing we do, wherever we live, offers no guarantees—none, no matter where we are on the planet.

Once you accept risk as a normal part of life, and believe you can find your way through every circumstance, there is nothing left to fear. Just know that, whatever it is, you’ll figure it out!

The truth is that our move to Ecuador and our later move from there to Mexico’s Caribbean coast have provided a very affordable retirement and an upgraded lifestyle. My greatest fear proved groundless. We’ve always had more than enough money, even with our modest retirement income.

Riviera Maya , Mexico.
Riviera Maya , Mexico.

We’ve seen jungle cats in Ecuador; floated above seaside cliffs on a paraglider; shared meals in the humble home of a Maya elder; explored ancient ruins and offshore reefs; snorkeled alongside sea turtles; and countless other things that were only possible because fear didn’t stop us.

These days, I’d say I’m practically fearless. We left Ecuador after a couple of years for Cancún, on Mexico’s Riviera Maya. We’d never been here before, either. We have a lovely condo, steps from the Caribbean, and we’re also building a small house in the Yucatán.

We are, indeed, much stronger, braver, and smarter than we believe. Our lives come with inherent risks in innumerable areas, regardless of where we live. Why not balance those risks with an economical and adventurous retirement abroad?

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