It used to take more get up and go to move across the planet, but ever since jet travel it’s been pretty painless.  Now there’s no major discincentive to discourage the indolent from finding their way to places where they can simply hang out the way teenagers hang out at the mall. Old guys don’t stare at their phones as often as teenagers do, but like their younger counterparts, the expression on their faces is usually a mask of boredom.

If you didn’t have any ambition where you came from, you’re not going to suddenly catch on fire in a new place. The challenge of learning a new language, of developing a hobby or mastering a musical instrument doesn’t appeal to everyone.  In fact, most people are content to watch paint dry as long as they’re not actively in distress.  If you classify girl-watching as a profession, then you’ll find a myriad of tropical countries where that could become a full-time job. The fact is, most of us get what we’re looking for.  If all you want is the absence of something you don’t want, then you’ll end up the proud owner of nothing much.

I know guys here who fill their days by watching sports from the United States on satellite TV. They have to set an alarm to see their favorite games, because they often air at four in the morning. I could see doing that every once in a while, but as a major time-filler it lacks depth.

I write, but as anyone who has followed the ups and downs of the publishing industry lately, that doesn’t mean anyone wants to publish or pay for my writing. Content is free, nowadays. If someone at a cocktail party asks me what I do, I can always say I’m a writer, but that lacks the cachet it once had. If my unfortunate cocktail party companion further inquired have I had anything published, I could nod gravely, without adding that it was thirty years ago. Yes, I once showed promise. So what am I working on now? Hmm, a memoir. The Life and Times of Yours Truly. Soon to be a major motion picture, starring Montgomery Clift as James Dean, and me as Hedda Hopper.

If anyone asks me what I’m doing in Southeast Asia, I can pretend to be a spy, or a professional do-gooder of some kind. I work for an NGO. You’ve never heard of it. We help rescue retirees with dementia from an uncertain fate. But no one asks. There are no cocktail parties. Just fat old men leering at Asian women.


And then there’s me, typing away on my laptop, thinking I’m special.






Can You Really Be Happy Anywhere?

Yes, and you can also be miserable anywhere, under any circumstances. Being happy is choice you make. It is, of course, much harder to choose happiness if you’ve recently suffered a loss, or are sick, or worried about money or a loved one’s welfare. The great opportunity involved in choosing to live somewhere new involves temporarily being released from things you’ve already decided are boring or oppressive. Of course, human nature being what it is, it’s only a matter of time before you form the same opinion about parts of your new surroundings and daily experiences. But here, you’ve given yourself a second chance. Take it, keeping in mind that no matter how beautifully the setting sun shines on the water, there is no smooth sailing off into the sunset, even if you bought a new home in what looks like paradise. The quality of your life will depend far more on the relationships you establish with ex-pat friends and your new neighbors, than on picture-postcard views of your new home that you can post online to share with your friends back home.

Retiring Cheaply – just how important is cheap?

Retire Cheaply

There’s always a trade-off when you focus only on price. Maybe what you want more than cheap is the feeling of not having to worry about money and the opportunity of finding new things to stimulate you.

If you’ve considering making a move to a totally different country and culture, then you’re probably bored or fed up with some aspect of our culture. You’re looking for change, and hoping to be surprised. Surprised you will be, and not always delightfully. But it will be a learning experience of the first order, and those aren’t always guaranteed to be pleasant.

Patience and acceptance will get you far.

There are different components to feeling well-off enough to not worry about money. For example, it’s far easier to control your spending than it is to earn more money. You can bankrupt yourself with foolish spending or bad investments even in Southeast Asia or the Andes, two regions where most prices are a fifth of what they are in the States.

My advice: give up on the idea of real-estate investments, land speculation, or starting a profitable business. Start a business if you must in order to have something to do, but simply assume that if you do most things right, you’ll break even. Think of yourself as retired. Your level of income will not rise again. This is it. Learn to live within your means and you’ll never worry about money again.

This will, of course, be much easier in a place with a cost of living that is a fraction of what it is where you came from.

A place that is five times cheaper might not be more fun to relocate to than a place three times cheaper. That’s up to you. More important that the actual cost of living will be the health and happiness of the community in which you choose to live.

The poorer the country, the more likely they are to put heavy import duties on technology. So don’t expect to pay what you would in the states for a new laptop. You’ll have to pick one up on your next trip back to the States, if there ever is one.

That brings us to the next item:

There may not be another trip “home.” This may be it. You’ve made your bed, now lie in it.

An awful lot of people make an abortive attempt to retire somewhere, buy a new house on the coast for a fraction of what they would have paid in Florida or California, and then get tired of it six months later. I mean, how much enjoyment can you really get from a stunning view? How many of your friends are really going to come visit? So there are many lightly-used vacation properties in gated communities in third-world countries that are on the market again. A building and a view do not constitute a life.

No matter where you end up, you’ll need to find something to do or you’ll drink yourself to death, or start an affair with the neighbor’s spouse. Neither approach will end well.

Even if you do figure out what you want to do with yourself most of the time, you’ll still have to transition from one task to the next, and during that down time, you’re bound to notice that most folks all around you are simply struggling to make do. It will make you feel separate from them. This gulf will exacerbate any feelings of loneliness you’re already experiencing. Seeing all your neighbors bent over in a rice paddy or hacking away at plants with a machete doesn’t enhance your fragile sense of belonging.

In the time you have left on this planet, you can’t possibly change their economic condition. You can’t fix it, or make it all better. You’ll just have to figure out where and how you can fit in to the prevailing structure. Surely your presence here is a help to at least some of your neighbors. You’re a customer for many of their services. Your very presence is bringing income to their community.

People are highly capable of change, and the neighbors can adapt to you the same way you’re attempting to adapt to your new community. They’ll accept and value you for who you are, if you do the same for them.

Travel has never before been more affordable

Sure, airfares have climbed a little lately, but in general, travel to inexpensive parts of the world has never been more affordable for most people. When Mark Twain traveled abroad a hundred and thirty years ago, travel was only for the rich. When airfares were deregulated in the seventies, ticket prices started to drop all over the world, and to this day, if you averse to work and don’t mind living like a beatnik or hobo, you can find someplace in the world where people will be more than glad to help you do so. Dubai is not one of those places. But there are many perfectly delightful spots in Southeast Asia and Latin America where a modern-day Thoreau could wile away the hours, gazing at dust motes dancing a sun beam and watching the clouds float across the sky.


Why Cheap is Im…

Why Cheap is Important

It’s sounds sort of sleazy to talk too much about how cheap your adopted country is compared to where you came from. So it’s cheap. So what? There are lots of cheap places on this planet that are real hell-holes. True, there are zillions of places where you could live on less than a dollar a day and squat by the side of the road watching bugs crawl up your legs. There are slums as extensive as Chicago where the water is full of cholera and the air smells like burning dung. So obviously, finding the cheapest place on the planet is not a laudable goal.

At  the other extreme, you could live pretty much anywhere in Switzerland, Denmark or Norway and be assured of clean air and water, terrific infrastructure, killer libraries and medical facilities, all clean and cute as can be. But you’ll pay for all that cleanliness and cuteness. And for those of us who depend on social security in the form of ever-depreciating dollars, we might as well be talking about living on Mars.

So what we’re looking for is the intersection of cheap and delightful.. Nicaragua and Thailand fill that bill for me, I’m sure there are many other places in the world that my readers have found as well. If you leave me a comment regarding that, I’d be glad read it, and other readers could read your description of such a place. We could turn this into a sort of mini-dedicated Facebook page about alternative retirement spots.

What This All About, Anyway?


I’m not trying to get you to do anything specific, nor am I trying to sell you anything. I found a wonderful, very affordable place to live in retirement, and I’m gung-ho on urging other people in my position to take small risks and do the same.

The hardest part was giving up on what I thought was some shred of security. Helen Keller, born deaf and blind, had this to say about security. “The reason nobody has ever experienced security is because it doesn’t exist. Life is either an exciting adventure or it is nothing.” And this came from a woman who started out with some significant disadvantages that most of us, including me, have not had to share. So if she could feel that way, I can, too.

It turns out that there’s a delightful, affordable, safe world out there that has little to do with the way we live in America. There are many places where a growing number of expatriates from English speaking countries mingle with the local populace. Places where those of us on even a small pension can live well.

For many of the people I know, living in America is like harboring a gambling addiction. You know it’s bad for you, but you want to hang on a little bit longer, in case you hit the jackpot. Besides, what if you quit now, just before the big payoff, why you’d never forgive yourself. True, most of the people you know are gradually sinking, but there are some success stories you can point to, people who lucked out on the timing of the real estate crash, or bought stocks just before they rebounded. It happens.

I used to know a lot of people who had moved to LA when they were young, hoping to make it in show business. One by one, they finally admitted to themselves that it just wasn’t going to happen for them. So they stopped waiting for the phone to ring and got real jobs. Some stayed in LA, some moved to easier places to live. After thirty years or so, only a fraction of them still live in LA, and only a fraction of that fraction still are waiting for their big break. As one guy who’d waited for most of his adult life for things to break in his favor to me “this is a town where encouragement can kill you. Every time you make up your mind to leave, a friend assures you that if you wait just a little bit longer, it’s gonna come together. People are talking about you. Don’t give up just before the miracle.”

For me, LA is the ultimate American city. But I spent most of my life not living there, but in Iowa, a state that has the image of a place that still offers a good quality of life for anyone willing to work and live a temperate life. I have news for you, that might have been the case in the past, and it still may be the case for some Iowans, but most of the ones I know are struggling just to get by. And it’s not getting any easier, as time goes by.

I don’t know what the future holds for anyone, least of all myself, but I do know that things weren’t getting any better for me in Iowa. And I don’t blame Iowa. Heck, I don’t even blame the US. But there comes a time when you can see the handwriting on the wall.

I’m not interested in proving anybody or anyplace wrong. I just want to have an exciting life and enjoy myself as much as possible. I bet you do, too, or you wouldn’t have read this far.






Why Do You Keep Harping On About Nicaragua and Thailand?


I’ve found that people without much money are often more sweet- natured than people who have more than enough. They’re also inclined to be more generous with what they have, and with their time. I know such a statement could be considered to be so general as to be meaningless, but it has been my experience in traveling to places where the median income is very low.

Thailand has some awfully fancy shopping malls, and some really spoiled rich kids who are as addicted to their iPhones and iPads as any kids on the planet, but there are millions and millions of Thais who live much as their Lao and Cambodian neighbors do. For them, it’s Ireland before World War II. It’s rural America before the Depression. Kids know where eggs come from, and chickens, as well.

There is a natural beauty to children at play outdoors that you don’t find in monitored play groups at institutions. That’s what I’m looking for. No consent forms to sign, no driving kids to scheduled activities. It has existed for hundreds of thousands of years, but now it’s almost absent in America. You don’t see or hear kids playing tag in the streets or ranging through a neighborhood. They’re all indoors playing Xbox or watching TV.

Emerging democracies have their own growing pains, and the spoilage caused by rapid development is heartbreaking to watch, but they still have more of what I’m looking for than has been retained in the American landscape. I don’t want to drive to a shopping or strip mall and choose between franchises. If my opportunities for socialization involve a choice between church and shopping, I’ll take neither.

In Nicaragua, people in cities and towns set up rocking chairs on the sidewalk in front of their house. Then, in the darkening twilight, they rock and visit with neighbors who stroll by. Of course, this habit is dwindling, and you can see the flicker of a television inside most livings rooms, but until it dies out completely, and the giant flat-screen TV dominates all activity in the home, I’d rather stroll around my neighborhood and chat with folks.

How else are you going to learn the language? You can’t learn a language by only a few hours a week in class. Most of the learning comes in forcing yourself to use it on the hoof. You can’t remember vocabulary unless you can trick yourself into forming emotional connections with the words. Those come from talking to real people with whom you are developing real relationships, not from scanning lists of words in a book.

It’s thrilling to come alive again in somewhere that hasn’t lost most of its messy human-ness. To eat where the food hasn’t first been shrink-wrapped, to drive into the countryside where uncertainty awaits. Nothing is guaranteed, nothing is predetermined. It’s life on life’s terms. Could turn out great, could be awful, but at least there’s a sense of adventure lurking somewhere.

I know I’m romanticizing these places because I’m a foreigner, and since I didn’t grow up here I find novelty where others who have lived there whole lives here might find only drudgery. But I think there’s more at work here than the sense of novelty I’m finding. I think there’s a difference between real and illusory, human and inhuman, life and death.

One out of five people I know back in the States is hooked on anti-depressants. Their well-intentioned doctors sadly inform them that they shouldn’t try to wean themselves from these expensive drugs, because then the depression will reoccur. Then, like a lobotomized patient, the doctor recites the tired old lie about a chemical deficiency in the brain that is not likely to go away, necessitating a lifetime on the pills. This is nonsense. Lethal nonsense. It is, at best, a self-fulfilling prophesy.





Why can’t they learn English?


It’s not a contest to see who can get there quickest, nor is it something only certain talented people can do. Anyone can make a start on learning the local patois and make steady progress. Like learning to play a musical instrument, slow and steady wins the race. It will only be agonizing if you manufacture and then listen to a critical voice in your head that says you’re not progressing quickly enough. As you may recall from earlier times, comparing yourself to others, real or imagined, is guaranteed misery.

A common reaction to the challenge of learning another language at a relatively advanced age is to protest, “I’ve never been good at that sort of thing.” As if there were people who were uniquely talented in language acquisition, and it was their job to learn other languages. What a lame excuse! Learning a few hundred words in another tongue takes only weeks of work, and provides a foundation that will pay handsome rewards in the future. Imagine what you could learn if you could only talk to your neighbors.

I’m a veteran of talking myself out of things that I’m afraid would be too difficult.

When I was thirteen, I went through a phase of wanting to play the guitar. My family was struggling economically, so I knew I would have to earn and save money to buy the guitar myself. I thought about guitars night and day. I never did any more than daydream about learning the guitar, and I never bought a guitar.

Then, when I was sixteen, I went through the phase again. This time, I told myself that it was too late, and that because I hadn’t started when I was thirteen, I was already way behind in the race.

When I was twenty, I had another guitar attack, but by now the rationalizations were well set in place, and I was able to convince myself that it was hopeless. I told myself that I would be willing to go through the process of learning those damn chords only if I could find a special guitar suited for my special personality, one that would allow me to skip the drudgery that others endured. A cursory search proved that no such guitar existed.

Now, I am in my early sixties, and I still have not learned to play the guitar. Obviously, I am a man of strong convictions!

I tell this story not to inspire pity, but to remind myself that much more than external circumstances, my beliefs have pretty much determined the course of my life.

If ever there were a time to stop such defeatist nonsense, it is now. Blessed with exotic homes separated by distance and time from our past lives, we have been granted a new lease on life. Today, I can’t imagine a better tonic than learning something new.

I’m working on learning Thai, taking piano lessons and practicing about an hour a day on a couple of Chopin nocturnes, Debussy’s Clair de Lune, painting a few pictures every now and then, taking photographs, and writing this. That’s enough to give me a sense of participating in life.




I don’t have enough money saved

How much money you need is totally determined by how much you will need to spend. If you have a shopping compulsion, or need to buy extremely expensive things, then you’ll need more money. Some people always spend more money than they have. Wherever they call home, these people will never know the freedom of living within their means. No matter how cheaply it is possible to live in a country, they won’t be able to live there without going into debt and agonizing over money.

I don’t have enough guaranteed income

Again, how much will you really need? If you neighbors are all doing fine on $800 a month, can’t you manage on $1400?

I’ll be too far away from my family

You family can come visit, and they will probably enjoy doing so more than having you visit them where they live. Sure, it will cost quite a bit in plane tickets, but then you’re saving so much money living outside the States that surely you can eventually save enough to help them visit.

Insufficient medical care available

This notion is absurd. Top notch medical care is available all over the world for those who can pay for it, and since medical costs in the States are four to ten times higher than in most other places, this is not really an issue. If you’re lucky enough to have medical coverage in America, then that coverage will extend to the rest of the world. If not, count yourself lucky to live somewhere where going to the doctor won’t bankrupt you.