Tracey blogs regularly over at The Expat Experiment. You can find more posts there on the travels she and her family do.
Moving to another country is a major life adjustment. There are many important things to decide when you’re considering retirement overseas. I travel full time with my family in search of places where we can live for less than it costs to live in our home country, Canada. We have traveled extensively and experienced many challenges associated with deciding how to pick the best place to relocate.
The biggest thing we’ve learned is how to make the most of a fact-finding trip. We didn’t always go about getting a clear picture of a destination on a local level. Like many people, we approached destinations more like tourists and know firsthand it’s easy to fall in love with a place when it’s at its best to appeal to visitors. Now we know when the off-season hits many things can look and feel much different.
So how can you get a true sense of daily life abroad as you travel?
Stay where the locals live
You need to stay in local neighborhoods, away from the tourist trail. Many people find inspiration for potential retirement destinations when they travel to exotic places as tourists. Traveling to places during high season, visiting restaurants and shops geared toward tourists, and socializing with tourists in tourist areas will not help you see what local life looks or feels like.
When we travel to check out new places in the world, we opt to stay in local neighborhoods with an Airbnb rental or housesitting. Both options help us live more like a local, connecting with local hosts that are keen to offer personal opinions to help us discover the hidden gems in their city. Additionally, staying in local areas with access to a kitchen, we shop at local markets to experience local culture and cuisine.
Visit during the off-season
A major determining factor for making a move abroad is climate, as most people travel when the weather in a destination is at its best. How does it look and feel during the rainy season, does it ever snow? Alternatively, how hot or humid is it at the peak of summer?
If you’ve experienced a place during the favorable months book your next fact-finding trip during the off season or shoulder seasons to get a better sense of some of the challenges due to weather.
Consider and prepare for the social challenges
Observe and explore intentionally to learn the most about local culture. Mingle with people to find out how easy it is to make friends. Contact local expat groups to get to know other foreigners already living in your potential new home. Consider the of challenges language barriers, do you find them isolating? Will you own car in your new home? If so, what’s the driving like? If not, make sure a potential area is walkable or accessible to public transit.
How long should a fact-finding trip be?
Figuring out how long a fact-finding trip should be can be challenging due to time and cost restraints. The longer the better, four to six weeks is usually enough to help you imagine what your daily life could be like living abroad. Some of that will be time running around trying to see and experience as much as you can but it’s also important to slow down. Try to experience the most mundane things in daily life. What are your habits at home, the things and activities that are most important to your happiness, like popping out for coffee, going to the gym, or access to libraries or bookstores?
How can you make your investigating affordable?
It’s not good to put all of your eggs in one basket. Try to visit a few different destinations to discover the culture and climate that feels best for you.
How do you make taking a few different trips and staying a longer time in each affordable? We do a couple of things that save us money on our fact finding trips. Using websites like Numbeo and Price of Travel helps us decide on the places that best fit our budget. The way we save the most money traveling is with housesitting.
We were able to live in a beautiful gated community in the mountains in Panama for six months and stay in a lovely seaside community in Spain for two months with free accommodation because of housesitting. We were considering both places for long-term residency and housesitting helped us afford to stay in local communities longer.
Another challenge can be how to care for your home and pets while you take your fact-finding trip. Kennels can be expensive and uncomfortable for pets and additional insurance costs for leaving your home empty for an extended trip can be astronomical as well. There are many benefits to getting a house sitter to care for your home while you travel. Doing so is a great way to avoid the stress of a kennel for your pet, and give you peace of mind knowing someone’s home to take care of things in your absence.
Considering retirement overseas is exciting but gaining the confidence to make the right decision on a destination can be challenging. The key to effective fact-finding trips to potential retirement destinations is trying to live like a local as you travel. Staying in local neighborhoods with house sitting has helped us make informed decisions as we search for the right place for us to relocate.