Change. I thrive on it. It’s the only way to continue to learn, grow, and become better. On the flip side, I think that complacency is just the path to a slow death.
That’s why, as much as I know I’m going to miss Boquete, I’m excited to map out our new life for next year.
We’ll be moving back to the U.S. in May of 2022. Although a year seems like a long way off, it’s time to start thinking about what things will look like for us when that happens.
Will our new life be back to living in a house or apartment and just going through the motions like we did for so many years before?
Or will we take things to another level and dive into a new adventure?
I’d guess we’ll do a little bit of both. The freedom that early retirement provides gives us so many choices that we wouldn’t have otherwise. I’d imagine that we’ll dive into some fun first before we settle into a place. Then I can envision us settling in for a little while and hanging with friends and family some more.
I’ll tell you, when we first decided to move back, I wasn’t happy at all. And I know there’s going to be a lot of things I’ll miss here (especially the perfect daily temps and the friendliness of so many people here). However, the more I think about it, the more excited I get about the possibilities to come.
Let’s talk about the road we’ve traveled, why early retirement is the key to an amazing life, and some thoughts for our new life.
The ride thus far…
If you’ve been following along, we’ve had a wild ride so far. We reached a million-dollar net worth in 2017 (which has grown quite a bit since). We continued saving and investing, Lisa slowly phased out corporate life, and then I retired from my career at the end of 2018.
Then, in the summer of 2019, we moved to Panama in the beautiful city of Boquete. It’s a smaller town in the mountains with an estimated population of 30-40k and another estimation of 10% of that number being ex-pats like us.
Life’s been good. Between the daily 75° F temps every day and the beautiful landscapes, it’s hard not to love it here. We’ve met a ton of people and made new friends. We enjoy a lot of time hiking, walking around the town, taking beach trips, and trying out the amazing restaurants. And Faith’s been doing well homeschooling.
Then a little virus decided to be a big problem. What are the chances that a once-in-century pandemic hits shortly after we move to another country to start a new life?
It was a struggle here, too. Panama was extremely aggressive and we spent months in complete quarantine. And we were lucky – many working Panamanians were out of jobs and just trying to make ends meet to be able to feed their families.
We finally took a humanitarian flight out in July of 2020. Because the Panamanian borders were closed to non-residents, we weren’t sure if we’d ever get back there again. So, we made lemonade out of lemons, bought a 2012 Honda Pilot, and took an awesome road trip around the U.S.
Luckily, the borders re-opened and we made it back to Panama in October of 2020. Things have loosened up here dramatically since then. Masks are still required in public, your temperature is taken and hand sanitizer is given before entering commercial establishments, and there is still a curfew every night. However, those small things aren’t a big deal in my book.
So we’re getting back to normal here with our lives. However, we still don’t feel comfortable hanging out with other folks, taking public transportation, and other potential “VID-spreading” activities like that. The good news is that we’re planning on heading back to the U.S. again in July and Lisa and I will get vaccinated while there. The bad news is that Faith will only be 11 by then and will likely still be too young to get her jabs just yet.
We’ll still need to be a little careful after that, but considering the virus usually doesn’t affect kids as badly as it could adults, we’ll have a little more confidence in getting back on the bus, having lunch with friends, etc.
After a long discussion, we decided to continue living in Boquete until May of 2022. That’ll give us a chance to try to knock out a punch list of activities we’ve wanted to do here and enjoy Panama even more. We lost a year to this stupid virus but we don’t intend to let this next year pass us up!
The power of early retirement
When it comes to long vacations or sabbaticals, they tend to end with you moving back to reality and going back to work. And when I think of moving back, I still seem to have that notion in my head… but I don’t need to.
Sure, we’re planning on moving back to Ohio next year, but there’s no reason that we can’t spice it up with some flexibility that we couldn’t do if we were working.
There’s no job to go back to for us. We don’t have to worry about being close to work, though we’ll likely go back to our neighborhood so Faith can attend her old school. However, we’re going to move back in May and Faith won’t need to attend school until August… and that’s if we decide not to continue homeschooling.
That gives us an entire summer of fun that we can mold to our liking.
Early retirement gives us the freedom to design our new life however we like. If we want to float around without a real home for a few months kind of like we did in 2019, we can do that. If we want to travel across the country on a massive road trip, we can do that as well.
It’s strange to realize just how powerful this is – without having a job or a house/apartment anchoring us down, we’re completely liberated. We can go wherever we want and stay for as long as we want- especially if we continue to homeschool Faith. The power of early retirement is truly amazing.
So let’s talk about some of our thoughts on this new life of ours.
Designing our new life
Keep in mind that Lisa, Faith, and I have just started brainstorming some ideas. There’s nothing firm set right now… but that’s half the fun! Here are a few thoughts that have come up in our discussion.
First off, my initial thought was that we’d move from Panama right into an apartment in Ohio. In fact, I was thinking we would possibly even the same apartment complex we lived in for almost a year before we moved to Panama.
But why? We don’t need to do that. Why go right into “normality” when we have a lot of breathing room to be more creative?!
Since we know that the soonest Faith would go back to school (if we don’t homeschool another year) would be in August, why not consider foregoing a rent payment for a few months? Don’t forget that we sold almost everything we owned before we moved here.
And since almost every place here in Panama is fully furnished, we didn’t accumulate a lot of crap here either. We plan to come back with just two suitcases each just like we did when we moved here. That means we don’t really need a place for excess junk we bring back. If we do need to dump off anything we don’t need right away, we’re still renting a small storage unit in Ohio we can use.
So what to do for those few months?
Another road trip!
We had such a blast on our 40-day road trip in 2020 that it only makes sense to do it again. This time around though, we’ve learned a few things. The first is that the three of us sleeping in the back of a Honda Pilot on an air mattress isn’t great.
The problem isn’t so much that it’s tight – we can accept and tolerate that. However, throughout the night, anytime any of us would try to roll over to get more comfortable, the air mattress would make a ton of noise. Imagine each of us moving throughout the night and waking each other up. That doesn’t bode well for a night’s sleep.
But after our road trip, we did try taking Faith’s old real mattress and using that instead of the air mattress during a camp-out at my cousin’s house. That mattress worked so much better! Much more comfortable and a lot quieter.
So that approach would be a winner for this road trip.
The other thing that was kind of a pain on our big road trip was setting up shop each time we’d arrive at a campsite. We’d rush to get to a place and set up before the sun would set because it would be a lot tougher to do otherwise. This was the routine when we’d get somewhere to stay overnight:
- Take everything off the cargo holder from the back of the SUV temporarily.
- Move all our stuff from the backseat and trunk area of the Honda Pilot to the front seats (and we’d have to cram everything!).
- Lay the backseat down (Faith obviously sits there while we’re driving).
- Inflate the air mattress.
- Make the bed and get it all set up.
- Move everything back onto the cargo holder and off the ground.
And during this time, we were trying to get dinner made as well. It wasn’t the end of the world, but it was a little project with each overnight stay in the car.
So my new idea was to kill two birds with one stone. I like the simplicity of traveling in our car and I don’t want to go all-in with an RV or a pop-up or anything. However, a little more storage room would make all the difference. If we got a small enclosed cargo trailer, this could be a huge help. Here’s a picture of what I’m envisioning:
That said, there’s no way you’d find me paying over $2,700 for something like this! Instead, we’d look at seeing if we could find one for much, much cheaper at either a second-hand place like OfferUp or Craiglist. Another option would be to rent one. At a glance, U-Haul had a slightly bigger version for $15/day.
Regardless, imagine that we have the mattress and bedding in the back of the Honda Pilot. We’d likely use a tie-down strap to keep it folded somewhat while in the back since Faith sits back there. I’m sure she wouldn’t want a mattress tapping her on the head while we’re driving. But then, everything else would be stored in a little trailer like this.
Our evening could then flow like this when we got to a place we wanted to stay overnight:
- Lay the backseat down (again, Faith sits there while we’re driving)
- Unstrap and lay the mattress down
- Make the bed and get it all set up
Holy cow, that’s easy! I like that flow a lot better! Efficiency is a good thing.
Then we started doing some random brainstorming on where we would go from Ohio. This is still in the very early stages but here are a few quick (and very random!) mentions, especially from Faith:
- Canada / Niagara Falls
- Cedar Point
- Great Wolf Lodge
- Las Vegas
Haha, needless to say, that would put us all over the map. I think we’ll need to look at a map with Faith and try this again on figuring it out. Rest assured, we’ll be using RV Parky again for this trip!
But we like the idea of doing what we did last time. We did some tent camping, slept in the car some nights, stayed with family/friends, and stayed for 5 nights in different Hilton hotels (absolutely free!). If staying at hotels for free sounds appealing to you, check out my post, Free Nights – We’ve Had 5 at Hilton Hotels Recently.
This time though, we’ll probably travel a little slower and stay for 2-3 nights in most areas so we can explore a little more.
Every new life should include a train ride through Alaska!
When the girls brought up Alaska, it made me think of the train rides you see on TV traveling through the beautiful mountains there. We’ve talked about doing an Alaskan cruise before but the tropical cruises always win out because, well, it’s not freezing in the Caribbean!
But maybe this is something we could combine as part of the road trip. If we’re driving across the country just to do it, maybe a train ride through Alaska would be an awesome addition to the plan.
I know nothing about this sort of thing. I’m guessing that the train rides would be out of somewhere like Anchorage though and that would mean we’d need to fly there. Maybe we could visit Seattle first and then fly out of there to Alaska.
If you’ve ever done this before or have some input on it, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Let me know in the comments.
Vacationing here and there…
We’re also talking about possible places to fly to for a vacation. Our favorite, of course, is to take a cruise. You get to visit multiple countries in one trip with the actual traveling between the places being the best part!
Yeah, I know – cruise ships, COVID, germs, etc. – what a cesspool. Don’t care. I love ’em and would head back on one today if we could. Soon enough, my friend… soon enough!
Another thought I threw out there was a place called Lake Chapala in Mexico. I’ve heard from a few people in Boquete talking about that being a somewhat comparable place to Boquete. I haven’t dug into it too much yet but it sounds interesting nonetheless. If it turns out to be a place that fits the bill for us, it would be fun to check it out for a couple of weeks.
Down the line, this could be an interesting alternative to Boquete. I don’t know about the travel either but going back and forth to Mexico might just be a little easier than Panama.
Also, I just listened to a great podcast episode from Joshua at Radical Personal Finance titled: How to Move to Mexico (and Why You Should Establish Residency Now, Not Later). It seems extremely easy to gain residency with very few requirements and it’s made me raise an eyebrow of curiosity. Maybe Mexico will be another new life of ours down the line!
Continuing our new life
After we’re done traveling for a few months, we’ll likely get an apartment at least for a year. We’ll possibly move into the same complex as we lived before we moved to Panama. That way, Faith could go to the same public school system she was in previously.
The reason this is important is that the transition from homeschooling to regular school likely won’t be crazy easy. However, she already knows (and keeps in contact with) some of the kids there. That might just make things a little smoother.
Again, that’s if we decide to not continue homeschooling. Homeschooling’s been great for us for so many reasons but that’s a topic for another day.
After the move into the apartment, who knows? I don’t like the idea of buying another house right now or possibly ever again. I love the flexibility that we have now to be able to move to different places as we see fit. Maybe we’ll rent a house if that fits our needs a little better.
Lisa’s also talked about going back to work part-time. She likes the structure and socialization that it brings with it. Funny enough, that could also carry implications that we’ll need to be careful of with our Roth IRA conversion ladder. But an easy way around that would be to just have all or most of her earned income go toward pre-tax retirement accounts like a 401(k) or traditional IRA.
In the long run, time will tell what our new life holds. And that’s the beauty of financial independence – the choice becomes yours and freedom becomes your best friend.
So that’s where we are on things right now. It’s early though – we still have a year of fun to enjoy in Panama. And who knows, things will likely change by the time next May rolls around. We’ll probably add some things and take away others. Regardless, it’s fun to brainstorm and come up with ideas for our new life!
Plan well, take action, and live your best life!
Thanks for reading!!