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We moved to Boquete, Panama back in 2019, just months after I had retired from work at the end of 2018. We had sold everything we owned and moved to a country that we had only visited one other time – a country where we knew no one and almost everyone speaks Spanish.
You would think that this whirlwind would be one of the biggest hurdles in life to adjust to and figure out.
Funny enough though, finding my place in life again since we’ve moved back to the U.S. is something I think is going to be tougher.
Don’t get me wrong – things are good and we’ve already had a ton of fun since we left Panama…
- An insane bus trip from Panama to Costa Rica of almost 10 hours
- A vacation in Ajijic, Mexico followed by an all-inclusive vacation in Cancun
- A monster road trip across the U.S.
- A once-in-a-lifetime fishing trip in the Canadian bush in western Quebec
We’ve also moved into a new apartment in northeast Ohio after flying to Raleigh, North Carolina and then driving a filled U-Haul back with all the furniture we bought.
So we’ve no doubt been pretty damn busy in 2022 with somehow more to come before the year is over.
And I have no worries that things will fall into place here after a while. There’s no doubt there’ll be some adjustments to figure out and get used to now that we’re back in a country we haven’t lived in for 3 ½ years.
But now that the dust is settling a little bit, I’m wondering if finding my place is going to prove somewhat difficult.
The good of moving back to Ohio
First off, if you’re not an avid reader, you can check out my post The 2 Big Reasons We’re Moving Back From Panama… and What’s Next! to fill you in on why we decided to move back in the first place. I’m not thrilled to be back, but I think it was something that we needed to do… at least for the time being.
But let’s start with some of the good things that moving back to Ohio is giving us.
Unquestionably, being around the people you’ve known for most of your life is a gimme. We made a good number of new friends while living in Panama – people we’re so grateful to be friends with.
But there’s still something to be said about the folks you’ve known for decades. Knowing all their quirky characteristics and how they think, being able to re-hash so many old memories, and just having that comfortableness being around them just makes it different. So it’s good to be able to see a lot of familiar faces again.
Then there are the parks throughout Ohio, which are absolutely amazing. For us, that’ll generally be the Cleveland Metroparks, Summit Metro Parks, Cuyahoga Valley National Park, and the state parks. Being able to enjoy a nice scenic walk, a good hike, some great bike-riding trails, or some awesome camping all within a stone’s throw is fantastic.
One thing I’m excited to try is the Bike Aboard the Train program with the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad. You bike as much as you want on the trails here and then just flag down the train and they’ll take you and your bike back to your starting point for only $5. That sounds really fun!
We’ll continue enjoying the outdoors here throughout the summers without a doubt!
1) One factor I can’t control in finding my place…
However, that last point is part of my biggest concern with being back in Ohio. We’re definitely going to enjoy the summers here, but if you don’t know, I can’t stand the cold and the snow. I seriously hate ’em both with a passion. I’m a total freeze baby – I even used to wear long johns in the winter under my clothes while at work… in an office… with a portable heater beside me. Yeah, it’s that stupid.
Throw in that it’s just such a depressing time of the year and the whole idea is already weighing heavy on my mind. Weather’s a big deal for me.
Ah, Jim, it’s not that bad. Besides, you don’t have to work anymore so it’s not like you even need to leave your apartment!
Ok, that’s true that it’ll be nice to not have to leave in the morning. I can look out the window on those horrible blizzard-like days, shake my head, and think, “Thank God for early retirement!”
But then what? Does that mean I’ll never go anywhere?
Of course not. People will still want to get together. We’ll still need to go shopping. Life continues even in the cold. So I’ll have to suck it up and try not to complain too much about it.
But I’ve also changed my life over the years to make fitness a real part of it. The workout side of things was easy – I just talked about how I bought an awesome new set of adjustable dumbbells and a weight bench. Throw in my pull-up bar and I’m all set to continue on.
That said, there’s the part of fitness that involves activity as well. In Boquete, it was a cakewalk to knock that out. The resort we lived in had a nice heated pool and a racquetball court. We also didn’t have a car there because it’s right around 75° every single day so we’d walk everywhere (except for an occasional taxi, bus ride, or borrowing a friend’s car).
That’s not going to happen here in Ohio. Although we’re in a nice area, the walkability isn’t fantastic (though better than a lot of places).
More to the point though is that you really only get a handful of “good” weather months every year and even those months can be iffy. Sure, the major snow doesn’t roll around until December-ish but the spring can be miserable too with the temps fluctuating all over the place while throwing in some cold, wet, sloshy fun in between.
In other words, winter just seems to drag on F-O-R-E-V-E-R!
Otherwise, the weather is generally pretty good from May until October as it starts to cool down. Nevertheless, you also can have days in the mid to high 90s in July and August that can make you not want to be outside unless you’ve found a good place to swim.
So what will happen in those “less than ideal” months of the year to stay active?
I don’t know the answer yet but even just thinking about it makes me sigh. I did just get this cool bike trainer for only $5 new through an online auction, so that’s something I can use for some indoor activity without needing to leave home.
2) Finding my place while still missing living abroad
I’ve realized that I really loved living in a foreign country, especially in the smaller community of Boquete. I felt similar while exploring Ajijic in the Lake Chapala area of Mexico this past spring, too.
Everything is just more laid back and the focus with the locals tends to be more on people and relationships than on working as much as you can every day. Don’t get me wrong – most folks there are hard workers and they work full weeks. But in most jobs there, when you’re done, you’re done. You’re not checking your phone throughout the evening for work emails or any of that. Your time is now spent with the people you care about.
And when you walk around, people are just friendlier – they wave and say “hi” more (usually “hola”, “buenos dias”, or “buenas tardes”). This includes both the locals and the ex-pats.
It’s just a different ambiance. And I’m not saying that folks in Ohio aren’t friendly – it’s just different. Boquete reminds me a little bit of how the town of Mayberry was on The Andy Griffith Show if you remember that old show (I only know the reruns).
So, I’m not going to try to pull any punches here – I miss Boquete. We’ve only been back a short while, but I do miss it. That makes it a little depressing knowing that I’m working on finding my place here even though I’d love to be back there.
The good news is that we plan to continue to travel. In fact, next year, our goal is to do a lot of smaller trips throughout the year. We’re going to take advantage of the Southwest Companion Pass we earned through travel rewards and fly anywhere the airline will take us!
We’ll let the pricing of the airline tickets and hotels dictate where we go instead of the other way around. Since they fly throughout the U.S., Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean, we’re hoping to have some good fun!
The bad news though is that it’s much harder to stay for longer stretches of time (like several weeks or a month at a time). Essentially, it would be hard to be snowbirds. When we lived in Paradise (er, I mean, Panama), that was already our destination. We would strategize upon ending leases here and there so we could then stay elsewhere before starting our next lease. That allowed us to travel more freely without worrying about making a rent payment.
Going to another cool place now though means that we’ll have to pay rent here in Ohio plus the cost of wherever we’re staying. It becomes a vacation rather than what was, for all intents and purposes, our home.
That doesn’t mean we can’t afford to stay for a week or so somewhere here and there, but we can’t afford to efficiently do this for longer periods of time.
We’re so blessed to be able to enjoy this early retirement life together and to be able to do all the traveling that we do (thank you travel rewards!). I just need to suck it up and accept that we’re not living in Panama anymore before I can continue finding my place here. Sounds stupid, right? But that was home.
On a related note, I do have something exciting that I’m looking forward to sharing… but not yet! Soon, my friend, soon!
3) Fitting in with my peeps!
The other thing that’s been weighing on my mind lately is the company I keep. I do value a lot of the close friendships that I have with folks here in Ohio… but there’s also some “dead weight” with people that can make me question why we’re even friends.
I think that’s the case for many folks (and they might feel the same way about me), but as I’m finding my place again here, I wonder if now’s the time to focus on the people I do care about and just sort of shed the others.
I used to just think that the friends you had were the friends you had – nobody wants to make new friends this late in life… right?
But two things changed that idea in my mind:
- We made good friends with some fantastic people in Panama – you know who you are out there!
- I found my “tribe” a handful of years ago.
I’m going to focus on that second bullet point here about finding my tribe. When I attended my first FinCon personal finance conference for the first time several years ago, I was surprised by how quickly I became friends with some folks. I’m not shy to talk to people but I guess it just took me aback a little with how things just felt right around these folks right from the start.
And they weren’t just fly-by-night friendships either. That was in 2017 and since then, I’ve regrouped with several of them on a few occasions. We, of course, all hung out during the next FinCon conference in 2018. Unfortunately, I haven’t attended since… next year hopefully!
But then I was astounded that Steve and his wife Courtney from SteveAdock.us and A Dreamin’ Life along with Amy and Vicki from Women Who Money (and their awesome husbands) came in from around the country just to have a sendoff for us before we left for Panama. We spent a weekend at a campground just hanging out and having fun.
I’ve kept in contact with all of them as well as with my good friend Fritz from The Retirement Manifesto. I was able to get together with Fritz again for lunch a few years when he visited Ohio and we still keep in touch.
During our road trip in 2020, we made it a point to head to Steve and Courtney’s house where we set up camp for a couple of nights.
Since then Steve and Courtney came to stay with us for a fun-filled week in Panama. They were also the only people who visited us (with the exception of my in-laws).
Here’s what’s weird – when I look at finding my place in life right now, it’s folks like these that I want to spend some more time with. It’s tougher because we’re all in different states, but I hope to put in some effort to try to see everyone again.
That’s not a diss against some of our close friends here in Ohio – I love many of them to death, too. But it’s funny how you can find the right group of people where you just instantly fit in and can become lifelong friends.
In other words, finding my place with some of the friends I want to surround myself with might require a little more planning and action to happen… but it’ll be worth it. And maybe by combining it with the travel that we plan to do next year, we can make this a reality.
Fortunately, none of these things should be showstoppers in life. Yes, they are some concessions that I’m going to need to work through, but I don’t anticipate them deterring me too much from finding my place here in the U.S.
Life’s probably going to be pretty different for us here. When I retired at the end of 2018, we were focused on selling everything and moving to Panama. This is basically the first time we’re living here in the U.S as “normal” retirees. It’s going to be interesting… though I do love change!
Finding my place in life here is going to be like starting over. Sure, we have plenty of friends here, but with them working, we’re still looking at just hanging out with them mostly on the weekends.
I hope to continue spending time with my family and then start to increase my time on some of the fun things I’d like to pursue once Faith is a little older and I have more time.
That gives me an opportunity to figure life out again. This is a good thing and a chance to reflect on what truly matters.
Plan well, take action, and live your best life!
Thanks for reading!!
31 thoughts on “Finding My Place Again in the U.S. – 3 Things I’m Worried About”
Jim, I really enjoyed reading this. I haven’t left the country to live elsewhere and returned or gotten to early retirement yet, but I definitely identify with friends you’ve known forever and making new like-minded friends that share your current interests and direction in life. It’s difficult, but I think thats just how we progress and grow in life. Sounds like you are doing alot of thinking and reflecting, and I’m sure you’ll land on the right direction that finds you a balance between your new reality in the U.S. and finding your place within it!
Thanks, Chad! I guess people change, right, so why shouldn’t our relationships with others do so as well?
Thanks for being vulnerable and sharing your experience Jim. I always learn a lot for your articles. I’m confident that you and your family will find a new balance.
Appreciate that, Larry – I’m sure we will as well! 🙂
You already know the answer to that vague feeling of angst.It’s finding activities and groups of like minded people such as those you met at fincons.Maybe there will be groups where you live who share your interest in financial independence,travel,hiking,exercise.It may be that you need to actively join groups and activities where you will find similar people.I think it’s difficult to be a F.I.R.E person without some sharing of ideas and the excitement of shared conversations around such interests.You are now a different person and you probably need to find other’ different’ people to feel joy and sharing.
Thanks, Barbara – that’s something I never thought of. I’ve never really enjoyed joining clubs and groups but that does make a lot of sense. Funny enough, later this week, we’re going to a homeschool meetup for the first time for that same reason for Faith… and I’m already cringing at the idea. ? You’re absolutely right though and I’m going to put that on the list to start digging into for me – thanks for that!!
Jim, I knew a lot of ex-pats during my time in Corporate America, and every one of them said the “Reverse Culture Shock” of coming back home was harder to figure out than the initial culture shock of moving to a foreign land. Sounds like you’re starting to get a taste of that. Rest assured, you’ll figure it out in time. Fun to see that pic of our lunch together, you know it won’t be the last! I may even consider going to FinCon23 just to hang out with old friends, it’s been too long!
Wow, that’s really interesting, Fritz – I never realized that this was actually a “thing.” I’m sure I’ll be good to go as time goes on and I get a rhythm going again. Hey, that would be cool if we both make it back to FinCon again next year – that was fun! I’m guessing they announced where it’s going to be next year but I haven’t heard anything yet.
Greetings from Columbus! I totally agree with you about Ohio winters (January is the worst!) but it is currently fall in Ohio which I wouldn’t trade for anything: crispness in the air, leaves starting to change, football, apple picking, hayrides…I love it! So maybe enjoy the present and take things one day at a time?
Also, there are totally FIRE folks in Ohio! I went to my 20th high school reunion last month and discovered a friend from high school (who I never knew was into personal finance) already FIREd at 38! And there are local ChooseFI groups. You could plan your own meet-ups (let me know if you hold one, I’ll drive up from Columbus!). And will you be attending EconoMe in March in Cinnci (the Ohio weather very well might suck but the people will be awesome!)? I too have my FIRE friends that I travel far to see but we are all around!! ?
Thanks, AJ – I never even considered some of the local ChooseFI groups as a place to see other like-minded folks. Funny enough, I actually did a presentation for a chapter here in Cleveland a couple of years ago… My First FIRE Presentation on Geoarbitrage. That’s something I’ll need to dig into some more.
I’ve considered doing my own meet-ups – and actually thought about doing that several times during the country-wide road trip we just did – but then I always bail for whatever reason. I’m not sure why though – maybe I think no one would care to join up (is that some kind of imposter syndrome?) or just the whole idea of reaching out to people to make it happen. Maybe I just need to make that happen at some point.
I don’t have any plans to go to EconoMe as of now but that’s just because I really don’t know much about it. I just bookmarked the conference page and I’ll check it out.
Man, you’re full of some great ideas, AJ – thanks!?
agree that the cooler months have their merit
I could not resist pointing out that where I come from (a state or two west) that we call it a hayrack ride… ?)
I’m a bit sad I didn’t get to crash on your couch, but that’s life! Things change, and it seems like you’ll adapt very well to the changes Jim.
I honestly think you’re lucky to move back to a place with friends and contacts. I just moved, and I know absolutely nobody here. I can’t remember the last time I had a real conversation with a human being. I’m not the best at making friends either, so I totally expect this is going to be the case for many years.
Thankfully, the weather here is pretty decent for 8 months of the year. I can’t do a lot of traveling when the kids are in school, but the plan is to do most of that in the summer months.
Haha, the couch in Ohio is still open to you, but it’ll probably be a little more cramped in our small apartment! 😉
I should have included you as someone I’ve hung out with from the personal finance community – even though our friendship wasn’t born through FinCon. I’m sure we’ll both be just fine… it’s just gonna take a little time to adapt.
Maybe we can get together again the next time we’re in your area. It would be great to see you guys again! I feel like I’m one of the few who knows your true identity… you’re like a superhero!
I’m not looking forward to the winter in Portland at all. The rain will be unrelenting.
I spent last winter in Thailand and it was great. I went swimming almost every day and the weather wasn’t too hot. That’s why I’d like eventually to spend 6 months in Thailand every year. Portland is way nicer in the summer and fall. Best of both worlds.
I’m sure you’ll figure things out. You’re very good at adapting.
That’s the way to do it, Joe! Plus, then we’ll have a nice vacation spot to crash when you’re there! 😉
Yep, “suck it up buttercup!”. Need to embrace the “suck” that is Ohio for 6 months of the year. There is a reason Ravenna had an ammo dump during WW 2. Too much cloud cover to bomb. Try to find activities to get you through the winter. We do some skiing and walk no matter the weather to get outside. Don’t get me wrong, I have a little less than 3 years for my youngest to graduate college and once the kids are functional working adults I am gone for the winters if not permanently. You wouldn’t want to hear me when I’m shoveling a foot of snow…. and comparatively the people in Ohio are not friendly. Every time we go down south for a vacation my kids notice the difference and know “we’re back in Ohio”. Mt. Airy, North Carolina is what Mayberry (AGS) is based on. A last note is I think you would feel different if you were somewhere else in the US. When we were in AZ for a couple years, every day was like being on vacation even though I was working. Just a completely different vibe. But I get it. Ohio is where the family is…
Haha, suck it up indeed, Scott!! And yes, I would want to hear you when you’re shoveling a foot of snow – that would be entertaining! 🙂 That’s actually the reason I wanted to move into an apartment (at least for now) – I just didn’t want to deal with shoveling snow, mowing, or anything else at least until we get settled for a year or two.
Smart move on becoming a snowbird once the kids are “functional adults.” I hope to actually move out of Ohio at some point but that’s going to be more on my wife’s shoulders than mine… personally, I was good living over 2,000 miles away in a foreign country after all. 😉
Just a warning….
There will be scope creep. At first it was “when the kids graduate high school”. Now because of in state tuition it is “when the kids graduate college”. And now I’ve already heard the “I don’t want to be too far away from the kids” from my wife. I’ve said no Ohio winters, hell or high water (so I have 3 to go). I’ll tolerate Ohio but I’m gone during the winter months. That is my line in the sand…. Just expect things to change and roll with it.
Yeah, I think that’s why a lot of people never end up leaving where they grew up. It’s just a cycle that will continue over and over again (usually with kids being a big part of that). For people that like where they live, more power to you. I’m with you on the winters though – it ain’t happening for the long haul!
These are all very valid concerns. Weather can have a very detrimental effect on people’s mental health. Since you’re already set up or winter in Ohio, just see how you get through the winter this year. Don’t be afraid to reach out to a mental health professional if needed & don’t rule out a move to a warmer state so you could be out a bit more in the winter. Me, I’m not moving to a colder state because of all the snow. I don’t like it too hot either but will consider a warmer state in the future.
Thanks, Marge – I do hope we can move to a warmer state (or even back to a warmer country) at some point. I think Lisa just needs a little time being back with family first. Maybe once winter rolls around she’ll remember how wonderful it was living in a warmer place like Boquete! 🙂
Thanks for sharing this Jim, looks like your site has been the common bond between you and so many nice people, like Fritz and Steve, and i’m sure there are many others. Gives me hope that continuing to build my site will open doors to meeting other like-minded people as well.
As a personal blogger, you get to know a lot of folks online. But if you attend a get-together like FinCon, you get an opportunity to meet some of those people plus so many others. For me, that was the best part of the event. The presentations were good, but the second year I went, I barely attended any of them – it was all about just being around such great people. Could be worthwhile to consider next year, Jim. 🙂
A man moves through many stages throughout his life. This may be a time of reflection and/or testing. Be open to your new changes. Ask yourself questions along the way to dig deeper into your current feelings and concerns. Find a trusted friend to help you draw out your feelings and fears. If you’re a praying person, ask for God’s direction/understanding. I wish you well!
Thanks, Tim – I think you’re right about this being one of those times to reflect and figure out what makes sense.
Great post. About to move to boquete and this blog is right on the spot about so many issues we are considering.
The good news is that Boquete was what I would consider paradise… your mileage may vary, of course. So if you love it and stay there, these issues won’t be too big of a deal for you. It’s the moving back part that I’ve been struggling with. Good luck and enjoy your new home – I hope it’s everything you want it to be and more!
Aloha Jim, I’ve enjoyed reading your “here and back again” adventures. I actually became interested in moving to Panama after seeing your HGTV episode. Any thoughts about giving it another shot after surviving a bomb cyclone? (At least you got the t-shirt) I reached FI in Hawaii at 52, weather is paradise but looking to move the family somewhere like Panama for lowering our cost of living. Merry Christmas!
Aloha, John! Thanks for following along! I miss Panama (especially Boquete) tremendously. I hope we might be able to move back there at some point, but I guess time will tell. You’d definitely notice a much lower cost of living there versus Hawaii even though the prices aren’t as low as in some places due to the ex-pats helping to drive up prices. I haven’t been to Hawaii yet (though hoping to go there soon to visit friends!) so I can’t really compare the two. It’s worth checking out some of these places like Panama for a vacation but more as a recon mission than anything… stay there like you’re living there and not like you’re at a resort to get a better feel if it’s a place you’d enjoy. 🙂
Merry Christmas to you, too, and enjoy your time in beautiful Hawaii!!
I retired and we moved here to xenia Ohio
been here 5 years
were stuck as we can’t afford to move back home from where we move from
we were both born and raised in SanBernardino County in California
well we found out there is no place like home and the grass is not always greener
on the other side.we kinda want to go home to people and a life we left behind.
if ya got any ideas for us P L E A S E.
let us know. thank you.
Robert and Georgia
Hi Robert – sorry to hear that you’ve settled into a place you’re not happy with. Hopefully, you can figure out a way to get back there if that’s the end game. It might be a matter of weighing things and possibly working part-time or living more modestly in CA. That’s a tough one but I wish you luck!