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It feels like we’ve been planning this for years (because we have!), but it’s finally happened… we’re now living in Panama!
I wasn’t going to post about this yet since we’ve been here less than a week, but I figured a lot of you want to know the details about this adventure.
Although I started this site in 2015 intending to focus mostly on personal finance, I feel like I’ve become known more for our plans to retire early and move to Panama more than anything.
That’s not a bad thing at all – it was just a little unexpected. We were doing this just because it seemed interesting to us. It was initially “just” a plan to utilize geoarbitrage to reach financial independence and retire earlier.
However, I worked and saved long enough to cover us even if we had stayed in the U.S. Instead, it’s become an opportunity for us to explore a whole new culture. We have a chance to open our daughter’s eyes to the beauty of this country as well.
More folks ask us about Panama than anything else related to our early retirement plans.
So with that, now that we’re actually living in Panama, I owe it to you guys to talk about the different aspects of this journey. I think it’s important to not blow any smoke either – I’ll always tell you the good, the bad and the ugly.
And if it turns out to be worthwhile, maybe one day I’ll convince you to be living in Panama as our neighbors! Or perhaps it might just be a kick in the pants to chase after a different dream that you have.
The best travel pillow
Knowing that we’d be bouncing back and forth between living in Panama and coming back to the U.S. every few months, we decided to pick up some travel pillows for the flights.
My daughter, Faith, found one she liked at Five Below so that was an easy one.
Then while in Texas, we had a chance to go the rodeo and we stopped at Goodwill a couple of days beforehand to find some cowboy boots for Faith. Not only did we find some boots for her for just a few bucks, but Lisa stumbled across a travel pillow there for $3. The thing was like new but, of course, we washed it regardless.
Two down… one to go!
The problem is that I’m a picky guy. Travel pillows don’t work well for me because my head likes to fall forward once I fall asleep. I become like a bobble-head, which as you can guess, wakes me right up.
So I made it a mission of mine to test a handful of them out. I spent way too much time going through the details and the mid-level reviews on Amazon (I don’t trust the 5-star or 1-star reviews). That helped me whittle the choices from about ten of them down to four.
A lot of the manufacturers were offering free returns on Amazon. Pair that with the ability to just drop the returns off at Kohl’s and I was golden! I ordered all four pillows.
After my rigorous formal testing of each (or just sitting in a chair trying each one), my favorite, by far, was the BCOZZY Chin Supporting Patented Travel Pillow. The whole idea of this pillow is that it lets you wrap it around your chin so your head won’t fall forward.
When I ordered it, I was a little unsure about it because I thought it might be too warm, but it’s not. In fact, I liked that I could wrap it a little tighter on the plane if I was colder or loosen it up if not.
This pillow is wonderful and comfortable and it made me want to fall asleep just testing it out. It wasn’t the best pick from the frugal side of things – at just under $30, it was the most expensive of all the ones I ordered.
However, it was well worth it. I returned the others and kept this one and it made for some nice shut-eye on flights down.
I will say that the J-Pillow Travel Pillow should get an honorable mention.
It had an innovative design as well to keep your head from falling forward, but it wasn’t quite as comfortable for me as the BCOZZY pillow was.
And you know that means a lot from me if I’m spending an extra $10 on one over the other!
All I can say is that if you’re looking for a little rest on future travel and the regular travel pillows don’t work too well for you, try one of these two. Your body will thank you!
The trip down
I ain’t gonna lie, the few days leading up to this trip were tough on both me and Lisa. Neither one of us got much sleep. I think the anxiety and the questioning of “is this the right thing to do for our family” were strong in our minds.
It also didn’t help that Faith started constantly telling us that she hates that we were moving. Up until the past couple of months, she was all about it, but the idea of leaving her friends and family started to become more pronounced in her mind after we left Ohio for our July adventure. Ouch.
Regardless of our hesitation, we made the trip and flew down to Panama on Wednesday, 8/21/19. I guess we didn’t have much of a choice anyway since we’d already sold all our stuff and didn’t have any other place to live!
It was a long day, too. Our flight from Austin, TX was at 5:45 am and none of us slept more than a few hours that night before. We flew to Houston, TX and then to Panama City, Panama. Then we had to wait about four hours until we flew to David, Panama.
A couple of weeks prior, I had scheduled a driver previously to pick us up at the David airport. That was a good move. We didn’t have to worry about the language barrier or getting multiple taxis (three of us, six suitcases, and a few backpacks… ugh!).
He showed up at the airport with our name on a sign, spoke perfect English, and helped us with our bags. We needed that bit of comfort at this point in the trip.
We loaded everything into the van and made the drive to our new home in the mountains… Boquete, Panama. Normally, this would be just over a 45-minute drive, but of course, it was rush hour when we got there. The traffic made the drive almost an hour and a half and we got to our rental at 6:45 pm.
That was one long day.
But we were hungry, so we dropped our suitcases off at the house and walked down to the cantina at the community where we’re staying. In the hour that we were there, we met and talked with a great family that was there visiting. It was good to find others that we could relate to on our first day there.
After dinner and a beer, we called it, walked back, and slept pretty well that night.
Living in Panama (Groceries)
As I’m writing this, we’ve only been here for a few days so it’s hard to say that we’re really acquainted with living in Panama. However, we’re starting to get adjusted slowly but surely.
On our first full day here, we walked downtown (about a mile from the place we’re staying) to check it out and do some grocery shopping. Remember, we didn’t have any food at all here.
It was a beautiful day for a walk here… 75° F. Oh, that’s right, it’s 75° every day here in Boquete – that’s one of the biggest reasons we moved here! No heat or A/C needed. It’s wonderful!
We checked out a bunch of shops and had lunch at Big Daddy’s Grill.
Then we went grocery shopping and that’s when it became a little frustrating. Not in a major way, but imagine going into a grocery store that you’ve never been in before. It’s hard to figure out where everything is because you don’t know the layout, right?
Now add in the complexity that the foods you’re familiar with aren’t there. Ok, some are, but for the most part, it’s a whole new world there.
Then, throw in that the majority of the foods have Spanish labels and asking folks for help also requires Spanish. In the end, we muddled our way through it with the little bit of Spanish I know and the help of Google Translate.
But the best part of the day was the cab ride back. I learned from Jackie at Panama Relocation Tours that you never get into a taxi without asking how much it’ll cost first or you could be subjected to the gringo tax.
Me (doing the best I can with Spanish): ¿Cuánto cuesta a Valle Escondido? [How much to Valle Escondido?]
Driver: Dos. [Two.]
Um, as in $2. Sold! A cab ride back for $2 in my book is a real win. Even making it a 50% tip for a total of $3 sure felt like a great deal!
However, living in Panama is different. We’re not used to eggs and milk not being refrigerated. We also learned that the corn we had will give you a longing for the sweet corn we’re used to eating. We also found out that the Panamanian version of Pringles here suck and the empanadas we made were disgusting.
Oh, and our translation skills leave a little something to be desired. We bought dish soap thinking it was dishwasher detergent… oops!
But that’s all well and good. We went into this knowing that living in Panama would be different. Not in a bad way, just different. And we’re good with that, but it’s going to take some time to learn and adjust.
Living in Panama (weather and scenery)
I can’t express in words how beautiful it is here. Picking a spot here in the mountains has already proven to have some major benefits.
Like I said earlier, the weather is 75° F every day here with a couple degree spread. It’s perfect for walking around in without getting too hot or cold. Then the nights cool down to the lower 60s, which makes for some nice sleeping with the windows open.
Even with no heat or A/C, the temperature always seems to be right. As a side note, we do have ceiling fans throughout the place.
The power’s gone out a few times since we’ve been here and I think that’s just kind of the norm. Generally, it’s only for a few minutes, but the other night it was out for an hour and a half. No big deal when you’re not worrying about heat or A/C, but it was starting to get a little uncomfortable without the ceiling fan going while we were trying to sleep.
And, we just picked a couple of oranges from the tree outside. Small things like that seem to make this decision to move well worth it.
Enjoying the adventure
So let’s get back to the important stuff – everyone’s anxiety.
The weirdest thing happened once we got here… everyone’s anxiety seemed to dissipate.
By day two, I overheard Lisa telling her mom on the phone that it “just feels right.” She’s not saying we’ll stay here forever, but for right now, she’s feeling we made the right decision.
How about our girl, Faith? As soon as we got here, her negative attitude that she had developed about the move over the past couple of months disappeared. She’s been so excited about so many different things. She loves walking downtown to the shops. She loves all the vegetation – the trees and the flowers. And she loves the lizards we see scurrying around on the sidewalks.
Here’s a shameless plug, too. Faith’s starting to record more videos on her YouTube channel. These will likely be more focused on what it’s like living in Panama. I just put one up that she recorded here at Valle Escondido. Check it out and, if you like it, click on the Subscribe button on her page.
And finally, there’s me. I was probably nervous about Lisa and Faith not being happy more than anything. But once I saw the worries start to fade with them, I was good.
That same night, I went to bed and slept for just over 10 hours that night! In other words, once I knew the anxiety has gone down with them, I was more at ease and able to let go. That’s an awesome feeling.
It’s not to say that we’ve figured all this out, but we’re excited about learning the nuances together. In fact, we went to a different grocery store for about a half-hour when we walked downtown again and just explored. We’ll go to this place the next time we need groceries and we already have a little familiarity with it. That should make it a little less frustrating.
The day this post comes out, we’re going to the Tuesday Market for the first time. This is supposed to be a pretty big event filled with tons of vendors selling everything from local fruits and vegetables to all kinds of other things like cheese, chocolate (mmm…), arts and crafts, and jewelry.
My understanding is that this is a great opportunity to meet people. That’s the part we’re most excited about. We don’t know people here and we need to if we’re going to make this home. Faith needs friends to play with. WE need friends to hang out with as well.
What’s next while living in Panama…
Adjusting to living here is obviously the biggest thing we have on our plates. But that’s more of natural progression and adjustment than a task at hand.
However, we have a few important duties we need to tend to over the next few weeks:
1) Find a new place – The biggest task we have to work on is finding a more permanent place to live. We’re staying at a place in a wonderful gated community in Valle Escondido, but we only rented it for a month.
We need to find a new place to rent for the next year. And it’s not as simple as you would think. Most of the good rentals and deals are found through knowing people, so we’re working on talking to everyone we can. There are also some expat Facebook Groups that we’re a part of that might give us some good leads.
The area is important as well. Although it’s not the end-all-be-all, I’d like to be closer to downtown so we could walk there instead of driving. And then there are so many microclimates here. In the city of Boquete alone, this site claims there are 13 microclimates! That means the weather in one area can be completely different than one down the road.
As a side note, those microclimates also make all the weather apps inaccurate. The good news is the weather here’s pretty consistent, but even if it says there’s a 100% chance of rain, you might not see a drop.
It’d also be nice to be in a gated community, but we’ll see what happens. Not only does that give you a better sense of security, but the communities usually have some good shared amenities as well. A shared pool or gym, for example, would be nice to have.
We’re aiming to get a place for $800-$1,200 so we can have plenty of extra cash in our budget to spend on other fun things such as travel without having to think about it. That price range should get us a nice 2-3 bedroom furnished house with most or all utilities paid for and possibly a gardener/landscaper. Not too shabby, right?
2) Homeschooling – Living in Panama ain’t gonna be all fun and games! We still have to make sure we’re helping our daughter grow both educationally and in life in general.
We’ll be starting our homeschooling for her on Monday, 9/2. Ironically, that’s the day kids in the U.S. will all have off (Labor Day), but we get to make our own rules here.
We have a general idea how this will flow and I actually don’t think it’ll be a burden for any of us. However, it’s sure to be a big adjustment for all of us while we figure out the routine.
3) Whale watching – Lisa has been wanting to go whale watching for a while and this is something she’s been excited about doing in Panama. Well, lo and behold, the driver who took us from David to Boquete is a tour guide.
He said that now is the best time of the year for the whale watching. Apparently, the males are only here through October and right now is when they’re the most acrobatic.
So, although not something we have to do, it’s something we want to do. This should run us around $75 each for a day of fun and includes lunch and goodies like snorkeling and swimming. Should be a ton of fun!
And that’s the scoop so far. We’re here – we made it and so far, it’s just a vacation. Starting Faith’s homeschooling will take this down a notch in the fun, but hopefully not too much.
I hope you enjoy reading about this half as much as we’re enjoying starting this new adventure. Once we begin to get into a routine, I’ll tell you more about what it’s really like living in Panama.
Thanks for reading!!