International Living Magazine: Living the Dream

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“Traveling is a fountain of youth,” says Christina Daggett as she sits down to eat dinner with her husband Timothy. It’s evening time in Hawick, Scotland where they are currently staying in an Airbnb apartment and they have just come back from exploring the center. “I can’t imagine going back to the United States or our old lifestyle, nothing could be better than what we’re doing now.”

Tim and Christina moved to Ecuador in 2009 when Tim was offered early retirement from the Postal Service. “We chose Ecuador after reading about it online,” says Tim. “We chose it for many reasons. First, because we were able to get residency there which was quite easy, and also because the cost of living was so low compared to the U.S. We did a great deal of research on the country and liked the sounds of it. The climate in Quito was perfect, the landscape looked beautiful, and we could live there without a car.”

The biggest influence on their decision to leave the states was that they were looking for change. “We didn’t want our retirement to involve sitting at home on the couch watching t.v. day after day, and we were also tired of the rampant consumerism that seems to have engulfed the American culture,” Christina tells me. “We wanted something different for our lives, and traveling just seemed like the best option.”

They sold or gave away all their possessions except for a suitcase each, and rented a furnished apartment when they arrived in Quito. “Instead of possessions, we have money in the bank,” says Tim. “Possessions are not as important as experiences,” adds Christina. ” I don’t even remember the things I left behind in the U.S.”

Their first day in Quito was a big culture shock they tell me, but they gave it a chance and found that it was very easy to adapt to living in the city. “There is an American style grocery store, lots of restaurants, and even a shopping mall,” Tim says. “But if you are looking for more adventure you can also go to the market in the old town very similar to a farmers market. The fruit and vegetables are so cheap there you almost won’t believe it. Things like fresh strawberries are less than half the price they are in the U.S.”

After about a year Tim and Christina decided they would like another change of location and moved to the small town of Cuenca. Christina says, “Cuenca was a bit smaller than Quito, so we felt more comfortable there and the architecture looked nicer. It also helped that so many retired American couples live there.” Timothy adds, “There was such a great retired community. Every time you saw another American couple there was an instant bond, and such a sense of camaraderie. You could be walking through the grocery store and spot other Americans your age, and suddenly you became best friends.”

When I asked about new hobbies they might have taken up, Tim beams with delight. “Actually, we took a pretty exciting trip to the Amazon once. I had gotten really into the idea of gold dredging and wanted to look for an area where I could do it. We ended up at a river in the middle of no where and I even found quick sand!” Christina looked a little less enthused about the whole ordeal, but she did admit it was quite exciting to try something so different. “How many retired people take a trip to the Amazon?” she says.

After a couple of years in Ecuador the couple were taking a walk down by the river in Cuenca, and Tim asked Christina, “If there was a way we could travel through Europe would you?” Her response was an immediate yes, and so they went home right away and started doing their research.

“It was extremely difficult for us to get residency in any European country,” says Tim. “But when I started reading about Schengen and Non-Schengen countries I realized this was our chance. We could live in a Schengen country for three months and then move to a Non-Schengen country for three months, alternating between the two.” The Schengen area is different from the European Union, and Americans are allowed to stay in one of these countries for three months within every six month period.

In 2011 they once again packed their suitcases and went to Budapest, Hungary. “It was so difficult to find an apartment at that time, and we got our first place on Craigslist, which as we all know, can always lead to being scammed,” they tell me. Fortunately, they later discovered Airbnb which was just starting to gain in popularity. “Airbnb was an absolute miracle for us,” Tim says. “We can so easily find an apartment, read reviews on it, plan our trips months in advance, and have a secure way to pay for them. We absolutely use Airbnb for every single apartment we rent. Sometimes we joke that fifty percent of Airbnb profits are from us alone!”

When they first got to Europe it was another culture shock for them. “One of the biggest mistakes we made in the beginning was assuming things,” Christina says. “We just assumed things were the same as they are in the U.S., which of course doesn’t make any sense, but you would be surprised how easy it was to think that.”

Tim tells me a funny story about the first time they visited a grocery store in Budapest. “We had already had a long trip and were just looking to get a bit of dinner for the night. We were a little stressed since all the labels were in another language and we were thankful to get to the register. The girl there scanned all our items and we just stared at her thinking someone would come to bag our groceries like they do in the U.S. However, in Europe, not only do you need to pay for each bag, you need to bag things yourself. The girl started yelling at us in Hungarian and called her manager over. Eventually we understood, but not without suffering a lot of embarrassment first.”

These days they are very experienced travelers in Europe and have learned a lot. Timothy gives a good tip for other travelers, ” Don’t limit your Airbnb search to one specific city like Paris, or Rome. Search within a wide area, or even the whole country in general. We shop apartments first by price, and then we look up what city they’re in. By doing things this way, we have found so many lesser known cities that have fewer tourists and have given us a much more authentic experience.” Christina adds, “A lot of Americans think it has to be so expensive to travel in Europe. They would be correct if you go to places that cater to tourists. However, we have found cities full of locals that show us the true culture of the country and are actually affordable.”

They tell me that if you shop at the grocery stores and don’t frequent restaurants every night, it’s completely affordable to live in Europe. Their biggest tip: Live like a local. They rent apartments in buildings full of locals, go to the gym a few times a week, and shop at the grocery so they can cook at home most nights. What would come as a surprise to most Americans is the fact that it’s cheaper to travel around Europe full time than to live in the U.S.

“On average, we spend around 2000 Euros per month. That includes our apartments, gym memberships for both of us, groceries, public transportation and at least 2 days out each week to places like museums.” Timothy says. “We’ve lived in the supposed expensive countries like France and Italy on this budget.” One of their favorite places was Dazio, Italy, a gorgeous town in the Alps only a couple of hours from Lake Como. “It was a town with 0 tourists and we lived below a real Italian family,” says Christina. “Every Sunday we could hear them upstairs cooking and enjoying time with their big family. We would sit downstairs eating spaghetti, and pinching ourselves thinking we couldn’t really be where we were.”

Health can also be a big concern for many retirees coming from the U.S. but Tim says it doesn’t have to be. “Dental work is significantly cheaper in countries in the Balkans for example, and very good!” Tim was also diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes last year and tells me even that is manageable. “Pharmaceuticals are very cheap in many countries here, especially in Eastern Europe, and most of the time you don’t even need a prescription.”

As for their relationship, Tim and Christina say they feel closer than ever. “When we lived in the U.S. Tim worked at night and I worked during the day,” says Christina. “We never saw each other. Now we get to spend everyday together and we couldn’t be happier.” Tim tells me traveling has also improved their communication, and strengthened their bond. “We never get bored with each other. There is nothing like the adventure of traveling together everyday to bring you closer.”

When I ask them what advice they would give to other couples considering doing the same thing, they look wistfully at each other as if remembering the very beginning of their journey. “Just take the plunge!” they both tell me in unison, “and you will be so grateful that you did.” 


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