Call it what you want—a sabbatical, a gap year, a vacation, a mini-retirement, a time to come together, a mid-life crisis—we are moving to Nicaragua, and it is going to be epically awesome.
And we’re leaving next week.
Why? We’ve been getting this question a lot lately.
Simply put, it is our dream.
It’s been a dream of mine for at least 15 years. And I’m lucky enough to have a partner who shares that dream.
For the 10 years since getting married, Amanda and I have kicked around the idea of living abroad with our family. Each of us spent time in Latin America before we knew each other, and we want to have that experience as a family.
The people are happy, humble, and friendly. We enjoy the cultures, the food, the relaxed lifestyle, and the language. And I can’t wait for my kids to see that there is more to life than Taco Bell and Netflix.
We often think of “dreams” as wonderful things only to be wished for. In the beginning, that’s how we talked about living abroad. It wasn’t until about 5 years ago that we started thinking more seriously about actually making something like this happen.
We were planning to make the leap in another year or so, but due to an unexpected change at work (worth a whole post on its own), we found ourselves with some uncertainty and questioning what was next for us. We laid out and discussed all the options, and we decided it was now or never.
This was not a rash decision. We’ve been saving specifically for the experience for the last few years. We obtained passports for the kids. We’ve been getting up to date on dental work, immunizations, and schooling.
It was KEY that we had been slowly preparing so that we were ready when the opportunity came.
And I haven’t evened mentioned the whole cancer thing. Talk about an instant wake-up call. If there were ever any doubt before about whether we would go or not, it was all obliterated with that little tidbit of information.
I was already a huge advocate of the idea of not putting off dreams until retirement, but when you have a divine tap on the shoulder in the form of a potentially life-altering cancer diagnosis, stressing about the 9 to 5 for 40 years seems like the biggest joke in the world.
That’s the second-most popular question we get. This one is pretty simple for us.
Nicaragua is very close to the top of list of Latin american countries in terms of both safety and cost of living. It’s still not too far from the states, and it is beautiful.
It’s already been about a year and a half since we were able to go on our vacation/scouting trip.
For how long?
I don’t know what it is, but in almost every conversation we have, the succession of questions is the same. The third question is “how long are you going for?”
We are planning on one year. But with no commitments, we are flexible if we need to come back before then or if we need to stay a little longer for some reason.
Finally, the awkward moment
By this time in the conversation, I’ve usually wandered off leaving Amanda there fielding the rest of the questions. This is about when the person is getting over the initial excitement of our move to Nicaragua and remembers the real question they wanted to ask—How?
Just who are we that we think we can up and leave the country? Surely, we must have just sold a business, come into some money, or be making a killer living online. It seems like that is usually the case with other other families I read about who have made similar decisions.
But the reality is that we are just a normal family. Amanda primarily stays home with the kids while teaching violin part time, and I work full time in finance. We save and try to live within our means. We’re not in debt, and our net worth is nowhere near where the experts say it should be.
The “how question” wording usually comes out in different forms because people don’t know exactly how to ask it. Then before Amanda can answer, they look over and make sure I’m on the other side of the room. Lowering their voice and leaning in closer to Amanda they ask, “and…what exactly is Mark going to be doing down there?”
Amanda’s response is simply “we’ve been saving for this and have enough to live on for at least a year.”
This can often prove unsettling or confusing for the listener. When your paradigm involves nothing but the 9 to 5 for 40 years, hearing about someone just like you doing something different can be a stirring experience.
She tells them that I plan to use my newfound free time to build up my online cpa business or work on whatever other business ideas we may be inspired with.
The confirmation that it’s not going to be a one year vacation and that I actually will be trying to do some work seems to satisfy them. And then they get super excited again, and say “well that sounds so awesome! I wish we could do something like that…”
Then in my head I say “You CAN do something like that. And…you won’t.”
Why? Because it’s just a dream. Nothing a normal person could ever actually do. Right?
Most of my friends know that when I say I’m going to do something, I actually do it. Even still, I had friends tell me, “I always knew you were planning on this Latin America thing, and I guess I thought you’d do it, but deep down I didn’t think you would actually do it.”
The bottom line is that I knew if we didn’t do it when we had the chance that I would always regret it.
It has been interesting to feel my mind shift gears as we prepare to do something we’ve never done before.
Striving for sadness
We are both very sad about having to leave beautiful southwest Michigan, our home of the last 5 years, but we’ve decided that’s a good thing.
We now have the goal of being sad every time we move into a new phase of life. It’s not sadness that stems from tragedy. It’s a sadness that implies having experienced significant life events, growth & development, happy times, and sad times.
Money to live vs living for money
I find myself constantly making dietary & financial analogies in my head. I been listening to a health podcast about healing cancer. It talks about the evolution of our relationship with food. Our ancestors ate to live. They didn’t have the luxury of all the choices, flavors, and delicious and unhealthy processed desserts we have today. Many of us today live to eat. We don’t even have to worry about food, shelter, and clothing. It’s all about what’s for dinner!
I thought that was interesting, and I think it’s the same case with money. It was much more common in past generations that people made money to survive, but now it’s common to find more people who are just living to make money. Money, money, money, I just want more money! I feel like I have actually been slowly transitioning out of that mindset. (If I weren’t, I would be freaking out about my financial opportunity cost right about now.)
I no longer want money just to have money. I am using that money that I was so afraid to touch before to live my dream. Note that I’m not talking about blowing your emergency fund to go live your dreams. We still have that locked and loaded.
I don’t want to be mislabeled as radical millennial who advocates dropping everything to go do what you love or pursue your dream. (I still want to punch the guy who decided to erase Gen Y by lumping it in to the Millennial category. I grew up my whole life being told I was part of Generation Y then all of the sudden I’m a millennial now?? Anyway…)
To an outsider unfamiliar with our situation, what we are doing might appear that way. They haven’t seen or heard the thousands of conversations we have had about finances, logistics, education, health, and emotional well-being of our children.
There is a saying that “life” is everything that happens to us while we are making other plans. We feel like we’ve been making those “other plans” for a decade, and now we are going to go live them.
One of the main reasons I took my last job was to get more management experience and to build my confidence before leaving everything and moving abroad with my family. I now feel mentally prepared and at ease about getting new job if need be when we come back.
Even with sufficient savings to put normal life on hold for a year, there used to be a dreaded feeling about what to do when we returned. Now it doesn’t seem so stressful. I’ll come back and get a job. It’s that simple. I feel like I have a lot of value to offer, so it’s honestly not nearly as much of a stress as it would have been had we gone earlier in my career.
Believing vs Doing vs Being
Believing, doing, and being are common Christian and religious themes. It’s great that you believe in being a good neighbor, but what are you doing to reflect that? And if you are actively serving your neighbor, do you have ulterior motives, or are you allowing that service to transform and elevate who you are at the core? I have been thinking about how these themes apply to what we are doing.
I’ve always believed it would be awesome to have this experience of moving abroad with the family and immersing ourselves in new cultures. But anyone can believe, that’s the easy part.
Now we are actually doing it. My job is done. The house is sold. We got rid of most of our stuff (The remainder is in a 10×15 storage unit). The plane tickets are booked. The bags are almost packed. That might seem easy, but the logistics have been far from it.
Did I say we have 4 kids?
We are excited for the last part of how this experience will change who we and our kids will become.
I’ll let you know how that goes.