How to Afford to Travel

“Desires dictate our priorities, priorities shape our choices, and choices determine our actions.” ― Dallin H. Oaks

I love reading travel essays, but before we started traveling I was disappointed when the essays never explained how one affords to travel. I received a comment on my blog the other day asking me how we afford to travel six months of the year and live abroad.

I never gave that question much thought after we started traveling because we just did it, but it is a great question and one that I think deserves a thoughtful answer.

Let me break down the quote above because it explains our process perfectly.


Arthur’s Pass in the New Zealand Southern Alps.


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Let’s Get Real About Packing and Moving to Nicaragua

“I hear there are people who actually enjoy moving. Sounds like a disease to me – they must be unstable” ~ Jan Neruda, Prague Tales



Update July 2020

We hightailed it out of Nicaragua in July 2018, leaving behind our home of 14 years. We had two reasons for leaving: the civil rebellion that killed over 350 people, and a health emergency of which we were unable to get treatment in Nicaragua because the Pan Am Highway was blocked and the government had snipers stationed in Managua and they were killing their citizens.
So here is another thing to think about if you move to Nicaragua and have to leave suddenly. Many expats were unable to leave in 2018 because their life savings were tied up in the house they bought and their belongings they had shipped to Nicaragua.
My advise is to take only what you need in suitcases. Before we left Nicaragua, we gave most of our belongings away to our neighbors. We sold our motorcycle and our dune buggy and rented our house to friends who escaped Managua  because of the violence.
Now, the pandemic is spreading throughout Nicaragua and people are desperate because they have no jobs. The crime rate is high and home invasions are common. So, another reason to buy what you need in Nicaragua and sell or store your bling bling items in your home countries.

When Ron and I finally decided to move to Nicaragua, our first question was, “How do we get all of our stuff there?” I had a brilliant-to-me idea. I contacted the cruise ships to see if it was possible to book a one-way trip from Miami to San Juan Del Sur. Then, we could unload all of our stuff from the cruise ship, hire a truck or van to take us to San Jorge, and board the ferry to our new-to-us shack we purchased on Ometepe Island. It was the cheapest option I could find, as well as sounding like a lot of fun. For a few days, we would have a floating storage locker in our stateroom on a giant cruise ship.

Cruise ship in San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua

Cruise ship in San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua

“Sure, that is possible,” said the first booking agent. She proceeded to tell me how it could be done and I thought…this is so easy. I am brilliant.

I contacted a second agent to ask about luggage limits. She said there were no restrictions. Again, I told myself, this is genius!

But, the third agent must have had a bad day when I asked her if there were restrictions about what I could pack. “Can I bring a trunk with my pots and pans and is there room in the stateroom for our kayak?” I asked.

“Why would you need to bring pots and pans? You can’t be cookin’ any beans in your stateroom,” she snarled. So, I had to tell her that we were moving to Nicaragua and we wanted to bring several trunks with our possessions.

“This isn’t the Grapes of Wrath and it sure isn’t a moving company, so find another way to move!” and she hung up on me. Back to the drawing board!

The way I see it, there are three options for packing and moving your stuff to Nicaragua. So, for my monthly Let’s Get Real series…

                  Let’s Get Real About Packing and Moving to Nicaragua

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Anchored to La Isla

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”
― Augustine of Hippo

IMG_2027One of the main reasons we retired to Nicaragua is because it is centrally located and only a two-hour flight to Miami. Our original plan was to build a house on Ometepe Island and use it as a home base allowing us the freedom to travel the world and return to our inexpensive boomer nest when our gypsytoes ached for the comforts of home.
Can we cut the umbilical cord? Read on to find out.

Look How Far We’ve Come

In the lyrics of Shania Twain, “I’m so glad we’ve made it. Look how far we’ve come, baby.” It’s been nine years since we first rented our little beach shack, four years since we bought it, and three years since we have lived here permanently.

Enjoy the song, while you look through our comparison pictures 2004 to 2013.

Our living room in 2004: We lived like Nicas… minimalists. Our living room in 2013: Now, my boomer nest is complete and comfortable, but it was a tremendous amount of work.

Our kitchen in 2004: A tiny space, with few amenities. Our kitchen in 2013: We finally have an oven and a large working space.

Our porch in 2004: Dirt floor, little security. Our porch in 2013: Secure, beautiful outdoor living space where we can watch the ferries pass by our house daily.

Guest bedroom in 2004: YUCK! Would you want to be our guest? Guest bedroom in 2013: We turned it into a small home office. However, now that we have a small guest house, the guest bedroom is in the other casita and our studio and work space will be moved to the room upstairs in the casita. ( Pictures of the guest house coming soon.)

House from the side in 2004: It definitely had potential. House from side in 2013: Lots of indoor and outdoor living space.

Back of the house in 2004: Hardly any trees and no garden. Back of house in 2013: Now we have a huge, thriving garden behind the house and dozens of fruit trees and shade trees planted.

What I miss about the old house. I loved this rancho. It was a large gathering spot for community activities. Maybe we’ll build another one someday. That’s the great thing about living here. We have control over what we can build at a fraction of the cost of building in the states. Our imaginations are limitless. 🙂
our rancho

Weekly Photo Challenge: Nostalgic

I am a sentimental fool, often nostalgic for my collection of antiques, which I gathered throughout my lifetime. I have a difficult time letting go. For example, I have the original Barbie and Ken dolls, including the Barbie Dream House, convertible, and all their clothes…in mint condition! How does one sell a lifetime of memories when moving abroad? Yet, I promised my husband that I would at least try to let go of my cherished possessions.

I made this video five years ago, in my attempts to empty our Boomer nest. This week’s photo contest challenges us to remember or recapture a moment of the past…a longing…a remembrance…the Golden Years. Instead, I made a video of my atonement for being a sentimental collector. If you are wondering…I still have ALL of my sentimental collections stored in our house in the states. I honestly did try to let go…but it’s a slow process for me.

Confessions of an Expat Shopaholic

Thank God we’re living in a country where the sky’s the limit, the stores are open late and you can shop in bed thanks to television.  ~Joan Rivers

What if we don’t live in a country where the sky’s the limit, where the convenience of consumerism, e-commerce, marketing tactics, and the psychology of shopping are distant dreams of a past life? I’ve returned to the states for two weeks with a list of items to buy that are impossible to find in Nicaragua. My brother has graciously, and a little begrudgingly, offered to take me shopping today…January 2nd, a day renowned for its sales after Christmas.

Psychologists have defined six universal mental rules of thumb that are evident in shoppers. The Psychology of Shopping  The one my brother doesn’t understand is Scarcity, which is understandable because unless one lives abroad in a third world country, scarcity is an alien concept. 

Screen Shot 2013-01-02 at 8.07.13 AMLiving in Nicaragua, I believe that less is more. We consume less with the added bonus of more creativity. Live and Learn Abroad to Boost Creativity  Yet, there are certain products no matter how creative we are, we cannot reproduce. For example: Bayer Aspirin, Motrin, acrylic paints in small craft bottles, a Norelco hair clipper, and an Otterbox cover for my iPhone.

The psychological reasoning behind scarcity makes sense to me. I do place more value on those things which are scarce or non-existent in Nicaragua. When I was living in the states, I was never a shopaholic. Everything was readily available through internet clicks, and  short trips to the mall or department stores less than 5 miles from my house. I’ve never been a compulsive or impulsive buyer, but returning to the states and seeing the abundance of ‘things’ we have here, overwhelms me with an irresistible urge to shop.

I’ve mapped my itinerary, eaten a hearty breakfast, and promised my brother that if he takes me shopping, I’ll buy him lunch. My list has 22 specific items, yet I have a tendency to get side-tracked in the world of accessible consumerism. Wish me luck because I’m going to need it!

P.S. I love my brother and sister-in-law, especially for indulging my expat shopaholic tendencies! Thank you from the bottom of my expat shopaholic heart.


Confessions of a Sentimental Hoarder



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“There is no greater sin than desire, No greater curse than discontent, No greater misfortune than wanting something for oneself. Therefore he who knows that enough is enough will always have enough.” – Lao Tzu

I am a sentimental hoarder. Our house in the states is packed with my grandma’s china, grandpa’s oil paintings, my great grandma’s quilts, and ‘things’ passed down throughout generations. In addition, I saved all my travel mementos such as Japanese Saki cups, Brazilian hammocks,  Portuguese dolls, Moroccan rugs, German cuckoo clocks, and Peruvian Alpaca sweaters. We never bought new furniture; instead, we roamed the aisles of the Goodwill stores in search of cheap chic. Before we moved to Ometepe Island, the only new piece of furniture we ever bought in our 36 years of marriage was a big overstuffed couch, which our new puppy shredded the first night we ‘trusted’ her out of her sleeping crate.

The dilemma, of which I have no answer, is what do I do with a lifetime of sentimental possessions? They are an anchor in my life, which I need to alter, or at least start thinking of altering. We had yard sales and culled most of our unsentimental possessions, like hundreds of Tupperware containers, wobbly old furniture, and an assortment of holiday decorations. I made a website and tried to sell my collections of tins, pottery, and assorted knickknacks. Then, the recession hit and the competition was outrageous. I refused to sell my things dirt cheap.

That left us with a three-story house, all of my sentimental possessions stored in every closet and nook available, and trusted friends living in our house rent free. It has been two years now and it’s time to decide what to do with our house and my sentimental hoard. I honestly don’t miss any of my possessions from my earlier life. But, it wears me out just thinking about how to sell everything, including the house. And should we sell out?

There are some advantages to keeping our house. I can store our collections for free. We can buy things on Amazon, have them delivered to our house, and anyone coming to Ometepe can bring them to us. We still have a U.S. mailing address enabling us to keep our stateside credit card. Our friends open our important mail and tell us if something is amiss. Last week, we received a notice from the IRS that we owe more taxes for our 2010 year. We were expecting it because we forgot to include a Schedule D form for our investments. With a little creative ingenuity, they took photos of the forms, emailed them to us, and we printed them. Then, we corrected our errors and met a friend on the island, who is returning to the states and will mail our corrections for us.

Most importantly, our house in the states means security. Should the volcano or political turmoil erupt, or serious health issues arise, which would require a quick exit from Nicaragua, we have a mortgage-free place to live. Our son still has all of his stuff stored in our house, too. He inherited our wanderlust, never settling down in one spot. I tell him, “Someday, when we are gone, this all will be yours…BAAAAAH,” I repeat with an evil laugh. At least his hoarding tendencies are mostly digital. He has thousands of digital movies, books, photos, and music. Too bad I wasn’t born into the digital age. It would have eased my anxiety and stress about collecting sentimental stuff.

I am content and very happy living in Nicaragua with much less. Possessions have never defined who I am, only where I came from. They are shards of memories left behind…tangible pieces of my heritage and other world cultures. I’m beginning to believe that once a sentimental hoarder, always a sentimental hoarder.  Now, I look around my house in Nicaragua and the truth is everywhere…in the hundreds of Pre-Columbian pottery shards piled on shelves…in my collections of Nicaraguan art and sculptures….in my handmade furniture…my collections of maps and guide books…it’s everywhere. Marina sums it up well, ” You have so many chanches ( I think it’s a word for knickknacks), but you’re not pinche” (cheap). Coming from my closest neighbor, that’s a huge complement. 🙂




My Expat Christmas List

All I want for Christmas is.....

Seven years ago, I could easily compose a list of ‘wants’ for Christmas. Ometepe Island was a primitive island with few expat novelties. There was no ATM, peanut butter, whole wheat bread, internet dongle, sufficient cell phone coverage, books in English, or rat traps. When Cory came to visit at Christmas, all we wanted were books in English, rat traps, and a squeegee mop.

Now, Ometepe Island is thriving and growing like the huge papayas in Ron’s garden. We have four ATM machines, an airport which will be completed in 2012, and two grocery stores that cater to the exotic tastes of foreigners. I can download and borrow hundreds of Kindle books from my public library in the states. With a little creative ingenuity, my homemade woktenna delivers a steady internet signal to my dongle. Sky satellite TV broadcasts world news, my washing machine spins with authoritarian control, Ron’s year-round garden supplies us with green vegetables, and Skype allows me to visit daily with my family and friends back in the states.

What more could I want? My expat Christmas list this year isn’t as tangible as it was seven years ago. After much thought, here is my 2010 list:

1. Children’s books in Spanish.
I am determined to give the gift of reading for pleasure to the children on the island. My collection is growing slowly for my mobile lending library. If you are traveling to Ometepe Island over the holidays, please consider dropping off a children’s book in Spanish at the Corner House Cafe, Mar Dulce, or the American Cafe and Hotel in Moyogalpa. Tell them the books are for the book lady in La Paloma.

2. More Time in the Day
The sun rises and sets in the tropics at 6 am and 6 pm. We are early risers, but with all of our daily chores, we seldom have time to stop and ‘smell the roses’ until the sun sets. Retirement is all about fulfilling passions and dying with no regrets. Santa, please stuff my stocking with more time this Christmas.

3. Lots of anti-itch cream
I am definitely allergic to ant bites. The only relief is the anti-itch cream with Benadryl. Santa, please fill my stocking to the brim with anti-itch cream.

4. Simplicity
I have a house full of ‘stuff and junk’ back in the states. It is an anchor in my life. When I return to the states, will you come to my yard sale? It’s time to empty my boomer nest and give it all away.

5. Fluency in Spanish
Although I can understand and respond simply to most conversations, I want to be fluent in Spanish. We are culturally immersed in an all Spanish-speaking community. Santa, please give me the gift of fluency in Spanish. It would be helpful if I could wake up one morning and speak fluently. I’ve practiced patiently for over eight years, yet I still sound like a third grader. Please?

I struggled making this expat list. Honestly, my life has changed so much that I am not tuned in to the frantic Christmas pace and capitalistic mentality of my younger years. Realistically, Santa, if you can’t deliver my expat Christmas list, it’s no big deal…there’s always manana.



Boomer Barbie Atones for Past Discretions

Another naked truth: I am a sentimental hoarder. Yes, I confess and I atone for my wicked past discretion. I realized that I had a ‘problem’ when I was sorting through my boxes of old cards, love letters, and grade school trinkets. (That’s right! BOXES!) I found an unopened heart-shaped box of Valentine candy from my 8th grade boyfriend. The candy had disintegrated into dust. I considered saving it for cocoa powder..really! Then, there was the laundry bag full of beautifully colored dryer lint that I had carefully scraped off the filter for 15 years because someday…someday…I was going to make handmade paper with it.

The truth of the matter is, it is time to downsize and let go of my sentimental attachments. My possessions are an anchor in my new, rewired life. If you see Tom Hanks, tell him I have an old typewriter for sale.

Barbie: An Economic Refugee

So, the naked truth about my Barbie video is that we were contemplating retiring in Panama. After several visits and chats with expats, we both came to the conclusion that it was, well…” too normal”. We were looking for quirky country living…a place where we could get our hands dirty and our feet embedded with volcanic sand.

I initially made my Barbie videos as a marketing tool to get traffic to my website where I had listed our Big, Fat Lives for sale…including boomer Barbie and Ken, the Dream House, and  Barbie’s convertible. (Yes, they are my childhood dolls…all original and in perfect condition)

However, I miscalculated my intended audience and the timing of my online garage sale. First, we were in the midst of a major recession. Second, my Barbie videos attracted the teeny boppers and the sexually perverted. I’m not sure what they expected, but if you look at the comments on Youtube, you can see that they were clueless as to my message.

Overall, 77,386 hits isn’t too bad. Hopefully someone reading this post will have an “Ah-ha” moment.