On Becoming an Expat

The expat (expatriate) life is incredulous, filled with new wonders, experiences, cultures, and diverse people. I’m an advocate for slow travel, taking the time to get to experience these wonders. As with life anywhere, slow travel has its challenges, however.

Recently, I was asked to share my experiences of slow travel with an editor. Let me share them here with you.

*What is your favorite part of expatriate life?

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” I love how the expat life has allowed me to open a new world of people, places, and things. I have found all people – locals and expats – to be both different and the same. The culture and language may be different, but all people have hopes and dreams and seek the best in life. The world is both big and small. I love the new experiences, having no agenda, and finding surprises each new day.

*What has been the hardest part?

I found getting to a new country and settling into the consequences of the move have been the hardest part of making the change. Initially, there was the paperwork, the disposition of belongings, and finally the traveling. I had to deal with airports and their QR codes, late plane arrivals, and overnights with time changes. Upon arrival, multiple problems had to be solved: getting a Visa, new phone numbers, new banks, and finding a place to live. With my last two moves, this has stretched into three months each time. All I could do was live one day at a time and attack each problem head on.

*What’s your sense of ‘home’?

Home to me is where I put down roots, even temporarily. A home will provide me with safety and comfort. It will provide me with resources, opportunities, and resolutions. Home is not a place of things but a concept to be enjoyed.

*What has been the most helpful thing in adapting to your home abroad?

I have found to keep an open mind and not buck the ideas and values of the people I see and meet have been the most helpful tool to fitting in. I try always to remember I am a guest in my new country, and I hope I will be welcomed. Realizing I can make a major transition is comfort enough.

*Where would you want to move to eventually?

Eventually, I will go where life leads me and leave no regrets behind. I am made up of where I’ve been, and I expect to change as I experience new challenges. My path is not predetermined. I will look for a favorable climate, a low cost of living, clean water, and a stable government. I have no handle on eventualities. I will take one thing at a time as it comes.

*What advice would you give to first-time expats?

Get your ducks in a row. Do your research, even if it takes a few years to learn everything you can about a new place. Compare countries and cities. Learn about the culture; learn the language; and come to know places as if you had been there for years. With this background, you will have a much smoother transition.

*Share anything else about your expat life you’d like us to hear

Months ago, if you had told me I would be living in a yurt at 5260’ feet up a tropical mountainside among coffee trees, I would have asked if you were insane. Later, if you had told me I’d be living with people from many different countries, I would have confessed this to be ideal. I have liked my comforts, a cabin in the woods with a nice kitchen, and friends nearby. I thought, there’s no way I would have given up all these things to live like a foreigner in some other part of the world. But, you guessed it. It all came true.

You, too, can accept change as it comes. Keep your chin up, put one foot in front of the other foot, stay calm, and be patient. Everything will work itself out in time, and you will have a glorious life ahead of you.

Fact: Cuenca is sometimes called Gringolandia for its 10,000 resident ex-pats
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Flying High

Up, Up and Away in My Beautiful Balloon – er, plane. I’m off to the world’s third highest capitol city – Quito, Ecuador – at 9,350 feet. From there, I drop down to Cuenca, Ecuador at 8,400 feet. The big news is I bought a one-way ticket. Yes, I have left Panamá to spend the next two years in Ecuador.

Panamá gave me the joy of traveling, of experiencing a new culture, and a permanent visa with e-cedula (permanent residence card). I will miss all the wonderful friends I made in Boquete. However, I can see them when I return every two years to keep my permanent visa active.

Cuenca’s Cathedral – istockphoto.com

Why two years in Ecuador? Besides the acquisition of a permanent visa, I want to further exercise my goal to travel slowly. Slow is a concept originating with food – the desire for better food cooked well. It has extended to all facets of life, advocating slowing down and experiencing a simpler life. This idea began with Carlo Petrini in Rome when he protested the opening of a new McDonald’s fast food restaurant. The year was 1986. From that protest, the slow movement grew fast.

Central Park – pinterest.com

In the book, In Praise of Slow, Carl Honoré describes the movement as a philosophy which

is a cultural revolution against the notion that faster is always better. The Slow philosophy is not about doing everything at a snail’s pace. It’s about seeking to do everything at the right speed. Savoring the hours and minutes rather than just counting them. Doing everything as well as possible, instead of as fast as possible. It’s about quality over quantity in everything from work to food to parenting.

Tomebamba River Walk – Dreamstime.com

Slow travel is not about traveling from one place to another but immersing into an understanding of a place. How long should this take? There is no answer to the question. Some say a week, others say a month or more. I say six months or more. The real joy of traveling is to have no agenda but to stop and smell the roses. This is my aim for Ecuador. I hope you’ll come along for my slow experiences.


I will begin my stay in Cuenca, the most European city in South America. It has also been called the “Athens of Ecuador,” implying Cuenca is famous for its architecture – churches, cathedrals, cloisters, and homes – and its literary and artistic novelists, poets, and writers. I’m excited to find out for myself why these attributes have been assigned to Cuenca, and you can feel certain I will be sharing these with you.

Fact: Lhasa, Tibet is the highest capital city in the world at 11,995’
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