There isn’t a soul who knows me that wouldn’t agree that I greatly appreciate living comfortably. I mean, we all do to some extent, but some of us need it a little more. I’m of the latter. My home is my sanctuary, and be it large or small, it needs to have the sense of comfort I am used to.
By living comfortably I don’t mean it in the literal sense of a nice couch, or a large house. I mean the overall comforts of life; strong structure, good weather, the limitations of strange bugs, the prospect of serenity and the convenience of central shopping. Pretty much in that order.
I’ve been lucky living my entire life in Southern California, because bugs, and weather aren’t a huge issue, and shopping is literally everywhere. Serenity I’ve found is something you need to find on your own, and location won’t always provide it, but it helps. Realistically I know my days are potentially numbered for retiring here in my little comfort zone of South County. My HOA fees will probably keep going up, and with the cost of groceries, and utilities inflating as they have, I would probably get by, but that could be about it. Travel would be limited, especially to my favorite place; the Caribbean. And by numbered, I mean I probably have a good ten more years, and I understand that a lot can happen in that span of time, but that doesn’t stop me from keeping my eyes peeled for new and possible locations to rest what feels sometimes like, my already-getting-weary bones.
Plus I’m a planner. If I’m not creating spreadsheets, I’m creating plans. Even those a decade away.
In another lifetime I considered living on the road for a good portion of the year; Camp hosting seemed an ideal way to be able to travel and see so much of the U.S.. But that was another life, with a partner that no longer exists, and strangely as that relationship faded, so did the appeal of that lifestyle. I’d still like to see those parts of the U.S. that I’ve missed, but maybe not living out of a box on wheels. We also looked at the idea of becoming an ex-Pat somewhere friendly and welcoming to Americans, and that idea has magically been tucked away as a possibility.
And it blossomed.
My childhood friend and I both being single, and singularly obsessed with aging alone, bally back and forth different ideas and locations. I think it’s almost unspoken that one of us will care for the other if it’s ever needed. Add to that the fact that both of us are a tiny bit obsessed about retirement, her definitely moreso than me.
When the conversation turns to this, I tend to think of it as our Chicken Little phases. She is running around calling out that the “Sky is falling, the sky is falling!” and I am Henny Penny, trying to keep her grounded. She’ll get her mind set on one location, and no sooner does she convince me that this place is ideal for the two of us to grow old, living next door to one another, then she goes off and finds a new location. I laugh because I have to, or my frustration at her inability to freaking pick a place would drive me nuts. The truth is her antics are like watching a child chasing a butterfly. I picture her mind running from one part of her imagination to the other chasing these ideas. I suspect at times it’s just fodder for her, so I’m careful not to take much of it to heart, but it did get me thinking, “What IS my criteria for retirement living?”
The first thing that comes to mind isn’t so much what I want, but what I don’t want.
All I ever hear is how someone of an older age has slipped on a patch of ice and broken a hip. The next thing you know, Death is knocking on their door. I honestly still don’t know exactly why the hip is related to death – I assume it somehow leads to pneumonia from being bedridden for too long, but I could be wrong. All I know is that a slippery icey walkway is not going to be the death of me. I have to remind her of that every time she mentions a place with snow.
This crossed several locations off her list that actually sounded quite nice. Mountainous areas of Arizona. The beauty of Idaho. Even a few areas of Oregon. Of course it pretty much wipes all of the Mid-West and East Coast off the list, but truth be told they were never really contenders anyway.
I guess following that, affordability is pretty high on the list. I’d like to be able to sell my place, and take my retirement and live comfortably. As much as I’d like to afford to cruise or travel six months out of the year, I never planned for that financially in my earlier years, so I’ll take a nice place that affords me a decent vacation annually.
I’ve lived within 25 minutes of the beach nearly all of my life, and I’ve almost accepted the fact that this little piece of criteria might not be viable. It saddens me with the realities, but it is, what it is. So if possible, I’d like to stay near water. River, lake, ocean or sea – doesn’t matter all that much to me. Just give me water, simple, sweet, water.
I’d also like something warm, but — with lower humidity. That last part throws Florida off the list. After spending a week in San Juan last week, I was reminded I acclimate to humidity pretty fast, but to live there I’d probably need to shave my head. My head simply doesn’t adjust like the rest of me does, and with my already baby fine hair, I end up with damp locks stuck to my scalp for a good portion of the day. It limits the wearing of hats because of the horrible hat head I get. Hats are something I can’t wait to invest in when I retire. I suspect hats will be the new heels for my senior years. Humidity + Hats = No Bueno for this gal.
Humidity also limits living on a cruise ship just in case I happen to hit the lottery. The planned climate aboard the ships is too high in humidity for me, throwing my sweat glands into overdrive sometimes just for simply eating too fast. OK maybe not eating too fast, but I swear my head was in humidity limbo for a week on that ship.
Have I mentioned how much I hate to sweat?
So I have a lot of places crossed off my list, and nothing really on it firmly.
I mentioned being in San Juan last week; it was a precursor to a cruise I was getting ready to go on (hence the reason I also know that the climate conditions on a ship are too clammy for me too). We were hitting a couple of islands I had already been to; St. Thomas & St. Kitts, and a few islands I hadn’t yet; Barbados, St. Lucia and Antigua.
Now I haven’t done crazy extensive travel around the Caribbean like a lot of my friends, but I’ve done enough to sort of get a feel for what I like and what I don’t. Wait let me rephrase that. You’d sort of be crazy to not like anything in the Caribbean– so I guess I should say what I love and what I qualify as “a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.”. Top of my list after visiting last year was Aruba. The beaches are beautiful, it’s contemporary and clean — and it’s also very, very expensive. On a catamaran excursion I was on last year, in talking with one of the native guys helping run the bar he compared it to living in New York City, where for $800USD you get a 350 sqf apartment – and that’s lucky living. So Aruba became the favorite “Nice place to visit, but I couldn’t afford to live there.”
I also watch enough HGTV International, and Beach House Living and whatever other names they come up with to show the real estate in most island and coastal countries. Beach front living is doable in many places, but I’m always amazed when someone says they have $150,000 and then a list of must-haves as long as their arm. Generally speaking they get rarely get what they want. I like to think I’m more realistic on what my dollar will get me.
If those same househunters had shopped for property in Antigua, that list might have been met.
I hit the island last week; one of the stops mentioned above. We had a group excursion planned, with about 60 of us; 20 to a bus. Each bus had a sort of guide, so to speak. Ours also happened to be our bartender/BBQ cook/comedian – basically he headed up our excursion to Ffryes Beach (double ff is how it’s spelled). While one woman talked his ear off, my friend and I attempted to throw a question at him here and there when we could get a word in; asking about the locals, and the cost of living, whether or not there were large grocery stores. We joked about there being no Target’s on the island. Of course the answers were pat on. Low crime, low housing, etc. Who is going to say their city is a crime infestation with inflated property levels when leading a group of 20 people that you are trying to sell the city on? Basic housing was $80k USD for a 2 bed/1 ba.. Okay not too bad. We asked as we got closer to the water, “What about this one? Wood vs concrete? Water view vs water living?” He stayed pretty consistent.
The areas we were seeing were honestly pretty rustic, but they were right on a busy(ish) highway. Some a little more decayed than others. Most looked pretty sturdy and when he saw we were truly interested in island living he explained how each house is built with steel beams in each corner that the roof is built into, so that with high hurricane gusts, the winds would have to pick the entire house up to get the roof off. He was right about not seeing one dilapidated home with a missing roof. The area was very lush with greenery. Each place we saw, mansion or shack had immediate potential if you knew how to look at it.
For the record, I could totally see myself as the Chip & Joanna of Antigua. 😉
Then we climbed over the green hill and you saw the selling point. Sugar fine sands and turquoise waters. Ffryes Beach. We all tumbled out of the bus, and I saw this wasn’t the rockin’ tourist beach that so many of the islands had. They had a small mom & pop bar set up for these cruise excursions. No fighting amongst the locals for business. It’s a popular beach, but still with some sense of serenity. They still had the beach vendors, selling beads and baubles, braids and massages, but it didn’t have the constant swarm of them like some of the beaches have had. These were friendlier versions, that seemed to be working together, not against one another.
I loved it.
The beach backed up to a small forest of swaying palm trees, while the shoreline had an area with this beautiful embedded natural driftwood, looking like it was planted there for the specific purpose of art. The water that lapped at your feet was a coolish-warm. Not so warm as San Juan (which isn’t a good thing btw, but for another blog), refreshing without being cold. And to the left a structure was built into the side of the hill that we initially mistook as a possible small resort. It was newer, and without being close enough to confirm, it looked pretty modern. Lots of windows and balconies all facing the water.
We asked our guide Von after he finished barbequing us a nice lunch, about the structure and he explained to us that it was a condo, and that several behind us were going up. We asked what he estimated the price on these to be, and he said about $150k USD. It was hard to believe that price, but later back on the ship we met another couple who had gone on the island looking at properties for retirement, and showed us a comparable house (not condo) on the beach for $200k. I think Von could have been spot on with his pricing.
All of a sudden this tiny spark that started out as a joke, became an itsy bitsy flame of reality.
The breezes – which I imagine could turn into gusts by the way the beach umbrellas were picked up from time to time, kept the island from too much humidity. It was definitely affordable. It was a place that would offer me the peace that I wanted. I wouldn’t have my Target to go shopping at, but would you trade paradise for shopping? (No, I mean really, as a shopping addict, would you?) I imagined myself there finally getting serious about my writing, taking walks on the beach, and finally learning to snorkel without panicking first. Vacations could be puddle jumpers to any of the handful of nearby islands.
Now the realities do intermingle with the fantasy. First and foremost is living that far away from my children. In ten years a lot could occur. I could have a slew of grandchildren that have old granny absolutely wrapped around their little fingers, making it completely impossible for me to leave them. Second, is Hurricanes. I mean, I’ve heard stories. While they don’t scare me as much as the idea of tornadoes, they are still pretty fierce. Third, really should be first, and that is understanding island living. You’d be taking my family and friends and placing them on the backburner. Could I realistically do this? It would be hard.
If this fantasy were to come to fruition, I wouldn’t jump on a plane and simply buy. I don’t know for sure if I would do that anywhere, be it Las Vegas, or Antigua. I started this off stating that I have lived in the same region for nearly my entire life. Before I make a jump like this, I’d test drive it. I’d live there for an extended period – a rental I imagine, and see if those bumps that I am aware of are manageable, and moreso; those bumps I am not aware of are even more manageable.
But I’m telling you, if I have the nerve, the gumption to actually ever make this a reality – if the idea of island fever doesn’t scare me off, I know the first house I’m going to be looking at purchasing.