Updated: Jun 12, 2019
In 2012 we started taking trips to Costa Rica to help us figure out if this is a place we could potentially retire to and be happy. There are three reasons we were looking into this.
1) Life in Costa Rica is simpler and far less materialistic, which is very appealing to us. We don’t need the latest gadget and we have already experienced being a typical American, a collector of stuff that we thought would be neat and nifty. In rural Costa Rica, if you have a horse you are very proud and grateful.
2) The natural beauty of Costa Rica reveals itself everywhere you go. Drive 100 miles and you can find yourself in entirely different surroundings. Beaches, mountains, rain forest and lots of rural simplicity. The Pacific Coast beaches are too hot and humid for our taste, but the weather at Lake Arenal comes from the northeast, from the Caribbean Sea. It loses some of its humidity as it rains in the mountains near La Fortuna and Volcano Arenal. The most appealing geographic area for us is near Puerto San Luis and Tronadora, which is also conveniently close to Tilaran, a large town with most of the food and services you might need to live there. Temperatures here are typically high 60s at 4am and low 80s at 4pm.
3) The cost of living is lower thanks in large part to the low wages earned. A relatively low skilled worker might receive $5 per hour. A skilled tradesman might earn double that. Imported items are more expensive because the country raises a huge percentage of its revenue on import tariffs. Household goods might only be 25% more expensive, but electric tools and batteries can easily be 50% more.
We took trips to Costa Rica for about two weeks each time we visited. We bought a 1+ acre lot in a planned development that looks out to Lake Arenal and procured house plans that allowed us to build a portion of the house as a standalone casita. The goal is, after we become sure of our commitment to live there at least half time, we can complete the rest of the house. We intend to rent out the casita whether we are there or not.
For us, we could not afford to have two homes and only live in one and yet we were about to add another, a tiny studio apartment on wheels, a Class B RV.
I took my wife Kathy to the local Airstream dealership and showed her the Interstate Grand Tour. Her light bulb went on and we both thought, sure... we could do this. We could have fun making this work and go on adventure trips. There was an amazing amount of storage in that tiny space.
Kathy absolutely loves the thought of being a minimalist, and I had once spent three months crossing the country on a bicycle with everything I needed on board the bike (that was 42 years and 100 pounds ago). I have also backpacked a lot as a lad, so I know how to pack and prioritize only what I need and yet still be self-sufficient.
We started talking about how little we would need to have to be on the road traveling full time. We could rent out our townhouse, live in the van while in the US, and spend the rest of our time getting to know life in Costa Rica. And why not? The only thing stopping us (or you) from executing a dream is the decision to make it happen. I didn’t want us to be sitting in our recliners 20 years later saying, gee, we could have done that….
Soon after that visit to the dealership, I was watching the used vehicle market online to get a feel for the values of lightly used models. I even looked on Ebay for possibilities and found one that I liked in Louisiana that was low miles that no one was bidding on. I put in a very low bid and then told Kathy what I had done. But don’t worry, I said, we won’t get it because the Reserve amount had not been met and surely someone else will snap it up.
I researched the vehicle’s Carfax information and corresponded with the owner. It all checked out… it was a deal we could trust. Well, trust enough to fly down there with a check and see it in person. I raised my bid and the Reserve value was met. “Oops”.... I told Kathy about it... “but don’t worry”, I said, “we probably still won’t get it. But if we do, the price will be low enough that we could use it for a season and, if we didn’t like it, if we concluded we could not live in it, we can sell it for more than we paid”.
It was late May. The next morning I couldn’t sleep... the auction was about to end… it was 5am Pacific Time… no one else bid. 3,2,1,...we won the auction. Oh, crap! Now, my wife likes to sleep, but I couldn’t stand it any longer. “Hey Kathy, you want the good news or the bad news?” She replied with an insinuating tone, “What did you dooo?” “Well the good news is we won the Ebay auction for the RV. The bad news is… how soon can you be ready to fly to Louisiana” ?
48 hours later we arrived in Houston, rented a car for a one-way trip to Lake Charles Louisiana to see and check out our “new home”, cashier’s check in hand. We got a one hour overview of how the systems work (it should have been 2-3 hours!), and off we went on a ten day trip back to Oregon.
What a great trip back. We quickly identified Texas as a great place to be from. Sorry y’all. We got to briefly experience the cultural beauty of Santa Fe, New Mexico… Durango and Silverton, Colorado… the boring expanse of NE Utah… then the more familiar surroundings of southern Idaho and Eastern Oregon. Later that summer and fall, we ended up taking about six short trips in the RV to get a feel for living in less 100 square feet. The conclusion? We still felt we could pull it off.
Soon it was December 2017 and there we were in our casita in Costa Rice for five weeks, the longest period of time we had spent there. We loved it and wanted to stay longer. We had spoken of wanting to eventually live there half the time and half the time in the US. This would be difficult for us... it would be too expensive to maintain two homes and only live in one at a time. We needed a solution… and in a way, we now sort of had a third home in the form of a white tin can.
Soon after we returned, in January 2018, we were sitting in our comfortable and terrific townhouse where we can gaze at the birds in the forest and walk to the grocery store, post office, and several restaurants and beer joints. Why would we want to leave?