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Your Escape Blueprint

“Follow your Bliss” Joseph Campbell used to say – but I never really understood what he meant until now. I guess “You have to live to know it”.

Today Yvonne and I travel the globe full time – often in luxury –  for less than it used to cost us to stay at home and work for a living.

In 2011 we felt overworked, stressed and were often not very happy.

We knew we wanted to travel the world, but didn’t know how to escape. Neither of us were fortunate enough to be born with a silver spoon in hand and our budget wasn’t going to get us very far (or afford many creature comforts).

When Yvonne discovered Housesitting, we  knew we had found a way. Perhaps we could pull it off after all? We soon realized that we now had a plan that would allow us to retire early and travel full time in a financially sustainable manner (without having to eat 2 minutes noodles and live in Backpacker Hostels).

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What I didn’t know when we crafted our Escape Blueprint, was how much this journey would change our lives.

I worked as a mechanical engineer  for almost 20 years. A lot of time and effort went into building this “Identity” of being an “Engineer”. First there was five years of university training, followed by 20 years of equally hard work. Giving up this identity proved very difficult to do.

Yvonne and I experienced many of the trappings of success and yes, I often did feel trapped. Despite the success, I did not always find my work particularly satisfying.

I felt restless and anxious.

Something was missing.

I felt as if I was meant to do something different. However for many years I simply bottled up my discontent, until the cork popped! I had to do something different.

“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”

Mark Twain

For me the journey to the “day” I discovered why I was born was long and twisty, in fact the journey may never end. Everybody’s path is different. However I believe the journey is often an inward one, at least it was for me.

The process of finding “my purpose”, first involved discovering and acknowledging my natural talents and abilities. Those talents and abilities that come naturally. The ones where time stands still because of the shear enjoyment of using them.

It would appear to me that the key living to a fulfilling life, is to find a way of enriching the lives of others by using our natural talents. Or in other words finding the most appropriate venue in which to apply them. Think of it this way…….. even if you are driving the correct vehicle you may be driving down the wrong road.

I think the reason Yvonne and I find housesitting so rewarding is that it allows us to share our natural abilities with our housesitting clients – a venue that suits us to a ‘T’.

Both Yvonne and I have the same love of travel and experiencing new cultures. We both love animals. We both love being of service.  I can use my problem solving skills and Yvonne her coordination and hospitality talents.

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For the past four years Yvonne I have been on a fantastic adventure. We have house sat in Europe, Central America, and the Caribbean. We have met many wonderful people, wonderful pets and lived in fantastic locations.

I feel blessed that I’m able to share my abilities with others. This arrangement gives homeowners peace of mind while they’re away and allows Yvonne and I to travel the world in a fashion we would otherwise not be able to afford. It allows us to “Follow our Bliss”.

These days we fill our time doing the things we truly enjoy. We are not working long hours to maintain an expensive materialistic lifestyle. Our time and agenda is our own.

We were able to mobilize and break free of the trappings of success, in spite of our fear of the unknown and the “need” to acquire more and more stuff. We were able to step out of the mold, live sustainably and make a positive difference in others lives by doing what we love.

“People are not really afraid of dying; they’re afraid of not ever having lived, not ever having deeply considered their life’s higher purpose, and not ever having stepped into that purpose and at least tried to make a difference in this world.”  ~Joe Jaworski

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Even though we travel full time, we don’t consider our life as a full time vacation, we do actually do some work. Which is why we decided to splurge on a recent break between house sits. We were already in Barbados and wanted to get off island and explore, therefore I went to one of my favorite ‘dreaming’ sites, Vacations to Go. This site lists cruise lines and itineraries worldwide, including relocation cruises, last minute deals and is a perfect place to find out what is available. A short search bought up a number of options all departing from Barbados. Cheapest on the list was a 7 night Caribbean cruise with ‘Carnival’ the price was tempting but the cruise lines reputation had us debating whether this would be for us. The second ‘really’ tempting option was with the Star Clipper line, it was well out of our budget but the whole concept of actually sailing not just cruising on a five masted clipper had us intrigued. Further investigation revealed this was the vessel we ‘oohed’ over when we saw it in dry dock in Martinique last year.

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We mulled it over, ran the numbers and mulled it over some more, before phoning Vacations to Go to get the full picture. Like many cruise lines port fees and taxes are an additional charge, however because it was a late booking the line was making the deal even sweeter by giving two nights accommodation and breakfast at the Accra Beach hotel in Barbados and a cabin credit of US$175 per person. We ran the numbers again and could not resist as the credit would pretty much eliminate all those nasty charges that add up on traditional cruise lines, like bar bill, excursions and gratuities. We splurged and booked a week on the Royal Clipper, departing Barbados, January 23, 2016. The countdown was on……… this was going to be fun.

Boarding started at 4pm and our hostess kindly delivered us to the terminal around 4.30pm. We strolled into the terminal, found the Star Clipper pennant, checked in and handed over our bags. We were then free to stroll across the dock and pose for a few photographs before mounting the gangway. After being personally welcomed on board by the Captain, handed a towel for refreshing ourselves and a glass of rum punch, we were shown to our tiny but well equipped cabin. Then, too excited to do anything else, we went exploring, the Royal Clipper is a beauty!

The sundeck hosts three small pools, loungers and a small bar, the lower deck holds more loungers and seating plus the larger covered Tropical Bar, the entrance to the indoor Piano Bar and the Atrium, the Clippers main dining area. After figuring out the basic layout of the ship and meeting some equally delighted fellow passengers, we returned to our cabin to get ready for dinner. With only 200 passengers on board there are no strict seating times and no formal table assignments. The maître d sits guests as they arrive at tables ranging from 2 to 8, so you can choose to eat alone, arrive with friends or make new friends each evening.

The service, the food and our dinner companions were all wonderful, as was the very reasonably priced wine list. Primarily the Royal Clipper is a sailing vessel, unless weather dictates otherwise we sail. “Sail away” was at 10pm. Imagine sailing out of Barbados under a full moon, champagne in hand and this music stirring your souls………. The atmosphere on deck was electric, as each sail unfurled a gentle cheer rose from the crowd. With grins fit to split our faces, we stood arm in arm, necks craned as the gentle breeze filled the sails and set us on our journey.

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The first full day on the Royal Clipper is the Captains choice, giving him the freedom to take advantage of wind, weather and whim. He took us to Chatham Bay on Union Island for a day of snorkeling (loads of fish, plus puffers, lobsters and two species of moray eels), sunbathing and our first attempt at stand up paddle boarding. It is of course harder than it looks, we both did actually manage to stand up, yet sadly not long enough for photographic evidence. We finished off the day with one of those elusive green flash sunsets, before meeting two very fun guys at dinner. Just another ASDIP day (Another Sunny Day in Paradise).

Day 2 on the Royal Clipper started with a splash! We were tucking into breakfast when we saw a fat sleek body leap next to the porthole! Yep! Dolphins! We dashed up on deck and watched entranced as a pod of 8 or 10 played in front of the bow. Very few of our fellow passengers knew they were there, with no crowds lining the rails we were delighted to be able to catch them on film.

The Royal Clipper has a handy little mini deck on either side of the forward deck overlooking the prow and waterline. It was the perfect viewing point from which to marvel at their agility and playfulness.

After our Dolphin fix, we took advantage of our day in Grenada and met our new housesitting clients. They treated us to lunch on Grand Anse Beach and then took us ‘home’ to meet our newest charge Spare and to check out our home for 6 weeks beginning this April. Our hosts then returned us to quayside and we headed back onboard for a little chilling in preparation for dancing to a visiting Steel Band. Day 3 of cruising took us to The Tobago Cays, home of stunning reefs, sea in every shade of blue, turtles and famous as one of the filming locations for Pirates of the Caribbean. It took no stretch of the imagination to envisage Jack Sparrow rowing himself ashore. We had a lazy beach day, unlike the kitchen staff that set up everything for a complete BBQ lunch on a tiny little beach, including cold drinks, burgers, chicken, ribs and tasty treats for dessert. We could get used to this…………………………… Royal Clipper-77


Tonight was party night, we jumped right into the ‘name that song’ contest complete with Karaoke and dancing (not easy when the deck is tilting first this way……. and then the other……. we were having so much fun the flying fish were jumping on board to join us. St Vincent and Bequia were our ports of call on Day 4. We passed on exploring St Vincent’s trails and gardens and spent the morning chilling on deck. Michael took this opportunity to climb the traditional rope ladder up to the crow’s nest on the main mast for a birds eye view and a unique photo opportunity. In the afternoon, we visited friends in Bequia and caught the last tender back to the Clipper at dusk. We had a fun night with new friends at the Piano Bar before heading down to dinner in search of a table for 8. Look carefully at the photo and note the ceiling…. That is the bottom of the largest pool on the upper deck, it’s kind of creepy to look up and see people in there. Royal Clipper-38

Day 5 was spent at the oh so chic French island of Martinique. We docked at Fort de France, where we got a true comparison of how small the Clipper is compared to traditional Cruise ships. (Disney’s Wonder is our neighbor in this photo). We went for a leisurely stroll around town before heading back for a sail up the coast and a beach afternoon.

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Tonight is also the traditional ‘Captains Dinner’, steak and lobster were on the menu and guess who was invited to join the Captain at his table? Yes us! We met the Captain and fellow honored guests for champagne and canapes in the Piano Bar, before being escorted down to a very special table. Captain Maruisz is a charming gentleman and planted a few ideas for our next Clipper Cruise (Asia perhaps). The time has flown by and today Day 6 is our last full day on the Royal Clipper, what better way to end a fantastic week than sailing under the Pitons in St Lucia?

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We were up with first light to catch a glimpse of this dramatic island as we sailed in. With the Clipper anchored just outside of Marigot Bay, we took the first tender in and hiked up the hill to visit housesitting clients and now friends, before heading back to enjoy the sail to Soufriere. We spent the afternoon relaxing and chatting with new acquaintances and waiting for our departure, as we would be sailing past the Pitons. Once the last passengers were back on board, the Captain decided that this was a great opportunity for the photographers onboard. The demand was high, two tenders bristling with passengers and cameras pulled away. Both tenders shadowed us as one by one, the sails unfurled. We sailed slowly and majestically towards the Pitons on a mirrored sea with the setting sun tinting the sails in gold, peach and pink.

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I kept one camera behind and snapped images of the onboard action, sails unfurling, some of the crew getting on and off the bowsprit to wave at the tenders and the tenders against the Pitons. Michael snapped away from his tender, capturing the steady increase in sail and the stunning backdrop. The results are the highlights of this collection of our favorite shots Flickr Gallery of the Royal Clipper.

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It is our final evening and there is a subdued but frantic atmosphere at dinner–Subdued because none of us want this to be over and frantic because it is the last night to snap those pictures and find out how to stay connected with new friends. Despite early departures for some, we stay up late, chatting, reminiscing and promising that we will be back. We will join the ranks of those who have sailed on the Clippers 2, 4 or even 16 times. Day 7, we are back, dockside in Barbados and it’s time to leave. We are among the last to disembark, we descend the stairs with heavy hearts, yet happy that we chose to ‘splurge’ on this particular cruise. The experience is like no other, it is not just the sailing, the small amount of passengers and a small crew makes it intimate, friendly and unique. We are forever spoiled, the ‘cattle boat’ style of cruising most lines offer will be difficult to go back to, if we ever do. ….. then with great pomp and dignity the sails were unfurled one by one. The champagne flowed and cameras clicked. Michael took photos from the tender and Yvonne from onboard, giving us a unique perspective on what has to be every photographers dream……….. a 5 masted clipper in full sail under the Pitons. This perfect day ended with drinks and dinner with new friends and the vow to sail with the Clipper line again.

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As nomadic wanderers, we have spent a few Christmases away from home, the food and traditions vary, yet there are common factors in every culture.

We spent Christmas 2015 in Barbados. Although far from family and friends, we did not experience the cold hotel style of a typical Christmas vacation. We were fortunate to experience firsthand how some of the local Bajans celebrate the holidays.

Tropical SnowmanTo get into the Christmas spirit, we participated in what is now an annual tradition and attended ‘Carols at the Abbey’. St Nicholas Abbey hosts a special fundraiser each year. The police band provides the music and in between the crowds Carol singing efforts, local artists step in to sing their favorites. Traditional nibbles such as mince pies and sausage rolls are on hand as is a bar with all proceeds going to the hospital. Guests can also bring a wrapped gift for one of the islands less fortunate children. It was a fun few hours and we were able to support two very good causes.

Like elsewhere in the world the shopping frenzy builds. The peak is on Christmas Eve, roads were clogged, supermarkets packed and (rumor has it) the police had to be called in to calm down some shoppers fighting over decorated slab cakes. With no demands on our time, any big meals to cook or mountains of presents to buy, we spent the day at the beach and avoided the chaos!

 

DSC_0130Although relative strangers to Barbados we already had invitations for Christmas Eve and for Christmas Day. Our neighbors had invited us to join them for their family’s traditional formal dinner featuring roast suckling pig. Intrigued we gladly accepted and were warmly invited in. The long table immaculately clad in antique linens, fine china, sparkling crystal and candelabras was a feast in itself. Dominating the further end of the room was a ‘Bajan’ Christmas tree. Although imported pines are available here, this family had made its own. Every year they ride around the property picking out choice branches from the local casuarina trees, they are then tied together to create a Xmas tree. The finished product may not always resemble a pine tree in shape but the delicate frond like branches make a great backdrop for the fun part ……… adding myriads of colored lights, baubles and garlands.

Like all good celebrations, people gathered in the kitchen. As the pork was being carved, the crackling was disappearing as fast as it was ready. Once our hostess was ready we sat down to pumpkin fritters, aubergine pie, potato soufflé, pepper pot, melt in the mouth pork and mushroom gravy. Wow, it was a treat for the taste buds as was the moist ‘fruit cake’ served after.

We were deeply touched and a little embarrassed, to be included in the families gift giving, as we had no gifts to give in return, just our heartfelt thanks. We wandered home full of great food and gratitude for an evening of such Christmas cheer and tradition.

Christmas Day dawned with two invitations, the first was a visit to a friend’s home for a few nibbles and some Christmas cheer. We arrived to find a home full of immediate family, in laws, cousins, aunts, uncles and friends, all greeting us with welcoming hugs and handshakes. Little did we know that we were going to be treated to yet another feast. The star of this show was the traditional ham and the pepper pot (our hostess has a reputation to uphold for her great pepper pot) and it was worthy of its reputation, meats slow cooked for days with cassareep and spices. Everyone helped themselves and then balanced loaded plates on knees or wherever they could find a handy spot. In the midst of this, others popped in to drop off gifts and share quick hugs before heading out again. Although reluctant to leave these friendly Bajans we dragged ourselves away as we had one more meal to attend.

After heading home for a quick nap, we were off once again to another part of the island and another friends gathering. This was an adult only dinner, with guests from all corners of the globe including some Swedes escaping their cold winters. Once again, we all congregated in the kitchen before sitting down to our hosts specialty of roasted chicken, macaroni pie and corn pie, accompanied with roasted squash, veggies and gravy. The conversation flowed as readily as the wine, crackers were pulled, silly jokes shared and yes those embarrassing paper hats donned.

We have celebrated Christmas in Canada, England, Belize, the Philippines and now Barbados. This year will stand out as the one where we were welcomed in as (relative) strangers yet left as friends. All of our host’s hospitality, generosity and the acceptance shown by their family and friends bring home the true spirit of Christmas.

Thank you Barbados

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The Truth About Blogging!

As you drool over the photos of faraway places, or relax and dream over picturesque descriptions. Do you wish you were there, leading the same life as your favorite blogger? The reality, as so eloquently pointed out by Wandering Earl recently can often be far from the truth. It seems that not all bloggers, are actually living the lifestyle they write so avidly about. Some of them rarely leave home, spend hours slaving away on their computers to make a few bucks, and never even visit the places they write about.

Although we are not really a travel blog– more about lifestyle choices—we wanted to share the truth about our lifestyle. All of it…………….. the good, the bad and the ugly.

Don’t worry, you won’t be gasping in horror of tales of spending 18 hours a day in crummy hostels, slaving on our computers to make a few bucks. Or living on toast and two minute noodles so we can afford our next airfare.

The reality is that the stories here are true; we do live a dream lifestyle, often in luxury villas in exotic destinations. We also did quit the rat race at 44 and 53. We were able to do that not because we are millionaires, inherited money or won the lottery but because we worked hard for years. We also spent our money wisely—instead of buying big fancy houses and toys—we lived within our means and bought and paid for our house in record time.

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You see although we have a blog and have spent hours on it, it costs us more to run than we make on it. True, we only have a small following and could make a little more if we put ads on it and spent more time promoting it. The truth is that a lucrative and successful blog takes years of hard work, before it takes off, if it ever does. It’s a bit like being a professional football player, you have to have talent, lots of hard work and a whole lot of luck.

When we set out to become roving retirees our monthly income came from having full time tenants in our home in BC. and the majority still does. We started our blog primarily to inspire other would be retirees and allow family and friends to keep track of what is going on in our lives.

Six months into our travels, we realized that–due to factors beyond our control– our forecasted cash flow was short. To keep traveling in the style we preferred we needed to do something, not only to earn a little extra but also to keep our brains active. Instead of finding jobs, or trying to promote our blog, we decided to work on what we wanted to work on and turned our hobbies into cash. Yvonne started travel writing and Michael started selling some of his photography.

Yvonne’s first articles were for International Living and we developed good relationships with the editors. This in due course led to the co-production of ‘The Ultimate Housesitters Guide’. Still in its first year the Guide, although maybe not a bestseller, is a success, as the extra income has filled the shortfall. With these two sources of income, we can say we are ‘retired’, because we only work when we want to, not because we have to, which to us, is the definition of retirement.

Even with this extra income, it is not all a bed of roses; we do live on a budget. Even on a budget, we have visited over 30 countries and lived in Tuscan farmhouses, Spanish casitas, French vineyards and Caribbean villas. We have also lived in student housing in Grenada, vacation rentals, the occasional grotty hotel and yes even the folks basement suite.

We live and live well on around CAD $2000 per month. Our budget stretches to include the occasional fun thing like scuba diving or catamaran sailing trips, or going out to the impromptu jamming session at a local bar. However, we don’t have unlimited funds and we do carefully consider what we spend. Which means that we don’t do all the fun things that we could do, such as visiting all the tourist attractions in Barbados and we can only dream of a future trip to the Galapagos islands.

What this does mean, is that we won’t tell stories of places we haven’t been to, or of things we haven’t done. What you do find here is the truth and the truth is that we have made more money from publishing our first kindle books than we have made from our blog. What this means is that if we have been quiet for a little while, it’s because we have been busy working away on a new book project.

This is also the first year we have done repeat housesits, which is why there have been no new country stories either, we are hanging out in St Vincent and the Grenadines again. Don’t despair we will keep on with our blog, but as with all bloggers the truth is it can get pretty boring slaving over a keyboard. However, we get a real kick when we hear from readers who have been inspired by our tales and adventures. So keep those comments coming, otherwise we will be out at the beach.

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Check out our first Kindle eBook to find out how we managed to ‘Retire in 5 Years or Less

 

 

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Dream Big – Live Large

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Jane and Duncan Dempster-Smith are fellow nomadic retirees, travelers, housesitters and co-founders of To Travel Too. Like many of us they love finding ways to make that travel budget stretch further. They were kind enough to share with us how they reduce most travelers’ biggest expense, flights!

Jane and Duncan

How we saved 60% on Airfares from Mexico to Nicaragua

Out of the blue we were gifted a House Sitting Assignment in Granada, Nicaragua  starting on the 30th September 2015. Good timing as we would be finishing another House Sitting Assignment in Puerta Vallarta the day before.  The question we asked ourselves was ‘Could we make the assignment viable from a cost perspective?’ as we know that flights in and around Central America can be quite expensive.

Maybe this would throw quite a lot of you into a mild panic, what to do and how to get there at a reasonable cost that won’t blow out the advantages of this 15 night House Sitting Assignment.

It was time to kick into planning mode!

First, we determined our budget for flights. If we could find airfares that were equal to or less than 15 nights accommodation in Granada, it was a viable assignment.

We searched for centrally located accommodation in Granada, Nicaragua and found Hotel El Almirante that was about US $44.00 per night – over the 15 night period that would come to US $660.00.

Our challenge was to get airfares lower than USD660.00 to make it all worthwhile.  Did we achieve it?  Check out our table below.

Please note that included in our figures is one night’s accommodation in the transit points of either Mexico City, Guatemala City or San Jose, Costa Rica – average costs between US $30-40.There are many ways of searching for the lowest airfares for your travels.

Option 1:  Carrier Aeromexico  and routed from Puerta Vallarta via Mexico City to Managua, Nicaragua = US $ 1462

Option 2:  Using search engines Google Flights and Cheapoair flying Interjet from Puerta Vallarta to Mexico City then Aeromexico from Mexico City to Managua, Nicaragua = US $1202

Option 3:  Using search engines Interjet, Skyscanner and edreams flying Interjet from Puerta Vallarta Mexico City then Avianca/Taca – Mexico City to Managua, Nicaragua  = US $ 1056

Option 4:  Searching Interjet/  Tripsta/Copa flying Interjet from Puerta Vallarta to Guatemala City via Mexico City then Copa Airlines from Guatemala City to Managua, Nicaragua = US $ 1029

Final search and choice was found through Interjet and Nature Air, flying Interjet from Puerta Vallarta via Mexico City to San Jose, Costa Rica, then Nature Air – San Jose, Costa Rica to Managua, Nicaragua = US $584

The difference between the highest and the lowest quote was US $ 878 which is a saving of 60%

Here are a few of our tips and tricks we used in this exercise:

  • Be flexible with your dates of travel, check websites such as Google Flights.  You can view a month of airfares at one time for your destination
  • Searching for flights used to be cheaper on a Tuesday or Wednesday, but these days we recommend checking four times a day a few weeks prior to travel, longer for international.
  • Early morning, late evening and travelling mid-week tends to have the cheapest options
  • Search for flights in a new browser each time, or clear your cookies just before booking
  • Use whichbudget a site particularly useful for booking budget airlines and cheap tickets.  We also searched direct with Spirit Airlines who have an  extensive network from the US around Central America but the flights were fully booked on the day that we needed to fly
  • Be flexible in your destination, budget airlines will fly into non major airports which can save you money, but check the ground transport costs to compare with flying into the major airport
  • Look at different search engines e.g. Skyscanner, Tripsta and Google Flights just to name a few, but there are many more out there
  • Sign up for airfare alerts such as airfarewatchdog and search engine alerts
  • Use Yapta – for tracking flights and hotel prices, if you find your airfare has dropped within 24 hours of booking you may be able to receive a refund on your airfare depending on the airline.  Yapta also provides instant price drop alerts.
  • Check the airline direct for promotional fares
  • Sign up to the airline’s twitter and facebook pages – there are times when they release special airfares for a short period via their social media networks
  • Check flying with two different airlines to your destination, it can work out cheaper than using just the one
  • Join the Airline’s Frequent Flyer programs
  • Look at return airfares, sometimes these can be cheaper than one way fares, sounds crazy but it happens

If this is all too much for you, let us assist you in your travel planning, click on our To Travel Too Planning Services and choose from the a la carte services offered.

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Jane and Duncan Dempster-Smith are Co-Founders of To Travel Too.  Jane and Duncan offer advice to Baby Boomers on how to get off the treadmill and make a dent in that travel bucket list.  Their experience in downsizing/empty nesting can assist Baby Boomers to take the first step to travel longer term. They offer strategies on how to travel on a budget and how to ‘chase time not money’.  As part of their travel strategy, they use House Sitting assignments locally and internationally, which allows them to travel longer, slower and to enjoy living like locals in areas that they had not considered before.

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Postscript

Thanks for sharing Jane & Duncan. There are a few sites that we hadn’t used before, we will be checking them from now on.  

We have one other tip to add after reading this article, about the varying results found on Macs and PC’s . Apparently, Mac users will find higher quotes. Interesting! Check out this article.

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Here are the 10 amazing places we have lived rent free during the past 3 years (in chronological order).

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Tuscany,  Italy, a beautifully restored home, with 300 degree views of the surrounding hills and valleys.

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Chiclana de la Frontera, Spain, spacious comfortable villa and private pool.

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Vailhauquès, South of France, life on a vineyard complete with complimentary bottles of wine.

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Chertsey, England during the 2012 London Olympics, 15th century beauty with Figgy our favorite cat.

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Boquete, Panama near a popular expat community with amazing views of Volcan Baru

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San Jose, Costa Rica, luxury itself! Including a live in maid.

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Placencia, Belize, 12 miles of beach and super friendly locals.

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Teakettle, Belize, in the middle of the jungle with howler monkeys our nearest neighbors.

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Marigot Bay, St Lucia, a luxury villa overlooking the bay complete with infinity pool.

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Bequia,  St. Vincent & the Grenadines, this tiny island showcases the un-spoilt Caribbean of 20 years ago.

All of our top ten places were housesits!

If living in places like these interests you  – sign up for our newsletter and receive a complimentary copy of our housesitting report to find out how it is done!

Dream Big – Live Large

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We first met Carolyn Speers while visiting the tiny island of Utila, Honduras in 2013 on a diving trip. Although not a diver herself, she had chosen to make Utila her home. We were intrigued as to why and even more intrigued as to her most recent decision to relocate once again.

She shares her story of her ongoing search for Utopia below. We admire her strength, willingness and her ability to correct and continue when things do not go as planned.

Carolyn Speers In the winter of 2010, she was stressed and struggling financially. Approaching retirement age, recently divorced and dissatisfied with the expense and stress of living in the states she knew it was time to leave her home in Madison, Wisconsin. She spent the next 10 months researching and planning her move. Then sold her belongings, packed a few possessions and flew to Utila in August 2011.

Carolyn was in search of simplicity, beauty, serenity and purpose. Did she find what she was looking for? Her answer was a resounding yes.

She told us “the cost of living is much lower, and the pace of life is slower.  Life in general is simpler.  Health care is affordable and doctors/dentists are top-notch.  People are happier and no one is in a hurry.  I fall asleep to the sound of the surf outside my window and awaken to the most glorious sunrises.  I am surrounded by beauty and never have to wear a jacket or shovel snow”.

Carolyn was seeking a new sense of purpose and found it here, she told us “I felt there was a purpose for me in Utila & boy, was I right!” She volunteered for a community organization and devoted more time to writing.

Carolyn, lovingly known as the pie lady back home then decided to use her flair for the perfect crust to launch Paradise Pies. Little did she realize that the natural progression of Paradise Pies would change how she felt about her life in Utila. It would lead to some serious challenges and changes.

She shared her reasons for deciding that Utila was not the Utopia she had hoped and why she is relocating once again. “My love affair with Utila began to wane when I opened my tea and pastry shop, Utila Tea Cup, on October 1, 2014.  Hoping to give back to the community by going into partnership with a local woman, I followed the recommendation of another business owner ex-pat, but was disillusioned even before the opening day.

While I worked 24/7 to get the place open, she decided to take a vacation to visit her sister on mainland Honduras.  It wasn’t long before I realized that her claim to be a baker was also a figment of her imagination…and from there it went downhill quickly. Personal items were stolen from me; guidelines were not followed; lies and deceit were becoming commonplace…and then the break-ins began.  We, as well as the gallery below us, were losing inventory at a rapid pace.  Honduran law requires that the victim pay the expenses of the criminal if he/she is caught and prosecuted, so I felt like a pawn in a rigged chess game. Ridding myself of an unprincipled partner proved to be a costly endeavor as well.  Once again, the Honduran government was treating the victim as the criminal and I was required to pay a hefty price to free myself.

My dream of helping a local to succeed, of paying it forward, of creating a unique and profitable enterprise in Utila, had gone awry.  When the fifth, and final, break-in occurred, I knew it was time to move on. At first, there was anger, disappointment, sadness and disbelief.  I had been so happy in Utila…how could this happen?  Upon further contemplation, however, I realized that I didn’t have to focus on the negatives.  I could take with me all the beauty I had found there…warm breezes, amazing sunsets, lasting friendships, a better understanding of a different culture, serenity and a deeper sense of spirituality…while learning the lessons from what had occurred, but refusing to  let the negatives overshadow the positives.

Not wanting to return to the fast-paced life in the United States, I began to research easier, cheaper, happier places to live.  Having been to both Belize and Guatemala, they were the first places I looked into.  However, the Visa requirements were not much different from Honduras, and I didn’t want to move to a country where I was required to leave the country for any length of time every few months.

It was then that I began to focus on Mexico.  U.S. citizens are allowed to stay in Mexico for 6 months.  A quick crossing of the border and you can return immediately for another six months.  In many areas of Mexico, there are well-established ex-pat communities.  The transportation system is widespread and efficient, and the cost of a bus or taxi ride is extremely reasonable.

I then moved on to the next phase of my research and began to look for areas of interest.  I thought, perhaps, it would be interesting to try the Pacific Coast, since I had been living on the Caribbean for several years.  I found a Facebook page, ‘On the Road in Mexico’ and joined…then asked where people enjoyed visiting or living along the western coastline.  Some people liked the touristy feel of Puerto Vallarta, but many more recommended the smaller towns of . I focused on smaller communities, but those with certain amenities that are important to me such as pharmacies, clinics, a good coffee shop, a marketplace and clean beaches.

I checked out long-term rentals on www.jaltembabaylife.com and found a couple of excellent rentals for $350/month, all-inclusive.  Three people from the Facebook page live in La Penita and they were very forthcoming with valuable information”. La Penita it is to be! She gave up her apartment in Utila, sold her belongings and arranged a visit with family before her big move.

The universe is lining things up for her. She secured a perfectly timed housesitting position in La Penita, giving her a base from which to find a new home and a warm welcome when she launches once again in July 2015.

She told us “I’m excited about the new adventure awaiting me.  Utila was a lovely chapter in my life…one that I will always remember fondly…but it was time for a change.  Now I’ll see how this new change will impact my life”.

Her advice to others is “Don’t be afraid to take a risk.  I’m not suggesting you should act impulsively, but it’s OK to follow your dreams.  Don’t limit yourself with excuses like “I can’t be that far away from my grandchildren” or “I can’t leave my home and my friends” or “I don’t know if I’ll be able to tolerate the bugs/heat/or the language barrier”.  Be brave.  Embrace life.  Challenge yourself.  You may just find Utopia, the road may not be straight though, sometimes you have to correct and continue.”

Dream Big – Live Large

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