Monthly Archives: September 2017

Playing Twenty Questions: Life as Expats, Life as Travelers, Life in Lagos, Portugal – Part One

 

Life is full of milestones and dates that mark important events and this month, we celebrated a significant anniversary.  On September 11th, 2012, we locked the door to our house on Padre Island for the last time, turned over the keys to a property manager and set off in an entirely new direction.  With the exception of our house (which we sold a couple of years later) and a safe deposit box, everything we owned was crammed neatly packed in our suitcases.  We each had a carry-on and a 24-inch suitcase plus a mid-size backpack when we set off for our first destination in Mexico.  Not more than two months later, we ditched the carry-ons and left a pile of clothes and extra shoes behind.  For the three-plus years that we traveled full-time, we carried everything we owned in the remaining two suitcases and backpacks.

 

 

A few months into our travels, while we were house-sitting for a friend in Antigua, Guatemala, we started our blog and, just as our travel style has evolved over the years, so has our blog.  And, while the main focus of our blog is still on our travels, we’ve also begun to write about life as expats in Portugal: the conundrums, the inexplicable differences between life as we knew it in the US and life as it really is in Portugal and some lessons we’ve learned – sometimes the hard way, sometimes the expensive way.

 

 

Which brings us to a major update and tweaking of our FAQ page – the questions that we get in our comments section, Facebook and emails and our answers: hopefully helpful, accurate and probably neither pithy nor profound!  Here’s our version of Twenty (pertinent) Questions.

THE BIG WHY?

20)  Why quit your jobs, leave a home you love along with friends and family and start all over in a completely new direction?

Clichés become clichés for a reason and the phrase “Life is short” seemed to be beating a drum in the year 2011.  We’d reached the age where gradually, a few of our friends and close family were battling chronic illnesses and life-threatening diseases.  Living the “American Dream” had increasingly lost its allure as the things we owned gave us less pleasure and we started thinking about how to restructure our priorities.  In short, although our lives were okay, we were mired in routines that no longer mattered and we missed the anticipation of the ‘What’s next?’ part of living.  Having more time to do the things we’d put off for ‘someday’ assumed a greater importance.  Instead of waiting for a someday (which might never come) we decided we were ready for a lifestyle reset now.

LIFE AS TRAVELERS AND EXPATRIATES

19)  But what did you do with all your stuff?

Imagine the unthinkable – getting rid of everything you own.  Selling it, donating it, or gifting it to friends, family and charities.  It took us a year to do it but that’s exactly what we did.  We passed on family heirlooms to other family members, digitized treasured photos onto DVD’s and uploaded them to our computers and the cloud, figured out what to do with our art collection, became Craig’s List experts and held two garage sales.  We leased our house and eventually sold it the third year of our travels.

Tip – Read a book or two on minimizing/simplifying and start slow.  It takes time and a major mind reset to let go of your stuff.  Two books that we read and recommend are Simplify by Joshua Becker and The Joy of Less  by Francine Joy.

18)  How do you support your travels?

The question everyone is thinking and no one wants to be rude enough to ask, right?  Richard receives a social security check each month (Anita is not too far away from the time she can double that income) and we withdraw savings as needed to allow for a comfortable lifestyle.  We’re not about to go bare-bones but we don’t live extravagantly either.

Tip – Either set up a budget or track your daily expenses to be more mindful of where your money goes.  It helps us to keep in mind the ‘want versus need’ conundrum.

17)  How do you access/transfer your money?

After some research on how to avoid the high foreign transaction fee costs, we decided that the Capital One credit card and Charles Schwab debit cards would work best for us.  Capital One has no foreign transaction fees and Charles Schwab reimburses all transaction fees, both foreign and domestic, at the end of each month.  Bank of America has a traveler’s plan with no foreign transaction charges also and we use their credit and debit cards as our backup plan in the event of a damaged, lost or stolen card.  Richard’s social security is directly deposited into the Charles Schwab account and ready to access by ATM.  Also, it’s easy to transfer funds online between Bank of America and Charles Schwab as needed.

Tip – We use our credit card sparingly and for large purchases only to avoid possible credit card fraud. (This might be an example of being too cautious since that leads to the loss of credit card points we could use for future travels.)  We withdraw the local currency from the ATM and use that for day-to-day expenses.

16)  But how do you get your mail and make/receive calls?

We use a family member’s address (a big shout-out to my sister, Kari, who acts as our fairy godmother) as our official address which allows us to keep a near normal presence in the US.  Whenever possible, we opt for the ‘paperless’ route and pay our bills online.  Since we’ve been gone for 5 years, the mail is dwindling although apparently, junk mail never dies.  We can review our bank transactions, pay credit card bills online, file our taxes and conduct other business as needed. We have a US Skype number that allows us to receive and place phone calls.  In short, unless we tell them, no one really needs to know we’re out of the country.

15)  How did you deal with your medical needs and emergencies while traveling full-time?

For years we recommended buying an annual policy from Global Medical Insurance (IMG) with a very high deductible to cover us in case of a catastrophic accident or illness.  We both had to submit medical records and ended up with different plans with one of us receiving coverage worldwide including the US (as long as we spent at least 6 months outside the US per year) and the other obtaining coverage for any country with the exclusion of the US. We never filed a claim and the costs increased each year at exorbitant rates until we finally dropped the plan.  BUPA and CIGNA are also in the same cost bracket.  We found that going naked (or without insurance) might be an option to consider as we paid out-of-pocket throughout our travels for all our medical, dental and prescription needs. Healthcare (doctors, dentists, labs) is very reasonable once you leave the US and we’ve been pleased with the professional and knowledgeable people we’ve encountered so far. Of note, our costs for doctor’s visits and prescriptions were ridiculously (but not in a funny way) less than what we were paying in the US for insurance premiums and copays.

Tip – We’ve had several friends recommend World Nomads which is much more affordable.

14) What do you do about your prescription medications?

We each have a list we update regularly of our medications with both the brand and generic names, strength and the condition the medication is treating.  This includes vitamins, over-the-counter meds for nausea, cold symptoms, pain and fever, etc. In Mexico, Central and South America as well as many of the Caribbean islands, we didn’t need a written prescription to refill our meds. European countries, too, will allow you to buy a variety of medications without a prescription.  Our advice is to stock up on those prescriptions that you can and check at a pharmacy when you arrive to see how to refill what you need.  If you need a written prescription, you can get recommendations for a doctor from expat groups, hotels and the local pharmacy.

Tip – Brand and generic names may vary from country to country. Some of the names may be similar to their US counterpart or you may find that a medication you take is not available in another country.  Almost all of the pharmacies that we’ve been to have internet access and will look up the medication name and availability if you ask. Sometimes they can order a medication for you, obtain it from another pharmacy or substitute it with a similar medication.

 

 

As we guessed, we’re way too wordy so we’ll continue our ‘Twenty Questions’ countdown in Part Two starting with some of the upsides and the downsides of full-time travel and then getting into life as Expats and Residents of Portugal.

By Anita Oliver and Richard Nash

Boot Sales, Hippie Markets and Chinese Stores

cliffs by Porto de Mos, Lagos

It’s been a ‘staycation’ kind of summer for us here in Lagos, Portugal, with lots of friends stopping by and making use of our guest room (if you want your friends and family to visit, just move to Portugal!) and day trips here and there.  We’ve met several new friends who have contacted us through the blog and are checking out both Portugal and the Algarve to see what all the buzz is about. We’ve also enjoyed some great conversations as well as mentally filing away travel tips and fascinating stories about future places to visit.  And, over and over, while lounging by the pool, enjoying the beautiful beach near us called Praia Porto de Mos or scarfing down a meal dining with friends, we’ve congratulated ourselves, several times in fact, about our decision to skip visiting the US this year and taking a time-out to enjoy our piece of paradise.

This summer we’ve also indulged in what seems to be one of the Algarve’s favorite past-times: the hunt for a good bargain that you didn’t even know you needed.

 

 

Boot Sales:  Flea markets are held in the villages and towns up and down the coast on designated days with traveling vendors.  The Brits call them “Boot Sales” as the items on sale are (theoretically anyway) sold from the “boot” or trunk of the car. Usually the goods are displayed on a blanket spread on the ground although a lot of the vendors set them up on tables, too.

 

Need your own copper still to make moonshine whiskey?

A boot sale we went to in the Central Algarve Region near Paderne had an herbalist displaying baskets of dried herbs and dispensing advice while a nearby couple deep-fat fried doughy rounds and dusted them with powdered sugar.  It might have seemed that the heat would have dampened our appetites but – no.  In fact, we were just a little tempted to split a third one between us!

 

 

Lagos’s Boot Sale is held on the first Sunday of every month and is as much a treasure hunt as a people meeting and greeting venue.  We always make it an event to visit and drag a friend or two along for the fun.

This may sound strange but by far our biggest score has been a circa 1970’s, pumpkin-orange slow-cooker that weighs about 25 pounds with a Euro-plug that’s been modified from the original UK three-prong.  When the seller saw my face light up at the find (slow-cookers aren’t sold in Portugal) he wouldn’t even bargain with us and we forked over the full €20 for an appliance at least 40 years old.

 

 

Chinese Shops: Every town and village we’ve visited so far in Portugal has at least one emporium (Lagos has several hiding in plain sight) literally stuffed to the gills with all sorts of paraphernalia and staffed by someone of Chinese descent, hence the name.

 

 

From floor to ceiling and usually piled in no particular order, you can find beach toys and bikini panties, thread and thermometers, shower curtains and slippers, paper goods and plasticware and Christmas décor year-round.  We tried to ferret out the origins of these Portuguese versions of the old five-and-dime stores or the newer Dollar Stores and all we’ve learned (unverified so who knows?) is that there are old trade agreements between Portugal and China that allow the owners to import goods duty-free.  If you have a little time, there’s no telling what bargain you’ll find poking around!

 

 

Hippie Market:  Going to this flea market held the 4th Sunday of every month, near the quirky village of Barão de São João, about a twenty-minute drive from Lagos, is kind of a blast from the past for us.  It’s as much fun to watch the retro European hippies, check out the “Pimp-my Ride’ caravans and make a lunch of the vegan/gluten-free pakora with mango chutney, as it is to look at the offerings for sale.

 

 

 

Sounds of live music and the smell of incense float in the scant summer breeze (our friends Roy and Ann hint that other smoky smells can be fired up too) and the whole scene reminds of us outdoor concerts in the 70’s when hair was long, clothing was billowy and we were weekend hippies ourselves.  Wandering about the area, you watch unleashed, happy dogs nosing around the dusty field for anything edible, scruffy kids playing or holding on to young mothers who look almost as disheveled in an appealing, exotic way and men looking laid-back and chill.  Like the other flea-markets we’ve been to, there’s a lot of junk and some interesting antiques and you never know what you might find as you wander round.  We’ve been tempted to buy some colorful paintings and jewelry by local artists, checked out the clothes straight from Thailand, bought some fresh herbs and sipped some fruit-infused water. The vibe is infectious and we always look forward to going – even if we do stand out in our uncool, buttoned-down way!

 

 

 

Of course, there’s always the Saturday farmer’s market down by the bus station in Lagos but we tend to avoid it in the summer as the crowds make the tented area inside a jam-packed, chaotic and sweaty event.  We prefer to wait until the cooler weather of fall and winter to visit the market and check out the fresh produce, baked goods, live chickens and rabbits in cages, and flowers, all offered at reasonable prices by friendly sellers.

It’s always a little sad to say goodbye to summer. But we’re looking forward to getting on the road again and traveling as well as taking advantage of the off-season prices for restaurants and accommodations now that the vacation crowds are returning from whence they came.  Our staycation was an all-around success this year and has us thinking that this might be the way we spend our future summers.  After all, why travel somewhere else during the high-season when you’re right where you want to be?

By Anita Oliver and Richard Nash