How to Stay on Vacation Forever — These People Did It!

Ever dream or moving somewhere else around the world? (Photo: Thinkstock)

Ever been on a trip someplace warm and relaxing, and found yourself dreaming about never coming home? For some, it’s more than a dream. We caught up with four travelers, each of whom decided to make a permanent (or semi-permanent) home abroad. Here’s how to live a life abroad.

Tim Leffel

Leffel in Guanajuato (Photo: Tim Leffel)

Where: Guanajuato, Mexico

Why he made the move: For Leffel, a travel writer and author of the expat guide A Better Life for Half the Price, one of the big draws of expat life is the ability to stretch your dollars. In addition to lower housing costs in Mexico, Leffel pays $7 for symphony tickets and $3 an hour for babysitting.

How he did it: Leffel brought his wife and daughter to Mexico for a monthlong trial run, a move he recommends for all prospective expats. During that time, they got to see what it was like to live like locals, and also had a chance to check out private schools for their daughter. A year later, they returned and bought a house.

Top expat tip: Go with the flow in your new home, Leffel advises. “If you’ve lived in the U.S. your whole life, you’re used to tremendous convenience,” he says. “You don’t necessarily have that when you go abroad.” Some things can be more difficult or labor-intensive, and things might not always make sense from an American perspective, Leffel notes. People who are able to laugh off these annoyances, he says, make for happier expats.

Related: 8 Great Places to Be an Expat

Kristen MacConnell

Exploring the world (Photo: Kristen MacConnell)

Where: Pichilemu, Chile

Why she made the move: After MacConnell’s surfer boyfriend was laid off from his job and took a few months to travel around South America, she met up with him for a few weeks in Chile. They both loved the country, her boyfriend loved the surfing, and they were able to buy a place with an ocean view that would have taken them “the rest of our lives” to afford if they’d stayed in Southern California.

How she did it: MacConnell, who’d been a school psychologist in the United States, got a job at an international school in Chile, and her employer helped her get her work visa and residency. But her boyfriend was on a tourist visa for their first three years, meaning that he regularly had to apply for extensions and make short trips out of the country.

Top expat tip: Connect with other expats to maintain a healthy social life. MacConnell advises. While she says Chileans are friendly, she says she’s found it difficult to break in to close-knit social circles made up of people who have known each other for their whole lives. She met most of her friends through work, and her boyfriend met most of his through surfing. “The gringos just sort of seem to find each other,” she says.

Susan Korthase

Korthase and her husband. (Photo: Susan Korthase)

Where: Lisbon, Portugal

Why she made the move: A corporate restructuring left Korthase looking for a new job at 59, and also led to some soul-searching. She and her husband decided to leave the rat race behind and researched possible moves to Ecuador, Uruguay, and Panama before deciding that they preferred the “pace, culture, and options available” in European capitals. Lisbon was one of the safest and most affordable.

How she did it: Korthase and her husband traveled to Portugal on tourist visas, then applied for residency before those visas expired. It took them a whole year afterwards to sell their condo in the U.S. and give away their furniture and other belongings.

Top expat tip: Expect a shot of reverse culture shock when you come back to the U.S., says Korthase, who returns for two weeks every year. “Living overseas is a broadening journey that changes a person forever,” she says. “Big U.S. supermarkets with entire aisles of soups are overwhelming. Being shouted at the minute you enter a clothing store feels rude. Even short returns to the U.S. to visit family make us anxious to get back to Portugal.”

Related: The Single Girl’s Guide to Paris From an American Expat

Gabby Wallace

Wallace living the dream. (Photo: Gabby Wallace)

Where: Everywhere! (Wallace travels from country to country, staying about a month in each one. Her goal is to visit every country in the world.)

Why she made the move: Wallace always dreamed of “slow-traveling” the world. She thought that traveling during summer breaks from her job as a university instructor would be the answer, but ultimately, she decided she wanted more freedom.

How she did it: For flexibility and freedom, Wallace built an online business teaching language and entrepreneurship. She says it took a “leap of faith,” but she’s now making twice what she did at her old job.

Top expat tip: If you’re thinking of living abroad, just do it. “It’s difficult for me to understand when people back home say, ‘I wish I could do what you’re doing,’” she says. “I strongly believe that no matter what your situation, you can be an expat. Don’t let fear stop you.”

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