How We Got Here

Several folks have asked us “Why Costa Rica?” and “What sort of planning did it take?” I thought that while it’s fresh, I’d post the answer. Let me know if I missed any details you’d like.

Why Costa Rica? Well, our first choice, as I described in our new adventure was actually Brazil. Sadly though, the US has tight restrictions on Brazil and so Brazil has tight restrictions on Americans coming in. We wouldn’t be able to stay more than 30 days realistically – at least there was no guarantee. So Deb began a hunt of other locations that fit our criteria. Here’s our Top 10 reasons (in good ol’ David Letterman form) why we chose Costa Rica as the country, Playa Portrero as the city, and the specific place we live, Casa Dutry, in order of least to most important.

11.   The swimming pool at the house was a bonus!

10.   We had to have air conditioning (primarily for Vie, who thinks it is too hot when
it is 70 degrees).

9.     We didn’t want a place with dangerous rip currents so we could feel comfortable letting the kids go surf by themselves. The surf in Playa Potrero was perfect.

8,     Our new home had to allow dogs of course.

7.     The rent had to be pretty modest.

6.     The house needed to have three bedrooms. Two bedroom places are common and so are 4-5 bedroom places, but three bedrooms are hard to find.

5.     Costa Rica is the happiest country on the planet according to the Happy Planet Index (there is no military, and there is great education and health care).

4.     The place had to be warm and by a beach (hey, if you are going to move to another country, make it amazing) – and within walking distance to the beach.

3.     We needed to bring our dogs without them having to go through a quarantine process (which is common in Europe and many other countries).

2.     We needed to be able to stay at least six months and up to a year.

And the number one reason:

  1. We wanted a country where the kids could learn another language within another culture. Spanish worked particularly well as Deb studied it and I knew Portuguese and Italian.

What sort of planning did it take? The whole thing took a lot of planning over several months. It was really broken up into two parts: planning where we were going and planning to leave. Deb did a brilliant job on the former and I took care of most of the prep work to leave.

Deb started by looking for the right country. Some of the top contenders were Portugal, Ecuador, Uraguay, Belize, Panama, Chile, and Spain. There were others but based on our criteria she chose Costa Rica. We made a vacation trip the year or so before to nearby Tamarindo and loved it. Deb scouted some more details afterward.

We got more serious about moving about 10 months before we ended up leaving. At that point Deb started the 6 month search for a house to rent and that’s when we learned about and added many of the other criteria (such as no rip currents). It was a lot of emailing property owners and rental companies. She started with vrbo.com, airbnb.com, and various real estate and property management companies. Then went deeper searching for communities and local blogs where home owners post homes for rent with not a lot of responses. She finally found a small local agency, LEP, and then she narrowed down property choices. We got very lucky in finding what we did.

The next big planning hurdle that she took on was getting passage for the dogs. No quarantine I think translates to lots of paperwork. This included knowing all of the vaccinations and certificates they needed to enter the country, as well as finding the right airline to transport them. She researched how the airlines cared for pets and a lot more. As I mentioned in Roots, I ended having to drive to Tumwater, WA for final paperwork for the dogs (during the government shutdown).

Meanwhile, I was started by planning and prepping for the big estate sale to get rid of our stuff. I detailed a lot about in that post. That was a huge endeavor. Fortunately, I quit work a good 5 weeks before we left so I had a lot time to prep at home.

Another big task was renting our house. We initially expected to have to find a Property Management company (which we did), but good fortune struck and a good friend was looking for a place for her family to rent. They took a look and loved our place. That made the whole rental planning far easier. We still had a lot of work to do to set the house up for rental (adding CO monitors, deep cleaning, wall fixes and touchups). Of course we had to overdo it and paint two rooms and add a new floor before we left. That’s all less about move planning though.

There were a few other details that took planning and a bit more than we planned. One thing in this category was cell phones. We had to buy new, unlocked cell phones and then we had to work out that it was best to wait until we were in Costa Rica to get the SIM cards for them. That worked out pretty well.

Getting to the airport was more pain than I expected. We had to go to SEATAC airport in Seattle and rent a minivan with stow-and-go car seats so we could transport the dog crates (and luggage). We planned for a cab to take Deb and the kids, but when it didn’t show, we ended up all cramming in the same vehicle. The opposite was true in Costa Rica. One of the nice things about using a property management company is that they have a concierge. This meant that Deb was able to have them arrange transportation from Liberia airport 45 minutes away and it was there on time and ready to go, fitting all of us comfortably. The comfortably part took a little planning. Deb sent the 2 dog crate measurements (cm) to make sure that they would fit in the vehicle along with our large amount of luggage and 4 people.

Finally, there were things we planned but didn’t get right. For example, I was excited to learn that Amazon shipped to Costa Rica for $4.99. But, it doesn’t ship consumer electronics (eg., cables, cell phone covers, printer cartridges) and things from most non-Amazon sellers it seems. So far these are the things we’ve needed.

Likewise, I read that while some services such as Pandora and Netflix don’t work outside the US. But, Xbox Live did. Well, yes and no. Netflix did work in Costa Rica. Xbox Live did for gaming. Pandora didn’t. So, I subscribed to a VPN service (I used Unblockus.com) which helps media content get through. It does and we have Pandora now, however the fine print is that Xbox Live movie rental and downloads don’t work and can’t. I’m still working on a way where we can see new movies. Ironically, I thought we could at least go to the theater here, but there are none in the several towns around us. At least Unblockus helps in that web content, media, etc. is not defaulted to Spanish which helps the young adults until they learn Spanish (then we switch back J).

In all, the planning was an adventure in itself and definitely part of ours. Once we found the rental and started seriously planning, it took a lot of our spare time. It was worth it though – both the move and the fact that we did spend time planning. It means we can now focus on small missed details easily and not face a mass of unexpected details. Planning certainly takes the edge off of any change.

Staging

We are in the final stages of preparing for our new adventure. It’s been a big effort to get here, with all of the planning, uprooting, and stuff-selling, but we are here now on the eve before our departure staging all of the things we are taking – and reflecting a bit.

We finally finished the house-wide deep cleaning. The house looks brand new. We hired a cleaning group to do the deep clean, but evidently, our standards are much higher and so we’ve had to do a lot of extra work. We tend to like our windows cleaned without streaks and our surfaces actually clean.

staging

Now I have a great puzzle challenge in front of me: packing. Or, at least I thought it would be a challenge. We are taking 8 stowed bags and 8 carry-ons and it’s starting to look like we actually won’t need all the space – which is a good thing. I guess reducing our complexity has its advantages.

What we are taking is well-planned (hopefully), pretty minimal, but technology-heavy. Most of the carry-ons have the technology. In addition to our computers, we are bringing a large monitor, hard drives, modem, routers, Kindles, Xboxes, communication equipment, music players, a micro-projector, DSLR camera, and a GoPro camera. We’ve gone completely digital and this is everything we’ll need to live, work (a bit), and unschool down in Costa Rica. We’re particularly excited about the GoPro camera and its application for unschooling, including Aidan’s video blogging. And of course, we have miles of cables even though much of this stuff is wireless. Ironic.

The stowed baggage is carrying some expected things and probably some unexpected things. We’ve got clothes and shoes of course, but we have tropical gear which is all lightweight, dries quickly, and weighs almost nothing. We’re taking all of our bike lights and helmets with the hope of finding some used bikes there. We are also taking all our family soccer gear including our Seattle Sounders ball (a gray ball will work great on the beach). I’m also bringing my beach volleyball (I can’t tell you how I’ve been waiting to play again). We’ll get surf boards in Costa Rica.

We’ve got dog gear, including night lights and paw protectors. The hot sand and total darkness will be very different for Lucy (our rescued 5 year old Weimaraner) and Isis (our 12 year old rescued Greyhound). We’re also bringing headlights, flashlights, and other hiking gear, including a pretty sophisticated snake bite kit. It feels a bit like the Amazing Race (our favorite family show).

In the unexpected category, we start with a sewing machine. Vie loves working on cosplay costumes and Deb plans to try to create a few outfits. There’s one unschooling opportunity there. We’re bringing a big monitor for some work but more so the young adults have lots of room to work on projects. Let’s hope the large beast arrives safely. A third bag carries a ton of sunscreen we had collected along with some tools and kitchen items. Aidan wants to continue to cook and try more molecular gastronomy so we need to bring some things we’ll likely not find where we are. The combination of cooking and chemistry is another unschooling opportunity. We’re bringing some favorite and some new games such as Settlers of Catan and 7 Wonders (and ok, Munchkin). At least the first two develop some good skills. For example, Vie has become a wickedly good negotiator. To round it out, we have two very large dog crates for the girls.

And just to be a bit hyper-prepared, I have a spreadsheet with all of the contents of each bag identified just in case we have any lost baggage issues :-).

For a year away, it doesn’t seem like a whole lot. Hopefully, we have what we need to spin up unschooling. It helps a lot being digital. And, if we do end up needing something, well, Amazon has $4.99 shipping to Costa Rica. That’s less than gas (and a rental car) to get to a store in a nearby town to get it not to mention the carbon footprint impact.

Our biggest worry at this point isn’t the luggage, or losing it. Or that our MINI will get repaired just fine while we are away (Deb got rear-ended a few days ago!). or getting to the airport (which is a whole challenge in itself), or hoping our transportation from the airport is actually waiting for us – though those are all fine things to worry about if we were inclined. The big worry is hoping the dogs make it safely, especially Isis who, after all, is the equivalent of an 84 year-old woman. It’s a big, stressful trip for them.

Unschooling isn’t just about school; it’s about life. We hope we can help show Vie and Aidan by example that even though there may be things we haven’t done before and things we could worry about, that we can work through all of this, including any unexpected things that come up. That’s what adventures are for. The plunge starts tomorrow.

Stuff

We had our great estate sale this weekend where we sold most of our “stuff”. It was certainly the biggest step in uprooting in preparation for our new adventure – one we had been preparing for for a few months. We sold all of our furniture and about three quarters of everything we owned. It was as big of an endeavor as it was an enlightening experience.

The process started with building a storage area within our garage to store the stuff we wanted to keep. It was mostly our decorations for our big Halloween party along with Seattle type gear and clothes, a few mattresses, TV, etc.

Everything else included almost all the furniture, 97 boxes of densely packed stuff, and a bunch of clothes. We originally didn’t expect to sell everything, but then we learned that to rent the house, we’d have a better chance if it was unfurnished. So we took the leap and sold all of our stuff – with some help from Jon and his great crew at Ballard Estate Services. It certainly reduced our complexity.

Packing the first few boxes was hard, but it got a lot easier as it went. I saw a lot of stuff I had not seen in years (in some cases decades). Things like my thousand or so D&D miniatures from the 70s. Or two rare Czechoslovakian egg-shaped liqueur sets from my grandmother that I have never used. Many things brought back memories of course, but I didn’t feel wed to any of this “stuff”. We had downsized and gotten rid of stuff before in moves and spring cleaning, but never like this. My rule became “if I hadn’t seen or used it in years, it wasn’t really anything I needed.”

That rule extended to digital “stuff” too. I tend to be a digital pack rat, saving everything for decades across all forms of ancient media like optical drive discs and zip drive discs. That all went. All my graduate design projects and papers, including my thesis project. While I had kept the media readers too, I couldn’t connect them to modern computers so they all just sat in a box waiting for the day when I would have so much free time that I could go back and transfer all that stuff to modern media. That day never came, fortunately, and so it all went as well.

Surprisingly, Deb and the kids did well with this divesting activity too. As a family we tend to favor experiences over things, I think, which is a good thing given what we are doing.

The estate sale itself was an odd thing even though we only saw the beginning and end. The beginning as in people lining up at 7:30 in the morning, signing a list to get in first when it opened at 9:00. The end as in the people hanging around after the sale was over, still rooting around the leftovers. We found that there is a very unique subculture of people who thrive on estate sales. Who knew? In the end, most things sold – including our entire pantry of food, much of it partially consumed! Some, surprisingly, did not. I’m sure they will all end up in other people’s fine collections of stuff.

What I realized through this effort is that my stuff doesn’t define me. It may give a clue about who I am, but these clues may be just as misleading (like the liqueur sets) as they are accurate. The stories I tell people aren’t usually about my stuff; they are about people we’ve met, or things we’ve done, or places we’ve gone.

It’s all just stuff. At least, that’s how I’ve come to think of it. I know it’s different for different folks. But, if I focus too much on collecting this stuff, I’ll be dwelling in the past. It will tie me down and keep me from doing something really new and adventurous.

We are taking (relatively) few things with us to Costa Rica. Everything really needs to earn its place. When we come back, I expect we’ll come back with some incredible life experiences and stories and new friends. Maybe we’ll get more “stuff” 🙂 .

Postscript

The results are in. We had about 400 people come through over 3 days. The total from our estate sale is $4886.

It was a bit shocking to see that the sum total of most of our stuff is so low. In fairness, many of the pricier/specialty items (like those liqueur sets) didn’t sell. That isn’t surprising since it’s unlikely that the “right” collector for something like that would happen to appear at our particular estate sale. So, we can expect maybe $1000-$2000 more.

One of the more interesting tidbits from the estate sale folks is that people evidently were willing to pay more for partially consumed food (e.g., half a box of pasta) than a CD or DVD.

Things aren’t ever as valuable as we believe them to be (unless, I suppose, you carefully put each thing on eBay and find your perfect buyer somewhere in the digiverse but who has time for that?). I’m glad we are focused on experiences. The value of (most of) the contents of our house – $4800. The value of the experience of living in a foreign country for a year with our kids at this time in their lives – priceless.

Complexity and Change

As I was in the process of uprooting for our new adventure this week, I had an interesting thought. There’s a fundamental relationship between complexity and change. When there is a lot of complexity, change is very difficult.

When we had no kids and no dogs, it was easy to change. I did it a lot in startups. When we had our kids, things got a lot more complex (and fun!). We had a lot of complexity – and stability. Change was a lot harder.

It seems pretty obvious writing it here, but in talking with people about what we are doing, we heard a lot of folks say both that they are inspired and envious and at the same time can’t imagine trying to do this. That it is “a lot of change all at once” or that there are too many things [aka complexity] keeping them where they are. And where they are is comfortable and safe. Especially now, this resonates a lot with me.

Change isn’t safe. There is a lot of unknown. In my line of work – understanding people and designing products for them – I’ve found that people generally dislike and resist change. Believe me, I dislike having to change things too just when they are getting comfortable (changing operating systems comes to mind J).

Man is a creature that is most proficient at adapting. It’s been true in our entire history. I think we are losing this skill though in general in our lives. The last few centuries have added more complexity and stability – and less desire to change what we have. It can just be so overwhelming to deal with the regular flood of new information we see every day for example. According to IBM, “90% of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years alone.” We can’t keep up, much less change. At least, I feel that way a lot.

Change can be great though. Innovation feeds on change. When we learn and do new things, we continually help develop our brain. I’m constantly inspired by TED talks on this topic. Change keeps us adaptable and ready for new things. As I seem to tell my kids young adults a lot, you get good at what you practice. If we don’t practice changing, then we won’t be good at it.

We were talking with our young adults and we realized that even though only 11 and 13, they had already gotten used to the idea that things stay the same. They had a lot of complexity in their lives and had gotten comfortable. That was a bit scary for me.

The world they will grow into will certainly be more complex, but I think it will also be constantly changing even more than today. They will have to deal with a lot of adaptive challenges globally that will require adaptive thinking and leaders who can lead in the face of uncertainty and change (Linksy and Heifetz wrote a great book about this).

So in addition to giving our young adults a more global perspective, we realized another part of our adventure, and of their start into “unschooling”, is showing them that change is possible, doesn’t have to be daunting, and can be incredibly empowering.

I’m not sure what we’ll discover in Costa Rica or what sorts of challenges we’ll find, but the practice of trying something new will certainly be part of what we all learn and get good at. Here’s to change!

PS: You’ll hear a lot about unschooling as we start our adventure.

Roots

It’s amazing how many layers of connections we have to one place. The longer we stay someplace, the more of those connections we accumulate. They are a lot like roots. And uprooting something is very tough.

When we started planning our Costa Rican adventure, we knew that it would be a lot of work, but I think we also were thinking about it in somewhat idealized terms – kind of like an elaborate vacation. We are coming up on T minus 3 weeks to leaving and it is feeling very much like the final stages of pulling a very large oak tree out of the ground.

There are expected things for anyone moving, like transferring utilities, forwarding mail, finding a renter, telling folks about our new adventure, and saying goodbye (for awhile). Some of these things are more tedious or harder than others of course, but we knew they are coming.

There are unexpected things, like figuring out which services we subscribe to will continue to work in Costa Rica, such as Xbox Live, Netflix, and iTunes (yes, yes and no, by the way). Xbox Live is particularly key since we haven’t had cable TV for years and that’s been the only way to watch a few shows we like on a big screen. Or, learning that in Costa Rica we will be exposed to “a far greater number viruses, Trojan horses, worms, and other nasty things than elsewhere in the world as the ISP there does not do as good a job of filtering them out before they hit your PC.” I have to really up the bar on our anti-virus and internet security software and learn a lot more about this than I had planned.

There are some unique things that we’ve had to deal with since we will be away a year in a foreign country, such as applying for a residency visa or getting a special insurance policy for our stuff. Our current challenge here is getting the right kind of unlocked smart phone to move all four of us to as Costa Rica switches from GSM to 3G technology country-wide. We almost timed that one poorly!

As we start figuring out each detail, sometimes we learn that the “root” is much bigger than we could have imagined. My favorite in this category is getting the documents for the dogs to go. We expected paperwork, and we got that. But, we didn’t expect to have to drive to Tumwater, WA to the USDA office 10 days before we travel so that they can certify that our dogs can leave the country, all the while worrying that the government shutdown will get so strict that they completely close their office and keep us from going altogether. This is still an active concern.

Our roots here in Seattle are pretty deep after almost 18 years. As we continue to cut each root though, it does get easier and easier. The daunting uprooting task that makes it difficult to want to start is almost done now. And, like uprooting a big tree, we feel a great sense of accomplishment and empowerment. We can see a lot better without the tree. In our case what we see are possibilities.

Our New Adventure

We’d like to tell you about a pretty amazing adventure we are going to have. We are all moving to Costa Rica for a year!

Deb and I have always wanted to give the kids a more global perspective by living in another country and having them learn another language within that culture. We also want to have a chance to spend some real time getting to know our kids better and not just leave it to fragments we find in all of our busy schedules.  Vie is 13 and Aidan is 11 – they really aren’t kids anymore. While things are going great for us in Seattle, we realized that if we don’t do this now, we will miss the opportunity.

We tried for several years to live in Brazil, but it proved too difficult with visas, etc. Deb’s research led us to Costa Rica and it fit our needs perfectly: it’s warm (!), they speak another language, we can bring our two dogs without any quarantine period, we can live by a beach (!), and the cost of living is not too high.  We did an exploratory trip there last year and were enchanted

So, we are taking the leap and pursuing this radical undertaking. We both quit our jobs, we are selling nearly everything, renting the house, and moving down to Costa Rica October 23rd.

Teague and Whitepages have been incredible companies to work for and we will miss them and our colleagues there. While in Costa Rica, we both might do a little side work for them here and there through Deb’s freelancing company, Razberry Jam.  Our goal though is to spend the time with the kids and we’ve set up things so we should be able to spend most of our time with them.  Like a good startup, we have a planned cash flow and burn rate J. We have a budget that makes it possible to stay a year. If we spend more than we think, we will work a little more. If we stay longer, we’ll work a little more.

Meanwhile, we had already decided to homeschool, or “unschool”, Vie and Aidan and so we’ll start their first year with a pretty incredible learning experience. They’ll get to work with budgets for starters. Aidan is already classifying and getting to know all of the poisonous snakes in Costa Rica. He also wants to learn to make video blogs for the school he recently graduated from: University Cooperative School (a.k.a. u-coop). So, I’ll be helping him learn Adobe Premiere (we might as well start with a useful tool skill). He’s also talking about making a video game so we may be looking in to building that. Vie is already an accomplished digital artist and will be continuing some awesome work there as well as costume design. Add in to all of this some trips to volcanoes , a trek to Tikal in Guatemala to learn first-hand about the Mayan civilization, intensive Spanish language studies, and you have a pretty strong curriculum we think. Oh yeah, did I mention surfing, yoga, soccer and beach volleyball?

We are selling most of our stuff in an estate sale and will be starting over in many ways when we return. We’ve found wonderful “foster parents” for a few big things like our piano but for the most part everything is going. It’s actually been very freeing to get rid of stuff – especially the stuff we haven’t seen or used in years.

In Costa Rica, we will be living in the lovely Playa Protrero in Guanacaste province, north of Tamarindo.  We got lucky and Deb found an incredible 3 bedroom house about 5 minutes walk from the beach. It was especially challenging since we are bringing our two dogs – Lucy, a rescued Weimaraner and Isis, a rescued Greyhound.  The house allows dogs, has a swimming pool, and the rent is reasonable!

A bunch of you have asked if we could blog or send updates and so we’ll be doing our first blog: IntentionallyOffPath. This will be a new adventure too and one in which we hope to involve the kids. This is our first post.

We are looking forward to a once in a lifetime experience with our family. The days already seem to be getting shorter and we have a lot to do to get ready. Getting disconnected from everything is a bit challenging. While we may be disconnected from Seattle, we won’t be “unplugged.” In fact, part of this adventure is getting the kids very computer literate. We’ll all have email addresses, Skype accounts, etc. Hopefully in a few months the kids will be doing all the IT for us.

Watch here for more of our story and adventure and then look for us coming back in about a year more tanned, fit, speaking Spanish, and playing soccer like Ticos.

Fondly, Andy, Deb, Vie, Aidan, Lucy, and Isis