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.

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.