Bonjour friends! We get asked this question a lot. People want to understand what we consider when choosing a travel destination. Is it random? Based on emotions? Do we pull from a list of far off lands we have always wanted to visit? See exotic towns with amenities that offer loads of pampering? Yes? Yes? Yes? Yes? Actually, a big, fat NO to all of these questions! I am sure there are some travelers out there who use some or all of the above criteria, but that has never been the case for us.
Choosing a travel destination
Each new location, each move and each season has had its own circumstances. Let’s start from the beginning, so you can see how, over three years, some criteria have remained constant, while others changed, as we have changed and grown.
Guatemala. Yep, Guatemala was supposed to be our first country; however, we vetoed it just months before launch. Did you see last week’s newsletter? In it, I shared the whole story about why we did not move to Guatemala. Yes, we let fear win, but once and only once. That will never happen again.
Shall we begin again? Costa Rica – our real first stop. We were leaving the U.S. for the unknown. We were going from a two-family, six-figure income to an artist’s salary and a tad of debt. Can you guess what was our top criteria for choosing a location? I will give you a hint…$$$$$. Our first destination had to provide a low-cost of living. At the time, Costa Rica won that distinction with flying colors. Our second criteria was that Spanish would be the native language (so the kids could learn a new language), but it also had to have an inexpensive French school. Why the French school? Our children had been in French schools for several years, and we did not want them to lose their second language. Finally, we wanted an area rich in culture. Costa Rica fit all three criteria. Once we were living there, we learned that there were less expensive Central American countries, and the region was not as rich culturally as we had thought. It still worked out fabulously, however, for our first WorldTowning experience.
When choosing a travel destination for our second WorldTowning country, we had the same criteria but with a little more pump. We wanted to lower expenses even more and find a place that was more culturally rich. Plus, we still wanted the French school and a Spanish-speaking community. We could have easily picked another country in Central America. We toyed around with Guatemala and Nicaragua, but, in the end, we settled on Ecuador. This was primarily because neither one of us had ever been to South America, and we wanted the opportunity to check it out. Ecuador proved to be, as we had suspected and in many ways, more (in a good way) than we had anticipated.
Our third WorldTowning location has been France, our current location. We totally shook the criteria up for this one. First, we let the kids decide on the country (gasp) and the town (double gasp). They are part of this travel tribe, and we decided that it was time they had some decision-making power. However, we only gave them two countries to pick from. We chose two locations that we knew were within our budget. The French school and exposure to Spanish language was not as important to us at this point, because we have online resources and tutors that we use to maintain proficiency. In addition, we were not as obsessed with the richness of cultural offerings, because we felt, and still feel, that Europe is oozing with history and culture no matter where we go. We did add “village” to the list instead of big city. We had just lived in Quito, Ecuador, population 2.25 million, for nine months, and we wanted something a lot smaller. Finally, the location needed to be walkable – with just about everything within walking distance – since we were not going to be purchasing a car.
So, those were the criteria for our first three WorldTowning hometowns. When choosing our next adventure, all bets were off. Since we will be RVing or airbnbing through Europe, the native language of any specific community will not be a concern. We don’t need a walkable town, because we will be living in our drivable home or on our bikes. We will have cultural opportunities around us in abundance, and, if a place does not meet our fancy, then we will drive on or leave the house early. Cost of living is always a factor, and that is why we plan to spend most of our time in central and eastern Europe, avoiding big cities and touristy areas. There were also some other odds and ends factors we considered, including space and internet access (we need it for work and school), but that is a post for another time.
I think it is important to mention that safety is always on our list when choosing a travel destination. I did not mention it sooner, because I don’t even think about it as a criterion. We would not even consider an area if it was unsafe. We can be very flexible with accommodations, food and entertainment, but safety is not up for discussion. In addition, while we can survive with even less-than-optimal internet, we must have some form of reliable internet. As much as I fantasize about going off the grid, that would not be possible for us with work and school. And, would you believe that the country we thought would have the fastest and most reliable internet has proven to be weaker than the developing countries we lived in? Any idea the country I’m referring to?
Just to recap, while varying factors have led us to different locations, the consistent three criteria for choosing our destinations are always: safety, cost of living and cultural richness. Oh, and if I had to add in one (selfish) criteria, it would be a warm to moderate climate. I would compromise for a month or two in a cold climate, but I could not do it long-term.
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