As we wrap up our time on the Camino, we wanted to revisit this truly amazing story of Jane and Paul. It takes courage to go from being in debt and losing a home, to living in Mexico with no debt! If nothing else Janet and Paul’s story should be a reminder that it is NEVER too late to go after your dreams.
We have had a lot of families and 30 something couples, who are still knee-deep in kids and careers, on IATW. Today I am incredibly happy to bring you some folks who are done with the kids/careers and now they are living their dreams. Janet and Paul are playful, insightful, fearless and resourceful. They are what I like to refer to as accidental travelers. They turned a negative into a positive and now they have found the magic sauce. Plus, they lived in Ecuador and you know how I feel about that place.
Emptying a house made us realize that we had spent lots and lots of money on things we didn’t need to be happy. ~ Janet
Lessons are everywhere. I just love Janet’s honesty. When we are honest we have a greater opportunity to make a difference in helping others. One of the reasons we created WorldTowning was because preparing to launch into this travel life was hard and very few blogs shared the truth. We make a commitment to be honest about this life and push to help others obtain it.
We love that we have chosen to go outside the box that we lived in for so many years. ~ Janet
So, enough of my chatter. Grab a cup of coffee, a comfy seat and get ready to be inspired.
Introduce us to the people you live with?
We are a retired couple from Newmarket, Ontario, Canada, who led a very busy ordinary working life, falling into the usual trappings of work/house/mortgage/bills/raising children. Paul drove a bus for the Toronto Transit Commission for 29 years, which allowed him to retire at age 51 with full pension. For about 3 years following his TTC retirement, he operated an online drop-shipping business selling dog agility equipment. He will be 60 this summer.
I (Janet) was a Registered Nurse who retired at age 57, with a not-so-great pension due to many years of part-time work (not included in the pension program at the time) coupled with full-time hours. I will be 63 this summer. My last 14 years working were in Cancer Care and in Mental Health. Life Lesson? Life is too short and your state of health and well-being can change in an instant!
We both worked shift work and were exhausted much of the time. This is our third marriage each and our last. We have been married almost 21 years and often remark that we’ve been “joined at the hip” from the beginning. We are both pretty easy-going. We hardly thought of travel as a vacation choice, much less a lifestyle choice, having grown up with parents who did not travel and thought of travel as a waste of time and money.
Moose is an 9 pound Yorkshire/Silky Terrier Mix who has been everywhere with us in his 5 1/2 years. He has adapted to whatever has come next. Whenever we pull out his soft-sided travel crate, he goes into it immediately, not wanting to be left behind in our next adventure!
Why did you choose to live in your current arrangement?
Our current living arrangement is the fortunate result of an unfortunate situation. We did not think forward concretely to retirement….so mired in the rat race, even the idea of retirement was a joke. All that working just got us scraping by, paycheque to paycheque. Our major mistake was doing a huge house renovation, just 6 years before paying off our mortgage. The renovation took on a life of its own until we were forced by debt to sell the house at a loss and enter into a debt payment plan.
Life lesson? Emptying a house made us realize that we had spent lots and lots of money on things we didn’t need to be happy. It’s not that we had fancy furniture or heirlooms or art. We had a house that was too big for us and just too much “stuff”. I actually felt guilty selling off the “stuff” at garage sales to people who still thought that having “stuff” was important.
Initially, we decided to do what many Canadians do, become Snowbirds, avoiding our cold snowy winters by trailering into the southern United States. We bought a 24 foot travel trailer from a wonderful family-owned business, Taylor Coach. We were conscientious about stocking it with only items we really needed and got rid of all the rest! In spite of hardly seeing each other over years of shift work, we were now comfortable and happy 24/7 in a small space (about 100 square feet), but it wasn’t as affordable as we thought it would be. Living in the USA was just as expensive as living in Canada.
We didn’t realize as much at the time, but we discovered ourselves to be fairly adaptable to new situations and we would fall into an easy routine of living wherever we were. Having a good sense of humour and chalking things up to “it’s all part of the adventure!” helped too.
Our two winters trailering to the USA led to an opportunity to rent a house in Belize the next winter. Thinking we might live in Belize, we sold our trailer after one winter there, but going back the second winter told us that Belize wasn’t the right place for us. Belize used the American dollar and much of its produce and meat were imported and expensive. Green vegetables, if you could find them, were in the store’s refrigerator section wrapped in plastic wrap. There wasn’t even a beach on our island.
Deciding to try something completely different, we moved on to Ecuador. There, with the language barrier, and decidedly different culture, we finally felt like we were being adventurous!
We spent a month being tourists in Quito (we knew we didn’t want to live in a big city), then moved on to Cuenca, which just felt right. It doesn’t take much for us to start to burrow in and establish roots, something we have to be careful of if we want to continue to travel without constraints. We loved Cuenca, established a routine, made wonderful friends, but our travel itch started up again. Paul missed the hot weather and beach atmosphere of Belize, so we moved on to the coast of Ecuador, to Bahía de Caráquez. Hot, humid and a beach for Moose to chase his ball, but a different culture again, in a smaller and quieter town. Hot and humid is not for me, and there was not enough to do there to allay boredom. The Canadian dollar against the US dollar (used as Ecuadorian currency) was seizing 35% of our income in exchange rate. Time for another move!
About to have our final “goodbye to Bahía” dinner on the terrace of a special restaurant on April 16/16, a 7.8 earthquake hit the coast of Ecuador, only about 100 km (70 miles) from us, changing life forever for that small town and neighbouring coastal cities. It changed life for us too….reaffirming that we really don’t need much to be happy and we were grateful for so much. We also learned that when you live in an area that is prone to natural disasters, be prepared with an emergency backpack of essential items, something I had been putting off forever.
We were fortunate that our driver from Cuenca was able to get through to us, as prearranged, some 36 hours later, to return us to Cuenca for a final goodbye to our friends, and maybe to Ecuador.
Meanwhile, several friends from Ecuador had decided to move to the Lake Chapala area of Mexico, so after a month-long visit in Canada to touch base with family and friends, off we went to Mexico!
Where are you in the world and what are you living in?
Here in San Antonio, Tlayacapan, between the towns of Ajijic and Chapala, we live in a small furnished 2+ bedroom, 2 1/2 bath simple, plain house in a 4 home enclave with grass for Moose and a neighbouring friend for him too!
What do you do to personalize your unique (less traditional) living situation?
We don’t strive to personalize our home, because we really don’t know when our spirit will take us elsewhere. We have lost the need to decorate or collect things. We did rearrange our living room to maximize the space, and bought a couple of plain tables. We bought a king-size bed with a good mattress. Anything we buy has to be useful enough to travel with us, or easy to sell if we move on.
Tell us your favorite and least favorite room in your space and why?
Paul is always in the living room, where the TV and his computer are. My favourite room is the bedroom, for reading, relaxation, contemplation. I like the terrace off the kitchen too.
What is the biggest misconception you had about your current living situation before you started living in it?
We grew up having the media tell us that Mexico is unsafe. Mexico is no more unsafe than any other country. Life lesson? Don’t believe everything you are told. No matter where you are in the world, use common sense as to what city or neighbourhood you decide to live in. Don’t make yourself a target by wearing a lot of jewelry or wearing an expensive camera around your neck. We make a point of living in local communities, say “hola” to our neighbours and others as we walk around, to connect with them. We learn their names. This is an especially friendly area which also happens to have a long-standing (50+ years) expat population within it.
What is the one household item you carry with you every time you move or the one item you cannot live without?
I carry several kitchen utensils wherever I go. My Pampered Chef peeler, spatulas, garlic press, can opener….I have pared things down to next to nothing. Paul always has his AeroPress coffee maker and his sharp knife, and we have our stainless steel Starbucks travel mugs. We have learned that furnished homes often do not have even the most basic of items.
What do you miss most about permanent, stationary, traditional living?
We do not miss permanent, stationary, traditional living at all.
Do you have children traveling with you?
Only the Moose! He travels with his favourite toys, grooming items and a travel crate for the plane or for safety if we rent a car.
Our adult children live in Ontario leading very busy lives. We can only hope that they learn something from our experiences to have the best lives they can.
Do you have a pet joining you in this journey?
Moose was 9 weeks old when we first travelled with him. He has lived in Arizona, Belize, Ecuador and now Mexico. We used to travel with our African Grey Parrot to the USA but the paperwork and inspection time at the border was complicated and time-consuming. He has been re-homed 🙁. Moose does need vet checks and paperwork and this does require some forethought and time.
What is your best resource to find items you need for your place?
There are many familiar options for shopping here in Mexico such as Costco and Walmart. We try to support the smaller local grocery stores and street vendors as much as we can. There are many second-hand stores, often set up to raise funds for local people of lesser means. It is startling to discover how much more is available here than in Ecuador or in Belize. And at more reasonable prices. Great for our budget!
In our nearest city, Guadalajara, there are many familiar American restaurants, but we favour the local restaurants there, and in town here. We like a good cup of espresso or a cappuccino and there are lots of great coffee shops. In Ecuador, we’d be lucky to find something other than instant coffee!
If you could only have one of the following in your home which one would it be and why?
space, natural light, dishwasher or above average internet.
Paul needs his internet. I need natural light, preferably sunlight streaming in at some point in the day. Concrete block construction tends to keep the houses a bit too cool, so I love to have the sun shining in to warm us up. This is still on my wish list.
If you were to compare your unique (less traditional) home decorating style to a kitchen appliance or gadget what would it be and why?
I have no decorating style. We like simple and comfortable. No need to fancy things up at all. Decorations or knick-knacks are not important to us and just require extra dusting. We admire the lovely artisanal items available here, but then think “would we want to pack these when we travel again?”
How do you keep traditions alive for your family in your unique living situation?
Long ago, we decided that time together with family was more important than feeling pressured to buy gifts that no one really needed, and no one could really afford. Birthdays and the usual holidays are a time to get together with family and/or friends to celebrate and enjoy their company. Here in the Chapala area, many restaurants celebrate our traditional holidays with special menus, such as at Thanksgiving, when we are able to enjoy turkey both at Canadian Thanksgiving and the American Thanksgiving. We’re not big on Christmas or New Year’s events, but still get together with friends. We go out so that no one has to cook. Life is simple!
How do you decorate for the holidays in your unique (less traditional) home or do you skip it all together?
We do not decorate at all. We take walks around the neighbourhoods to enjoy the local decorations. Each town has a central square with a church….each has a lovely and different Nativity scene at Christmas and lots of decorations. With each local holiday, we try to read up about it to learn what is important and significant to the people who surround us. We especially appreciate the Day of the Dead celebrations here in November…the departed are honoured with altars outside their homes and/or in the cemeteries, with photos, candles, food they enjoyed and mariachi bands playing their favourite music.
What is your favorite part about this lifestyle choice?
The learning. Keeping oneself open to new ideas, traditions, people and trying to share in what is important to them. We are living in their country and making it our home. We are slowly learning Spanish, but the culture and local traditions are difficult to learn without knowing local people better….this is a goal for us. Life lesson? Every day can offer a learning opportunity if you are open to it.
We love that we have chosen to go outside the box that we lived in for so many years. We have chosen perfect weather, friendly people and an affordable lifestyle that allows us to save and travel from here.
Many traveling families subscribe to the “house is not a home” theory. What is home to you?
Home is wherever we are together. Home also seems to be where we make significant connections or have history. Canada will always be home because of birth, family and close friends. Our trailer was home because it contained all of our worldly goods. Cuenca was home because we made so many wonderful friends there, whom we hope visit us sometime. Home is where we feel comfortable and where we feel like “feathering our nest”. Home is where it seems easy to fall into a gentle routine of living.
What makes you love the place you live?
We love the Lake Chapala area for its accepting and friendly local people, for its beautiful weather, for the ease of travelling from here should we choose to, for the wonderful Mexican food and culture, for the cobblestone streets, for the amazing colours everywhere (homes and flowers and murals), the many things we can choose from to occupy our time, for the ease of living, for the expat population and the sharing of their experiences that brought them here. We love that horses pass by our home every day and cows walk along streets and graze at the side of the main road. We love that no one rushes you in a restaurant and never brings you the bill until you ask for it. We don’t need to own a car. For going a bit further afield, there is excellent bus service, reasonably-priced car rentals and sometimes, friends who are driving to that destination. It is a four to six-hour drive to beaches and hotter weather. Next year we hope to see the Monarch butterflies in their winter habitat, and maybe go to the Copper Canyon.
Words of wisdom to anyone considering venturing out into the world of unique, less traditional homes?
Many people from home have said to us “I wish I could do what you are doing”, and we say, “Do it!” It is a choice. We made a choice and then realized how fulfilling and fun life could be. They have also asked, “What do you do all day?” and we say, “We live”. We still have to cook and clean and do laundry, but even those things are activities that can be relaxing and fun, with no time constraints. Each new place has taught us much, both about the place we’re in and about ourselves, individually and as a couple.
Give back! There are many opportunities to volunteer. In Ecuador, we volunteered with the Zoologico Bioparque Amaru, the zoo in Cuenca. My special love is to help with the spay and neuter clinics for dog and cats (Operación Amor and Operación Compasión here in Chapala, Happy Dogs in Cuenca). We are thankful that our efforts are appreciated and welcome.
So much of what we have learned while travelling, we could have applied to our everyday lives when we were still working. Life could have been looked upon in such a different, more fulfilling and focussed way. Travel could have been more a part of that life. We are fortunate that we have learned this now, even though later in life. We are making up for lost time!
Anything else you would like offer?
Whenever one moves to a different country, one must spend some time figuring out some important things, like visas, the health care system, or end-of-life issues. These can be challenging, especially with a language barrier, but very important. Health care options in Mexico are excellent, which is good for us since we lose our health care in Canada if gone from Ontario longer than 7 months. (We have been out of Canada full-time for 3 years).
We keep a mailing address with a friend in Canada because in Belize and Ecuador most homes did not have an actual address, much less mail delivery service. Mexico has delivery but it may take a couple of months in transit. Our friend copies and emails anything that may seem important, but we do most everything online and get very little paper mail.
Many people move to another country and have no desire to learn the language or culture. They want to live a North American lifestyle in another country. This is sad and we feel they miss out on so much.
What is next for you? Will you continue to live in your current home or try something different?
For now, we will stay here. The affordable cost of living allows us to save for travelling to some of the places on our bucket list (which is constantly changing as we talk to others and reassess ourselves). We now do yoga, which will keep us healthier and fit as we get older, and fosters more of a sense of peace, focus and happiness. This will be our home until it isn’t!
How do we make a living?
We are retired, living on pension income alone. We do not have investment income. Our debt in Canada will finally be paid off this July. We do not own real estate. We consider ourselves very fortunate that our money goes a long way here and that we can use some of it to contribute to our community through fundraising dinners and events. We can live better here for less.
Quote to ponder:
So much of what we have learned while travelling, we could have applied to our everyday lives when we were still working. Life could have been looked upon in such a different, more fulfilling and focussed way.
Our travel page on Facebook is “Keeping up with the Inesons”
So many amazing nuggets, right? Are you in love? They are just fabulous. Change keeps you young. It keeps you kind. It keeps you honest. And it keeps you mobile. I hope we get to meet Paul and Janet one of these days on our travel journey.
Interested in living like the Ineson’s? WorldTowning’s services can help make this families story ‘your reality’ and we can do it all stress-free. We will be there with you every step of the way.