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Traveling the World, One Year at a Time.

Episode 3: Where in the world...?

By Al Race

[Editor’s Note. This is the third installment in a series of articles from Al Race that chronicles the whys and hows of traveling the world in retirement on a limited budget.]

There are entire websites devoted to top ten lists: Top Ten Incredible Smells. Top Ten Most Important Video Games of the 1980s. Top Ten Jailbreaks that Ended Badly. (I’m not making this up! These came from…)

My wife, Rachel, and I have one of our own: Top Ten Places We Would Want to Live in for a Full Year. Creating this list wasn’t as easy as you might think—this is not a list of must-see tourist destinations; nor is it the list of places we want to see before we die. It’s the places we would like to live in long enough to experience the culture, the climate (good and bad), and the community—for a year.

This is our plan (see Bucket # 446), and when we explain it, one of the first questions we get is: What’s on your list? Often it is followed by: Where’s your first country?

Usually, we turn it around and ask, “What would be on your list—and why?” While some may think we are avoiding the question, in truth we are information-seeking—we honestly want to know what countries others have visited (or not) and would love to go to for more than just a visit and what they like most about them.  Getting this kind of input has shaped our own list in many ways, and not just the names on the list. It has often shaped the criteria we’ve been using to choose!

What’s Important to YOU?

Making our list started with thinking about what really matters to us. We are not seeking out off-the-grid austerity (though a little bit of adventure is always good!). But it’s not about luxury either. New experiences, new cultures, new cuisines, new vistas: all good. Hiking, swimming, kayaking, cycling: even better. All-inclusive resorts; big ex-pat communities; big-box stores; golf courses and tennis clubs: not interested.

Other people’s criteria may differ completely and that’s okay – anyone can play this game. The key for us was to figure out what we really want to have as part of our daily life—what’s essential and what’s not. Here are some examples of the kinds of things we’re thinking about.

  • Food: Good, healthful local food is important to us. If I can have a mango, avocado, or fig tree in my back yard, I’ll be a happy guy. True, we love us the occasional foodie experience, but we don’t need it. And while we are certainly used to well-stocked grocery stores, local bodegas and vegetable stands will do just fine—especially if we can learn about how to use local ingredients, maybe even take a local cooking class.
  • Climate: Coming from New England, we’ve had enough of cold, dark winters for a while.  Beaches sound pretty attractive now, but we’ll probably want to also experience mountains and more temperate areas. We like oceans, lakes, and rivers, but haven’t spent much time in arid or high-altitude areas. I think most of all right now we want what’s different from what we’re used to.
  • Atmosphere: We are not Bright Lights, Big City people, though we may want to choose a location that can serve as a hub from which to visit interesting cities. In general, we prefer off-the-beaten-path to shopping districts but know that some cities have their charms too. We’re not doing this to be hermits, so some kind of community with a few amenities would be great. We’ll aim to get involved enough in a community to feel like a part of it, maybe by volunteering, pursuing a passion, learning something new, or diving into some local activity.
  • Comfort: Reluctantly, we added four practical factors to help guide our decision making: aging, language, cost, and distance. We aren’t spring chickens anymore, so if we’re hoping to trek the mountains of New Zealand or Patagonia, we should live near there while we still have the fitness to do it. Health care will also increase in importance as we age, so we’ll need to choose places that have decent medical facilities and arrange insurance coverage. Just the thought of learning a new language every year jumbles my brain, so we’ll start with English- and Spanish-speaking countries where we can get by, and maybe alternate English- with non-English speaking countries. Then there’s cost—we do not have an unlimited budget, so one factor will be places with lower cost-of-living (easily researched online). Finally, with aging parents and possible grandchildren on the horizon, when will we want to be closer or able to be further away? None of these are reasons not to do this, in our opinion, but they will affect how we do it.
  • Predicting the Future: We have heard, sadly, that some places may not be around as we know them in a few years, which will influence where and when we visit places, like, the environmentally threatened, low-lying islands of Malaysia, for example, or culturally threatened “islands” like Bhutan—places that are changing so rapidly that what make them unique could be lost. This one has become even more complicated with pandemic-related travel restrictions and safety concerns, as some countries continue to keep their borders closed to Americans and others are experiencing new waves of devastation. Unless we’re planning to help out somehow, we should stay out of the way.
  • Flexibility:  We do have a list, and it is not cast in stone—more like in molding clay. We’ve already shuffled the order of countries in the past few months, when an opportunity to do some consulting in Australia suddenly moved it up to the top spot—if they open their borders in time. If not, we’ll shuffle the cards and deal again. Plenty of other changes could pop up that might cause us to rethink our list. We will very likely become aware of or even visit new places that call to us. We may decide city life is more appealing after all. Changes on the home front might require us to be able get back to the states more quickly. Or another pandemic could throw a Covid-sized wrench into these plans. Any of these and more could make our list obsolete instantly. That’s why adaptability is the most important criterion of all.

Our Top Ten List… for now!

And so, without further ado, here’s our list, as of today.

  1. Australia—Perth, the most isolated capital city in the world. “Endless Summer” beaches, sailing, hiking, the outback, brew pubs, koalas, whales… a long, long way from home.
  2. Costa Rica—incredible biodiversity, tropical beaches on the Pacific and the Caribbean, rain forests, volcanoes, and a national credo of pura vida (“pure life” or “simple life”, meaning enjoying life no matter your circumstances).
  3. New Zealand—kayaking with dolphins, the Milford Trek, Lord of the Rings mountains, and the Maori cultural influence.
  4. Coastal Portugal or Spain*—warm, sunny climate, European history and charm, fresh seafood, easy access to other European sites.
  5. Chile/Argentina/Uruguay*—hiking Patagonia, kayaking South American fjords, colorful ports, beach towns, and mountain villages.
  6. Vietnam/Thailand/Malaysia*—about as far from New England as we can get in culture, cuisine, climate. Stunningly beautiful and endlessly fascinating.
  7. North America (by camper van)—national & state parks we’ve never seen, the Canadian Rockies, the Baja peninsula… exploring our own continent with the luxury of time.
  8. Ecuador—beaches, the Andes, access to the Galapagos, plus excellent health care!
  9. UK—a good one for the later years of our plan, with “long walks”, the Scottish and Irish coasts, history, and pubs on every corner.
  10. St. Croix or an island TBD—Ahhh. Time to relax.

* Yes, I know – these are all VERY different countries. But we’re thinking regionally and have a lot of research still to do!

So there you have it—a wholly incomplete list of ten incredible places, missing way more than it includes. Comedian Steven Wright once said, “It’s a small world, but I wouldn’t want to paint it.”  To me, trying to develop this list has shown me it’s a big world—much too big for a top ten list. So, what’s missing? Really – leave a comment below. We want to know!

About the writer

Al Race has spent most of his career focused on children, education, and communication. Seeing more of the world and living simply have been on his mind since he was a teenager. He is looking forward to his first summer of not working since he was 13 (Bucket Age 64!). To follow along with Al’s journey you can visit his blog at:

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1 year ago

Very cool list. Despite somewhat cloudy winters, I could live in Copenhagen for a year. Great access to the rest of Europe, bikes hugge, devoted to peace. This is a great thinking exercise!