My partner, Ken, and I aren’t going to be moving to Panama City or Coronado. Our future home while expat living in Panama will be the tiny surfing community of Playa Venao on Panamá’s Azuero Peninsula.
There is no grocery store and only a handful of restaurants. The closest (small) town is a 35 minute drive—IF you don’t get stuck behind a cow-jam.
(Here’s how we chose Playa Venao for our future home—Panama Expat Life Reconnaissance)
On our most recent (and my fourth) visit to Panamá, I had a moment—sitting on the patio of our favorite temporary home in Playa Venao, drinking coffee out of a borrowed mug and scanning our mostly unexplored surroundings—when something really sunk in.
Expat living in Panamá is going to entail a whole lot of letting go.
So many things that we deeply love—or that make our life painless and pleasant—will remain in the U.S. when we move here in a couple of years.
(Though most of me is chomping at the bit to begin our expat adventure, I’m definitely savoring the slow transition that’s allowing me to organize and process this massive life change at a sane pace.)
I’ve lived in San Diego for nearly 35 years and California for all of my 52 years. All of my immediate family lives within a 14 hour drive or 2 hour flight from me.
If I don’t know exactly where to find it, I know where to look—and, if all else fails, there’s Amazon.
If I have a craving, I know at least one place that will satisfy it. Most often, three or four.
I know the culture (all too) well and exactly who to call when some aspect of it is causing a problem.
If I have a medical ailment or beauty dilemma, I have a solid team of professionals who can fix it within days or, worst case scenario, weeks.
And, I have a pretty good grasp of the local language. 😄
In fact, I know San Diego so well that one of my jobs is to help expats settle into their new life here.
But, within two years, this will drastically change. I’m voluntarily letting everything go to experience expat living in Panamá.
During my (long) moment not so long ago, I thought about all the things I’ll be leaving behind.
Letting go of family & friends…
Frequent impromptu visits with my daughter, coffee dates with my besties, and celebratory meals with family is a loss that will hurt my heart (and plague me with guilt). 😔
I’ve already started investigating ways to mitigate the separation from loved ones that comes with expat living.
Two words: technology and temptation.
There really are apps for this (to be shared in a future blog)! And, I am not ashamed to admit that I have a diabolical plan to make our future guest room so luscious that we have a waiting list. 😂
But, I can’t change the reality that I will hug my two children, six parents, and few close friends far less often than we all prefer.
When it comes to relationships, expat living will definitely force a shift from quantity to quality—not such a bad thing in the grand scheme of things, I guess.
Letting go of stuff…
To bring or not to bring?
One of the most common questions about expat living in the Facebook forums is about how to handle belongings when coming down to Panamá.
The overwhelming response is to leave all but two suitcases behind.
Fortunately, one divorce and four subsequent moves have already detached me from most of my stuff. But, despite being a moderate minimalist, what remains definitely won’t fit into two suitcases.
It’s (surprisingly) emotional to think about saying goodbye to a few things, like…
…the first home I bought for and by myself.
…the family photo albums that not only chronicle the birth of my children, pets and former homes, but also the birth of my creativity.
…my laser blue Mini Cooper that I have come to love (as much as this woman can love a car 😏).
…my daughter’s sweet and wild Karma kitty who I have been fostering since she left for university.
…my favorite pair of brown leather boots that have wandered the world with me and accompanied me on one of the craziest and bravest things I’ve ever done—a solo journey to Burning Man.
I saw Ken struggle while purging old photos and tossing all of his Little League trophies and SeaWorld memorabilia into the dumpster—and I know I’ll soon be in the same place.
So, the purging will continue over the next 18-24 months—and the plotting of where we’ll stash all the stuff that must be kept. (I will NOT permanently part with my faithful boots and cannot toss my tax files.)
Letting go of familiarity…
Even if things are less than ideal, their familiarity brings comfort. Things like American culture, bureaucratic protocol and laws, the history of the land and buildings around me, and retail chains.
I’m actually kind of excited by the challenge of being unfamiliar.
As I get older and wiser, American culture is starting to seriously perturb me. I’m looking forward to learning about and experiencing a new one when we start our expat living adventure—even though it will be rife with its own imperfections.
As far as laws go, I have a history of breaking the rules not laws, so I’m not too worried about this. 🙃
Yes, I’m excited. But, I’m not naïve enough to think there won’t be days when I’ll be over it. In those moments, I’ll just call my kiddos, curl up with one of my favorite books, ground myself in nature, or reminisce with Ken.
Letting go of expertise…
This year is my 35th year in San Diego.
During the past 3-1/2 decades, I’ve been a real estate appraiser, a homeowner, a renter, a landlord, a wandering housewife, a part-time Uber and Lyft driver, and a Destination Consultant for all of San Diego County.
I’m often the one people message when they want to venture out of their box or help friends or family brunch, sip, dine, or do something cool.
Once we move down to Panamá, I’ll slide all the way back to the starting line.
And, my language skills will slow my progress forward. Even the simplest tasks, like paying a bill or trying to find a particular product, will pose a whole new level of challenge. And, learning a new language at 52…😖
I’m going to be “that person” walking through the wrong door, taking the wrong turn, asking the “dumb” question, and/or staring blankly when asked the simplest of questions.
This aspect of expat living is going to be MUCH harder than letting go of my stuff!
I’m going to look at each humiliation as a momentary investment in character building. 😂
Letting go of feeling safe & secure…
In an unfamiliar environment, it’s easy to fall into the trap of feeling one’s safety and security is compromised.
I don’t like traps, so I am making sure not to gloss over my actual situation here in San Diego.
Mass shootings are a regular occurrence throughout the U.S. My 20 year old daughter has already lost schoolmates to one and we both consider them when we go to concerts or clubs.
There’s an alley behind our home frequented on a daily basis by gang members, crack smokers, prostitutes, and people who choose the homeless life. They bring with them drugs, stolen goods, guns, litter, feces, and Hepatitis A. Sirens and screaming are our nightly soundtrack.
The police are anywhere from apathetic to irritated when we call to report anything less than a murder in progress.
All this is going down in a community that was ranked as the 13th hippest place to live in the U.S. by Forbes magazine.
Over the past year, I’ve paid attention to reports of crime in Panamá, particularly in the Playa Venao and Pedasi areas. While we may encounter more police corruption and ineptitude when we’re down there, I’m pretty certain that our safety and security will get a boost.
This being said, it’ll be scary not to be able to dial 911—or get to a top ranked hospital within minutes. (Scarier for Ken since my first aid knowledge goes as deep as putting on a bandaid. 😂)
Letting go of having every “need” met…
As a middle-class San Diegan with an Amazon Prime membership, I’m spoiled.
The second I have a craving to satisfy, a problem to solve, an inefficiency to rectify, or a comfort to gift myself, it’s satiated within hours by a local restaurant, Trader Joes, TJ Maxx, DSW Shoe Warehouse or Amazon.
This will not be the case in Playa Venao—nor, do I want it to be.
I’m pretty disgusted by the sense of entitlement and materialism that dominates American culture. I’m ready to go through withdrawal so I can be free of it.
Letting go of form in the interest of function…
I haven’t seen a shiny scratch-free car or coiffed yard on any of my four trips to Panamá.
Even the wealthiest Panamanians we’ve met are driving four-wheel drive trucks covered in layers of dust, nicks and scratches.
And, most of the yards are scattered with all the tools needed to survive the force of nature in Panamá.
The efforts of keeping things pristine would totally negate one of the most important reasons for being here!
Letting go of vanity…
I’m actually not a vain woman. My typical hairstyle involves some curl cream and a washcloth and I wear just enough makeup to look alive.
Nevertheless, I don’t ever want to know the grand total that I’ve spent on products and services to combat bad teenage decisions and challenging genetics.
…professional hairstylists to cover the grey
…countless hair products to turn frizz into bounce
…pricy prescriptions and procedures to battle hyper-pigmentation, vitiligo and rosacea.
Seriously. In my natural state, I look like a calico cat. And, it’s only going to get worse in Panamá.
Even on the dry side of Panamá, heat, humidity, sunscreen and the ocean turn one’s face into a slick canvas and one’s hair into a hot mess. And, if you want to revel in all that the place has to offer (and I DO), there’s no escaping the sun.
I’m banking on blinding people with my inner peace and outward happiness.
Why give all this up???
So, why the heck do I want to move to Panamá??? What about expat living could possibly make up for all of these losses?
A warm ocean.
Horseback riding on the beach.
My own nature and book retreat.
Quality of life.
…for a fraction of what it would cost in the U.S.
After moving to Panama, life will no longer be as easy and convenient as it has been living in San Diego for the last three+ decades.
But, I’m as certain as I can be that I will feel so much more connected to the source. And, any old beliefs, patterns, and habits that no longer serve me will be purged along with all my useless stuff.
And, for me, this is priceless.
I’m so excited to learn more about Panamá. Since I’m an avid reader, one of the first educational tasks I did was create a Panama Reading List! Check it out: