Is this what you are thinking? Maybe you are tired of traffic and cold weather. Maybe you are tired of staring at concrete and asphalt all of the time. Maybe you just need a fresh start or are looking for a temporary release. Whatever your reasoning, lots of people have thought about picking up and just getting out. You have pictured yourself sitting on a beach, sipping a cocktail, feeling the sand between your toes, and feeling good liming under a coconut tree. Despite what you may think, you can be there very easily. "But iTodd, I don't have any money!" Yeah I didn't either, you don't need much to get started as long as you are prepared, and do your research. It would've been helpful to have some pointers however, and that's what I will be going over here.
BEFORE YOU MOVE
Research, research, research. When I first decided that I wanted to move, I then had to pick a place to go! I made a list (I love lists) of all of the places I wanted to go, from Hawaii to Thailand to different islands in the Caribbean. I researched each one by one and eliminated them as I did my research. Different reasons eliminated certain places, too expensive to live, too far from home, didn't speak the language, etc. My advice is to stay as close to your home as possible, just in case it doesn't work out. The average person only lasts three months in most of these exotic destinations, mostly because they were unprepared and didn't study up at all. Read forums from people that lived there, blogs, and just google the living heck out of wherever you want to go. If it doesn't check all of your boxes, eliminate it and move on to the next place. Once I eliminated every place, there was only one left and then I could concentrate all of my energy on that.
Now, it's not all fun, sun, and rum, your first focus is going to be on getting a job. Most islands are touristy and there are lots of jobs during the season. Make sure you know exactly when the busy season is, because that's when there will be a ton of jobs in all different fields. I wrote a piece on this called "Where to work in paradise," you can check that out if you want some helpful hints on where to look and how to get these jobs. Make sure you move down a couple of weeks before the season starts, maybe a month so you can get through training before they are busy. You can also reach out to some shops via email and ask them if/when they will be hiring, or check the newspapers (also online). In any case, try to make sure you have some work contacts setup before you move.
If you have saved up some capital and have the necessary funds, it is the most helpful and wise decision to do a PMV, if even for a few days. I wish I had been able to do this, but I wasn't in a place to unfortunately. Visiting before you move is so incredibly beneficial. You can see first hand how the island operates, meet people, and maybe even secure a job while you are there. This can also be a bit deceiving however, because you are there on vacation, not actually living there. Live like a local though, get a temporary apartment or home stay instead of a resort, get up early and try to use whatever public transit they may have. Don't rent a car, force yourself to get around without one unless it is absolutely necessary. If you are interested in a boat job, find where the charter boats are docked and hang out around the dock in the early morning or late evening when the boats are there, and they are cleaning. If you can strike up a couple of conversations and tell them you are thinking of moving there, you might be able to land a job or at least meet someone that knows who is hiring. Go to restaurants and bars, bartenders are usually very well connected and will be able to give you a TON of information. Going at lunch is a good time because they usually aren't that busy, unless there is a cruise ship in town or they are just a touristy place. Find a place where the locals hang out, look for white long-sleeve shirts, those are the boat people. Most or all of them moved down there at some point, and would be more than willing to be friends, answer questions, or help out, I know I was. We are proud of our life down there, and always willing to talk about it. Now it will be time to get your things in order.
Once you have decided where you are going, done your research, and possibly even done a visit, it's time to prepare. Are you fully set to move to a tropical island? If you were like me then probably not, but mostly. You won't need many warm clothes so leave the winter stuff behind, but you will want a light sweater, raincoat (this is crucial), and suitcases that aren't gigantic. Don't think cargo shorts are cool? Too bad, I do, I wore them almost everyday, they are quite helpful down there. Also a waterproof backpack, and flippity floppities. Bring a couple of pairs of flip flops, and a few pairs of shorts at the very least. Ladies, leave the heels at home, and don't bring too many shoes, they take up space and you will never wear them (not much different than at home eh?). Two medium sized suitcases are all you want because you are going to be schlepping them around town for a while until you settle in. As far as wardrobe goes, don't plan on being able to buy things there, or have things shipped to you. You might be able to, but plan not to. You won't have the above down there either, closet space is very minimal, but what do you really need? Pack for summer all the time, and store the rest. You will most likely get a care package from home after not too long, so have them put whatever you forget as well as any items you miss (like triscuits) in there. You will also have visitors, people will absolutely want to visit you in paradise, so get ready for that as well. You can have your visitors bring down stuff as well that you are missing or miss. We will cover visitors later on, that's a whole other topic.
Only bring what you might need for a week or so, these things you will be able to purchase down there. Now, they will be much more expensive, but readily available for sure. If you have a special kind of shampoo that you use, or anything that can't be bought in a regular pharmacy or grocery store, bring a lot, otherwise you will be able to get by just fine. You might have to switch brands based on cost, but it isn't really that big of a deal. I was a suave man when I moved down there, because it was the only thing affordable. Also, make sure to buy sunscreen that is reef friendly, don't be one of those people that uses lotions that routinely damage and kill marine life. You are moving to a tropical island, it's time to become a conservationist and only buy things that can be recycled and don't hurt the sea. If you wear contacts like I do, buy a bunch of boxes in advance if you can, again, you might not be able to get them shipped down there. Make sure you do your best to conserve space, you are a minimalist now. Please don't waste an entire suitcase on toiletries and shoes, you will waste that space and this is one of the only things you can buy there. I didn't wear shoes for almost a year, and getting deodorant, shampoo, and everything else was possible. Pack to live, but live lightly.
Why would I mention water? Because on an island there is only a finite supply. Have you ever heard of a cistern? If not go look it up, it will be how you get your water from now on. If it doesn't rain, your cistern doesn't get filled and you don't have any water. Even when your cistern is full, you will need to get in the practice of heavily conserving how much water you use, and how you go about every day tasks. Say goodbye to long showers, leaving the faucet running while shaving, and baths. Although there is most likely a pool and ocean nearby you can bathe in, at home you will use as little water as possible. Not only is there not a lot of water, but if you need an emergency fill when you run out it can cost upwards of a thousand dollars to have it filled. The little steps you take will pay dividends in the long run, but it will be quite an adjustment. When you shower, you will no longer leave it running while shampooing your hair. You will hop in, get your hair wet, turn off the shower and shampoo your hair. Once you are done shampooing, now you can turn it back on to rinse it off, then immediately turn it off. Same goes for shaving, I would just fill up the sink a little bit and use that instead of the stop and go method used for your hair. Depending on where you are moving too, you also might not be able to drink the tap water. Investing in a water filter (either the pitcher or faucet attachment) will be one of the first things you'll do. It's hot down there, and rum is cheaper than water, so make sure you can get drinkable water regularly. Get used to asking for "tap" also when you are out, otherwise they will give you a plastic bottle of water and charge you a bunch. Typically at the bars and restaurants, they have a filter on their soda gun and you can just get filtered still water. Doing the dishes is also an adjustment, forget about a dishwasher, most places won't have them, and even if they do you won't be able to afford to use it. Filling up the sink with soapy water, and having extra towels to dry them is the best go for this one. I made sure we didn't have a lot of dishes or cutlery, that way you are forced to wash everything after every use instead of generating a sink full of dishes to wash. You also won't have laundry in your unit, although there might be a communal laundry room on the premises, stock up on quarters! You'll get used to it, it is a small price to pay for living in paradise, and you'd be surprised what you can get used to, this wasn't a huge issue. One last thing, have you ever heard the phrase "If it's yellow let it mellow, if it's brown flush it down?" If not, google it, you will be doing this often...
Just like with water, electricity is a pain in the rear view mirror. There isn't a finite supply, but it is astronomically expensive, four to five times what you pay at home at the least. Forget about air conditioning, and get used to lots and lots of fans. I usually had at least two stand up fans on me at all times, and didn't use the ceiling fans because they were too expensive to use. We would just go purchase smaller more efficient fans and use those forgoing the built in fans that came with the place. Also, lights, we had one light on usually, maybe two if we were cooking or something (which we didn't do often). When I left for work in the morning I would just turn the whole electrical panel off, that way I didn't have to go around unplugging everything every day. My electric bill ended up going down a bunch with these practices, from around five hundred dollars a month to less than two hundred. Candles are a good investment, you don't need to bring them down with you, but buying a few once you are there is a good idea for a couple of reasons. So the electricity is super crazy expensive, but it also goes out quite often, mostly a couple of times a week. We had rolling blackouts regularly, and without a generator you would deal with powerless nights a lot. If you like reading books by candlelight then you will love it! Especially during storms, always make sure to have candles and flashlights handy, and turn off your phones because you may not be able to charge it till the next day. The local bars almost always had generators, so sometimes we would meet up there during the blackouts and charge our phones and hangout. Again, it's something you will get used to and laugh about, we even made shirts with the power companies' name on them that glowed in the dark, hilarious.
Are you a shopaholic? Do you like malls, getting your nails done, and spending lots of time going from store to store buying a bunch of things? Don't move to a tropical island then, you will not have any of these things. Now, there are cute little mom and pop shops, souvenir shops, and even little stands set up all over with people selling the things they made at home. Remember, you are a minimalist now, and anything materialistic in you will have to disappear. Leave the jewelry at home, put it in storage, it will just take up space and could even be damaged by the salt water, air, or getting lost amongst all of your moves around the island. You will shop however, but it will be prideful things you discover while down there. Some of these islands have their own sayings, and their own types of jewelry that you will fall in love with. The two islands I was on had the sayings "Positive is How I Live" and "We're all here cause we're not all there." The also had local hook bracelets that were beautiful, I still wear mine every day. So, the things I purchased were shirts, stickers, and things local to the island I was on, as a prideful way of showing how happy I was to be there, I even bought a flag from the territory that I fly loud and proud. You will buy the local beer, wear only island shirts, and get completely lost in the wonderful image that is the place you have moved too. If you work on a boat you will also be wearing your uniform shirt all the time, my outfit was typically shorts or trunks, and my work shirt or a local island one. You should be proud to wear things like the locals, and when you come home you will still wear the same to show off to your friends.
A few things to note about groceries on an island. Expect to pay about forty to seventy percent more than you are used to. A regular block of cheese that would be three dollars in the states, was six or seven dollar on the island. You end up getting familiar with brands you've never heard of because they are just cheaper, and you don't need much. Getting fresh meats and cheeses is a luxury, we didn't purchase those very often, we opted for the frozen kind mostly because it was affordable. We did have cookouts and we would all pitch in and get things for just that night, but it wasn't an every day thing. Utilize the local fruit stands, there are many natives that make their living picking fruits and vegetables and setting up a stand on the side of the road and selling what they can. Not only does this help that person and the local economy, it's usually fresher and cheaper (and not full of pesticides). Whatever is local to your particular island is something that will be cheap, plantains for instance were readily available and super cheap where I was so they were always on the menu. It also wasn't very easy to get to the grocery stores, and you didn't want to carry lots of bags back on the bus or a long walk, so get used to making frequent trips to the local fruit stand and maybe a once a week trip to the store. It's best to find some friends and get a taxi to the grocery store together, shop and then split one back home unless someone has a car. I had a car so I would ask all of my friends before I went to the store if they needed anything, or wanted to go with. The last thing that is quite important, is expiration dates, get used to finding those on everything you buy. You are on an island, everything is imported to the stores and very lazily checked for dates. Before you buy ANYTHING look for the expiration date, and make sure it is still valid. Seriously, make this habitual, it is imperative you don't go home with half of your goods expired and ending up with stomach issues...
INSECTS AND ANIMALS
This guy just walked up on the bar, he was harmless and very photogenic so I didn't mind, but there are some things that you will mind. Ever heard of a palmetto or sand flies a.k.a no-see-ums? You will get VERY familiar with the bugs and local animals as they will mess with you on a daily basis. No see ums are tiny little flies that you can't see, hence the name, and they are the worst. They hover around your ankles and no amount of slapping, bug spray, or citronella candles can get rid of them. There is an old tale that says if you drink a lot of gin and tonics the quinine and gin can help them become uninterested but that didn't work for me, I drank a ton of those things and still got torn up each and every night. In addition to the sand flies (or fleas depending on who you talk to) the mosquitoes are an absolute menace. I touched on it in my last article, these mosquitoes carry Dengue Fever, Zika, Chikungunya, among other random illnesses that will ruin your week. You will get used to bug spray, most restaurants and bars have it readily available behind the counter and you can usually ask for "Island Cologne." I never thought the spray worked, I watched them walk on a puddle of that stuff on my leg and still take a bite and fly away seemingly unhinged. This is one thing you won't get used to, and they are completely unavoidable. I have a friend that just posted that she has been bit at least once every day for the last four years. You get bit, itchy, and sometimes scabby and bloody, it's just a way of life. So ladies that shave their legs regularly, this sucks. I used to wear knee socks with my flops, not very fashionable and I got made fun of, but it helped a lot. They go after your ankles first and foremost, so if you can cover those up you will drastically reduce your bites.
They aren't all bad though, this is my mom making friends with the local donkey. He walked the streets on the island and was dumb as a box of rocks, and had no idea what he was doing, let's just call him Donald. You can have a lot of fun with some of the local animals but most of them are a pain in the boat. The chickens on island were so loud, and they didn't just cock-a-doodle-do in the morning like a nice alarm clock, they would cluck their heads off all night long right next to your window...
Odds are you won't be bringing your nice car down to the island, it's expensive and your car might get trashed. There are a few ways to make sure you have viable transportation, but make sure you can get to your job via public transit if possible. Don't get a place far away at first, make sure you are as close as your pockets are to start until you get the lay of the land. One thing you can do is buy an island car (as seen above). Is that a trashed car that has been abandoned? Nope! I bought it for six hundred buckerinoes and it ran great, it was just missing a few things and wasn't much of a looker. But, if it has four wheels and turns on you are already doing better than most on the island. At one point with that fabulous monster I had the stereo, dashboard, side view mirror, and headrests all in the trunk. Cars get beat to heck on the island, so it's best to get a "beater" and get around. If you don't care about appearances you can get quite a good deal. The other option if you aren't in the financial market for an island ride is relying on the public transit, which will be a tad different than you are used to but functional. Ours was called a "safari" and it was a dollar and went one-way around the island. There were no bus stops, you just waved it down, hopped on, and signaled the driver when you were ready to get off, how you ask? They (no joke) had doorbells on the ceiling that would buzz the driver, or if those didn't work you would stomp your foot on the floor and the driver would pull over. They were pickup trucks with benches on the flatbeds, and usually a native (notice my terminology between local and native) was getting off when you wanted to so you could just hop of whenever the truck pulled over, pay the driver, and go on your merry way. The safari's only ran until dark, then there was no transit so you could find a taxi or "gypsy cab." I met people at the bars and at work who either drove gypsy cabs or had friends and/or family that did. Get those numbers, save them in your phone, and call them late at night to get you home for cheap cash. Best thing to do is get a place that allows you to walk everywhere, even if it's a mile, walking is key, you will be incredibly active anyway (most people lost double digit pounds after moving there).
Make sure you look into this as much as possible, communication is imperative. If a possible employer can't contact you, the job might slip away. Where I lived my service provider didn't exist, but my contract was up and I was able to switch to one that did exist before I moved there. If it's essential, get a local number immediately, even a pay-as-you-go phone for the first month will suffice. Make yourself available right away, it's so important, you will be meeting people all the time and you want to be able to text and/or call them from the start. Find out what the local provider is and research it, if you can get a SIM card with them when you move there, do it right away. You will find WIFI in most bars and restaurants, and if there are hotels you can always go sit in the lobby and soak up the AC and use their internet as well if you need to. Worst case scenario, get a cheap phone at the local shop and use that in the meantime with a local number, you can always switch that number to your phone later. When you apply to jobs, meet new connections, and are waiting for a job or something you HAVE to have a local number. It also makes you look more serious. These companies are used to getting applications from people that want to move there but never do, so having a local number shows that you live locally and are serious in your application.
PAUSE FOR A THOUGHT
I hope I didn't freak you out too much and you still want to move. I just want to be brutally honest about the adjustments and what to expect. I wasn't prepared and didn't know about any of this before I moved, and had to figure it out as I went. I think you will be very surprised with yourself and your ability to adapt and change with your surroundings. Just keep images in your head for motivation, look at pictures of the area daily, and remember why you are doing this. Nobody ever said it was easy, but it's going to be the best experience and decision of your life. It should scare you, it should concern you, and you should have second thoughts. Otherwise you wouldn't do it, easy things are never as rewarding. If it was easy I wouldn't have anything to write about, but you will be rewarded with amazing tales, friendly jealously, and it will be something you will remember forever. All the mosquito bites in the world don't change my incredible experiences there, and short showers and expired foods are still worth it to make that leap. I hope you are ready to go!
So, you have made your decision, gone through your wardrobe, stored whatever you needed to, and it's go time! If you've come this far, you are all forward, and don't look back, once you've made your decision it's imperative that you follow through and stick with your plan, no matter how scared or nervous you are. Keep picturing where you are going, keep it positive and make you move ahead. Don't let anything stand in your way unless it's catastrophic. So you are all packed up and ready to go, now we are going to talk about the transition, what to expect, and what is going to happen next. If you can, take a stop off along the way for a couple of days, it will ease the tensions, and give you more of a transition that will help with the smoothness. I was able to stop off in Puerto Rico for a couple of days and vacation, it really helped out a lot and wasn't that much more expensive. If it's possible, try to plan for a two day stay somewhere along the way, it really helps with the move a lot. It will help you reflect, it will help with the realization that you are actually doing it, and it will make your friends and family follow along as well.
This was one of the first pictures on island, my first steps in the ocean. You aren't here yet, but soon! If you are able to take a couple of days off on the way down, please do. We don't need to go into that, take some days or don't let's move on to your first day on the island. When you arrive you will be filled with awe and wonder, it will feel like a dream, like you are living in a different world. Hopefully in your research you found a temporary place to stay in for the first week or so, if you have go out! Go for a walk if you arrive during the day, if it's evening or night go out to a bar and talk to people. Tell them you just moved here, and make sure you tell them you live here now it's not just a vaca or a temporary move, you are here for good now. Chill and hang out the first day, tomorrow is when you start your exploration, and your new life! Explore that beach you saw in those pictures, go to that bar you read about, and check out the immediate area for now, in the morning it's time to get serious.
It's the day after now, and it's time to explore your new life. I went to an amazing beach the next day after I slept so well, put my toes in the ocean and reflected. I want this, I want to be here, remember all you did to get here. Now it's time to get to work, hardcore. Get the lay of the land as they say, figure out the transportation, map your mind, find out where things are and figure out the part of the island you want to live in. Once you know where you want to live, go there, that's where you start looking for everything, a job, an apartment, bars, friends, everything, circle your life here. If you are setup to get an apartment financially right away, do that first. Most places want a person that is on island and setup with a place to live, this way they can tell if you are going to make it to work every day. If you've saved up and can afford an apartment go for that first, but I will warn you, it will take three months rent just to move in. Because of the turnover, almost every place requires first, last, and a security deposit to get in which equates to three months rent. If you need a job first, look for rooms to rent, there are always island people looking for roommates, again with the turnover. Being able to tell an employer where you live is crucial, it shows your commitment to living here, and your honesty in being able to show up every day. More than half your job down here will be showing up, it's more important than you think!
Hopefully you have an apartment now, and quite possible a job! It might take a few weeks, but there is a demand for us so you will get a job, and a place to live for sure. Now it's time to assimilate into the culture, and become a local. Remember, you are a guest in another culture, so respect that, learn about it, and take what you will from it, but always remember you are in their life, and on their island. Go to happy hour, or out after work, meet your neighbors, you will find that people are MUCH more friendly down there than back at home. Say "Good morning" and "Good Afternoon" always start any conversation with a greeting, it goes a very long way. If you have been reading forums or blogs, reach out and share your experiences, respond to the forums, just keep yourself involved as much as you can. On an island people are more involved in community, face to face, every day actions more so than on the mainland. Figure out where people are living and join them, go to beach parties, ask everyone about what they are doing. Make yourself involved as much as possible, even if it's out of your comfort zone, heck moving here was probably out of your zone.
Most of these places have a season, yes I know it's beautiful year round but there is still a season. Move in October and you are sure to get a job, that's when they are always hiring, through the holiday season. You are moving to a place everyone wants to go to, and usually around the holidays. You won't have days off, you won't be able to go home and visit during this time, it's your busy time and it will be work time. Even though you are crazy busy, it's a good time to have family or friends visit as crazy as that sounds. I had my parents visit after only two months on island during Christmas, and it was great! Yeah it's crowded and expensive, but there is so much going on, and if you are going to do Christmas and/or New Years with you family, might as well be on a tropical island! Just keep in mind that you will not have time off for them, and they need to know that as well, you aren't on vacation, you are working and living here. If you are working on a boat however you can have them join and watch you work which is actually pretty cool, even though it sounds terrible ha! If you are a mate on a boat, you typically will be able to have your family or friends be customers at a discounted rate, and they can see what you do each and every day. Bear with me, I know lots of you don't want your family on your boat or at your job, but it can be really really cool. My family visited me a couple of times, and I have an extremely positive and memorable time with them. It was great for them to see first hand what I do each and every day. It's one thing to tell their friends what you do, it's another to see it and experience it, and then go back and tell everyone what you do. Trust me, it's not for you, it's for them, and they will love it.
Things will become very regular for you, after a while that is, but not at first. When you visit these amazing places you will be blown away, snapping pictures, and bragging about how amazing your life is. After a while these things will become just a day in your life, doing things that you are supposed to. That beach pictured above I went to a dozen times, it's routinely voted in the top five of "Most Beautiful Beaches In The World." Was it beautiful? Absolutely, it was one of the most tranquil and sublime places I've ever been in the world, but I went there so much it almost became routine. Yeah, get used to being used to pink sands, turquoise waters, and readily being at incredibly beaches that are in magazines. All those little things I talked about in the last article will be moot, because you will be here. You will meet amazing people, go to parties, and join an incredible community that you will be hard pressed to ever leave. You will also get a good plan for when people visit, for me I hit the same places, no reason to deviate they were solid and incredible. You will have your landmarks, your hits, the places you will want to bring everyone to see when they are visiting.
What the hell are those? Pancakes? Donuts? Something in between? Yeah, something in between, they are called Johnny Cakes and they are amazing. Learn about the local food, it's important, locals and natives alike will want to know you are interested in their food no matter what it may be. This was one example, but there were other local foods that were important as well. Even going to the local produce stand (which I covered before) is important, natives want to see us take an interest in their culture and life, and food is a gateway. Learn about the local food, try it, love it, and tell your friends about it, I promise you it's incredible. One of the most wonderful things about this small island and community is how fresh everything is, buy local and experience such an amazing and fresh understanding. Yeah, you might not be able to go to your five star restaurant, but that should be out of your mind by now. Have a seventy year old grandma cook you dinner from her local roots and you will never want some hollywood chef's food ever again. You will most likely still be able to get whatever you are used to at home, bagels, egg sandwiches, steak, salad, whatever you are used to I'm sure it exists on island.
These are your first steps in your new life, take them slowly and enjoy the life around you. Everything you are worried about will be okay, you will adapt and assimilate, there is nothing you can't get used to. Just keep these images in your head, this is why you are here, these beautiful moments will always keep your head pointed in the right direction. At the end of the day, you will love the food, the people, the bars, your job, and everything else. There will be lots of negatives, but they really won't matter or affect your life the way they did at home, there is to much positivity going on around you. Live every day loving everything, accept and promote your way of life and where you are living it, it's important. I was prideful, still to this day tell everyone how amazing everything was and is down there. If it's not for you it's okay to pack up and go home, there is no shame in it at all, it happens to most. But enjoy it while you are there, take it in, snap photos, love your life as much as you possibly can. Stay if you can, only leave if you must.