Each year I publish a long post on the cheapest places to live in the world. I’ll do another this summer. Invariably people stumble upon it through a search and start asking variations of “Where should I go live when I move?”
The problem is, nobody can answer that question but you.
I’m moving back to Guanajuato, Mexico this August with my family, for two years this time. I’ve traveled all over the world, so why this particular place? What made this one the one? Just like the “How did you meet your wife” answer, this one has a story behind it.
For much of my travel writing career I reviewed hotels in various countries for a trade publication used by travel agents. I did this from Guam to India, Egypt to Argentina, Kentucky to Kathmandu. About five years ago I got an assignment to do the same in three places in Mexico: Mexico City, San Miguel de Allende, and Guanajuato. Within 24 hours of arriving in that last one, I sent an e-mail to my wife saying, “I’ve found the place we should move to.”
See, we’d been talking about moving abroad for a year, but weren’t really sure where. A Spanish-speaking country in Latin America was about as much as we had decided. We had talked about Argentina, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and other places, but I was ready to throw all those out the window.
A few months later we took a two-month vacation during the summer school break, through Mexico and Belize. Once month of that was spent in a rental apartment in Guanajuato, taking Spanish lessons at Escuela Mexicana and seeing if my enthusiasm was shared by the wife and daughter. It was, so the trial run outcome was a plan to move back a year later.
We spent a year living here. We loved it so much we bought a house. I’m getting that ready now and we’re returning for two years. My daughter will go to school in Spanish again and I’ll finally get truly fluent.
So why did this place speak to me, and to my spouse? Data-driven types always want the items they could put on a spreadsheet, which is why International Living does some serious number-crunching each year for its “best places to retire” round-up.
Those things do matter, so here are the ones for where I live, besides the obvious cost of living savings you get almost anywhere in Mexico. It’s a mostly pedestrian city, with traffic going through tunnels first built to divert water. It was founded in the 1500s, as a silver mining city, so there’s lots of great architecture spanning hundreds of years. There are almost no straight lines in the curvy layout, which is unusual for a Spanish colonial city, and colorful houses cascade down the hills, reached by narrow alleys like you see in medieval Europe. The weather is divine, at 6,500 feet it seldom gets too hot or too cold. There’s sunshine around 340 days per year. There’s an international airport 40 minutes away and on a bus ride of five hours or less I can reach Guadalajara or Mexico City for more direct flights.
Put all that together and it looks great on paper. But the real reason we moved here? It just feels right.
You can’t get “feels right” from any number of books, articles, or pros/cons lists. You need to go, to spend some time, to live like a local for a bit.
In other words, to live abroad you first have to travel abroad. There’s no shortcut for that.