Is just looking enough before taking the proverbial leap?
How do you know if you want to buy something? How do you know if something is right for you?
Smart consumers, before they commit to spending money on a product, “check it out,” which for most of us means looking at it, “kicking the tires” as they used to say, and imagining what having that product will add to our lives.
Pardon the economics teacher in me, but that’s only half the equation. I won’t bore you with a lesson on cost-benefit analysis (I’ve seen too many students fighting gravity with their eyelids), but I will say that, in making a truly well-considered decision, one must consider what we don’t see in that moment of desire.
You want a new car. The dealer shows you a sporty little number that goes zero to sixty before you can say “zero to sixty;” it has flash, pop, and eye-turning style. You imagine the slo-mo nods of approval as you drive by.
Before you take the keys, however, consider what you are not seeing, what it may NOT have, for bad or for good. The bad may be that it lacks fuel efficiency or has no real back seats to carry the kids. There may also be things it’s missing that are actually boons, like a large size that makes it hard to park, or, well, no real back seats to carry the kids.
The point is, as smart shoppers we have to think about what a potential product will add and take away from our lives in the abstract and long term.
Many choose retirement places like they purchase other things, only by what they see in the moment.
Ask someone considering relocating to a new spot why they are considering that spot. They might tell you about a fabulous trip they took there, regaling you with descriptions of the climate, the people, the moonlit walks on the beach…in essence, all the things they immediately saw or experienced there.
It’s the flash of the sports car all over again. We have that initial rush of WOW, but what happens when the honeymoon flash wears off, and we are left missing ordinary things we forgot to think about.
With the car, it may be that long daily driving of the sports car makes us miss the couple extra bucks a week we had with our fuel-efficient car, or the lower insurance payments, or the lumbar support.
For a potential retirement spot, people often fall in love with a place when they are taxiing about, going to posh restaurants, or staying in the charming hotel, and for them that tells them this is the place.
Hopefully, you can see where I’m going, and that is that such relocation seekers are actually NOT seeing where they are going:
- What are residences (not hotels) like there?
- What is the weather in the off-season?
- What is the everyday food situation? Are there local markets? Is there the diversity of foods one is used to?
- What is life like outside the tourist section of town?
- How is the government system there, efficient or slow and bureaucratic?
- How is the healthcare there?
- What does one do all day there after one has seen all the highlight spots?
How can we better see “the invisible” to make better choices for relocation?
You’re sitting under an umbrella, watching the sunset. You know you have arrived at a place that has been waiting for you to find it. You want to fall into its embrace and make a thirdlife starting right there, right then.
Before you start selling the farm, do a little bit of mental calculation:
- What are the non-negotiables in your life, and does this place have them? For us, air conditioning was a nice plus, but we had to have high-speed internet for writing and communicating. A simple search on the internet (ironically) told us the state of our potential home.
- What is the place like the REST of the year? You love sitting by the beach, but what is winter like? You love fall hiking and winter skiing, but how are you with humid summers? Again, the internet is your friend.
- What is the non-tourist area life like? Did you walk (or better take the local transit) to a residential area? What are the markets like? The cost of living? What is the vibe?
- What ya’ gonna do with yourself? After you have seen all the museums and traveled to the local hotspots, what are you going to do most days? Try taking out a calendar and filing in a mock schedule for a month. Imagine EVERY day deciding what you can and will do?
You already have a network ready to assist you: those who have gone before.
When we narrowed down our search to southern Spain, Jiab made contact with a woman about our age, also from Texas, who had moved to Malaga about a year before. When we traveled there to investigate, we made sure to meet up with her and ask her about her experience. We met Sara at a café and over many drinks heard her story and how she had found the transition.
Two things were important to our meeting being productive. First, Sara was about the same as us in age, outlook, and most importantly, lifestyle. It would have done us little good to talk with a 20-something club-hopper as that is not what we were looking for. Second, it was not only that Sara was very forthcoming about the good and bad of moving, but we tried to take measure of how she conveyed her experience. Was there excited anticipation of the new adventure she was having, or tired wistful longing to go home despite her talking up the move? I am happy to say that not only was Sara’s recounting a positive selling point that helped convince us on Andalucia, but we made an early (and our first) friend in our new home!
Our sight unseen list
A couple of days after meeting Sara, we’re walking around Granada, enamored by the feeling of a medium-sized city with just enough bustle yet filled with cordial small-town greetings and smiles as people go about their way. As Jiab and I are both being won over, we kept asking each other, “What are we missing?” So, in the quiet of our room one evening, we made a list. Here is an excerpt:
– Drivers disrespecting scooters (scooters are cool there!).
– More than one room (average) with a/c.
– Clothes dryers.
– Many stores open at 3:00 pm, or closed at 9:00 pm.
– Non-smoking areas.
– SUVs, pickups, or other passenger vehicles that not only waste gas but are beyond the size imagined by the 16th century designers of the very narrow streets.
– Pimientos hotter than the outside temperature, even in winter (and we love spicy food!).
– Weak coffee (two sips and El Cid would be revived for another fight).
– Evenings without elderly couples strolling, holding hands, and inspiring others.
True, it was made in a romantic cloud of delusional initial love after a first meeting (like picking out the china after a good first date), but it did help us to get a better idea of the vibe we were feeling, and then to do follow up research later on all the other things, bad and good, that were not a part of our prospective home or lives if we chose to relocate there.
For better or worse, in good weather and bad…
Before we finally committed, we consulted many expats like Sara, as well as resources such as International Living Magazine, but in the end, we did as much digging into the invisible mundane of Granadan life that we could.
We are still early in the move, so Granada still has that “new car smell,” but we feel we have a pretty good idea of what life will be like in the coming weeks and months. Then again, we will keep everyone updated when we encounter (to borrow phrases from 15 years ago) everything from “known knowns,” to “known unknowns,” to even the surprise “unknown unknowns,” and how we dealt with all of them.
In the end, there’s no substitute for living it. We’ll also keep in mind that seeing the invisible is also another way of saying imagine the possibilities.
Granada by night
Please feel free to comment.
- Any major changes you are considering in your life? If so, what are the “known unknowns?”
- What can you do to get an indication of the “unknown unknowns?”
- Do you have a personal story (especially as relates to relocating) in which you faced an up-to-then invisible factor, and how you dealt with it?