The longing for a simpler, yet more enjoyable lifetime had been tugging at me for many years. It all began with a quiet canoe trip down the Macal River in Belize in 1998 with a good friend of mine. It was our first time in the country and we were told by our guide (whom I thought was going with us) that he’d meet us down river in a couple of hours. Two inexperienced people in a canoe in the late morning with no guide made for an exciting adventure. We watched amazing birds fly overhead, iguanas drop from trees into the water and women washing their clothes in the river.
That was the image that stuck with me the most. I remember at first being confused at the sight, then realizing that this was her way of life. I took for granted that my family had a washing machine AND dryer! It was then that I wanted to know more about living without the luxuries and connecting with the land.
To travel as long as possible, I had to find a way to supplement my income beyond my internet business.
The seed had been planted and grew for well over a decade until I presented myself with a challenge: Leave the United States, quit my job, sell all of my belongings, sell my beautiful house and classic car and go live “simply.” I decided I wanted to go to Costa Rica and volunteer for a wild animal rescue center for at least three months (the length of the tourist visa). By early 2013, I had it all in place, gathered up my courage and hit the road in late March.
A couple of years earlier, I had established a water filtration business online which would supplement my income and was something I could do from anywhere in the world without much effort. It turns out this was a great way to pay my minimal bills without digging into my savings account I was now going to be reliant upon.
Having been in Costa Rica a few times before, I knew I loved the country and people and understood what was in store for me. I had secured, sight unseen (except photos from the Internet), a small casita only meters from the Caribbean Sea. Ironically, it did not have a washing machine and I had to do my laundry in a bucket. The experience was not without its trials and tribulations, but was absolutely priceless to me and one I look back on often.
I decided that if I wanted to travel as long as possible, I had to find a way to supplement my income beyond my internet business. It was not legal to work anywhere on a tourist visa so I went the house sitting route instead. There was no compensation other than having the bills paid for me and having to supply my own food. In hindsight, this often took me away from the main reason for my departure: to work with wild animals.
After 9 months, I went to Panama to help a couple start a butterfly attraction. I learned how to raise butterflies and care for them as well as help decorate and furnish their café with goodies. It was another great experience that lasted about 4 months. I then had to decide where to go next. It was either Guatemala or New Zealand. I decided on the latter, having never been but always wanted to go. I felt this was a good starting point for checking off my bucket list items and work my way around the world.
After things fell through with a house sit I had set up months earlier, I found myself stuck in New Zealand, nowhere to go and having to spend my first homestay with a slightly unbalanced woman. I also found out that rent was incredibly high so I was in a rush to find a house sit and be able to plan the next step. Not to mention, it was absolutely freezing during the winter. Luckily, a family on a very large sheep farm took me in for the next two and a half months. It was never an opportunity I’d thought about before, but am glad that I fell into it. I became a shepherd looking after thousands of sheep and cows while working outside every day, no matter the conditions. It was a barren place near the bottom of the South Island. It was beyond peaceful with no neighbor in sight; views of the plains were like scenes out of movies. I was often gobsmacked simply watching the weather change in front of my eyes. It was nothing I’d ever witnessed in person before and seemed unreal. Like, pages out of National Geographic unreal.
I limped along on a very bad internet connection and managed to maintain my online businesses. At this point, I had built a couple of other websites in the same industry and was having Amazon fulfil most of my orders for me. I wasn’t getting rich by any means but it wasn’t something I was willing to give up either.
Once my experience on the farm was over, I wanted to see a little more of New Zealand so I travelled to Blenheim where I was going to do a week house sit for a man whom I wouldn’t even meet in person when I arrived. He said someone would come get me at the bus station and show me around the house. I’ll never forget what he said: “His name is Andy and he said to tell you to just look for the ugly guy in a Alfa Romero.” After a very long but scenic bus ride, I only had to wait a few minutes before he showed up. The car didn’t give it away, but I was pretty sure who he was by the scowl on his face and somewhat intimidating looks.
We warmed up to each other after a few days of hanging out but I had to work my way up to Auckland and then on to Australia for three months. He offered up a place to stay if I ever came back and we kept in touch while I was gone.
My mother ended up vacationing in New Zealand exactly three months later so I met her there and we toured the South Island for a few weeks. I had a house sit set up for six weeks in Blenheim which was down the street from Andy’s. We continued seeing one another and decided that I would get an extension on my visa for a year. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to complete the paperwork before my tourist visa was up, so I had to leave to Australia again for another three months.
Once I returned and completed my immigration forms, I was then granted the extension which led to applying for residency a year later. I’m happy to say that four days after the major 2016 earthquake which shook the region I was living in at the time, my residency application was approved.
We have recently moved to the North Island in Hawke’s Bay so another chapter begins in my book of life. 2017 will find me building my I.T. consulting business and earning a real living for the first time in years.
I would never have guessed I’d end up here, but am glad I did. Letting fate guide my way was never my style of living before. It was only when I set out into the unknown and stopped planning my every move, did my life truly begin. I was being shaped into the person I was meant to be instead of what I thought I should be. It’s been liberating and satisfying instead of constantly trying to scratch that itch I could never quite reach.
I can’t stress enough to anyone wanting to try what I did, to just do it. Keep the few things that matter most to you…things that are not replaceable. Make sure you have money in the bank for backup and have a goal. Those are really the only things you need. You should also set a breakpoint. Decide when you will allow yourself to give up and for what reason. The first few months will be the hardest so set the number beyond that. Everything takes time to get used to and change is not an easy pill to swallow for most people. Keep your eye on the prize and keep moving forward.
I was being shaped into the person I was meant to be instead of what I thought I should be in this lifetime.
Someone told me once that when I talk about my life, it was always what came after I left the States. She never knew anything about me prior to that time. I believe it’s because that’s when my real life started. Everything before that was just getting me ready to accept what was coming. It was the typical 8-5 grind, waiting for the weekend to start then dreading going back to work on Monday. I don’t call that a “real” life and that’s what prompted me to search for something more.
My good friend and I wrote a book about living abroad called “Two Brauds Abroad,” which chronicles my life in Costa Rica and hers in Africa through a series of emails. We go into depth about the steps to take if one wishes to jump off the treadmill and live a more exciting and fulfilling life abroad. We’re hoping that if we can encourage one person to follow their dream, it will resonate with others as well by learning of their adventure. It’s available through Amazon or our website.
I want to wish everyone the best of luck if they decide to take on their dream of leaving their home and that you really can do it if you’re passionate about it. The rewards far outweigh the risks! Conquer your fears and forge ahead. It’s ok to fall down once in a while as long as you’re willing to brush yourself off and stand up again.
About The Author
Stephanie De La Garza is an I.T. professional turned world traveler after leaving the United States in 2013 to embark on a simpler, more enjoyable lifestyle. Her love of wild animals took her to Costa Rica volunteering for a rescue center, then on to Panama to raise butterflies. Stephanie is the author of Two Brauds Abroad – a book about leaving home and living in Central America.