How We Made Our Overseas Dream Come True

My husband Alan and I had long loved to travel and had so many exotic destinations on our wish list…

We wanted to see the early morning sun turn the Taj Mahal pink in India, gaze out over misty mountains from the heights of Machu Picchu…catch snowflakes as they made their way to the ground…watch the sun rise over Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

But we had three children to raise, a mortgage to pay on our home in Bundaberg, Queensland, and—as the years went on—we had elderly parents to care for. We put our dreams on hold. We reckoned it was too risky, too hard…it was something we could do later.

But life is short. The years flew by and along the way our children grew up and left the nest, my lovely dad died of cancer and for three years we tended to Alan’s father as he suffered the downward spiral of Parkinson’s disease.

We started to re-evaluate our life. I worked as a disability support worker with a great bunch of young adults, a job I found very rewarding. Alan had over 30 years’ experience as an IT professional. We loved our jobs but struggled with our workload while dealing with Alan’s fathers’ illness which involved fortnightly 900-kilometre round trips to Ipswich to assist with his care. After Alan’s father passed away we were feeling tired, mentally exhausted and questioning our quality of life.

We realised that “later” may never come. We needed to do something to realise our dreams. We visited Bangkok in Thailand and marvelled at how cheap it was. We loved the exotic Asian feel of the city and its vibrant nightlife. During our trip we met some Aussies living in Bangkok and they planted the seed of making Thailand our retirement destination.

When we got home we began researching online. We chose Phuket and Chiang Mai as possible retirement destinations and looked up local real estate to check rental prices. We also looked into getting a Thai retirement visa. We went through our finances with a fine-tooth comb and decided it was worth a go.

I remember the excitement, doubt and fear. At the ages of 57 and 55 we were a long way off retirement and the pension, so renting our house, personal savings and online ventures were our way of funding our life in Thailand.

At the time the tasks felt insurmountable. Getting our house ready to rent was hell on earth; we had a four-bedroom property and decades of family clutter to sort through. Discarding family treasures isn’t the easiest thing but we did have fun going through old memories.

We solved little mysteries, like where the spare set of house keys has been hiding for the past five years and marvelled at how we managed to accumulate so much “stuff”. Garage sales, tender centres, eBay and charity shops become our new best friends as our departure date came closer.

The hardest part was telling family and friends. For anyone thinking of moving overseas this will probably be the most challenging thing. Family won’t want you to leave, others will think you are crazy.

For us there were times when we almost changed our minds, but in the end we decided that you only get one chance at life and if we didn’t do it now we would regret it for the rest of our lives.

Although we did have strong opposition to us leaving, our kids encouraged us to go. They were excited about all the free exotic holidays they would be having and we were enjoying being “cool” parents for a change.

I’m so glad we stuck to our guns. If we had changed our minds we would have missed out on so many wonderful experiences and opportunities. Even after all this time, little things can give me so much pleasure. Watching Buddhist monks go about their daily breakfast round as they exchange food for blessings. Young Thai schoolgirls helping me give directions to a bus driver and being rewarded with a laugh and smile.

It’s now two years since we arrived in the northern city of Chiang Mai. Any doubts or fears feel so distant and small now. Settling in was made easier with the support of the Chiang Mai Expats Club. We attended a breakfast meeting and were welcomed by experienced expats that gave us good advice on finding housing, transport and day-to-day living tips.

People often ask how we cope going from a four-bedroom house to a one-bedroom apartment. The answer is, we love it; we have the freedom of an uncluttered life which allows us to take off and explore other parts of the world without worrying about “stuff”.

We take advantage of housesitting opportunities to explore Europe. The lower cost of living here means we have the funds to enjoy adventures. We have watched the sun rise over the Taj Mahal and children playing in the River Ganges in India. We have looked out over the mountains and valleys from the heights of Machu Picchu in Peru, we have caught snowflakes before they touched the ground in Inverness in Scotland and we will soon be watching the sun rise over Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

We have had difficult moments but the rewards have been one hundred-fold.

I remember what it was like when we had all our final preparations made and we got on the plane to come here. We felt like we could finally breath and relax. I wouldn’t trade the sense of freedom I now have for anything.

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