Our One Retirement Goal: Never Be Cold Again

Chicago winters can be brutal. My wife, Leslie, and I endured 15 of them before I retired from my job as a speechwriter for the regional office of a federal agency in July 2016. We had just one retirement goal: to never be cold again.

For several years we drooled over stories in International Living. We made plans, but only in our heads. Then, in April 2016, we went to IL’s Fast Track Your Retirement Overseas conference in New Orleans, and the plans started to take shape.

We originally wanted to move to Europe—Spain, France, Malta, or Italy. But, after hearing the conference speakers, we added Mexico, Costa Rica, and Uruguay to our list.

What really helped, though was meeting one-on-one with experts like Glynna Prentice and Barbara Diggs. For example, we liked the idea of Altea, Spain, but Glynna advised starting out in a larger city with better transportation connections, letting us make side trips to other towns and cover more ground.

So that’s what we did, renting an apartment for six weeks in the old city, or Cosco Antiguo, of Alicante, Spain—great beaches, a walkable central city, and several excellent museums. Winters on Spain’s Costa Blanca are mild, with highs reaching the low 60s F into January. I don’t mind wearing sweaters…as long as there are no winter coats needed.

The Cosco Antiguo has narrow streets, delightful plazas, open-air restaurants, and lots of people—locals and tourists alike. One night, while relaxing before dinner, we heard what sounded like a brass band playing a funeral dirge, so we went downstairs. It was a slow-moving procession, with about 50 people carrying—on their shoulders—a float, or paso, with a 20-foot-high statue of Jesus. They were headed for the 16th century Basilica Santa Maria, just down the street. We joined the locals in following this parade, similar to Holy Week processions. It was a moving experience and a great taste of local culture.

The cost of living is also attractive in Alicante. A one-bedroom apartment goes for as little as $60,000—less if there’s no elevator. Want a view of the Mediterranean Sea? Some million-dollar views have matching price tags, but there are bargains. Like a 1,000-square-foot apartment on the seventh floor of a building with sea views…three bedrooms and a bathroom-and-a-half, listed for less than $170,000.

Rents can be under $500 a month for a one-bedroom apartment. While a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment in a central neighborhood can be found for $1,375 a month.

Great walkability plus excellent public transportation mean you don’t need a car in Alicante. From our neighborhood, we could easily walk to shops, restaurants, and the Central Mercado (Central Market) in 20 minutes or less.

The Central Mercado is a fascinating array of vendors in a cavernous, 1920s modernist building. We found fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, meat, and poultry at prices roughly a third of what we paid at supermarkets in Chicago’s suburbs. We got our meat from Pilar, the helpful lady butcher. When my wife asked for ground beef, Pilar produced a nice-looking two-pound chunk of meat, which she carefully trimmed and ran through the grinder while we watched. The spaghetti sauce Leslie made with it was muy sabroso (very tasty).

Eating out is not expensive either. We often enjoyed a lunchtime menu of the day for about $10 a person—salad, main course, dessert, and wine.

From Alicante, we moved on to Malta. Next, we’re off to Mexico, then Costa Rica, and Uruguay before heading back to Europe to try France and Italy. The adventure so far has been much easier thanks to what we learned at IL’s Fast Track Your Retirement Overseas conference.

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