The Greatest Benefits of Expat Life

Before I moved to Ecuador, my idea of restoration was coming home after a long stressful day at work, drinking a few glasses of wine, reading People magazine, tuning into Netflix, and then taking an Ambien to get to sleep. By the weekend, all I wanted to do was lay on the couch. I’d try to motivate myself to go hiking, or bicycling, but that was only a passing fancy.

By the time I retired I was overweight, stressed out, a bad eater, addicted to the news, overworked, mentally exhausted, and a physical blob. What I was really in need of was a major restoration. Ecuador helped me find that.

I love talking to people who are moving to Cuenca, Ecuador when they come on exploratory trips. They are full of excitement, adventure, and thoughts of living a more fulfilled life.

The stories are very similar among expats. We’ve all moved into unknown territory to free ourselves from the life that has left us searching and unfilled. We want to recapture the adventurous spirit we had as kids, the journey of self-discovery we felt in college, and find the person we were before we got lost in careers, families, material things, and dealing with a stressful life that robbed us of our youthful exuberance.

I see that renewed interest in living as a hallmark of the expat movement. It’s a touchstone we all share.  Finding ourselves again.

When you start life over as an expat, you are thrust into a new culture, an unfamiliar language, and a lack of your own community.

In Ecuador, I found a kind and tranquillo culture where religion and family come first, everyone knows each other and shows affection, and where time slows down allowing you to rebuild yourself.

Being in this new environment allows you to become different. And it can be life changing.

Here’s a few way you’ll be able to restore yourself on your journey to becoming an expat in Ecuador.

Embracing your new identity

When you become an expat, you strip your old life away and create a new one. It’s like moving to a new school where no one knows you.

Most expats are still tied to their past routines, busy lives filled with things that steal the soul rather than nourish it. In retirement you find a new footing. You retreat to former dreams and fashion a future for them.

You can be a writer, a hiker, a photographer, a birdwatcher, a painter.

You can test your endurance by taking up mountaineering, biking, white-water rafting, or surfing.

You get to become “you” again.

Changing pace

One of the first things that changes when you move to Ecuador is the pace of life, as well as your perception of what’s worthy of your time.

You can stay in your pajamas all day if you like and make that morning coffee last for hours rather than the 10 minutes you used to slurp it down in before heading off to a hectic day.

You start lingering over lunches with friends because there’s no reason to rush.

You stop to actually talk to people and don’t mind if it takes time out of your day because you think you should be doing something more worthwhile.

You realign your priorities, putting friends and family first and making time to make memories rather than deadlines.

You stop grousing about stores being closed because tienda owners have closed shop to go to their son’s soccer game.

The new balance you find will help you recenter your life on things that are truly important.

Exploring nature

Exploring nature
©iStock/AlanFalcony

I got healthier when I moved to Ecuador, simply because I didn’t have a car. You see more when you aren’t speeding past places.

Each day as I walk my dog along the four rivers of Cuenca, I am renewed. I stop to listen to the river. I pet sheep tied on long ropes grazing on the fields. I see fathers fishing, their children by their side.

People join me on my walk who enrich me with their stories. It’s those humble moments that connect me to nature and Ecuadorians.

Now, I don’t want a car, because it would strip me of the intricacies of the simple life I found walking.  And that’s how I lost 20 pounds.

Learning to play

During my years of working, play was calculating a spreadsheet. Now play is hiking, playing pickleball, meeting friends for lunch, and playing canasta.

I make time now to put fun back in my life.

It’s also my way of forming a community of like-minded people.

Your friends become your family. It’s like when you’re in grade school and you have recess. You get to go out and play. I had forgotten how much fun play was until I put it back into my life.

I don’t feel guilty if I go on a bike ride thinking I should be doing something more productive like cleaning the house. Play becomes a way of life instead of a hobby for weekends.

Reading to grow

I loved studying religion and philosophy in college which opened me to new ideas. But I lost this important part of my life when daily living took its toll. Now I enjoy dipping my toes back into spiritual works of all sorts. Reading books like The Gita, Think Like a Monk (Jay Shetty), The Art of Happiness (Dalai Lama), The Four Agreements (Don Miguel Ruiz), or the classic books I always said I would read and never did.

I read humor, fiction, nonfiction—all kinds of books because it is becoming a lost art. And I find wisdom from sage writers. It makes me ponder and reminds me there is more in life to discover. It reminds me to live with purpose and good intent.

Whale-Watching

Whale-Watching
©iStock.com/AlbertoLoyo

I’m a Florida girl and love the ocean. I live in the Andes but miss things like kayaking in mangroves. So, once a year I head to Puerto Lopez on the Pacific Ocean and take a spin out on the water to whale-watch. To see these mammoth creatures breaching in the water, sometimes close enough to splash me, is exhilarating.

When I muse on these creatures swimming as far as 16,000 miles to spawn, watching them on their arduous endeavor instills me with determination. If they can do it, then certainly I can face big challenges and succeed as well.

Adventures in Banos

Adventures in Banos
©iStock.com/brendanvanson

About six hours from Cuenca is the town of Banos de Agua, the adventure capital of Ecuador. It’s a tourist town, where hawkers try to flag down tourists, explorers, and gap year backpackers from around the world to go on white-water rafting trips, bicycling trips to waterfalls, canyon ziplining, and adventures through the Amazon.

I’ve done almost all of those things.

I’ve propelled down Class IV rapids where I fell out of the boat. I’ve sat on cliffsides dangling my feet while watching waterfalls crash into the canyons below. I had a blow dart pointed at me by a small Amazonian boy while paddling down the Pastaza River. And I helped make cocoa from roasted beans picked from an indigenous farmer’s garden that I later made into hot chocolate.

In Banos, after my explorations, I like to treat myself to hour-long massages for $25 and bathe in Banos’ hot mineral springs.

Going outside my boundaries and testing my mettle helped me learn I’m not too old to do anything.

Hanging in a Hammock

Hanging in a Hammock

When I really want to squash my stress to zero, I head to Vilcabamba, a town known for its preponderance of centenarians and laidback hippies. I like to retreat to the Izhcayluma Eco Lodge and stay in a cabin with hammocks where I can lay down and read while hummingbirds flutter by.

I indulge in $20 massages and feast off homegrown vegetables and honey from their bee farm. You find yourself disengaging from your cell phone and computers in favor of just swinging in the hammock surrounded by lush gardens. There is peace in stillness.

I get it now why the folks here live so long—if you can balance on a hammock then you certainly can balance life.

There are so many ways to restore yourself as an expat.

The other night, the skies were clear so I sat outside. All of a sudden, a comet flew across the sky, its lighted tail streaming behind it. In my former life, I probably would have been inside watching television. But that night, I was honored by a shooting star.

I’m happy that this time in my life isn’t wasted. I find myself growing in ways I never expected. That alone was worth the move to Ecuador.

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