10 Things I Need in My “Overseas Paradise”

Paradise. It’s a treasure this gumshoe has been seeking since learning to balance on two feet and aim a .38. You could even call it a bit of an obsession.

The bright, searing sun would often blind me as I trudged through chest-high fields of grass, struggling to see beyond the towering bulrushes. I’d cling onto cascading vines for dear life while traversing the narrow, muddy footpath that stretched precariously along the edge of the rugged cliffside. Looming far below, the forest floor seemed to beckon, waiting patiently for any misstep, eager to swallow me whole.

Fear? Don’t be silly. I was without fear, focused solely on the coveted prize: Treasure…artifacts…hidden, enchanted hideaways. And the thrill of discovery surely awaiting me.

Of course, I was just an 8-year-old boy, with high-mileage bandages dangling from my skinned knees, enjoying an adventurous shortcut to school. With my technicolor imagination cranked to the stratosphere, I refused to submit to my continued defeat at finding my very own Machu Picchu.

Despite my diligence, the quest wasn’t easy. Nor do I expect it to be any less challenging now, as I begin my search again.

I’m about to head off with my wife, Beverley. We’re touring seven countries in seven months—across Europe and the Americas—looking for the perfect overseas spot to retire.

I’ve solved thousands of cases as a private detective—but the mission to find “the perfect paradise” is one that’s likely to challenge even this, now seasoned, investigator.

That’s because “paradise” embodies different things for all of us. Overlap between our want lists inevitably happens, such as the desire for a safe community and an affordable cost of living. But other needs and desires will vary as much as the loops and whorls of our fingerprints.

Some prefer cool mountain breezes, while others clamor for sun-soaked beaches. Many will seek peace and solitude, while others yearn for a busy, social, party atmosphere. That’s just the nature of humanity.

Even Beverley and I, who see eye-to-eye on most things, are destined to encounter some passionate differences. For instance, I enjoy hot days and cool nights, whereas she shivers at the hint of the slightest breeze. Beverley aches to scuba dive and explore the undersea world, while I prefer to draw a line in the sand (literally!). She relishes fine red wine, while I’ll guzzle anything containing alcohol (except for hand sanitizer, thanks).

That’s where our quest becomes tricky and, perhaps, a bit complicated. While no destination will likely meet all our wants and needs, some will score higher on our list. In the end, we’ll pick a winner—whichever location comes closest to matching our dreams. But, as we discover and share the benefits and challenges of each destination while you follow along on our journey, I hope it’ll help you find your own personal utopia as well.

In order to assess your needs and desires, and what would define your paradise, I suggest making a list of what you don’t like about where you are now. Then simply reverse course.

That’s how we came up with the following top 10 “shopping list” criteria for our ultimate paradise:

1. Low Cost of Living: If you’re in North America, you’ve likely complained about the high cost of real estate—and the high cost of living in general. We want to find a place where our hard-earned retirement dollars will stretch further. Where we’re not working half the year to feed the taxman. And where insurance, utility, internet, and cellphone rates don’t climb faster than King Kong up the Empire State Building. Ideally, a place where our monthly costs aren’t higher than $3,000 a month, all in.

2. Healthcare Options: Modern, affordable healthcare (including natural therapies) ranks as important to me. Canada may be famous for its free government-subsidized healthcare, but the naked truth is that many important services are defunded each year. The queues for surgeries and specialist appointments grow longer, while the medical field has become complicit—focusing on prescribing pharmaceuticals to treat symptoms rather than investigating the root causes of ailments. Better quality of care becomes paramount as our bodies mature.

3. Healthy Lifestyle: Similarly, we hope to find a place that encourages active and healthy living. Somewhere that fast food is the exception rather than the greasy rule. A place where we can enjoy home-cooked, healthy meals, and avoid the over-marketed processed foods that fill hospital beds in North America. That way, we can keep rocking these sexy bodies.

4. A Supportive Community: A supportive expat community is important, as is someplace where locals welcome outsiders and are willing to share their cultural traditions. We’d prefer to avoid those areas where visitors are treated merely as wallets, as though their pockets are as deep as the Mariana Trench. Unfortunately, ours aren’t.

A place where smiles are still commonplace.

5. Friendly, Happy Locals: We hope to trade those sullen, overworked faces we encounter every day for ones that are happy and, well, satisfied enough to smile. We’ve noticed, and perhaps you have as well, that as friends and neighbors at home struggle to pay their mounting bills and keep up with the Joneses (despite many two-income households), they become disenchanted and unhappy with their lives. And who can blame them? Hopefully there’s a place where smiles are still commonplace—and aren’t just a sign of insanity!

6. Social Solitude: Concerts, stage plays, the cinema…even an occasional raucous party can be enjoyable. But we enjoy our peace and quiet just as much. We’ll also gladly trade the sounds of honking horns, emergency sirens, construction crews, and squealing tires for the glorious sounds of nature. The sound of water cascading over a rocky ledge, rushing waves crashing ashore, the soft croaking of a toucan, or even the deepthroated whoop of a howler monkey… sings to our ears.

7. Sun and Warmth: Somewhere you can’t step outside without first slathering yourself with SPF500, and the monkeys shave off their hair to stay cooler. Someplace we can indulge in breakfast cocktails on the beach, and where, of course, Beverley can explore Atlantis—while I rub elbows with the ghost of Ernest Hemingway at the local tiki bar. The type of utopia where the warmest piece of clothing we’d need to pack is a sweater. No more snow shoveling, ever again. Dig it?

Perhaps Lake Atitlan in Guatemala will check David’s boxes. He’ll be there in a few months. ©Eoin Bassett

8. Safety and Security: As a seasoned private investigator I know all too well that crime and corruption have no geographical borders. It happens wherever there are humans. But it’s no secret there are places best avoided. We’ll review many things you can do to lessen your chance of being targeted when you venture outside your comfort zone. Many are common sense, but once our boots are on the ground, I’ll be sure to share some lesser-known tricks I’ve learned over the years.

9. High-Speed Connectivity: I may be old-school in many ways, but I still dig me some internet (with which I have an enduring love-hate relationship!). Let’s face it, it’s a way to keep in touch with loved ones—whether through emails, social media, or Skype, and it’s also how I keep plugged into my portable streams of income (including writing this column). As much as I’d love to, I can’t live without it.

10. A Stable and Secure Government: A strong, capable, honest—and duly-elected— government (I’m struggling to keep a straight face), with a free-spirited, unencumbered citizenry would be golden. (These rose-colored glasses seem to fit for now.)

So, can this retired detective, blessed with that adventurous little boy spirit, find the elusive, wondrous Shangri-La we’ve described?

In a way, I feel as though I’m heading back to school. Except this time there’s a dame coming along, and I won’t be taking any shortcuts to get there.

It’s too late to be the first to discover Machu Picchu, but it’s still a spectacular place to visit. @Jason Holland

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