Though Joey Bonura never had any intention of moving to Panama, that’s exactly what he did. The Louisville, Kentucky native now runs a successful business in Panama City and he has no intention of returning home.
“I decided to go on a vacation to Panama with some friends in 2009. After that I caught the ‘Panama bug.’ I ended up visiting two more times and then made a temporary move in 2011 with my dog, Riley, to study abroad, which has turned into a full-time move.”
What started as a temporary study abroad turned into a few more semesters followed by graduation, work, and starting his own business based in Panama. “I will definitely be here for a while,” he says.
“I was instantly attracted to the amount of activity happening in the city. There are constantly new restaurants, bars, stores, and buildings opening every month, and I enjoy getting to try so many new places.”
Joey explains how Panama City has this incredible vibe that is a little hard to describe. He loves how living in the heart of the city makes it so easy to take lots of ‘mini vacations’ to the surrounding islands and beaches, or just have a pool day; something that he could not do back in Kentucky.
Joey describes Panama City as being a bit like downtown Miami—with all its tall buildings. Some buildings are incredibly modern, like the twist tower (locally known as “El Tornillo”), but it also has a charming historic district called Casco Viejo that looks like the French Quarter in New Orleans.
Because imported food is more expensive, Joey has altered his eating habits to a healthier, natural diet. “If you buy your fruits, vegetables, rice, beans, and spices from a street vendor or local market, you’ll pay a third of the cost of shopping at the supermarket,” he said. “I spend around $1,000 monthly, but this is because I share the rent, I don’t own a car, and I use mostly public transit (the bus is $0.25 and the metro is $0.35 cents), and I don’t have any dependents. I like to go out, so a decent portion of my budget goes to nights out on the weekend.”
Joey’s experience with fine dining is equal to what it was back home (typically $40 to $50 per person for appetizer, drink, and main plate), but in Panama you also have the option to eat cheap to balance it out. For example, lunch at a local shop will cost $3.50. You can eat fresh, delicious ceviche (a popular seafood dish) for $2 at the fish market.
To fund his life overseas, Joey owns and runs a lifestyle blog called PTY Life that has recommendations on essential things to do and the best places to eat, drink, party, and sleep in Panama City. Naturally evolving from the blog, he also started a walking food tour called Panama Detour, where people can book Joey for a custom tour around the city.
His tours typically start at 3 p.m., so he spends his mornings working on the website and then gives tours in the afternoon/evening. However, every day is different, and if he has a day without any tours booked, he will take the day off and head to the beach or catch up on errands.
“I love to travel, so having the freedom to work when I want is what I love the most about my life now. By the end of the year, I will have spent around three months traveling outside of Panama to various countries in South and Central America, as well as the U.S. Whenever I have a trip I just block my tour calendar for the days I’ll be gone, and I don’t have to work.”
Much like his move to Panama, Joey just kind of fell into what he is doing now. He originally came to Panama to study, and he started his now incredibly successful website while in school as a hobby. It grew a following, and then he started his walking tour as a fun way to earn extra money—promoting it on his website. Both have now grown enough to be able to support Joey and his dream lifestyle full-time.
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