Last week I shared that my family is planning an extended stay in Ecuador.
At which point, I’m guessing about half the people reading said “Ecuador?”
How did we settle on Ecuador? Why not Italy or Indonesia? Why not France or Finland?
I’ll admit that up until last year, Ecuador wouldn’t even have been on my radar as far as a place that I’d want to visit. For some reason South America seemed both not exotic enough for an adventure abroad (it *is* an America, after all) and also a little bit scary (aren’t there like, drug wars and stuff down there?)
But after doing some – okay, a lot of – reading, I found myself seriously considering a continent that we previously wouldn’t even have given a second thought. Here’s why:
Why South America:
South America first emerged as a contender when I read The New Global Student: Skip the SAT, Save Thousands on Tuition, and Get a Truly International Education. Author Maya Frost made the radical decision to pull her daughters out of high school to move abroad, settling in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
After reading the book – which is more about living abroad in general than South America specifically, but still includes a lot of great tidbits of information about Argentina – I started researching by reading expat blogs and forums.
I was intrigued by what I read about Latin American culture, specifically the focus on families and love of children (to be fair, lots of countries and continents seems to trump the US in this regard).
It’s also a lot safer, overall, then we might be conditioned to think. Of course there are not-so-desirable and even dangerous places in South America, but we’ve also got those right in our own states and cities. In general, I found that a lot of crime against tourists is preventable. (More about that in a future post.)
I found out fairly quickly that, due to an expat explosion, Argentina and specifically Buenos Aires have become much more expensive places to live than they were 5 or 10 years ago. But I kept reading that in general, South America offers a low cost of living – crucial to us as we will be maintaining a household in the U.S. and would like to spend less, month-to-month, living abroad than we would living here.
In other words, when everything balances out at the end of the month – the cost of food, utilities and rent there plus the cost of our basic bills here like insurance and the house payment – we wanted to spend less money per month than we do now just maintaining our basic North American lifestyle. And we found that there are areas of South America where we can reasonably expect to do that.
“Living cheap” definitely wouldn’t be the only reason I’d choose a specific destination, but considering we have a family of 7 and limited funds, it’s definitely a factor.
When looking for countries where we could find that laid-back, slower pace of life along with a super low cost of living, Ecuador came up again and again…but so did a lot of other countries. Here’s what put Ecuador top of our list:
- It’s not too hot. Yes, Ecuador is on the equator, but the area we’re considering is up in the Andes mountains. Cuenca is said to have a “spring-like” climate year-round, with highs in the mid-70s and lows in the mid-50s. (Those are the kind of temps a northern girl like me can get behind.) Even the areas on the coast with lower elevation seemed to have pretty reasonable temps, with mid-80s year-round being a common theme.
- A cool mix of cultures. Ecuador is a small country that offers many different cultural experiences, from European-settled colonial cities to small fishing villages, each offering its own history, art, music, festivals and food. There’s also a huge amount of geographical and biological diversity in the country, which I’ll explore in another post.
- The U.S. dollar is the official currency. Maybe this seems like a silly reason to choose a specific place, but with all the transitions we’ll be going through as residents of a new country – language, culture, and just getting familiar with the terrain – the last thing I want is to be trying to figure out how the value of the currency works. I have a hard enough time figuring out the exchange rate when I go to Canada.
- Ecuador is on Eastern time zone. Okay, yes, admittedly this is another silly little thing but I am awful at figuring out how to adjust for time zone, and it’ll be nice to know I don’t have to worry about that, especially since I’ll continue to work remotely. When I’m facing so much that is new and strange, I think it’ll be comforting to know that when it’s 9 AM down there, it’s 9 AM “back home,” too.
- It’s about an 8-hour flight from Chicago to Quito. I liked that the flight is a reasonable distance, meaning if we had to get back for any reason or if family or friends wanted to visit, it would be possible. During certain times of year flights are pretty reasonably-priced, too.
I admit they are mostly very practical, even boring reasons – but hey, South America is a big place, and you gotta start narrowing down your options somewhere.
Which leads us to the question: Why Cuenca? But that will have to wait for a future post!
Oh, and in case you’re curious, we are planning this trip for late 2013, so we have a year to prepare. Which is good, because I think we’re going to need it!
Until next time!