Living Outside of the Box

Living Outside of the Box

Since leaving the United States January 2nd, 2014, I’m up to 14 countries of community research. I’ve learned so many ways to benefit (yes benefit) from living on the U.S. dollar. I was just talking to my son last night and telling him that I still live on under $800/per month in Lisbon ...

Here is Love

Chocolates. Flowers. Dinner. Sex. Recipe for romance? Not in my Playah Book.

A Day at one of the Caye Islands, Belize.

A Day at one of the Caye Islands, Belize.

My true romance started with blue water, white sand, $1.75 cocktails and wifi. Let me break it down in one thought: I felt no pressure to live a desirable life. I felt invited by the environment of easy living, clean air and to live that desirable life.

Feeling the weight of the world on my shoulders at the time, I bought an expedited passport (only $200) 2 days after I purchased my 4am flight to San Pedro Island, Belize, January 2nd 2014. I left the daily grind of aimless work for slave income in inclement weather among disconnected relations to live and breathe where I freely made decisions on what I would do next based on what I would love to do and where I would like to be without a financial thought. It was a place of respite and healing.

In Washington D.C. pretty done with it and looking for a way out

In Washington D.C. pretty done with it and looking for a way out

Leaving the U.S. I felt a bit like a giggling fugitive at the airport. Every minute of my flight I kept wondering if I should go and check back, but I couldn’t come up with a real reason why. It’s not like my phone was ringing off the hook with people wondering where I was. I literally snuck off in the middle of the night and eloped with living abroad. After that opportunities popped up to allow me to just keep traveling until I found the right country to make a commitment for permanent residency.

Comfortable in my playah mentality, I was restless during the first years of travel, always looking to the next country while I was living in the paradise of the current country. I thought every place I lived could work for me. “I could live here,” I thought. “Sure,” my inner voice replied, “We know you can make damn near anything work. But where do we fit? Where is the one place where we make an investment to live? That’s where we need to be. Keep searching.”

My home office at Mysaya Resort, Santa Marta, Colombia for a whopping $300 US/month

My home office at Mysaya Resort, Santa Marta, Colombia for a whopping $300 US/month

So here I am, country #12, head over heels in love with Lisbon, Portugal. I tear up a little now in relief to find that life fit I’d been on a 45-year search for. I always thought that I needed the beach near me with its calming surf sounds, excessive heat and palm trees. There was always something missing though, some sort of city civilization.

Being the agitated city dweller, I’ve had enough of the dog eat dog hard living of NYC and, now, Washington DC. I was over Chicago and Detroit before the consideration ever entered my mind to even visit those cities. As long as I can remember, my mom and I lived in the romantic world of the arts. We saw major Broadway musicals in the best seats, studied ballet in a tiny dance studio above the Ed Sullivan theatre, where Stephen Colbert now hosts the Late Show. My dad even performed jam sessions at the Cordial Bar next to that very same theater while waiting to cover the unwanted jazz gigs of popular musicians of that time, now all legends.

My performace, broadway concert and mom’s class.

My performace, broadway concert and mom’s class.

I danced right next to top actors and actresses like, Betty WhiteSonia Mazano, and Morgan Freeman. My true education was obtained when I escaped & cut high school regularly, spending my days studying the mimes, vocalists, dancers, musicians, painters and hip hop artists who performed in Washington Square Park. Color, creativity, diversity and passion infused the air in lower Manhattan organically then. There was a diverse romantic freedom among the city chaos as urban culture bubbling over with a renaissance of many different cultures and communities. Music, good thoughtful music, was playing everywhere. I was spoiled, free and safe to achieve a purpose that I wasn’t ready to approach just then.

My high school classroom

Adulthood took several complicated turns when I veered down other paths that had nothing to do with who I am, what my values are or my purpose in life. It took 25 years to steer back to myself and continue to build a life starting from the beginning. Remembering back during high school, I would read through mountains of fashion magazines stacked by my vintage bed where I actually read the articles; I became informed about Europe. Life seemed more romantic there and I fantasized about that. The women were real, sexuality was open, education was taken seriously there, music and art were experimentally played, languages were plenty, men treated women respectfully, colors were vibrant and clothes fit artfully.

City vintage and salvaged items I used to infuse the Euro life in my D.C. flat.

City vintage and salvaged items I used to infuse the Euro life in my D.C. flat.

I kept trying to create and inject this European fantasy into my life and mind gone awry instead of just traveling there and checking it out for myself. I used every excuse in the book, “It’s expensive to travel,” but it doesn’t cost more than a smoking addiction or a month of weekly happy hours to travel. “My friends and family will have a hard time if I go,” everyone’s life continues to go on and most people I know even notice my new address on the other side of the world. With current video technology, you can keep any relationship going strong. “I need to speak the language,” but no, not in Portugal (or Mexico or Costa Rica or Belize) I don’t.

From the moment I landed in Porto, Portugal, it’s been passport stamped with a wink and smiles, bienvienidos (welcome), live jazz gracing the multiple historical squares, Spanish guitar filtering through the windows of the top hostels in the world, couples kissing on the edge of the river, people with little white dogs smoking in that European way they do wearing cozy scarves, like they don’t give a damn. The streets literally flow with wine, tons and tons of locally made wine for just €2-€5. All men respect all women; moving from the narrow sidewalks to let the ladies have their space, holding doors without ulterior motives, hat tipping and halting their cars to allow women to cross regardless of the traffic light color.

Porto Lisbon mash up.

Porto Lisbon mash up.

Speaking of color, the colonial buildings are draped in shades of pastels with tall windows fenced in ornate 18th century rod iron. The walls are framed festively in royal molding, luscious cool marble and the traditional blue and yellow Portuguese craft tiling. The air is cool, crisp, and clean. Lisbon has a sophisticated mass transit system with trains, trams, trolleys, buses, ferries and even Uber drivers, again for just a few dollars. I prefer to take the trolley to top off a romantic day of working on creative projects and coffee sipping at a local café where the owner tells me how it’s his, “pleasure to serve such a beautiful woman every day. Thank you.” I even changed cafes to see if the results would be different. Nope. It’s like the café owners go to café school learning poetic European “Thank you” and “Come again” lines. I’ll take it, apply for my residency and breath the air of St. Valentine every day just by living in the place that embraces me fully with warmth, caring and respect.

Porto, Portugal, day 1, Happy Porto Apartments.

Porto, Portugal, day 1, Happy Porto Apartments.

About the writer, Lisa May: After raising a family most non-traditionally, she left the states in search of a life that fit her true self. In three years of travel she developed Expat Real, a guidance service for those who wish to live abroad but don’t know where to start. Lisa May has traveled to 12 countries and lived in 10. She continues to travel the world and post interviews with other expats about their process of life abroad.

Vegan Shepherds Pie (for the vegan or the frugal)



Certain countries tend to have minimal supplies available in which to live the lifestyles we're accustomed to. Other countries have more lifestyle options than we can imagine at an awfully inflated price. I've found myself experimenting in the kitchen with what was available to create meals that I love. This dish compensates between the two situations while igniting your tastebuds and satisfying your health and hunger. 


"Meat" Base

  • Lentils
  • Garlic [3-4 cloves diced]
  • Onion [diced]
  • Carrots [2 diced]
  • Leek [sliced thin]
  • Mushrooms [chopped]
  • Garam Masala
  • Cumin
  • Black Pepper
  • Sea Salt
  • Soy Sauce
  • Balsamic Vinegar 
  • Flour [any kind 2T]

The Mash Topping

  • Cauliflower [1 head chopped]
  • Garlic [2 cloves]
  • Yellow Plantain [half chopped]
  • White Potato [half chopped]
  • Coconut oil [3T or to preferred texture]
  • Salt & Pepper [to taste]

Saute coconut oil, lentils, half of your garlic, half an onion, carrots, garam masala, cumin, salt and pepper until browned-15 minutes or until you smell the Indian spices. Combine with twice as much water, water and port or vegetable broth. I used water for this pie because it's what I had on hand. Simmer on medium heat until liquid reduces 2/3 or 158 ml. 

In the meantime saute half onion, half garlic, mushrooms and leek for 5-8 minutes or when onion becomes clear. Deglaze with port, broth or water and simmer to a low reduction. Start steaming the cauliflower, plantain, garlic and potato. Pour lentil mix into the the saute. Add soy sauce and balsamic to taste (gives it the meaty taste). Mix and simmer until lentils are soft and liquid is absorbed. 

Mash the steamed vegetables with a bit of reserved liquid and coconut oil to a stiff texture. Less liquid prevents mushy or runny pie syndrome. When the lentil saute is ready fold in 2T of wheat flour, preventing mushy or runny pie syndrome. You can try almond or coconut flour as a substitute. Layer the lentil mix in your baking dish then layer the mash on top. Bake at 375 degrees fahrenheit or 190 celsius for approximately 20 minutes or until it smells really tasty. Remove from the oven and let the pie set for 15 minutes before serving. 

Makes 4-6 servings 





It's Just a Bunch of Chickens

Photo Credit: Lisa May, Hopkins Belize 2016

Photo Credit: Lisa May, Hopkins Belize 2016

You know that moment when you get preoccupied with your projects, then become startled by a noise in the room or someone rustling behind you? My mom use to be that person rustling behind me every so often. After I would jump around, startled, she would say, “It’s just us chickens,” with a playful smile. Then she would give me a hug.

Traveling 9 or so countries through Central and South America, I hear many rustling sounds that make me alert and looking around, for howler monkeys, big lizards and water bugs. In most cases, it’s just a shadow of a bird flying by or of a palm tree branch waving in the wind.

Palm trees rustling all day.

In Belize I sometimes hear news about mounting robberies that scare the expat residents. Most are just pick pocketing incidents. They call the robberies crime here, which puts fear into the air that is socially infectious. In NYC, where I’m from, crime equals severe violence and denigration. My awareness becomes heightened when people around me speak of “high crime.”

I like to work outside on the veranda. The first time I heard rustling in the neighbor’s yard I thought for sure, with the crime everyone keeps talking about, that there were vicious thieves in the bushes watching my every move and preparing to pounce. I couldn’t work like that, so I grabbed the metal pipe I keep by my bed and went out to face my fears.

I had the spirit of Maggie Jones in me.

I had the spirit of Maggie Jones in me.

I peered into the neighbor’s bushes from a safe distance only to find that the noises were just a bunch of chickens scratching the ground looking for snacks. The chickens were more afraid of me even after I put down the pipe. Relieved, and seeing the humor of this scene, I could almost see the face of my young mom in those bushes smiling and saying to me, “It’s just us chickens.”

We all carry the human need to connect with each other and feel a sense of belonging. Fear is one facilitator, which does that. If 2 people share the same fear, not only can they form a bond, but fear intensifies their connection with passion deepening the fear. The problem with fear, in my experience, is that it’s based mostly in fantasy. Fear is a life altering distraction and encourages disconnection from the world where we seek to experience more connections. I’d taken the concept of pick pocketing and turned it into violent crimes against women while trying to get some work done outside in the daylight.

Fears keep you boxed in and alone.

Fears keep you boxed in and alone.

One of my worst fears were brought to light in a bunch of chickens who ran away as soon as they saw me through the bushes. Facing my fears instead of giving into them by locking myself in the house showed me that life is what we make it up to be in our minds. It also brought to light a new connection with my mom who’s oblivious to my moment with the chickens because she lives in another part of the continent. I finished my work that day in comfort, rooted in a stronger sense of myself.

Pitching Oprah Winfrey

Pitching Oprah Winfrey

After completing the London Real Business Accelerator Program, I became hungry to initiate a major change in our current society. After reading the widespread reports of disparaging behavior by high-profile people, I decided to create a docu-style reality TV series centered on changing the learned culture of social offenders.

ASK LISA MAY: Home & Land Ownership vs Home with Land Rental in Panama

Good morning Lisa May,

I watched with great interest the video with the couple in Mexico and while the video was very well done. The people stated that they paid a small sum ($140k+/-) for their unit [3br, 2ba, 2 floor, 3600 sq. foot, cliff side beach home]. There are so many that find this sum impossible to reach. My condos are available to most everyone at $79k with monthly condo fees of only $125. What I am seeing now is a lesser interest in buying and more interest in renting.

With this in mind, I have now designed an even less costly mobile unit of 576 sq. ft in Panama for less than a $1500 sale. The land upon which the unit sits is rented from me with a minimum term of 3 years and is currently only $175 per month including land taxes, grounds maintenance, security and the use of the public areas and more. The contract will allow using the unit as a rental. Land rental was common before the 1900's allowing regular people to get a place at a more affordable cost. This changed starting in the mid 60's up till today. People have been, for lack of better words, brainwashed into believing they need "ownership". 

QUESTION: How do I offer this great deal at a great price all the while having the people feel comfortable? You have chatted with so many people and actually work in the area of the "retiree movement" that I am hoping you can shed some light.


Perfect Panama Condos

Dear Perfect Panama Condos,

Your information sounds good but I'm always leery about land rentals. Focusing on the logic, yes, it’s cheaper to lease land with home ownership. The laws change, however, when one moves from the area that they know. The culture changes. Your summarized history of lease rental is interesting, however this information comes from you, the land owner. History also shows poor people being taken advantage of since the world began and continues on now as an epidemic. That is no brainwash. 

For example, their have been instances in Belize where new comers are sold homes only to find out, after their renovations, that the land belongs to someone else and that someone else takes all leaving the home owners with no home and no savings. The U.S. is about to blow another financial bubble most likely right after these horrendous elections leaving people scared and desperate. Your potential clients need to trust that they have a sure thing. Don’t get me wrong, I think what you have here is a good idea worth fleshing out. What your potential clients need is peace of mind in knowledge that they can acquire themselves from accredited sources. 

I’ve gotten lots of feedback in Mexico, Guatemala and Belize that Panama has gotten too expensive for low income expat living. I agree. What I found surprising is that expats in Belize left to live in Panama for less and came back to Belize broke. That says a lot because Belize is a pretty pricey place to live as well. So with this growing sense among expats or those considering leaving the country, your arrangement is welcoming but seems a little too good to be true. It’s an idea that has not been tested.

Many of my expat friends in Mexico own homes and think nothing of land rental, feeling very secure. There are others, however, who own mobile homes with land rental but are terrified to renovate or AirBnb/rent out their homes for fear of land rental hikes or changes in rental policy feeling forced to leave, unable to afford moving the home. I even have a friend who refuses to buy in Washington, D.C. because it’s land rental only. 

A good way to address your marketing here is to document your proper due diligence and apply your concepts to the current global economic situation. People are legitimately scared to lose all of their money. Resolve their fears by backing up with your credentials (why they should trust you), Panamanian legislation and real estate law. Offering knowledge on good bi-lingual real estate lawyers used in the Panamanian expat communities might be a good start.

Food for thought.



Lisa May

Founder & Host of Expat Real

He Was Pretty, Fearless and the Sole Designer of His Life Map.

He walked the walk and talked the talk. 

He walked the walk and talked the talk. 

He was the epitome of fearlessness, passion and humanity. He held big dreams at a young age and became the worlds most famous boxer of all time; he walked the walk and talked the talk. Muhammad Ali was born in a world where he, his family and the African American [Black] community were told by their own country that they were naturally ugly, weak, stupid and subservient. In making the decision to move abroad, my closest circle of family and friends told me that I was not properly educated, I would risk attack as a pretty single American traveler, I wouldn't make it without knowing the language and more of the same. As negative as that sounds, Ali dealt with worse.

He would've been arrested or killed just for drinking from the water fountains marked, "White". Although Muhammad Ali believed in civil rights, he did not take a traditional role in the fight for civil rights. Ali just never subscribed to the rules of bigotry. He decided that he was a man of value and continuously designed his life around what he loved to do and how he perceived himself. He was the Greatest. Period. Social judgement was not accepted in his mind. In redesigning my life as an Expat, I had far less barriers to overcome than Clay did in redesigning his life as Ali. 

He was screaming into the camera, “I’m Pretty! I'm a baaad man!”

He was screaming into the camera, “I’m Pretty! I'm a baaad man!”

I remember watching him on tv once in an old clip when I was 5 years old. He was screaming into the camera, “I’m Pretty~” over and over again, "I'm pretty like a girl! Imma baaad man!". I was nervous for him. I really thought that something bad would happen to him because he publicly admitted that he was black, attractive and boxing's "savior". We have that fear of the absolute in all of us, "What will they do if I [insert amazing thing to do for yourself here]." However, if you go through that fear you will find relief in knowledge on the other side. 

Alas, Muhammad Ali said all of those things repeatedly and yet led a full and prosperous life. He hit a few bumps in the road but that never stopped him from living exactly the life that he designed for himself. He fought around the world when U.S. promoters wouldn’t promote him. He found ways of earning money using his talent of public speaking when the U.S. revoked his license to fight. He never stopped living his designed lifestyle and most likely achieved more than he’d imagined. 

This spirit of Ali is in all of us who dream of a different, more fulfilling life. We only need to harness it to explore our happiness.

These days U.S. salaries are at an all time low and the cost of living is rising at a massive rate. Are you rushing home from work everyday just to get a good night's rest for work early the next day? Many are downsizing to micro apartments or moving over 2 hours outside of the major areas and using mass transit to survive. What if you could take all of that budgeting and ingenuity and find a way to *upsize* your quality of life? You'd be no different than a boy named Cassius Clay who redesigned his life into Muhammad Ali. 


Living abroad for less is ATTAINABLE.

It's never too late to redesign your life. CLICK on Expat Real Starter Kit anywhere in this blog to learn my tips and tricks!

Instead of hunkering down and hoping that things will get better in the future, I will show you my inner secrets on how to upgrade your life for less with the Expat Real Starter Kit. I’ll reveal how to find cheap travel, make friends in English-speaking communities and harness the confidence of Ali to move abroad, because in your life, YOU are the greatest!

To receive your Expat Real Starter Kit just click the link below. This one is on me so no payment information is needed. My passion for high quality living runs deep and it's important to me that you know what your options are.

Find out my secrets of living abroad for less with your Expat Real Starter Kit!

See you across the border! 


Lisa May









3 Countries. 3 Clowns.

I’ve seen more clowns traveling through Central America than I have in my whole life. I’m here to tell you that the clown party and busking business is abundant in Central America. If you are a professional clown or planning to be a clown, there’s work abroad.

My clown exposure has been limited to just a few times in my youth. I remember when my mom had rented a clown for my birthday. He didn’t wear the makeup. I was concerned about his level of professionalism but his advanced balloon animal skills made up for the strait face.

Strait Faced Clown. Clown Faced Girl.

Strait Faced Clown. Clown Faced Girl.

Sometimes my mom and I would have lunch or snacks on the steps of the Met. Many clowns would mime their worlds in front of us; busking to and fro. It was New York during the 70’s romance of performance art and creative thinking out of bounds. That raw creative romance was soon dimmed by disco, light shows and stardust modernism. Clowns quietly disappeared from the streets of New York by the mid 80’s. They were mostly seen in maybe a scant Mel Brooks film or the Big Apple Circus.

Costa Rica.

I hadn’t really seen a clown for 40 years. Then, oddly, this past year clowns have popped up and physically passed through my life on several occasions. You know how you see a random electrician truck driving by or a construction worker in front of you in a line to buy coffee? Well, in Costa Rica, you will typically see a clown, in full costume, riding a bike with trick bag in tow slightly overflowing with colorful scarves or fabric flowers. No lie~ When I saw this for the first time, I looked around to see the reactions of others. Everyone was silent and expressionless while impatiently waiting to cross the street. The crowd was tense and wanted the clown to hurry and pass so they could cross the street. I followed the crowd hastily crossing the street after the clown passed; pretending to have been invaded by the Body Snatchers showing no emotion.


I just checked into Hospedaje Casco Viejo and began to explore the space to see all that the hostel was offering. I found a man with a bunch of change on the counter totaling around $10 dollars. I wondered if there was a lavanderia (laundry mat) or a vending machine in the hostel because that would be good to have. I tapped the man on the shoulder and opened the following dialog:

Me: Hi! What’s all the change for?
Him [kinda nervous]: Well… um…

I stepped back to give him some polite space. I noticed that the conversation took a small mysterious turn from where I was expecting it to go. I realized that I hadn’t asked him if he spoke English first. All of my travel etiquette had gone out the window with this guy.

Him [Sighs with an uncomfortable smile]: I am a juggler, … and-

I then realized that he was preparing all of his change from busking to pay for his bed that night. I placed a comforting hand on his shoulder to stop him from having to explain all of his business to me.

Me: Say no more Señor. Carry on.
Him: What?
Me: It’s okay. Pay for your room. Please.
Him [bowing his head to me smiling]: Thank you señora.

NO ONE has ever started a sentence to me with, “I am a juggler.” No one. I later found a vintage bench to sit on and sipped on one of Panama’s famous cups of coffee in the “French Quarter” of Casco Viejo. This exchange of clown conversation was a sign that life was good.


I was making my way through a small Mexican town on the bus one day. The bus was moving at an excruciating 8 miles per hour. I tried to think peaceful thoughts about the slow moving bus when on boards a clown. In full makeup, he held a couple of large balloon caterpillars under his arm. A sack of unblown balloons was strapped diagonally across his chest. He sits across from me and says in his best Rico Suave voice, “Hola Señññorrrra…” He had a white powered face and red lips in a huge smile putting forth about 42 white teeth. It’s just me and a bunch of guys on this bus. I surveyed the scene with eyes as wide as Kennedy half dollars. The bus motor and squeaking was quite loud as we bounced along in our seats. I did not blink.

To make a dent into this awkward moment, I asked him if he was done with work for the day. Of course not, it was Friday. His work was just beginning. He had a big weekend of work planned and boasted of, “muchas fiestas, mi amor,” where a beautiful woman like me could eat lots of good food. I could eat as much as I wanted. I could even eat seafood. The bus driver tilted his rear view mirror to watch my facial expressions while driving. Our eyes quickly met in the mirror. Then I flipped my sight back on the clown.

The clown continues to talk about how beautiful I am and pulls out his makeup compact [mirror] to show me. I looked in the mirror and searched for Allen Funt because, “Dude…” [I had to be on Candid Camera]. He holds up the mirror to prove this beauty and goes on to tell me that his car is in the shop… or with his brother… or his brother has a car [in the] shop. He was speaking pretty quickly in Spanish and I just couldn’t concentrate on translating because this guy talking to me was a legitimate clown.


I asked to hold the mirror so I could turn it on him while he took a good look at himself. Alas, I could not have a turn with the mirror because it was his only mirror and he needed it for work. He didn’t want it to get broken bouncing around on the bus. He noticed that his suave words did not take effect on me so he switched gears and asked me questions about myself while making a balloon animal for me.

He blew up a hot dog style balloon and started twisting it like a fiend, “Where es joo fram?” “New York,” I replied. His balloon animal snapped mid twist and flew around the bus, furiously deflating to the floor. He switched out the broken balloon for a new one, blew it up and twisted it into a white poodle all the while asking me questions, “Wha is you calor?” “Beige, I think. This is a tan.” I pointed to the skin on my hand pondering the brown colors in a Crayola box, “… or Santa Fe,” He went on to say that he was asking me what my favorite color was and not my skin color. “Oh,” I said. We waited out an awkward beat. He said that he could already see the beautiful color of my skin. I couldn’t help but notice that this clown’s skin was as white as a sheet of bright white copy paper.

“Sooo, this is my stop.” I gave the clown one last look up and down to solidify that this scene did indeed play out on the Mexican short bus coming from the mercado. “Gracias para el perro [Thank you for the dog].” He got really serious, “Adios, mi amor.” Then he serenaded me through the bus window as it sped off along the coast. The other passengers were glued to the windows to watch my expression, which was deadpan. I blinked and then turned away.

The building security guards were starring at me when I turned to go inside. They hustled around to open the doors as if I were someone famous, tipping their hats to greet me. They murmured nice remarks about my balloon poodle as I passed through. I politely nodded and smiled “Gracias. Gracias.” I poured a glass of wine the moment I walked in the house. I couldn’t help but think how that bus ride beat any of the ridiculous messages that I’ve ever received on OKCupid. I shrugged off the day with a sip of wine. Then I took my glass and my thoughts to the rooftop for the evening’s sunset.

This unique set of romantic clown stories are brought to you by Let My Love Open the Door, performed by Luminate.

This unique set of romantic clown stories are brought to you by Let My Love Open the Door, performed by Luminate.