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 and I’m not even house sitting in exchange for rent! My son replied that he doesn’t know how to explain why or how I am living abroad to his friends and I agreed that I get that question a lot. The more I engage with people around the world, the more I expand my knowledge into an infinite world of possibilities. I am continuously reminded in my travels that there are no limitations in life, because real life is meant to be lived “outside of the box”.

After the 2016 U.S. Presidential Elections, I’ve received more messages than ever from those eager to live abroad but they are not sure of what direction they want to go in or how to even start making these changes in their lives. All of my messages from inquisitors start with, “Lisa May, I need to get out of here [the U.S.]! How are you doing it?”

I’ll tell you. Living abroad is just as complicated as jumping into the ocean:

  1. Make the decision to jump [travel to another country].
  2. Then jump [live in another country].
Living abroad in an unknown country is much safer...

Living abroad in an unknown country is much safer...

...than randomly jumping into an unknown body of water.

...than randomly jumping into an unknown body of water.

It sounds too easy to be true but I’ve been doing this for 3 years with no major plan except to book my place abroad, get a passport and book my flight (in that order) before my departure on January 2nd. I Started making plans to leave December 12th. Once you initiate change in your life it has a domino effect and takes over. Change is definitely hard to process but it’s never impossible to benefit from it.

In 2012 my ex-coworker and kind friend tried to encourage me to live in Belize, “Girl, it’s $2Bz to our $1US! Leave America, you can live so much cheaper here on this beautiful Caribbean island! Fresh mangos, and other vegetables, you will lose weight and be healthy. They even have wifi!” I could barely land a job in the U.S. without a Bachelor’s degree. My work at the time was very hands on. My income was location dependent and I couldn’t think about other options available. How in the world would I land a job in a country where I don’t have citizenship? Having only the U.S. immigration system to go by, I could only imagine the hard life I may have to endure as a non-citizen of a foreign country. My mind spun on about all of the problems I had in the States, confusing most of my problems for responsibilities instead of useless situations I could stand to distance myself from. I created a whole bunch of other reasons why it would be a hard transition to live abroad: learning a new language, being a single black woman, and the mystery of unknown cultures. 

By 2014, I felt completely beaten down in career (what career?), 90% of my relationships and in myself. Over a 10-year period in a declining economy, I went from affording a 2 bedroom to a 1 bedroom to having a roommate to having 6 – 7 roommates and sleeping on the couch. It seemed like the more jobs I had, the less money I made. The only thing that I felt I had going for me was this posh rooftop pool and spa membership, of which they close the rooftop pool section during the winter. My pool membership was the only thing boosting my daily moral. I managed to conjure up some part-time work as a virtual assistant, so I was able to work from a comfy rooftop pool bed every day while being served my meals and drinks by buff men in skimpy swimsuits. Not a bad situation to be in everyday, but it’s not a situation to call home or work… unless you live in Hollywood, U.S.A. I needed a home life that fit me in the worst way.

On the last day of the rooftop pool season, I made a decision to meet my friend in Belize and the rest, frankly, was history. 3 days of living and working for my U.S. clients in Belize, I couldn’t understand why people back in the U.S. were grunting through their lives every day in pursuit of some expected reward from their employers that they’d probably never see. I started to ask local expats why they had left the States and about their transition process of living abroad. The deeper south I went into Central America, the stronger the U.S. dollar became and the cheaper it was to live a comfortable life.

I realized that living abroad does these amazing things:

  • Releases burden related tension developed from a 1st World consumer and capitalistic culture
  • Puts the value of community and the power of social connections back into perspective
  • Regains your mental and physical health as you live freely among untouched plant life, consistent exposure to the sun and access to numerous natural minerals.

Your mind relaxes and allows you to see the opportunities that are available to you. There is an infinite amount.

Making sense of things in Hopkins, Belize.

Making sense of things in Hopkins, Belize.

Now I’ve decided to take a small break from my world exploration to invest in Lisbon, Portugal as the base for Expat Real where I will help my people with the mysterious details of what it’s like to live abroad. Lisbon combines the things that I miss from my childhood home of SoHo, NYC, my adult home of Columbia Heights, Washington, D.C. and my dream home, Hopkins Village, Belize. Here in Lisbon I enjoy the services of a city with manifestations of paradise on the beach and the relaxation of the countryside with the cost of living priced under $1000 per month.

There are a few changes happening as I continue to develop Expat Real but I will keep posting documentary vlogs and expat interviews such as the one with writer, Kenya C. Evans who talks about her time living in Saudi Arabia by accident, teaching at their schools and wearing a hijab to work.

I’m stepping things up for everyone with micro-ebooks. These are small ebooks (10-20 pages) that provide critical information everyone should have about the current changes in travel and residency visas, how to obtain local deals that only locals know about, and the complex process of gaining citizenship abroad. These ebooks give you more information than a blog post but you don’t have to buy or go through a standard sized book to find the information you are looking for. What’s in the title is what’s in the ebook.

Patterned after my process of foreign exploration, I’ve pulled together the best local experts to lead Expat Retreats where aspiring expats are immersed in the local culture and community to get a taste of what it’s like to live there. This is not a few days of walking tours with yoga. This retreat puts you in the heart of what daily life would look like in an affordable foreign country. In other words, you get to “try on” another way to live to see if it suits you. Expat Retreat locations currently in negotiations are Portugal, Croatia, Italy, Guatemala and Colombia.

When it comes down to it, the American Dream is achieving your life’s purpose, not just surviving school, car, job, house, family, 100+k of debt, and dispelling the financial mystery of retirement. Our lives are always changing. Life only becomes hard when we don’t flow in the direction our lives are changing in. Why not plan for life’s changes and make every future day a blast or, at the very least, a fulfilling learning experience you can tell stories about?

Either way we will become more knowledgeable about ourselves and other global societies.

It’s time to live outside of the box.