How far would you go to have the life in paradise you really desire?
Over the past few years, my husband Dan and I realized that we were living to work, not working to live. We found momentary happiness on our trips to Mexico. No work phones ringing. No rushing. No responsibilities. A culture focused on the quality of life, a slower pace of life. Over the years, as we fell in love with Cabo and the people of Mexico, we began to wonder: What if there was a better way to live than the American dream?
We had become disillusioned with the constant drive to do more with less, the lack of work-life balance, and the pressure to buy the next iPhone. In Mexico, we experienced life as we believe it was meant to be lived: soaking up the simple pleasures of sunshine, natural beauty and warm conversation. Compared to our frigid and often frantic pace of life back home, in Mexico, our souls felt settled and serene.
But were we falling in love with a place and a way of life—or we were just escaping our current life?
Given that my husband just quit his job as an electrical engineer and we have driven what is left of our possessions down to Cabo San Lucas Mexico, we’re about to find out.
The adventure of moving to another country, and embracing another way of life, had been brewing slowly for quite some time.
Fifteen years ago my husband Dan and I took a two-week, four-country honeymoon tour of Europe. I didn’t want to come home. At the time I was a stressed-out workaholic. Our honeymoon was the first opportunity in years that I had to stop, relax, enjoy, and just be. We watched French employees spend hours at a café sharing and enjoying life. We met friendly people in Holland who were genuinely interested in meeting new people and had the time to do so. We saw how the rest of the world lived, and we wanted in. My new husband had to force me to get back on the plane. I didn’t want to come back to the frantic work-focused United States. But I did.
Since then, Dan and I have often asked ourselves: Is the life we are living really the one we want? As practical people we believed in the work hard and be rewarded mentality. But our belief was not matching reality. Dan’s long hours were taking away from our time together, his joy and his health. The cause was not the company he was working for, but the overall American work ethic. Somewhere it was decided that work comes before family, friends, passions and health. We couldn’t buy into the system anymore. But were we willing to give up all we had labored for to see if we could be happier living in another country?
It turns out that Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, gave us enough inspiration to try and find out.
The first time we visited Cabo, we fell in love. Brad, a friend we knew from the inland lakes in Illinois, had invited everyone from the marina to visit his new “weekend” home in Cabo. We were two of a few people who took him up on it and had an amazing week-long visit.
Dan and I felt like rock stars on our first visit to Cabo. We flew down and were greeted at the airport by friends bearing cold water and beer. We spent Labor Day weekend that year luxuriating in Brad’s beautiful three-bedroom home with a pool, Jacuzzi, and rooftop fire pit. We passed the time eating, drinking, fishing and loving life. It was heaven. We didn’t have to think, worry, plan, navigate, drive or calculate the exchange rate. We just got up, showered and went where Brad took us. Add in that my husband’s always-on work phone did not operate internationally and that made it official: This was paradise.
After our initial trip to Cabo, we found ourselves going down once, twice, and even three times a year. In 2011, Brad bought a boat and most of our visits that year were spent on the water. We fished off his thirty-five foot Cabo and his friend’s sixty-eight foot Hatteras. We were catered to by the captain and crew of both boats. Who wouldn’t love that kind of extravagant luxury?
But what we slowly began to realize in subsequent trips, was that what Dan and I really loved was the adventure of Mexico. After our first two years down there, we did not go to any of the tourist hangouts. Instead we explored the regional culture, talked as much as we were able with the locals, and learned the ins and outs of living in Mexico. We transitioned from tourist to resident activities. We spent an afternoon waiting in line to pay the water bill. We learned Spanish at Home Depot as we tried to find the supplies we needed to help out friends. We went to roadside taco stands where we were the only gringos. We rode the crowded local collectivo bus and tipped the guitarist singing native songs. We talked to Mexicans and expatriates who were now Cabo locals.
At ease, released from the pressures of our daily life, we were suddenly alive again as the friendly warmth and compassion of the Mexican people made us remember our ability to connect as humans. The more we visited, the more Cabo felt like home.
Not Just a Vacation
One of our trips in 2012 marked their first time we didn’t stay with Brad in Cabo. Some friends of ours were heading down, so we decided to stay with them in a local resort. Although the beachfront hotel was nice, this visit was not the same. Dan and I were tourists. We couldn’t hide our wristbands that announced our status to everyone. Every restaurant barker, excursion promoter, and time share seller would check out our band and make a pitch. It felt ugly and fake. We missed our Mexico and how we were treated before.
Although it was not our cup of tea, what the resort trip gave us was a reality check. When we talked about Cabo San Lucas and how we loved it, the response from family and friends was that we were just in vacation mode. We knew it was something deeper. Something more. We began to play around with the idea we should move down there. But how? What would we do for income? Where would we live?
We returned to Chicago and dug in to these questions. We researched, dreamed, and plotted how we could move and make it work.
During our next trip to Cabo, we visited friends Mike and Tori, who had been living in Cabo for over a decade. They left their life in Oregon, sold everything and created their own little paradise in a desolate town south of Todos Santos. We spent the afternoon listening to the story of their move and their new life as we sipped drinks made from the fruit of their mango tree. They told us of the bliss and the hassles. They told us it was worth it. I said we were playing around with the idea of moving down. Mike firmly told us to put aside the fear of the risks and follow our dreams. Honestly I can’t remember exactly what he said, but I do remember the look on Dan’s face and the feeling in my heart. He gave us the permission and courage to move.
Five Labor Days after our first visit, Brad, Dan and I stood in Brad’s kitchen overlooking the Sea of Cortez. Brad, knowing how seriously we were trying to arrange the logistics of life here, said we should move down and act as live-in caretakers for his house and his boat. Knowing Brad, I asked, “But didn’t you always say that you don’t do business with friends?” He responded, “This is not business. You are doing me a favor.” I smiled and we shook hands.
We were ‘in’ and ready to move. We just needed to figure out how to make our dream happen.
Melissa Heisler, 46, and her husband Dan, 48, recently relocated to Mexico from Chicago, and they will be documenting their transition for Inspired Life.
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