Once we decided to take a year off and live abroad, the next question that needed to be answered was, “Where do we want to live?” That was a tougher question than we imagined. And, a lot of our planning required us to know where we were going to land. For example, every country has its own requirements to receive a long-term residency visa. Before we could start the application process for our visas (which is very complicated) we had to have a destination.
Why Barcelona? We knew we wanted a climate and terrain that was different than what we currently have. If we were going to live abroad, we wanted a warm and sunny climate by the sea—not really a crazy choice, right? That pointed us in the direction of the Mediterranean. True, there are plenty of other places in the world that provide a warm and sunny climate by water: Thailand, Central America, and so on; but we gravitated to the Mediterranean.
Now, there are thousands of cities, towns, and little villages that dot the coastline of the Mediterranean Sea. How do we choose the right one for us? We needed some help and turned to Rick Steves. That’s right, the guy with the travel show on PBS. We discovered that he offers a service where you can pay for advice from one of his travel consultants. Here’s the link https://www.ricksteves.com/travel-help/plan-your-trip-with-our-expert-consultants. Usually his consultants provide advice for people who are merely planning a vacation abroad, but Rich Earl, our consultant, was delighted to give us advice on towns and cities we might want to consider as a home. It was very helpful.
After thinking about the advice we received, we narrowed our choices down to these four places:
- Malaga, Spain
- Barcelona, Spain
- Villefranche, France
- Sorrento, Italy (The Amalfi Coast)
How do you pick when you have four great options like that? They all had unique attributes. Living in any one of them would be a very special experience. The more Julie and I talked about it, the more we determined that we needed some sort of criteria to help us weigh the trade-offs with each destination. We came up with an acronym (LALA) because the first letters of our criteria started with “L” and “A” and because it was fun to say “LALA”.
Livable and Affordable
We wanted a place that was “livable”. We defined livable as: walkable, visually appealing, culturally interesting, outdoor markets and parks, interesting cuisine, and big enough that there would be a lot of things to see and do. As well, we are going to be living off of our savings, so it has to be affordable. The cost of housing and other essentials has to be something that we can make work with our budget.
This ruled out Malaga and Villefranche. Malaga is a great option, but it is in the far south of Spain, and it gets very hot during the summers…less livability. It also ruled out Villefranche, a small town between Nice and Monte Carlo…need I say more? We didn’t think our budget would stretch to living with the jet-set on the Cote d’Azur.
Language and Accessibility
All of these towns and cities on the list were going to give us the chance to learn a new language. Julie and I know that learning a new language is going to be hard and uncomfortable, but it will also bring an incredible sense of accomplishment if we can actually communicate with our neighbors in their native language. As we pondered this, it was clear that learning Spanish will deliver benefits when we come back to the US. As well, we knew that we needed to be in a place with a good transportation system. At this stage, we don’t plan on getting a car, and we know that we’ll have visitors. We can’t wait to have our Carly, Connor and Clinton come see us! Our new home has to be both easy to get to, and easy to get around.
The LALA criteria elevated Barcelona as the clear favorite for us.
Our next step was to apply for our long-term residency visa with the Spanish government. There’s no guarantee that we be given the visa, nor is there any guarantee that we’ll be allowed to stay the full amount of time we want to live there. I guess that’s all part of the journey too. We’ll tell you about that process in next week’s post.