"What do you miss the most from home?"
As a speaker at International Living conferences held around the world, this is one of the most common questions I'm asked. And it's one that's easy to answer.
I've been living in Latin America for 11 years, and the truth is that I have a new home now, in Ecuador. There's not much I miss from my old home. In fact, there are far more things I don't miss than those I do.
Mostly, I don't miss shoveling snow. Or scraping ice from the windshield of my car. Here in Ecuador, in fact, I don't have a car. And I don't miss that either. In the States these days, I'm told it's common to spend at least $1,000 per month on car payments, maintenance, insurance and gasoline. I don't miss that.
I also don't miss paying high property taxes and utility bills. The annual property tax for our small condo here in the Andes is less than $50. Thanks to the temperate climate (did I mention no snow?) we have no heating or air conditioning costs and our monthly electric bill averages about $20. Our monthly water bill is $8. A bottle of propane that we use for cooking costs $3 and will last up to two months.
I don't miss sky-high health care costs either. That's a subject for another article, but we spend half as much on health insurance here as we did in Nebraska 11 years ago. Many expats I know forego health insurance altogether and pay out-of-pocket. A doctor's office visit in the village where I live costs $10. In Quito, where you'll find state-of-the-art hospitals and excellent doctors - trained in Europe and the U.S. - you'll pay $40 to $50 for an office visit.
Point is: all this money we save goes a long way toward funding our daily living costs here in Ecuador.
But I know what you're thinking. I must miss my family and friends, right? Of course. But you'd be surprised how easy it is to stay in touch these days. The Internet is a magical thing, and apps like Skype allow me to talk to anyone...anywhere in the world...for next to nothing. With video Skype we can do everything but clink glasses. Via Facebook I keep up with every detail of my family's lives, sometimes more than I want to know. For better or (at times) for worse -- I feel more connected than ever.
(Also for better or for worse, when you live in a beautiful and exotic foreign country, you'll always have visitors.)
I do miss curling up in bed with a cup of coffee and the newspaper on Sunday mornings. Yes, they have newspapers here. But reading them in Spanish is often more work than pleasure. Instead, I curl up with my iPad and get my news via the Internet - and quite honestly, I'm not nearly the newshound I used to be. Which actually adds to my quality of life. The fewer political ads and snarky comments I see or hear, the better.
And here's my guilty secret: I miss Triscuits. While we have modern supermarkets here with just about every consumer product you could want or need, some brands are unavailable. Watching the Super Bowl (yes, we even have DirecTV here) without my Triscuits just isn't the same.
So friends and family... when you come to visit me, you know what to tuck into your suitcase. Original Recipe only, please.
Along with her husband, Dan Prescher, in 2001, Suzan Haskins sold everything she owned and moved south...far south, in fact...to Latin America where she lives and writes on behalf of International Living magazine. Keep up with Suzan on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/suzanl.haskins or Twitter at http://twitter.com/suzanhaskins