As we near our second year anniversary of making the leap to move to an island, site unseen, I have realized some “truths” about life on a rock. When we were grappling with the decision of making the move, I recall frantically Googling, “Should I move to a tropical island?” (As though Google were some sort of crystal ball?!) But there was no manual explaining how I would feel and the challenges that I would face. Nor was there a manual that described how fulfilling it would be. So I’ve decided to narrow it down and present my top 7 realizations – things I wish someone would have told me about moving to a rock when I was wondering if it was right for me…
1) You and your spouse will be under a lot of pressure.
Work on any marital issues before you make the move. Just like having a baby, moving to a tropical island will not “fix” your marriage. In fact, it’ll challenge it and push you to your limits. When Evan and I first arrived, we were extremely overwhelmed, stressed to the max, and questioning whether we had just made the biggest mistake of our lives. But we were a team. He was my only “person” and I was his. I’m not gonna lie, on day 5, after the frustration and panic of looking through multiple underwhelming and pricy condos only to return to the tiny hotel room to find that the dog had pooped on the floor and the cat was pulling his fur out in chunks, we were less than loving with each other. In fact, I distinctly remember fuming inside when Evan took an extra long shower on our third morning on island. Shower? We have no car. We have no house. We do NOT have time to shower! Moving to a tropical island might appear romantic and exciting – and it can be – once you’re settled and have friends of your own. But initially, it is difficult. It’ll test your relationship. All you have is your spouse, so although you may love each other, it’s imperative that you actually like each other as well.
2) You will feel lonely.
There will be times that you desperately miss your family and friends – especially on holidays or if you or a loved one back home is ill. There have been moments where I’ve stared out at the endless sea and felt very isolated and alone. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a thrill to meet new and exciting friends from all over the world. I’ve grown so much as a person through these new relationships – especially in my 30s, when I was beginning to feel that all my growing up was complete. I was lucky enough to connect with a few friends immediately, and we’ve been close since Day 1; however, there will be days that you desperately miss your “old” buddies – the friends who grew up with you and really know, get, and love you unconditionally. Sometimes it’s exhausting to ensure that you are always presenting the best version of yourself as you meet and attempt to charm new friends. Thankfully, at 2 years in, my “new” island friends are becoming old buddies. That feels fantastic.
3) You will sweat.
I remember one particular January morning in Saskatchewan. It was -40°C. A foot of snow had fallen overnight. I was leaving for work in complete darkness and questioning my decision to live in a place that is not fit for human habitation. As I reversed my car out of the garage, the car instantly became hung up on the snowbank. I vividly recall attempting to shovel my car out of the bank while snot froze to my face in the dangerous wind chills. I yelled, “F*&^! This is ridiculous!” At that moment, I swore to myself that I would pursue a lifestyle that didn’t involve this BS. Being incredibly cold is uncomfortable. But no one warned me that being incredibly hot is also uncomfortable. It’s a different kind of discomfort, and given the choice, I would definitely choose hot over cold; nevertheless, it’s still uncomfortable. From April until October, you will notice that most island women sport a trail of sweat down the centre of their upper body. This is called, boob sweat. It is inevitable. It begins formation as a tiny pool of sweat between the boobs, overflows past the base of your bra, and spills down the centre of your body. If you’re lucky, a hot breeze will then stick the fabric of your clothing to the trail of perspiration, advertising your boob sweat to the world. Dark coloured fabrics, although tending to increase your body temperature, can help camouflage the boob sweat; however, whether you’re well-endowed or “sporty-chested” like myself, you are not immune.
4) You will find yourself saying, “That’s not how they do it in (insert name of your home country here).”
Dorothy, you are not in Kansas anymore. Initially, you will question the procedure for almost everything – “You mean I have to wait in a line for 3 hours to pay my water bill? Why can’t I pay this online? In Canada, I can pay this online!”; “Why are there 3 random unlabeled lines at the pharmacy to pick up my prescription?”; and my favourite, “This makes NO sense!” (can be applied to almost every procedure on the island). Eventually, you will come to the realization that you are no longer in “your” country and although you are certain that you have experienced a much more efficient way of doing things, this is how things are done here. Don’t fight it. Accept it or you will go nuts, argue with everyone and everything, and you will either be desperate to catch the next flight out or the islanders will vote you off the island. The tribe has spoken. You must be flexible and adaptable in your thinking and way of life. I’ve always considered myself a pretty easy going person, so I had no idea that this would be so difficult. Sometimes the power goes out. Sometimes the internet quits unexpectedly. Sometimes your workplace runs out of paper. Roll with it. Last week, for example, I found myself stuck in a traffic jam, only to realize that the cars were stopping for 2 rogue cows running down the Cayman “freeway”. I sighed and looked at my watch. I was definitely going to be late for my appointment. But as I watched a public bus chase down the cows and various islanders jump out of their cars to help, I had to look at the scene around me, laugh, and chalk this up to another island experience.
5) You are not on vacation, you lush.
There’s something about sitting by the pool, watching the sunset over the Caribbean sea that makes me want to consume a cocktail… or two.. or three. Well, let me tell you, by the second month of residing on Grand Cayman, I had drunk and ate myself 10+ pounds heavier. Born and raised in Saskatchewan, Canada, I was conditioned to associate hot weather with celebratory drinks and BBQs – after all, summer was a gift, a 2 month gift, if we were lucky. Newsflash: every day in the Caribbean is hot. Every. Single. Day. Every sunset is beautiful. Every. Single. Sunset. There is no reason to celebrate each day with a sugary cocktail and buffet-style dinner. As I was forced to loosen the strings on my bikini bottoms, I soon realized that I needed to curb my vacation eating and drinking habits ASAP. After all, this is not a vacation. This is real life. People don’t drink a piña colada everyday in real life. I now limit the cocktails to Fridays… and Saturdays… and the odd Sunday as well.
6) You will forever vacation differently.
After spending the last 2 years surrounded by tourists, I’m much more cognizant of the things I do and say when I am on vacation. Why? Because some tourists can be really freaking annoying, and I do not want to fall under that category. Although I will nod politely as you explain how the ceviche was much more fresh in Cozumel, the water much more clear in Turks, and the beaches much wider in Floribama (Floribama? Are you kidding me?), I don’t care. I am very happy that you are enjoying your cruise; however, visiting 4 ports in 7 days does not make you a world traveler. Now that I’ve become a resident of a vacation destination, I’ve realized that the most productive thing one can do whilst on vacation is to find a local and ask for advice. The residents can tell you where to find the best ceviche, clearest water, and widest beaches!
7) You won’t regret it.
Evan and I discussed the possibility of regrets when we decided to make the move. Ev summed it up nicely for me, “It’s our decision. We made the decision. So it’s the ‘right’ decision. No regrets.” Great! But let’s be honest, there were more than a dozen occasions that had my stomach in knots, thinking, “Did we F up?” Now that we’re approaching our 2 year anniversary of island life, I can say with 100% certainty that I have no regrets. The sacrifices were plentiful, but the payoff has been amazing. First and foremost, my joint health has improved. Suffering from a rare cartilage condition, I find the cold weather makes me stiff, sore, and sometimes immobile. It’s amazing what hot, humid air can do for your joints. This once creaky old lady can now take walks on the beach! Those pain-free days are priceless. Secondly, I’ve learned a lot about myself and my relationships with others. I’ve learned about what I truly value in life. Before we made the move, I was stuck in a rut, accumulating stuff – owning a new house and nice things were a priority for me. Like many people my age, I associated all this stuff with success… yet, as I looked around my beautiful new house filled with lovely stuff, I just never felt satisfied. I’m not gonna lie, I’m still searching for complete fulfillment, as I’m sure we all are, but I feel much more at ease. I’m not in a race anymore. I’m just living day-to-day, trying to figure it all out. It’s the experiences with the people I love that fulfill me – and, let’s be honest, sipping a frosty piña colada as I watch the sun melt into the Caribbean Sea doesn’t hurt either!
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Seasoned islanders – what have you come to realize after years of living on a rock?