IMG_4526 Our 2023 Travel Retrospective The Expat Life

One of our favorite photos from our 2023 travel: Sun-dappled Porto, Portugal

Happy 2024 to All! 

Ah, a fresh new year. Time to dream about the future, but also to reflect on everything that made the past year so memorable. And for us, 2023 was memorable in so many ways. It was a time of transition and brought a major course change, seasoned with some fantastic travel and expat experiences in our lovely adopted home of Colombia.

We reached a milestone: Five years in Colombia

In the wee small hours of Thanksgiving Day 2018, we boarded a plane from Panama City, Panama to Medellín for the next chapter in our expat adventure. And here we are, five years later – still Colombia expats, and still in love with this beautiful country and its wonderful people.

IMG_2350 Our 2023 Travel Retrospective The Expat Life
Getting the kids ready to board their flight to Medellín, Nov. 2018

A lot has happened since that Thanksgiving:

  • We weathered a pandemic in a big South American city, with one of the longest and strictest quarantines anywhere.
  • We moved to El Retiro, a smaller town higher up in the Andes about an hour out of Medellín, where we feel truly immersed in the Colombian culture and the language. It’s the best move we ever made.
  • We went from loving dog parents to pet-free (and are a little bereft as a result).
  • We have traveled A LOT – not only in Colombia but in the Caribbean, Europe, and South America.
  • We have become more committed than ever to the expat life, with no plans to return to the U.S. (except for family visits).
We became dogless wanderers.
IMG_9737 Our 2023 Travel Retrospective The Expat Life
Forever in our hearts

We lost Rosie, our sweet golden retriever girl, just over a year ago on Dec. 26, 2022. She joined Tango, our beautiful Cocker boy, who flew over the rainbow bridge in 2021. Our grief over their loss has been a shadow over everything –they were our kids, after all. But the silver lining is that we are now free to travel at will and stay gone as long as we’d like, without the grinding worry over our senior babies back home.

We took advantage of that newfound freedom with our 2023 travel, returning for five weeks to Brazil and spending a month in Portugal and Spain. We also made several shorter but still memorable trips.

We “beached.”

OK, if you’ve seen the Barbie movie, you’ll get that! (If you haven’t seen it, check it out – it’s a hoot.) If there was a common theme to our 2023 travel, it was beaches – one spectacular playa/praia after another. Maybe it’s a holdover from our sailing days, but we can never get enough of soft sand between our toes, the dazzling sunsets on that endless horizon, and the scent and sound of Mother Ocean.

About that course change: We’re staying put.

From Colombia, we had always planned on moving to Spain or Portugal as a base for exploring Europe. Both of those countries have been touted by practically everyone as ideal destinations for expats. But here’s the dirty secret no one talks about: In most EU countries, retired expats are taxed SIGNIFICANTLY on their retirement income. We believe in paying our fare share. But on our exploratory trip to Spain and Portugal in October, we came to realize that we would be forking over far too much of our hard-earned retirement savings to either country.

With Spain and Portugal off the table, things got a little comical at one point as we were casting about for a country, any Schengen country, that could work for us (“How about Malta?”). But the rub is that we’d be coming from a very inexpensive country with extremely low taxation to places (including Malta) that not only have a higher cost of living but levy very high taxes on foreigners.

IMG_6146 Our 2023 Travel Retrospective The Expat Life
We’re still in love with beautiful Alicante, Spain. It was to be our Europe base, but we’ll settle for longer visits there now.

It looks like the universe is telling us to stay in Colombia, and we are happy to oblige. We recently moved to a much smaller apartment (with half the rent!) in a secure building that allows us to just lock the door and go wander. We can still travel Europe, and our new strategy will be to take longer trips and maybe even hang out for a few weeks someplace in the Schengen Area (the group of EU nations that allow visitors to move freely from country to country for up to 90 days). We really have the best of all worlds: an affordable home base that fits us like a glove, and the freedom to roam.

Without further adieu: Here’s our Year in Travel for 2023!

February: Curaçao and Bonaire

The Caribbean bug has bitten us hard, especially since so many Caribbean islands are easy to visit from Colombia. Early in 2023, we made a return visit to two of our favorites: Curaçao and Bonaire.

Related posts:
Curaçao: What to See and Do
The ABC Islands: Aruba, Curaçao, and Bonaire

March: Pasto, Colombia

Our Colombia explorations continued with a visit to Pasto in the far south, near the Ecuador border. We loved this colorful city with its many churches and the nearby Laguna de la Cocha. A huge highlight of this trip was the Santuario de las Lajas, a fantastic Catholic shrine that has become one of Colombia’s most recognized landmarks.

Related post:
Pasto, Colombia: The Surprise City

IMG_1405 Our 2023 Travel Retrospective The Expat Life
The spectacular Santuario de Las Lajas, near Colombia’s border with Ecuador
May: Puerto Rico – and a special visit!

We’d been talking of visiting Puerto Rico for years, and we finally pulled the trigger in May. We started in historic Old San Juan, then rented a car and drove around the eastern coast to Rincon and then the southern city of Ponce. We also visited the picturesque islands of Vieques and Culebra; a huge highlight on Vieques was our nighttime “bioluminescence” tour, an unforgettable experience.

Related post:
Puerto Rico Travelogue: What to See and Do

IMG_2516 Our 2023 Travel Retrospective The Expat Life
Mary Lea at one of our favorite hometown spots, Cafe Retiro

After that trip, we made a stop in Austin, Texas, and brought my mom, Mary Lea Baker, back with us for a wonderful two-week visit. We were able to make some quick trips to two of our favorite Colombia towns, Jardín and Santa Fe de Antioquia, and we had a blast showing Mom all our favorite haunts around El Retiro.

June: Dominica

Dominica (not to be confused with the Dominican Republic) is a small Caribbean jewel in the Windward Island chain, just south of Guadaloupe. We had a lovely and relaxing time on Dominca, known for its spectacular natural beauty. It wasn’t all R&R – we also did plenty of hiking, went diving, and pushed our boundaries on a challenging canyoneering/rappeling adventure.

Related post:
Dominica: The Fabulous Nature Island 

July/August: Back to Brazil

On our first-ever trip to Brazil in 2022, we concentrated on Rio de Janeiro and points south. In 2023, we made a return visit to this fabulous country – our longest trip to date. Beginning again in the Rio area, we spent five weeks exploring Brazil’s northern coastal areas before heading inland to the mining town of Ouro Preto and the city of Belo Horizonte.

Related posts:
Niterói, Cabo Frio, and Búzios: Back to Brazil
Olinda and Recife: Northeastern Brazil’s Historic Centers
Fernando de Noronha: Brazil’s Island Paradise
Salvador: The Dazzling Capital of Bahia, Brazil
Ouro Preto: What to See in Brazil’s Mining Heartland

October: Portugal and Spain

This trip was meant to be exploratory, as we had originally planned on making a move to Alicante, Spain late in 2024 or in early 2025. Therefore, we spent two weeks in Alicante, trying it on “for size” as our future home. We also visited Seville (fantastico!) and made our first-ever trip to Portugal, visiting Porto, Lisbon, and several towns in the southern Algarve area. Although we won’t be moving to Europe anytime soon, we are still enchanted by these wonderful countries and look forward to exploring them even more in the future.

December: Isla Mujeres, Mexico

Isla Mujeres, a small island just off the Yucatan coast from Cancun, will always hold a fond place in our sailors’ hearts. It was here that we fetched up on our boat back in 2004 after a wild and fast passage from Honduras – and from which we subsequently sailed across to Key West and got slammed by a squall. But that’s another story! Isla Mujeres was the perfect place for a quick and relaxing Christmas getaway.

What’s in store for 2024?

In last year’s retrospective, we stated that we were planning a return visit to Brazil as well as trips to Puerto Rico and Bolivia, and a possible excursion to Antarctica. We achieved two of those in 2023, with some unexpected destinations thrown in. In 2024 Bolivia is still very much on the radar, possibly towards the end of the year. And as far as Antarctica goes, we’ve booked an exciting adventure for March and April: an expeditionary repositioning cruise that will take us from the Southern Ocean up through some very remote islands in the Atlantic, ending up in the Cape Verde islands off Africa. From there, we’ll fly to the Canary Islands for some “beach.” (Stay tuned – this one will be fun to blog about!) We’ve also booked a trip to Alaska in May, and we’re looking at a van trip through Patagonia in both Chile and Argentina (another previously planned trip that was a Covid casualty).

This year, our goal is to become more mindful travelers. With a planet in climate crisis and the world in so much turmoil, we are well aware how fortunate we are to be able to have such life-changing travel experiences. So what does mindful travel look like? We think it means avoiding places that are over-touristed. Trying always to leave a clean wake (that’s sailor-speak for leaving things the we way we found them, or in even better shape). And always, staying GRATEFUL!

IMG_7610 Our 2023 Travel Retrospective The Expat Life

Here’s wishing you all a Safe, Healthy, and Travelous 2024!

 

37 Comments

  1. Wow! An eventful and travelogous 2023, followed by more exciting travel and adventure plans 2024. Happy to learn you are staying put in Colombia. It pretty much has on offer all an expat needs. 🙂

    Happy travels in 2024 and greetings from… Bolivia! 🙂

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks, Liesbet! We’ve really been enjoying your posts about Bolivia and will be picking your brain at some point about La Paz. Will you be getting to the Uyumi Salt Flats?

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thank you and Happy New Year back ‘atcha!

  2. Wow! You changed your mind about Spain. We completely understand the shift. Did I tell you that the anticipated (optimistic) wait time for my citizen card is 29 “TWENTY-NINE” months?! So nothing happening for us anytime soon, that’s for sure. Super glad we were able to connect in Porto, how fun was that? We need to make it happen again sooner than later. You’ve got some really amazing plans on the books for 2024, I’m impressed. I can’t figure out what we’re going to do tomorrow. Ha! Ha! With that being said we’ve booked a stay in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia for summer 2024. We fell hard for Lunenburg and we’re really looking forward to returning for a longer stay. We may go to Martha’s Vineyard in early spring and I’m currently researching some serious walking trips for the fall. Again, congratulations on your big decision, it makes a lot of sense. I especially relate to the over touristed destinations, we were astounded and saddened by our stay in Porto, a city dear to our hearts. By the way, I have always been intrigued by … Santuario de Las Lajas, near Colombia’s border with Ecuador. We’re going to have to make it happen, now that we have compadres in the region. Big hugs and safe travels. Happy New Year! Patti

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Happy New Year to you both, Patti! Oh gosh, sorry you have to wait so long for your citizenship. You’re probably aware, but Portugal JUST did away with its NHR tax scheme that was allowing retired expats to be there for up to 10 years and only pay 6% in taxes. If that had stayed in place, it would have been doable for us. Oh well, our bad timing – or good, since we’re perfectly content to stay right here and just travel long-term in Europe. Nova Scotia sounds fantastic – we have a fuzzy plan to someday do an RV trip through that part of Canada. Haven’t heard of Lunenberg but we’ll check it out. We agree about Porto – our visit there really made us rethink visiting over-touristed areas (and therefore being part of the problem). Maybe someday, when the post-Covid travel madness has died down (if it ever does), we can get to some of those places. And PLEASE come see us in Colombia! Las Lajas is just one of many fantastic things to see here. Big hugs back – I know our paths will cross again one of these days.

  3. Sounds like a good plan to stay in Colombia! We are staying put in Mexico. Not sure about our 2024 travel plans yet!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Paula! Hi – great to hear from you. San Miguel seems like an excellent place to hang out. Happy New Year to you both!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thank you so much, Suzanne, and the same back to you both!

  4. Really enjoyed the recap of your exciting 2023 but so sorry to be reminded of your pets’ passing. That has to be devastating.

    I’m happy that you have found peace and contentment in your adopted country and can still travel far and wide discovering new vistas.

    Happy and safe travels in 2024!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thank you, Annie – Same back to you and your family!

  5. Very interesting information about the tax situation in Spain, Portugal and the rest of Schengen area. We’ve talked about Poland because that’s where Richard is from but this is a good reminder to research better. 2024 sounds awesome for you two. Looking forward to the posts!! Maggie

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks, Maggie! Hmm, Poland – that might be worth looking into. Does Richard speak Polish? We hope our paths can cross one of these days – I have a feeling they just might!
      – Susan

      • He grew up in Poland and still has family there so it’s a possibility. I’m sure our paths will cross, we seem to go to the same places, just not at the same times 🙂 Maggie

        • John and Susan Pazera Reply

          One of these days our planets will align 🙂

  6. It’s been fun riding with you on all your adventures through your blogs and I’m looking forward to what your new year brings.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thank you, Mimi! That visit from you was a huge highlight of our year. Maybe 2024? Love you!

  7. There are so many beautiful photos from fascinating destinations in this blog post alone. You really traveled a lot this past year. Your upcoming cruise across the Atlantic sounds epic! You may not move to Europe anytime soon, but Colombia seems to be a great place to live right now. Stay healthy!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks so much, Bama, and also for all your support! We do feel that we’re right where we need to be at the moment. Here’s wishing you and your family a healthy and happy New Year!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks so much, Rebecca! Same back to you 🙂

  8. Happy New Year guys, and here’s to great travels in 2024. Our paths nearly crossed last year huh – we both visited Alicante and Seville – but who knows about 2024? We will be in Brazil for ten weeks or more very soon. So, did you get to eat those wonderful pintxos at Cafe Catedral in Seville??

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      We do seem to be following each other around! Gosh, we’d love to find a way to meet up in Brazil. What part of the country are you visiting this time? How about popping over to Colombia?? And yes, we LOOOOOVED Cafe Catedral, so much so we went twice. John is still swooning over the artichokes! Best of 2024 to you both 🙂

      • You too, guys. Possibly our favourite restaurant of 2023! Brazil wise, we’ll be starting off at the Rio carnival in February, the rest is just an outline plan as yet but we definitely have Paraty, Recife and Olinda on the list. Watch this space!

  9. Seems like a great year of adventures and insights into where you go from here. Looking forward to seeing where 2024 takes you as we follow along 🙂

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks so much, Meg! All the best of 2024 to you and your family. 🙂

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Happy New Year, Muriel! Oh, no, as long as we have the will, means, and ability to do so, we will travel 🙂 Keeps life interesting, for sure. All the best to you in 2024!

  10. Bom Dia Susan and John! Loved reading your recap of 2023 and especially enjoyed meeting you in Almancil while you were exploring the Algarve. So pleased to find out we are kindred spirits! I’m disappointed that you won’t be settling in Portugal or Spain as it would have been lovely to have you nearer but yes, the taxes on retirement earnings are definitely a consideration when thinking about moving here. Wishing you a Happy 2024 filled with many adventures and new countries!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Bom Dia e Feliz Ano Novo, Anita! It was such a pleasure to meet you and spend a little time together in Almancil. We might not be neighbors anytime soon, but we will be traveling A LOT more in Portugal and I know we’ll see each other again. Wishing all the best to you for a splendid 2024. Big hugs from both of us!

  11. What an absolutely amazing year you’ve had. I’ve loved following along on your adventures, and the spotlight you have shone on Brazil. I’m so sorry for the loss of your dogs, and hope time continues to slowly heal the grief. Happy New Year!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thank you, Hannah! We as well have enjoyed following along on your journeys. Here’s wishing you a safe, happy, and “travelicious” New Year!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks so much! Happy New Year to you and yours 🙂

  12. Oh my goodness, what a year you had! And 2024 looks to be shaping up to be just as amazing. Looking forward to travelling vicariously with you guys again this year.
    Alison

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks so much, Alison! Wishing you all the best (with plenty of healing and positive experiences) in 2024. Thinking of you both!

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