Loving That Tropical Island Life
I always wanted to live on a tropical island. I’m not sure why, but the desire likely began when I was first introduced to the popular American television sitcom series, Gilligan’s Island. It was not always co-stars Ginger or Mary Ann that captured my imagination as a boy (though I won’t deny that the two young beauties played a role in my cognitive development), as much as it was the beautiful beaches, all the coconut trees, and the turquoise blue lagoons. It was every episode and re-run that Gilligan threw at me that drove my fascination with discovering and living in my own tropical paradise, wherever it may be. I grew up knowing that I needed to get one of those sailor caps that Gilligan donned. After graduating high school, my best friend and I immediately migrated to the closest place that we knew where palm trees and warm weather existed (thanks to the technology of broadcast television)… Orlando, Florida. It wasn’t long before I ventured out my own even further, hitchhiking my way south to Key West, where I discovered first-hand the famous “Cheeseburger in Paradise” culture of relaxation and peacefulness. Ah… life in “Margaritaville” and the tropics. I quickly learned however, that without money and some form of sustenance, I was destined to return home to reality – the now even more dreaded, snow-belt of North-Central Illinois, where I just knew my fate was to live the rest of my life between a beanfield and a corn-stalk. I needed a plan and it wasn’t long before I placed my bet… I would take my chances and join the U.S. Navy. At least I could start with the Gilligan hat!
“Once you have traveled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey.” ~ Pat Conroy
After my return to Illinois from Florida, only a few months would pass before I was swearing to uphold and defend the United States Constitution, without any reservations (well, maybe a couple). The Navy had guaranteed me photography school but as sure as the world turns, “stuff” happens, and I found myself accepting an assignment to “Weather Observing” school in Lakehurst N.J. once I completed my basic training. I was going to become an “Aerographer!” I didn’t really understand how prophetic this was, but I remember during my teen years, my father quite often accused me of walking around with my head in the clouds. And this was the result of my armed forces aptitude test??? Okay I thought, it was a good fit. Whether it was prophecy or irony, I was resigned to a career of staring at the sky AND getting paid to do it. It was more than a good fit, it was perfect! I can vividly remember the strangest looks on my friend’s faces when I told them I was going to get paid for watching the clouds. And, It just kept getting better (as my Cheeseburger in Paradise destiny) would have it – my first set of orders after “Weather” school landed me in Guam, U.S.A., where “America’s Day Begins!” Not only was it lush and tropical, with waters the color of turquoise, azure and sapphire, but it was also in the Domain of the Golden Dragon. Beautiful beaches, coral reefs, coconut trees, and the Asian fiesta… many, many fiestas! Did I mention the tropics? At this point, I knew I had hit the Lotto (about 15 years before the first Lotto drawing was ever held). Life just couldn’t get any better than that. When I landed on Guam at the ripe old age of 19, I found myself privileged to be working a really cool job in one of the largest computer centers in the Eastern Hemisphere at the U.S. Navy’s Fleet Weather Center.
Living in paradise was just a side benefit. Eight of the next twelve years found me living, working or traveling between the 180th meridian and the Indian Ocean, mostly under the tropical sun that seemed to always follow me…from Guam to the Philippines, Singapore and Hong Kong, to Diego Garcia, and back to the Philippines, where I met my match… and my Filipina bride (1984).
As everybody’s road map in life consists of funky twists and turns, and even an occasional unplanned U-Turn (or three), mine was no different. The bulk of my non-government sponsored lifestyle (after the Navy) found me living and working on the U.S. mainland. And just like many others during the latter half of the new millenium’s first decade, I had been sucked into the working-class rut of a “work-to-live” lifestyle scheme, all the while being witness to an obvious demise of American culture and the once powerful American middle class. Our mutual cognitive dissonance forced us to make a decision… either we work-to-live, and take our chances with some form of a late [non-guaranteed] retirement, or make a run for it back to the tropics where we could relax and live life to its fullest.
Our choices were:
- Keep working hard to pay bills
- Shell out much of it to insurance companies and taxes
- Pay ever-increasing cost of living
- Live with increased regulatory compliances
- More healthcare complexities
- Witness a continued erosion of individual liberties and loss of personal freedoms
- Live a life filled with stress
- Liquidate all assets and become less materialistic
- Join the wife’s family
- Enjoy a stress-free lifestyle
- No house payment or large monthly obligations
- Live under the warmth of the tropical sun
- Enjoy un-crowded beaches with more coconut trees than Gilligan and The Professor could calculate together
- Retire in the Philippines
This was not an arduous decision. As a matter of fact, once we gave ourselves the green light, it didn’t take me long to pack my complete wardrobe of shorts, t-shirts, and flip-flops. Like a true sailor, I was ready to get underway on a moment’s notice. And believe it or not, I still had my Gilligan hat!
At the time of this writing, it had been just over 6 years since we purchased a corner lot in a small fishing village just outside Calbayog City, Samar, and where construction of our retirement home has been in progress . When we made our decision (in 2012) to retire earlier than originally planned, the house was almost closed-up and our focus then shifted from planning to execution. “Minimalizing” was now our goal… in addition to eliminating all remaining bills, building our cash savings, while still getting as much of the new house completed as possible before we actually departed the U.S.
Shortly after selling our Mississippi home of nearly 18 years, we found a temporary rental where we stayed for about 4 months until we liquidated all remaining assets and sold all the personal items that we chose not to ship to the Philippines. When we were down to our bank account, suitcases and two cats, we departed. Me, I’ve never looked back.
Visit my “Before Paradise” section of this blog to read about the “There-and-Then” chronicled events leading up to our retirement to the Philippines. It should provide a good idea of what it takes to prepare for such a big move. I invite you to visit this blog often as I continue to document the saga of living in paradise, through my own personal perspective, of the “Here-and-Now.”
Also visit and Subscribe to my YouTube Channel for some of my “One Day at a Time” tropical experiences. Witness first-hand what living in this part of the world has to offer. Then when you catch up, you can follow me back to Guam as I come full circle in paradise!
If you are considering a retirement move to the Philippines (or any other international destination), and with some steady-as-she-goes planning, you too could someday find that some coconut tree, on some deserted beach somewhere, has your name on it (Note: you’ll need two trees for your hammock). You just never know.