Why We Moved Our Family to Medellín, Colombia for the Summer
“An overloaded lifestyle, squeezing it all in, overwhelms our time and pushes out the meaningful that we naturally crave.” Valorie Burton’s It’s About Time
Yes, we relocated our family to Pablo Escobar’s former playground for two and a half months. Once we started telling people people, we were inundated with questions, quizzical and shocked looks. When I made it public on Facebook, my phone exploded. So I gathered most of the questions (not all are related to Colombia) into one place: this blog post.
Full disclosure: My mother spent part of her childhood in Puerto Rico, and as a result, the Latin community was a part of our lives. During the school year, for the first five years of my life, I was cared for by a Puerto Rican woman who only spoke Spanish to me. Despite that, I retained very little Spanish. But that being said, Spanish has come much easier to me than it does to other people who try to learn later in life.
When I was young and single, I lived in Mexico for two summers. One summer, I lived with my Mexican-American cousins in a beach town south of Cancun volunteering in a clinic. For a few months, I slept in a hammock and washed my clothes by hand.
The other summer I lived in a dorm room with up to 40 other mostly Mexican women while I volunteered during med school (I highly recommend doing this: total cost was $2k and this included travel). That seaside town in Oaxaca had houses made out of sticks, and I often ventured up into remote mountain villages to do medical work. Each of those summers I woke up once to find a scorpion on the wall above my head. And the second summer had no air conditioning where I slept.
So overall, I’m probably more comfortable traveling around Latin America than most Americans. In making the decision to move here, I hoped the skills I learned during my travels in Mexico transferred to Colombia. And so far, they have.
1) Why move to Medellín, Colombia for the summer? We fully admit: when it comes to the “bell curve of normal,” DH and I are outliers on the “weird part of the curve.”
Because of its history of violence, Medellín has been an overlooked city that is taking the world by surprise for its innovation. And the casual foreigner doesn’t know a truce was made in Colombia about four years ago, so it’s much safer here now.
Medellín is a family-friendly city with loads of parks, a neat cable car, kid-friendly museums, a fantastic bike park, and hiking trails right outside the city. The weather is fantastic: even though it’s close to the equator, due to the elevation (5,000+feet), it’s between 60-80 degrees year around. This means it’s cooler than the hot, humid summers we’re used to back in Florida!
And this city is beyond beautiful: it’s set in a valley, surrounded by mountains. Folks, this city is totally booming. There’s construction everywhere. If you plan to come and visit before it gets even more crowded and expensive, then you better move it up on your bucket list.
And the last reason: DH hasn’t had much chance to live and do slow travel overseas like I have (Aside from one month during fourth year of med school when I took him back to Oaxaca, Mexico to work in the clinic with me). He’s been chomping at the bit to go to Colombia to learn Spanish, as it’s known to be one of the best places to learn the language. I’m game to support his desire. That and I need to brush up on my Spanish as it’s gotten quite rusty since having children.
2) But what about our safety in Colombia?
I have been robbed only once, and that was in my sleep in the mountains of Mexico, an 8-hour drive away from the nearest city. This is why I now sleep with my money and passport when I am in certain areas of the world.
The main safety concern for foreigners here is staying out late at night. People: we don’t party. Heck, we live in Heaven’s waiting room (Florida), so we’ve adopted their dinner eating time: 5 pm. So even if we go out to a restaurant, we’re okay. And we take certain precautions for security while we sleep—on top of choosing an Airbnb that has around the clock security in a gated community.
My wedding and engagement rings are locked up back home, and I’m only wearing a double knot silver ring I bought over a decade ago in Mexico in its place.
That all being said, our Uber driver yesterday told us he’s from the coast and he moved here because it’s the safest place in Colombia.
(I will write more about this topic sometime during this summer.)
3) But won’t you get sick? I plan to write a blog about the prep I went through for us to move to Colombia, but for now, let’s just say, even if we do get ill, we’ll meet that problem if/when it hits us. I’ve already scouted out a pharmacy, clinic, and hospital as soon as we got here.
4) Aren’t you Afraid? It’s one thing to travel by yourself or with your tall husband in a third world country known for a history of violence—it’s another thing entirely to take two small humans to a country that has pockets of violence…wait, that sounds like America!
We send our children to school in America—you know, that place that has almost one mass shooting a day—and I wonder every school day if I will see my children alive again. Let’s be honest people: America can be a pretty scary place. As one of my Colombian friends said: “Medellín is like LA: there are certain parts you avoid. So don’t go to those spots, and you’ll be fine.”
But yes, before we came here, I found the idea of this trip a bit nerve-wracking. Once we landed though and we realized we felt safe traveling around, my fear went way down. And besides, we can always leave Colombia early. This wouldn’t be a failure, merely an experiment that we decided to pivot with.
All I know is: You need to master your fear so you can live your life to the fullest.
5) What do the kids think? They have shown interest in learning Spanish, but they are confused about taking the scenic route on our move to Gainesville. Our 6-year-old (who is the only extrovert in our family) was like, “But I told all my friends I’m moving to Gainesville! Now where are we moving to?” The older one is concerned he’ll fall off the mountains hiking. After living in flat Florida for so long, I sort of share his worry now. 😉
Now both of them are incorporating Spanish words into their play, and that makes us smile.
6) What are we looking for by moving to Medellín for the summer? Towards the end of my time in America, I was brutally honest when I said one morning, “I hate our life in America. It’s too frenzied. And our kids aren’t even in sports!” DH asked how others do it. I told him, “Easy: no parents have time for exercise, nor self-improvement. They get fat, angry, and end up divorced.”
Something has to give. For now, I say our American way of life has to give. I’m done. Peace out for two and a half months.
So I came here looking for rest. Back in the States, our calendar was jam-packed, and I felt like I had to slow down so I could ponder what’s meaningful over what is urgent in our lives.
It took me a good five days to recover my energy after we moved down here (but then again, that could have been because I was adjusting to living at altitude). DH feels like he’s finally starting to recover from his work-related exhaustion and it’s taken him a year. A year. (Which leads me to ask, what the heck are we doing wrong in our medical system that it takes a year to recover from working working full time in it? He’s not the first Physician to tell me they needed a year to recover!)
And we both wanted to slow down and really get away with our nuclear family. It’s a huge relief that we have no other agenda this summer besides learning Spanish, a video interview with the awesome Choose FI group out of Gainesville (if you’re anywhere nearby, join them, they’re great!), and Machu Pichu. That’s it. For the entire summer!
The last thing we were looking for by moving here is: no regret. You tend to regret the things you didn’t do over the things you did. We’d talked about doing this in the past, so we figured this was the best time to go for it!
7) What did the kids think when we talked to them about moving to Gainesville? The oldest was super excited and said, “Let’s do this!” When we laughed at his response, he said, “I’ve always wanted to say that!” He seems excited about the change.
Our youngest didn’t quite know how to process it, so he ran around the house packing a bag full of his most precious items (which included his water cup. It took us hours to realize where he’d stashed it).
8) If you want to go more country, why’d you move to the third most densely populated city on the planet? Yeah, we didn’t know that when we bought the plane tickets. There are 19,700 people per square kilometer here. That ranks right up there after Mumbai. 3.7 million of us are squeezed into the most breath-taking scenery I won’t get tired of.
9) What’s it like talking about FIRE out in the open like this? At times it’s uncomfortable being a FIRE blogger. You’re exposing yourself and your vulnerabilities when you discuss certain topics. But I’m determined to be a diverse voice and contribute to this discussion that is too often dominated by white, males (though I love white males dearly as I’ve married one and given birth to two). By writing, I’m helping to remove the taboo around talking about money, and instead, arming people with financial literacy so they can live their one, precious life to the fullest.
However, that being said, some people think that because I’m blogging about FIRE, that gives them the right to call me while they’re high to ask for money. First, all our donations go through our Fidelity Charitables giving account, and second, people shouldn’t ever call me while they’re high, because I will ignore all the ways/people they use to try to get ahold of me after I block them.
Within the first week of us arriving here, we both read “Dealing With The Crazy Makers in Your LIfe: Setting Boundaries on Unhealthy Relationships.” Certain books, like Dr. Dike Drummond’s, should be required reading for anyone who has to interact with other humans.
10) How can we afford to do this/what about paying for our kids’ colleges? Since we are debt-free and have enough saved for early retirement, we work part-time now to meet our day-to-day expenses. This allows us to leave our asset protected money alone. If we want to do more adventurous things, then we scrimp in spending on areas we don’t care about while working more to help cover the costs of what we’re passionate about (Kudos to DH for picking up extra shifts in May!). We also already purchased 2 Florida pre-paid 4 year University tuition plans, so this helps a lot as they are very versatile.
11) Why’d we buy a truck if we’re moving overseas for the summer? Our Prius started to die and we needed a second car to get us through our remaining time in St. Pete.
Originally we had thought DH would camp up the East Coast with the boys to meet me at my summer writing program, but I didn’t get into that, so our truck sits at a friend’s house for the summer.
12) How’s it feel to fail at a writing goal-i.e. not get into that awesome summer writing program? It stinks. But at least I tried, and the feedback I received from my application was gold. Besides, I’m not afraid to be honest about this, because people need to know they’re not alone in their struggles to reach for dreams. It’s ok to fall and get back up again—this lets you try a new adventure. But my older son was really bummed I didn’t get into the program. I just hope we’re modeling a life for him that says: even if it’s scary, you should work hard to stretch for your goals.
Overall, we are so enchanted with Colombia. The people are super friendly and hard working. They go out of their way to make us feel welcome. It’s much easier to walk the streets here than in Mexico because we’re not pestered as much to buy things. Sure we get stared at a lot more than in Mexico—but it’s in a “I’m curious” way (we think they would stare less if we didn’t have young children). And people leave us alone when we walk around—they just ask me a LOT of questions when I stop to buy something. 😂 They are quite fascinated by our family: I hear them talking excitedly as we pass by, “They’re Americans!”
And so far no one has cat-called or bothered me when I walk around alone, which is a first for me in a Latin American country. But maybe I’m just getting too old for that stuff anymore? 😉
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