I met Dave Treadway in my search for travel information about Costa Rica, since we traveled there a few years ago. Dave was a wealth of information for me on the topic of his beloved adopted Central American country, Costa Rica.
I realized soon after talking with him that he and his wife Kate were doing exactly what so many of us long to do: living their dreams, deliberately and courageously, with no excuses.
Read Dave and Kate’s story of how they counter-culturally escaped their busy “rat race” world and escaped to the sweet life of living their dream. They moved from the United States to a peaceful, slow-paced world that embraces real, authentic living.
What inspired you to move to Costa Rica?
My wife Kate and I were looking to slow down and basically enjoy life while we were still young enough to enjoy it. We had visited the country in November of 2003, along with a friend of ours that was already planning to move down here. We fell in love with Costa Rica on that trip and that prompted us to start considering an eventual move.
What kinds of plans/timing did you have to put into place to make your dream of living in Costa Rica a reality? How long did you know this is something you wanted to do?
I have always been the traveling and adventure type, so I was never really happy doing the 40-year plan. I have always wanted to do something out of the norm like this.
Not long after our vacation to Costa Rica, our friend returned in March 2004 and bought a house on the beach in Esterillos Oeste on the Central Pacific part of the country. At that point, we started to seriously think about the possibility of doing something similar. We came up with our 3-5 year plan.
We planned to save as much money as we could to build a nest egg. Then we would move a few years down the road. The best-laid plans don’t always work, though, and, of course, the very week we said, “Yes, this is our plan,” Kate got laid off from work.
Our friend, a 42-year-old single female, had only been in Costa Rica for three weeks, remodeling the house she’d bought on her own, along with a hired crew. I told Kate that, since she had time off work, she should go visit Suzanne because when she started work again she wouldn’t have time off. So Kate visited for three weeks. Two weeks after that trip, Delta had a special for only $257, round-trip, so I told her to go again!
After a third trip that August, Kate brought me back a t-shirt that had an iguana on the front and the saying, “Costa Rica: Life’s Too Short, Don’t Waste It.” I’d told Kate that was my motto lately and half-jokingly asked her if we were going to make the move sooner than later. And, if sooner, how soon would she want to do it? She responded, “Six months.”
Eight months later, on April 22, 2005, we were living in Costa Rica.
Out of all the places you could have chosen, why did you choose Costa Rica?
Of all the Central American countries, Costa Rica has the longest, most stable government, which was an important issue for us. I had visited most of the Central American countries during the mid 1980s and early 1990s and knew a little about all of them. Prices were affordable and Costa Rica had a good infrastructure compared to some of the other countries. The fact that foreigners can own property with no restrictions is a big plus, too. That is not the case in every Latin American country.
What did friends and family think of your decision to change your life so drastically?
For the most part, family and friends were what I would describe as ‘cautiously encouraging.’ We were surprised that some people were so ingrained with what was supposed to be ‘normal,’ they could not grasp someone doing something like what we were planning to do. One friend made the comment, “But you’re not 63; you can’t retire?”
The real estate market was hot in California at the time and we ran into some of the same misconceptions when it came to selling our home. Houses were selling so fast, so we felt there was simply no reason to use a realtor. When one friend heard we were selling our house on our own, she actually said, “You aren’t allowed to do that! You have to use a realtor.”
Most friends were encouraging, though, and most said they would like to do the same thing some day, or that they had always dreamed of doing the same thing.
Describe a typical day in Dave and Kate world.
We weren’t really retiring when we moved here, since we weren’t old enough. We didn’t have pensions or social security of any kind. Our plan was do something with real estate, at some point. We eventually started our own small company selling real estate and then later added property management, which is what keeps us most busy. We do caretaking and rental management for about 16 clients now. Being our own boss allows us a certain amount of freedom.
Our typical day starts with an hour-long walk on the beach with our two dogs. Esterillos Oeste, our town, is home to a flock of about 40 Scarlet Macaws, the large red parrots. Our morning starts hearing the Macaws flying over our house on their way to hang out in the Almond trees along the beach during the day.
Our town is a small fishing village that has a good mix of ex-pats and locals. We have a lot of friends who we get together with to share meals, play games, and just hang out. There are several local bars and restaurants along the beach where friends meet to watch the surfers and sunsets.
Kate has been involved with an afterschool arts and crafts class for kids. The town has a K-6 elementary school. We both enjoy reading and some days entail just hanging out together, along with our two dogs and five cats.
Can you comment on both the positive and negative aspects of what you left behind in America?
There are always some modern conveniences you give up in moving to Costa Rica. Everything is not as readily available as it was back home. Things move at a much slower pace, which, for the most part, is a big plus. We tell people though, if you don’t have patience, you learn some – because things can take a long time to get done down here. You might walk into a bank and see only six people in line. But it might still take a half-hour to get through the line just because it is really slow-paced.
Getting used to the slower pace can change your life for the positive because you experience much less stress. You’re not always impatiently on the run, like you might have been back home.
The negative aspect of what we left behind would definitely be the fast-pace rat race world we lived in. We had one- and two-hour commutes for work. When people ask us what we miss about back home, we usually say, “Friends, family, and Chinese food.” Although we have since found a good Chinese food place in San Jose that we visit sometimes.
In the almost seven years since we moved here, some of the conveniences have improved. We only had dial-up Internet for the first three years, but now we have high-speed internet and cable TV. A new highway was opened last year that allows us to get to the airport in about an hour and forty minutes.
Can you describe ‘Pura Vida,’ the universal saying of Costa Rica?
Pura Vida is probably a little different for everyone. The basic translation is ‘Pure Life.’ I think for us it comes down to the reason we moved here in the first place: to enjoy life while we are still young enough to enjoy it. Pura Vida means getting away from the stress of normal everyday life.
What is the reaction of the natives of Costa Rica to people moving there from other countries?
For the most part, Costa Ricans are not opposed to foreigners. The exception would be what you might describe as ‘the ugly American.’ You run into them, no matter where you move. They are people who, for the most part, don’t seem to be happy people wherever they came from, so they bring their personal baggage with them to Costa Rica – and never seem to fit in. They seem arrogant, loud, and demanding. That just doesn’t work down here. You rarely see Costa Ricans arguing in public or even raising their voices to each other. Costa Ricans don’t like people who come down here making demands. They, along with the rest of us, don’t like the foreigners who come down only looking to make a quick buck buying up some real estate, developing it, and then taking off.
What were the biggest challenges in making this life change?
Our biggest challenge was probably adjusting to the different lifestyle and slower pace of things. There is also a language barrier since it is a Spanish-speaking country. The more Spanish you know, the easier it is to get around and get some things done.
The sooner you can get away from thinking, “Well, back home we did it this way,” the better off you will be.
What were the biggest rewards?
Our biggest reward is, by far, a much healthier lifestyle.
What advice would you give to others about living their dreams?
I always encourage people to live their dreams. However, I do realize everyone’s situation is different. We had friends our age who still had kids in junior high and were looking at another ten years of school and then helping the kids through college before they would consider doing something like what we did. On the other hand, we have friends down here that made the same type of move we did, but brought their kids with them and are doing a combination of local and private schools and homeschooling.
There is no set formula that works for everyone. If you have a dream, you should find a way to make it a reality. But as a couple, you should both be on the same page. We see a lot of couples come down here and it becomes immediately obvious to us that the dream only belonged to one of the couple, while the other partner seems to be begrudgingly along for the ride. That’s a recipe for disaster and sad to see.
How have you changed as a person since you changed your life?
I appreciate life much more now. I enjoy and appreciate the little things. Of course, I think that comes along with getting older, anyway. But getting away from the fast pace of things back home let’s us slow down and see things with a different and, in a lot of ways, a clearer perspective.