Toured the World, Settled in Dripping
Toured the World, Settled in Drippin’
In 2008 my wife and I packed our two boys, ages four and six, into the minivan and hit the road. We had no plan or agenda other than to travel for 12 months. We were hitting 40 and thought it was a good time to do our mid-life crisis. Doing it together worked out great because it is a lot less expensive to run off with your own wife rather than with another woman: no lawyers' fees, few romantic dinners and even fewer luxury hotels.
Our accommodations did turn out to be quite modest: campsites at national and state parks, couches belonging to friends or family, an RV for two weeks in the Canadian Rockies, and even volunteering on organic farms. This was called WOOFing where you work all day in exchange for food and lodging. One memorable place was Earth Mountain in Colorado where we slept in a teepee. I'll never forget one night when the wood fire illuminated the snowflakes as they drifted down from the hole at center of the roof. We visited other unusual places, like the Earth Ships of New Mexico and the Solar Ark, a completely off grid compound with its own solar and methane generators.
Vacationing full time like that wasn't always easy, though. Meal variety was limited by the tiny stove and the lack of a proper fridge. All we had was one of those 12V car coolers – once you pack it with sufficient beer there isn't much room for other essential foods. Laundry was another problem. It's not like at home where your clothes appear pressed and folded in your closet like magic – on the road it is a real chore. One time in Banff my wife dropped me off in a fire lane with several baskets of laundry, plus the two kids. It was a 4-hour ordeal juggling the baskets, keeping track of the washing machines, yelling at the kids who were hiding in the driers and running around… true pandemonium. Then there is sleeping in a tent. It gets old quickly. There was always some rock or tree root whose shape would penetrate the sleeping mat and leave an impression on my back. It was time for a change.
One dream we both shared was to live in a smaller town on a large piece of land in a hot climate. Our home in San Diego (which we had rented) was on a 1/8th acre lot and was buffeted by a cold 60-degree wind most of the year. Paradise for most Americans, but not for us: my wife is from India and I was raised in Africa. We like hot. We decided to see what it would be like to live in a tropical paradise, sipping coconuts, growing our own food year-round, and living on beach time. After a few clicks on Expedia we were off to check out Singapore, India, Bali and Costa Rica.
Singapore's humid climate is perfect for the delicious Mangosteen fruit, and the stinky Durian. The city felt safe and efficient, but there was no land to spare. India is a very different environment where the crowded press of humanity squeezes away your sense of individuality.
Maybe that's why Westerners feel spiritual there. We loved the architecture of Bali's highlands, the pushy monkeys, and the cuisine which sends your taste buds into a spin. Costa Rica is a giant national park with parrots, volcanoes, surfing beaches and cool highland forests, but it is expensive because most things are imported.
The biggest problem in paradise was education. Schools were very expensive, sometimes more than a $1,000 per month per child. After 8 months overseas, we realized that public schools back in the U.S. were our best bet. We flew home, piled back into the minivan and visited a short list of smaller towns in low tax states, with warm weather, clean air, scenic countryside and proximity to a large city with high tech jobs. It didn't take long to zoom in on Austin, and the prettiest rolling hills just west of it, where land was still very affordable. And of course there was the outstanding Dripping Springs ISD!
First thing we did upon arrival was to buy a small ranch. When the real estate escrow agent heard our story, he seemed a little deflated. He was excitedly planning a trip around the world and said “… and you're basically implying that I've lived my whole life in the best place on Earth?” Ten years after he asked the question I can still say, “Yes, pretty much, except for days when it's 102 or more.”