Almost 20 years ago I moved to a small town in Bali, Indonesia. At 65 I’m still here, part of a vibrant community of expat elders who have chosen a very different path in retirement.

Our hair is silver now and we’re sporting bifocals. The world tends to forget that 50 years ago it was our generation that discovered sex, drugs, rock and roll, yoga, vegetarianism, civil disobedience and a lot of other interesting new concepts. We were curious then, and we’re curious now.

We traveled a lot. Long ago when the only way to communicate with family was on a flimsy blue aerogram, we roamed the backstreets of Bangkok and Oaxaca, smoked dope in Katmandu and slept on the beach in Bali. Then most of us went home, got jobs and went mainstream.

 
 

Making the Decision to Retire in the Tropics

When retirement loomed and it was time to put down the briefcase and kick off the pumps for the last time, the memories started to return. Tropical beaches and naps under the coconut palms. The fragrance of frangipani. A bowl of spicy noodles for breakfast. Not having to look after anybody but ourselves.

The siren song of a foreign retirement in the tropics is very appealing. A growing number of women are considering the intriguing option of spending the rest of their lives far from home and on their own terms. It means having the courage to walk away from certainty and embrace change on a grand scale.

But how many times in our life do we get the chance to redefine ourselves in a new context? Wake up to a new adventure every day? Immerse ourselves in different cultures, languages and cuisines? Meet like-minded people who have also embraced an alternative lifestyle?

Living Without Adult Supervision

I call it living without adult supervision.

As far as I know, no one’s keeping track of the 60-plus women who’ve chosen to settle in Chiang Mai and Ubud and Sayulita. But we are many and the vibrant communities of Boomers abroad keep growing.

retire in bali

I’ve chosen to settle in Ubud, Bali. Some of the foreign women have been here for over 30 years and watched it grow from a sleepy village to a bustling tourist town. What kind of women take this giant step?

The earliest arrivals married local men and most set up businesses to serve the growing tourist market. Later arrivals retired here from the corporate community, or academia, or had their own businesses. The great majority of us are happy, healthy, curious and deeply engaged with our communities.

Life in the Developing World

Life in the developing world can be challenging for those who want it all to be tidy and predictable. Bali, for example, is no place for control freaks. Events have a way of departing from expected directions and timelines, and a sense of humor is non-negotiable. My books describe the adventures of living in a culture that’s both charming and capricious.

How do we pass our days? That’s where the lack of adult supervision is most delicious. Spend the day in a hammock reading a book, or gardening, or playing with your cat/dog/parrot/chickens (most of us have pets). Meet a friend for lunch or take a yoga class. Learn the language, the better to be locally involved.

Adopt a local cause and offer our skills within our communities. Take an online course or two. Start painting or writing for the first time. Ubud has book clubs, quiz nights, mahjong mornings and choirs. There’s so much to do if you choose. Or there can be so much nothing to do that there’s no time to do it all.

When I was writing my latest book, I asked some of the older community here what “retirement” meant to them in the context of Bali. The most common responses were freedom, time and choice. Several mentioned that they felt they’d been rewired.

I call it living without adult supervision.

Have you chosen to live somewhere new in your retirement? Where are you living? Do you find living abroad in retirement difficult? In what ways? Please share your experiences in the comments.

Cat WheelerCanadian writer Cat Wheeler has been living in Southeast Asia since 1990. In 2000, she moved from clean, predictable Singapore to the colorful chaos of Bali, Indonesia. Part of a vibrant 60+ expat community, she writes popular books about life in Bali off the tourist trail.

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