1 year into my expat life and I look forward to downsizing. In fact this year we rented a 1 bedroom apartment across the street from the ocean FOR $400 a month. It’s a far cry from what I thought I wanted when I first visited Panama.

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Then, I wanted a spacious upscale home with a yard so I could plant strawberries and lots of flowers. I wanted a wrap around deck and community amenities that only a gated community could provide. So I bought a house that had all these things, plus was on the third hole of a golf course and on a river.  Mostly because I could, to get all the goodies I couldn’t afford back in Boulder, Colorado. Sounds idyllic huh.

Dreams like this are common among would be expats. All of us seem to arrive with a wish list of tangibles and intangibles to fulfill. The freedom to wipe the slate clean and start fresh and possible radically different lives is part of the appeal of moving abroad.  In hindsight though, I found that we don’t exactly arrive abroad baggage free. We may believe we’ve escaped the chains of life long habits (at least that’s what I thought). We may have the visas, the language tapes, and the moving list. But like it or not we are still influenced by out old thinking patterns in ways we haven’t imagined or are unconscious of.

It can take a year or more to break really free of the old way of thinking and once you do, you might find that what you actually want is far different than what you originally thought. That is one reason I suggest you rent before you buy. It keeps you freer to embrace the opportunities that come your way.  Because for most expats that I know, life abroad does live up to their expectations of freedom, opportunity an adventure and often surpasses them. I know people who have uncovered business opportunities they never dreamed of when they arrived, or others who found love, meeting their match when they least expected it. And it’s always easier to pursue those opportunities when you are not weighed down by large investments. They say it gives you time to get to know a place so you can decide if it suits you. The deeper truth is that it gives you time to get to know yourself.

That is not to say that buying a house based on your old thinking is a mistake. You may find you like it perfectly well. Even if it doesn’t you can always sell it and move on, eventually. But it is worth noting that what you think you want, will likely change once you move abroad.  This shouldn’t be surprising; it is all unexplored territory from that point on.  I have to say that I have enjoyed my big house despite all the responsibility that goes with it. The location is gorgeous and close t town; I love to sit on my deck enjoying the view. However, since I sold this house, I have to say that that I do not miss the regular maintenance and management it took and that I prefer unencumbered convenience to having all the material goodies.  For me, having a high quality of life means having less and doing more with it. It is so liberating, for example, not having to have a car or managing the cleaning of a 2500 square foot place as opposed to a 650 square foot one.

Moving abroad, which stripped away the distracting background noise and clutter of the stress of my everyday work life back home, allowed me to realize these truths about myself more quickly than I might have otherwise.

Your life lessons may not be the same as mine. But I’ll bet you that a year or so down the line you’ll be scribbling on the wish list you came with and perhaps even starting a new one.