From Heels to Flip-Flops: Upgrading Life by Moving to Panama

I remember December 15, 2008 like it was yesterday.  I was at the Toronto Island airport, it was cold and wet and I was climbing aboard my partner’s Piper Cherokee 6 private aircraft on a one-way trip to Panama.  With our two cats and all of our other valuable belongings on board, we left.  As we soared above Lake Ontario towards New York, I looked back and said adios to my urban corporate life.  I did not truly know what was in store for me once we hit our tropical destination, but I knew it was going to be great.

I was the ‘chick in heels.’  I commuted to work every day.  I was a corporate sales rep for a recruitment firm, and I did well.  I worked hard for 15 years, but every so often I would stop and say ‘is this it?’  Is this how it will be until the day I retire – if I retire?

I wake up every morning with the sun, no commute to work and no need to put on heels:  My flip-flops are my preferred shoe wear and my bathing suit and cover up are my uniform.  I transferred my recruiting career to Panama and became a virtual professional working from the comfort of my home office.  With Skype, my laptop and my blackberry I can work as effectively as I did in my employer’s office in Toronto.

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Karyn Saunders takes a break from work to co-pilot a plane on an average day in Panama.

Just over a year ago I was asked to help sell real estate with Inside Panama.  Mike told me to put some people in the car and take it from there.  My first clients bought a condo and the rest is history.   I now spend some of my days showing people around the beach area and filling them in on the richness and quality of life we have here in the tropics.

These days I spend my lunch hour surfing, or running, or picking mangos off the trees in my neighborhood.  We often head back to the waterfall swimming area in our development and cool off with a quick dip.

On Thursday and Friday afternoons I coach swim lessons for some of the local, expat kids – truly the highlight of my week. My swim lessons are the perfect end to my weeks, and somewhere in the hour we stop goofing off and the kids actually learn how to swim.

Allan, the pilot and my partner in all of this, is an avid golfer and more often than not he has played a full round before his office opens in Toronto.

Nine months ago, we made the decision to purchase an investment property in The Pearl Islands.  Even today when I tell people we own a property on the stunningly beautiful Contadora Island, I stop and pinch myself.  We have the pleasure of being able to fly to our crystal clear ocean water, white sandy beach island getaway whenever we want.  It is also a small business for us as we rent it out for additional income.  This is where you will find my rescue dog, my pilot, and me most weekends.

We have a low cost of living and a very high quality of life.  Sure, there are days when you shake your head in frustration because the plumber, the cleaning lady and the gardener didn’t show up.  But on days like that, I then stop and give my head a shake.  Today, I can afford cleaning and gardening for $15/day.  The plumber of course is another story, but it comes with the territory.

I am 42 years old and I have learned more in the last four years of life than I had in the previous 38.  I have learned much of a new language and I have faced down new challenges.  I have had success, and I have seen failure.  Most of all I have learned that I needed to give up the life that I had planned in order to live the life that was waiting for me.  December 15th, 2008 was that day, and the life that was waiting for me is beyond anything I ever could have planned.


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