In 2009, my husband Vernon and I got married on the beach in Mazatlán, México. At our reception, we told each other that we would one day move there.
Of course, life happened, and that dream was pushed off until later, perhaps when we were ready to retire. We had three beautiful kids, two cars, a home in the suburbs of Chicago and a dreamy white picket fence.
Still, something was missing. We were working full-time jobs, including side hustles in the fitness industry, that gave us a combined income of close to six-figures. But we found ourselves increasingly frustrated at the amount of energy it took to simply get by.
Every day, we came home feeling tired and disheartened. What were we working so hard to achieve? What was all of this "stuff" for? The house, the cars, the student loans — everything was a series of bills to pay. This was not what we envisioned for ourselves.
We constantly dreamed of living on the beach and building our own businesses so we could have the flexibility to spend more time with our kids.
Then, in February 2016, I received the call that no daughter ever wants to receive. My mother had died — unexpectedly and alone — in Mazatlán, where she and my father moved to retire.
As I slid to the floor, nearly dropping my phone at the news, a sense of realization washed over me: Nothing, including tomorrow, was guaranteed. If we wanted to experience happiness, we had to take action.
Now or never: Leaving the U.S.
By October 2016, we had sold our home and cars, quit our jobs and downsized our lives into 10 suitcases and eight carry-on bags. With our three kids (then ages three, four and five), we booked a one-way flight to Mazatlán.
For two years, we lived in that beautiful, colonial city on the Pacific Ocean. My husband worked on building his consulting company, while I started my own copywriting business, which I still run today. Both businesses were profitable, and the financial freedom and flexibility allowed us to enjoy ourselves without being chained to someone else's time clock.
We created a life we truly loved, full of activities, friends and cultural experiences, all just blocks from the beach. With our monthly expenses at around $1,500 (USD) per month, we spent significantly less than we ever did in the U.S.
- Private school for all three kids: $425
- Four-bedroom, 3.5-bathroom home rental: $475
- Groceries: $250 to $300
- Transportation: $100
- Leisure activities: $100
We used any leftover money to eat out at nice restaurants, splurge on new clothes or pay for medical needs as they came up (which when they did, we paid out-of-pocket cash without any issues, as the cost of treatment in Mexico is significantly lower than in the U.S.).
We felt like we were finally living the American Dream — except we had to leave America to do it.
As a Black family, we never felt safer
Here's a memory I'll never forget: On one of our first days in Mazatlán, a policeman got out of his car and paused traffic to allow our family to cross a busy street. As we walked, he gave a warm smile to my husband, who nodded his head in return.
Once we reached the other side, my husband looked at me and said, "Wow."
With that one word, I realized that my strong, kindhearted Black husband had never felt safer around a police officer than he did in that moment.
All our experiences with the police while living in Mexico were favorable. I'm sure locals might feel differently, but compared to the abrasive treatment we received from some police officers in the U.S., it was a welcome change.
We now had a chance to live peacefully without the fear that came with being Black in America. I no longer had to worry about my husband or sons being in the wrong place at the wrong time with someone who saw their skin color first, and their hearts second.
Next stop: Antigua
In 2018, my husband was offered a professorship at a medical university in Antigua, an island in the Caribbean West Indies.
We loved Mazatlán, but felt this was a unique opportunity we couldn't pass up. Even though our expenses would go up, we knew that the income provided by the university, along with earnings from my copywriting business, would allow us to comfortably make ends meet.
So we said goodbye to our friends and set out with our suitcases for yet another adventure abroad.
Antigua is an island of about 97,000 people, 108 square miles, 365 beaches and a rich history. Here, we've once again created a life we love, free from the materialism that we were so desperately and vehemently sold in America.
The population is primarily Black (as a result of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade), so my family fits right in and feels very comfortable here. The pace of life is slow, the people are friendly, the beaches are serene, and the societal expectations are less demanding.
The median rent in our area is around $1,200. We live one block from the Caribbean Sea in a beautiful four-bedroom, five-bathroom home with a pool on a large plot of land, which we rent for significantly less than some downtown apartments in Chicago.
For all three kids combined, school tuition, along with swimming lessons, cost $800 per month. We don't dine out as much because of Covid, and our monthly grocery bill is roughly $600.
Aside from friends, family, and the Cheesecake Factory, we don't miss the U.S. all that much. We can get almost everything we need here.
Most people here are very compliant when it comes to following the Covid guidelines. We sanitize, we mask, we distance. My husband is required to take a rapid Covid test twice a month in order to be on campus. He works from home whenever possible.
Leaving the U.S. was the best decision for our family
We have no regrets about leaving the U.S. Our children are now global citizens who possess the education that neither my husband nor I had at their ages. They've maintained their Spanish and are now learning the unique dialect of our adopted island, along with gardening, hiking, swimming and cricket.
Living abroad gives you a different perspective — one that encourages growth, compassion, self-awareness and a deeper understanding of other cultures.
We left America to discover something new, and in return we finally found happiness.
Gabriella M. Lindsay, a Chicago native, is a copywriter, author, and educator. She lives on the island of Antigua in the Caribbean West Indies with her husband and three young children. "Living F.I.T.: A 40-Day Guide to Living Faithfully, Intentionally, and Tenaciously" is her first book. Follow Gabriella on Instagram.
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