What is it about the word “island” that makes a mind race instantly to “escape?” I suppose it’s that watery obstacle that separates any dollop of sand from its mainland neighbor. You must cross over…and so with your back turned to the old, you train your eyes toward that new shore. Sunglasses on, wind in your hair, it just feels like you’re getting away with something. (Never mind you may actually jet in aboard a boeing 747.) Whatever vessel carries you, it’s a journey along which things fall away— stress, worry, your workaday sense of time. On an island, the pace slows, you live in the present, you shed concerns right along with your closed-toed shoes.
Nearly two decades ago, when I first set foot in Nicaragua for International Living, the Managua airport was a simpler affair. I walked down steps to a hot tarmac and watched a porter toss my suitcase through a hole in the wall. Today there’s a Jetway, A/C and a duty-free shop. Travel & Leisure and Food & Wine gush about the country’s offerings. And we do, too. This month our correspondent there shares her recommendations—everything from volcano surfing to floating down a secret canyon. But my point is: we were poking around Nicaragua back in the mid-1990s, when it was otherwise overlooked. Today we persist in our boots-on-the-ground habit. We’re looking for storehouses of opportunity, spots ripe for engaging adventures, good-value investment, and comfortable, affordable living. Such places invariably sit under the radar and are misunderstood. But they can be worth your attention.
Here at International Living, we tell stories about the world nobody else tells. When somebody asks me what we do, that’s what I say first. I say it because most folks carry around a worldview forged by the news they read. The headlines scream war and catastrophe…politics and disease. But calamity gets outsized attention. Our news comes to us through a mainstream media lens and it’s filtered by a measure of superiority. What you realize, though, once you pick up your passport and get on a plane, is that beyond our borders there exists a whole other world that the shock-seeking headlines ignore.
"I never want to shovel snow again.” When you ask somebody who is thinking about life overseas why they’re investigating their options, more often than not their response has at least something to do with escaping the cold. So it makes sense that when you ask expats what they most appreciate about their lives overseas—they almost always include an enthusiastic nod to the pleasant climate. It’s convenient then that so many places where your dollars stretch also happen to be spots where snow is unheard of.
"I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself,” said the poet Maya Angelou. I suppose she’s right…we all aspire to a certain comfort in our own skin. I’ve always felt travel encouraged it, in fact.
“Cheap” alone is not a worthy objective. We don’t look for it here at International Living—and nor should you. Just because you can buy a coffee for a dime or stay in a hotel for $20 a night—that’s not reason enough to go. Plenty of “cheap” corners tenant this world—many, quite frankly, just plain undesirable. What we chase—and what you should be after, too—is good value.
You might imagine that, with 12 monthly issues of our magazine and 365 daily IL Postcards to dispatch each year, we might find ourselves occasionally at a loss for words. But we never are: we have more ideas and recommendations than we have space. It’s a never-ending game of triage, each new destination vying for attention with its own come-hither look.
Atlantic beach towns that take you back in time…a foodie’s paradise in Southeast Asia where dim sum stalls beckon…an arts-rich bohemian haven in South America full of cafés and concerts... All over the planet you’ll find hidden gems like these—spots that rarely, if ever, earn even a passing mention in the popular press. It’s not surprising. Almost no publications bother to keep outposts abroad anymore. The quality and scope of international news coverage—and our understanding of and empathy for the world—has suffered for it.
For 25 years, I’ve been designing an apartment in Paris—in my mind’s eye. I mentioned it to an acquaintance at a party recently who said, “That’s such a romantic notion.” What she meant was “dream on…it’ll never happen.” This knee-jerk dismissal of the romantic notion as something fundamentally frivolous—or, at the very least, unrealistic—is typical. But at the risk of causing offence, I’d like to say: I think it points to a lack of imagination. To my mind, romantic notions provide the fuel for a life lived rich with adventure.
Everybody comes to the “Where overseas?” question with his own set of preferences. This one wants beach, that one cool weather. This woman wants to be four hours from home. And that guy is looking for a place to dock a sailboat. When you’re pinpointing your ideal destination, start with list of what’s most important to you. And understand: No place is perfect. You have to prioritize. For a community she loves, “madame must-be-close-to-home” might just stretch her travel time to four-and-a-half hours.