Places are just like people.
They all have some good in them along with some bad… some embarrassing things they try to downplay in public… and things they proudly wear on their sleeve…
They have good days and bad days.
They can react to a person the same way a person can react to them.
One day you feel embraced, the next you might feel rebuffed.
Inconsistency, perhaps, is the grand unifying factor.
When it comes to a foreign place—whether for vacation or living—you should think of the place as a person you’re dating.
That tentative first meeting (stepping foot off the plane or out of the airport) leads to the first date (making your way from the airport to wherever you’re headed).
The first thing I notice is the smell of the place. Nicaragua and Kenya are the more memorable scents to this day…
Nicaragua’s is woody, like stepping into a timber-built house.
Kenya’s is indescribable but intoxicating… wild and so alien that I can’t draw comparisons.
I was enchanted at first sniff both times.
That first drive leaving the airport is like the first date conversation… you don’t know what to expect… it could go either way…
It might be tedious and give you cold feet… or it might leave you wanting more.
I call it location chemistry.
The same way you have chemistry with a person, you have chemistry with a place.
Good or bad, you have a visceral, subconscious reaction to a place right from the start—one that you often can’t explain.
If you were asked why you love your spouse, what would you say?
You could list the qualities in them you admire and all the things you have in common…
But does that get to the root of why you love them?
Sometimes there’s just no logical explanation.
They say that first impressions are hard to overcome. But a new Yale study asserts that we’re actually hardwired to give second chances…
We’re more inclined to give the benefit of the doubt and forgive a bad first meeting than we are to dismiss the person out of hand.
Of course, this is a good thing when it comes to people.
But when it comes to a place, I say give no quarter.
Your first reaction is from the gut or the heart—certainly not the head.
But it’s that first impression that is the most honest, and it’s likely not to be overcome no matter how much your head may try to dissuade your heart.
I’ve heard from many readers and conference attendees over the years that, on paper, Country X checked all their boxes. They had done all the research and were ready to commit… until they actually visited Country X. For whatever reason, they just didn’t like it.
“But,” they maintain, “it has to be the place for me! It’s got the perfect weather, it’s not far from my family, it’s affordable, and I speak the language already.”
This sort of rationalizing can force a person to follow through on their move—where they wind up miserable, maybe even moving back home and giving up on the overseas idea altogether.
Another common scenario is when spouses disagree. One loves Italy, the other hates it. One compromises because they feel that if their spouse loves it, they should, too. After all, if your other half can’t find a reason to not like it, then it must all be in your head, right? (Well, not in the head maybe, but in the heart, definitely.)
Never compromising on something that’s life-changing is a good rule of thumb. Compromise on your laundry detergent, sure, but not on what school you go to, career you want to follow, or place where you want to live (or person to live with, for that matter).
Remember that honeymoon phase with your girl or guy? You should feel exactly the same way in the honeymoon phase of destination discovery…
If Mexico isn’t popping into your head at all the wrong times and giving you the tingles when you think of it, then Mexico isn’t the one to commit to. Have a fling—go on vacation or spend a few months with an open-ended ticket—but don’t settle down with anything that isn’t eclipsing your heart and head in equal measures.
Hunting for your new home overseas is one case when I’d wholeheartedly advise playing the field. Sew your oats all over the planet before you lay down roots.
There’s a whole alphabet out there… have some fun before you settle down.
Expat Mike Herndon, who spoke at our Retire Overseas Conference last year, told us how he had an instant connection with the city of Valencia in Spain…
“As I stood in the baggage claim area of the Valencia airport I remember having the crazy thought that ‘this could be the place’… before ever setting foot in the city!”
But this wasn’t Mike’s first trip overseas…
“Fortunately, I had been to 47 U.S. states and 25 foreign countries, so I had 72 points of reference. Not 1 of the 72 had ever provoked this reaction, so I proceeded… though with caution.”