Reinvent Yourself Abroad

Living (and making a living) in another country may sound like a dream. but these six women dropped everything to make it come true.

By Nicole Blades
Photograph: Photo by Andrea Fazzari.

Making it happen: Back in San Francisco, Davis-Eichner got to work on a business plan, and friends helped with copywriting, design and Web development. She invested $50,000 from her savings to pay for advertising, a website, legal work, office equipment and a van to drive surfers from local hotels to the beach. She set up a partnership with a Mal Pais–area hotel and hired her mother as a full-time employee in the U.S. to handle reservations while she managed the camp in Costa Rica.

In January 2004—exactly two years after her life-changing vacation—Pura Vida Adventures welcomed its first surf-camp group. “We have a max of 12 women at each session,” she says. “The cheapest package is $2,100, which covers six-day, seven-night beachfront accommodations, surf instruction, yoga, massage, all meals, equipment and off-site activities.” Pura Vida Adventures made a profit in its first year, and revenues grew 15 to 20 percent every year until the 2008 recession took a toll.

Recently married, Davis-Eichner and her husband, an American, now spend half the year in Mal Pais and the other six months in Oregon, where he has a construction company and she runs her business from home. When in Costa Rica, the couple lives in a rented beach house “with coral and tide pools right outside the front door,” she says. “My favorite thing to do is lie on the hammock. I’m a type A personality, so I need to get my daily hammock time.”

Global Citizen: Lynann Bradbury

Africa, South Asia, Latin America

Former job: Senior VP at a Seattle international communications firm.

What she does now: Consults for nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and socially progressive companies, helping them bring Internet technology and training to rural and poor communities.

The backstory: In 2003, Bradbury was enduring her third bout of thyroid cancer. “I went into bargaining mode with God: Get me through this, and I promise to help others the best way I can,” she says. “When you’re on your deathbed, no one gives a damn what it says on your business card.” Three years later, her cancer was in remission. Although her marriage dissolved, she felt renewed and began taking annual “voluntouring” vacations. “Each trip was sparked by an idea or an interest in a country or something I wanted to learn,” she says.

The inspiration: “Cancer propelled me to live my life differently,” Bradbury says. She created a bucket list—countries where she wanted to live, things to accomplish before dying—with the goal of contributing to the world.

Making it happen: Bradbury quit her job in 2008, sold her cherry-red convertible, put her house up for rent and became a full-time freelance consultant (lynannbradbury.com). “I took my communications expertise,” she says, “and combined it with my interest in overseas volunteer work.” She travels cheaply, often using stockpiled frequent-flier miles, and the rental income from her Seattle home covers a portion of her travel and living expenses abroad. Last year, Bradbury spent six months living in Cape Town, helping a South African tech company bring Internet access to rural schools. Her furnished rental offered views of the ocean and gorgeous sunsets. “Around the corner from my apartment, I could buy Indian takeout for the equivalent of $3,” she says. Bradbury’sconsultancy rates vary from $2,500 to $25,000 per project (or $75 to $225per hour), depending on local market rates and visa regulations. Recently she began working with NetHope, a network of tech professionals from 32 of the top global NGOs, to set up technology-training academies in sub-Saharan Africa. She’ll immerse herself in each country’s culture, soaking up all she can learn.

Bradbury still spends a few months in the U.S. every year to be with her elderly parents. When she travels, she takes mementos from home: photos, trinkets and gifts from family and friends. Adjusting to a new community is not without challenges, she says. “But I’ve gained a sense of purpose, and that makes every trade-off worthwhile.”

First Published February 10, 2011

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