South America, here we come!

In early 2022, at the emergence from the pandemic restrictions and evoking a sense of wanting change, my wife and I decided to make a trip to Brazil for the Canadian winter of 2022/23. This was not a big deal for her, as it is her native country and she has family there. She has been back there to visit several times since she first journeyed to Canada at the end of 2016. For me, on the other hand, it represents the longest planned trip outside my native country I have ever taken! Novelties aside, this is not just a vacation. We are both gainfully engaged in employment or contract work in the cybersecurity and software industries, we are growing our business prospects, and have aggressive financial goals, so this is not the time to cruise and take a long vacation. The configuration of this travel and commensurate living arrangements need to be conducive to work, pleasure, family bonding time, financial sustainability, and a growth mindset - while getting our feet sandy and maybe falling asleep under a tree with some beach food. Not an easy balance or discipline to contemplate, because many people separate work and vacation, home and away, in their minds, to the extent that they could never overlap. We made basic preparations early, for peace of mind, such as flights and AirBnB, so as to not be gouged at the last minute or find sparse availability for travel or accommodations. But that was it. We worked as usual in our small city outside Toronto, Canada, until 2 days before we left, and then began packing in haste. The exception was our digital security and financial footprint, which needed to seamlessly follow us to Brazil, so we could conduct our affairs as usual. We even made preparations in case we were to experience the misfortune of losing a device, which we did in a taxi within the first 2 weeks. Authentication, connectivity, banking and information security, and managing backups on the road are daunting even for well-traveled digital pioneers such as ourselves. I can’t underestimate the importance of planning ahead and safeguarding digital as well as physical security when traveling. Identity theft is problematic enough at home, if it were to befall you, let alone getting stranded in a foreign country and having your financial life compromised. Preparation and contingencies are essential, and nobody will reach out to fix your life for you should you fail to protect yourself, your information, your assets, your devices, your email and 2FA accounts, your ability to be connected and proactive to correct every loose end in case of emergency. Next time we will be even more prepared and simply assume we will have our laptops, passports, and phones stolen. And know what to do without having to retreat ‘home’. The good, the bad, and the ugly will await a traveler, no matter where they go, in any country. Awareness and preparation make for a much smoother journey and the peace of mind to understand one’s situation, so we are now in the south of Brazil and enjoying our journey. It has been 37 days already, with a mix of work, play, and family time. I hesitate to give my review of the world here, novelties, experiences, and all, as it is still wide-eyed and nuanced, but I will say that so far the quality of my days and inner peace has been an improvement. It has been the simple things that made it so. The people we have spent time with have been refreshing and delightful, the ingredients that make up the local dishes and culture have a flavor that I was lacking for a long time (except for a brief 9 days in Paris in April 2022), and the separation from the constant materialism and political messaging of North America (of which I am guilty of engaging) has been a remarkable relief. I plan to bring some new habits and changes back with me when I return to Canada, and capitalize on all I am learning from this different culture and natural environment. It has not been an Amazon jungle by any means. The first two weeks were spent in a high-rise condo in a world-class city of almost 2 million people, where nobody in North America has ever heard mentioned before. After that, a bus ride to small cities at endless beaches revealed some of the best ocean venues and vistas I have seen so far. The simple living, great barbeque aroma everywhere, cheap real-estate and evening air punctuated by the rich sounds of families in revelry at the holidays, have impressed upon me a persistent suspicion that Canada and The United States of America may not be ‘the best nation in the world’ after all. But keeping an eye out beyond the rose colored glasses, this simply solidifies my curiosity about what else awaits in other places too. I’m not about to declare any brief destination to be the answer to life and happiness, but it is eye-opening to experience such a difference in quality and culture in many regards. Of course, the standard of living is relative to what somebody can earn here, and residents working in the local economy have economic pressures and inflation too. For example, a professional barber in a nice shop only charges USD$6 for a men’s haircut. Yes, that is just a six. So when I am impressed to only pay USD$1.60 for a dozen organic free-run brown farm fresh eggs, it needs to be put into perspective of local earning power. Prices have increased here and are problematic for a large swath of the Brazilian population, much of which is under the poverty line. Skilled workers, especially in tech, are facing emigration or expansion to international/offshore work to improve their living standards in Brazil, while digital nomads may be eyeing Brazil as a very attractive destination or stop along their travels. I’ll simply put it that I have visited numerous destinations in the United States or Canada where life was not as good for the average person as it can be here in Brazil, from my limited view so far. I have not yet been to the slums, big cities like Rio de Janeiro, or witnessed the poverty and crime that exist in some places across this diverse and vast country of over 217M people, and 8.5M However, if we consider the United States’ poverty statistics, they fall behind Cambodia, Philippines, Tunisia, Albania, and Russia, to name a few. Even Canada’s poverty ranks behind Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, the list goes on. While western countries may have become richer, their people have not necessarily kept up, and it may force us to ask ourselves some weird questions about living standards and what makes sense for us. Could some westerners completely move and work in foreign countries/currencies and experience a better life, objectively as well as subjectively? Even in countries portrayed in western media as ‘third-world’? I believe the disparity between stereotypes and data need to be examined, and individuals need to ask themselves if it makes sense to pay more for internet and cable than what some people pay for their entire rent, and they eat better and are more healthy than the average American, 41% of whom are now classified obese, with a pre-diabetes rate of 33% or more. At the very least, I think people in North America need to get out of their shells and open their eyes to the world, take in some reality and crunch some numbers. Maybe that can lead to some changes at home, or spending more time abroad, like many Europeans do for the summers or winters, to widen their horizons and create some balance in their lives and for their children. At the very least, this traveler, who has always held some excitement in his heart about going new places and meeting new people, has had the travel bug reinvigorated and even a spurred work ethic, to align professional and personal life to venture further where I have never gone before.