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The Panama Sabbatical

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Written by Matt   
Friday, 02 October 2009 06:01
Panama SabbaticalA religious friend in Panama once explained to me how it was actually God who invented the sabbatical. "After he make the universe, advice " my friend said, "God was very very tired. So, sick well, he have to take a rest." I liked the simplicity of that origin and envisioned it being used as details in a National Spelling Bee if Panama even has that sort of thing. In this article, drugstore I'd like to relate the struggles of creating a universe with the economic recession, both as a means of giving way to an extended vacation in Panama. For the better part of a century my country has adored the idea of the American Dream. As much as an ideology possibly can, it both united us as a group of believers and set us apart from the other parts of the world where freedom and reward weren't quite so reachable. It was an ethos that silver-lined a great depression, that went on to spawn decades of growth, and that is now optimistically being used to catapult a recently tumbled nation back up onto its feet. The American Dream became synonymous with endurance and material success: hard work that gave way to a rewardingly sedentary lifestyle of secure jobs, a nice home, and cheesy family gatherings by the lake.

While America will always hold a place in people's hearts with the promise of "a better, richer, and happier life," the definition of our dream is certainly changing. Job growth has been replaced by the worst unemployment of our lifetime. Home foreclosures, car repossessions, among many other ills have somewhat transformed the face of contemporary American culture. It's a generation of dot-com wiz kids, baby boomers, and once-curiously loaded i-bankers all of whom are feeling the recession hard quite simply because they've had a taste of better times. It's like the demoralizing taste of Korbel when all night you've been drinking Dom.

I recently hopped around the States in what turned out to be a sort of damage assessment of financial turmoil. Lots of people were depressed, albeit optimistic for better days. One friend downgraded apartments to the ghetto. Another couple lost their life savings in the stock market leaving Johnny-soon-to-be-college-sophomore and Mary-private-middle-school-student with debt up to their necks. In the land of promise and virtue, good times seemed to be temporarily out of reach I sensed. "It's the American Dream," President Obama fittingly said of our recession, "but in reverse."

Consider the Panama sabbatical.

Our American Dream did a good job of romanticizing that hard work led to a steady job, which led to enough money and living comfortably. But it forgot to mention that, assuming everything goes as planned and we do achieve success, working our ass off leaves little time to enjoy the fruit of our labor (once-a-year vacations and weekend jaunts to the carnival prevailing). As the recession hits, the dream seems weighted down and more difficult: the way professional athletes sprint with parachutes tied to their backs.

For Panama, the recession is just another of the perfectly aligned stars aiding in development: a mass exodus from the most developed country of our hemisphere that solves the age-old dilemma of when to take time off with merely a shrug. Why not? While the world tourism industry is down, certain niches that reflect Panama's sabbatical allure, are answering this question.

According to Ed Kushins, President of, "I don't know of any segment of the travel industry growing as fast as we are." His company Home Exchange is an online community linking up travelers interested in short or long-term relocation. Instead of hotels, its users swap their own homes with other members. Kushins says users have grown during the recession mainly because people don't have money to burn anymore on vacations: "Under our model, staying anywhere in the world costs no more than staying at home." In Panama specifically, most people enjoy a much lower cost of living than at home by taking advantage of the low prices of local food, labor, transportation...etc.

There'll be no smoke blowing here: no one should expect to replicate a high-flying lifestyle from the USA in Panama and spend less money. (If that were the case, this would be the more akin to a disappearing act.) There will be no penthouse apartments and lobster dinners on this menu. If you like to drink Grey Goose martinis, chances are, they cost the same in Panama as they do at home. If you're looking to bank big on undiscovered real estate, you're a few years too late. And if you want solely to jump on an economic growth bandwagon, its next stops are...well, who knows where. Similarly, the published benefits of relocating, working, and investing in Panama tend to be greatly misconstrued.

The benefits of moving to Panama temporarily as an extended vacation (meaning you plan to return home at some point, not necessarily dedicate your life or soul to the cause) are great. Some genuine things that Panama offers to the temporary sabbatical-goer:
- inexpensive, acceptable health care in case of emergencies
- cheap cost of living in the interior
- rich history and smorgasbord culture
- hiking, rafting, zip lining, beach hopping, scuba and other adventure opportunities
- tropical climate
- acceptable (though in some cases frustrating) internet access
- friendly people with limited English
- 3-month tourist visa (available to residents of most countries)

I firmly believe there hasn't been a better time in the past 50 years to take time off and travel. Maybe its because some flaws of our American Dream are now more apparent. We work hard throughout our youth to save up for retirement in old age, then in old age lose our life savings down the drain: it's a model that hit me while traveling at home. For some, the Panama sabbatical is an opportunity to start a new chapter in their lives. For others, it's simply a chance to catch their breath. Regardless though, it provides change, excitement, and spontaneity to a lifestyle - or at least ideology - that's getting homogenously dull, fast.

Insiders like Kushins they've felt the frequency and average time periods for such travel sabbaticals increasing tangibly over the course of the recession. Referring to a section on their website that lists 200 of the community's most recent listings, Kushins says its being fully recycled or renewed at a rate of every 5-7 days.

While Panama's not the only country that'd fit this sabbatical move, it does represent a confluence of great features. You may have read in other articles on this site the frustration that comes with extended periods of work in Panama, but the Panama sabbatical is another story. Come with few expectations, looking purely to entertain yourself for a few months and the opportunities are endless.

Note: Image found on

Comments (1)Add Comment
I am one of them
written by E. Gregor , October 02, 2009
I am someone who took the "Panama Sabatical" and loved it. I was able to quit my job and put all my stuff in storage for 2 months which was a giant relief from stress at home. Highly recomended. THanks!
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Last Updated on Thursday, 15 October 2009 06:21