The rays from a bright afternoon sun shine through rows upon rows of tall palm trees, bouncing off the glittering sand and sparkling water. The music of waves lapping the shoreline mixed with the songs and calls of tropical birds and wildlife is the soundtrack of the Caribbean, one that you’d probably only get to enjoy while on a relaxing vacation. But what if you could hear and experience it every day?
This is the dream of many people, to be able to live and work in a vacation spot, surrounded by nature instead of concrete. To others, this lifestyle is a reality that comes with many benefits, but also a few challenges.
Working in paradise
According to a study conducted by the Asia Pacific Foundation, it was found that as of 2006 approximately 8.8 per cent of the Canadian population lives abroad. In the United States, that value is much lower at 1.7 per cent. Unfortunately, compared to the detailed records kept on immigrants in Canada and the US, such records do not exist for emigrants, making it difficult to determine the exact exit rate of citizens from either country.
Whether it’s their career that takes them away or they’re just in need of a drastic lifestyle change, reasons for living in remote areas like tropical islands are plentiful.
“In many respects, it’s a simpler life because you just don’t have access to the same number of things and the same choices that you would have in a city,” says Renée H. Kimball, one of the founders of Tranquilo Bay Eco Adventure Lodge. Kimball has lived and worked in Bocas Del Toro, Panama since 2004. She, her husband, and business partners all help run the lodge year-round.
“We focus on really immersing our guests in nature and letting them leave the everyday behind,” she says. Guests can access Internet from the main building, and sometimes have access to cell phone reception from the various cabanas located throughout the property.
Previously to their hospitality business, Kimball lived and worked in Texas as a lawyer. At Tranquilo Bay, she now takes care of many hotel-related tasks in administration and marketing. Kimball and her husband chose to leave the United States in search of something different that they could spend the rest of their lives doing. They settled on Panama after much research and found that they “got lucky” with a number of other things such as its ideal temperature and climate.
“The best part was being able to slow down and enjoy life more,” he says. “Everything in Canada as far as work goes is making more, doing more, wanting more.” Brown has since returned to Canada and says he notices now that “people in stores get upset when what they are looking for is not there right then. On an island, you get used to waiting a week or two for many things.” In Grand Cayman, Brown also says he noticed a much better work-life balance.
Heather Holmes lived in Singapore for a year while working as a training and physician relationship manager for Medtronic, a medical device company.
For her, she says a big plus to living on the island was the tropical weather she got to experience.
“I travel a ton for my work as well as personally and have had amazing experiences,” she says. “For example, staying in a little thatched-roof bungalow on the beach in Cambodia and having a great wi-fi connection and spending a week with my feet in the sand and not missing a beat.”
The hardships of seclusion
Setting aside the beautiful atmosphere that draws many to places like these, a number of challenges also come with living in extremely remote areas.
Mary McCoy originally moved to the Kingdom of Tonga as a Peace Corps volunteer.
“I had a decades-long desire to live and work in the Pacific,” she says. “I was particularly interested in Tonga since it’s the only country in the Pacific that has never been colonized.”
McCoy decided to extend her stay in Tonga and formed the Training Group of the Pacific with a Tongan business partner.
One of the difficulties she encountered with living and working in such a remote area was the availability of office supplies. “Getting supplies could not be taken for granted. If there was toner for my printer on the island, I would buy as much as I could as I would never know when it would be back.”
If McCoy ran out, she says borrowing was sometimes an option. “Or we would have to figure out a different way to do what we needed to do.” The closest places she could get supplies from were Fiji or New Zealand, both of which were an expensive flight away.
For Kimball, the biggest challenge was all of the logistics associated with conducting business on the remote island offshore of mainland Panama.
“I’m on an island in an archipelago in a province that’s only had a road to it for the last 15 years,” she says. Whenever Kimball needs groceries and other supplies, the only point of access to her is by boat.
Though secluded in a different way, Canada too is home to some fairly remote areas.
“Ninety-five per cent of Canada’s land area is rural,” according to the Community Information Database of Canada. “Rural Canada is characterized by distance (like to markets and services), low population, and business density.”
Much of Canada’s population is located near the border where climates are generally warmer, leaving many areas of the country sparsely populated and easily qualifying as remote areas to live and work. Workers in mining and oil and gas companies in particular are often required to relocate to very secluded work sites.
Jessica Madill, director of human resources at JW Marriott The Rosseau Muskoka Resort and Spa, works in one of the more remote areas of Ontario.
The resort is located in Minett in the Township of Muskoka Lakes, which has a population of 6,400 year-round.
“We have a corner store in Minett, which is a variety store, and that’s it,” says Madill.
Muskoka is home to a few major towns but mostly “encompasses more than 2,000 sparkling lakes.” Madill says that one of the benefits of being surrounded by so much nature is that “there are tons of outdoor activities to keep you busy and lots to explore.”
One of the difficulties that comes with conducting business in Muskoka is finding enough housing and, in particular, affordable housing for employees, says Madill. In 2012, the average cost of a single family home that isn’t on the water was $250,000, while the cost of a cottage in the area was closer to $700,000.
Access to public transportation and city amenities like stores and gas stations are also more difficult to come by in Muskoka.
Working in remote areas, no matter the country, can be a challenge.
“Prepare as best you can, but be ready for it to be different than you thought it would be,” says Brown. That said, these jobs offer unique opportunities you can’t get anywhere else, so if you’re a risktaking nomad, it might be time to leave the city for something new and remote.
“Just because you’re born in a given place does not always mean that it will feel like home,” he adds. “Keep looking until you find your home; when you do, no matter where it may be, you will feel better.”