Choosing Shangri-La Over the Rat Race

It's a comparative weighing of the drudgery of living in a wet, cold and overpriced country where people grind themselves down for 10 hours a day with an idealized 21st-century lifestyle that combines sun, sea, cultural advancement and the odd beach party.

"Why should I pay a third of my salary for housing, parking and work clothes, when I can actually save more by just teaching English and living in a place where I can afford a simple, but comfortable lifestyle?" asks "Bill", alias AsiaBill, an Iowa native who has lived abroad for almost 20 years before putting down his roots in the Philippines.

Although Bill, 48, started his adventures abroad by taking recourse to the de facto traveler's safety net of teaching English to survive abroad, after a truncated stint with college back home and seven lucrative years running an export business in Hong Kong, he decided the Philippines, the so-called forgotten islands of Southeast Asia, would forever be his home.

Along with his wife of Philippine descent, Lorna, Bill has invested in a hotel near the airport in the capital of Manila and a beach-house resort in the central Philippine island of Boracay, where sapphire waters lap at coconut palm-fringed virgin white beaches and romance, as he puts it, "is a reality, not a dream."

A Smaller World

With an economic downturn setting off a landslide of mass layoffs, cutbacks and spiraling savings, many Westerners are realizing the value of life-enhancing experiences over possessions for a more fulfilling lifestyle.

Definitive statistics on this group though, are hard to come by. Although the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs estimates there are about 3 million U.S. citizens living abroad, the figure includes diplomats and military personnel.

In Britain, statistics show that long-term migrations abroad are on the increase. According to the Office for National Statistics, in 1995 there were 193,000 people leaving England and Wales for a year or more; by 1999 that figure had gone up to 250,000.

Today's gypsies though still enjoy a hippie lifestyle with a jetset, cyber-savvy flavor.

"The world is a much smaller place today because globalization is a fact," says Caboor. "I'm in contact with everyone on the Net, I'm not cut off from the world."

Unlike their anti-capitalist hippie ancestors, most of the new breed of drop-outs are seeking alternatives lifestyles with their American Express cards firmly in their wallets.

While the developing world is painfully aware that a few dollars can go a long way in most parts of the globe, for the new breed of cyber-saavy hippies, their personal Shangri-La rests on a solid foundation of favorable foreign exchange rates.

"Bill" estimates that in countries with local average annual incomes below $2,000 to $3,000, Americans need between $400 and $800 a month to lead a very comfortable life.

He, however, recommends that Americans should ideally have between $50,000 and $200,000 of capital — about a fourth of it liquid and transferred to a U.S. dollar bank account in one's newly adopted country — to really experience expatriate bliss.

Resources for well-heeled drop-outs on the Web offer a host of investment opportunities — from real estate deals in Boca Del Toro in Panama to industrial free trading zones from Japan to Iran.

It's a 21st century dream of juggling your money while sipping Bacardi on the beach.

A Moral Quest

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