Avarua, Rarotonga, Cook Islands
As we depart Rarotonga we think we would be remiss if we failed to mention Robyn in more detail.
Remember how we said we found a group of fellow sailors our own age? Well, that wasn’t completely true. We found a group of other sailors and Robyn. See Robyn got here to the Cooks the same way most sane residents of North America (she’s Canadian) would: by plane. When we ran into her she had been living on Rarotonga for several weeks spending her days working in an organic farm part time, her evenings relaxing at her hostel or partying with the locals and her free time enjoying the island paradise she decided to call home for a few months. Yes, you heard us right. Months. Robyn wasn’t a tourist, she was a temporary resident.
Long term traveling has many faces and what intrigued us about Robyn (aside from the fact that she’s Canadian, which is always fascinating to Americans anyway 😉 is that she was someone our age, specifically someone who was not an 18 year old on a year away from school, but a professional in the middle of their “career years” on a protracted traveling tour. Thing of it was that she had gone about it a completely different way than we had. Where we had spent the past several months jumping from island to island on a boat she had decided to travel to one island and really become a part of the local community. Where we had made the sea our home working as crew she was living cheaply and working on a farm. Ultimately, we all had the same end in mind, but our means of achieving it were very different. Being as some of you have been really intrigued by this idea of traveling the world long term but are not sure about the whole sailing bit (get sure though because it’s a great way to travel!), we thought it might be a good idea to toss a few questions at our landlubber traveler friend to show you how someone else goes about this who professional tropical nomad thing. So Robyn…
Q: What possessed you to leave the job market in a down economy and go live on a tropical island for a few months?
A: It was just the timing really. I had just returned back to Canada from the most wonderful 10 Days on Rarotonga with one of my oldest and dearest girl friends. It was the trip of a lifetime, one that both of us thought would be a once in a lifetime experience, and we felt blessed that we got to explore that world for even 10 days. It felt like we were on vacation in paradise for weeks! Days after returning to Canada, I was let go from my administration position at a travel agency. My boss felt that I had outgrown my position and it was time for me to branch out and do something different. As I was finishing up my last few weeks, a ridiculously low airfare with Air NZ from Vancouver to Rarotonga was announced… only stipulation was, it was a 24 hour sale. As soon as I saw it I just thought, I want to go back! So I booked the space, and thought.. okay Robyn… let’s not be too hasty here! You’ve got to sleep on this… so I did, and when I woke up, I just thought, when are you ever going to have a time like this again in your life. (I’m 27, no job, no car, no kids, no mortgage, and a severance cheque, hmmmm……this might NEVER happen again! So I seized the opportunity!
Q: What about your stuff? Where did you put your car / couch / TV / shoes / iPhone!?
A: Funny you should mention shoes Greg! I think that was when I had my meltdown, I got home the next night from work, airline ticket issued, and realized, okay, you’ve got 3 weeks to pack up your entire life as you’ve known it for the past 4 years, and get on a plane.. I started throwing my high heels in a box and burst into tears! OH MY GOD! What am I doing?? This is crazy! Fortunately I had good friends to help me through it, and I didn’t back down… this was it! I was going back to Rarotonga! Surprisingly enough, my mother (and the rest of my family, for that matter) was supportive of my decision… she told me that when she traveled Europe when she was in her 20’s with my dad, she always said she would go back and it took her 30 years to go back, so she was understanding of my venture. So understanding she packed her truck full of my stuff, and carted it home with her, not knowing when her daughter would return. I had to do some serious paring down though, ruthless I’d say! I sold a lot, gave away a lot.. and I just thought… it’s all just stuff.. I don’t really need all this stuff.
Q: How about your bills? Did you have any? How did you pay them?
A: Bills… Bills were pretty easy, I knew what I had to pay and when.. my cell phone provider let me go on a vacation disconnect package and it would ensure that I could keep my number for at least 6 months, and I wasn’t sure when I would come home, so I just went with that option. Less than $10 per month for that. Of course, medical insurance was an important factor to consider, so I made sure that was taken care of before I left, and took out travel insurance as well. Q: How did you find a place to live?I found the hostel that I ended up living at on Trip Advisor.com. I read the reviews for Tiare Village, and the reviews of the other hostels on the island, and because I wanted to be closer to the town of Avarua, I thought Tiare Village was the best option for me. I had full intentions of trying to obtain a work visa and live for as long as possible in the Cook Islands.
Q: Did you end up working while you were there, even if just for food or accommodation? If so, how did you find the work?
A: I did not end up working while I was there, but not for lack of trying. At first I was gung ho to find a job, but after realizing how strict the immigration laws were, and that it would cost quite a lot for me to even attempt it, and was proving to be difficult, I decided, alright, well I’m gonna ride this as long as I can, and I worked out the math, extended my tourist visa, and bought my return ticket home. I like to refer to it as a “mid-life temporary retirement” although people argue with me about the midlife part.. haha!
Q: Can I ask you how much it all cost for you to live on a tropical paradise for that long (food, bed & play)?
A: It cost me around 8 grand for 4 months, including airfare.. which to be perfectly honest, I couldn’t have survived in Vancouver for 4 months on that amount. I did however have the most fortunate experience of being taken in by a very nice local family that treated me like part of their family, and gave me a place to live for the last 2 months that I was there. It was where I gardened and it quickly became my Raro home.
Q: How did you come up with the money to do this?
A: A severance cheque, and my RRSPs, which an American would refer to as their 401K. Some might say that pulling your savings is a mistake, but for the experience I got out of it, I would do it again in a heartbeat.
Q: When you came back did you find it hard to reenter the workforce or get a job?
A: I was actually headhunted by another Travel Agency while I was living down there. I received a message on Facebook about a month after I arrived, and was quite flattered that they had thought of me for the position, but at the time thought, uh… yeah right.. look where you are right now!.. needless to say I wasn’t too quick to be heading home!
Q: If I were interesting in doing what you did but wasn’t sure where to start, what would be a good first step?
A: Don’t let any of the common worries stop you! Most people immediately think, oh I could never do something like that. What would I do with my stuff? How would I do this and that? All you need to do is book the ticket, then you have a d-day. Things fall into place, your apartment gets packed, boxes get moved, next thing you know you’re waving goodbye to your family and friends and getting on a plane! Obviously, you take the precautions necessary like ensuring that you have travel insurance, and if anything horrible happened, you would be able to get home safely, but I say if you are given opportunity on a whim, and it’s a once in a lifetime thing, why not?! Do it! I did, and I lived to tell you the tale.
Q: If you had to do it over again, would you and what’s the one thing you would have done better?
A: I would’ve obtained a work visa prior to arrival. Because I had only 3 weeks to pack up my life, I just assumed it would be alright if I went for it when I got there. Little did I realize that the Cook Islands immigration probably has A LOT of people that want to come live in paradise! I mean really… wouldn’t you?? So that is my only regret, otherwise I might still be there! Regardless, everything happens for a reason. I was fortunate enough to spend 4 of the most wonderful months of my life on the beautiful island of Rarotonga, and meet some super cool people along the way. Greg and Tiff were just 2 of those people, and I draw inspiration in my life from those who follow their dreams and go after the life they want to live. If sailing around the world is what floats your boat (no put intended), then why not?!
Now a Life update… I have since left the desk job I went back to… it ended just this past Friday actually. What awaits for me? I’m not sure, but this time last year I was hiking the mountains of Rarotonga, eating fresh organic veggies from the garden, learning how to husk a coconut and make coconut milk, as well as how to make coconut oil. Basically, living a life I have always dreamed of. I think it’s the life everyone dreams of……..isn’t it? Maybe I’m just an islander at heart…
Like this article? For more cheap ways to see the world check out our section on “Sailing the world for almost nothing as volunteer crew” by clicking on “How to Crew“
You can also find out what it is really like to rent an inexpensive room in Mexico and live there for a few weeks by clicking on “La Cruz de Hunacaxtle, Mexico“
About the authors
Greg and Tiffany are traveling around the world on sailing yachts and keep a video blog of their (mis)adventures. If sailing to Tahiti on a 44 ft sailboat, getting pooped on by seagulls, opening coconuts with dull machetes, sailing past tornadoes and ukulele Christmas carols are for you, then check them out at www.CoastGuardCouple.com!