In the 1600s, Penelope Kent boarded a ship from Holland to the New World with her new husband. Their ship wrecked off the coast, but still, Penelope and her husband made it to shore.
There, they were attacked and tortured by the natives who lived on the land. By the time the natives were done with them, Penelope’s husband was dead. Penelope was still alive, but partially scalped, with her stomach sliced open. She took shelter in a hollowed out tree.
Days later, some other natives found Penelope. These natives were fortunately friendly, or at least enterprising.
They sewed shut Penelope’s wounds with fishbone needles and vegetable fibers. What happened next depends upon the source you read. By some accounts the native tribe released her to New Amsterdam -- now New York. By other accounts, they sold her into indentured servitude.
Somewhere way up my family tree, Penelope was my first ancestor to come to America. Given all she went through to make it to what would become the United States -- a hundred years later -- it’s astonishing that I would ever leave the U.S., in search of a better life. In fact, I moved to the so-called “third world.” Sorry, Penelope.
In 2016 I sold my possessions and moved from the United States to Colombia, looking for a better life. Four years later, it’s safe to say that I’ve found that better life.
The irony isn’t lost on me: Centuries ago, my ancestors moved to America for a better life. And in the twenty-first century, I moved to the “third world” for a better life.
I use air quotes for “third world,” because I recognize that the designation of some countries as “third world” is passé and even offensive. I also recognize that many parts of Colombia -- even parts not far from my doorstep -- are very much “third world” by most people’s standards.
Finally, as many Colombians have pointed out to me, if I were Colombian, I’d probably want to do the opposite: I would want to move to the U.S. for a better life. I appreciate my blue-passport privilege more than most Americans I meet, and I know that the U.S. has a lot going for it.
I don’t write this article to gloat. This is not going to be about me working on a laptop on the beach, failing to mention the Malaria-ridden mosquitos that snuck under my bed net while I slept last night. I write this to offer some perspective: That if you’re clear about what you want in life, that you can often get those things -- as long as you’re also clear about what you don’t want or, more important, what you can live without.
Why Colombia? First, why did I think that Colombia was the place where I could find a better life? My primary motivation for moving was to double down on my career as a writer and podcaster. It wasn’t just that the low cost-of-living in Colombia would provide me with the financial runway that I knew I would need, I also knew that the lifestyle that was possible in Colombia would support the habits and routines I needed to build in order to make it as a creative.
Medellín, the Colombian city in which I live, is a popular destination for digital nomads. They spend the six months they are allowed on a tourist stamp -- depending on their nationality -- then they move on to other hotspots such as Bali or Budapest.
While plenty of people have described me as a digital nomad, I don’t consider myself one. I’m committed to building my life in Colombia, if for nothing else, because I’m more productive staying here than I am scrambling around the world. I haven’t even visited many of the digital nomad hotspots, but the friends I’ve made who live that lifestyle all agree that Medellín is a fantastic place to build a consistent work routine.
You can rent a furnished apartment for less than the price of an unfurnished apartment in most major cities, you can get just about anything delivered --