05/29/2013 06:40 am ET Updated Jul 29, 2013

Not Everyone Will Understand (And That's OK)

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Chances are very good that your friends and family aren't going to understand.

When you tell them you're thinking about moving to a new country for your retirement, their responses will likely range from bemusement to shock and horror. They'll think you've lost your grounding and are over-indulging in fantasy...or, worse, that you've flat out lost your mind.

My family still doesn't get it. When I announced about 15 years ago that I was making plans to relocate from the East Coast of the United States to the southeast coast of Ireland, they at first indulged me by saying nothing. Then, when it became clear that the planning stage was moving into the moving stage, they got vocal.

My mother cried. My sister wondered if a move like this could possibly be in the best interest of her niece (my then 8-year-old daughter Kaitlin). My aunt asked how I could be so heartless as to take my mother and father's grandchild so far away from them.

Our first year in Ireland, we heard little from my family. Then I became pregnant with my second child, Jackson, and my mom and dad put their misgivings about our international relocation aside and, finally, came to visit.

Years later, when I called my mother to tell her we intended to move again, this time from Waterford, Ireland, to Paris, France, she responded at first, again, with silence. Then, after an awkward pause, "Don't the French hate Americans?"

Many phone calls and months later, my mom did come to visit. The morning we escorted her to the airport for her return flight to the States after she'd spent 10 days with us in Paris, she turned and said, "I was wrong not to have come sooner. You're right. The French are fine, and this city is beautiful."

Then, five years ago, we were at it again. "Mom, we're moving to Panama!" I called to exclaim one morning.


Followed by: "But I thought you loved Paris? Why would you move again now? Where will Jack go to school? Isn't it miserably hot in Panama? What about your lovely apartment in Paris? You're not going to give that up, are you?"

Lief and I are on a different track from many, and we long ago gave up on the idea that everyone would understand. The lifestyle we've chosen doesn't have to make sense to everyone else. It makes sense to us.

This is the point you'll need to get to, too. Don't expect your family, your old friends, and certainly not the woman in front of you in the grocery store checkout line or your dry cleaner to endorse or validate your plan to reinvent your life in a foreign country. Why in the world would you want to leave everything familiar...your family and friends, all things comfortable and start over somewhere new?

Your reasons are likely many, for the benefits of spending even some of your time in a foreign locale can be great. You can reduce your cost of living, sure, but that's only the beginning of the story. The real advantages to internationalizing your lifestyle are less practical. Living in a foreign country, all or even just part of the time, your life becomes fuller and richer in ways you likely couldn't predict right now, certainly that you couldn't articulate in a way that everyone will be able to understand.

But that's ok. Remember, it doesn't matter that everyone won't get it. What matters is that you do.

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