No More Winters or Expensive Beer for Sarah
Sarah Booth is a long way from the snowy mountains and ski trails of Whistler, British Columbia, where she began a career that would make an international lifestyle possible. Jet Metier finds out what a blast Sarah is having in Coronado, Panama and the essentials of how to pack like a pro.
Jet Metier: Good morning, Sarah!
Jet Metier: Good morning, Sarah!
Sarah Booth: Hi Jet!
Jet Metier: Hello. My first thought when I saw your picture was: What's it like being the being the “hot blonde in town?”
Sarah Booth: Ha-ha…You're too kind. When I arrived in Panama eight plus years ago, that may have been the case. Luckily (or unlucky for me!), there are many young expats moving into the area (yes, even younger than me!) lol
To be honest, I was concerned being a youngish expat, blonde and single, living alone in a home (although with local caretakers), that I may be singled out, and not in a good way.
Not the case. The locals have embraced me… I have done many renovations and dealt with many local contractors and have many local friends, and I actually fit right in. There is a mutual respect among us and I've never for one second felt threatened, or whistled at, or stared at inappropriately. Having traveled much of the world and dealt with the unwanted attention, I felt extremely relieved and comfortable in this environment from day one.
Jet Metier: I can imagine that people in the town you have just moved into feel very protective towards you. Can you tell us incidents of extreme caring and generosity?
Sarah Booth: My onsite caretaker Vilma is like my family. She does all the cleaning of my rental casitas and my home every day. She does my dishes and makes my bed. Sometimes she puts a cute little stuffed toy on my pillow. So cute. I never for one second take her for granted. She is very protective over me, and of my property and my guests. Vilma is my Panama family! I have so many examples of generous incidents.
Here is one in Panama City. So, one time I was driving back from the airport and got distracted and missed my turnoff. I was so lost and getting deeper and deeper into areas that I didn't know. Also, I was not well, with a fever, etc., and getting frustrated and just trying to get home to Coronado.
I asked for directions in many places. Everyone was super helpful. But for some reason, I just kept getting lost. So, after about two hours of driving in circles, I pulled into a gas station. And I saw a guy in a uniform (a courier or something), pulled out my map to ask him “From here, where I could get out of the city?”
Well, I just burst into tears at that point. The frustration and illness got the better of me. He jumped into his car and told me to follow him. We were deep into the city on the other side. About forty-five minutes later we reached a road I knew. I tried to give him money but he refused.
I just felt so warm and fuzzy for his kindness. There is a funny end. He did refuse the money, but did want my phone number… Ha-ha
Jet Metier: Well, as we say in Arizona, "Naturalmente!"
Sarah Booth: I have a lot of fun with the locals. My Spanish is pretty good, but sometimes a word escapes me. A few years ago I was in the Ferreteria [hardware store] and needed some rope. The word escaped me, so I proceeded to gesture like I was hanging myself. The whole hardware store full of guys laughed so hard. To this day, I order rope in the same way! Smiles and sign language are appreciated, if we cannot find all the words!
I never forget for a minute that I am a guest in someone else's country. I treat everyone with kindness, smiles and respect. It comes back to me a million times!
Jet Metier: Which brings me to the dichotomy of your life: maintaining property is not very glamorous when you're a regular at the hardware store, pretending to hang yourself. But living abroad is. What makes you look up once in a while and think, “Am I really doing this great thing, is this really happening to me?”
Sarah Booth: Yes, maintaining property and offering full concierge services to my guests and renters is hard work, yet very rewarding. I have made friends from all over the world, as they are staying on my property (in their own private casitas with kitchens). It lends for a good, social fun time. Yes, I still pinch myself, although I have been an expat for about 12 years.
In my early 30’s, I moved to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico on my own. Having already been in property / rental management in Whistler, British Columbia, I basically put what I knew already into practice. Of course, there was a big learning curve with the culture and language.
Honestly, it was property investment opportunities that brought me to Panama. Initially I did not plan to stay, only to buy, furnish, renovate and move to Argentina (a romantic dream I had)! But the investments kept coming, the renters started coming, I made friends, and ultimately made a very good life in Panama. I still travel; love that Panama is a hub. Copa has direct flights pretty much anywhere I want to go!
I have invested in Panama four times in Panama City, twice in Coronado (home with casitas and a two bedroom golf condo) and once in the Province in Chiriqui. I still own and manage short term rentals in seven places (including the three casitas on my Coronado property).
And, I still make time for golf, beach, and friends! I include my guests in many of the social activities and venues while they are staying. They immediately feel part of the community and meet our great local expats from all over the world!
Jet Metier: Girl, you have it going on. You must make a splash at your high school reunions. What was the indication that you would be a “tropical real estate ‘titaness?"
Sarah Booth: Honestly, I always knew I would be doing something like this. My background was in hotel management and property management and I always loved to travel. The idea (in my early teens) I had was how to put them both together! As a child, my family moved a lot. We lived in Dubai and Iran. From England originally, my dad worked for the British Bank of the Middle East. You could say it was in my blood.
In my twenties, I took a year off work to travel and work all over Europe, from temping at the Guinness Brewery in Dublin to running a ski chalet in France, hotel work in England and a little bar work in Turkey. I was born to travel!
I started, built and sold my property management company in Whistler. I started it at 25 years old and sold it at 31. After that, it was NO MORE WINTERS, or expensive beers from then on. I never looked back (although I do travel back to BC every summer to visit friends and family).
Jet Metier: Golly gosh, Sarah. If you were the write a business book based on all your successes, what would the title be, and what would be the unique concept that ties together all your entrepreneurial experiences and lessons?
Sarah Booth: Oh gosh… I'd have to think about that for a minute. The Adventures of Sarita? (That's my Spanish name.) I can't think of a name, but certainly it would be to outline, how extremely possible it is to do something like this as: a) a woman b) single. I think that women don't necessarily feel they can make a move like this without a partner. Also, that it doesn't have to be an "all or nothing move.” There is no need to give up the citizenship of your country, or even have to sell everything and move full time, year round. If you have a home or condo in your home country, rent it out, come on down for a few months and get your feet wet. Also, there are many "snowbirds" in these destinations who rent for winter season and return in summer. My recommendation is (because property is inexpensive and rentals are more expensive), the return on investment is better to buy here, rent your property when not here, and use it when you come. There are many good rental managers here who can help you every step of the way.
Chances are, you will love it so much, make great friends and have a totally fulfilling life that ultimately, you will go home to sell everything. (lol)
Yes, there will be frustrations along the way, it's an adventure! Many of us have been through all the red tape stuff and are totally willing to help the new people make things a bit easier.
Jet Metier: Let us talk about traveling. Please give us some inside advice on how to do it better through things that you would take in your carry-on bag, that no one ever tells you that you need. Let's use the countries you lived in, like France, England, Ireland, Thailand, etc., and give us hints to make that first day more enjoyable, easy, or interesting.
Sarah Booth: #1 RULE… TRAVEL LIGHT!
You never know where the wind will take you. There are always laundry facilities and everything can be bought. Always keep a change of clothes in your carry-on in case the airline loses your luggage.
There are often strict weight restrictions on smaller planes.. i.e. from Panama City to Bocas Del Toro. Everything can be purchased here if necessary. In your checked luggage, a Swiss army knife (including corkscrew! lol) is essential. A good hat to protect you from insects, long pants for the same reason. Also, for example in Panama City, you don't want to run around in shorts if you prefer to fit in more like a local. Beach areas.. all we wear are shorts and t-shirts..but one good set of clothes for city dining is important.
Jet Metier: What do you need specifically in those countries?
Sarah Booth: Last year, when I went to India, I made sure to pack small packets of Starbucks instant coffee and the packages of bug spray wipes, and also Imodium! And hand sanitizer, always!
And the most important things, your iPod, computer, and the change of clothes, keep in your carry-on; also cash. Don't count on always being able to use a credit card. It’s good to have cash. Also, I always keep some cash in separate locations, as well as ID. Don't go around anywhere in the world with your entire ID together. Split up your passport and driver’s license and make a copy of your passport, instead of carrying it. Those are smart things to do wherever you travel.
Speaking of India, it’s a good idea to have Kleenex and / or toilet paper, too ! lol
For your wardrobe, lots of black and white clothes, easy to match, and nothing that needs ironing.
Jet Metier: What are your strategies for being alone in a new town for the first time?
Sarah Booth: There are specific websites that I use (including couchsurfing.org) to rent either shared accommodation or a vacation rental by owner. Hotels are VERY impersonal and you really are alone in them. I never stay in hotels. I find out where the local pubs and venues are where the expats go and go on the very first night. From there, you tend to get invited to places and residences that you never would have otherwise. In time, get to know the locals of course, but right off the bat, expat venues are the best places to get the ins and outs, and meet people. These days, social media is great. Get on a Yahoo! group or Facebook site (there are some great, great ones for Panama and Ecuador, etc.), and introduce yourself. Whether you are a couple or single, it matters not. It’s nice to find out a few things in advance and ask for some advice from the local expats. In Panama, we have the best social media site for expats that I've ever seen. We are all on there either offering or asking advice or making friends. Many new folks jump on there before they even arrive. It's fantastic. Talk about a giving community!
I have traveled solo all over the world from Europe at 18 years old for 3 months and to then a year around Europe. Two years in Southeast Asia, then moving to Mexico and Panama. I believe there is a fine line between adventure and safety and go with your gut. I am very adventurous and often am invited to people's homes. I generally take them up on it, but one weird vibe and it's a “no thanks.” You don't want to miss an opportunity, but you want to be safe, also.
Facebook is great. I am on Facebook every day when I travel, so my mom knows I am ok and where I am, also to share my adventures and photos with my friends. I always let someone know by email where I am and contact info. I also give to my host (wherever I'm renting) an emergency contact info. It's just a responsible thing to do.
Jet Metier: This is the penultimate question. What are the happening places in Coronado Beach and in Panama City right now? And what kind of memorable occurrences have you had there?
Sarah Booth: In Panama City, there are too many to mention! Definitely in Casco Viejo there are some great happening spots and also Calle Uruguay. Also, it is not a bad idea to join the internations [international] group. In Coronado, Picasso Restaurant is the glue that holds our community together. Claire Ross, the young lady from England is the owner. Claire does Spanish lessons, book exchanges, Saturday morning farmers’ market, live bands on Saturday night. Wednesday night has a HOPPING happy hour starting 5 PM, Thursday night is Trivia Pursuit, etc. It's our meeting place, and thankfully only four blocks from my home and casitas. Claire has also hosted theatre groups from Panama City and Boquete.
Each of the condo complexes have regular rooftop happy hours. We have an equestrian center with horse shows, and some great restaurants and events. I joke with my friends who asked what it was like seven years ago here. My answer was, well, my daily routine had consisted of golf games with my older guy friends talking about their gout and hip replacements.(lol) Things are quite different here now. Golf is still great, but now we have younger expat entrepreneurs, young families (we have three internations schools), there is surfing, ATV'ing on the beach, many many parties and BBQ's. You could only ever be bored or lonely here if you wanted to be on purpose!
A few months ago, I joined a local well-respected real estate company as a buyer's consultant. This was the next obvious step for me to round out my experience and expertise. The homes and condos I've sold to clients have changed their lives. I help them every step of the way with contractors, utility setup, obtaining resident visas; you name it, personal service from start to finish. I love my new job and am looking forward to another awesome year in Coronado!
It is not uncommon here to see an amazing fireworks display and for no reason, except for maybe that its'…Tuesday?
Recreationally we have bacci ball, beach yoga, beach fit, Pilates, Zumba, running groups, poker groups, and four world-class golf courses nearby.
The Tom Fazio course is only two blocks from my house. I'm a member, and I offer my guest passes to use the facilities.
Jet Metier: Lastly, Sarah, let's say you are scrounging around for toilet paper in India again (you brought enough, but decided to share), or delivering some gout medicine to a golfing buddy, or winning a hand at poker, and the friend you are with introduces you to somebody very attractive. How do you know it is him? What is it about him that attracts you? What personality traits does he exhibit? What does he invite you to do that makes you happily think, "hmmm..."
Sarah Booth: He comes to my house and fixes things.. lol
Well, I would say, that it's possible to find Mr. Right in this environment. Chances are he’d have a similar adventurous spirit to be living overseas in the first place. If he invited me to play golf and didn't throw his clubs around after a bad shot...chances are, he could be the one :)
If a nice, single man were to present himself in my life… I would definitely see how he interacted with the locals. If he is frustrated that someone doesn't speak English = not for me. If he keeps a sense of humor and respect even without a good command of the language, then he'd be a great possibility!
Jet Metier: So I wish you the best in your further adventures, Sarah. And I hope deeply that you find a man who is handy, calm and wants to be with you wherever your business and travels take you. You live a remarkable life and are an inspiration for us all. Bye for now. And thank-you for imparting so much.
Sarah Booth: Cheers! And have a great day.