“Better Than a Maserati”—A Laidback Life in a Tropical Paradise

Card Image
Posted by The Savvy Retiree on January 20, 2021 in Live Better

When Ian Douglass struck up a friendship with David Konwiser in grade school in Los Angeles, he didn’t realize it would change his whole life. David’s mother Cecilia is from Costa Rica and, when she saw how much Ian loved surfing and nature, she was adamant he visit her home country.

After a decade of nagging from Cecilia, who became like a second mother to Ian, he finally gave in and switched up his usual Hawaiian surf trip for a vacation in Costa Rica. He was instantly hooked. “From the day I got back home, I immediately changed everything,” he says. “I had a plan suddenly. I knew where I wanted to be.”

What most impressed Ian about Costa Rica was the simple, peaceful life. In LA “everyone is running a million miles an hour and flipping each other off at intersections,” whereas in Costa Rica everyone is friendly and laidback, he says. The incredibly consistent year-round waves, in a warm-water ocean, were the icing on the cake for surf-obsessed Ian.

After his first visit in 1996, Ian became singularly focused on building a life in Costa Rica. At the time, he was working as a diesel mechanic but decided to find a more portable career, so he spent evenings teaching himself graphic design. After two years of studying and practicing, he got his first job in a print studio, and later moved into TV, where he worked 16-hour days “because I wanted so badly to save the money to get a place in Costa Rica,” he says.

Every year he’d return to Costa Rica on vacation, having saved a little more money than the prior year, inching ever closer to his goal. When he met his future wife, Amy, he explained his dream and, “luckily, she was willing to go down the rabbit hole with me.”

In 2005 he started his own creative agency and production company and finally bought a house in Dominical, southern Costa Rica. He and Amy alternated living three months there and three months in California, while Ian figured out if he could run the company remotely. His business partner was on board with their longer-term plan of living year-round in Costa Rica, but Ian still found the process challenging in the beginning. He remembers the power regularly going out, usually on the day he had to deliver a big project. Not to be deterred, he bought a generator that was strong enough to power his visual effects workstation with its multiple hard drives, computers, and monitors.

Over the following decade, Ian and Amy gradually increased their time each year in Costa Rica. In 2016, their son, Reid, reached school age and this provided the final nudge for them to achieve their dream—they sold their California home and moved full-time to Dominical. Thanks to the greatly improved Costa Rican infrastructure, Ian also sold his generator, now using a simple battery backup for the rare times the power goes out.

Located on the southern Pacific coast of Costa Rica, Dominical boasts glorious beaches and lush rainforests.

More recently, Ian and Amy sold their original Dominical house and are living in rented accommodation, having purchased land and built a luxury vacation rental nearby to use for income. Although 2020 has been a tough year for vacation rentals due to COVID, their property was booked out for the entire month of November and they were confident for the rest of the holiday season.

And of course, their cost of living is significantly lower than in California. Housing prices can vary wildly in Costa Rica, from $400 per month for a simple, single-bedroom home away from the beach, to several thousand dollars for a luxury place. Ian and Amy pay $1,000 per month for their beautiful open plan house on an acre of jungle with a pool. Similarly, the cost of food entirely depends—if they eat out at their local brewery it can run $80 for the three of them, but there’s always the option of a simple meal in a local place for $15.

Between their vacation rental and Ian’s graphic design work, they live comfortably and they greatly prefer the slower pace of life. Ian emphasizes the higher value he now places on time over money, especially wanting to make the most of the years before his son becomes a teenager.

“Living in Costa Rica has inspired me to seek that sort of life over my old life. In LA it was a new car every couple of years, always upgrading the house, and that’s just not what I want any more. For me, paddling out with my wife and son at a little point break here with the monkeys in the trees overhead…there’s no Maserati that will come close to that feeling.”

By Mary Hollendoner

Photo credit ©Jason Holland