Last updated: 06:00 PM ET, Thu July 09 2015

Opinion Home | Magic of Mexico

  • Greg Custer | July 9, 2015 6:00 PM ET

    What Role Will You Play In Serving A Graying America?

    What Role Will You Play In Serving A Graying America?

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    If you’re in your 50s or 60s it’s likely you (and your parents) are caught in “what next” lifestyle choices. Not long ago, we were “empty nesters.” Today we are more and more thrust into caring for aging parents, and these care obligations are part of “life 2.0” decisions we are often not ready to confront.

    Demographers tell us an astounding 10,000 Americans reach retirement age every single day. The national average cost of “memory care” is running over $8,000 per month. Few of us are neither financially equipped nor emotionally prepared to manage our own retirement, let alone while caring for an aging parent.

    Like never before in history, our parents are living longer, staying active, and facing (with their grown children) an uncertain future. Can we afford quality senior care without compromising quality, and draining a lifetime of savings?

    It’s this precise quandary that PBS News Hour showcased this week, in a seven-minute segment, an increasingly attractive option: retirement (with mom and dad) in Mexico. Of course, picking up and moving to a foreign country is a monumental undertaking.

    For our family, this parental care predicament is more than philosophical. Wife Jane and I were quite content living in rural Oregon’s high desert. We lived in one of the country’s most desirable recreation and retirement cities (Bend). We had solid and satisfying late career jobs, work-from-home flexibility and healthy, fit lifestyles. Then things changed, as last year we were joined by a new roommate: my 83-year old Mom. We’ve embraced this change with open arms, yet come to accept how tenuous our situation had become.

    As boomers explore places once considered too exotic or distant, media outlets like House Hunters International and International Living are revealing overseas options scarcely considered a generation ago. However where to live is just half the equation. It’s now “how to affordably care for an aging parent” as part of your retirement future.

    True travel professionals are problem solvers. As long as 20 years ago travel sellers confronted the question “where to take the kids for vacation,” whereas today the quandary is “where can we retire affordably — with our parents?” So over the next three months, we’ll be sharing our journey’s successes and stumbles as we explore a new life in Mexico.

    If you’ve sold Mexico and been enchanted by its people and places, the opportunity to expand from “trip planning” to “life planning 2.0” is an opportunity too enticing to ignore. Or at least that’s what we think.

    In our case, the decision to move to Mexico went something like this:

    It was never really a question of where to go. As educators, Jane and I spent the better part of three decades illuminating Mexico to travel agents around the world. There’d be no international house hunting in Nicaragua or Thailand for us. Like millions of your clients, we fell for Mexico. Frequent travel throughout Latin America only made us more convinced we’d find that perfect “foreign yet familiar” spot right next door. We planned an exploratory trip and packed for Guadalajara.

    We were ready for a change. It’s not unlike the path many of you (and your clients) have come upon over the last 30 or so years. Go on vacation, find a place that clicks, make the timeshare down payment, and start to wonder why your “special place” can’t become your year-round home.

    For us, the first desire for change was complicated by whether “Mexico for Mom” was the right thing to do. An unsuccessful and expensive attempt at assisted living in Oregon (more and more like all-inclusive resorts for active boomers and/or their parents), got us seriously talking about options. There had to be a better way. Our nation’s looming healthcare train wreck and jaw dropping costs convinced us to do some exploring, and to our first “ah ha!” moment.

    It went down like this: one of Jane’s closest childhood friends from Palo Alto, California, had adopted Mexico some 35 years ago, married a Mexican, and raised three multi-cultured children. In 2011, her ailing mother (Alice) became perhaps the first patient in history to be airlifted from a hospital in Minnesota to Mexico, where she comfortably bedded down in a Lake Chapala care facility.

    In 2013 we visited Alice at La Casa Nostra in the town of Ajijic. (Read a recent review of this facility). Subsequent investigation found the Chapala area (south of Guadalajara) home to a dozen care facilities. While varying in quality and price (as do rest homes just about anywhere), we decided to explore viable options for quality, safe, affordable, 24/7 care for Mom.

    The villages lining the lake’s northern shore have been attracting expats for decades. But we weren’t really looking for a gringo bubble of country clubs and expat-led farmers markets. What drew us to dig deeper was Chapala’s amalgamation of Mexican village simplicity, spectacular scenery, the world’s No. 2 ranked climate, and a better place for Mom.

    Chapala is both a town and a lake (Mexico’s largest). Tucked between shoreline and sierra is a string of cobbled and colorful colonial era villages. At a quite hospitable 5,000-foot altitude, Lake Chapala is a half hour from Guadalajara’s international airport and under an hour to the nearest Costco. We’d be under three hours’ drive to the coast (Manzanillo), be able to get familiar brands at Ajijic’s scenic-view Walmart, and had found an assortment of lake-view home rentals for under $1,000 a month.

    Is it time for savvy travel agents to awaken and embrace an opportunity? Your first inclination might be to jot down a short list of reasons why your business can’t do this now. You may find writing down the obvious obstacles becomes a roadmap rather than an off ramp to a new business model. We hope to share insight and resources about just one region offering these solutions.

    Alice passed last year. Her daughter Timas visited the lakeside assisted living facility last month, only to be greeted at the entrance by the home’s entire staff (cooks, gardeners, nurses, maids). She wept. Call it an extraordinarily normal showing of respect and humanity from our soon-to-be new neighbors.

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Greg Custer Magic of Mexico

Greg Custer Greg Custer is a California native with more than 35 years working in various international travel industry capacities. He spent 14 years in aviation (TWA, Mexicana, Aerocalifornia). With a love for studying all things Latin America, (BA/MA UCLA, Latin American Studies) he is a leading authority on travel agent educational programs for Latin American tourism boards. Greg is fluent in written and spoken Spanish and has conducted hundreds of training workshops for travel agents. He is an accomplished travel photographer and author (with wife Jane) of the “Magic of Mexico” travel agent study guide. He resides in Ajijic (Jalisco) Mexico, enjoying one foot in the modern world and the other in Mexican pueblo life.
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