For many, 2020 will be remembered as a year they spent at home.
Others took a different path. They packed their bags and moved to places that many only dream of visiting.
Here’s how they feel about their decision one year on, in their own words.
Name: Ian O’Reilly
Before the pandemic, I was employed as a beverage manager in Boston. The restaurant where I worked closed in March of 2020, and I was subsequently laid off. As I reflected on my career, I realized I no longer wanted to work in restaurants. The hours and lifestyle had taken a toll. I began to explore the possibility of moving to Napa Valley, California, to be on the agricultural side of the wine business.
My girlfriend — who is also an advanced sommelier — and I moved to the town of Napa in September of 2020 with our two dogs. I had no job, and I quickly realized the job market was extremely limited due to the pandemic.
Ian O’Reilly moved to Napa Valley without a job; he now holds two positions in the wine industry.
Courtesy of Ian O’Reilly
At that point, I was hired to host online wine tastings at Virtual With Us. For the first time in my life I worked exclusively from home. I was connected with several other sommeliers from around the country who had lost their jobs in restaurants. Given the caliber of people on the team, I was thrilled to be included.
Last April, I took a job as a logistics manager at a start-up wine company in Sonoma but continued to host online events. The marriage of the two really brought my wine experience full circle. I now manage an inventory of fine and rare wines by day but I get to talk about them as a virtual sommelier.
I’m working less hours and having way more fun. Plus, the cost of living in Napa is about half of that in downtown Boston.
At this point, I have no intention of leaving. I am a permanent resident of vacationland.
Name: Peter Despotopoulos
Occupation: Marketing director
In New York, I was the vice president and managing partner of a custom millwork shop. I decided to move because I was genuinely unhappy there. I always felt drained and exhausted. I hated my job and line of work.
Most importantly, I felt like the cost of living did not correspond to the quality of life. I was drowning in debt because everything I enjoyed doing was expensive — Knicks games, fine dining, concerts. The pandemic exposed New York City as this really expensive, densely populated area with no natural beauty and limited options for simple pleasures.
In New York, I rented a one-bedroom apartment on the top floor of a new luxury 60-unit building in the Long Island City/Astoria area. I now rent a two-bedroom apartment in a six-unit modern building in an affluent part of Athens called Voula — an area known as the “Athens Riviera.” I have a pool, and the beach is a short walk away.
The cost of living in Greece is much cheaper than New York. There, I had about $4,500 a month in fixed expenses, including $2,500 for rent and $680 for a car lease. That’s without a cell phone bill, health insurance and gas costs, which my company paid. My apartment in Athens costs 1,300 euros per month ($1,520), and my fixed expenses costs have been cut in half. The worst part about Greece is the price of gas — it’s about double that of New York.
Peter Despotopoulos (sixth from the right, in back) said he goes to the beach in the morning and starts working in the afternoon.
Courtesy of Peter Despotopoulos
Work is less stressful than before. I work remotely as the marketing director for a U.S. home furnishings website called Moro. Due to the seven-hour time difference, my workday starts at 3 p.m. and usually ends around 10 p.m. Greece is a late culture — everyone eats and goes out late — so I don’t mind the hours. I enjoy the beach before work and Athens’ great dining and nightlife scene afterward.
I still enjoy going to nice restaurants and have replaced Knicks game with going to the stadium to watch my favorite soccer team, Panathinaikos, on the weekends. I go away to beautiful Mediterranean islands on the weekends that are only a 30-minute flight or two- to three-hour ferry ride away.
Peter Despotopoulos said he traded New York Knicks’ games for soccer matches at Athens’ Apostolos Nikolaidis Stadium.
Courtesy of Peter Despotopoulos
Almost a year later, I think I’ve made a good decision. If you make good money in Greece, this place is a paradise. Being of Greek decent, speaking the language, and coming here in the summers gave me a good idea of what to expect.
Don’t get me wrong, some days are difficult being away from friends and family. Changes like this need time and patience to adapt.
Name: Alister Gray
Occupation: Executive coach and founder of Mindful Talent
In October 2020, my wife and I made a quick decision to leave the U.K. with our 5-year-old daughter Rumi and travel whilst the craziness of the world sorted itself out. At the time, we were living in a small town called Twyford. It was a short commute to central London, which was perfect for our business.
A stint in Bali gave Alister Gray the confidence to run his executive coaching business from Costa Rica and Mexico.
Courtesy of Alister Gray
I’d trialed running executive coaching sessions and workshops from Bali, Indonesia, for nine months in 2018, when our daughter was 18 months old. This gave us confidence that we could work from anywhere in the world, providing we had a good Wi-fi signal.
We were in the process of applying for U.S. visas with plans to move to California when the pandemic hit. We decided we wouldn’t let it stop our ambitions to leave the U.K. and instead viewed it as the perfect opportunity to travel to a country we had long admired — Costa Rica.
In January, we flew from London to Costa Rica. We found a dream home overlooking the Pacific Ocean in a place called Nosara. We woke up to a family of howler monkeys each morning, less than 30 feet from our terrace.
We spent six months in Costa Rica and loved it, however our daughter’s school never quite worked out. So we moved to Quintana Roo, Mexico, to a little place called Puerto Aventuras. While visiting friends in April, we fell in love with the way of life there. We were welcomed by a beautiful community of friends — a mix of Mexicans, Argentinians, Dominicans, Americans and Canadians.
Costa Rica was reasonably expensive. Our costs have decreased around 40-50% from there. Our expenses in Mexico are similar to the U.K. For example, our three-bedroom 1,200-square-foot condo costs around the same as our two-bed semi-detached home in the U.K.
After leaving Costa Rica (here), Alister Gray said his family lives a more active lifestyle in Mexico, where they plan to stay because they “love it so much.”
Courtesy of Alister Gray
Our quality of life increased with weekly help from maids, cooks and nannies. We also have the beach, tennis courts, running and cycling tracks, and a golf course nearby.
Moving has been one of the best decisions we’ve ever made. We’ve given our daughter, and ourselves, a freedom that we would not have experienced if we’d remained in the U.K.
Name: Bryan Conzone
Occupation: Owner of data analytics and marketing company TRFK
We were living in Las Vegas when the pandemic started. I’ve worked remotely for many years, but my wife, Jenn, was a registered nurse. When schools shut down and there was no childcare for our then five-year-old son and five-month-old daughter, she was forced to leave her position.
The lease on our house was up in June, and we had long considered moving to Texas. We decided to check out Dallas and Austin for a month each. That’s when we stumbled upon a company called Landing, which rents furnished apartments for 30 days or more.
We ended up liking this concept so much, it quickly became a discussion of: Why stop at Texas? Why not take this opportunity to explore the entire U.S.?
Bryan Conzone said the apartments he rents charge between $1,800-$3,600 per month, including utilities, which is more than his townhouse in Las Vegas but less expensive than his rent in Orange Country, California, where he lived for eight years prior to Vegas.
Courtesy of Bryan Conzone
After Dallas and Austin, we stayed in Las Vegas; Seattle; Salt Lake City; San Francisco; Orange County, California; Portland, Oregon; and Scottsdale, Arizona.
When we left Vegas, we put our stuff in storage. We’ve just been traveling with necessities, such as clothes, computers, educational materials and toys. It’s amazing that we haven’t missed being without 95% of our stuff for over a year now.
Next up, we’d love to explore Denver, Chicago, New York City, Boston and then make our way down the East Coast to Orlando.
A year ago, there was no scenario that I would have thought we’d be in a position to travel the U.S. so freely and explore so many places. It’s genuinely been life-changing and completely changed the way we look at living for the foreseeable future.
Editor’s note: Responses have been edited for length and clarity.