How I Survived the Polar Vortex

It’s early January, 2014, and while the New Year brings sunshine and skin-caressing warmth to expats like us, family and friends are freezing their bippies.

This horrendous cold snap is now known as the Polar or Arctic Vortex.

My oldest son, who lives in Vermont, found thick ice coating everything when he arrived home after Christmas. It took them nearly two days to get the ice off their cars and get the driveway cleared.

In Toronto, tens of thousands of residents were without power for days while temperatures stayed well below zero.

Apparently the average temperature in the US plummeted to 15 degrees. In New York City’s Central Park, a temperature of 4 degrees destroyed a 118-year record. Thousands of flights were canceled as airports couldn’t keep runways clear of ice.

It was so cold at Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo that they kept the polar bear inside. . .

People’s heating systems couldn’t keep up. One Massachusetts friend reported indoor temperatures that got all the way up to 61 degrees. My son had ice on the inside of his apartment windows, something he’s not seen before.

Meanwhile, at my house. . .

Nothing changed.

All the doors and windows are open to take advantage of the prevailing breezes. . .

I’m still spending my day in sleeveless shirts, shorts and sandals, except when I trade them in for my bathing suit and go to the pool. . .

Enjoying the pool

My husband’s still donning his lycra and getting out on the bike for 20-mile and longer rides. . .

Our dogs are still enjoying their morning walks on the beach. . .

So how did we pull that off?

It’s simple. We finally moved far enough south! All the way to a little town in Panama, where we’ve been expats enjoying the warmth since March, 2012.

A Little History

My husband and I married early in 1988. One blustery day the next fall we looked at each other and asked the question, “do we want to go through another winter here in upstate New York?” The answer was a resounding, “No!”

So we sold the house, packed up our four kids, and moved from Rochester, NY to Orlando, FL. We bought a house with a pool and settled in to enjoy the warm weather.

Still, every winter saw some cooler temperatures. I know, 30 degrees doesn’t sound bad compared to zero or something in the minuses, but it was still colder than we liked. Every winter, my husband would growl, “we didn’t move far enough south.”

The kids grew up, as kids do, and one by one they all left the Orlando area. One went to Massachusetts for college, and ended up staying there. Another went back to his birthplace, Vermont. A third moved out to LA. The fourth went back to Rochester.

In the meantime, we’d added a fifth to the mix, and she ended up going to college in New England.

Fast Forward to Spring, 2009

I lost my secure job. My husband, with a newly minted Master’s Degree, couldn’t find a teaching job. The time had come for Plan B. . .

We decided to move overseas sooner rather than later. It took us a while (we had to wait for our youngest daughter to finish high school, among other things), but by the spring of 2012 we’d gotten rid of all our stuff and headed south.

. . . This time we moved far enough, all the way to Las Tablas, Panama.

So while our northerly family and friends are worrying about keeping warm, we’re enjoying the expat life in the tropics. . .

Splashing in the pool. . .

Picking fresh, sweet, cherry tomatoes from the plant that self-seeded itself in our yard. . .

Walking the dogs on the beach. . .

Enjoying the velvety caress of the warm, tropical breeze on our skin. . .

. . . And best of all, we’re enjoying it in a low-stress type of place.

Come On Down!

Maybe the warmth of the tropics isn’t your idea of Paradise. That’s okay, too. It’s a big world out there.

If you dream of experiencing life in other parts of the world, your first step is to honestly look at what you want and then figure out where you can find it. (If you’re part of a couple, you’ll have to do this together.)

I always suggest looking at climate first when you’re scoping out where to live overseas. That’s because you can’t control it, but you have to live with it, day in and day out, wherever you are.

If you love four distinct seasons, then Panama’s not the place for you. Maybe Uruguay, Argentina or parts of France would meet your ideal.

If you’re big on winter sports, you’ll want mountains and skiing.

Figuring out your ideal climate is just the first step, though. Where do you go from there?

Here’s My Recommendation

Start your New Year and your planning for your overseas life right with this great tool. It’s practical — it’s not about the dream, but about making your dream a reality.

It gives you a daily plan for how to get from where you are to were you want to be. It helped us, and it can help you too. Click the link below to learn more.

Don’t Let Another Single Day Pass You By– Launch Your New Life Overseas Now (Here’s How)


  1. I’m not really looking to move overseas right now (maybe in the future I’ll give it a shot), but I think what you said about climate is important even for relocations with the US. The hot, humid summers we get in Austin are making me crazy and I find myself wanting to pack up and move somewhere a little further north. New Mexico and Colorado come to mind as good locations. I definitely don’t crave the polar vortex kind of weather a lot of the US experienced this past week, but not sweating all the time is definitely appealing.

    • FutureExpat says:

      Very true, Jodi. That’s why we chose to move to Florida from upstate New York all those years ago. Then we moved someplace warmer 🙂

  2. Mike, S. Oregon says:

    “Polar Vortex” = Winter……….we’ve all seen hard freeze downin Florida if you’re over 40. North Americans, geesh! Spoiled and over media’d.

  3. Mike, S. Oregon USA says:

    App’s……….didn’t mean to impart negativity into this blog with that comment. This blog is great and so much I can imagine is expat life if one can accomplish it!


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