Almost immediately after our wedding ceremony, my husband and I embarked on what we thought would be a never-ending honeymoon. We had both led very career-driven lives and our hunger for travel had reached its peak. But after crisscrossing the North American continent for five years full time in an RV, visiting 49 American states, nine Canadian provinces, and six Mexican states, we decided to settle in one location every winter to begin what real retirement should be for us “sexygenarians.”
With the freedom to roam the land, indulging in a wealth of sceneries, cuisines, and customs, we forgot that we were not super-persons and that we could benefit from a team of physicians who could take care of us on a regular basis. After my husband suffered a heart attack at a Florida campground — fortunately near a heart hospital — and given my host of many smaller health issues, we realized that we had to stay put in a place for a few months to do the rounds of doctors. Besides, not getting any younger, pretty soon we realized we were going to have to wake up from the dream, cut short our honeymoon, and really retire.
Before making a firm decision, we took our RV and proceeded to stay in the most likely areas where we could try semi-retirement to get a better feel of how it would be to live there, which is vastly different from simply visiting. We were sure it would be in the South because neither of us can handle the cold. My husband’s fingers turned blue at the Grand Canyon National Park … in spring; and, for 54 years, it was summer year-round for me in the Philippines. It would probably be somewhere in Florida, southern California, or Arizona. We embarked on a serious search.
Seeking A Better Tax Structure And Lower Cost Of Living
Even if San Diego is touted to have the best weather in the country all year round, it was easy to eliminate southern California. It was truly sad for me because that is where most Filipinos choose to live. Thus, there are Filipino groceries like Seafood City, countless Filipino organizations to join, and many of my former classmates, co-workers, and other colleagues from the Philippines with whom I could have regular activities. But the tax structure of the state and the consequent high cost of living are not good for retirees like us who are on fixed incomes. A case in point is the cost of gasoline: It is always highest in SOCAL. It does not make sense for retirees, especially now. Our dollars would buy so much less!
To Be Nearer Our Children
We turned our attention to Florida, which fit the bill better. The tax structure is good. And there are so many ready-made retirement havens for people like us. As a matter of fact, we thought we would be buying a property at The Villages, often cited as the best retirement “city” in the whole country. We had made it a point to stay in Florida many months of the previous five years we did RVing. We loved the climate there — it’s hot and humid as it is in the Philippines. But, alas, Florida is so far from where our children live. Road trips to visit any of them would never be practical, and plane flights would all end up being more expensive in the long run. Such factors might’ve prevented us from visiting them more often or, worse, discourage them from visiting us!
So we zeroed in on Arizona, where a road trip to San Francisco, California — where my eldest daughter lives — would take just 12 hours. Driving to Denver, Colorado — which my husband’s daughter calls home — would be almost the same. And Boise, Idaho — where his eldest and only son lives — would be longer by just an hour and a half. So we took our RV to spend three weeks each in Flagstaff, Phoenix, Tucson, and Yuma, Arizona’s candidate cities.
A Warmer Climate
Grand Canyon National Park is only one and a half hours away from Flagstaff; only 45 minutes separates it from Sedona, that magical city of red rocks; and there are many other national monuments and state parks around the city: Walnut Canyon, Wupatki, Sunset Crater, Tuzigoot, and Montezuma, to name a few. Yes, it’s Arizona’s prettiest corner. If we lived there, we would be visited by a lot of friends and family. And yet, it proved too cold for me and my husband since Flagstaff is in the northern part of the state at elevations of almost 7,000 feet. After three pleasant summer weeks, this Arizona city was nonetheless eliminated.
A More Cosmopolitan Choice
Let me explain here that I am a big-city girl, having lived in Metro Manila — a megacity with a current population of 14 million, one of the densest cities in the world, much like Bangkok — until I retired. Given a choice, I prefer to have a wide range of facilities for cultural events, many options for shopping, extra choices for international culinary delights, and a full complement of government and commercial services. So, even if Yuma has a population of 200,000 and is just 25 minutes walking distance to Los Algodones, Mexico, a mecca for inexpensive dental and medical services and supplies, it was also eliminated from the list. It was just too disappointing that there is not a single El Pollo Loco in the city!
The Tucson metropolitan area, population almost a million, was the early front-runner. Temperatures are cooler by five degrees year-round because it is at a higher elevation. It is also closer to Mexico, which we were looking at as a second home at best or a regular vacation spot at least. There are also many landmarks in and around the city like Saguaro National Park and Sabino Canyon National Recreation Area, aside from cool day trips to places like Tumacacori National Historical Park, the site of the first-ever Spanish mission in the U.S. Actually, another mission, Xavier San Juan del Bac, is right in the city and is the best example of Spanish architecture in the U.S. It still actively provides enchanting services.
Tucson is decidedly more Spanish in character. It is also the site of the world-famous International Gems and Jewelry Festival in winter. Great for aspirational women, like me!
Phoenix, on the other hand, is five times larger with 5 million in population, making it the 11th largest metro in the nation. Although it does not have national parks or Mexico at its backdoor, the Flagstaff area is just about three hours away, Yuma is about the same distance, and Tucson is only two hours driving distance. It is also home to great museums, entertainment options, venues for concerts and shows, and city, state, and regional parks. The latter were very useful for communing with nature when we were in forced lockdowns. There will be no dearth of places to take our visitors and guests. The megacity is made up of a cluster of cities and municipalities like Mesa, Scottsdale, Glendale, Tempe, Chandler, Gilbert, Apache Junction, and 17 others. The variety of city amenities available is definitely much greater in Phoenix than in Tucson.
We stayed at the Viewpoint RV & Golf Resort in Mesa. With 1,900 sites, it is the biggest such resort of its kind in the Phoenix area. There was a similar resort called Voyager RV Resort and Hotel in Tucson. Although a little smaller with 1,500 sites, there was a hotel for guests attached to it. Both are part of Encore Resorts, which also owns the network of campgrounds where we were members. And both have sections for homes when one finally decides to stay put.
We chose Viewpoint in Phoenix. The deciding factor was simple: Sky Harbor International Airport is a global hub, and therefore our travels around the world and visits to children in Anchorage, Alaska; Calgary, Alberta; and Melbourne, Australia would not only be less expensive but more convenient, with usually just one stop or even nonstop flight options.
Three years later, after we settled on a great family physician and a team of specialists to whom he referred us, we finally fully retired and sold our RV and bought a house in Viewpoint. I have fallen in love with the desert. Spring is a beautiful season to be here when the ubiquitous paloverdes, aside from all the wildflowers, are in full bloom with their delicate yellow flowers. Fall weather is also perfect. These days, we stay home during these two seasons and travel when Phoenix sizzles in summer or chills in winter.
It was a blessing owning an RV. We were able to search thoroughly and consider a likely area by staying in each one for three weeks. And then we took all of three years wintering in Viewpoint before deciding to make the arrangement permanent. We may have gone through a rigorous process, but it turned highly enjoyable, too. And in the end, we made a good decision.