Ever dream about cashing in your chips, packing up your life and moving away to a remote country in a nether hemisphere? With the U.S. economy sinking and the housing and investment markets going from bad to worse, maybe it's time to get out of Dodge.
Like an extra chromosome in all of us, the desire to escape often festers inside only to surface on days when the market is down 500-or-so points, or when packing up a corner office in banana boxes as a security guard stands nearby or receiving unexpected divorce papers. Rather than watch a life in decrescendo, we look abroad to find the cheapest and chicest places to pack up your life and start from scratch.
How to flee: Two-hour drive from Rio de Janeiro, Bridgette Bardot statue marks the spot.
It's a curious pilgrimage to Buzios along a poorly paved, two-lane highway from Rio de Janeiro that passes through the inland countryside. You'll pass abandoned cars and an endless stream of locals that use the freeway as a sidewalk before reaching the narrow roads leading into Buzios. It's one of the most inviting year-round climates in South America as sculptural hills surround mile-long beaches strewn with fishing boats and surf shacks. The combination of a desirable exchange rate and carefree beach community make it a hotspot for incognito fashion icons like Calvin Klein.
The main town of Buzios is a cluster of cobblestone streets dotted with sidewalk cafes, trinket boutiques and five-seat bars. Dressed up over the past few years with an influx of Brazilian society and American homebuyers, houses outside of town can still be found for under $100,000 with beachfront property starting around $350,000. While learning Portuguese and weathering monsoon season are the downfalls, a thriving nightlife and gourmet restaurant scene make up for all the hard work.
Arrowtown, New Zealand
How to flee: Three-hour nonstop flight from Auckland; five-hour flight from Sydney.
It's as far as you can travel from the U.S. while still arriving to a native population that speaks English and gets most American TV shows. The area served as the backdrop of the
Lord of the Rings
film trilogy, a fact that is initially interesting but intellectually bothersome upon hearing it for the umpteenth time from Queenstown locals. A 30-minute drive from Queenstown, Arrowtown is a removed Gold Rush village brimming with gourmet eateries, cozy cafes and preppy bars. A booming hospitality community keeps the crowd young and energetic, with numerous sporting clubs and organizations to keep you busy.
Temperatures in Arrowtown are cool to really cold. Summer enjoys a breezy mountain climate with clear skies for nearby fly-fishing, bungee jumping and mountain biking along the highlands. Winter is nothing short of spectacular with the nearby Remarkables becoming more and more popular as a high-end ski destination for Australians and even Americans. Enjoy Central Otago, home to some of the world's best new vineyards of Sauvignon Blanc.
North Shore Oahu, Hawaii
How to flee: Nonstop air services from most large U.S. and Canadian gateways.
It's not the obvious escape destination and you aren't even leaving the U.S., but if you've ever been to the North Shore, you likely contemplated never leaving. Breakaways arrive to discover kindred spirits and a local surf community built by '60s legends looking to drop out of conventional society. An ideal year-round temperature means you'll save money on your wardrobe since few things on the island ever require anything dressier than a pair of shorts.
Life has a different pace in Hawaii as everything from your morning walk, wait at the coffee shop and Internet service to the cyberworld is notoriously slower than where you came from but with views that make you grateful to be alive on a daily basis.
Hawaii has its obvious downsides, including high real-estate prices and monthly rentals on par with most large American cities. But since you're still in the U.S., tedious labor laws and visitor permits won't be an issue. If you've been a lifelong white-collar worker, take a break from the 9-5 and try your hands at bartending, hospitality or even a waiter position to see a different side of life. Once you've had enough, you can work your way back into society and nearby Honolulu where high-rise capitalism is waiting.
Jose Ignacio, Uruguay
How to flee: An hour flight from Buenos Aires, 30-minute drive from Punta del Este.
It's fast becoming the St. Tropez of South America, but with beach houses still to be had from under $200,000 and beaches yet to be spoiled by any hotel larger than 20 rooms. You'll arrive to a friendly beach community of mostly Argentine weekenders and global bon vivants who come for summer season from November till the end of February. During high season you'll spend your afternoon at the tiki bars that dot the main beach, between morning surf breaks and evening bonfires fueled by an indigenous supermodel scene.
In the off season, Jose Ignacio becomes quite the charmer, i.e. boring and dead, which could be a bit of an obstacle for those accustomed to the 24-hour city. The chic locals that make high season such a blast abandon the town faster than a summer vacation romance. Getting cold feet? This is the time to pack up your bags and head to Buenos Aries and reclaim your fortune. Flats can be had for under $100,000, and there's a burgeoning media and real estate market that could make you a robber baron all over again.
How to flee: Connecting air services via London, Frankfurt or Paris from most U.S. cities.
It's like Paris but a lot cheaper. For those who dream of a bohemian artist's life frequenting art nouveau cafes and one-room galleries operated by chain-smoking socialists, Budapest offers all the old-world charm of Paris and Prague at a fraction of the price.
As one of Europe's last affordable frontiers, Budapest is a booming new construction market where you can still land a yet-to-be-gentrified loft that wasn't built by a one-name architect. While government scandals have brought their share of bad press, most will find a city free of petty crime and a bureaucratic system easy to navigate.
Discount airlines like Easy Jet and Sky Europe have made the city more accessible than ever, with daily flights around Europe priced around 40 euros each way with advance purchase. Chain stores like Marks & Spencer as well as H&M have made their mark on the main shopping district, but you'll have to search for your Starbucks or any Mexican restaurant.
Summers are warm and balmy and revolve around the Danube with outdoor bars, dance clubs and floating restaurants. Winters are cold and isolating, perfect for that artistic reclusion you've always dreamed of between visits to the city's endless holistic underground baths and spas. Now you just have to learn how to paint.
Michael Martin is the managing editor of JetSetReport.com -- a luxury travel and lifestyle guide based in Los Angeles and London. His work has appeared in In Style, Blackbook, Elle, U.K.'s Red magazine, ITV and BBC.