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Beach Bummin' It

The bug to chuck it all and live out the rest of your days on a tropical island bites us all at some point, usually while sitting in a ten mile back up. But as the Savvy Traveler's Susan Butler finds out, it takes a millionaire's purse or a monk's mentality to be truly happy as a professional beach bum.

Beach Bummin' It
by Susan Butler

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It's a glorious Tuesday morning and I'm overlooking the azure blue Caribbean Sea from a spectacular suite at the most luxurious resort in Grand Cayman. Later, I think I'll stroll down to Hemingway's on the beach for a late breakfast. Then maybe take a spin out to Sting Ray City on the hotel's catamaran. Dinner at Rum Pointe would be nice. This really IS paradise!

But paradise is pricey. At this rate, I'd shoot my financial wad in under a month. Then what? In all my travels, I've never seen an affordable, yet charming, grass hut on the beach. I'd probably get shot for trespassing if I picked coconuts or mangos at random. And could I really pare down to the point that all of my worldly goods fit into a backpack? I think I'm getting hives! So what finally drives people to give up their dreams of success, sell everything they own and trade their business suits for bathing suits? And even if you're brave enough to try, how do you survive? Most people I talked to took fantasy jobs as diving instructors, boat operators and underwater photographers.

Take Canadian Renee Knight for example. After ten years as an accountant, she just decided . . .

Renee: "This is crazy. I don't like my job. Took a holiday, went to Belize diving and that was it. Went back home, sold everything and I've been traveling and diving through the Caribbean ever since."

Walter Findley, a farmer from Scotland and my dive buddy, came to Grand Cayman with only a backpack and aspirations of becoming a dive master. He stayed after falling in love with the world he found beneath the waves.

Walter: "The Cayman Walls are beautiful! The whole island is the top of a mountain sitting out of the ocean. They're 6,000 feet deep and they are quite unique to Cayman. To actually swim off the edge of the wall and not fall down is fantastic! It's the closest thing you will have to flying."

The sea also called out to Gavin Allchurch, a former assistant bank manager from South Africa turned dive instructor.

Gavin: "About three years ago I went to Australia on the Great Barrier Reef, and four days into a ten day trip I sat on the edge of the bar and looked out and decided that this is got to be it. Surely there are better ways of making money."

According to Kimberly Hooper, an underwater photographer, the island life is so bewitching because of the strong bonds you form with other transients, even if you never know their last names.

Kimberly: "When I first came on the island, everyone would say, 'Hey this is Joe, hey this is Marty!' And I said, 'Well, what are their last names?' I asked one person and he said, 'I don't know their last names.' So it became Joe from Foster's Food Fair and Bob from Red Sail. So their last names became their places of work. It's just very odd but fun at the same time."

Dermot Stranix, a South African ex-Navy man, came to Grand Cayman to spend a few weeks. Five years later, he's still here working as a dive instructor. Dermot shares Kim's sentiment for the people here.

Dermot: "Everyone's like one big family, especially when you get new guys on the island. They don't know anybody and they come to Red Sail and ... Boom! They've got this instant family. It's kind of nice, very reassuring from my point of view."

While becoming a professional beach bum means getting comfortable with a no-frills way of life, it does have its advantages. No more deadlines. No more florescent lights. No more big-city stress! Basically, as long as you don't kill anyone, it's a good day at the office.

From Grand Cayman, lugging 16 suitcases and three carry-on bags, I'm Susan Butler for The Savvy Traveler.


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