Over the years I've done just about every goofy thing you can do on an island. Some may have been illegal. Others just ill-advised. I've also done a few things that I regret. But the one thing I've never done on an island? I've never lived on one.
Some (slash many slash most) would say living on an island is a cliche. But in the words of Prime Minister Pete Nice, of seminal '90s hip hop trio 3rd Bass: "I beg to diffa." The real cliche isn't living on an island. The real cliche is thinking about living on an island while you're driving your pale ass through another Lansing or Lincoln or Lafayette winter with one of those grinning Life Is Good hammock dudes on your ice-encrusted Jeep Wrangler spare tire cover.
But we've probably all thought about living on an island. And I suspect with this year's election cycle, some of us are thinking about it more than usual. This inkling usually leads to researching what different islands might be like. Which inevitably leads to watching those horrible island real estate reality shows on tv. A guilty pleasure? From my perspective I'd say no because "guilty pleasure" implies that there's some sort of pleasure involved. For me anyway, "guilty anguish" would be more accurate. Although some of my distress is rooted in "oh man that looks nice," most of it comes from a much darker place.
For starters, the Americanization of faraway places drives me crazy. And yet that seems to be the measuring stick for every home buyer on these shows. Is the location convenient to beaches, mountains, rainforests, yoga studios and Whole Foods? I love the house but can we "open up" the kitchen? Is there a photogenic palm tree nearby that will help me boost my Instagram following? You know what though? In this regard, reality shows are pretty accurately capturing the reality of many Americans abroad. So I'll let it go.
Beyond that though, there ain't much reality in those real estate shows. I've been to more than a few of the islands they've featured and they were damn near unrecognizable. Although the production crew must be going to these different places to shoot footage, by the time they cut it together and lay in that same damn steel drum song, they all seem exactly alike: wide beach shot, our home-buying couple trying out standup paddle boards (or kayaks when clumsy), some local flavor via woman selling sarongs, cocktails with comically oversized hunks of pineapple jammed in 'em, a walk along the beach, awkward backlit kiss, steel drum crescendo, cut to commercial.
I'd say the travel magazines give a better sense of a place than the tv shows. But they're travel magazines, not "live there" magazines. So you're going to get plenty of "While on St. Whatever, be sure to visit Quaint But Clean Beach Bar and ask Bar Owner for their special Rum Drink With Fruit Juice!" News you can use if you're just visiting. But not much help if you're really trying to get a handle on a place.
Of course ultimately, and obviously, you're going to need to put sandals in the sand to really understand an island and the people who live there. But since you can't visit them all, it takes some narrowing down.
Google is fine for the officially sanctioned tourism stuff, and a click on Image results gives you a quick sense of an island's purtiest places and/or most convenient scenic overviews. But to start digging in properly, I'd suggest a Wikipedia search. It's the perfect dashboard for the factual underpinnings of a place.
If everything checks on the Wiki page, then I do a blog search. If there's one thing ex-pats love more than being ex-pats, it's blogging about being ex-pats. Every island I've ever looked into has at least a few people living on it who are blogging their every move. Throw in an additional mix of transient yachties, backpackers, and "digital nomads" (maniacal bloggers all!) and you'll have more first-hand information on a place than you'll know what to do with.
I can also recommend this: My favorite "one-stop-shop" site for island investigation is Women Who Live On Rocks. It's run by Chrissann Nickel, a Californian who's been living the island life since 2006. While she writes a lot of posts (really well), the beauty of the site is that it also features living-on-rocks wisdom from women all over the world. And they're organized by island (click HERE, then go to "Meet The Women" in the upper menu, then scroll down.)
Given the name of the site, you'll gather it's got a female perspective. Which means, yeah, I'm the pervy dude in the corner eavesdropping on girls' night. But the posts are consistently real, occasionally raw, and always well written. It's the best perspective I've found yet on what it's really like to live on a particular island. The ups, the downs, and the in-betweens.
Once you've got your prospective islands narrowed down, of course, the final step (and the finest step!) is to start investigating your short list in person. I've been fortunate to visit quite a few islands over the years. As ongoing research projects go, it doesn't get much better: a mix of cultural investigation, historical education, spiritual adventure, and high grade rum.
I still have no idea whether I'll ever actually pull the trigger and make a move (if I'm being completely honest with myself). But I know I won't stop looking either way.
Cue steel drums. Dramatic sunset. Awkward backlit kiss. Cut to commercial.