A Beach Less Traveled: From Corporate Job to Flip Flop Perfumer – Book Review

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The book A Beach Less Traveled sounded like just the thing to read during a winter weekend… an American couple shares about their true story of going from “corporate chaos” to living in a tropical paradise where they run a small perfume shop. I love travel non-fiction, especially the work of authors like Peter Mayle and Bill Bryson. So accepted a free review copy of this book, hoping to be re-energized in my ongoing quest for financial freedom.

We meet the Berglunds, a very hardworking and reasonably successful couple living in the US. He was a lawyer, a lobbyist, and a trade association executive. His wife ran a small bed and breakfast. During their vacation travels, they fell in love with the small Caribbean island of St. Martin. They drew up a 10-year plan to create a perfumery and move there, as Berglund enjoyed chemistry as a hobby. Over the next 15 years, they saved up the million dollars that was necessary to make their goal happen – create and test their fragrances, buy a property for their store, buy inventory, market to tourists, etc.

It takes a skilled writer to weave all of this into an inspiring story. Unfortunately, the reading was much more dry. Things cost more than expected. Don’t they always? I was hoping for some examples of creative frugality, but nothing especially interesting popped up. Buying property on a small island that happens to be a overseas collectivity of France? Slow. Plus you’re a US citizen? Even slower. House repair? Takes a while. Phone repair? I get it. Island life is slow. Now, perhaps this is a good lesson for someone actually thinking about moving to the island, but I was left wanting for a charismatic character, a humorous story, or that “oooo-I-wish-I-could-do-that-too” feeling.

I also couldn’t help but be slightly annoyed when they talked about “living like a local”, but kept throwing out excuses about how they live in the French (and French-speaking) side of St. Martin but refused to learn French. That doesn’t sound like living like a local to me. If this is your new home, why not learn the language?

The Berglunds sound like nice, energetic people and I’m very happy they achieved their personal goals. They should be proud of themselves. I hope they are profitable in their new business as I believe they do need it to succeed. (They were not financially independent first.) I’m afraid I just didn’t find any inspiration in the book. The takeaway lesson seemed to be that if you really want it bad enough and save up a million dollars first over 10-15 years, you too can own a small business on a Caribbean island.

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  1. I’m half-French and have made several trips to St. Martin. The French side of the island is an overseas extension of France, like Tahiti, and roughly the equivalent of Hawaii for us. So the idea of moving there and not learning French is pretty ludicrous. I get that they mostly cater to tourists with their business, but they wouldn’t be able to communicate well with most of the locals. Good luck dealing with utilities, filing taxes, etc.

  2. And no kids, eh?

  3. @Phil – I think you’re right, the book indicated that they used their bi-lingual friends to get by – talking with officials, getting permits, etc. Without them, I think it would be very difficult. Their store website is Tijon.com (name after son TJ), if you’d like to check them out one day.

    @NM – They had kids, but they were already adults at this stage. I think now one of the kids helps them with their perfume business.

  4. Interesting you mention Peter Mayle. I absolutely love the movie 2006 “A Good Year”, a similar travel & move awat story with a very happy ending taking place in France (but fictional). Then I saw the book heavily discounted on Amazon, bought & read it a few days ago. Absolutely Horrible!!! Amazing they were able to create a wonderful movie from his idea. Just mentioning it as a feel good, chuck the corporate life, romantic comedy Netflix option…

  5. sorry, above 2nd line should be “a similar travel & move away story”

  6. I love the book cover, it would have probably sold me on the book, but thankfully, there is Jonathan to help me with another wise financial choice! 🙂

    In all seriousness thou, I have been pondering the idea of self publishing a book lately about the crazy travels I have gotten to experience so far. Your comments are definitely something to keep in mind – people are interested in experiences, not the mundane things.

  7. Seriously, if a couple has saved a million dollars they have an enormous number of opportunities available to them; moving to a Caribbean island to open a perfume shop is merely one among many, and is not particularly impressive to me. If they’d done it on, say, $50,000 or $100,000, I’d be more inclined to take this seriously. As it is – ho-hum…

  8. Did you ever read “the 4 hour work week” by Timothy Ferris? I’m curious what you thought of that one. If you’ve already reviewed it, please post the link.

  9. Jordan @NecktieNinja.com says

    Thanks Dima. I found it and posted my comment there.

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