Software developer Victor Varlamov logs on every morning to work on a sunny Spanish island off the coast of Africa after the prospect of steep heating bills and a winter exacerbated by the war in Ukraine prompted him to leave his adopted home in Poland.
He is not alone in pursuing a warmer and cheaper way of life, as tourist boards in southern Europe have taken advantage of the cost of living crisis to advertise the benefits of wintering abroad to those living in more northern countries.
Varmalov, 50, along with his wife and teenage daughter, moved from Poland’s Baltic coast to Gran Canaria in Spain’s Canary Islands two months ago and plans to stay for months to come.
“The economic crisis and especially the war situation pushed me here,” said Varmalov, who is Russian by birth.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February sent some energy prices to record highs in August. These have eased but are likely to remain high and have led to painful levels of inflation.
Before leaving Gdansk, where he has lived since 2016, Varmalov calculated that he could save 250 euros ($259) on rent each month and pay 140 euros for all utilities and internet instead of the 200 of euros that he paid only for electricity in Poland.
What he saves now, he spends on eating out, he said, and he also enjoys walks on the beach during his lunch breaks.
“The reality is better than my expectations,” he said.
The regional government of the Canary Islands, where the average winter temperature is 20 degrees Celsius (68°F), launched a social media campaign in September to attract remote workers like Varmalov and retirees from countries like the UK, Germany and Sweden. .
“It’s no secret that this will be a winter of great economic uncertainty in Europe, but in the Canary Islands, we want to change the situation,” said Yaiza Castilla, the regional head of tourism, describing the islands as an “economic haven”.
Other southern European countries also see the potential.
Greece’s tourism minister visited Austria and northern European countries such as Sweden in September to “turn this huge energy crisis affecting Europe into an opportunity”.
Portugal’s tourism board has also campaigned, with its head, Luis Araujo, saying the outlook for winter tourists in northern Europe is “very positive”.
Tourism data supports his optimism.
Data collected for Reuters by home rental search engine HomeToGo showed that compared to last year, searches from countries including the UK, Germany and the Netherlands were up 36%, 13% and 3% for winter accommodation in Spain, Greece and Portugal respectively.
Gabriel Escarrer, CEO of Spanish hotel chain Melia, said people are booking apartments and condos for two or three months this winter in the Canary Islands, with a notable presence of Scandinavian visitors.
“SHELTER FOR THE WINTER” AND MORE
Visitors and more permanent residents are also arriving from Germany, which was heavily dependent on Russian gas before the war in Ukraine and is worried about possible power shortages in the winter.
Among the schools that enroll more students from abroad, the German school in Gran Canaria received 40 applications from foreign students this year, which it said was higher than in previous years, without giving precise figures.
Repeople, a collaborative association in the Canary Islands, said it was full for November and 80% full for the rest of the winter.
Among those taking up a place at Repeople is German freelancer Heiko Schaefer, 31, who plans to stay until Christmas.
“The current rise in prices is a reason for many people to move further south,” he said. “This island is a refuge for the winter.”
Airlines will increase the number of seats available to the Canary Islands by 31%, the regional tourism office has announced.
TUI fly, the main airline operating between Germany and the Canary Islands, said it would increase flights by around 10%, adding in a statement that energy costs were “a psychological element” in pushing more people south.
Short-term rental firm Airbnb said searches for winter stays in southern Europe tripled between April and June.
STUCK AT HOME OR PERMANENT MOVING
For most northern Europeans, however, heading south is just a dream when rising living costs mean they can’t afford the luxury of travel.
Instead, they are stocking up on goods to keep warm, such as quilts, slow cookers and electric blankets, UK retail figures show.
Others, however, decided to move permanently.
Natasha Caldeiras, from Kent, southern England, and her family are moving to her husband’s native Portugal just before Christmas. They said energy prices were the impetus.
Caldeiras believe the warmer weather will allow them to turn on the heaters for a shorter period than in Britain, where their monthly bills are around £200 ($242) a month and set to rise.
“Even before the energy crisis, we would have liked to be in Portugal because of the weather,” said the 28-year-old. “But with the energy crisis, (being in Portugal) gives us more security because of the climate.”
Murat Coskun, chief executive of property consultancy Get Properties, said the cost of living crisis was “fuelling the trend” of Britons deciding it was time to leave.
“I don’t think we’re at the peak yet,” he said. “Winter will be hard.”
($1 = £0.8270)
This story was published from a television agency feed with no text changes. Only the title has been changed.