Category Archives: Digital Nomad

Onward and the Revolution

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Learning things about yourself is different as you get older. When you’re young you are learning these things for the first time, and you embrace is eagerly as if you have finally found the answers you were seeking in some conclusive fashion. It is truly self discovery, you are blazing trails into the unknown and shedding light on things that have never been seen before and it feels glorious.
As you get older, though, it seems to change. It shifts from self discovery to self revolution. We are re-shaping the things we thought we already knew about ourselves, and it’s a much slower process, I think. More difficult all around. We are trying to change the paths of things that have been flowing through us like relentless rivers in the bedrock for sometimes many years, and it’s daunting. It’s not the exciting, painless process it used to be…but rather tortured. It’s a struggle to accept these sometimes radical shifts in our self-perception.
This is all to say: I am discovering I might not be as nomadic as I thought, and it’s an unpleasant revelation.
This week I have been struggling with a dark cloud as my time here in my apartment between the mountain and the sea draws to a close. I have such an exciting itinerary planned for the next few months and then on to more exciting things in my business world…but I find I can’t enjoy these prospects properly because I am dreading leaving this place here. My home.
As I swept the flurry of termite wings off the balcony this morning and made my coffee, the notion crystallized. I have left tiny pieces of my heart in every place I ever lived. I loved them all, to varying degrees. I certainly miss a few more than others, though, and this one will be one that will stick in my craw with a pang of regret and loss for many years to come. I will miss my mornings out there on that tiny balcony, swatting mosquitoes away and watching the water for divers and dolphins. I will miss the cackle of the chacalacas and the noisy rush of water over the cliff after a hard afternoon monsoon.
I will miss the sunsets most of all. My daily dinner companion.
How could I love somewhere else more than this? I could count one hundred ways in which it’s lacking, but I’ve been here just long enough to accept its flaws the ways you come to accept the shortcomings of a lover. The seventy-two steep and lopsided stairs that leave me bathed in my own sweat by the time I reach the top; the land crabs clacking under the bed at all hours of the night; the tarantula guarding the stairs with some imagined ferocity; the long ride into town and those infernal late night waits for the last bus home…They all somehow endear me to this concrete box.
I suppose I’m just a sentimental sort. I spend a lot of time in my home and I develop a relationship with the places I inhabit. In a way, they inhabit me too, taking on personalities all their own and becoming, somehow, so much more than just a place to lay my head. I know this is not an unusual way to feel, but I am not sure it is common for those who have spent only six months in a place. I guess I fall hard and fast in this regard as well.
Today is soft and gray and cool. A welcome change from the muggy sunshine typical of the season. The butterflies are furiously grooming the pollen off of the flowering vines that have wrapped themselves through all the trees and the ants are busy sweeping up whatever carnage they can glean in the aftermath of last night’s storms.
I have laundry to do and errands to run and only one week left to be in love.

Extreme Adulting Day 2: Clarity

Clarity is a funny thing. You can go through life doing things blindly without understanding why, or even realize that you are, until…wham. One day you’re confronted with proof positive that other people think the same way you do on certain matters.
It’s kind of an amazing thing.
Recently, I’ve read two books that have done that. These two confirmed to me that I was on the right path on matters I’ve felt compelled to invest myself in without really knowing why, or even realizing there was a subconscious method to my madness. Goodbye, Things and The 4 Hour Work Week are not necessarily groundbreaking reads…unless, that is, that these happen to cover issues that pluck a chord.

  • Goodbye, Things: The New Japanese Minimalism was actually a quick and easy listen via Audible. It was really helpful in clarifying some of the ideas and philosophies behind minimalism that had already made it appealing to me and reaffirmed my interest in maintaining as few belongings as possible. One particularly memorable passage discussed the link between excess belongings and anxiety. The author, Fumio Sasaki, absolutely nailed the scene that would play out nearly every single day back in Alaska—waking up in the morning and feeling so overwhelmed by your to-do list, largely revolving around the various and sundry maintenance of “stuff”, that it became incapacitating and the day would be wasted under the weight of indecision. This happened to some degree every single day I had off. All of the days, in other words, that didn’t command a specific starting point to the day’s activities.
  • The 4-Hour Work Week has a long-established cult following and more or less is the authority, and perhaps the inventor of, ::dun, dun, dun:: lifestyle design. First published in 2007, Tim Ferriss uses the book to outline a lifestyle I’ve been kind-of sort-of striving to achieve without his guidance for quite some time. Most of the information in the book is nothing new to me, but I enjoy the anecdotes and the organization of the information. It, too, is reaffirming in that it assures me I’m not the only one who thinks it’s ridiculous to willingly work harder rather than smarter. Clearly I haven’t mastered any of his crazy money generation methods, but being confronted with the potential of a lifestyle I’m already largely living is…motivating. And confusing. It makes me question whether or not it’s actually something I want and whether or not I want it for the right reasons. (The answer to the former being boredom and the latter being no.) At any rate, his weekly e-mail, Five Bullet Friday, was also part of what inspired me to work on this—my bastardized version of bullet journaling. (It also reminded me that I used to do very similar things on Pulp Faction and it was awesome then, so why not.)

In Other Bullets:

  • Pesos Spent: $220 for mineral water and cheesy beefy quesadillas. $18 for bus fare. $238 total for dinner on the beach while Porkchop played. ($12.75 USD)
  • TV watched: Zero! I watched enough yesterday for the entire damn week.
  • Books Read: Also zero, but I’m putting together my Epic Mexico Summer Reading List, so stay tuned.
  • Homework Done: Not enough. Deadlines Sunday and Monday.
  • Spanish Studied: Argued with the bus driver about letting the dog on, and spoke only Spanish to my waiter. (It’s the small things.)
  • Pitches Sent: Officially, one. Several contacts were made for collaborations, and I researched several outlets for my work. Also made arrangements to write a band bio and press release for a very interesting up-and-coming Memphis act.
  • Beverages Consumed: Alcohol, zero; Caffeinated, lost count; Water, only about 60 ounces. (Sad.)
  • Weather: Chilly with a chance of rain? IE; 76 degrees, 6 mph winds, 85% humidity, overcast with the tails of Tropical Storm Beatriz churning our way across southern Mexico, but apparently little to no chance of getting rain from it.
  • Shared: The National Institutes of Health reveals a study that links autism to an increased incidence in heavy metals in baby teeth. The study covered a small sample size, but is particularly interesting because it utilized twins who would (presumably) have the same nutrition en utero at the stage in which some of the significant differences in heavy metal levels between autistic and non-autistic children were noted.
  • Shared: An 18-year old from Oaxaca was crowned men’s world champion surfer in France yesterday.
  • Shared: KFC reveals a pizza utilizing flattened fried chicken as a “crust”. Earlier I asserted that I was fine with this. That was before dinner. It is a natural next step from the “double down” thing of whatever that was in which they used two pieces of fried chicken breast in place of bread in a sandwich, but this is a food evolution that is just…not ok.

How to Move Abroad on a Whim (And Not Regret It)

There are a lot of variations on the idea that if you sit around waiting for everything to be perfect, or waiting for the right time, or even waiting for Mr. Right, you could wind up waiting forever. Don’t get stuck on waiting to move abroad if that’s what you really want. The truth is that things will probably never suit our idea of the “the perfect time” since life rarely cooperates, and the best we can hope for is a felicitous series of make it work moments that actually work.

Taking all of that into consideration, I’ve been thinking about a few guidelines to smooth the path for such a large transition as a move abroad. These are based on my own experiences and countless conversations with others who have successfully made the transition and lived to not regret it. They are very general and could be applied to a move to just about any country, in my opinion, but you may need to make some changes. (Visa requirements of other countries might make this list very different, for example.)

For reference, I personally decided to move to Mexico in mid- to late-December 2016, remotely signed my lease and put a deposit down on my apartment on January 1, and landed in Puerto Vallarta on February 10, 2017. So…being generous we’ll say it was a two month turn around. This may not be enough time for many, but for others who maintain relatively light existences, I believe this is adequate.

So, based on these factors my best advice for successfully Running Away to Mexico follows.

BYOJ (Bring your own job)

This is the number one thing that makes picking up and moving abroad possible. I always pause when people ask about what the job market is like around here because, honestly, I don’t know and it really shouldn’t matter. If you aren’t bringing a skill set that can’t be filled by a local or filling some other in-demand niche in the local work force, I kind of feel it’s unethical to head to another country and take work away from someone who’s already there that needs it.

Furthermore, in Mexico specifically it creates a lot of other problems for picking up and relocating on a whim. For example, instead of coming in on a tourist visa you’ll need a temporary residential visa, which requires considerably more time and paperwork, or you’ll need to locate an employer who will sponsor you and they can only do so if you fit the description I list above. (IE; nobody in the local work force can do the job you’re being hired for.) It is possible to find work under the table here, but again—ethics.

There are tons of options available for working remotely and finding your niche. Developing a career online totally frees you up from all of these pesky legal considerations and enables you to be much more mobile with virtually no cap to your salary.

Find a Launch Pad

Everyone has a different vision of paradise when imagining their ideal new home abroad, but I’d recommend suspending nirvana in favor of necessity for a moment. Your perfect paradise might be in some remote place with little to no “expat” community because, after all, you aren’t moving to another country to spend all your time with folks from home, but there are a lot of reasons to start off in a city or town with strong immigrant infrastructure, regardless of where you ultimately want to live.

Doing just that has been easy for me to get the hang of things here and feel comfortable because the local immigrant community has been extremely supportive in helping me learn the ropes. Furthermore, my clumsy Spanish is not a total roadblock in daily interactions (but I still have plenty of opportunities to practice,) it was relatively easy to find housing, and because of good public transportation I have had all the access to mobility that I need. All of these factors are important to help make a comfortable transition and keep you from feeling like you made a mistake and they are things that aren’t readily available in many smaller towns with fewer or no immigrants.

It might also be prudent to consider that if you are not yet ready to establish a residency visa, that you will need easy access to an affordable way to exit the country every six months. For me, Puerto Vallarta was perfect because they have affordable and fairly direct flights to most of the places I want to travel to in the U.S.

Divest Yourself of Earthly Belongings

Ok, that was cheesy but it’s totally true. Getting rid of all your stuff can be really hard and I’ve written entire posts on the subject before, but there is a certain sense of freedom that comes with owning very few things that you just can’t beat.

People are always asking what they should bring with them when they move here. I get it. You feel like a pioneer, you are heading into the unknown and you want all of your known creature comforts to accompany you. But the reality is that you probably don’t really need most of the stuff filling your house and your life, and those things that you do need be acquired here.

So get rid of everything that doesn’t fit into your suitcase allowance. Or, if you can afford it, put all of that stuff you just can’t quite let go of into storage and revisit it when you make a visa run in six months. If you’ve found yourself missing anything in particular, bring it back with you, but get rid of everything you haven’t needed or missed or already replaced.

People most often seem to ask about their kitchen stuff. For some reason folks are especially attached to kitchen stuff. Even I went so far as to mostly fill one of my totes with kitchen things, and I look back now and realize how silly it was. The only two items I brought that couldn’t be replaced here for a few pesos were my stovetop espresso maker and my cast iron skillet. Everything else was a waste of space. (Granted, I generally abhor small appliances but even if you’re a fan, you can probably find replacements here.)

Realistically, in order to make a big move like this and enjoy it you’re going to have to find some way to detach from all of the stuff we tend to accumulate. This is more than a physical process, it’s a mental one, too. It’s going to take some work to let go, and how much varies from person to person, but the better you accomplish this the more freedom you will have and the fewer regrets you will harbor.

The Nuts & Bolts

  • Forget the residency visa. For Americans and Canadians traveling to Mexico specifically, plan on coming in on a tourist visa and leaving for a vacation or a visit home in six months. This requires no additional paperwork before your trip, relieves the pressure of commitment, and gives you time to consider your options as well as time to emotionally separate from whatever you may have left at home. For U.S. citizens considering other countries, here is the list of visa requirements around the world.
  • Find your launch pad. Don’t be a stranger to Facebook. It has been the single best tool I can recommend for connecting with the immigrant and expat communities abroad. Search for groups for expats an immigrants in the town you are considering and make friends. This is helpful in every possible way, and if you get in there and ask questions and interact you might just be lucky enough to have a solid network of friends waiting for you when you land. You can also inquire about housing in the Facebook groups as offerings on AirBnB and Craigslist can be slim and overpriced.
  • Get rid of your stuff. When I moved out of my house and into my friend’s house in Anchorage, I grouped all of my belongings into very broad categories. Stuff to donate, stuff to trash, stuff to keep, and stuff to sell. I hate dealing with a lot of people and abhor hosting garage sales, so the “stuff to sell” wound up in two or three different lots on Facebook buy-sell-trade groups. They were auctioned off to the highest bidder, winner MUST take all, and if the winner didn’t show at the designated time with help to load and cash in hand, I was prepared to go to the next person on the list. This didn’t net the largest profit, but it resulted in the least amount of headache. After donating and trashing the rest, I found my “stuff to keep” pile getting smaller and smaller as well. Something about getting rid of stuff is addictive, and once you bite the bullet and start the process it gets much easier to whittle your belongings down to, say, a couple of suitcases and a couple of Rubbermade totes. (Which is what I brought, and later realized was far too much.)
  • Work remotely. This is a daunting topic because there is absolutely a glut of information out there. My best advice would be to consider your skill set and think about how that translates to the online economy. Many industries are now beginning to offer full- or part-time remote employment in everything from teaching to customer service and your usual coding and data entry, etc. Others have found that working for themselves is a better route and they choose to freelance as writers, designers, coders, marketers, and more. If you’ve somehow managed to get to this point without any skills at all that translate to online work (doubtful!) then the world is your oyster and I’d recommend looking into starting from scratch to learn coding or some other marketable skill that appeals your own interests. This is definitely a topic that deserves further and more detailed exploration, so I’ll be working on a piece about that in the coming weeks and update here as soon as it’s done.

A Few Personal Notes

Things that made it possible to drop everything and move quickly:

  • I had already divested of a large portion of my belongs and was renting a furnished room.
  • Not married and no kids.
  • I already had a couple of online marketing accounts to start me off for a steady source of remote income.
  • I had a very good bartending gig which allowed me to save a chunk of money in a short amount of time after I identified a goal.

Things that proved to be challenges:

  • Finding a place and traveling with my dog in cargo in February from Alaska to Mexico was nerve wracking.
  • I still had a lot of stuff to get rid of, including my truck, and other things I needed to put into storage.
  • I had managed to misplace my passport and with such a short amount of time and the rush on the passport offices at the time, I was worried about this. (Proved not to be a problem as I got my replacement back in less than a week with expediting it.)

Always remember that there truly is no time like the present. I don’t want to get all “inspirational poster” about things up in here, but if you have the privilege of being from a place like the U.S. or Canada, can wrap your head around working online and living light, and know how to play nice and make friends—the world is your oyster. Dropping everything and moving abroad doesn’t have to be a unachievable dream, even if you have a family. It just takes a little motivation and knowing where to start.
Good luck!

RELATED: Seaside in Puerto Vallarta for $800 Per Month

Extreme Adulting Day 1: Welcome to Sobriety

I started my sober month with a hangover because…well, of course I did.
Nothing coffee and chicken tacos couldn’t take care of, but I have to admit—there wasn’t a whole lot of adulting going on today. I mean, I binge watched the entire second season of UnREAL on Hulu.
Aside from that, I guess my big adulting accomplishment involved a lot of self-reflection on my relationship with drinking. I already talked about how I acknowledge the considerable negative impacts alcohol has on my life. Let’s delve a little further into that shit show, shall we?
My last name is Drinkard, in case you didn’t know. A name like that comes with certain expectations, it seems. Realistically, I’ve probably been an alcoholic since I was 18 or so. I definitely was by the third or fourth 21st birthday I had and by the time I got fired from my first job at Princess in Denali because I’d made myself so ill with alcohol that I couldn’t get out of bed to get to work for a week. It’s pretty much always been a central character in my adult life, which is odd because my family is mostly made up of non-drinkers and I wasn’t raised around that at all.
Maybe that’s what attracted me to it, in part. It was a part of an identity of my own, not just a part of my name. It helped me find a voice and an angle as I developed my first blog and came to be known as a party girl. And frankly, I did need it in my own ways—I was shy and alcohol helped me forget that. Sometimes too much so.
As an adult it has become a crutch for all kinds of things. It helped me forget about things that upset me and it helped quiet the constant noise and chatter in my mind. Actually it was the only thing that could put a stop to the hamster wheel of thought that kept me up all night creaking away the hours.
It certainly wasn’t a healthy way to self-medicate, but when I consider the things so many of my friends and aquiantances turned to as their own solutions, I feel lucky that I’m “just” a bit of a drunk. And since I’ve begun to acknowledge the unhealthy relationship I have with alcohol, I’ve been better at controlling its influence over me when it starts to be too much.
The problem is, however, that I suck at moderation. I have an addictive personality and it tends to manifest in all kinds of “all or nothing” sorts of ways, including drinking. So, when I need to get a handle on it and reel myself back in a bit, I’ve got to haul my ass back up onto the wagon for a while because “taking it easy” ain’t gonna happen. Abstinence, however, I can do.
I realized I was past due for this sober month earlier this week when I literally had to take a shot of tequila in order to work up the courage to send a big pitch out. It shouldn’t be like that. I don’t get to talk about being brave and finding your courage when I’m hobbling along propped up by the liquid version. Honestly, I don’t know if I’ve ever done anything “brave” while I was sober. I don’t think I applied to work in Alaska when I was sober. I don’t think I decided to go back to school when I was sober. I don’t think I booked my tickets to move to Mexico when I was sober.
And let’s face it—Mexico isn’t an easy place to be sober. Like Alaska, it seems like alcohol is a particularly large part of life here. Yesterday, for example, I met business contacts and discussed plans over drinks, as I usually do. I don’t think I’ve ever put a toe in the sand at the beach unless a margarita was involved and like a pony with a carrot dangling in front of it, a good beer or cocktail propels me through everything from errands to workouts. It will be interesting to experience these things without this weak reward mechanism and I’m looking forward to seeing if I replace it with something else, or if the activity itself becomes its own reward.
Who knows, maybe I’ll like Mexico when I’m sober. Maybe we’ll go more than a month.

June 1, 2017 Bullets

  • I don’t really understand bullet journaling, but I’m going to do it anyway because it’s supposed to have the power to change your damn life. I figure between bullet journaling and maybe an increase in my kale consumption, I should be good to go.
  • I had dinner last night up at this crazy weird restaurant called Las Carmelitas. Hands down the most stunning view of all of Puerto Vallarta I can imagine, but I was amused by a review I read today about how a lady felt totally creeped out by the place and many reviews lamented poor service and less than stellar food. I can see it, kind of. They have this beautiful place up a creepy one lane road at the top of a mountain. There was nobody there but a couple of staff and some chickens and goats. The place has this odd unfinished, isolated feel to it, but I personally thought the food was pretty good and I’d totally recommend it to anyone wanting a quiet place with a stunning view. Then again, I like weird shit.
  • Today was gloomy. The sky was overcast and the sea was choppy. I put a sweater on a bit ago. It was supposed to get hot in June, but June didn’t get the memo.
  • I don’t feel like I started this big month off very strong, but I did send a pitch out, I did practice my Spanish (for like ten minutes,) I talked to my awesome sister, and I got some studying done.
  • Also made plans to have my first booze-free beach day with my friend Robina tomorrow and she doesn’t know it, but she’s going to be my first business networking meeting for the month because her shop, La Sirena, is awesome and she’s an inspiration.
  • I also made my grocery shopping list. Ten ingredients, 30 days of food. Should be good.
  • What I’m thinking about: Two websites have hit my radar this week and I can’t stop turning them over in my head. What could I do with Patreon that would be worthwhile? Also really into Help a Reporter Out (HARO). There’s something to these two and I’m still working it out…but they’re both playing into my bigger picture.
  • What I’m watching: UnREAL. It’s such a sleeper. Everyone’s being all classy and cultured and watching the latest House of Cards, and here I am totally unable to get enough of of this trashy network drama about reality TV show production. You should check it out.
  • What I’m listening to: “Extremely Bad Man” by Shintaro Sakamoto

Ultimate Monthly Challenge: Extreme Adulting

Why is it that the best motivator is always being told “you can’t?” It’s been this way for me for as long as I can remember, and while certainly it’s got me in trouble, it has also been the single biggest catalyst for all the most interesting stuff that’s ever happened in my life.
The other day I broke away from the navel gazing on this little ol’ blog of mine and posted up something folks found useful…or at least interesting. At any rate, the whole bit on living here on $800 a month seemed to get an awful lot of attention and more than a few people’s panties in a twist. They say it can’t be done, over and over and over again. Of course there are plenty of us out there who know better and are actively doing just that, but a few good points were brought up. Primarily that my budget didn’t really account for any of the more irregular life expenses like health care, vet care for the doggo, incidental purchases for replacing clothing and such, and travel. All good points. Taking all that into account, I do admit that $1,000 usd per month vs. my aforementioned $800 would be more comfortable. (But hey, why stop there. $5,000 would be downright cozy.)
At any rate, for June I’ve decided to track every last peso to share and see if I can repeat my fabulous May on the cheap. I’m actually not going to set a budget, it will be what it will be, but I predict it will be under $800 without depriving myself at all.
That being said, there are a few other things going on in June as well. I always enjoy a good monthly challenge, but I haven’t tried one in a while. I’ve had a lot to think about lately, it’s resulted in quite a few goals that I was interested in pursuing. I decided to combine them all into my Ultimate Monthly Challenge—Extreme Adulting Edition.
So without further ado, here’s some of what I hope for that to entail in addition to the budget listed above:

  1. Sober Month. I pull a dry month periodically for both my mental and physical well-being. I find that it helps to remind myself that I can function just fine without the social lubricant I tend to begin to lean on after a while. I also find I tend to have more energy, have a sharper mind, lose a bunch of weight, and save a ton of money. Knowing all that, why would I drink at all? Eh. It tastes good and it’s fun and I’m an unapologetic hedonist. End of story.
  2. Summer Semester. I’m attempting 9 credit hours plus a Spanish course this short summer semester so I can have a reduced workload this fall for travel. It will be the most intense semester I’ve put myself through so far and while the material isn’t necessarily difficult, it will be time consuming and require a lot of discipline—something that isn’t necessarily my strong suit.
  3. More Work. I’m still learning the ropes of a new business I’m working to bootstrap, but in the meanwhile I need to make sure the money comes in instead of just going out. I am loving writing so much lately that I’m aiming to hit the freelance field hot and heavy again in the coming months and find steady and fulfilling gigs somewhere in between all this other stuff. For the challenge I am translating this to sending out one pitch every single day and spending time with someone I can learn something about work, writing, entrepreneurship or business from once a week.
  4. Personal Goals. I gots’em. When I go off the bottle I tend to ramp up the diet and exercise bit so there will be a lot of foodie and cooking posts, I imagine. (I’ll spare you all the minutia of my workouts.) I aim to start really pushing a few other things as well. Specifically, I’m wanting more time in and around the water. I’ve never spent much time in the sea itself (in a boat, yes, but not in the water,) and only this month have I realized how uncomfortable I am with it. That’s not cool, considering the sea is currently my closest neighbor. We need to be friends. Swimming and snorkeling are things I want to feel natural to me by the end of the summer. Spanish competency, of course, is also always on the list of self-improvement stuff.
  5. Journaling. This is where you come in, dear reader. I’ve been reading up on the bullet journal thing and while I get the appeal of a physical book full of paper and stuff, it’s just not for me. I’m a digital girl living in a digital world, and thus my bullet journal will be online. I’m still working out the exact contents of my digital bullets, but the aim is to record them here on FRR daily. Some of it will be to track progress on these aforementioned goals, but also to record my tastes in music, reading materials, and inspirations in general. (And I promise, they will be worth reading. I won’t subject you to boring shit.)

So, that’s it. That’s a sneak peek at next month in a nut shell. Classes started last week, but the rest of the list will wait ’til June 1.

Seaside in Puerto Vallarta for $800 per month.

I had started considering a move to Mexico long before the November 2016 election forced my hand. When I looked around where I lived in Alaska and any other place I wanted to live, I found one thing over and over again—life was expensive. It was expensive to such a degree that if I were to move anywhere I would enjoy being, I wouldn’t be able to enjoy it much at all because I would work all the time just to make ends meet. I don’t know about you, but that’s not a good life to me.

I needed somewhere I could have a better quality of life at a more affordable price, and as much as I searched I couldn’t find my slice of paradise by the sea in the United States. So Porkchop and I moved South. South of the Border, to be precise. Puerto Vallarta in the state of Jalisco in Mexico welcomed us with open arms and now three months in I’m settling into the place, making friends, and enjoying the quiet as the tourist season dies down for the summer.

A lot of people ask me how expensive it is to live here. I’d say as a general ball park average it is easily half as expensive as my last home in Anchorage without even trying to stick to a budget. With any effort at all, it could be considerably less.

A post on Facebook got me thinking about the details of all of that and how my budget and hers compared. She also lives in a beach town, but on the East coast in Progreso. She is also single, but has a baby instead of a dog. We both live in studio apartments, but hers is half the cost of mine. Somehow we still come out at the same $800 per month budget as a comfortable figure at which to live. We both agreed, as well, that a couple could easily live for approximately the same budget (Still under $1,000 per month) since the biggest chunk goes to rent and that wouldn’t increase. It’s also important to note that neither of us have listed health insurance for ourselves in our budgets and for similar reasons—we live below our means and pay out of pocket for the affordable care here as need arises. That being said, we admit the need to look into insurance for emergencies and are doing so.

Here’s my break down lately, and a few notes to help you figure out how things might fit into your own lifestyle and situation.

Housing

My rent is $400 per month for a small but new studio apartment directly fronting Banderas Bay with no one below me or crowding me from the sides. It is a simply appointed situation that includes basic furnishings and all utilities, including unlimited internet and cable. (The latter of which I don’t use as a TV wasn’t included and I don’t care to buy one.) I was specifically attracted to this place because it was sparsely furnished—most units are unfurnished or OVERLY furnished and generally not to my taste. I lucked out by finding this place on Craigslist, but it is very difficult to find good deals online. Anyone with the ability to post on Craigslist or other known English language site is instantly able to command a higher price because their listing reaches a wider audience, and the ones that don’t jack the price up get snapped up quickly. Best bet to pre-lease an affordable place is to track down local expat groups for the area and make friends. Puerto Vallarta: Everything You Want or Need to Know was my gateway to life in Vallarta, but similar groups seem to exist throughout Mexico with varying amounts of activity. You might find people “on the ground” willing to keep their eyes peeled for you, otherwise the best bet is an Air BNB or temp situation while you explore for yourself and call the numbers posted on the sides of promising buildings.

Admittedly, my place is small at about 200sf but I am a single girl and a minimalist so I’m quite comfortable in a studio about the size of a hotel room. There is just enough room to pull out an air mattress for a friend as I discovered this past week, but obviously, it’s tight quarters for more than one. My apartment is seven stories down a cliff to the water’s edge, and the stairs are my workout taking the dog for a walk each day! I have happily accepted these compromises for the view.

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The first photo I took from my balcony upon waking up early in the morning after my arrival the night before. At night I can see the lights of Banderas Bay from Yelapa in the South to Punta de Mita in the North with all of Vallarta sparkling in between.

A few things:

  1. The best rates for 6 month or, more often, 12-month leases. Short term leases tend to shoot up exponentially because they target the tourist market and you’re back into the $1000+ USD per month range.
  2. If living cheap is important to you, don’t expect all the bells and whistles. In fact, many people find a place they like at a price they like and expect to go in and paint and do repairs before moving in.
  3. The best prices will be unfurnished and without utilities. To me, it wasn’t worth dealing with these things so I am happy to pay a little more to only pay one bill per month.
  4. In Puerto Vallarta proper there are many things that can make rents low, so if you find an exceptionally good deal be sure to check around as to why. Street noise, loud music, barking dogs, fireworks and other noise issues are VERY common, but also keep in mind how a place might be in both the hot dry part of the year and the rainy muggy part of the year—not only the long pleasant winter months. Open air living is common, and so are bugs! Ceiling fans and air conditioners are important commodities that you will likely want to add if they are not present.
  5. Many places in the older and more picturesque parts of Vallarta have a LOT of hills and/or stairs. Depending of the severity of these factors, it can send the rent prices plummeting, but they often have the best views and are worth it if you’re up for the daily hike.
  6. How low can they go? I have seen studios the size of mine reportedly for rent for as low as $50 per month with no furnishings, utilities, or amenities included. I have also seen three bedroom houses for a couple of hundred dollars occasionally with the same caveats.

Transportation

Because I live South of Puerto Vallarta between the small towns of Mismaloya and Boca de Tomatlan, I pay eight pesos each way to and from Old Town PV. I generally stick around that area and can take care of most of my weekly business there and so 50 pesos (less than $3) per week is a safe estimate for me. Buses in Puerto Vallarta are plentiful, affordable, and quite easy to get the hang of quickly but they can be in poor repair and are sometimes quite an adventure. Taxis, if needed, are another option and also generally plentiful and affordable. When I have an extra large grocery run or miss the last 11:00pm bus to Boca it will cost me up to 350 pesos to get back to my house, which is about $19 at current exchange rates and still not bad for a 30 minute plus cab ride.

Groceries

Honestly, this is the budget area I have tracked the least. My grocery estimate is about 500 pesos per week on average. (About $27.) This includes generally lots of fresh fruits and veggies, rice, tortillas, sweetened condensed milk and coffee, beans, chicken, cheese, salsa, eggs, etc. In other words, mostly whole foods which makes a big difference and drops the budget significantly. I love cooking and working with Mexican ingredients so this is no worry at all and often I feel I eat as well at home as when I go out.

Porkchop the Dog generally eats some dog-friendly variation of my own food since local brands of dog food seem to be very poor quality and the import stuff is expensive, and inconvenient. I think he is happy with this arrangement and seems exceptionally healthy lately. The food he used to eat is available here from Costco but because of my small space, bus transport, and many stairs, getting a 40lb bag of food around is not feasible, never mind the fact that it would become a major chunk of my grocery budget. He mostly gets a bit of rice and veggies before I add seasoning, plus a portion of whatever meat I have (he likes the parts I don’t like when I buy a whole chicken, for example,) and an egg. He’s only about 30lbs so not a huge eater but he seems to enjoy the variety and I think it’s probably better for him than eating the same dried up crunchy stuff every day anyway. It is also possible to make connections with a butcher shop or fish market for lots of good bits and pieces for a raw diet for a few pesos, but so far I have found it easier just to feed him what I eat. (One of those things where I could easily save more money with a little effort.)

I plan to track the grocery expenses more carefully in June and will update then, so stay tuned!

Entertainment

Obviously, based on the above my necessities are quite manageable at a modest $520 per month including housing, transportation, and groceries. If you’re going to have budget problems, you’ll have them on your entertainment spending. There are just so many things to do and each of them, though quite affordable, seems to add up quickly and the sky is the limit. There are ways to go out and enjoy things on a budget, however. A great meal from a street vendor will have you full to bursting for less than $3, and there is literally a happy hour somewhere in town going most any hour of the day. In fact, one of my favorite swanky places in town for a treat is Joe Jack’s Fish Shack right near my bus stop on Basilio Badillo and I’ll drop about $15 usd with tip for the most delicious serving of poke and fried wontons you’ve ever had and two-for-one mojitos to wash it down with. (Joe Jack’s also has delicious all you can eat fish and chips for under $12 on Fridays, and they’re a great example of how it is possible to eat at even the spendier places on a budget if you know where to look. More on that later!)

Aside from this potential for endless entertainment, my monthly bills in this category are at $15 for Netflix and Hulu and $80 for my AT&T phone with unlimited data and calls. (High because it also includes the payment for the phone itself.)

Recap

So, in case you weren’t keeping tabs, that’s $615 per month in regular expenses with $185 left over for entertainment to keep me on this modest budget of $800 USD per month.

While Puerto Vallarta is far from the cheapest city in Mexico, it suited my needs as an affordable coastal community with an international airport and enough English-speaking infrastructure to get me started while I learn Spanish.

It is also important to remember that you could always go cheaper if you must, as many locals do, but as I moved here in search of a better quality of life I was looking for a sweet spot between budget and lifestyle and I think I’ve found it. This is not bad for my own little place on the water with two sandy beaches within walking distance and a beautiful and vibrant cultural center a short bus ride down the road.

READ MORE:

Five free things to do every day to improve your Spanish.

I moved to Mexico without knowing any functional Spanish at all. Sure, fifteen years ago I took a semester as a freshman in high school…but that wasn’t helping me much. Now, as an International Studies major at the University of Alaska, I need to collect a lot of language credits in order to graduate but in the interim I still need to get around and be able to take care of business in my new life in Mexico.
Talking with my friend Samara the other day I realized that my vocabulary really isn’t that bad—I know a LOT of words and can follow a conversation fairly easily. But when it comes my turn to talk I’m stumbling all over myself and get tongue tied because conjugation and all the little bits and pieces that connect the words I know are still a mystery. This is incredibly frustrating for someone who is used to being able to express themselves easily in their first language, and I think that frustration in and of itself is my biggest stumbling block and my own worse enemy while I am still in the self-learning phase of this language education.
So clearly, I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately and trying to come up with ways to overcome this problem. After consulting with a couple of teachers and both native- and non-native Spanish speakers, here are a few tips that have my brain slowly making the switch. Maybe you’ll find them useful as well.

Five Free Ways to Improve Your Spanish

  1. Cartoons. Yes, specifically cartoons! I have discovered that Netflix has a great selection of cartoons in Spanish and I find it much easier to follow than other more mature shows I’ve tried because of the simplicity of the language. This is the least intense yet probably most useful way I’m learning simple conjugations and such. (I must admit I am particularly fond of The Mr. Peabody & Sherman Show at the moment.) Obviously, Netflix is not free but many have some access to Spanish-language cartoons one way or another, so look around until you find something that doesn’t drive you batty.
  2. Duolingo. I’ve tried a few apps but Duolingo keeps me coming back. It’s not always perfect, but it’s free and repetitive and engaging enough to keep me going. I also like the feature which allows me to “compete” with friends and the reminders and incentives to practice daily are surprisingly effective.
  3. Read Something, Anything! A new friend who trains ESL teachers told me the other day to find something I’m interested in and read a bit each day. Not much, only maybe 15-30 minutes, and it should be a topic I’m really intrigued by and want to know about. He suggested a book, specifically. Others have suggested similar strategies with reading a news article that interests me each day. The consensus so far has been NOT to use any translator or dictionary as a crutch to get through it, but rather allow your brain to start working to process the context and inference of words as we go.
  4. Music. This one is easy, but is probably not the most effective. I love Latin music of all sorts and quickly find myself singing along to favorite songs. This isn’t really very useful for fine tuning anything about your Spanish skills, but I feel like it gets my brain engaged and the more exposure to the language the more likely I am to feel comfortable and not freeze up when I’m trying to find my words. Checking out live music events is especially engaging!
  5. Movies & TV. I feel like this is significantly different from watching children’s programs and cartoons, honestly. The language is so much more varied, and here’s the other kicker—you can watch in English or Spanish but either way you go be sure the subtitles are on and you’re paying attention. The more variety the better.

A couple of extras:

These aren’t free, but I’ve found them useful and promising, respectively.

  • Be a tourist. Showing my friend around Vallarta last week exposed me to a couple of situations in which all material was presented in both Spanish and English. A boat trip in which all announcements were made in Spanish first, and then English was especially enlightening and encouraging in reminding me that my vocabulary is improving as I could understand all that was said, and then confirm it when the English announcement was made.
  • Try Coursera. Coursera has a really intriguing online Spanish language course through UC Davis. I’m currently waiting to hear back from my home University as to whether or not they might accept credits through this program since they don’t offer many online language courses themselves, but it’s quite affordable and has good reviews. You can try it free for seven days and then it’s $733mxn ($39usd) per month for as long as you study. Obviously, the more time you devote to it the cheaper it is.
  • Find a teacher or class. There are so many great teachers around willing and ready to help you learn for super affordable prices! Again I would suggest asking around on your city or town’s local Facebook groups to find something that fits your schedule and budget nearby.

Recent studies have shown that repetition is key in learning new languages and both passively listening to something in the background (conversations, radio, music, TV, etc,) and actively listening and paying attention to the same content achieve similar results. So, go ahead! Turn the music up and leave the TV on, just make sure you’re listening and practicing and eventually it will come to you.
Beyond that, just make every effort to use what you do know at every opportunity. Most are patient and friendly and eager to help. I’ve learned more in my daily exchanges with waiters and bus drivers and Oxxo attendants than anywhere else…when I force myself to do it!

On being new to Puerto Vallarta and playing the tour guide.

It’s always a little odd to move to a new place and start writing about great things to do locally when you know so many others have far more expertise on the topic than you. That being said, sometimes a fresh set of eyes adds a unique perspective and sometimes it is the newness and the fresh approach itself that brings value to a common topic in discussion. I know certainly after ten years in Southcentral Alaska I felt largely uninspired to write about a region which brought so much excitement to others, even though I was intimately familiar with it and had a great many things to say on the subject.
This time however, moving into Puerto Vallarta, I am determined not to be so close minded about these things. I know from the constant flow of questions I am asked from friends and family elsewhere that there is curiosity about this place and apparently they want to know what my take on it is. Ok then, I’ll share. I won’t be stingy with the things I’m learning, even though I’m far from an expert on these matters, and someday I’m sure I’ll look back and appreciate the fact that I took the time to write it down so I can fine tune and update the information as I learn more.
Most of the things I’ve been asked lately revolve largely around what it’s like to live here. What is the cost of living? Is the internet good? Are there other work options? Is it safe? Is there health care? What is there to do? What is the art scene like? What kind of cultural activities are there? Is it difficult to obtain a visa? Is it dog friendly, and is it easy to bring a pet into Mexico? Is there public transportation available? What should I bring and what should I leave? Should I change my cash to pesos before I come, or should I bring only a little money or a lot?
These are a few of the things I’ve been asked lately and hope to write about in the coming weeks, but what do you want to know about this corner of the world? Do you have concerns about this place or questions you have difficulty answering with resources you’ve found online? I’ve now hosted two friends from Alaska in the three months I’ve lived here (for comparison, I had one out of state guest visit me in ten years when I lived in Alaska,) and it was the first time either had ventured to Mexico. I hope they leave with a love for this place like the one I have, but I’d love to help allay the fears and concerns of other solo female travelers considering Mexico for the first time as well!

On finding your voice when there is nothing new under the sun.

When I was younger I was a writer. The prose came easily and content generation happened like magic over night. The ideas were hot coals ready to be stoked and everything I came across seemed to stir them up. I was a writer because I wrote, and I never stopped to think whether or not what I was writing was original or valid or culturally sensitive or politically correct because I wrote more than I read, and a steady line of people told me it was good.
Things are so different now. The constant stream of information has put a damper on that once burning writer flame. My thoughts are co-opted by Facebook and Twitter 140 characters at a time. I’ve had editors and teachers show me the ways of the world, and it silenced me because I was unused to criticism, as constructive as it may have been.
When I was younger I was a writer, and I loved travel and I loved reading books about travel. I always wanted to write my own great soul-searching travel epic and I went to all the right places to gather material, but the story hasn’t come to me because the more I traveled, the more I met other travelers who were also writers. They were all so enthused about their own stories and, frankly, their stories sounded much more interesting than any of the ideas I’d been tossing around. It was intimidating to finally meet my peers and come out of the sheltered environment which had fostered so much creativity. The gully washer rush of ideas slowed to a trickle over time and then dried up altogether.
How does this work? Creativity, inspiration, collaboration. What is “the right amount” of outside influence to get ideas coming out of you before they can be stomped down and relegated to the trash heap of unoriginality and played-out thoughts. Feedback is valuable, but is there such a thing as too much? Education and awareness are important, but can you become so immersed in them that you lose your own voice?
I theorize that’s what has happened to me through the steady tutelage of twenty years of social media and exposure to other people’s ideas. People used to have to work hard to hear what others had to say about things. They wrote letters and waited weeks and months for replies. They consumed the rare newspaper or magazine or book voraciously. They traveled long distances to fellowship with other great thinkers and collaborate on new concepts.
By contrast, today I can research fifty topics before noon with a hangover and learn whatever I want to know about, say, orangutan dietary habits and family units with a few clicks of the keyboard. The consumption of media no longer holds value for me because it is so accessible, and I think I feel my own ideas are lumped into that. When I consider what I write swirling in the melee of Google and Facebook, something squeaks in my gut and it works on me until the overwhelming feeling of “what’s the point” takes over and I surrender to another night of Netflix.
I’m trying to change that, though. Trying to adopt new habits and push the noise to background. It’s certainly easier said than done for a content addict like myself. I’ve come up with a few ideas I rarely stick with (Facebook diets? Laughable!) but the awareness of the issue actually has been half the battle. Yeah…cliche as that may be.
I had to decide what I’m about and I’ve decided that I am not here to write another Toes In the Sand travel girl memoir. I am here to uncover that writer I used to be before I got too scared to be her and too disillusioned to bother trying to bring her out. In fact I’d like to revert wholly to that teenage self—that brazen, disdainful, irreverent thing. She was really something, I think, and I admire her don’t give a fuck attitude very much. Her voice, my voice, is valid even if I’m the only one that thinks it is. My stories hold value because they are not anyone else’s, and that’s enough. And even if nobody else ever reads a word I write, I am creating something worthwhile… simply because I am creating. It takes a certain amount of hubris to be a writer, and I think being bold in life is triggering a revival of the confidence I have desperately needed in every way for so very long.

On the unique challenges of thriving on lateral change

It can be bewildering to finally get what you want.
I’ve always been an obsessive person. I obsessively do just about everything I do, whether it is wallowing in my own misery, researching an interesting topic, dieting, or planning a trip. I’ve been planning on moving to Mexico since February of 2015. Since then, I took a lot of very big steps to get here (getting rid of all of my things, moving out of my house, buying an RV, saving money,) but ran into a series of infuriating road blocks that prevented success in achieving my goal until this past February, nearly two years to the date that the idea was formed and about a year and half later than I had hoped.
I’ve been here a touch over two months now and it feels “real,” finally. The shiny is wearing off and the reality of this new existence is setting in. My routine feels like a routine rather than a novelty, I barely hear the waves crashing outside my window, and the iguanas are more of a dog teasing annoyance than an enjoyable wildlife encounter. I get a lot of work done, but I spend a lot of time alone. Aside from the amazing view, my studio isn’t that much different from a concrete jail cell: sparse, functional, and isolating.
This is what I wanted, right? Two years, so much planning and preparation, so much worry, so much money. It was all for this. I made it.
Now what?
As you can possibly tell from my last post, I’ve been thinking a lot about minimalism lately and this week I read Goodbye, Things: The New Japanese Minimalism by Fumio Sasaki. It’s the latest in a spate of literature that has modernized a lot of ancient ideas about the joys of simplicity and owning less. I was taken by a number of notions and plan on sharing a couple of other posts loosely related to subject matter within its pages, but the first idea that really struck me is that happiness and joy are things that are best triggered and maintained by change.
Not really a novel concept. In fact, this is something my gut has always known and I’ve done quite a good job on acting on it throughout my life without the affirmation of scientific studies or any form of philosophy to influence me. I have always struggled with stasis but spent a good portion of my life trying to combat that instinct to seek change, to keep evolving, because change is not compatible with traditional notions of American success. In American culture the only change we are supposed to strive for is progressive change. We are always building on past accomplishments and “leveling up” in a beguiling form of progression. This kind of change calls for a foundation to be built on though. It is a kind of change that requires stability, and roots. We go to to school to get an education to start a great career and achieve financial success through promotions and building wealth. We start a relationship to get engaged, to get married, to have children, to have grand children. We get a home to decorate and fill with things and put our stamp on it and call it our own. All of these seem like change—they are changes. But because of the systemic progression they aren’t dramatic changes and I suspect that that is not only sufficient, but preferable to most.
I’ve always needed something…more. I think I thrive on lateral change. The whirlwind, totally uproot your life, fake your own death kind of change. Or, you know, quit your job, sell all your stuff and move to Mexico kind of change. I’ve always thrived on the kind of changes that take every damn thing I’ve got in me to accomplish, and when I accomplish them the novelty tends to wear off quickly and I find myself looking for the next “project” to stimulate joy and engage my senses and creative efforts.
Which brings me to now. That dreaded “now what” that follows success. It’s not a bad place to be, really. It means I accomplished a huge goal. But that accomplishment comes with the burden of choosing my next adventure, which is a distinct privilege I am grateful to have these days.
So bear with me as I sort through the options, because there really are so very many. So many business ventures that are calling my name, so many places I could go next. Sometimes your direction is obvious and others it is much less so, but honestly…figuring it out is half the thrill.