“I am not giving up. I am just starting over.”

Note: This post is from September 2020. The Coronavirus situation in Merida has changed significantly since then. Today (August 2022), Merida is not under quarantine, masks are no longer required, and most other aspects of life in Merida are pretty close to life before Coronavirus.

My Journey from Being a Modern-Day Nomad to a Full-Time Expat in Merida During Coronavirus

After spending nearly nine years mixing my time between living part-time in Merida and Montreal and traveling around the world, in March 2020, I decided to live in Merida full-time for at least a couple of years.

The decision was not easy for me, but it was the best option given my situation. That said, I do not expect to live in Merida full-time for the rest of my life, and I know I will be traveling around in the not-too-distant future.

I have known many Fifty Plus Nomads who settle down for a time and then hit the road. The line between expat and nomad is often fluid for many, including myself.

I decided to settle down for a while for the following reasons:

A picture of the bed and headboard in the master bedroom of my house. Part of my Mexican dream is being surrounded by colorful, unique art pieces like this headboard. Let’s explore what your Mexican dream can be together.

Take Fifty Plus Nomad’s Living and Traveling in Mexico Workshop

Let me use my extensive experience living and traveling around Mexico to:

Help you decide if living in Mexico is right for you (it isn’t right for everyone)
Share my passion for Mexico
Find your perfect place in Mexico.
Set up, enjoy, adapt and create a joyful new life in my adopted homeland
Travel around Mexico comfortably, safely, and enjoyably on any budget.

Why Did I Decide to Become a Full-Time Expat?

I Did Not Have a Lot of Money Left to Travel

When I was lucky enough to travel nine months a year from April 2011 to November 2015, I initially planned to travel cheaply, and I knew how to do so and did not mind staying in hostels and cheap hotels.

Yet, I had grown tired of traveling economically. After listening to hundreds of students in my seminars, I wanted to stay in places that were a bit more luxurious and to have someone else organize some of my travels.

Perhaps more than anything else, I wanted to spontaneously decide to eat at a luxury restaurant, stay at an elegant hotel, or even more than anything else, go to an expensive concert or other special events without considering the cost.

In 2011, I suddenly found myself free to travel in a bit of comfort and do whatever I wanted without thinking too hard about the budget. (Though I spent around eight months of those five years traveling in volunteer/learning experiences, most of these experiences were inexpensive and featured modest accommodations).

I never wanted to travel in absolute luxury for a long, though. Quickly, I realized that I could usually comfortably travel if I spent around $100 a day for accommodation and $60-80 for food. (Though about ten to twenty-day if I spent over $200 a day if I could stay in an exclusive hotel like the Chateau Laurier in Ottawa).

In India, this meant staying and eating at some very high-class places. Yet, even in an expensive area like Copenhagen, I could meet my minimum comfort standard in a centrally located (though small) hotel room with my bathroom. (The only place I couldn’t find a hotel with a bathroom for $100 a day was New York City).

I continued to travel in this relative luxury until March 2020. I grew to love it, and when I tried to go back to cheap travel, I did not enjoy it much.

By 2020, I did not have much money left between traveling this way for five years and buying and rehabbing my house in Merida. Initially, I decided to spend what was left on a couple of month-long trips to see many of the places left on my wish list. Still, I gradually realized that it would be wiser and probably better for my psyche to stay in Merida for a while.

I Want to Work at Being Part of a Community

Even when traveling nine months a year from April 2011 to November 2015, I liked having someplace to come home to three months a year, like Montreal. I enjoyed spending time with my girlfriend and being part of her life for a while each year.

Starting in 2015, I could use a home base, and I was not ready or able to spend it in Montreal but decided to seek a new home base somewhere in Mexico. After giving it much thought, I decided that a new home would be in Merida. (See posts on Why I Live in Mexico and the Pros and Cons of Living in Merida).

In 2019, I found out that I wanted to stay in Merida most of the year to build a sense of being part of a community. Though I want to go back to traveling part-time in the future, I do not think I will want to spend the bulk of my time away from my home base again for a long time. I searched around and found Merida does offer enough cultural and social opportunities to fulfill this need.

Being a Part-Time Expat in Merida Did Not Work For Me

I bought my house in Merida after spending five years mainly on the road because I:

  • Felt that, in the long run, I would run out of money if I kept on traveling; and
  • Wanted a place to call my own where I could make some friends and become part of a community.

Despite this rationale for buying the house, adjusting to life in Merida was not as easy as I expected. I missed moving all the time, and settling down in one place was hard.

I worsened this situation by contracting out for significant changes to my house that lasted almost three years. I never enjoyed working on a home, even in the US.

Before the house finished, I always felt a bit trapped in Merida. I didn’t particularly appreciate waiting for workers to show up, and I also got tired of sometimes waiting weeks or months at a time for the work to end.

I could never get enough information to plan anything. Sometimes workers finish their tasks incredibly quickly. Other times, things would halt for weeks at a time. I went to ATMs often to take money out to pay workers but always wondered if I was being taken advantage of because I did not know much about home repairs.

In retrospect, moving back and forth and working on my home put me in the throes of a prolonged, mild culture shock during the three to six months a year I spent in Merida. I dealt with my house-related frustrations by frequently leaving, never making friends, and avoiding becoming part of the community. Once I felt comfortable with someone, I left. 

I am More Comfortable Staying in One Place While Starting My New Business

I found it hard to work on my business while in travel mode. Unlike most bloggers, I don’t write articles with titles like “The Ten Best Romantic Restaurants in Brooklyn.” (Since these types of pieces work well with Google algorithms). While there is nothing wrong with these articles, they are not for me to write, and I miss details and am more interested in more significant travel topics.

When I tried to write these articles, I became so bogged down in details that I no longer enjoyed traveling. It felt like I was working and missed the opportunity to observe and learn about a place without a given agenda.

My skills best come out when I think about and analyze my experiences. I can look at what I’ve learned, what I think others could understand, and what is not easy to find elsewhere. I do not have any meaningful or exciting insights without reflection.

Instead, I want to create the Fifty Plus Nomad community and teach about what I learned during 16 years of traveling and living worldwide. Some practical lessons, like finding a suitable flight or using frequent flyer miles. (Most of these lessons come from things I wish I had known when I started to travel full time in 2011.) Others are a personal reflection on the realities and benefits of life on the road.

Very few of my posts involve doing a lot of research on-site to find details of traveling in a particular place. Instead, they depend on observing my thoughts and documenting what I learned from my life on the road.

In addition, the type of writing and research I do can make it hard to market my site. My posts do not fit well into Google algorithms.

As a result, I need to find more creative marketing strategies than most other bloggers. Unfortunately, marketing does not come easy for me, and I find it most comfortable to focus on things I wouldn’t say I like when I am in one place for a while. Being in one place has also allowed me to find people who help me deal with my marketing frustrations and give me helpful feedback.

However, I am willing to put the time into marketing because I don’t want to be the same as everyone else. I feel like there is a need for sound advice and personal reflection. Until the advent of social media, there was a lot of excellent advice about traveling and thought-provoking memoirs. Today these sources have diminished significantly. I can’t help but think there is a place for what I offer in the market.

I Feel Like I Have Been on a Long, Slow Journey to Accept the Idea of Becoming a Full-Time Expat

Being a genuinely nomadic person has changed me in many ways. I am used to the challenges and the excitement of moving, and settling down in one place is difficult.

Since high school, I have moved 20 times and spent nearly eleven years on the road. (Though most moves were within California, I have lived in four foreign countries and the US Midwest). I have become addicted to the call of new adventures and discoveries that a nomadic life affords. It took me almost four years after I bought my house to be ready and willing to settle down in Merida.

In August 2019, I decided to consider becoming a full-time expat. But, to be honest, I felt somewhat torn. I knew it was logically the right next step financially and was excited about becoming part of a community. Yet, another part of me still wanted to continue traveling, and I worried about missing the excitement of constantly discovering new people, places, and experiences.

Nonetheless, I put a lot of time and effort into creating my new chapter of life as a full-time expat. Since mostly finishing the house, I began to explore community activities, went on some dates, and worked on my website and business consistently. I discovered Facebook pages that helped me learn more about local businesses, clubs, and activities. I made some new good friends. (One of whom, Mario, is helping me with my Social Media issues).

In January 2020, I left Merida for a two-month trip around Mexico to research living and traveling around Mexico (which I still intend to write about in the future). Unfortunately, most of the time, the two-month tour around Mexico had a cloud over it. In my third week, I was the victim of an express kidnapping. It affected both my ability to learn and enjoy the trip. I did not feel up to doing much of the research, sightseeing, interviews with expats, etc., I planned to do.

Yet, the kidnapping did have one surprisingly positive effect. I felt like I had finally come to accept and be happy about becoming a full-time expat in Merida. I would have come home almost two weeks early if I had not rented my house. Something I would never have considered in the past! It also made me want to get to Merida and go back to creating this new chapter of my life.

Sadly, after only two weeks passed in this new chapter of my life, the Coronavirus hit the scene and upended most of my plans for this new chapter in my life.

This is a photo of my friends Yemy and Ruben at my home during a recent Valentine’s Day party. The bougainvillea flowers are from my garden. While both Yemy and Ruben speak some English, you’ll have a chance to get to know people like Yemy and Ruben better after you’ve taken my Spanish classes.

Fifty Plus Nomad Offers Four Exclusive Spanish Workshops and Courses

Fifty Plus Nomad’s one-on-one, Intensive Spanish course, using the one-of-a-kind Polyglot Method, provides personalized coaching so you can converse comfortably and deal with daily life comfortably in Spanish.

Our Survival Spanish workshops teach you enough Spanish to deal with many typical situations facing travelers and expats.

Our “Teach Yourself Spanish Workshop” will develop a plan so you can polish up your Spanish on your own and provide follow-up coaching.

Workshops are offered online or in person at the beautiful Casa Los Dos Gallos in Merida.

My Experience as an Expat in Merida During Coronavirus

Now My Plans Are On-Hold

At first, I decided to self-quarantine after learning that many overweight people in my age group died in Italy. For the first two weeks, It did not change my life much. Most of Merida remained the same, and I decided to go out less often. Then, things began to change. First, some restaurants began to close. Then all the cultural venues around the city closed.

Two weeks after my self-imposed quarantine, the government imposed a stay-at-home policy. Nowadays, restaurants only deliver, and most stores are closed except convenience stores and supermarkets. (No more than one person can enter a store; even then, most stores are not open to anyone over 60). No alcohol was available for sale during most of the last five months. You cannot leave the house without a mask.

So far, the Yucatan has had 2000 Coronavirus deaths, 90% of which occurred in the past three months. Mexico has the third-highest number of deaths globally, and many experts maintain that the actual death rate may be several times the number reported by the government.

How Coronavirus Makes Me Feel

I miss some daily joys of living here, like going out for drinks and dinner with friends, sightseeing, etc. Some days I am fine staying at home. For others, I felt a strong sense of alienation and sadness. It took me almost a month to understand that I felt a bit cheated. Once I decided to settle down, I couldn’t be involved in the community, etc.

My days feel like I am on a roller coaster of emotions. Some days, I write and work on my website for ten to twelve hours, usually until well after midnight. Other days, it feels like it is a lot of work to brush my teeth and take a shower. 

Even going outside is distressing. If I went out any night of the week before the quarantine, I could find dozens of places to sit down, have a drink or a meal, and enjoy music. Even at midnight, many people were out, even on weekdays enjoying the company of their family and friends. The streets were usually full of life.

The virus will not last forever, and I will start the next stage as envisioned, even though we may have to take another quarantine if the viruses return and until someone finds a vaccine.

The travel industry may not return, and people may hesitate to leave their home country. Yet, it could also make people more willing to travel or live in another country for an extended period. I am even beginning to wonder if my website will have much use in the post Coronavirus world. Only time will tell. In the meantime, I will create helpful content for the community.

I am beginning to see that the quarantine may be helpful in some ways. I will be unusually grateful for small things like a nice restaurant meal and visits from friends. In June, just having someone clean my house felt like a bit of a blessing. I will be happy to know that service people will show up if I need them. (I also have a small list of things I will be glad to see done with the house). My hesitations, even sadness about not living such a nomadic life, etc., won’t be much on my mind.

Photo of Juan Carlos (my business partner) and my friend, Chucho, with a parrot at El Corcho, a cenote near Progreso. Next to Chucho are Adriana and Aythana, Juan Carlos’s sister and niece (one of the sweetest little girls you’ll ever meet), All three have strong Yucatecan Mayan roots. Wouldn’t it be fun to learn about their culture by taking our workshop?

Ready for a One-of-a-Kind Chance to Discover the Yucatan?

Spend a partial or full day enjoying two unique Yucatan experiences with Fifty Plus Nomad.

Eat a Rustic Home-Cooked Yucatan Meal
Let Juan Carlos Cab, one of the region’s best home cooks, show you the Yucatan’s rich and unique mixture of Mayan, Mexican, Lebanese, and European flavors.

Take our Yucatan Society and Culture Workshop.
Discover what makes the Yucatan unique from the rest of Mexico and learn how to understand and fit in comfortably with the Yucatan’s relaxed and hospitable lifestyle.

Want to Find Out More or Schedule an Experience?

Contact us via Phone (from outside Mexico: 011-52) + (Merida) (999) 611-0154 or via WhatsApp or cell phone at (Merida) (999) 388-8821 or through our Contact Form

Why I am Blessed During the Coronavirus Quarantine

I am generally one of the luckiest people during the Coronavirus quarantine.

I am not stranded. I know several long-term travelers staying in a country other than their home. Many feel anxious about when and whether and if they can return home.

Long-term travelers enjoy a life of meeting new people, trying new experiences, and learning about the world first-hand. Living without new experiences is challenging, particularly if you have no control over the situation. I have also seen several posts and emails from long-term travelers experiencing problems settling into a more sedentary life.

I do not have a mortgage, rent, or car payment and have enough money to live off for a while. Moreover, I don’t have to work to live until the crisis passes over. Even though I live abroad, I received the Coronavirus tax refund from the US government. The quarantine may help me financially, and I will spend less money on food and liquor.

Many Mexicans live hand to mouth and are suffering during this time. They do not have any cushion to survive if they lose their job. Even though there are some stipends for people here, they do not have much money. I have also read that the government has had difficulties distributing them efficiently.

I do not have to go out much. Usually, I only leave the house to walk the dog or buy something at the small next-door convenience store. Once every ten days, I go to Walmart to resupply. (The dog is not mine. I am taking care of the dog for a friend in Canada).

I have air conditioning and a lovely, comfortable home. (Most days, the temperature ranges between 95 and 105 degrees Fahrenheit, 35-40 degrees Celsius). Usually, I watch TV series on Netflix, listen to podcasts, and work on my website. I order food frequently from Uber Eats, cook an occasional meal, and snack more than I should. (I will be fatter when the quarantine ends from snacking and not walking a lot).

As a whole, the Coronavirus quarantine is a minor inconvenience for me. Having a house in Mexico requires more maintenance than in the US. Right now, everything works fine. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if something goes wrong with the house. I think, if necessary, I can find someone to take care of these tasks.

All this said I would be glad to see the Coronavirus quarantine end, and I want to get back to the next chapter of my life. I also want to go outside, meet friends, and enjoy the vitality of the Merida street life again. Moreover, life in Mexico is hard enough for locals without the added stress of Coronavirus.

Want Another Perceptive on Digital Nomad Life During Coronavirus?

Check out this post from Ayla from Worldpackers.

Additional Living and Traveling in Mexico (and Living Abroad, in General) From Fifty Plus Nomad

Paul Heller has been a lifelong avid traveler and language learner and teacher, Even as a child, he told Santa Claus that he wanted to visit all the children worldwide. At seven years old, Paul wanted to retire to Mexico. At eight, he memorized the name, capital, location, and some facts about every country worldwide. At twelve, he found a book "Lonely Planet: Southeast Asia on a Shoestring" and started developing his own itinerary for a future round-the-world trip. He remained obsessed with travel; after getting a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from the University of Southern California and working as an administrator, He spent his vacations going to different countries around the globe studying language, touring, and volunteering. In 1994, he quit his job and lived in Russia as a volunteer English instructor. He discovered that he loved teaching languages. In 2004, he decided to make a living out of his travels and founded a community of people who love to travel just like him. He developed 5 three-hour classes about living and traveling long-term worldwide which he taught in over 50 adult education programs throughout the US. After his parents passed, he realized his dream of traveling around the world; cruising and touring some of the most remote places like the North Atlantic, Patagonia, and Oceania; and learning new languages (he knows Spanish, Italian, French, and Russian). Paul encourages everyone to learn foreign languages. He knows that it can be frustrating and slow but that anyone can learn a language if they put in the work and, most importantly, learning a language is well worth the time and effort because it opens up a whole new set of people, ideas, and cultures. He is currently spending the next chapter of his life in Mérida, México. He is excited about using this blog and his classes and workshops to inspire and equip fellow Fifty Plus Nomads with the language, cultural, and psychological skills necessary to be successful and happy long-term travelers and expats over 50.

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