¨I am not giving up. I am just starting over.
My Strange Journey During Coronavirus From Nomad to Expat
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 to make but I am convinced it was the best option given my situation now. That said, I do not expect to live in Merida full-time for the rest of my life. 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 people, including myself.
I made the decision to settle down for awhile for the following reasons:
Why I Made the Strange Journey During Coronavirus From Nomad to 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. 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 just spontaneously decide to eat 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 with the freedom to travel in a bit of comfort, style, and do whatever I wanted without thinking too hard about the budget. (Though I did spend around eight months in volunteer/learning experiences. Most of these experiences were inexpensive and featured modest accommodations).
I never wanted to travel in real luxury for a long, though. Quickly, I realized that I could usually travel in a way that was comfortable for me if I spent around $100 a day for accommodation and $60-80 for food. (Though about ten to twenty-day 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 expensive areas like Copenhagen, I could meet my minimum comfort standard- a centrally located (though small) hotel room with my own 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 did not enjoy it much.
By 2020, between traveling this way for five years and buying and rehabbing my house in Merida, I did not have much money left. 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 began to realize that it would be both 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 I was traveling nine months a year from April 2011 to November 2015, I liked having someplace to come home to three months a year- Montreal. I enjoyed spending some time with my girlfriend and being part of her life for a while each year.
Starting in 2015, I began to realize that I was prepared to spend more time at a home base. 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 a lot of 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. I began to search around and found Merida does offer enough cultural and social opportunities to fulfill this need. Though I do 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.
Living in Merida Part-Time Did Not Work For Me
I bought my house in Merida after spending five years, mostly on the road because I:
- Felt that, in the long run, I would run out of money if I kept on travel; 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, it was not as easy to adjust to life in Merida as I expected. I missed moving all the time. It was hard to settle down in one place.
I made this situation worse by contracting 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 was finished, I always felt a bit trapped in Merida. I didn’t like waiting for workers to show up or work to end. I could never get enough information to plan anything. Sometimes workers finished their tasks incredibly quickly.
Other times, things would come to a 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.
I dealt with my frustrations with the house by leaving frequently and never took the time to make friends and become part of the community. Once I felt comfortable with someone, I left. 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 am More Comfortable Staying in One Place While Starting My New Business
I have found it hard to work on my business while I was in travel mode. Unlike most bloggers, I don’t write articles with titles like the ten best romantic restaurants in Brooklyn. (These type of articles work well with Google algorithms). While there is nothing wrong with these articles, they are not for me to write. I miss details and am more interested in more significant travel topics.
When I tried to write these type of articles, I become so bogged down in details that I no longer enjoy traveling. It felt like I was working. I missed the opportunity just to observe and learn about a place without a given agenda.
My skills best come out when I have to think about and analyze my experiences. I can look at what I’ve learned, what I think others should learn, and what is not easy to find elsewhere. I do not have any meaningful or exciting insights without reflection.
Instead, I began to realize that I want to create a community through my website and teach this community what I have learned from my life as a Fifty-Plus Nomad. Some of the lessons are practical, like how to find a suitable flight or use frequent flyer miles. (Most of these lessons are based on things I wish I had known when I started to travel full time in 2011.) Others are a personal reflection about the realities and benefits of life on the road.
Very few of my posts involve doing a lot of research on-site to find out details of traveling in a particular place in the world. Instead, they depend on observing my thoughts and documenting the things I learned from my life on the road.
In addition, the type of writing and research that 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 concentrate on finding more creative marketing strategies than most other bloggers. Unfortunately, marketing does not come easy for me. I find it most comfortable to focus on things I don’t like when I am in one place for a while. Being in one place has also allowed me the time to find people who help me deal with my marketing frustrations and also give me useful feedback.
However, I am willing to put the time into marketing because I also don’t want to be the same as everyone. 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. It is difficult for me to settle down in one place.
Since high school, I have moved 20 times and spent nearly eleven years on the road. (Though most moves were within California, I also have lived in four foreign countries as well as 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 it was time 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. I worried about missing the excitement of constantly discovering new people, places, and experiences.
Nonetheless, I put a lot of time and effort to begin to create 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 much more about local businesses, clubs, and activities. I made some new good friends. (One of whom 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 during the next year). Unfortunately, the two-month tour around Mexico had a cloud over it for most of the time. In my third week, I was the victim of an express kidnapping (detailed in a previous post). 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.. that I planned to do.
Yet, the kidnapping did have one surprisingly positive effect. It also made me really want to get to Merida to go back to creating this new chapter of my life. I felt like I had finally really come to accept and be happy about, just settling down for a while. In fact, if my house had not been rented, I would have come home almost two weeks early. Something I would never have considered in the past!
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.
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 that I would just go out less often. Then, things began to change. First, some restaurants began to close. Then all the cultural venues around the City closed.
About two weeks after my self imposed quarantine, the government imposed a stay at home policy. Nowadays, restaurants only deliver, and most stores, except convenience stores and supermarkets, are closed. (No more than one person can enter a store. Even then, most stores are not open to anyone over the age of 60). No alcohol was available for sale from during most of the last five months. You cannot leave the house without a mask.
So far, there have been around 2000 deaths in the Yucatan from Coronavirus. 90% of these have occurred in the past three months. Mexico has the third-highest number of deaths of any country in the world, and many experts maintain that the real death rate may be several times the number reported by the government.
How Coronavirus Makes Me Feel
Some days I am fine staying at home. Others, I felt a strong sense of alienation and sadness. It took me almost a month to understand that I feel a bit cheated. Once I decided to settle down, I couldn’t be involved in the community, etc. I even miss some of the daily joys of living here, like going out for drinks and dinner with friends, sightseeing, etc.
My days feel a bit 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 just to brush my teeth and take a shower.
Even going outside is distressing. The streets are usually full of life. If I went out any night of the week before the quarantine, I could find dozens of places to sit down and have a drink or a meal and enjoy musicians. Even at midnight, many people were out even on weekdays enjoying the company of their family and friends.
The virus will not last forever. I will be able to start the next stage as envisioned. Even though, we may have to take another quarantine if the viruses return until someone finds a vaccine.
I am even beginning to wonder if my website will have much use in the post Coronavirus world. The travel industry may not come back and people may be hesitant to leave their home country. Yet, it could also make people more willing to travel or live in another country for an extended period. Only time will tell. In the meantime, I will create content that is useful for the community.
I am beginning to see that the quarantine may be useful 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 little 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 that I will be glad to see done with the house). My hesitations, sadness about not living such a nomadic life, etc. won’t be much on my mind.
Why I am Blessed During the Quarantine
That said, I am generally a lucky person during the quarantine.
I am not stranded. I know several Fifty-Plus Nomads who are staying in a country other than their home. Many feel anxious about when and whether and if they can return home.
I have also seen several posts and emails from Fifty Plus Nomads that are experiencing problems settling into a more sedentary life. Nomads 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
Moreover, I don’t have to work to live until the crisis passes over. I do not have a mortgage, rent, or car payment and have enough money to live off for a while. The quarantine may help me financially. I will spend less money on food and liquor. I also received the Coronavirus tax refund from the US government even though I live abroad.
A lot of 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 are not 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 now, 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 both from snacking and from not walking a lot).
As a whole, the quarantine is a small 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 will be glad to see the Coronavirus end. I want to get back to the next chapter of my life. I also just 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.