Live Like a Local

Budget Travel

Hotels, Hostels and Apartments – Tips for Full-Time Travel

Posted by | Live Like a Local, Passive Income, Quality of Life, Social Media, Traveling Tips | 2 Comments

Lodging is a fairly emotive topic in the travel industry. It’s one of the primary wars waged between bloggers who continually battle each other with blog posts and books aimed at selling “the cheapest way to travel”. Whether it’s “How to Travel on $50 Per Day” or “How To Live on $40 Per Day” or “How to Travel Around The World on $25 Per Day”, there’s a continual stream of same/same information pouring down the pipelines. And while some of this information is good, a lot of it is basic, common sense knowledge that anyone with half a brain can figure out.

The funny thing is that you don’t need a budget to travel. You simply need to know how to prioritize, live frugally, and most importantly, have a passive income coming in from your blog, an online venture or some other source. But before we cover those topics, let’s talk a little bit about the most controversial and expensive aspect of traveling: accommodations.

The Face-Off

Hotels, hostels or apartments: which ones are the best for your travels? It’s a tricky question to answer, one that is more tied to frugal living and personal comfort levels than anything else. And contrary to popular belief it doesn’t revolve around spending X dollars per day.

Getting the best deal on accommodations relies more upon simple survival techniques than budgeting. Fluency in the local language is step one. Step two is simply learning how to live frugally and get the most out of your money. Step three is all about comfort levels and style of travel.

Hotels are best if you are traveling without a budget, spending just a few days per destination and you cherish your privacy as well as constant hot water, a stable Internet connection and Western amenities. Most hotels also have a generator in case the power goes down, as well as air conditioning, gym, breakfasts and often pools/a Jacuzzi.

Passive income travelers can afford hotels, as can those travel bloggers who are traveling on the sponsored dime. Backpackers, not so much.

Which leads to the second style of accommodation. Hostels. Some of them are nice, most of them aren’t. Hot water is a maybe. Stable Internet is a maybe. Private accommodations are a maybe. Having your reservation forgotten or simply not in the book when you show up is quite possibly a given. Bed bugs, questionable sheets, parties late at night, neighbors having drunken hostel sex at four a.m., a constant buzz of activity and people coming and going at all hours is probably a given. The prices are usually half of what a hotel charges, but the discount comes at a price in the sense that you don’t really have the stability and comfort of hotels.

Hostels are great for backpackers and budget travelers who are trying to get the most out of a limited time frame with a limited amount of money.

Then we have apartments and long-term accommodations. These are my favorite. Constant hot water, steady Internet, cable TV, your own private bed, private bathroom, lock on the door, space for storage, a home away from home, and prices that blow hostels and hotels both out of the water. While you might spend $50 a day living out of hotel rooms and $30 a day living out of hostels, once you make the transition to immersion travel (aka slow travel) and discover long-term apartment/condo/house rentals, you’ll never go back.

For the sake of transparency, and to jump on the wagon of “spending X per day”, I spend, on average, around $21 per day for my life of full-time travel. I’ve gone lower, and I’ve gone higher. This is my average. I rarely use hostels or hotels: instead, I am a long-term apartment renter. Note: this $21 a day covers my entire cost of living, not just the accommodations.

If we are talking purely the rental fees, I usually pay around $400 USD per month for fully-furnished, fully-kitted out accommodations, with all utilities included. That’s around $13 USD per day in terms of how much I spend for accommodations, Internet and amenities/creature comforts. Food and entertainment are the extras that push me up to $21 a day. 

Cristina, Marginal Boundaries

Which One Is Best?

That depends entirely upon the individual. I’ve used them all in various situations. For example, on an overnight stay in London with a connecting flight from Denver, Colorado to Sofia, Bulgaria, I stayed at the airport hotel because I needed something close to the airport with stable Internet and comfort so I could get a good night’s sleep and plenty of work done.

When I stayed in Veliko Tarnovo for five days I went with a bed-and-breakfast hotel, and then when I was in Varna I stayed at a large house with the group I was with. When I took a weekend trip to Villa de Leyva while living in Bogota, Colombia I stayed at the Colombian Highlands Hostel, one of the best hostels I’ve ever clocked in at in my travels around the world, and just about the only one I’d actually recommend after all these years on the road.

Before I left Cancun, Mexico for Bogota, I stayed at a local hostel for the night before, since I had moved out of my apartment the day prior and only needed a place to crash for about five hours before my flight. And when I arrived in Bogota I stayed at a hostel for three days while I went and looked at apartments before choosing one for my time there. When I got back to Cancun I stayed at the Xbalamque Hotel in Centro for a week while looking for a new apartment. It just depends on what I need at any given time.

As a general rule, if I’m not in “work mode” and I’m either traveling as a backpacker without my laptop or I’m in mid-transition mode upon arrival or leaving a country, I’ll kick it at a hostel, as long as I can ensure it’s a good hostel. Nothing pisses me off more than cold water showers and shitty Internet.

Sorry, but I make a living online, and if a place can’t provide me with a solid, stable and fast Internet when I need it, then it’s a place I won’t recommend, nor will I stick around. As far as the water goes…well, we all have our little things that we “need”, and for me that’s one of them.

Then again, there are times when I’ve been on the road without my laptop or the need to stay connected or worry about creature comforts (camping, weekend trekking), and for those trips I’m fine if the Internet connection is crap or nonexistent. But funky sheets and constant noise/bustle/strangers are a huge turn-off to me, so I tend not to do hostels if I’m going to be focusing on getting work done, or if I need to ensure a solid night’s rest.

On the flip side, hostels are a great place to meet fellow travelers, which makes them ideal if you are looking to network with others and meet some of the groovy people of the world. You don’t get that in hotels or apartments since it’s more private accommodations. So there’s that sacrifice to consider.

Pros and Cons

Hotels

Pros: Free, solid WiFi, breakfast usually included, gym and pool, room service, TV, fluffy towels, soft pillows and concierge are all a great luxury when it comes to staying in hotels. There’s usually not a per-person charge, and you have peace and tranquility due to the fact that it’s private accommodations.

Cons: Most hotels lack a kitchen for you to prepare your own food, as well as other living space to move around, which means things can feel a bit claustrophobic. If the hotel does offer food or a restaurant, it’s usually on the pricier side. Hotels are also the most expensive in terms of accommodations  but the level of privacy and luxury is unparalleled.

Hostels

Pros: Hostels are typically central with friendly staff who are bi-lingual and generally helpful and you’re more likely to mix and mingle with other travelers because hostels provide that social setting that some people crave. You can also hang out with the bohemian crowd if you are into pot smoking and general revelry. Some provide kitchens, which means you can cook your own food while staying, and others have simple breakfasts or dinners included, usually served in a social setting so you are once again rubbing shoulders with your traveling companions of the world. Hostels are more affordable than hotels, and most people who are traveling on a budget find hostels to be the best fit.

Cons: Sometimes you really do get what you pay for and trying to save a few dollars comes back to bite you in the ass. All the horror stories that you’ve ever heard about regarding staying in hostels, I’ve come across. Coed bathrooms with shit-stained walls and clogged toilets. Lack of privacy. Hostel-mates who don’t clean up after themselves in the kitchen. Dorm rooms where people snore or copulate all through the night, even though it’s in a public setting. Loud, drunken, singles looking for a good time. Unreliable WiFi. Cold water showers. Or worse yet, lack of water completely.

Apartments

Pros: Home away from home. You have regular neighbors, you can live like a local, shop at the local markets, cook your own food rather than spend money on eating out, and best of all you have your own place that is completely private in a secure setting where you can store your gear. Set up a base of operations in a local environment and then explore from there for a few months, allowing you to fully uncover every hidden nook and cranny of a destination.

Or as I put it, read the whole novel as opposed to only skim-reading as a backpacker. Many apartments come with 24/7 security as well as maid service. Fully furnished, and fully kitted out, with all utilities included. Cheaper than hostels, and more cozy than hotels.

Cons: Some of the best rates are often apartments on the outskirts of town, not necessarily in centro. You don’t tend to have access to a gym or a pool unless you get lucky. Finding a furnished apartment in the centro/downtown sections of cities can be expensive. You generally have to sign a contract/lease, which means staying in one place for a set amount of time. Security deposit + first month’s rent required, which sometimes means forking over up to $1,000 USD to move in, a problem for many poverty-stricken backpackers.

How I Roll

I am about 95% long-term apartment/condo rentals, and have been for the entire time I’ve been full-time traveling (since January of 2008). I tend to stay in one location for a minimum of three months before I move on, which means I sign leases, pay deposits and have a local base of operations to explore the areas where I live.

If you’ve been following along for a long time, you’ve seen the escapades; if you are new, I’m currently based out of Cancun, Mexico and you can see some of the places we’ve been exploring in March and April of 2013, including Chichen Itza and the Cenote Ik Kil, the ruins of Palenque as well as the famous El Panchan eco-hotel, the city of San Cristobal de Las Casas, the waterfall of Misol Ha and the cascades at Agua Azul, the quiet coastal town of Campeche, the beaches of Akumal, the beaches and coast of Isla Mujeres, and just last weekend the hidden Maya ruins and off-the-beaten-path Cascadas Reformas in Tabasco, Mexico.

I don’t always travel by hostel and hotel…but when I do, I’m very picky about my accommodations, not merely from a price standpoint, but mostly because I’ve got gear to worry about, and I’m a stickler for a good night’s sleep as well as privacy.

Destination Freedom Group

While cold water showers and bad Internet can put me off, I find drunken, classless hostel travelers far more off-putting, and I would rather spend money on a hotel than deal with rabble-rousers at 3 a.m. when I’m trying to get a good night’s sleep so I can go ruin-hiking or city-exploring the following day.

As far as exploring a destination goes, I don’t travel short-term as a backpacker. While I do travel light, I prefer to have a base of operations where I can stash my laptop + gear and then go from there on weekend or week-long treks into the surrounding country, fully immersing myself in the environment. If I enjoy a country enough to stick around beyond the 3-month passport stay, I get a residency visa and continue exploring.

I also don’t have a travel budget because I travel on a mixture of passive and active income streams, which means even if I’m out and about in the jungle for a week, I still have income coming in from my various websites and online projects. While Marginal Boundaries is my primary source of income, I prefer to follow the “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” route, and thus rely on multiple income streams. Free Agent Which is also the main determining factor when you are traveling. While budget travelers are those who have a job back home in an office working under someone else’s thumb, and thus a limited time frame and a limited amount of money to travel with, thus limiting them to hostels and budget travel, passive income allows you to pursue a life of full-time immersion travel, going where the wind takes you and staying for as long as it takes for you to explore a destination to its fullest.

Sponsored travel is also another way to roll. I personally haven’t to-date, but I’m considering it for some upcoming plans we have for Spring of 2014. The limitation there is that you don’t always have the flexibility to see the sights you want to see because the businesses who are sponsoring you want you to cover specific elements, which means you are writing on their dime, and thus spending your time as they decide. Granted, you can negotiate this on a per-case basis, and while you can get some nice digs out of sponsored travel, it does restrict you in some forms.

You can also look into house-sitting if you don’t mind being restricted to specific locals, but the problem I find with most house-sitting gigs is that the vast majority (and by vast majority I mean 90% or more) of house-sitting gigs require you to also mind a pet…or two, or three, or four…along with the garden, the house and all its possessions, which means you are limited in how often  you can get out of the house. But if you don’t mind being strapped down to a single location, house sitting is a great gig for blogging/working and saving money while living for basically free.

At the end of the day, I still choose to use long-term apartment rentals as I travel. I have enhanced flexibility, it perfectly suits my location independent lifestyle, it’s the most affordable way to roll, and I can sleep easy every night knowing that I don’t have to deal with drunken idiots, semen-stained sheets, tourist-oriented tariffs, shit-stained walls and clogged toilets, bad Internet and issues with hot water.

In short…I get to travel in comfort and affordability, all at the same time.

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Destination Freedom by Marginal Boundaries

A Day Out – Isla Mujeres, Mexico

Posted by | Live Like a Local, Mexico, Quality of Life, Traveling Tips | 4 Comments

If you’ve ever spent any length of time in Cancun, Mexico, you’ve probably heard of “la isla”, as the locals call it. What they are referring to is the island known as Isla Mujeres, or the Island of Women. It’s a small enough little place, with only around 15,000 inhabitants and clocking in at a mere 7 kilometres (4.3 mi) long and 650 metres (2,130 ft) wide. It’s the perfect day trip given the beauty of the beaches and the relative smallness of the island, which makes it a popular destination with both locals and tourists looking to escape the cluster-fudge that are The Hotel Zone beaches.

Over the years, it’s become one of our favorite hangouts, and Cris and I usually spend at least one weekend per month out on the island. While it can be a bit crowded in the downtown area and Playa Norte (north beach) during the high season due to the amount of tourists, they usually head back to the mainland and Hotel Zone around 5 p.m. in the afternoon, which means if you want to have a quiet island dinner you just wait for the tourists to leave and then hang out with the locals and catch a later ferry back.

Speaking of which, can only get there via ferry, which takes 20 minutes or so from the mainland at Puerto Juarez (or Punta Sam if you are commercial transport or a local with a car), or from the ferry in the Hotel Zone. Only locals are allowed to drive vehicles on the island, which means the ferries are only bringing people over, although the Punta Sam car ferry will transport commercial vehicles with supplies for the island. As of 2013 prices are are 140 pesos round-trip (70 pesos there, and 70 back, or 10-12 dollars depending on the exchange rate), although if you are a resident (of the island) you can get a discount on those prices.

Destination Freedom, Isla Mujeres Ferry

On April 7th, we decided to take our Destination Freedom group out to the island for a day of relaxation and fun away from the headquarters to enjoy the beauty of The Riviera Maya. They’ve been here hard at work since the start of March, and we try and get them out of the house a few times per month to enjoy the area. It’s not all hard work! There’s plenty of fun and games as well, although we do run them pretty ragged in terms of 7-8 hours a day of classes and training to get their Spanish and social media skills going and their brands built up, so these little outings are a well-deserved reward.

After an early breakfast, we hit the ferry where we met up with my buddy Hans from the Pro Web Group and his girlfriend, who is a Russian expat here working for a travel agency alongside other Russians. He runs PSD2HTMLPros, among other sites, and specializes in website development. He’s helped with a few classes during our program and covers some of the basics of development for WordPress sites to help our members tweak their websites on their own for the little things that go into the day-to-day basics of running a WordPress blog.

From there, it was a quick and uneventful ride out to the island where we disembarked and made our way to a local restaurant for the second breakfast, to satisfy the hobbit in all of us. Cris and I shared some French toast and coffee, while Dave and Sophie just had some fruit and tea, and Hans + his girlfriend Anna enjoyed their first breakfast of the day. After that, it was time to get started on finding a golf cart rental agency.

Normally, when it’s high season, you can negotiate a better rate on rentals (as low as 400 pesos for the day down from 500 for the day, which is the normal price), but they were being sticklers on the rates because we are in the middle of low season. Prior to breakfast Anna was able to get them down to 480 per cart, but after breakfast she was able to get them down to 475 for two. Not a huge savings; basically we got $20 USD off for the rental of two golf carts for the day. Note: you have to speak Spanish to get a discount, and it does depend on the time of the year + other factors. I tried negotiating with the first two rental agencies we came across and they wouldn’t budge. Anna has connections in the hotel industry since she’s a travel agent, and she did some well-timed name-dropping to get them to drop the rates a little. 

Destination Freedom, Isla Mujeres

The day started off a bit funky with partly cloudy skies and some spitting rain/drizzle, but there was only a 10% chance of rain overall for the day, so Cris and I weren’t worried about it. Sophie, on the other hand, doesn’t like to get wet, and we got a kick out of her cruising along in the passenger seat of the golf cart Hans was driving while holding her umbrella up over her face so she didn’t get any drizzle splatter. Go ahead…feel free and giggle. I know we did!

Destination Freedom, Isla Mujeres

However, by the time we did some cruising around and checked out some of the island property tucked away in the back ends of the south-western section of the island, the clouds had broken and the sun was shining through. When we arrived at the turtle rescue farm it was a bright, sunny day.

Funniest thing? Check out the little guy who is hanging out towards the middle of the shot, soaking up the sun with his back feet splayed out and up in the air. Cris and I couldn’t figure out if he was planking, doing Pilates, or enjoying some morning Yoga. Regardless, he was enjoying himself completely!

Turtle Farm, Isla Mujeres

After we finished up at the turtle farm, it was time to cruise around to the south side of the island. While the beaches on the north side are great for soaking in the sun, the island’s best snorkeling, as well as the best views, can only be found on the south end. This is also where the vast majority of the locals live, considering the northern section is the “touristy” part of town where you can find Centro, Playa Norte and all the restaurants + hotels + rental agencies. Granted, there’s a lot of rental properties to find along the outskirts of the island, but the more private the retreat, the more you can expect to pay.

As a general rule, if you want to live on Isla Mujeres and you are looking for a middle-class lifestyle, you can expect to pay roughly what you would in Centro of Cancun. Between $200 to $400 a month for a single individual if you live under the radar, and $600 to $800 if you need extras like constant air conditioning (not really needed with the ocean breeze on a daily basis) and you drink a lot of beer/wine/alcohol.

Once you get around to the south side of the island you get into those turquoise blue waters that Cancun is so famous for. There’s a park here called Parque Garrafon, which is a national park set up by the government. You can buy a day pass which gives you access to the snorkeling and kayaking areas, plus the beach and all the lounge chairs, the restaurant, locker rooms, zipline and more. While it’s easy to spend an entire day just at the park enjoying all the amenities, we were here to explore the entire island with our group, so we only stopped by for some photos.

Cristina, Marginal Boundaries

After that, we jetted down to Punta Sur, or the South Point, which is where the lone Maya ruin is located, as well as the lighthouse and the sprawling vista out over the Mexican Caribbean. There’s a restaurant, some tourist shops, a walking trail you can explore, as well as plenty of coastline to enjoy and take photos from. Including a ledge I almost stepped off when they were taking the below shot. Not a long drop, but it would have hurt a little bit =P

Tim and Cristina

After that, we cruised back to Playa Norte and hit up one of the bars on the beach for a late lunch, beers and some kick-back-and-relax time before we had to take the golf carts back to the rental agency at 4:30. Decent food, cold beers, bit touristy in their prices but that’s what you get when you want to kick it beach-side  They had people’s forgotten swimwear and undies up on the ceiling, throwbacks to drunken days and nights out on the beach. Thankfully we didn’t see any skid-marks. And yes, that’s the WiFi code for the restaurant.

Bra Bar, Playa Norte, Isla Mujeres

We were pretty wiped out after that point, having been on the island from 10 a.m., so after we turned in our golf carts we headed back to the ferry for the 6 p.m. departure and made our way back to the headquarters for a good night’s sleep before returning to classes the next Monday morning.

To follow along with our adventures with the Destination Freedom Spring of 2013 event, don’t forget to check out the photo galleries at our Google+ and Facebook pages, plus you can check the videos of our recent adventure trip with Snail Adventures over at our YouTube channel. Plus, don’t forget that registration is open for the Summer retreat (July, August and September of 2013) where we’ll be doing the whole thing all over again with a new round of globally-conscious and unplugged adventurers who are ready to take their lives to the next level.  

Don’t forget to sign up for our free newsletter for several-times-a-week, your-eyes-only travel and entrepreneur tips, plus receive a complimentary copy of our 85-page starter book on location independence and living abroad, 30 Ways in 30 Days.

With over 1,500 copies sold, our flagship 568-page eBook is what started it all. Learn how to travel the world like I do: without a budget, with no plans, funded completely by your website and online ventures.

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Unplug from The System, cure yourself of The Greedy Bastard Syndrome, tap into your universal potential and create your own reality. Build a brand, travel the world and realize your cosmic consciousness.

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Isla Mujeres, Mexico

Living off the grid in Cancun, Mexico

Posted by | Live Like a Local, Mexico, Quality of Life, Traveling Tips | 7 Comments

One of my favorite aspects of living in Cancun, Mexico is when I have the opportunity to dispel some of the myths around the city. The first of which is that people assume all of Cancun is The Hotel Zone, the all-inclusive strip of beach-front property separated from the mainland by a lagoon and only accessible by two bridges. It’s a haven of resorts, dance clubs, bars and restaurants, all of which are over-priced and full of obese, drunk, consumption-addicted tourists from all around the world. What many people don’t realize is that there is an entire city on the mainland that is completely separate from the HZ, and it marches to the beat of a very different drum.

Cancun proper is a thriving, bustling, very Mexican hub of activity, where a smattering of the locals speak English but the vast majority are simply living life as all Mexicans live: in Spanish, simply and without the bustle and hum of the tourist section that the governments of the U.S. and Mexico both promote.

One of the primary reasons I came here was the simple fact that Cancun is smack-dab in the heart of the Riviera Maya, while at the same time boasting an international airport and a global hub of expats. The combination of easy in-and-out transportation, along with the fact this is the hub for one of the region’s busiest ADO bus terminals for routes in and around the rest of Mexico, make this the perfect hub for travelers who are here to spend time immersing themselves in the Mexican culture.

On top of that…Cancun is cheap. Or at least it’s cheap if you want to live like a local, speak Spanish and get off the beaten path. If you want to live the typical tourist lifestyle here, it’s very easy to spend 2-3k per month in living expenses, but if you are looking for middle of the road accommodations, comfortable living, cheap healthcare, high speed Internet and a modern infrastructure, you can have everything you need as a working professional for around $600 a month (individual; couples are around $800 a month; families dependent on how many).

We have two rooms available for rent in Cancun for those of you in the market for something quick and easy.

  1. View Room One Here

  2. View Room Two Here

Mirador, Cancun

I’ve covered the costs and etc. in other posts, such as Cancun – Beyond the Hotel Zone, as well as in our immersion travel guide for the city, but there’s more to it than just the cost of living. I’m a resident, here on a visa, which means I get the same bonuses as Mexicans. I have access to the universal healthcare system (costs me about $300 per year, and that gets me unlimited, free prescription medication along with free healthcare, although there are some limitations, such as no orthopedic surgeries for 2 years to make sure I’m not just going to buy in and abuse the system), and I can get into the national parks and museums for free on Sundays alongside the nationals…which means I can visit places like Chichen Itza just like the locals do.

But what if you aren’t here as a resident, but just as a temporary visitor? Even then, the costs are cheap. Especially as it relates to medical tourism. The perfect example is Dave from Nomadic Retiree. He was one of our retreat members down here for the Spring 2013 Destination Freedom brand boot camp for March, April and May. He’s getting a lot of dental work done currently. Root canal, some crowns, cavity work and beyond. We were tallying up the costs the other day and he took his quote from the United States (between $14,000 and $15,000 depending on which dentists he talked to) and compared it what he’s spending here in Mexico…basically he’s saving around $12,000 USD by the time everything is said and done…and the work he’s getting done is more professional than anything he’s ever received in the United States.

He’s going to be writing a blog series on it, so you can follow along at his website for the nitty gritty details, but the bottom line is that even if you aren’t here as a resident, things are cheap. If he was on the universal healthcare system it would be even cheaper, as some of the procedures would be covered by the healthcare, but he’s only down here as a visitor, not a resident, and you only have access to the system once you have an official visa and go pay your healthcare taxes/fees.

Playa Tortugas

Speaking the language also opens a lot of doors in Cancun. First of all, the taxi drivers won’t try and give you the gringo rates if you speak the lingo. Secondly, the bus drivers won’t try and short change you. Thirdly, the respect level gets cranked up to 11 when you are meeting the Mexicans on their own turf and speaking their language as opposed to being the arrogant tourist who demands their menu in English and berates the staff in the serving industry for not speaking English. I’ve already covered some of this in The Importance of Language Immersion for Expats, but the basic rule of thumb is this: when you give respect, you get respect back. It’s the age-old rule of reaping what you sow. Act like an arrogant twit, and you’ll be treated accordingly.

Knowing Spanish also gives you access to local rates on accommodations, as well as the ability to negotiate, which is one of the major bonuses of living in a Latin country: everything is negotiable. For example, my buddy DJ Vishnu negotiated a year’s worth of “free” rent at a hotel where he was staying simply by offering to manage their social media campaign for 2 hours a day and build them a new website. Which freed him up to work solely on his meditation videos and create more awesome music for his fans rather than stress about bringing in income from another source. Had he only spoken English, that door would have been completely closed to him.

There’s also an untapped market in terms of web development, social media development and beyond here on the local level, which means there are almost literally an unlimited number of job opportunities for the entrepreneurial sort who wants to come down here and put their nose to the grindstone. It’s the reason we are teaching Spanish language in our brand boot camps, so that our graduates can go on and find work not merely in English, but also in Spanish, both internationally and locally.

Destination Freedom by Marginal Boundaries

Cancun has a fairly negative reputation due to the Hotel Zone and its endless array of all-inclusive resorts and Spring Breakers, but the reality is that the city itself is completely separate. On the mainland we have quiet suburbs filled with parks and schools, Mexican barrios with 3 and 4 bedroom townhouses, a thriving middle class, the typical street food, plenty of mom-and-pop restaurants and businesses, cheap living and a completely laid-back, Bohemian way of life.

The buses run regularly, taxis are always available, there’s grocery stores every few blocks, you can find an Oxxo or Extra on every street corner, violent crimes are almost nonexistent, and it’s nothing but middle class Mexican families raising their children and living their lives no different than any other suburbia on Planet Earth. And if you get away from the Hotel Zone into the outer barrios on the mainland you’ll never see a gringo or an overweight tourist or find a strip club or hotel or any American restaurants. In fact, you’ll probably be one of the only foreigners that the locals have seen outside of when they go to the Hotel Zone or into the heart of downtown Centro.

And contrary to popular belief they don’t want to rob you, rape you, kidnap you or cut your head off. Cancun has a 2 in 100,000 murder rate compared to Washington D.C.’s 32 in 100,000 (as of 2010), so as far as safety goes, you are safer here than you are in the capitol of the U.S. Instead, the Mexican people are warm, inviting, friendly and ready to kick back a beer or smoke a joint with just about anyone. This is called the “land of tomorrow” for a reason: if you give a Mexican a reason to take a break, relax and enjoy life, they take it. End of story. And once you get a little Spanish under your belt you’ll quickly find that everyone, everywhere, is always looking to strike up a conversation and kick back a cold one, no matter the color of your skin or what country you come from.

On top of all that, you have access to the entire Riviera Maya, from places such as Isla Mujeres to the secluded coves at Akumal, from Isla Blanca to Cenote Ik Kil, from Playa del Carmen to Tulum to Cozumel and beyond. This really is a magical place to be living, and I couldn’t wish for a better place to call home! Don’t forget to give us a shout if you are going to be in the area as we are always up for beers and fun, and if you have questions about anything related to long-term living in the city, whether it’s apartment rentals or beyond, let us know!

Tim and Cristina

If you want to rough it on your own, head on over to our Cancun travel page for boots-on-the-ground information, or pick up our best-selling Cancun travel guide (on sale since 2011!)

cancun travel guide

Don’t forget to check our Cancun page for dozens of videos from our time here, as well as other Cancun-specific posts below.
Cost of Living in Cancun, Mexico
Modern Mexico: The Real Story
Cancun, Mexico – Beyond The Hotel Zone
Living Off The Grid in Cancun, Mexico
Market 23 in Cancun
Market 28 in Cancun
Gourmet Italian in Cancun – Assaggiare
Tacos in Cancun – Tacos Rigo
Tacos in Cancun – Los Aguachiles
Beaches in Cancun – Playa Tortuga
Beaches in Cancun – Puerto Morelos
Tips

Tipping Etiquette Around The World

Posted by | Live Like a Local, Quality of Life, Traveling Tips | 11 Comments

Growing up in the United States, I was brought up with the custom of tipping a minimum of 15% any time we went out to eat at a restaurant other than a fast food joint. And while I always resonated with the opening scene from Reservoir Dogs, it wasn’t until I began traveling that the world opened up to me and I discovered that mandatory tipping was largely only practiced in The West. And it definitely wasn’t until I traveled to Eastern Europe and The Mediterranean extensively – eventually living in Bulgaria for over two and a half years – that I learned the vast majority of the developed world does not tip “just because”, and promptly became a staunch “tip when it’s for excellent service, not simply because they are doing the job their employer paid them to do” Mr. Pink type of individual. Read More

Social Media

Travel blogging is about more than numbers

Posted by | Live Like a Local, Passive Income, Quality of Life, Social Media, Traveling Tips | 22 Comments

The following post was written in mid-2012. It was meant to be posted around October, but I held off because I felt it would push too many buttons, offend too many of my peers…many of whose blogs I no longer follow because of the issues laid out below. I shared it with a few friends, such as Ryan from Jets Like Taxis, and I broke it down into a much longer chapter for Beyond Borders – The Social Revolution discussing the importance of “being everywhere” and how numbers don’t mean squat, but it wasn’t until I came across a recent post by Nora from The Professional Hobo discussing the evolution of travel blogging that I felt inspired to go ahead and push this live to the blog.

So. You want to be a travel blogger. You have aspirations of traveling the world, taking pictures of your travels, writing stories about them, and making money from your time invested.

In the old days, you would have had to jump through hoops and find your way past the gatekeepers of the publishing industry to make it into the print market to find readers. But in the modern era the availability of global technology, crowdfunding, social media, passive income, video chat and live streaming, the old way of doing things have thankfully gone the way of the dodo. Now, anyone with access to the Internet and a story to tell can find an audience for their adventures, without needing to prostrate themselves before someone.

That’s an important element in the evolution of the species. Equality. Sharing. Freedom of information and access to an equal level of opportunities. Working together to achieve common goals without superiority  We are moving closer and closer to a global consciousness and as technology advances we are only becoming more and more powerful at making personal connections across great distances, without the need for someone standing in the way giving us permission or denying us.

In other words, it’s incredibly easy to make a living writing about traveling. It is not a difficult job, especially if you love traveling, exploring and having adventures. I was long an Indiana Jones fan as a child, and I always wanted to be an archaeologist, and I think everyone has their own version of inspiration. Now, with the ability to travel around the world and see the sights of old and document them for others’ enjoyment…well, it’s pretty darn close to what I always wanted to do growing up.

One of the first steps to blogging for a living and using social media as a platform for passive income generation is creating an engaging environment for your blog, with depth of information that goes above and beyond and an atmosphere of equality that benefits everyone equally, as opposed to The Greedy Bastard Syndrome.The karmic principles of sharing equally with everyone builds trust, which eventually leads to profit. It’s also important, as far as travel blogging is concerned, to talk about the culture, the people and the places, and portray them from a realistic viewpoint…not merely from the consumption-based adventure travel point of view.

Unfortunately, too often in the modern era of travel blogging there is a penchant by many “travel bloggers” to pride themselves on one thing more than anything else: numbers.

The Lie of Numbers

In browsing many travel blogger websites over the past few years as I’ve developed my own brand and following of fellow expats and digital nomads, one trend has begun to emerge which in my mind completely detracts from what travel blogging is about in the first place: an obsession with Google Analytics and “top blog” contests.

While it’s certainly important from a marketing standpoint when you are looking to organize a press trip to another country while traveling on someone else’s dime to promote a hotel, airline, country, or when lining up advertising and negotiating publicity deals, do your readers really need to know how many views per month your website gets, how many followers you have, what your page rank in Google is or how many times you’ve been featured in X, Y or Z publication?

Bragging rights are all well and good, and we all want to be proud of our achievements as travelers and writers, but I sometimes feel as though there is an obsession with chest-beating that completely detracts from what travel blogs are really about: showcasing the various elements of a country, its people, the culture and the adventure of travel itself. Unfortunately, these days it seems that the majority of travel bloggers are more interested in promoting their page rank, Analytics numbers and number of followers, ranking on Klout, current press trip and how successful their Kickstarter campaign is rather than actually providing any real, valuable information to their readers. The same readers who, by the way, got them to the point where they could land press trips in the first place.

Travel blogging is about more than chest-thumping. It’s our responsibility as writers, photographers and journalists to provide an insiders’ view on what it means to travel, live and explore another country, city or culture. The primary focus of our writing should be about the stories of the people and the culture of a region and how to integrate with and experience that culture…not an advertising billboard for a hotel chain or a restaurant catering to the tourist crowd.

Often when you go to a travel blogger’s website you are spammed with a pop-up from the moment you get to the website talking about “look at how many followers I have on Facebook” or “We get 50,000 visitors per month; why aren’t you one of them?” or “Check us out, because we are a PR5 website and that means we are important!” The actual information is left by the wayside in favor of promoting the numbers as a way to achieve funding, sponsors, selling advertising space and driving sales of products related to the press trips the bloggers in question are taking.

What average readers don’t know is that these numbers don’t actually mean anything. First of all, you can buy views on places like Fiverr, which means while a person might have 20,000 followers on Facebook or Twitter…you have no idea of knowing how many of those followers are actually active, real, live people, and how many are just purchased accounts to beef up a person’s profile to make it appear as though they are actually super important. They might actually only have 500 followers who are actively engaged in their content on a regular basis while the rest are just fluff for appearance’s sake. In short, numbers are never the best nor are they the only way to judge a blog.

With that being said, a certain amount of numbers for visibility can be helpful in establishing credibility and helping to build trust. It’s the domino effect: people are more likely to read along and listen to what you have to say if they know that others are doing the same. And there’s nothing wrong with a little subtle promotion of it, such as a counter on your website or even a separate page (not a popup) or section in your About page which details your personal statistics, away from the front page and the actual content and instead in the background, where it deserves to be.

Not to mention, bloggers with smaller, more loyal audiences can trump the bigger blogs every day of the week, at least in terms of interaction. Traffic is not the only determining factor in whether or not your blog is reaching your targeted demographic; it’s also important to look at the level of interaction, sales percentages, click-throughs and beyond. A perfect example of what I’m talking about can be found at the official TBEX Blog, with a guest post written by William Bakker of Think! Social Media, talking about the 9 Criteria for Getting Invited on a Travel Blog Trip.

Specifically, there are three things in this particular article which are of vital importance to you as a blogger, even if you have nothing to do with the travel industry: your actual “reach” compared to the size of your audience, your actual authority within your niche, and your connection to other movers and shakers of your industry/niche.

While reach is an important metric, it is not as important as you might think – at least, not in terms of your power to influence readers. A blogger who has a smaller audience might very well have a higher influence than someone who has ten times the followers. For example, a blogger with only 2,000 Twitter followers may be of more value than one with 50,000 if those 2,000 people are passionate, engaged and more likely to be influenced by the person they follow.

Tools like Compete.comQuantcast and Alexa allow a far more realistic view of a blogger’s reach (as well as for analyzing your own data) than merely using Analytics alone, because remember, since people can buy Facebook likes, Twitter followers and beyond, raw numbers on a page don’t necessarily mean squat.

The other thing to think about is the fact that the blog itself is only one small aspect of your overall social media outreach. Consider this: while Marginal Boundaries the website has X views per day, I’m replicating that over numerous different places (YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon, Google+, etc.), which means overall traffic is far larger than what Google Analytics alone is providing me with data on…and overall interactivity must be taken into account.

The website is only 1/6th of my overall traffic…and many of my Facebook readers don’t visit the website, or my YouTube, or the G+ page, and so forth, but only ever interact with my videos or buy products on Amazon…which means Analytics is a finite tool that only tracks a very small portion of my overall reach with the brand. I have users on social media outlets who only ever interact with me there and only ever buy products through the social media platforms…they never reach the actual website itself.

The Bottom Line

I personally feel that as a writer and travel blogger I have a responsibility to provide information about culture and travel, not a life of consumption and certainly not about how many hits per month my website gets or how many followers I have or the breakfast I’m eating from the balcony of X hotel or the bedroom with the Egyptian cotton sheets and the Jacuzzi in the bathroom. It almost seems to me that the generation of income bloggers are more interested in getting the next free press trip to X destination rather than providing actual, useful and pertinent information regarding a culture.

Instead of seeing stories about the people or the regions of a place, many travel blogs are full of sponsored blog posts on restaurants and hotels. Instead of learning about a culture or its people or the destination itself, we are forced to read yet another review of a hotel balcony view, the poolside bar, the restaurant, or one of the tourist hotspots promoted by the government/agency who paid for the trip.

Or worst…a blog post that is nothing more than an Instagram collage of food pictures or shots of adventure activities, such as zip-lining, cave tours, snorkeling, scuba diving, skiing, kayaking and beyond. There’s nothing of actual value to the article/post other than visual appeal. Sure, it’s fun to look at, and the photos certainly convey a sense of adventure and excitement, but where is the cultural appreciation? Where is the actual story about the people, the culture, the country and its ins and outs? 

Maybe it’s just me, but I’m finding myself reading fewer and fewer blogs these days because it seems that as the industry of travel blogging matures the real stories of travel are being left behind in favor of “whatever someone is paying me to write about”. And while it’s true that we all need to earn a nut to keep food on our table and fund our travels, it seems to me that some bloggers are less about actually exploring, writing about and sharing a destination or helping others with actionable advise on how to travel full time, and more about simply scoring a free trip. And as a result the real stories of culture and people and adventure and excitement are left behind in favor of virtual bragging and leveraging big-name brands who are cutting bloggers a paycheck.

I don’t want to read about your page rank. I don’t care if you have 50 followers or 50,000 followers. I could give two shits about the view from your balcony or the pool or the free mojitos or the suite with its king-sized bed. What matters to me is if you are providing me with valuable, usable content.

I want to know about traveling, not about your press kits and your Analytics numbers. I want to hear your stories about what it’s like to eat fried caterpillars in some African backwater, I want to know about the kid from Indonesia who went from being a gutter rat to a full-time traveler by learning how to design websites and make a living online. I want to read about adventures in the hidden caverns and canyons and cities and villages of a country, not about a sponsored trip to Stonehenge or the pyramids in Egypt where all you talk about is how X company or government flew you in while you promote the hotels and restaurants where you’ve racked up free meals as a result of your trip.

Tell me a story about culture. Show me the living conditions of the local people. I want to learn about the off-the-beaten path places. I want to know what it means to go to a country and live there. I want to read about immersion in a culture, how to live there and be part of the people, make local connections and do more than simply talk about numbers.

While I understand that for some travel bloggers their gig is scoring as much free stuff as possible, it has soured my view of the travel blogging industry as a whole. Perhaps it’s a personal thing, but I am much more interested in people who are actually exploring cultures and people and helping make the world a better place through exploration and sharing the Human Experience rather than read about yet another travel blogger beating their chest regarding how many free trips they took this year or who is sponsoring their next hotel stay.

When advertising trumps your content, you are no longer a travel writer; you are a puppet on a string. 

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