Traveling Tips

Cost of living in Cancun

Cost of Living in Cancun, Mexico

Posted by | Cancun, Freedom, Mexico, Quality of Life, Traveling Tips | 26 Comments

While it’s covered in greater detail within our Cancun travel guide, it’s a question that comes up on a regular basis at our social media outlets as well as in emails. How much does it cost to live in Cancun?

The answer always surprises people, because many of them just don’t realize how cheap you can get by when living in Mexico, much less have access to the exact same amenities and creature comforts  you have while living in a so-called “developed” country where the costs are four and five times or beyond.

But don’t take my word for it. Read on to find out just exactly how cheap it is to live in Cancun, and how Cris and I manage to keep ourselves living the good life without spending out of our noses. All costs are as of 2016. Read More

how to find an apartment in cancun

How To Find An Apartment in Cancun

Posted by | Live Like a Local, Mexico, Negotiation, Quality of Life, Traveling Tips | 24 Comments

I’ve been calling Cancun home since September of 2010, using it as a base of operations for other travels, such as my trip to Bogota, Colombia and my explorations in and around Mexico. In that time, I’ve learned to speak Spanish reasonably fluently, I’m a permanent resident, I got married, and Cris and I have kept our living expenses under $12,000 a year. That includes groceries, Internet, utilities and, most important, our apartment rental.

How do we manage to live so affordable in a city known for Spring Break, its decadence, all-inclusive resorts and vacation rentals that regularly cost foreigners and tourist visitors $3,000 a month or more? By living like a local and knowing how to navigate the minefield. Every month I receive the same question over and over from readers: “How do I find a cheap apartment in Cancun?”  Read on for the full details. All costs are valid as of 2017. Read More

Character Sheet

My Secret Life as an Expat Gamer – Player Character Versus Non Player Character

Posted by | Blogging, Gaming, Human Evolution, Quality of Life, Traveling Tips | No Comments

Everything had been going well up until the point the guard had woken himself up by snoring and just happened to catch Terrik in mid-pick on the lock of the door across the hallway. Purely chaotic, bad luck. Until then he’d made it past the three first-level guards, a tired manservant pushing a broom and an outbound prostitute before he’d made it to the door, completely undetected. And it was inside this very room that his whole reason for breaking in existed.

A quick jab to the throat sent the guard down in a gasping heap, but not before he’d let out a startled shout. After that, there was no point in worrying about silence and stealth anymore. Terrick wasn’t going to leave empty-handed, so boot to door made the most sense.

Splinters flew, heel jerked in pain that would turn into a bruise tomorrow, a yelp from the bed as the owner clutched his sheets around his frame and fumbled in the dark for his sword. Or a crossbow. There wasn’t time to find out, and a quick scan was all that was needed to locate the book he had been hired to retrieve. Impossible to miss, tucked away behind colored glass as it were, all displayed with pride and joy.

Other heel down, shattered glass, book in hand, into pack and out the door, only to come face to face with three charging guards from the left and two more from the right. Quick glance over shoulder reveals iron bars over the window. Not an exit. Take deep breath, commence getaway.

A couple of quick lunges got him up to speed for the right, and he spun slightly on his heel as he leapt, hoping to clear the guards. They cursed and tried to catch him mid-run, fingers wide and reaching, but he was above their claws. All clear, and then the toe of his left foot impacted with the left guard’s face, sending him into a stumbled landing, crashing into the wall, knocking a painting to the floor.

Two crossbow bolts shot from the three guards firing over the two sprawling guards he had just bowled over buried into the wall next to his head with a thunderous thwump thwump. He jigged to the right as he ducked and tried to recover from the landing. The rasp of steel drawn behind him, then horn blast, then another two guards coming up the stairwell as he reached it.

No choice but to avoid, so he swung himself up over the stair railing and took the leap down to the first floor, a good ten foot drop. He was ready for the impact, remembering it from earlier, crouching low to absorb and rolling forward into a somersault directly in front of the guard on the right hand side of the front door, both he and his fellow guard on the left in mid-turn as they heard his tumbled landing. A leg sweep for the one on the right, then as the one on the left reaches for his collar and swings a blade he ducks under the steel and half-stumbles, half-falls out onto the stairs of the front entry.

Cold night, torch light, shadowed burrows stretch out before him. The night is his element, and it’s time to disappear. He sprints for the nearest building with a first-story access and quickly scales its walls even as the shouts ring out behind him, “There, on the roof!” No worries. Six rooftops later and he’s slowed his pace to a casual run, springing from roof edge to roof edge as he makes his way back into the heart of the downtown district.

Time to get paid.

Being The Player Character

Terrik is what is known as a Player Character in the gaming world. He has something that sets him apart from the rest of humanity: PC Status.

PC Status is the defining skill that sets you apart from the rest of the masses. You are more than just ordinary, and you are much more than average. Rather than rolling a bunch of 8s and 10s and only a couple of 12s during your character creation, you got 14s, 16s and maybe an 18 or so.

You were smarter, prettier, stronger, faster, more skilled at something, but in some way or another PC status is what sets you apart from the rest of the meat suits. It’s what makes the difference between Bill Gates and anyone else who was born in the same year, lived in the same area and went to the same schools. It’s that special something.

It has nothing to do with luck. PC Status is what sets a Hero apart from the serfs. He’s the one who isn’t afraid to pick up the sword, to rob the castle, to brave the spider-infested dungeons of Kranthagol because deep within the lair lies the Sword of Thalius and the Bow of Bethar.

A Hero braves the cold, the heat, the sprawls, the dumps, the dungeons, the sewers, the mountains and the sea to achieve his or her goal. They inspire others to go along with them, leading through strength, bravery, wit, genius and beyond, based upon what their primary PC Status character trait is.

Someone with PC status makes their mark on the world and is remembered after they are gone. They are the Masters of their own Universe. They aren’t afraid to go out into the cold and the dark with nothing more than a torch and a sword or spell, because they’ve handled challenges like this before. It’s just one more step on the evolution to perfection, the learning experiences that shape us into the Heroes that Player Characters were born to be.

In the world of Terrik, he is the Player Character and the fumbling, bumbling guards are the Non Player Characters.

Player Character

Life Skills

I’m a long-time D&D fan. Up until the point I left the U.S. at the end of 2007, it had been as much a part of my life as MMORPGs and video games had been. The 12+ years I was living on my own up until that point had been an accumulation of all those roleplaying experiences. Which in mind lead to some of the most critical thinking anyone will ever achieve as a result of continually brainstorming and finding new ways around challenges through group interaction with a dedicated team of like-minded thinkers and artists.

I’m a firm believer that gaming leads to life skills. You’ve seen it in the other Secret Life of an Expat Gamer entries. Just as I was running 15 to 25 man crews for the construction business back in the day, I was also running teams of 30 to 40 players through raids and dungeons for six years, leading the guild to two different top 10 lists in my time as a hardcore gamer (EQ2, Vanguard: Saga of Heroes). Management. Team-building. Teamwork. Leadership.

Puzzle-solving as you come up against dungeon traps and in-game quests require critical, out-of-the-box thinking. You can’t just pass the buck to someone else when you are playing a video game and walking your character through the depths of a dungeon or in the middle of a quest. The decision rests on your shoulders, and you and you alone are the only one who will gain the glory and credit if you pull it off. Or you’ll die trying.

Non Player Characters aren’t born with innate PC Status, but they can earn it. Just as in the games there are often tomes you can find after achieving lengthy quests or overcoming challenging odds that lead to stat increases, or earn more experience points as you go along to enhance your abilities as you see fit, in life there are many things which lead to experience that can in turn be traded in for enhanced skill in a certain area.

A person who wants to paint, for example, not simply dabbling in it in their spare time, but choosing instead to spend four to six hours a day, every day, for four years working on their craft, building and doing it for their own betterment as well as to get good at it. Studying under a master, serving a mentorship, spending day upon day, hour after hour, on enhancing that one specific skill. The reward is an enhancement of that attribute after hard work and persistence. It might take you 10 levels (10 years), but eventual you always enhance your status through long hours of study…and that’s no different than reality.

Being The Hero

Being a Player Character is hard work. You don’t get to be a peon following someone else’s lead. Rather, you are the leader. The one people follow. You have the power, while others only dream about it. You have the freedom, while others only look on and wish. While the stable boy sweeps stalls and shovels horse shit, dreaming of winning the hand of the princess in marriage, you are out there, sword in hand, slitting the throat of the beast that was set to eat said princess, a night of steamy passion ahead as she sinks into your arms, not his.

You take the risks others are afraid to. You push yourself further, working longer hours, pursuing your passion with all your strength and dedication. Where others spend 10 mninutes a day focusing their time, you spend five hours. Training. Preparation. Becoming the best you can possibly be.

Giant spiders, dragons, the dark recesses of the Earth, glory, destiny and the phat lewts belong to you and those who are brave enough and skilled enough to come along for the ride. You are the Hero, the one the bards and storytellers will sing and write about for centuries to come. Your time…is now. 

Are you a Player Character? What are you doing to enhance your skills? Haven’t broken out of the NPC mold yet? Have questions or comments? Leave them below or shoot them to me in an email and I’ll get back to you ASAP!

This blog post was inspired by Luck Is Just the Spark for Business Giants.

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Immigration Line

Local Fixers and You – Tips for Full-Time Travel

Posted by | Live Like a Local, Mexico, Quality of Life, Traveling Tips | 2 Comments

While those of us who are traveling for a living often speak the language of the countries we are visiting, it’s not always a guarantee that where you end up will be somewhere where you can actually communicate fluently. And although you might only be on the ground a week or two, or maybe even as long as a few months on a passport stay, once you start to get into long-term immersion travel there are a variety of bureaucratic processes that can bog you down if you don’t speak the local lingo. Or, even in the case of those of us who speak the language, sometimes you just don’t want to be bothered with the hassle of doing paperwork when you can find someone else to do it for you.

Things like getting your residency paperwork filed with the local immigration office. Or getting papers notarized and translated. Or dealing with lawyers for a property purchase/sale. Every country does things differently, and as most of us have found out over the years, sometimes the only downside to living in a developing country is the bureaucracy.

Such as looking at the immigration website for your country and downloading the required papers, filling them out and then going to the local immigration office and talking to the individual at the information desk only to find out that the papers on the website aren’t up to date and you need to fill out these papers instead and supply copies of these two pages of your passport along with a translated copy of this document and copies of these bank statements.

So you take the next day to follow the instructions, come back to the office only to find another employee working…who tells you that you didn’t actually need that copy there but actually this copy here and you need two more copies of that document and this one has to be notarized but only after it has been translated and you have to be back between the hours of two and four in the afternoon only there’s a line halfway around the block to try and get it when you return so you say screw it and come back the next day and submit all your paperwork, finally, and they tell you to check the website in two weeks for an update but when you do nothing updates and you wait and you wait and five weeks later you finally decide to go to the office to find out what’s up only to find out that your paperwork has been there the entire time but no one ever entered it into the website to let you know to come pick it up, but before you can pick it up they have changed the laws and now you need these other documents filled out and notarized and…

Having done my own visa paperwork in three countries now (Bulgaria, Colombia and Mexico), I can tell you from first-hand experience that the hassle — even if it’s only once a year — can be enough to drive a person mad. In Bulgaria, for example, I went through the residency visa process three times, and every year it was completely different…and I had to spend three to five days jumping through hoops that would change on a daily basis depending on who was working. It’s literally the only thing I dislike about living in developing countries: the lack of a streamlined filing system.

Which is where local fixers come into play.

Taking One For The Team

Think of a local fixer as a temporary personal assistant. They are going to do all the little things that you don’t want to be hassled with. Like running around to the notary and the translator and the lawyer and the copy shop and the immigration office for files and copies and forms. They speak the local language and can thus communicate on a far greater level than yourself (even if you do happen to speak fluently; they are native speakers after all), but there’s something else that a local fixer has which is greater than their communication skills: Local know-how.

They know the way things work. They know who to talk to, how to grease the wheels, how to talk to the right people to get the desired result. They have built up connections with lawyers, immigration officials, bankers, notaries and beyond, which gives them a streamlined way of doing things that just isn’t available to you, even if you (like myself) happen to live in a city and speak the language reasonably well. They are often friends with the people working behind the counter at the offices and have built up a rapport with them over the years, which means your paperwork gets pushed to the front of the line rather than lingering away, lost in some bin.

But most importantly, you don’t have to waste your time doing the little things. Instead, you simply show up a couple of times, put your signature on some paperwork, pay the fixer his fee and go on about your business. Time = money, after all, and by using your time to be more productive and work on your income, you can pay a local fixer their minimal fee and let them handle the paperwork for you.

Above and Beyond

Local fixers are also often the difference between living as an expat in a specific city and being denied the right to live there and forced to leave if you have overstayed your passport stay or your visa. For the most part they are people working on the right side of the law helping to “fix” bureaucratic issues for non-native speakers of the host country language. They either work on commission, tips or referral fees (such as in the case of fixers for local immigration lawyers who get a kickback from the lawyer after they bring in a new client, who is you, the digital nomad and/or expat who needs help).

Contrary to what some people might think, fixers are not working illegally…for the most part. They do exist on both sides of the fence. However, if you do things by the book you will be working with the legal ones, the ones who are simply helping you navigate the minefield that is dealing with your visa in Japanese when you only speak English, for example.

Fixers can also take care of some shadier types of activities (disclaimer: I do not personally recommend these methods, merely mention them for your reading), such as working with a legitimate fixer to help you grease the local wheels with bribes and tips. This involves things such as paying off local officials so you don’t have to leave a country while your visa is processing or your status is changing (such as in Bulgaria). Or it could involve overstaying your visa while in a country like Russia and then having a local fixer bribe the local officials and help you navigate the loopholes to get your visa renewed and take care of your accidental hiccup.

There’s a lot of different ways fixers can help you above and beyond just visa issues. They are also extremely common in the journalism industry, as well as the travel documentary industry, helping people nail down their film and gear permits as well as access to press passes and the like. You can read more about them  and how to utilize them in your travels within The Expat Guidebook itself, but in the meantime you can watch our YouTube video on the subject as well.

This is an expanded version of a post originally written for The Expat Guidebook blog.

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.

The Expat GuidebookGet Your Copy Today!

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Market 23, Cancun

How To Save More than $5,000 A Year On Groceries While Living Abroad

Posted by | Live Like a Local, Quality of Life, Traveling Tips | 2 Comments

For those of you who are regular readers, the lowered costs of living in another country is a familiar topic. For those of you who are new to the scene, this might be something you aren’t aware of simply because you’ve never been informed of just how much money you can save by living abroad. But when you start spending more time in developing countries, the amount of money you can put back into your pocket is staggering in its scope.

Such as picking up produce at local markets as well as saving your grocery shopping for market days when you can pick up produce and fruits for a fraction of their normal cost…which means you can walk away with savings that are worth hundreds of dollars per month and thousands of dollars per year.

In the accompanying video you’ll see me give you a basic breakdown of the type of savings I enjoy by shopping at the local level while living abroad as an expat. While the average grocery bill for an American is $6,500 per year (according to the Department of Labor as reported by TLC ), I spend a mere $1,000 per year in comparison. That’s $5,500 savings per year, and yet I’m eating the exact same foods that I was when I was living in Colorado…it’s just that I’m purchasing things in a country where I’m not charged an arm and a leg for simple groceries.

Think about that for a minute. Let it sink in. I know it’s hard to imagine, because you (readers in The West/U.S./U.K.) are so used to paying such obscenely high prices for your groceries that it must sound like an impossibility to be able to save over five thousand dollars on your annual grocery bill. And remember, these numbers are from the U.S. government itself…and they only represent the grocery bill for a single, average, median-cost-of-living American. The grocery bill for couples double…and when you add kids into the equation you can see that number quadruple or beyond. (Assuming average, middle-class Americans. Remember that these numbers are the “average”; some people spend more, some people spend less, through coupons and smart shopping).

Now think about this: if the average household (family of four) is spending $6,500 per year, per adult, that’s $13,000 per year. Throw a couple of kids into the mix and you can assume a minimum of $20,000 per year on food alone. Now, compare that to living in a place like Mexico City or Cancun, where two adults can eat like kings on a mere $2,000 a year. Add a couple of kids into the mix and you are talking about around $4,000 a year.

That’s basic, grade-school math that anyone can see. $20,000 a year versus $4,000 a year for a family of four. For two adults it’s $2,000 per year versus $13,000 per year. For a single individual, it’s $1,000 per year versus $6,500 per year. The savings by living like a local are literally thousands of dollars a year back into your pocket.

Don’t believe me? Just check out the following video for the most basic type of evidence. I’m only going into tomatoes, mangos, papayas and onions…when you utilize local prices and market days you can get all of your produce for pennies (I mention broccoli in the video; you can find it as little as 6 pesos per kilo), you can buy whole chickens at the store for a mere one dollar (stocking up on 10 or 15 of them and sticking them in your freezer), you can go to the local fish market and get fresh fish for pennies per kilo…it’s absolutely mind-boggling the amount of money you can save by living like a local in foreign countries around the world.

Forget only saving pennies or a few dollars here and there by clipping coupons. You can save tens of thousands of dollars on your family’s grocery bill simply by choosing to live in another country and utilize the basic principles of living like a local.

And it’s not just Mexico where you find these local markets. While farmer’s markets might be a rarity in the U.S., and to a lesser degree in the U.K. and other Western countries where the almighty Supermarket Chains rule the world with their barcodes and government-affiliated buildings, in most developing countries they are the preferred way to shop. When I was living in Bulgaria it was the Women’s Market in Sofia, and the same while I was living in Bogota, Colombia. And visiting Greece, Italy, Turkey, Romania, Serbia, Macedonia and the variety of other countries in Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean.

And let’s not even start with the gimmick that is “organic” food and produce. When you are shopping at the small, local markets you are getting farm-fresh produce and whole foods that are organic and pure simply by the very nature of the fact that the small farmers can’t afford to use the expensive pesticides and “government approved” fertilizes, so they are growing things as they have always been grown: in the dirt, using nothing more than sweat combined with Mother Nature’s guidance.

For example, in a recent trip to Chable, Mexico, the locals all have their own gardens as well as their own chickens, pigs and cattle. They grow their own produce and feed their pigs, chickens and cattle the same food they themselves are eating and growing in their gardens…and they aren’t using pesticides or chemicals. They can’t afford them! Instead, they are growing things straight out of the ground and feeding their animals the scraps from the table…which in turn ensures their meat is pure and free from antibiotics and other chemicals that mass-produced food contains.

We watched a neighbor kill three chickens for dinner, and when we picked up 15 fish for the family to eat for dinner in the evening it was freshly caught from the Usumacinta River. The neighbors chickens were running around the yard behind the house in the morning. The tamales we had for breakfast were made with fresh-ground corn pulled straight from the merchant’s back yard. Our cucumbers and lettuce and tomatoes for the salad were all farm-fresh and grown by the neighbors and sold at the local market. And for pennies in comparison to what you would pay in the U.S. and other Western countries for “organic” produce.

*The numbers presented represent total food costs per year, not merely groceries. The DOL statistics also take into consideration eating out. Those families or individuals who prepare their own meals rather than eating out spend considerably less. Also bear in mind that this post is written from a U.S. perspective. Those people already living here in Mexico or other countries where the cost of food is at the local level already know this fact!

If you’d like more information on how to get the most out of your hard-earned dollars or euros while living abroad, The Expat Guidebook details how I went from $3,000 a month in bills to less than $650 a month and how I live like a king in developing countries around the world. The above post is an excerpt from a larger section detailing local markets and negotiation for lowered costs of living.

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.

The Expat GuidebookGet Your Copy Today!

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.

Beyond Borders - The Social RevolutionGet Your Copy Today!