Traveling Tips

Beyond the Hotel Zone of Cancun

Cancun, Mexico – Beyond The Hotel Zone

Posted by | Live Like a Local, Mexico, Quality of Life, Traveling Tips | 17 Comments

Cancun, Mexico. To the vast majority of U.S. travelers, it is a tropical paradise more well-known than Cabo or Mazatlan or even Puerto Vallerta. Movie stars, Spring Break parties, MTV’s Real World, close proximity to Tulum, the surrounding Maya ruins, beach clubs, turquoise waters and white sandy beaches stretching as far as the eye can see coupled with more 5-star resorts than Las Vegas, Nevada make this one of the ultimate all-inclusive beach destinations on the planet. And Mexico promotes it as such, with the vast majority of its tourist income coming from this singular city. Read More

Chalga Girls in Bulgaria

Chalga – The Seedy Underbelly of Bulgaria

Posted by | Bulgaria, Live Like a Local, Quality of Life, Traveling Tips | 5 Comments

90% softcore porn and 10% musical talent, chalga pop/folk music is empirical evidence that sex sells. Lyrically nonsensical, it is the answer to Bulgaria’s non-existent porn industry (while prostitution is completely legal in Bulgaria, pornography is not, which is why you don’t see any Bulgarian porn stars), and if you spend any time in this Balkan country than chances are you will be out with your local friends at least a couple of times a week in one of the many chalga clubs that can be found on almost every street corner in all the major cities throughout Bulgaria.

Chalga (or Чалга in Bulgarian), is the most popular form of music in Bulgaria. At it’s very core it’s nothing more than bump-and-grind clubbing music. And while salsa clubs dot the landscape across Colombia in every city you visit, chalga clubs in Bulgaria are the same way; you can’t walk more than a city block or two without running into some form of a club that is either showing the music videos on large-screen TVs or has a stage where there are nightly performances by the pop queens (and kings) of Bulgaria.

The underground culture in Bulgaria revolves around a certain social responsibility by both sexes which is played out in the music videos and chalga clubs. Men are expected to have shaved heads, bulky arms, massive chests and wear plenty of gold jewelry with unbuttoned shirts and slick, modern suits. Known as “mutra”, or “mutri” for plural, they are gangsters/mafiosos in the modern sense of the word, many of them with ties to organized crime (which still exists in Bulgaria, but for the most part will never affect the average expat or traveler, as they are only interested in politics and multi-million dollar real-estate deals and investments), although many of them simply dress that way as it’s part of the culture and it’s expected (the wannabe gangsters who just dress that way to get girls). They are the core of the male population that frequents the chalga clubs and the reason the clubs exist in the first place.

Women, on the other hand, have the same social responsibility in the club setting they have in most other parts of the world: look sexy. The men in Bulgaria like their women looking like they are ready for a three-way in a porno movie any time they leave the house. Nowhere is this more evident than in the chalga culture that makes up the underbelly of Bulgarian society. And, for the most part, it’s a tried-and-true system that’s been going on for countless millenia. After all, sex sells, and if you got it, flaunt it. How else is a girl going to get free drinks, paid-for vacations and plush, 5-star accommodations around the world with a rich man, and what better way for a well-endowed (financially) man to find amiable companionship?

Where the Latinos love their salsa and their tango, Bulgarians love their chalga. But it’s certainly not the lyrics that bring people into the chalga clubs, considering most of the them are complete nonsense and revolve around drunk people dancing around shouting “opa!” at the top of their lungs or “oi oi oi oi” or things like “take off your sailor’s shirt and I’ll show you my blue thong” or “wet blowjob” repeated over and over. It all comes down to a pound of flesh. Sex sells, and women with massive tits dancing around in skimpy clothing makes for an entertaining social outing…not to mention ample amounts (pun intended) of eye candy that brings cash-flush mutri who are eager to spend their money on plenty of T&A. It’s strip-club basics 101, and in a country where porn is illegal this is as close as the vast majority of people can get.

But it’s not just straight men that chalga targets. Although not as popular as the female variety, there are also several male performers. The most famous of these is Azis, a gypsy who transformed himself into one of the top performers in Bulgaria. He is very openly gay, and you can’t walk more than a few city blocks in Sofia without seeing a billboard with him in one of his various states of undress…usually surrounded by plenty of half-naked, well-built men. So to say that chalga is sexist and somehow mistreats or targets women would be a farce; chalga is about one thing, and one thing only: making money. Man or woman, it doesn’t matter. Sex sells. Period. There’s no exploitation of women going on here. It’s all about the cash, and both sexes are manipulating the basic, carnal nature of humanity to their advantage.

A more international and mainstream variant that audiences might be popular with is Inna, a Romanian pop princess who is currently enjoying international appeal (she was just here in Cancun a couple of months back) in clubs around the world. While her lyrics are far more mainstream than the typical nonsensical chalga tunes of the Balkan region, the style of music is still the same and it just goes to show you that even though chalga-style music might be more prevalent in Eastern Europe, it has a global appeal in the form of scantily-clad women prancing around on stage or in a video. It’s an age-old formula that has worked for centuries; from the ancient days of Pompei when penis symbols and naked women were carved into the street stones to mark the way to the nearest whorehouse, to the modern era of YouTube, sex sells.

If you plan on spending any time in Bulgaria or Eastern Europe you will become intimately familiar with the chalga scene if you opt for the immersion travel route. Sure, you can play the tourist and only visit the touristy places such as the Rhodope Mountains or the Black Sea coastal resorts, but if you want to get to the core of who Bulgarians really are and really live like a local…you’ll be spending plenty of time with your Bulgarian friends in one of the many chalga clubs that are spread out across the country through all the major cities.


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Isla Mujeres, Mexico

Modern Mexico: The Real Story

Posted by | Live Like a Local, Mexico, Quality of Life, Traveling Tips | 12 Comments

If you turn on the news from anywhere in the United States you’ll only ever hear one story about Mexico: that it’s a dangerous place full of thieving Mexicans, dangerous criminals, bloodthirsty cartels and random acts of violence. You’ll only ever see Mexico mentioned when it’s in relation to some horrific cartel-on-cartel battle.

I am constantly fielding emails from people asking me about the violence in Mexico. Is it safe? Can I bring my family there? Am I going to be kidnapped? Are the cartels going to kill me?

Washington D.C. has a 31.4 in 100,000 murder rate as of 2010. That means 31.4 people in 100,000 are dying from a violent crime or murder. Cancun, Mexico, on the other hand, only has a 2 in 100,000 rate. Mexico City is a 9, which is exactly the same as New York City. On the international scale that governments use to define “dangerous”, the vast majority of Mexican cities and the country as a whole are as safe (if not safer than) the United States.

Ciudad de Juarez, the center of the cartel action, had a rate of 250 in 100,000 as of 2010. Juarez is without a doubt a dangerous place. It is one city.

Washington D.C. is without a doubt a dangerous place when compared to others. It is one city.

Neither of these cities define the rest of their respective countries.

Just because Washington D.C. has a high murder rate doesn’t make the rest of the United States a dangerous place to live or travel. And just because Juarez and the surrounding area has a high murder rate doesn’t make the rest of Mexico a dangerous place to live or travel.

The modern Mexico is a country that is slowly gaining traction and moving into the developed world. The economy is getting better, although the wages still aren’t what they could be. Thankfully, the Internet has allowed many educated Mexicans the opportunity to find work online via both English and Spanish channels, and that freedom and extra money is starting to be seen as young adults and professionals are beginning to fill the general population.

There is high speed Internet in every corner of the country. Massive plazas dot the landscape throughout all the major cities. Every major international car dealership is here. There are numerous international chain stores and restaurants. You can buy an iPad or computer anywhere. And just as there are back-wood valleys and places where rednecks and hillbillies live in places like Arkansas and South Carolina in the United States, there are plenty of undeveloped sections of the country where the Mexican equivalent lives. Simply, and without much in the way of modern amenities.

The modern Mexico is a country of great opportunity for the expat. The cost of living is extremely low, yet you can have every modern creature comfort you want, in every city. You can go from living in the mountains in places like San Cristobal or Oaxaca, or you can live on the beach in a place like Playa del Carmen or Mazitlan. Mexico City is the exact same as New York City in terms of crime rates, size, global banking opportunities, international corporation headquarters, universities, living conditions and beyond…but it only costs $12,000 to $15,000 a year to live a comfortable middle-class lifestyle compared to the $50,000 a year you need to live in NYC.

Modern Mexico is not a place to be feared. The chances of you having something happen to you are the same as they would be living and traveling around the United States. People fire guns all the time in L.A. Gangs exist. Just as they do in NYC. And Mexico City. You could point your finger at any given city or country and find something that’s “not safe” about it. The key is knowing how much is propaganda and how much is actual truth.

Mazatlan

The unfortunate reality is that most Americans have grown up thinking of Mexicans in only one light: they are the garbage-truck drivers, the landscapers and yard workers, the street cleaners, janitors, farm hands and maids of the United States. They do all the jobs that the white, entitled U.S. citizens don’t want to do for themselves because “the pay isn’t enough” or because it’s a low-skill, manual labor job. The news in the United States only ever talks about Mexicans as they are involved in violent crime or cartels and drugs. As a result, the average U.S. citizen thinks that Mexico is a den of thieves, a country of starving natives who are willing to do anything for a dollar, who are born-and-bred criminals and manual laborers. They don’t know any better because they’ve been raised on a drip-feed of just how dangerous South of the Border is. It’s ignorance by simple lack of education, no different than a starving child in Africa who’s never learned how to do simple mathematics.

Yes, Jaurez and the areas north where the cartels are warring is certainly dangerous, but not because you will be singled out. It’s cartel-on-cartel violence, and the only risk would be ending up as collateral damage if you were in the wrong place at the wrong time. But for the ordinary, average expat choosing to head to Mazatlan for a year to live with the wife and kids or for the modern poet looking to hole up in a mountain retreat in Chiapas for six months to get some writing done…Mexico is an absolutely safe and modern place to live, with everything you could ever need with a cost of living that’s very appealing and a friendly, passionate people who are full of the Latin zest for life and fiestas.

Plus, let’s face it…everyone loves mota, tequila, tacos, quesadillas, arrachera and ceviche :)

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Nessebar, Bulgaria

The benefits of immersion travel

Posted by | culture, Live Like a Local, Quality of Life, Traveling Tips | No Comments

A few weeks back I did a YouTube video on the subject (see bottom of the page for the embedded version for those of you who aren’t subscribed to the channel), but I wanted to cover the topic a little more in-depth in a blog post/newsletter so that you can understand more than what I rambled on about in the vid.

I promote immersion travel; that’s the basis of my immersion guides sold here through Marginal Boundaries, as well as in The Expat Guidebook. But there’s much more to it than simply the early retirement, absolute freedom and debt-free living. It’s also about The Human Experience. It’s mentioned in all of the guides but I haven’t ever written a blog post about what I mean by that…and exactly why I feel that immersion travel is superior to all other forms.

We are all of us One People living on One Planet. We all have the same blood flowing in our veins. Black, white, Asian, Canadian, African, homosexual, heterosexual, man, woman, child…it doesn’t matter. And one of the foremost reasons that those of us who do this for a living choose to do so…is because we get to connect with people on a personal level versus only ever exploring the world through the television, Internet, magazines and books. There’s something lost in the transition from human connection to media format, and while you can appreciate from afar you can never really know the people in another country…until you go there.

Something I think is lost in the backpacker lifestyle is cultural immersion. Flitting about, hostel to hostel, making brief stops in destinations to snap some photos for the blog, taste some new food, see some new sites, explore a new part of the world, experience a new adventure and so on and so forth, never really qualifies as knowing a destination. Experiencing, yes…at least from a traveler’s viewpoint, but you can never truly know a destination by only spending a few days, a few weeks or even just a few short months in it. If you want to experience the real culture you have to spend time immersing yourself in the depths of everything that makes that place so unique.

Forget the cost of living benefits. Forget the fact that for you, the universal healthcare plan allows you to save tens of thousands. Forget the relaxed pace of life and the sense of adventure and excitement of exploring a new place. Forget the international investment opportunities, lower tax rates and secondary passports/residencies. Immersion travel is also about connecting with the people. It’s about going native, learning how to understand the cultural sense of humor, the religion, the lifestyle and the people. 

The average backpacker only ever samples the wares, taking little bites of each cultural dish as they pass but never really dipping into any one portion more than the others and moving on to the next buffet once they are finished sampling the wares from the first one. It’s a lifestyle of adventure and exploration, no doubt, and it’s one that suits some people very well, but it’s not the type of travel that allows you to really sink your teeth into a dish.

Immersion travelers, on the other hand, are eating large portions of each dish, choosing to stay at one buffet and stuff themselves on as many helpings they can fit onto their plate, moving on from the appetizers to the main courses, the deserts, aperitifs and beyond. The thought of the next buffet is the last thing on their mind; they are intent on exploring the diversity at this table as fully and as completely as they can before they worry about the next one.

It’s an unfortunate aspect of backpacking and being nomadic; you never really get to explore the depths of a country. I may have spent days and weeks traveling to Macedonia while I was living in Bulgaria, and I may have gone to Greece and Italy multiple times, but I never really experienced those cultures because I was only ever passing through, spending a few nights here, a few nights there, taking pictures, hanging out with people at hostels, kicking back beers with fellow nomads and enjoying myself…but never really getting to know the people behind the place I was exploring.

Through immersion, however, one gains the ability to connect, to explore the full potential of The Human Experience, to become one with the culture you are living in. You spend weeks that turn into months that turn into a year and then into two years and before you know it you’ve set up a new home…which can either become your permanent base of operations or you can use it as one of many different hubs as you work your way around the globe, setting up bank accounts and secondary passports and citizenships for your investment opportunities and medical tourism. But by spending time there, by living on the ground, speaking the native tongue, making local friends, dating local people, shopping at the local markets day in and day out, getting to know the names of the street vendors and the shop owners and the discount days and the best subway routes and which hours are worst for traffic…only through immersion do you actually transition beyond just-passing-through. 

And only then can you truly know a destination and its people. A couple of nights of bar-hopping with locals while you are staying at the local hostel will never achieve the same level of connectivity that weekends of bar-hopping and hiking and movies and actual friendships and relationships can bring, and without that friendship, without those connections, you will never really experience the true nature of a city or a country. Instead, you are merely passing through, sampling the wares as you go.


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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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Me and Friends Backpacking in Colombia

Backpacking Versus Living Abroad as an Expat

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

 

Backpacking is traveling around the world living the life of a vagabond. It’s surviving in hostels and scrounging up change to pay for street food and whatever local produce you can pick up on the cheap. It’s about sleeping in places without AC, without heat, without hot water, without modern amenities and without creature comforts…sometimes with little creepy, crawly friends who have six or more legs. It’s backpacks and free grass and dreadlocks and pub crawls and hostels and unshaven dudes/chics and LSD and beers and sweaty hostel sex and uncomfortable silences around sofas after a few joints have been passed around and the conversation moves into politics or religion. And while backpacking has become something of a young person’s “journey to prove themselves” before they head off to college, or a lifestyle for the international vagabond who just wants to “get away from it all”, there is a major difference between run-of-the-mill backpackers and professional expats /digital nomads.

Don’t get me wrong. The two aren’t mutually exclusive. You can be a backpacker and still be a digital nomad, but backpackers are rarely professional in the sense that they need certain creature comforts and modern amenities to keep their business rolling. And, most backpackers are rarely interested in making sure they have connectivity, health coverage, backup plans, secondary passports, international investments and establishing long-term networks for business and family reasons. Instead, they are more focused on just “exploring the moment”, even if that means no connectivity and continual hostel (no pun intended) conditions for the length of the backpacking journey.

Hostel in Villa de Levya, Colombia

Hostel in Villa de Levya, Colombia

Backpackers feel at home in hostels, preferring to make their way country to country without any long-term requirements. Professional expats are there for immersion travel, investments, secondary residencies and passports and medical tourism and cheap schools for their kids. They are there to save money, to explore a culture, to experience cultural immersion and see every little nook and cranny a place has to offer. Backpackers stay for a night, or maybe a few nights, before moving onto the next hostel in the next city or country, continually on the go.

While this is nomadic by its very nature, it lacks the structure of a long-term plan. That’s not to say you can’t have a long-term plan and be a backpacker; I’m talking in generalist terms here. Backpackers tend to be those types of people who don’t really have a plan. They are wanderers, vagabonds (not in the criminal sense) without a home, continual nomads who are drifting from place to place without any real purpose other than to “explore”. And that’s certainly one way to see the world.

Professional expats, on the other hand, are looking at long-term apartments where they can get the best bang for their buck; they are looking at how long it will take to get access to the universal healthcare plan, how long until the new passport, how long until they can open up a local bank account, where they can store gold, how they can purchase property, where they can invest and who they can make business deals with. It’s about living an upper middle class or lower upper class existence on the cheap (at least compared to U.S. standards) so that you can reap the most rewards in terms of business.

Before you set out on the road you will have to make a decision as to which type of digital nomad you are going to be: a professional or a backpacker. They both enjoy culture and adventure and travel…they just do it in two very different ways. With that being said…which type of traveler are you, or which type do you want to be when you eventually make the transition into the location independent lifestyle?

You can see the entire 187 pictures in our Villa de Levya album over at our Facebook Page. 

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!