An Amazing 3 Plus Years as a Digital Nomad
I am rapidly approaching the 3.5 year anniversary of becoming a digital nomad. In June of 2018, my wife and I loaded up our car and headed for Ajijic Mexico. If you are interested you can read the many blog posts and listen to many podcast episodes that chronicled our journey here.
I wrote the original post in February 2020 on the beautiful grounds of the Lake Chapala Society. Here I can reflect on how much I have learned and changed in becoming an expat and a digital nomad. That was before the COVID-19 pandemic had begun to have an effect.
My wife and I have now lived through the pandemic, as we say, south of the border.
Note: This post was originally published in March of 2020 and updated in October 2021.
I have often said that when you begin to work for yourself, you have to decide what you will hand off to others. As someone who is very horizontally skilled – i.e. I know how to do a lot of things – this is sometimes a challenge. When you move to a different country and away from the place you called home, this is even a bigger challenge.
Website Developer Went AWOL
Before I left Austin for Ajijic the development of the Career Pivot Community began. I did not know what I wanted and hired a friend of mine to begin the development process. The community was launched, and I made the move to Ajijic.
While I was living in Ajijic, my web developer and friend went silent. He did not respond to my emails, texts, or calls. I did not even have his home address. It was not like I could hop in my car and go find him. I started contacting friends who had relationships with him. He was divorced, so I scoured Facebook to find his relatives and children. I felt pretty helpless in finding him – and more importantly, helping him – if I could.
Several fellow board members at LaunchPad Job Club brainstormed with me and we remembered he worked part-time at a local hardware store. One of my fellow board members went to the store, finding our friend after several visits. He had gone off medications for financial/insurance reasons and was deeply depressed. As a team, we were able to get him back on track and well again.
What I learned was that relationships are even more important as a digital nomad. There are limits to what I can do. I hired a respected team of developers Standard Beagle to complete the work. I have developed a great relationship with the CEO, Cindy Brummer.
As an expat or a digital nomad, it is all about relationships!
Always Have a Contingency Plan or Plan B
I always work on having a plan B, but sometimes those contingency plans work out differently than planned.
When my wife and I moved to Ajijic, I changed our AT&T cellular plans to include Mexico. However, when you call a Mexican (52 country code) number it usually works – but not always. You might start to believe there is an evil black art that you must use to make it work 100% of the time.
When I upgraded to an iPhone 8 before we moved, I kept my iPhone 6s and unlocked it from AT&T. I bought a 4G SIMM from Telcel which is the most popular cellular carrier in Mexico. This is a very reliable cell service that I knew would work when calling from just about anywhere. This was very important as we sometimes drive from Ajijic to Laredo across Mexico, and the AT&T network goes dead in places.
I rely on my iPhone 8 to receive calls from the US. My cell phone number that I have had since the 1990s still works.
Update: I have since bought an iPhone SE to replace my iPhone 8. The iPhone 8 now is on the Telcel network and the iPhone 6s is sitting in my strongbox as a backup.
Smashing My iPhone
I hike with the Ajijic Hiking Group every Friday morning. I always kept my iPhone in a pocket so that I would be ready to take pictures. This is an exquisitely beautiful place and the vistas are incredible on these hikes.
I am also very tall (6 feet 3 inches) and very thin (180 pounds) and coordination has never been my strong point. On one Friday hike, I fell backward and landed on my butt. Unfortunately, I had my iPhone in my back pocket and it took a direct hit. The iPhone was crushed.
I had a phone call scheduled for early Saturday morning. My iPhone would power on, but that was it. After brainstorming, my plan B was to swap the SIMM from my iPhone 8 to my iPhone 6s. Over the next month, I swapped SIMMs until I was able to purchase a refurbished unlocked iPhone 8 from a local vendor. I did not miss a single phone call.
Now my iPhone stays safely secured in my backpack when I go hiking.
How Being a Digital Nomad Has Changed Me
I have worked from home or a coffee shop since 2011. In many ways, I was a digital nomad while still living in our condo in Austin, Texas. The difference now is that everything is within walking distance, and I live in what some people call paradise.
I have changed in a number of different ways which include:
- Stress Levels
Let me cover each in detail, though you will see that they overlap.
Stress Levels (Pre-pandemic)
My stress level has decreased remarkably for several reasons.
Our financial outlook is pretty darn rosy, even as we head into a recession. We are living on a third of what we did back in the United States and we are not living frugally. Career Pivot was a break-even operation last year as I transitioned out of one-on-one coaching to form the Career Pivot community membership website. In the past, this would have stressed me out. However, between the income, we receive from renting out our condo in Austin, my wife’s SSI (started late in 2019), and not having exorbitant health insurance bills, we cover most of our expenses living here.
I am also walking a lot and am back to the same weight I was when I graduated from college in 1978.
It has not always been stress-free. The first 6 months, when I was trying to navigate immigration systems, find a home to rent, and just live in a foreign country, were stressful. As I have become more comfortable with the culture and understand how to function daily, my stress levels have gone down. These daily-lifestyle tasks include things like:
- Buying groceries
- Set up banking accounts
- Paying electric bills
- Ordering propane
Stress Levels (Post-pandemic)
In July of 2021, we sold our condo in Austin for what I thought was way more than what it was worth. We have since purchased a 2 bedroom and 2.5 bathroom home in Ajijic Mexico for less than what we bought our condo for in 2009.
With no rent payment and very low cost of living my stress levels have continued to drop.
With the reduced stress levels, I am enjoying some of my best mental health in years. Depression runs throughout my family tree and I have learned to treat it with diet and exercise. Managing my diet and exercise has never been easier.
It is so easy to eat healthy in Mexico that my blood pressure is almost back to normal. I had my first full physical in many years in March of 2020. Since, I eat very little red meat, lots of fruits and vegetables, and very few packaged foods my labs were good but not great. After my physical, my physician suggested several supplements and dietary changes. Rather than immediately putting me on medications she pursued more holistic methods that …. worked. When I had my lab work done in late 2020, all of my bloodwork came in at normal levels. I am now 65 years of age and in the best health of my adult life.
In correlation with studying Spanish, my brain function and attitude are better than they have been in years.
My wife’s health has improved remarkably. All of her lab work is now back in the normal range. As the saying goes, happy wife – happy life.
With my stress levels down and my health at the best it has been in years, my mindset has shifted. When I encounter a problem, I view it as an opportunity and take on each day bright and early.
I have written about my mindset in the post Becoming an Expat Has Dramatically Changed My Mindset.
I am not the same person I was a little over 2 years ago, having been a worrier for most of my life. My efforts to reduce my stress in past years have been successful, but now nothing seems to phase me.
As someone who was always worried about money, I have learned to drop those concerns. As we move into our new home, I am hiring contractors to do things I would have done myself in the past. My motivation is to give work to the locals to pump more money into the local economy. I still love doing the hands-on plumbing and electrical work but I let go of that need to help others.
From my home in Mexico, I have been watching the craziness going on in the US with both the presidential election and the coronavirus outbreak. This latter issue is very personal as I was in China in the epicenter of the SARS outbreak in November of 2002. The Chinese government said nothing, even as I knew many people who became sick while I was there. It was not until months later that the Chinese government told us what had happened.
I am blessed to have chosen not to have any cable or satellite television service – i.e. no cable news of any kind! As a news junkie, this has proven to be WONDERFUL.
Our lives changed during the pandemic but not to the extent that it did for most of my friends north of the border. We spend the majority of our time outdoors. Most houses here do not have either air conditioning or heating. (Spoiler Alert: our new house has an air conditioner in the bedroom)
In summary, becoming a digital nomad and an expat has been a truly good decision for my family and me.Marc Miller