ON THE ROAD ... AGAIN! Happy New Year! Vanessa and I hope you had a wonderful Christmas and are enjoying a great start to the year. The first 2017 issue of House Sitting Magazine is brought to you from Mexico (again), where we are currently between house sit assignments. After changing our Cuba travel plans, we didn't have anything booked for January, but were hoping something would come up. In December we were very pleased to receive an offer to look after a house in expat favourite Ajijic, on Lake Chapala, south of Guadalajara. However, this was only for the last two weeks of the month, which still left us with the first two weeks of January to fill. So, AirBnB came to the rescue once again. Note: If you want to know more about using AirBnB and get some great tips for making bookings, see "Filling the gaps with Airbnb" further on in this issue. We found a beautiful little place just outside San Miguel de Allende, way up in the hills. We have a little house all to ourselves, with amazing sweeping views of the valley.
We are "semi-off-grid" here. The whole rancho, which consists of several houses and an artist's studio, collects and maintains its own water supply. In the day solar panels store energy from the sun, feeding excess power back into the grid. At night the grid supplies electricity back to the property. We have a composting toilet which is very well-built and easy to use. And the water for our shower is heated naturally by the sun. Even this far off the main grid our hosts have set up a great line-of-sight internet connection, beamed to us from San Miguel, and we have a blisteringly fast connection. Both Vanessa and I have managed to fit in a few extra hours of online teaching to cover the costs of our short-term rental. We haven't had to do too much more work though, as this place is only costing USD $25 per night. What a bargain! In the daytime we have enjoyed some amazing remote hiking in the hills behind the property. This is the view from the top of the mountain behind the house:
For anyone visiting the area, check out Rancho DaNisha here: Cozy colorful eco friendly house
In this issue This month's issue is a "Mexico Special" - the focus is on house sitting and traveling in Mexico. Faith Coates, Laurie Stolmaker and our own Vanessa will be writing about different house sitting destinations and sightseeing attractions around Mexico. They will also be looking at how much you can expect to pay in "living" expenses in different locations. Our "Getting Started - House Sitting in Mexico" also provide you with some of the best resources and platforms for finding house sits in Mexico. We have also included a "Behind the Scenes" look at recently relaunched HouseSitMexico - a platform dedicated to this amazing country. Jane and Duncan of ToTravelToo.com show you how to save money when booking flights, and Bernardine Devine describes how she uses "intuition" as both an integral part of her lifestyle, and as a way to generate her remote income. Louise Read talks about opportunities to house sit for "snowbirds" and Amanda Jordan has contributed a great article about her work with rescue dogs, and has provided some stunning images too that you will find throughout the magazine! Where better than Mexico to learn Spanish? I'll be looking at some of the best language options available for learning as you travel.
Taking a break in February We won't be publishing an issue in February, as we are going to be in Cuba for four weeks, and we hear that accessing the internet can be a bit of a challenge. So we're taking a month off from the publishing schedule to just enjoy the journey for a while. So, until March, when we will be publishing Issue 8 on our return to Mexico, we wish you happy travels wherever you happen to be in the world! We hope you enjoy this issue, and as always we look forward to your questions or comments. Ian and Vanessa (currently in transit between Mexican house sit assignments)
Click the image below to find out more about Airbnb:
You'll find extra news, reviews and snippets throughout the magazine!
Getting started - House sitting in Mexico Vanessa Anderson Budgeting for less on the Riviera Maya Laurie Stolmaker The magic of Mexico City Vanessa Anderson
When loves combine Andrea Jordan
Destination Merida, Mexico Faith Coates Puerto Morelos, Quintana Roo Vanessa Anderson The Yucatan Vanessa Anderson San Miguel de Allende Vanessa Anderson
Filling the gaps with Airbnb Ian Usher Living profitably as an intuitive digital entrepreneur Bernardine Devine How to get the cheapest flight for your next house sitting assignment Jane Dempster-Smith Getting to grips with Spanish Ian Usher
Behind the scenes with HouseSitMexico Alex Gordon Are you up for a cold weather challenge? Louise Read
The next issue is in March 2017
GETTING STARTED - HOUSE SITTING IN MEXICO by Vanessa Anderson
According to Robert Nelson of Expats in Mexico there are some 1 million expats living in a variety of locations around Mexico. Many of these are US or Canadian citizens. This figure does not include the seasonal "snowbird expats" who travel down from cold climates in North America to "live" part-time in Mexico on travel visas. So it will come as no surprise that Mexico is now often seen as a great choice for house sitters looking for travel and adventure in a hot climate with a variety of lifestyle options. Coupled with an attractive dollar exchange against the peso, it currently costs less to live here than in most other Central American countries.
The elephant in the room - safety Let's get this out of the way at the outset. When we were in the USA three years ago, we were told over and over about the dangers that exist in Mexico, and how we should avoid visiting at all cost! However, having visited Mexico a number of times, we were both keen to experience living here for a longer period of time. So, despite the warnings, of six months spent in Central America, we have stayed in Mexico for four months, exploring different regions. We've traveled by long distance bus, walked the streets of cities including Mexico City, and house sat repeatedly in San Miguel de Allende.
In all this time, we haven't experienced any dangerous situations, heard any reports of personal theft, of been told about any other more scary situations that involved tourists or expats. We have been reassured by the increased armed police presence, especially in cities like the capital, and in Guadalajara. We all know that bad things happen in Mexico, but usually in particular areas where drug cartels battle for supremacy. This violence is unacceptable, but it hasn't deterred us from living here, experiencing all that this amazing country has to offer.
Earlier today I was reading about the tragic shooting at Fort Lauderdale Airport in Miami. And last month 12 people lost their lives in Berlin. Nowhere is totally safe these days, and danger is certainly not limited to Mexico. Take traveler precautions in the same way you would elsewhere in the world, but please don't be put off by negative or sensational reporting. The citizens of Mexico are some of the friendliest, most generous, creative and fun people we've met on our travels around the world.
How do I find a house sit in Mexico? We found our house sits in Mexico through Trusted House Sitters. However, since we've been here we've realized just how many house sits are fulfilled through expat referrals, or through Facebook groups that support the local expat communities. In the last couple of months, HouseSitMexico has also been re-launched, offering a platform dedicated to matching house sitters with home owners across all regions of Mexico. HouseSitMexico is featured this month in a "Behind the scenes" article with founder Alex Gordon. You'll also find a special 25% discount offer on subscriptions, available to the first 25 signups via our magazine.
Mexico specific house sitting platforms: HouseSitMexico
International house sitting websites: TrustedHouseSitters Nomador HouseCarers HouseSitMatch KindredSpirits (vegan only)
Facebook Groups: https://www.facebook.com/housesitmexico/ https://www.facebook.com/groups/HousePetSittingMexico/ https://www.facebook.com/groups/YUCATANhousesitting https://www.facebook.com/groups/visitsanmiguel/ https://www.facebook.com/groups/bucerias/ https://www.facebook.com/groups/expatslivinginmexico/ Some of these Facebook groups are for expats, not house sitters specifically. Approach the moderators before blasting in with requests for house sits, as this is sometimes frowned upon. Offer good information to the group and then network with members to see if you can find local house sit assignments through word of mouth.
Where are the most popular house sitting locations? There are expat communities all over Mexico which have become popular house sitting destinations.
An overcast day in Puerto Vallarta
Some of the larger settlements (in no particular order), are in the following towns and cities:
Cabo san Lucas, La Paz, State of Baja California Sur Cancun, Puerto Morelos, Playa del Carmen, Tulum, Riviera Maya, State of Quintana Roo Lake Chapala, Ajijic, State of Jalisco Merida and Progreso coastline, State of Yucatan Puerto Vallarta and coastline north and south, State of Jalisco San Cristobal, State of Chiapas San Miguel de Allende, State of Guanajuato
Where else will I find expat communities? Whilst there are many well established expat communities, there are many other smaller groups in regional towns and cities across Mexico. Once an area has become flooded with expats and property prices start rising, it's common to find people who relocate nearby in the hunt for less expensive homes, or less populated destinations.
For example, San Miguel de Allende (above) has become a popular city, not only for expats to live, but also for Mexican and international tourists to visit. Consequently prices have risen substantially and urban sprawl is, in some people's eyes, spoiling the city's magical qualities. Traffic congestion, for example, has become a big problem. There are people who are now selling up and moving away to totally different areas, or to nearby villages like Pozos, or cities such as Queretaro. Look on maps to find towns near to some of the more saturated house sitting areas - chances are you will find an overflow of expats. Other places where we have seen house sits advertised, include:
Guadalajara and Tlaquepaque, Jalisco Guanajuato City, Guanajuato Lake Patzcuaro, Michoacán Mexico City Mazatlán, Sinaloa Oaxaca City, Oaxaca Santiago de Querétaro, Querétaro San Felipe, Baja Mexico Tapachula, Chiapas
Visas and immigration One of the big pluses for long term house sitters in Mexico is the generous 180 day visa that is provided at point of entry for citizens of many countries. Please check online for the up-to-date Mexican visa regulations for your particular home country. However, at the time of writing, 180 days applies to anyone with Canadian, US, UK, European (Schengen), or Australian citizenship. This means you can easily take longer term house sits without the need to concern yourself with inconvenient (and sometimes expensive), visa runs to extend your stay in this country.
Language The official language of Mexico is Latin American Spanish and if you are from Europe you'll notice some small differences in the vocabulary when compared to the traditional Spanish language. These are fairly easily learned with a good translation dictionary. Generally speaking we believe you will have a more immersive experience if you can speak a little of the Spanish language.
There are some tourist areas like Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Puerta Vallerta, etc., where many Mexicans involved in tourism now speak English. But, if you find yourself in places where there are less worldwide travelers, you will find at least elementary Spanish a distinct advantage. In many expat communities there are Spanish schools and conversation practice groups. You could also try learning through online classes. Ian has written more about learning Spanish in this issue - check the index for more information.
Cost of living After spending seven months in various countries throughout Central America, (July 2016 to Jan 2017), we've found Mexico by far to be the cheapest country in which to live and travel. However, fuel prices have just this month been raised by up to 20%, which is sure to make a difference to some prices over 2017. This has been a real bone of contention for Mexicans, and we've read about road blockades and demonstrations throughout the country. It remains to be seen as to what the government's response will be.
Superb roadside pizzas in Condesa, Mexico City
We have mainly lived long term in what is considered one of the more expensive Mexican cities. As well as this, we have been in San Miguel de Allende through Christmas and New Year. I mention this because our food and drink expenditure was more than usual at this time! During the six weeks of our most recent house sit here, we spent a total of 24,342 Mexican pesos. Here is the breakdown (opposite page). This averages out to 566 pesos (rounded) per day over 43 days. At current exchange rates this is just under $26 US dollars per day. We tracked our expenses with Trail Wallet (featured in last month's issue) and set a daily budget of 780 pesos, which equates to us each teaching one online lesson per day. We were very pleased to discover that even in an expensive month we were still under budget. We do shop carefully and as much as possible in local markets. We walk or take buses most of the time. We check the supermarkets for "3 for 2" days. In this way all our wine for Christmas was purchased in Soriana on a 3 for 2 offer, making it very affordable at around $5 US a bottle. We also enrolled for a "points" card in the supermarket. You don't need to be a resident as long as you can provide Passport ID and an address. You will quickly and easily be issued with a shopping card which entitles you to special offers and discounts.
Generally we look for our travel clothes in second hand shops or markets, although this time I did treat myself to some new clothing in the Liverpool department store sale just after Christmas.
Getting about Getting about in Mexico is easy, relatively inexpensive, and very comfortable. The city to city coaches are some of the best we've ever encountered, with reclining seats, entertainment and WiFi. We traveled Mexico City to San Miguel for less than $25 US one way. Cheaper buses are available and a visit to a city bus terminal will provide you with many different price options. Alternatively, look out for low cost air flights with domestic airlines like Volaris, AeroMexico, and Interjet, all of whom have a free baggage allowance (at time of writing). We have consistently found flights at less than $50 US. Once you are at your destination, you'll find taxis are generally cheap, Uber is becoming available in more and more places, and buses are mere cents. We tend to walk as much as possible - one, because it gives us a chance to explore the labyrinth of streets in the more interesting cities, and two, because it's our way of staying fit.
WiFi for work So far we haven't experienced any problems with WiFi whilst traveling, house sitting, or working online, in Mexico. In some situations it has been better than we've previously experienced in England or the US. Many expats have hi-speed unlimited internet for streaming Netflix and other US programs, and generally this is included as part of your house sit.
Sightseeing Mexico offers some of the best and most diverse sightseeing options we've encountered in Central America. If you have an interest in ancient Mayan or Aztec civilizations then you will be kept constantly engrossed by museums, ruins, and galleries. Beaches on both sides of the country are stunning, and you'll experience long days of endless sunshine. Travel inland and you'll encounter splendid scenery and a rich cultural heritage. Many sites in Mexico have been designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites or Biosphere Reserves, while over 100 the beautiful colonial "pueblos" have also been given special designations to preserve their historic importance.
A high percentage of Mexico’s land is protected in one way or another. According to website Geo-Mexico: "there are currently 40 biosphere reserves in Mexico. Only the USA with 48, the Russian Federation with 41 and Spain with 41, have more. The guiding principle of biosphere reserves is that the local populace is not displaced, but actively involved in all aspects of management, research and monitoring."
Climate The Climate in Mexico varies depending on where you are. Along the coast (on both sides of the country) it is hot and humid, often unbearably so in the summer. Inland communities at higher elevations such as Guadalajara (1600m / 5200 ft above sea level) and in particular close by Lake Chapala, are much dryer and more temperate. In San Miguel during the past couple of months (Dec/Jan) it has been cold in the evenings and mornings, and long trousers, sweaters or jackets have been necessary. However, during the daytime the temperature rises considerably and we'd find ourselves changing back into shorts and t-shirts. This is a country diverse in its flora and fauna, and that is because of it's different climate zones that include everything from arid deserts to lush tropical rain forests.
Wherever you end up house sitting in Mexico, you'll find contrasts. Rich people and poor people, quiet times and extremely noisy times, cheap living and luxury living. But I can almost guarantee that with a positive, unafraid outlook and an immersive approach to life, you will experience a country with a degree of richness in every aspect of its history, its culture and its geography - but most of all, its people!
Enjoy magical Mexico!
BUDGETING FOR LESS ON THE RIVIERA MAYA by Laurie Stolmaker
Playa del Carmen, Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico Each year we look for a long term travel destination to avoid the prolonged cold winters in the Northeast US. We consider a number of factors, but first and foremost is whether we can afford to live in our chosen location for a period of four months. But, we don’t want to live just anywhere. We want an enjoyable adventure, comfort, beauty, access to amenities and much more. Below is our checklist for choosing a place to live. If it all adds up, then it's a YES!
Within our budget for airfare, housing and food Moderate to warm weather Easy to get around Good internet
Pluses (but not essential)
Near the ocean Snorkeling off the beach Affordable adventures Some English spoken
Does Riviera Maya fit the bill? We decided to spend the winter of 2015-2016 on the Riviera Maya on the Yucatán Peninsula n Mexico. It ticked most of the boxes above, although we had heard it was a bit touristy. We settled on Playa del Carmen, around 65km south of Cancun, and were pleased with this choice for where to spend the winter season. We spent very little on our airfares from Boston and were able to use frequent flier miles for our return tickets. It took us two tries, but we ended up with a very nice Airbnb rental from mid January to late March. The cost of our first Airbnb rental, for December and early January, was a great deal for the area, but it didn't meet our standards. We spent six weeks in a noisy apartment with major hot water issues, uncomfortable beds and a cramped, ill equipped kitchen. It was not the apartment we had seen online. Airbnb customer service was stellar though, letting us out of the deal, and giving us a monetary credit. They even helped us find another place to stay. We were very impressed and continue to highly recommend Airbnb.
We moved to a well appointed three story townhouse. It was far from the tourist areas but close to grocery stores, and conveniently positioned among a mix of locals and expats.
In Playa del Carmen we had fair to good internet service, cheap phone plans, very affordable groceries from clean modern stores, and inexpensive taxis.
A parade of guests One reason we went for a two bedroom rental was so that we could host some guests. As soon as one of our sons got a glimpse of our apartment on Skype, he decided to come visit for a week. We had an amazing time showing him the sights, tasting local food in the restaurants, and hanging out cooking together.
House sitting rarely provides this opportunity, and so having time in a rental property allows for entertaining friends and family. This is one of the ways long term travelers can keep the connections to the people they care about. This sort of visit is always part of our plans and it does not hurt that we are staying in a gorgeous tropical beach town in Mexico, close to a major airport. Also, the dollar has been good value against the peso, and that is another plus for us and our guests.
A bit over the top During our four month stay, January was an unusually expensive month for us. We believe it's important to plan for extra expenses when making long term travel decisions. Going over budget during one month isn't so much a problem if you handle other months with more financial restraint!
As an example, here's a description of our spending and adventures in January, including the special treats that took us a little over budget:
Laurie’s birthday celebration: rental of beach chairs and umbrellas, with drinks and lunch at the Blue Parrot Beach Club $39 (see picture above) Two hour Snorkel trip: three of us on a boat trip out to the reef in Puerto Morelos $100 Visits to the cenotes and Tulum Ruins (details below) Extra groceries, taxis and restaurant meals (details below)
Not included in our expenses was a lovely adventure at Rio Secreto - a gift from our children. Expenses: Total for the month $846 plus rent Our Airbnb townhouse rent came to about $700 USD month for the period from mid January to late March. Of course if you are house sitting, then your accommodation would be free.
The ruins at Tulum
We spent a little less for our first six weeks here, but we did have to negotiate to get these prices. Rental prices are inflated in the high season at Playa (from December to March or April). Remember that many Airbnb properties are available with weekly or monthly discounts, and you can always try for even better prices, especially at quieter times of the year.
Cell Phone plans for two - $24/month Transportation (including extra taxi rides and collectivo buses to Puerto Morelos and Tulum) - $120 Groceries and sundries – including bottled drinking water $285 Restaurant meals (including the previously mentioned Blue Parrot birthday lunch) - $239 Miscellaneous adventures (cenotes, ruins, movies, snorkeling trip) - $178 Haircut - $18
The restaurant, transportation costs, and adventures all pushed us slightly over the limit of our $1500 monthly budget.
Is Playa Del Carmen an affordable long term travel or house sitting destination? Here are some things to consider when you are deciding if Playa del Carmen is within your budget. We do a lot of our own cooking. Restaurants are affordable but daily dining out would not fit our spending plan. Street food is cheaper, unless you are like us and care about getting your veggies!
Airfare is a cost we amortize over the length of the trip. Be sure and add this expense to your monthly budget. We also purchased travel insurance for our trip ($100 for the whole trip for us both) We think Playa Del Carmen is an affordable travel destination, if the following fits your travel lifestyle:
Live with the locals. Don’t expect to stay at the beach during high season. We spoke to a couple with a studio near the beach. They paid $1000 rent for December and $800 thereafter for their 6 month stay. Be prepared to do some walking and take a few bus rides. We were often the only nonlocals on the bus and sometimes we did have to stand.
Limit purchases of imported grocery items. We did, however, buy coconut oil, peanut butter, more expensive breads and good imported olive oil. Try sticking to fresh local produce, meats and eggs, with just a few specialty items. In our experience groceries were so affordable. Avocados, jicama, cucumbers, cabbage, limes and grapefruits are practically free! Do not think of yourselves as being on vacation, but rather, living in a lovely place and exploring, by walking, visiting the beaches and cenotes. Cenotes are natural swimming holes. They are formed by the collapse of porous limestone bedrock, which has revealed a secret subterranean world of groundwater pools. Most cave cenotes have fresh water that has been meticulously filtered by the earth, making them so clear and pure that you can see straight through to small fish frolicking in the plant life below. Open-air cenotes also have clear water, and often are home to vitamin- and mineral-rich algae that nourish and protect your skin. Source Lonely Planet
Take advantage of inexpensive activities with only the occasional special treats. If you can swing it, stay for six months. There are some great deals to be had, especially if you can speak Spanish. You could even combine part Airbnb, part house sitting to get the best of both worlds. Have some quiet time to yourself while sitting with space to enjoy visits from friends and family too.
Will we return to Playa del Carmen? We are all about exploring new places and we do prefer house sitting to paying rent. That said, it was lovely to hang out in our own in a temperate location, with friendly and helpful locals. We improved our Spanish too! We think we will return to Playa in the future. We will make contact with folks we met here to help us secure a long term rental for less than we spent this time. Or, we will look for a long term house sit.
Tip: We loved snorkeling in the crystal clear waters of the cenotes and off the beach in nearby Akumal. Take your own mask, snorkel and fins though - the rental stuff was poor quality, and purchasing gear in Mexico is much more expensive than in the US.
Laurie and Neil gave away or sold 99% of their possessions for a new life as international travelers. They now share the secrets of how they turn limited resources into a life of unlimited fun and adventure. Read more about them at their website: JoyfulJourneying.com
THE MAGIC OF MEXICO CITY by Vanessa Anderson
A visit to Mexico City had not been high on my bucket list, but necessity meant that we had to pass through when traveling from the Yucatan to San Miguel de Allende on two occasions last year. What a surprise it was - for me it really was love at first sight. Often confusingly referred to simply as "Mexico", or "DF (Distrito Federal)", the city overflows with historic buildings and churches, some in pristine condition, others crumbling with age (and earthquake damage). You'll find welcome shade in leafy parks, beautiful tree-lined streets, first class bars and restaurants, delicious street food, and original street art at almost every turn.
But that's not all, because there is a plethora of museums and art galleries, pulsating with cultural treasures and history. As well as shops, bars, cafes and markets.
There's even a recently excavated pyramid next to the cathedral, and of course the ruins of Teotihuacan can be visited on a day trip just north of the city. For me, Mexico City should not be overlooked - it easily rivals London, Paris and New York as a "must see" destination.
Where to stay for city centre sightseeing This is a big city spread across several districts. We had planned a number of separate visits, and decided to stay in different areas to fully experience the diversity of sights on offer. There is a great selection of Airbnb properties and we found a small private apartment for the duration of our visit, which facilitated full immersion into the Mexican community. Our initial accommodation was located between the very safe areas of Roma and Condesa. From here we could easily access the city center by public transport.
Artisan cheese for sale close to our apartment
The streets are teeming with fashionable, well-dressed middle class Mexicans all enjoying the best that this city has to offer. In fact it was a little too upmarket for us as backpacking travelers, but we were able to sample amazing roadside food as we roamed the streets absorbing the city vibe.
The city subway Ian quickly mastered the subway system, which transports you anywhere in the city for just 5 pesos (around 25 US cents). At busy peak times, women can take advantage of the female only carriages that offer hassle free boarding and more space to sit comfortably. Just make sure that you plan a meet-up with any male companions at your destination platform - it's easy to lose sight of each other in these crowded stations.
Once seated you'll be offered a variety of snacks, drinks, or even random acrobatic acts as vendors take advantage of their captive market between stations. We found this all very entertaining and a long, cross city journey generally passed very quickly.
Safe street walking When not using the subway, we simply walked the streets and never once did we feel unsafe. There's a heavy armed police presence around Mexico City which probably deters a lot of petty crime. As with large cities anywhere in the world, it's prudent to take traveler precautions, keeping an eye on bags, money and other possessions. There's a lot here that can distract you and that's always when theft is most likely to occur.
Climate Mexico City is a high altitude, densely populated city shrouded by volcanoes and high mountains. Consequently the climate is cooler and much less humid than coastal areas, making it comfortable for sightseeing even in the summer months. Winter months can be cold and you will need to dress appropriately. You may even see occasional snow on the tops of the mountains.
What to see in the history city centre A visit to the city centre is not to be missed. There are many historical, cultural, and architectural monuments to choose from and if you enjoy this type of sightseeing, you really could spend days exploring. The ancient Mayan and Aztec history is not only fascinating, but it is also full of rich colors and creative inspiration. My camera was put to optimum use on this visit!
The city cathedral
We started in the central Zócalo, found ourselves a tourist map and then explored on foot.
These are some of our favorites :
Walk the streets between the Zócalo and Palacio de Belles Artes - there is so much to see. Grab your tourist map from one of the information kiosks in the Plaza to get your bearings. Plaza de la Constitución - the massive main square also known as the Zócalo.
Templo Mayor - a partly renovated 13th-century Aztec temple adjoining a fascinating museum full of locally excavated relics.
Palacio de Bellas Artes - An architectural gem featuring both Art Nouveau and Art Deco styles. Exhibitions focus on classic and contemporary artists.
The walls between the ground floor and the upper floor are dominated by a number of murals painted by most of the famous names in Mexican muralism. Apart from being a stunning building, the Palacio de Bellas Artes is also considered to be the most important theatre and cultural center in Mexico.
The baroque Catedral Metropolitana de México on the Zócalo - you may have to queue for entry. Palacio Nacional - home to historic murals by Diego Rivera - ID is needed for entry to this building.
We would also recommend a visit to The Museum of Anthropology. This is the largest and most visited museum in Mexico. This museum can be accessed from the Auditorio subway station and is close to the zoo, and the hilltop Chapultepec Castle, where you'll find the city's History Museum.
An architectural gem - this is the Mexico City Post Office in the historic centre
The ruins of Teotihuacan A combination of bus and subway took us north to the fascinating ancient Mesoamerican city of Teotihuacan. We much preferred this and found it far more interesting than touristy Chichen Itza. Here you can still walk to the top of the pyramids, if you have a head for steep steps and heights! Get the first bus of the day from the bus terminal just across from the subway stop at Autobuses del Norte. This is a modern well organized bus station with many different bus services serving cities all over Mexico. Ask at the information desk for the bus that leaves for "Los pyramides". We arrived at Teotihuacan on the first local bus, almost a full hour and a half before the tourist coaches, and were able to stand atop the Pyramid of the Sun almost without another soul in sight. You really do need 5 or 6 hours to explore this site fully as it extends over a wide area. Don't miss the museum - if you haven't had your fill in Mexico City, this houses another collection of amazing artifacts excavated from the ruins. There are plenty of places to eat outside Gate 2 (directly across from the Pyramid of the Sun). You exit the site and then re-enter on the same ticket. If it's busy make sure you have lunch early.
For more information about how to visit Teotihuacan without buying joining a tour, take a look at this article from Becky of Girl and Globe: http://thegirlandglobe.com/how-to-visit-teotihuacan-without-a-tour/
Centro Coyoacán On our second visit to Mexico City we elected to stay in the upmarket area of San Angel, once again using Airbnb. It has an exclusive feel with pretty, cobbled streets, and the area around the Teatro Lopez Tarso (Performing Arts Theatre) is definitely worth exploring. You'll find many small and expensive restaurants, shops and galleries, hidden-away churches, but also a cheaper central market where there's plenty of less expensive food on sale. The Dominican monastery is also worth a visit - but there is an entry fee.
San Angel is where you'll find the art studios (image above) of Frida Kahlo and her husband Diego Rivera.
Inside the studios
Since watching the 2002 movie "Frida" I have been captivated by the artist's turbulent story and her fiery relationship with husband Diego Rivera, the famous Mexican muralist. If you haven't seen the film try to view it before visiting her home and studios. Nearby Coyoacán is home to "La Casa Azul", the bright blue building on the corner of Londres and Allende, which was Frida's former home.
"The Blue House" was turned into a museum when Frida died in 1954 and it now houses several pieces of her artwork, as well as many of her personal possessions. There are also collections of pre-Hispanic art that once belonged to Frida and Diego. We arrived early but still had to queue for nearly an hour as entry numbers are restricted.
The streets around Frida's home are very interesting and we spent the day exploring this historic centre. This was one of Mexico City's first neighborhoods to receive the "Barrios Magicos" designation. Not surprising as the tree-lined cobblestone streets, hidden colonial buildings, churches and artisan markets make it a very enjoyable place to spend time. We also took a walk through the "Vivero Coyoacán" - a large park and home to the city's nursery. It's also full of confident demonic-like black squirrels!
A few blocks south of La Casa Azul, Coyoacán’s market is another great find and it is here that you can sample the "chapulines" (spicy dried grasshoppers), a delicacy from the state of Oaxaca. There are also some really good cafes if you need a caffeine fix. El Jarocho reputedly serves some of the best coffee in town.
The pretty leafy and cobbled residential streets of Coyoacán
Find Hiquera on the map, and you'll arrive at one of the best places to eat in Mexico City, the Mercado de Antojitos. This is a large open-air food market where you can eat all kinds of deepfried snacks, including quesadillas and flautas. Also take time to visit the Plaza Hidalgo, which is the local's main gathering place. "Coyoacán" means "place of coyotes" in the Aztec language and you will find here the fountain that features the coyotes that gave this barrio its name.
This is just a small sample of the sights available to see in Mexico City. If like us you become mesmerized by this magical city, then you will likely return more than once to really get a full understanding and appreciation of Mexico's rich history and culture.
WHEN LOVES COMBINE by Andrea Jordan
My love of animals began the day my chubby toddler fingers reached out to pat our farm dogs. Taming stray cats to bring home (my parents were very patient), caring for mis-mothered lambs and kids (of the baby goat variety), and sitting on the front of the motorbike while Dad did his rounds of our farm, cemented a lifelong love of animals. The earliest photos I remember taking were of our farm dogs. Well, parts of them, as my idea of composition was pretty basic back then. 2014 was the year I discovered it was possible to combine my love of animals, photography and travel together as I headed to Thailand for 3 months to volunteer at a dog shelter. What an experience!
Fast forward 2 years ... Now I am a fully fledged digital nomad. I left New Zealand in May 2016 with a general plan to travel down the Latin American continent - house sitting, volunteering and working online as a business strategist. One of my aims while travelling is to volunteer with local animal shelters. Dog walking and belly scratching are usually part of the package. I also gift my photography skills to the shelters so they have gorgeous images of their animals to share. It's a pleasure to be able to combine my love of animals and photography to support the communities I live in. I find places where I can volunteer by searching on Google and Facebook. I look for shelters that have a "no-kill" policy and a sterilization program in place.
Playa Animal Rescue, Mexico In Mexico I volunteered for 2 months at the Playa Animal Shelter in Playa Del Carmen. This is a wonderfully run dog shelter that houses between 30 to 40 dogs. Each Saturday they have a charm school where anyone can come in the morning to spend time with the dogs. If you're in the area get in touch with the shelter, they'd love to hear from you. The shelter works with "Dogs in better spots in Toronto" to have dogs flown to Canada to either be fostered or adopted – a great initiative. Walking the dogs was our main duty with lots of love, pats and belly scratches given after the walks. Of course, I found time to take photos too.
My first international house sit I had been house sitting in New Zealand for a couple of years and was keen to continue living this way, internationally. In Guatemala I pet sat three bi-lingual cats on the shores of Lake Atitlán. This was a great way to begin my international house sitting. I learned the new skill of "bat wrangling" as early one morning one of the cats found a new playmate. I came downstairs to find the bat flying loops around the room. After diving to the floor in a panic (who wants a bat tangled in their hair?), I opened all of the windows and doors and trusted in the bat's radar, while keeping the curious cats at a safe distance. Animal burials were another skill learned as I buried three “gifts” that the cats had left for me. Two small bats and one medium size rat. I said the appropriate words, gave them a pat and placed them gently in the ground. On the corner of my street a food stall was set up in the late afternoon. They sold one thing – tostadas. Delicious tostadas! Topped with avocado, refried beans, egg, chillies, onion, pickled beetroot and tomatoes. Down the street was an Italian café where fresh bread and flaky pain au chocolate were sold. Up the steep hill, through the back alleys, awaited the local fruit and vegetable market.
Mayan Families, Guatemala I was shocked to see how many stray dogs were in the area. Some were community street dogs that are cared for by a café or by a number of residents, but many more had no one to care for them. I became the women who carried dog biscuits in her bag to feed any hungry dogs I saw. There was one guy I fed every day as he was in a sorry state. After a couple of days he let me put disinfectant on his ears as they were a mess and he was constantly bothered by the flies. As my house sit ended my volunteering began. I had found a charity called "Mayan Families" who were keen to have a photographer on board. This charity was founded by Sharon, Dwight and Patti to help impoverished communities throughout the Lake Atitlán region. Sharon and Dwight's daughter recently began the "Hope for the animals" program. At this time there is no separate shelter and the animals are cared for at various homes in the village of Panajachel. This was great for me as I got to see how locals lived as well as meeting the animals. After my first day of taking photos (which included 12 puppies in one property!) I had lunch at the family home, where more of the animals are housed.
Getting to Panajachel was an adventure in itself. A walk down 153 steps to the private dock where I'd hail a ferry going in the right direction. The trip took 45 minutes, stopping at tiny, land locked, villages along the way. On arrival the noise of the tuk-tuks was momentarily distracting as I clambered from the ferry onto the dock. A short walk past cafes smelling of coffee roasting, and open-fronted shops selling beautiful textiles, bought me to headquarters of the charity where I'd check in to get my photography assignments for the day.
The journey never ends My work for the shelters doesn't finish once I leave as I continually post images and stories on my photography Facebook page of the shelter animals. In the days leading up to Christmas I created the "12 Rescue Dogs of Christmas" series to post on my page as a way to highlight some of the wonderful dogs that I'd met during the year. Editor's note: You can see Andrea's beautiful "12 Rescue Dogs of Christmas" images in this article and scattered throughout this month's House Sitting Magazine.
ANDREA JORDAN Andrea has travelled to over 50 countries and volunteered in 4 of them. She's a keen dog walker and champion bell scratcher, but it's when she picks up her camera that magic happens. She creates stunning images that capture the personalities of the wonderful creatures she cares for. You can see her photos here https://www.facebook.com/AndreaJordanPhotography/ You can read about her travel adventures, and her business life, here http://www.learndiscoverbefree.com
DESTINATION MERIDA - MEXICO by Faith Coates
The travel advisory warnings and dire consequences reported by the media, have done much to dissuade travelers from visiting Mexico. How often have you been told "It's too dangerous to go to Mexico"? Some Canadians I know, actually threw up their hands in horror when I mentioned my plans to move to Mexico. "No", they screamed. "what about drug cartels, dead bodies on the roadside, tourists being ripped off at every corner, bad food, unclean water, diseases…?" The dangers seemed endless.
My response was that I was not planning on running with any drug cartels. I'm not a rich white person flashing cash at every corner, and yes, I did intend to be very careful while there. In truth, it seemed I had picked the safest place to be in Mexico. I was heading for the Yucatan, and the city of Merida, to be more precise.
Merida is called the "white city", because of all the white painted buildings and the limestone bricks and tiles used to decorate many of the exteriors. It is located on the north of the Yucatan peninsula about 45 minutes inland from the Gulf of Mexico. A glorious colonial city, it has slowly seen a steady increase in tourism and immigration. Thankfully though it is not home to the huge, overwhelming all-inclusive resort style hotels found around Cancun.
How to get to Merida Arriving in Merida is much easier these days. You can fly directly to Manuel Crescencio Rejón International Airport (MID), which is on the outskirts of town. There are buses and taxis that will take you to Centro, or wherever else in the city you are staying.
In season, between October and May, there are several flights a day from Toronto (WestJet), Dallas (United Airlines - seasonal), Houston (American Airlines) and Miami (Aeromexico Connect). American Eagle has a new route from Miami starting in June 2017. Off-season flights are reduced, but still available, and as Merida becomes a more well-known city the flights are set to increase. Domestic flights can be found frequently and cheaply with airlines like Volaris and Interjet . These websites are now available in both Spanish and English languages. Check out this link for up-to-date information about airlines that fly in and out of Merida's international airport. You can also fly into Cancun and catch an ADO bus to Merida which makes a number of stops along the way. This is the luxury coach line and it takes around 4 hours at a cost of around $30 USD.
Moving around Merida Traffic in Merida is chaotic at best. The roundabouts seem to have no rhyme or reason and the system of one-way streets is mightily confusing. But taxis are abundant and cheap.
You can also take a beautifully decorated, white horse-drawn carriage, which seem to carry as many Mexican families as they do tourists. Always ask the price of the taxi before getting in to avoid inflated "tourist" fares. However, we found that most drivers are anxious to practice their English and so are very kind to visitors. Cars can be rented quite easily in Merida if you fancy a drive out to one of the tourist destinations. Uxmal is not too far and is said to be much better than Chichen Itza, with less harassment from vendors. At the end of the day though, it's probably just as easy to grab a bus as it is to hire a vehicle for local sightseeing.
If you arrive at the airport and grab a cab or bus to the Centro area, you will find yourself travelling through the outskirts of Merida. Here you'll witness the burgeoning middle and upper class. This is demonstrated by the very expensive car dealerships - from Jaguars to Hummers. You'll also pass by Costco, Sam's Club, Home Depot and many other US stores along the route, all catering to the growing expat communities. As you continue along the Paseo Monteo, you will spot some beautiful colonial homes, many of which are now home to corporate businesses.
Safety in the city Meridanos say Merida is a safe city because there is nowhere to run to. As a consequence violent crime and drug cartel clashes are virtually unheard of. That's not to say there isn’t any crime, but in an area of great poverty and a developing middle class, crime is more often that of opportunity. Businesses are more likely to be robbed than individuals. You will see a very strong police presence in Merida and throughout the Yucatan. The lights on the vehicles will always be flashing and you will see police stops in all areas of Merida, particularly on the way in and out of the city.
At virtually every corner there will be at least a few police officers. During daytime hours when the banks are clearing out their vaults, the army are quite visible with full gear including M16s. I have never felt safer than in Merida, but it is always sensible as a woman to take the usual precautions with your purses and backpacks. For women in particular the Yucatan is incredibly safe. The number of single women who have not only retired there but who are travelling in this area has amazed me. The cost of living is very inexpensive and many women have moved here with no more than their social security pension and perhaps an idea for a business. There are hundreds of women creating jobs not only for themselves but also for Mexican workers. From writers and artists to more practical businesses like property management, hairdressing, shuttle buses, and fishing trips. The entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well.
What to see in Merida Merida is a brilliantly beautiful city. The Paseo de Montejo Boulevard was home to the sisal kings who engaged Parisian architects to build this street by replicating the Champs-Elysées. These architects then went on to build the rich elegant homes.
Over the years and after the sisal industry collapsed, the rich inhabitants of these glorious homes found themselves having to sell, and many buildings have now become international banking headquarters. The Paseo is also home to the most luxurious of Meridanian hotels and spas. Still though on Sundays, half of the Paseo is closed to traffic and it becomes the "bici ruta" where Mexican families enjoy cycling, roller blading and skateboarding in the sunshine. This is an ideal place to find a seat on a patio and watch all of Merida roll by. You can even rent bikes and give it whirl yourself. The Paseo leads into the Centro Historico, which is dominated by a series of beautifully laid out parks, where special events are held on a regular basis. Meridanos love their culture and the squares often play host to events like the Trova Festivals, Folkloric Ballet and other musical and artisanal performances. While in Merida, you can listen to a world class orchestra, an opera or visit a ballet performance for well under $20 US. The galleries are not expensive to visit and you'll be treated to some outstanding works of art.
Walk the streets Merida is a city to be explored, particularly in and about the Centro area where you'll find shops, restaurants and bars to suit every taste and budget. Walking is the easiest way to do this. Although there may be some trepidation about strolling around Centro Historico, it is in fact very safe, and the police presence can be quite reassuring. General tourist caution should always be exercised, in the same way you would be careful in any other crowded city around the world. There are low costs hostels, small inexpensive hotels and larger more luxurious ones if you feel the need to be pampered. You'll also find a good selection of accommodation on Airbnb.
The Sunday Mercado offers plenty of opportunities to purchase food, gifts and regional arts and crafts. Be aware that folks wanting to recommend certain shops and venues will be getting a commission, so try not to pay attention to them. The market and shop prices will be more "gringo" than local Mexican, so it's important to negotiate and bargain if you want a good deal. It's true that, as a tourist, you will be perceived as having more money, but don't be put off. Most prices are inflated by 30% so there's plenty of room to haggle! For authentic and sustainable gift shops find the "Casa Cultura" boutiques which are government run - the profits go back into the local community.
Plaza Grande is the "piece de resistance" of Merida. It is located in the Centro Historico, where it is ringed by beautiful limestone buildings painted in a variety of pastel colours. There are no manicured lawns here, but you will find wildly colourful bougainvillea trails. There's a welcome canopy created by a variety of palms, cactus and climbing plants, which provide the inside of these beautiful buildings with a soothing shade. If the heat all becomes too much for you, have an ice cream or simply go shopping in the airconditioned stores to beat the searing sun and humidity. On Sundays when the mercado is operating in the Plaza, it is a treat to just wander and enjoy the ambience. On the outskirts of the market by the Cathedral, you'll spot a few dozen-food booths. They sell everything from churros to tacos, and this is an ideal place to grab a quick snack or a cheap lunch. Coke is everywhere here in the Yucatan but it is the original coke with cane sugar, and it is said to be quite addictive. Instead try some of the local Yucatecan drinks like "Horchata", a rice based beverage, or "Jamaica", which is a refreshing iced hibiscus flower drink.
House sitting opportunities One day we decided to adventure out to Campeche on the coast. We'd found online a call for help from a young couple from Toronto who were house sitting in the port town of Progreso. They needed to return home urgently and were looking for house sitters to take over from them. We responded to their enquiry with some information on house sitters we knew in the area and I crossed my fingers that they could find someone. As it turned out, they had no luck and so we decided to jump in ourselves. We turned the car around and went to meet them. This is how our house sitting journey began. We had a wonderful time looking after three gorgeous rescue dogs in a colonial home on the eastern side of Progreso, about 30 minutes from Merida. This is when we decided that looking after pets and houses would be a great way to experience new areas.
This area of the Yucatan has lots of opportunities for house sitting. However, whilst you will find house sits on the platforms, many are found by word of mouth, or secured by "who you know" in the local expat communities. There are some great Facebook pages where most of the expats connect. Yucatan Beach Friends is one of the best resources on the area and has connections to over 1400 expats. Yucatan House Sitters was also started this year and might be worth joining. HouseSitMexico is a Mexico only platform that has recently been re-launched, and has a growing number of opportunities. See interview in this issue.
Conclusion We enjoyed our time in Merida and if you are looking for a small city house sitting experience in Mexico where it's easy to get to shops and supermarkets without a car, then this would be a great place to live for a while. You are close enough to cultural sites and beaches to enjoy a varied, fulfilling house sit and to immerse yourself in the local lifestyle with relative ease.
Faith Coates - Fulfilling a lifelong dream to retire early and travel the world, Faith is now happily travelling to find the perfect place to settle. After spending a year in a tiny fishing village in the Yucatan, mangling Spanish and writing by the pool, itchy feet struck again and Faith is now house-sitting and travelling in Ireland, the UK and Europe. Faith has been writing for over 30 years, mostly on Government grants, business, and marketing plans for NGOs trying to launch profit making enterprises. She loves writing particularly about other cultures, travel and food, but is always up to take on a Marketing plan or two! You can read more of Faith's travel articles at: http://www.xyuandbeyond.com
PUERTO MORELOS, QUINTANA ROO by Vanessa Anderson
We arrived in Cancun back in July 2016, ahead of a house sit due to start in San Miguel de Allende a few weeks later. Neither of us were keen to spend much time around Cancun, so we headed 30 minutes south (by bus from the airport) to the small fishing village of Puerto Morelos. We found a lovely private Airbnb apartment with a small plunge pool for not much over $30 per night with the weekly discount. It was nestled between local Mexican properties, and we were able to relax, acclimatize to the heat and explore a town with a real local Mexican atmosphere.
Our Airbnb in the town residential area of Puerto Morelos
Uncrowded beaches along the coastline of Puerto Morelos
Puerto Morelos is far less of a tourist trap than Cancun or Playa del Carmen, at least in the hot summer months. We had bicycles included with the property, so we were able to cycle safely down to the beach with ease, on the road that crosses the large mangrove swamp that divides the beach from the town. The town is inland, about 15 minutes from the uncrowded beaches, and it is still traditionally Mexican with easy to find inexpensive food, either in the streets or in small restaurants.
Laid back mornings reading the local paper
It's definitely being developed at a rapid rate, but the beach area is much more reminiscent of small European resorts back in the 80's and 90's. It's easy to reach Puerto Morelos by ADO bus from the airport, and taxi's are cheap and plentiful once you arrive. There are Mexican supermarkets, as well as local fruit and veggie shops.
Quirky home not far from the beach
Plenty of opportunities for house sitting This unspoiled area is becoming a popular choice for expats and snowbirds, so you will also find opportunities to house sit all along this coastline as far south as laid back Tulum. You will find more house sits in Cancun out of season when there's less possibility of earning big bucks from rentals. Not all house sits in this area make it to the international and regional websites. Check out local expat forums and network while you are in the area to maximize your chances. There is a diverse selection of family activities along this stretch of coast, as well as a number of Mayan ruins and cenotes. But excursions are not cheap and we found exploring by local bus provided a less expensive way to see the sights. Chichen Itza can be accessed from Puerto Morelos by connecting with buses in Cancun or Playa del Carmen. We actually chose to visit this attraction from Merida.
THE YUCATAN by Vanessa Anderson
Located in Southeastern Mexico, on the north part of the Yucatán Peninsula, the state of Yucatan is bordered by the states of Campeche to the southwest and Quintana Roo to the southeast. The Gulf of Mexico lies off its north coast. The Yucatán was the home of the Maya civilization before it was conquered by the Spanish Conquistadors in the 16th century. You will still encounter many people who are of Maya descent, and in many places the Maya language is still spoken, along with Spanish. We left Puerto Morelos by bus and after a brief stop in Playa del Carmen, we traveled on to Tulum, and then headed south west to the friendly city of Merida, the colonial capital of the Yucatan
One of the many pretty churches in Merida
Typical food of the region
Merida is a city best explored by foot, and we enjoyed a few days roaming the streets, sampling food the food and drinks of the area.
Built in 1892 - the Palacio de Gobierno is full of amazing murals
It seemed that every door had a secret space behind it. Sometimes a small gallery or shop, a trendy restaurant, or a beautiful café. We even found a large internal space that had been turned into all sorts of small eateries and bars, one which had an intimate cheese and wine tasting area. The city was founded by the Spanish Conquistadors in the 1540s and the palatial home of Conquistador leader Montejo can still be seen on the south side of the Zócalo or main square. We watched an interesting reenactment of this time in history in the plaza one evening. From the later 1800s to the 1920s, Mérida made it's money and became prosperous as a result of the sisal plant harvest, which made Yucatan the rope maker to the world. Apparently Mérida had electric trams and street lights long before Mexico City. After the sisal boom Merida became a more sleepy city but has recently become a favorite in the expat communities.
A re-enactment about the Conquistador leader Montejo in the plaza
Chichen Itza - an easy day trip from Merida
The climate here is tropical and temperatures range, through different times of the year, between 24 and 35 degrees celsius. We found the daytime temperatures extremely hot and did our sight seeing either early in the morning or in the cooler evenings. From Mérida, it's easy to take day trips to archaeological sites, ecological parks, villages, beaches and caves. To discover more about Merida... Take time to read this month's "Destination Guide" by fellow house sitter Faith Coates, who writes about her time in and around this city
The busy tourist cenote close to Chichen Itza
During our week in this exuberant city, we visited Chichen Itza and the nearby cenote. We booked a local tour with a small hotel close to our Airbnb apartment. If you're traveling from Cancun, it is possible to stop at Chichen Itza on the way to Merida, although this doesn't provide enough time to visit the cenote as well. However, in our opinion, the cenote we visited was not very impressive. Too many tourists for our liking. There are many other cenotes in the region and we've heard since that it's much better to visit some of the less visited cenotes close to Tulum. Next time we visit the Yucatan Peninsula we plan to go to Río Secreto, an underground river not far from Playa del Carmen, in Quintana Roo.
Progreso - a characterful port town north of Merida
While in Merida we also took the local bus out to the sleepy coastal port of Progreso, where we met up with fellow house sitter, Martin Gray. This coast line is another popular location for house sitters, again often found through word of mouth and referrals.
SAN MIGUEL DE ALLENDE by Vanessa Anderson
After a few days in Mexico City, we took the Primera Plus coach service 4.5 hours north (170 miles) to the mountain city of San Miguel de Allende (SMA), in the state of Guanajuato. At 1900m it takes a bit of getting used to the steep climbs out of Centro, but it did provide us with some welcome exercise! Initially we were a little disturbed at just how touristy this city is. Not just as a favorite spot for Americans, but also for visiting Mexican tourists. But once settled into our house sit we learned to love this place. It just takes time to find the "real" Mexico.
There are glamorous restaurants, small taco and quesadilla eateries, local bars, roof top bars and probably the best market we've ever frequented.
Every Sunday and Tuesday at the top end of the city by the new Plaza la Luciernaga (a shopping mall and cinema complex), you will find the Tianguis (local market) full of produce at low prices. You can buy everything including meat, fish, cheese, vegetables, household items and second hand clothes. Most fruits and vegetables are conveniently packaged in 10 peso bags. The Tuesday market is much larger, but on both days you'll find an array of temporary "restaurants" where you can buy inexpensive, freshly made tacos, pizza slices and other local Mexican meals. Better still you can sit side by side with the friendly locals and forget for a while that you are in one of Mexico's top tourist destinations.
We feasted at this market with the locals, enjoying Sunday lunches of roast pork tacos for $2 US and then splashed out at the other end of the scale in Centro during the week on gourmet pizzas and margaritas for $20. If you are visiting San Miguel as a tourist then a week should be plenty to wander the fascinating streets, visit the plethora of churches, including stunning Gaudi-like "La Parroquia" (parish church), the local hot springs, and generally enjoy the rich atmosphere, cultural and food experiences that this city has to offer. This is one of the top locations in Mexico for house sitting and if you are lucky enough to spend extended time "living" in this city, there is plenty more to explore. We enjoyed quiet time in and around the Jardin Botanica, close to the Atascadero area at the top end of town. There are quiet walks to a small dammed lake that leads along a gorge, where waterfalls cascade into the small river. Nature is abundant here and you'll see many different kinds of cactus plants. The cafeteria is a lovely place to enjoy inexpensive weekend breakfasts.
Take the number 7, 8 or 9 bus from Centro and wind up the narrow cobbled streets for just 10 pesos with the locals. Alight at the "Mirador" for a fine view across the city.
Other places not to miss are the Biblioteca in town - books and coffee - a great combination. Or browse the more local shops on and between Calles Canal, Insurgentes and Zacateros away from the centre. There's always a surprise to be had. For instance, just today we came across an open door that led into a garage where a local artist has made a stunning reproduction of the Parroquia in copper. Unbelievable attention to detail. There are also regular walking tours if you want to learn more about the history of San Miguel.
Each month, in this section, we introduce you to a handy resource. Some you may already know, others will be useful additions to help you on your journey.
FILLING THE GAPS WITH AIRBNB by Ian Usher
If you've been house sitting for any length of time you will no-doubt be familiar with the "how do we fill the gaps?" problem. This came up (again!) for us this month. Our previous house sit ended as our home owners returned as scheduled at the end of last month. Our next assignment doesn't begin until the 17th of this month, so we've had a couple of weeks to fill. Vanessa often refers to these gaps as a "holiday from our holiday"!
We sometimes use hotels, and find Booking.com is a great app for this. However, hotels are really only good for one or two nights at the most. You may be able to make tea and coffee, but you can't cook for yourself, which forces you to eat out for most of your meals. This can be expensive. For longer gaps we always turn to Airbnb I can't imagine there are many people who haven't heard about Airbnb, but if this is a new concept, the idea is simple. For people with any sort of spare accommodation space available, the Airbnb platform allows them to offer this space for rent to travelers looking for somewhere to stay. For us, one of the exciting things about Airbnb is the huge range of accommodation choices on offer.
You can rent a spare bedroom in a family home. Or a small self-contained apartment. Or a whole house. Fancy a place with a swimming pool...? No problem. Perhaps you might find a caravan, and RV, or even a boat offered as a place to stay.
The possibilities are wide and varied. To get an inkling of what is on offer in your location, head to the website, and do a quick search. https://www.airbnb.com
The further into the future you look, the more places you are likely to find, because as places get booked they will not show up in your search results. We have discovered a few little tricks and tips that will help you get the most out of this fantastic tool.
Shorten the search time-frame When looking for a place for the two weeks we needed, the search results were only coming up with very limited results. We changed our search to one week, and were offered a much wider range of options. This happens when the property has just one night booked over the period you search, and so it is filtered out of your results and shown as unavailable for the dates you specify. When we changed our dates we found a beautiful little house up in the hills with a stunning outlook. It was actually available for the first 10 of the 14 days we wanted, but had another booking scheduled after that. If we hadn't changed our search to just one week, we wouldn't have found this property. We booked ten days here, then four more days in another location.
Stay a little longer Many places offer weekly and monthly discounts. The percentage discount varies from place to place, but sometimes there are some great deals. If you need somewhere for five or six days, it is worth looking at the weekly discounts on offer. Sometimes you will get seven days for just a dollar or two more than the cost for five days.
Use the filters Vanessa and I both teach English online. In order to work we need enough space for two teaching locations. They need to be far enough apart that we don't impact the other person when we have lessons at the same time. When searching for a place to stay we often use the "entire home" filter, and check how many rooms the property has. We can usually make a pretty good assessment of suitability from the photos of the house. You can also filter by price, which filters out all the listings you would love to stay at, but which would blow the budget too quickly!
Search with the map If you want to be close to a particular location, perhaps the city centre or a certain attraction, the map search option is invaluable. Drag the map to your area of interest and refresh the search results. You can assess distances and suitability quickly.
Create wish lists Vanessa and I both log in to the same account when researching future possibilities. If we find something we like, the property can be "saved" to a wish list, so we can return later to compare and make a final decision. Create different wish lists for different trips and locations to easily return to your possible choices.
BEAUTIFUL PLACES Here are two wonderful places we have found in Mexico, when filling the gaps between house sit assignments. We were able to teach in both locations, but also enjoyed the chance to get out and about and explore somewhere new and different:
Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco
The Birdcage Roost https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/15446302
San Miguel de Allende
Cozy colorful eco friendly house https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/10644845
As we've traveled we have also stayed short term in many other AirBnB locations. Some of our highlights have included:
a lovely apartment in downtown Mexico City a beautiful off-grid lakefront cabin on Lake Atitlan, Guatemala a comfortable bedroom in a traditional Mayan family home a small villa in Cancun with it's own swimming pool a luxurious city centre apartment in Merida
Almost without exception, every experience booked through Airbnb has been unique, interesting, fun, and great value for money. If you have a gap to fill in your schedule, make Airbnb your first port of call for something different and unique And there is no better time to sign up than right now, because if you use our House Sitting Magazine link here, you will get $36 credit on your Airbnb account.
If you have a gap to fill in your schedule, make Airbnb your first port of call
We'll tell you about another great resource next month. In the meantime, for links to house sitting platforms, comparison articles, books, websites, downloadable forms, and lots of other useful house sitting resources, take a look at our "Resources" page on the House Sitting Magazine website
CREATING AN INTUITIVE INCOME intro by Ian Usher, feature by Bernardine Devine
For long-term house sitters, creating an income is one of the many challenges you will face. Over the past months we have discussed the nature of freedom, balanced against the need to somehow cover the costs of our chosen lifestyle. This month we caught up with digital entrepreneur Bernardine Devine to quiz her about her own unique solution to the mobile income issue. If you have an unusual or interesting take on roaming income, we would love to hear from you: ian@HouseSittingMagazine.com
Living profitably as an intuitive digital entrepreneur by Bernardine Devine
Originally from the South Coast of NSW, we moved to Newcastle when I was 9. I lived in Sydney as a young adult and started casual house sitting for friends about 20 years ago when studying in Armidale, NSW. I came home to Newcastle to celebrate my birthday as is often the case.
I’ve now been a professional house sitter for 6 years and a digital nomad for most of that time, and extensively in the last 2 years. I work as an intuitive digital nomad teaching "Intuitive Leadership and Entrepreneurship" online and via Skype. I’ve been house sitting recently near Byron Bay, the Central Coast and Newcastle. Digital entrepreneurship has supported me to lead a flourishing and rich life, allowing me to visit international destinations including Africa, Britain, the US, Europe and Thailand. I’ve enjoyed many house sits in city, urban and country homes, beautiful farms, a boutique winery in Victoria and beach properties in NSW and Queensland, Australia. I’ve loved the pets I’ve cared for, the people I’ve met and the experiences that I’ve had. Each experience enriches both my life and who I am.
Discover what it is you enjoy doing I first worked as a clerk in the Public Service and knew straight away it wasn’t for me. Despite this, I stayed there for 8 years until I left to study dancing and personal development.
My unhappiness in my former work led me to search for what I really enjoyed doing and eventually led me to support others to not only live profitably, but to find their passion. Alongside all this I’ve studied mind body medicine and personal development for 30 years. Walking the talk and applying all that I’ve learned, creates depth in supporting others to achieve measurable results and success. I’ve done the "hard yards" already so you can get there quicker than I did. Searching for direction led me on the path of personal development and self-realization. Thirty years later my brand and direction has evolved to support others in becoming masters of following the golden thread of intuition to accelerate their Intuitive Leadership and Entrepreneurship. I run online e-courses teaching people intuition and consciousness, mentor people in finding what they are passionate about. I also run online groups. I am currently creating a course for digital nomads and house sitters on using intuition to create their ideal business. My business model is based on consulting, online programs and creating passive income. Currently I am studying marketing and I find intuition integral in navigating the plethora of information out there. I use WordPress for my website, and a free WordPress theme that I love called Zeal. I love WooCommerce for its many add-ons that allow me to drip feed my e-courses. They also have many other great e-commerce features and add-ons.
I’ve changed to ConvertKit for my email automation and landing pages. I use Skype for client calls and plan to use Zoom for webinars, and Xero accounting software. I’ve started using Zapier to link my e-commerce, accounting software, contact forms and email marketing. It took me about 3 months to re-brand my courses and create the three different levels from my original e-course. While there are many options out there, I did my own website, logo and found all the platforms that I use, over 3-12 months. I taught myself how to do many of these things and started with a limited budget. I have been able to adapt the process of becoming a fully flourishing Digital Nomad through my intuitive practices and my love of technology.
Go for what resonates I’d encourage you to do what works for you and go for what resonates. I love working as a digital nomad. I love the freedom of being my own boss, making my own hours, doing business my way and being free to do it anywhere at any time via phone and Skype. While the income is variable and it’s just me, I have rarely been out of a house sit for more than two weeks and have consistently supported this lifestyle financially. For some it can seem to be an insecure lifestyle, but for me it is an adventure. I have done various work but my online digital nomad business is by far the most satisfying and lucrative.
Follow in my footsteps You could definitely follow in my footsteps and do it even faster than I did. In fact, that’s what I teach people to do, having already done the hard yards. Finding something you enjoy doing is key, and being passionate about what you’re doing gives you the energy to keep going. Web based skills definitely help in being a digital nomad. However, even if you don’t have any, there are many online resources out there. The key to creating your digital nomad business is bringing all of who you are to the process. Over your lifetime you’ve gained many skills, both inner and outer. The power is in drawing on all these skills and talents that you've gained in life to integrate them and create your unique digital nomad business. Many people miss this and imitate what others have done rather than bringing the uniqueness of their skills into something new and impactful. The power of pulling together all that you've learned is the acceleration of your digital nomad business. Do something that is in resonance with who you are, what you’d love to create and what wants to be created through you. When these all are in alignment, success is the only option. The way to know what resonates is through intuition so you can see beyond what you've always known into the world you choose to create.
Until now, for many, becoming a digital nomad has meant using a left brain process of working things out. Understanding and integrating your right brain creative intelligence through intuition is the design process that makes the digital nomad great. Intuition becomes the secret weapon of the digital nomad. I would wholeheartedly recommend the digital nomad lifestyle. Just be sure to do it your way. That’s another key. The joy of this lifestyle is in being your own person on your terms. If you need constant job security, it’s not for you. If you love adventure, meeting new people, having new experiences and a passionate lifestyle being a digital nomad could be for you. There are other people doing what I do but my key has been in finding what I have to offer that’s unique. For me that is supporting people to find their own answers and truth rather than telling them what to do. If you’d love to find what your unique gifts are, begin by asking yourself
What am I truly passionate about? What are my values? What can’t I live without? What is my particular gift that sets me apart?
I love living the lifestyle of a digital nomad because I love the freedom. It’s an abundant lifestyle, full of adventure and travel. Being an intuitive digital nomad allows me to live and travel freely, pursue my passion for adventure and to make intuitive choices about house sitting and my digital business. There are many ways to create income as a digital entrepreneur but doing that intuitively is extremely efficacious. If it speaks to you, I highly recommend you answer the call to become a digitally nomadic entrepreneur.
When you identify your truth, creative acceleration ignites, expediting your success and seeing you achieve impactful results! Alchemy occurs and resources arise in the form of people, things, opportunities and creative, intelligent engagement with your path flows. Intuition gives you the powerful ability to discern which one of these opportunities is uniquely right for you to accelerate what you'd love to create.
I support you to discover what you really love, help you see beyond the white noise and confidently identify what you want and the next steps to Dance Through Life! Bernardine Devine
Bernie is the founder of the CREATE PASSIONATELY & DANCE THROUGH LIFE e-Courses and consulting. She has an MA in Creative Writing, over 30 years’ experience in the consciousness field, 20 years training in intuition and 10 years in the study of alchemy and creating. She has training in natural therapies including herbal medicine and nutrition, holistic coaching and counseling, kinesiology, Journeywork, dance training, writing, intuition, creating, alchemy and consciousness. Bernie enjoys living a life of freedom, profit and adventure as an intuitive digital entrepreneur. “Create Passionately and Dance through Life!” www.bernardinedevine.com https://business.facebook.com/createpassionately
HOW TO GET THE CHEAPEST FLIGHT FOR YOUR NEXT HOUSE SITTING ASSIGNMENT by Jane Dempster-Smith As we travel internationally on many house sitting assignments, travel planning is essential and it can be both time consuming and confusing. Travel planning and getting the lowest cost solution for us can make or break a decision to bid for a house sitting assignment. Today each of us has the ability to use resources like Skyscanner, Google Flights, and Kayak etc., to source the cheapest flights from destination A to B. However, the reality is that search engine software is driven to achieve a business outcome and will not necessarily give you the best fare based upon your travel requirements. With our detailed knowledge of airline hubs we are able to take an itinerary and reconstruct it to find the most cost effective solution. Our 40 years+ travel agency experience is used to help plan simple or complex itineraries for our clients.
Here’s our most recent flight planning and cost example: We are house sitting in Barbados for 3 months from 22nd March to 20th June 2017 and will then relocate to Europe after that. Our plans need to be confirmed prior to arrival into Barbados for immigration purposes. It is essential that we have our onward flight tickets booked, otherwise we could have issues with being allowed into the country. We will now walk you through how we saved USD $943 per person on airfare costs in 5 easy steps, when we began our research back in November 2016.
Planned departure date from Barbados to London - 20th June 2017 All fares shown in US Dollars and are per person. They exclude all transit costs, accommodation, taxis and food at all stages of travel.
STEP ONE (airline's own website) Check full fares on airlines departing Barbados to London by searching on airline’s own website: Result on 20th June: American Airlines, Barbados to Miami to London Total fare USD $1343 Search on Google Flights: Result on 21st June (one day later): British Airways, Barbados to London DIRECT Total fare USD $1217 Question: Can we improve on price of USD $1343 on our preferred date of 20th with American Airlines via Miami?
STEP TWO (using Google Flights) Check Google Flights: https://www.google.com/flights/ 1. Result on 20th June: American Airlines, Barbados to Miami, Air Berlin, Miami to Dusseldorf, British Airways, Dusseldorf to London, Total fare USD $964 2. Result on 21st June: WestJet, Barbados to Toronto, to St Johns, Newfoundland, to London Gatwick Total fare USD $637 (This would involve extra accommodation, transfers and meals in Barbados that are not included in this amount)
Question: Is there a cheaper alternative? 3. Result on 20th June: American Airlines, Barbados to Miami - USD $149 TAP Air Portugal, Miami via Lisbon to London Gatwick - USD $421 Total fare: USD $570 Saving: USD $ 770 off American Airlines full fare in Step 1
STEP THREE (Option via Frankfurt) Question: Can we get a cheaper fare than USD $570 Check using Skyscanner: http://Skyscanner.com Result on 20th June: Condor Airlines, Barbados to Frankfurt Lufthansa, Frankfurt to London Heathrow Total fare: USD $571 (one ticket, two sectors) Question: Is there a cheaper Skyscanner alternative via Frankfurt by booking two separate tickets? Result 20th June: Condor Airlines, Barbados to Frankfurt - USD $403 Lufthansa, Frankfurt to London Heathrow (on 21st June) - USD $ 83 Total fare: USD $486 Saving further USD $85 on $571 fare above (accommodation, transfers, food etc. not included)
STEP FOUR (different US Airport option) Question: Can we get a cheaper fare than USD $486 by flying from a different US airport? Reviewed using Skyscanner, Google Flights and Kayak Check airfares from Barbados to another US Airport, e.g. Fort Lauderdale 1. Result with Kayak 20th June: JetBlue, Barbados to Fort Lauderdale - USD $114 2. Result with Skyscanner 20th June Norwegian Air, Fort Lauderdale to Stockholm - USD $178 (no baggage), Norwegian Air, Fort Lauderdale to Stockholm - USD $252 (checked bag) 3. Result with Skyscanner 21st June: SAS Airlines, Stockholm to London Heathrow - USD $34 Total fare: USD $400 with checked luggage on Norwegian Air Saving of USD $ 943 against American Airlines full fare (in step 1)
STEP FIVE (Frequent flyer points) Comparing the cheapest fare against redemption of Qantas Frequent Flyer Points
Flight on American Airlines – Barbados to Miami USD $149 Flight from Miami to London on British Airways 35,000 points plus taxes of USD $265 Total fare: USD $ 414 (excluding overnight accommodation and other expenses in Miami)
This is still more expensive than cheapest flights found of USD $400 (per person)
Other things to consider when planning
On assumption you are not pushed for time, could you take advantage of these flights and utilize stopovers as well? Consider implications of visas, e.g. overstaying your visa, transit visas, Schengen, ESTA etc., and associated costs. Check the land costs of transfers, accommodation, food, either in Barbados or Miami. Check costs of transfers between terminals – they can add-up and reduce overall savings. Ensure you allow recommended connection times between flights. Consider any air miles you can utilize and/or accumulate Consider using credit cards linked to your frequent flyer program to build up air mile points. Consider breaking down your itinerary as separate bookings as show in this example to reduce your travel costs. Check out baggage allowances, the savings made could be eaten up by baggage costs Travel insurance Consider taking own food on airlines that don’t include this in the cost of ticket.
!! SPECIAL OFFER !! Air flight travel planning offer for House Sitting Magazine subscribers: If it all seems too time-consuming or still a little confusing, then our To Travel Too planning services are here to assist. For House Sitting Magazine subscribers we are offering:
“No Savings, No Payment” for a review of your current flight plans Simply email your interest and we will engage with you to determine if we feel that we can save you $$.
Email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Jane Dempster-Smith, Travel Guru and Co-Founder of To Travel Too Over the past four decades, Jane’s passion for travel has taken her to over 44 countries. Having lived and worked in Australia, the UK and Singapore, she has extensive experience in all aspects of travel, from airport ground staff, to air hostessing, retail, corporate and group travel. She’s enjoyed flying in two seaters, hot air balloons and even on Concorde. Jane now offers her skills to baby boomers who want to change their lives - to travel light and travel far. You can find Jane Dempster-Smith on Facebook www.facebook.com/totraveltoo and at the website www.totraveltoo.com
GETTING TO GRIPS WITH THE SPANISH LANGUAGE by Ian Usher
Why do you travel? People travel for a huge variety of different reasons:
A short break The annual holiday A student gap year Business travel Different weather, e.g. sun or snow Activities Experience
Adventure Study Career relocation Expat lifestyle Culture
As longer-term travellers Vanessa and I try to immerse ourselves in the culture of any country that becomes our temporary home for a while. We often say that house sitting offers the opportunity to "live like a local", rather than just "visit as a tourist". We try to shop at the local markets as much as possible, eat in local restaurants, and occasionally have a drink or two in a local bar. We read up on the country's history, and really try to get a feel for what it is like to live there.
But to do this you really do need to have at least a rudimentary grasp of the local language. It's polite and respectful to at least be able to say "hello", "please" and "thank you" in your host country's language. Being able to ask for the bathroom is a pretty essential phrase too! In China, where we worked for a year as English teachers, we really struggled. The language is so different from English. In our home town of Shenzhen many people spoke English, and all our students wanted to practice their English with us, so we had little opportunity to develop our Chinese.
Our limited ability in Chinese became much more of a challenge when we started traveling in China. We would often find ourselves in situations where nobody spoke any English at all. I had learned the numbers, could ask about prices, and could haggle confidently, so buying what we needed wasn't an issue. One of the most important phrases I learned was, "That's too expensive." My Chinese students tell me that I am a very good negotiator in Chinese! But beyond haggling in the market, there were many challenges. Hotels, transport and restaurant menus provided many difficulties. It's all part of the adventure though. Now we have been in Central America for the past six months, where the main language is Spanish. For anyone whose first language is English, Spanish is a very accessible language, as many words are very similar. Both Vanessa and I have a little grounding in Spanish, and I particularly wanted to make efforts to improve, hopefully to the point of being conversational.
To learn a new language, where do you begin? An early consideration will be what type of learner you are:
Do you like to listen to audios? Are you a visual learner? Do you grasp things more quickly if you read and write? Maybe you would prefer a more traditional, structured classroom approach?
A lot will depend on your level of motivation too. Are you able to study alone? Or do you need the enforced structure of a set of booked lesson appointments? It is much easier to be inspired to learn a language when you are in the country, and you hear the language every day, all around you. Whatever language you wish to learn, there will be a bewildering array of resources available to you. Some time spent researching online, along with an honest appraisal of your own preferences and requirements, will set you off in the right direction. Here are a few of the resources I have used to help improve my Spanish over the past few months.
1) Synergy Spanish I found this audio course, along with the associated downloadable study materials, to be a fantastic start point. If you really want a quick start, learning how to communicate effectively, then this is the course for you.
The teacher, Marcus Santamaria, is originally from Australia, but married a Mexican girl. Keen to communicate with his wife's family he set out to learn Spanish. Now fully fluent, he has developed an extremely effective way to ease you in to the language. No verb conjugation tables to learn, no grammar gobbledygook. Just plain, simple Spanish the way the locals use it. One of my favourite things about Synergy Spanish is how quickly you can learn to say so much with just a few words. Marcus teaches a very practical "power verb" structure, which allows you to express a lot in a very natural manner.
You can download the audios in MP3 format. I have them all on my phone, and listen to them whenever I have a spare ten minutes. There are also videos for those who prefer a more visual approach, along with written study materials to re-enforce what you have learned. I really can't recommend these courses highly enough. This is probably the best value quick start in Spanish you will find. TAP HERE to find out more.
2) SpanishDict A friend pointed me to this fantastic FREE app.
I have it on my phone, and whether online or not, it provides a very quick translation for most words and some phrases. Much of the time I understand most of what I read, and a good proportion of what I hear, but this is great for filling in the gaps when you just can't work out what a particular word means. It translates in both directions, so it's also great when you need a particular word in Spanish to help you say something. SpanishDict was very useful today when we had a bit of a plumbing emergency at our AirBnB accommodation. I now know the correct Spanish for "float valve", as used in a water tank, to open or close the flow of water to fill the tank.
The app provides example sentences, and offers alternate uses for many words. There is also a complete verb conjugation option, which gives you every possible way to use each verb. Absolutely invaluable!
3) Warren Hardy Spanish School Warren Hardy has been teaching Spanish for decades, and his school in San Miguel de Allende is very popular here with expats. When we first arrived at our San Miguel house sit, our home owners showed us their study materials from the courses they had enrolled for. It was easy to skim through Level 1, all of which I had covered in my Synergy Spanish audios. This gave a good overview of everything needed to express yourself well in the present tense. But I became engrossed when I picked up Level 2, and this has really pushed along my understanding of the past tense. I should finish this level this week, studied solely in a selfdirected fashion. The plan is now to buy Levels 3 and 4 to take with us on the next leg of our journey through Cuba and beyond. When we return to San Miguel in March, I'm seriously considering going along for some lessons, as I really like the way the material is structured. I also enjoy the fact that Warren really pushes you on quite quickly.
Take a look at the Warren Hardy website here. There are lots of useful materials, some free lessons, and some great videos too. This is the package I'm buying this week: https://warrenhardy.com/bookstore/level-3-level-4-special
4) Rosetta Stone Rosetta Stone is possibly one of the best known language learning systems. It's pretty expensive, but many people report great success. I tried it for a while, but I found it a little repetitive. I also felt that my progress was very slow. It's still installed on my computer, but I rarely return to it.
5) DuoLingo DuoLingo is a nice FREE app for your phone or tablet, and offers a wide range of language options. It is great for a quick five minute practice and also "nags" you to practice on a daily basis, which is good if you lack motivation. It is also very good at remembering your mistakes, and keeps bringing these words up again until you remember them.
6) Movies, TV and radio This is a great way to practice and improve, once you have a decent grounding in the language. I tell my Chinese students to watch English and American movies. My suggestion is to watch once with Chinese subtitles, just to enjoy the movie. Then watch again with English subtitles instead. This way you can read and listen at the same time, which increases understanding. So, taking a leaf out of my own book, Vanessa and I have been going to the local cinema to watch Mexican movies. It's only 22 pesos (about a dollar) on Wednesday afternoons, so it's no big loss if we don't understand everything. I particularly enjoyed Star Wars: Rogue One in Spanish, understanding most of it after first seeing it first in English. We also enjoyed this horror movie, filmed very close to where we have been house sitting in San Miguel. Horror movies are particularly easy to understand, whatever their country of origin. Screaming sounds the same in any language!
Another movie we really enjoyed was a great Mexican family comedy/drama. "Un padre no tan padre" was filmed in our house sit city of San Miguel de Allende, so it was fun spotting the filming locations too. It was a bit more challenging than "La Niña de la Mina", but we understood most of what was going on, and learned a few new phrases.
7) One-to-one lessons Of course there is always the option to take one-to-one lessons too. This could be either in person, or online. I was recently told about the opportunity to study Spanish with teachers in Venezuela. Because the Venezuelan currency has crashed badly compared to most other currencies, the cost for lessons with well-qualified teachers works out to be only about US $4 per hour. I still have to investigate further, but this sounds like a great deal.
8) Complete immersion Simply being in a Spanish-speaking country helps with the learning process, as you pick up new things every day. To take this a step further, it is possible to book home-stay visits with local families, where you will not hear a word of English for a week or two, or even longer, if you like. Maybe one day...
This list of language-learning possibilities just scratches the surface of a world of learning opportunities. Make sure you don't just visit a country as a tourist. Learn a little of the language, and become more of a local.
HOUSESITMEXICO BEHIND THE SCENES WITH ALEX GORDON intro by Vanessa, feature by Alex Gordon
In this month's issue, we asked Alex Gordon, of the recently re-launched HouseSitMexico platform, to tell us more about her love affair with Mexico. Alex also explains why she was inspired to take over a house sitting website that focuses on a destination that is becoming more and more popular for international house sitters.
Introducing Alex Gordon & HouseSitMexico I'm an American "Bi-Coastal". I was born on the East Coast, raised mostly on the West Coast, and then moved to New York where I had the bulk of my career experience. This is where my husband and I raised our family. My first career was as a video producer. I worked on a fair number of "high tech" productions, integrating computers with video and creating interactive programming. This was back when a "laser disc" was the size of a 33-rpm record. In my later career, I had over 20 US Patents issued for media (CD/DVD) packaging I created. One way or another, I've always been involved in creative work intertwined with technology.
A word or two on pets: When it comes to pets, I'm sorry to say that in my thirties I developed some very bad allergies to dogs, cats, dust and other things. But before the allergies kicked in I owned and loved three cats and one real character of a small dog.
Falling in love with Mexico: My love affair with Mexico started when I went with friends on a great adventure, four-wheel driving in a Land Rover down the length of Baja. I've loved Mexico since that first trip. The following summer I traveled by myself across Mexico. In Merida I made friends with some Mexican kids my age and went with them by boat along the northern coast of the Yucatan to what was then one of the most magical places on earth - Isla Mujeres. I was hooked and ever since then, Mexico has had a very special place in my heart.
Our first Mexican house sitting experience: Years later, in the wake of "The Great Recession" my husband's consulting company and my business were negatively affected. The cost of living where we lived in New York was very high. So with the kids grown and out of the house, we looked at each other and said, "Let's go to Mexico". Still not sure where we would want to settle, we joined the original "HouseSitMexico" (then owned by Stan Tappan and his wife, Muriel Velasquez). And so began our adventure in house sitting. We first did a string of house sits in Patzcuaro, Michoacan and San Miguel de Allende, and then in Ajijic at Lake Chapala, where we finally chose to settle. In our experience of moving to Mexico, we had some pre-conceived notions about where we wanted to live. Once we house sat however, we changed our minds about a lot of things.
The experience cemented my belief that house sitting really is the best way to get to know an area before making long term commitments, such as buying or renting a home. I call it "experiential research".
How I came to acquire HouseSitMexico: During the time we were members, I wrote more than one email to Stan and Muriel about what HouseSitMexico was, and what it wasn't. After Stan's death in 2015, Muriel recalled my input. We came to an agreement and I bought the site in early 2016. Because the original HouseSitMexico was technologically out of date, I chose to shut it down while developing the new site, and it was successfully re-launched in November later that year.
About our new HouseSitMexico: I'm really proud of the look, feel, features and functionality of the new HouseSitMexico. We have similar features as the international house sitting websites, such as "private messaging". In "filtered searches", on both sides of the platform, we have a cool "regional map of Mexico", which is really helpful for people who are less familiar with Mexico. For both home owners and house sitters, searches can be done by specifying dates, as well as the preferred duration of house sitting assignments, and what animals might be cared for. We also offer lots of information about Mexico, including links to regional forums and online resources.
About being a one-country website: Unlike the international websites, we're focused only on Mexico. That's a plus to homeowners in Mexico, because the house sitters who join are, by the very act of their membership, demonstrating their commitment and desire to house sit in Mexico. That's an immediate reason why, even at the outset of the interview process, homeowners in Mexico can have greater confidence that our applicants will be a good fit. Our orientation at HouseSitMexico is very community minded – and we have a very large community of about a million expats, just from the US and Canada!
Membership Structure: What's also unique is that HouseSitMexico offers just one type of membership, in which both homeowners and house sitters pay equally. Yearly membership costs $79 USD (but see special offer below)
This structure allows homeowners in Mexico to also be house sitters if they wish - for no additional charge. Therefore our house sitters are a mix of international travelers and sitters who live in Mexico, many of them homeowners who may be interested in visiting a different part of the country from time to time. Because we have this mix, we don't employ a rating system. Where some sitters may have numerous references and house sitting experience (which can be reflected in their profile), other sitters offer their experience of living in Mexico. We let each homeowner sort out what they're looking for in a sitter. That hasn't been hard to do, as they've been receiving a manageable number of applications for each assignment. Again, this is a virtue of being a one-country site. Getting a house sit is not nearly as competitive as on some of the international sites, and homeowners have told me they appreciate getting a few high quality applicants rather than being besieged with more applicants than they can or want to wade through. So far it's worked very well. Since our launch, HouseSitMexico has consistently had more house sits in Mexico than all the international house sitting websites combined, and the feedback received from homeowners has been excellent.
ARE YOU UP FOR A COLD WEATHER CHALLENGE? intro by Vanessa, feature by Louise Read
It seems that in recent issues of House Sitting Magazine, we've talked more about hot weather climates and the problems associated with extreme heat and humidity. These wet, off-season months are often when owners leave their homes to vacation or visit family. But, as winter is upon us, we thought we should look at some of the challenges that extreme cold can present when house sitting. Whilst many of us are looking for warm weather opportunities, there are some that want to experience the magic of snow and ice. Aussies spring to mind in this case!
Winter in Europe is expensive as the ski season gets underway, and house sits are unlikely as properties can generate high rental incomes. But in Canada it's a different story and house sitting opportunities are available every year as "snowbirds" migrate south. This month we find out more about winter house sitting from Canadians, Tim and Lou Read of House Sitting World.
WHO ARE THE SNOWBIRDS? A snowbird migrates with the seasons. In Canada, the Northern USA and Northern European countries, human snowbirds are typically retirees or business owners who wish to escape the snow and the cold temperatures of the winter season. Instead the benefit from warmer climates with increased sunlight hours. Generally, they travel to Spain, the Bahamas, Mexico and the southern USA states where they often maintain a winter residence. They leave the north in November and return in April. The average snowbird is gone 4-6 months. Many snowbirds own small dogs and cats, and given the high cost of kenneling or a home check service, house sitters are beginning to become a more popular option. Snowbirds will begin looking for house sitters as early as July and, as the popularity of house sitting increases, so too will the competition for great house sitters willing to brave the cold. As the winter months in Canada are a unique challenge, house sitters get an unforgettable experience.
Adventure abounds For those house sitters who have not had the opportunity to experience a typical Canadian winter, this is a fantastic opportunity. Depending on the location of your house sit, you’ll be able to:
ski cross country or downhill ice skate outdoors on lakes and canals do some ice fishing go snowmobiling experience the absolute joy of a hot tub in sub-zero temperatures
For the truly adventurous, try:
ice hockey (hard) curling (easy and fun to learn) winter camping (above average outdoor survival skills strongly recommended)
Getting prepared This year, we've agreed to do a house sit in Alberta, Canada. We expect the average daytime temperature to be around -20 C. To date, we’ve had two in-person meetings with the owners to learn about the dogs, the hot tub, and how they expect us to manage snow and ice around the home and property. Fortunately, as Canadians we're well prepared for the cold, and we know exactly what to expect from the weather and its unique impact on the dogs. Our host has used house sitters for many years and cannot imagine leaving the house for so long without a sitter in residence.
Unique challenges If you do agree to house sit in Canada during the winter months, be warned. It can be a very challenging experience. Snow storms or ice rain can wreak havoc on the roads and driving in such conditions presents many hazards. Once the temperature drops below -30 C, you must take special precautions when outdoors ensuring that ALL your skin is covered lest you get frostbite. Remember that no matter the temperature, the dogs still need to go for a walk.
Some dog breeds have pads that allow the snow to accumulate between them and you’ll have to clean them out. You know this to be the case when the dog stands still and holds their paw up as if they’re injured (they’re not). Regardless of the dog, they cannot be left outside without access to shelter in extreme cold. Winter house sitting in the northern climates can be a thrilling experience. While it does present challenges, unique opportunities abound and, if you take advantage of them, you’ll find these house sits create amazing memories!
WHO ARE WE? We are nomadic Grandparents. A semi-retired, professional couple who simply walked away from the demands of our respective industries. Why? Because one of our grand-kids has a shirt that says "should've, could've, did”.
As Canadians, both of us have traveled through Canada extensively. Between us, we’ve been to every corner of the country, even the North Pole! House sitting has allowed us to combine our experience with our desire to travel. In the past year we have sold everything (almost), traveled to 4 continents, visited 21 countries and house sat over 200 nights!
We will be taking a break in February as we are traveling for a month in Cuba, where WiFi is limited. The next issue will be in March, when we will be looking at off-grid house sits and focusing on Panama as a house sitting location. See you again soon.