I have stayed in 40 Airbnb’s since I ditched my lease 3 years ago.
That number would be higher except for the fact that we spent a year in an apartment in Mexcio City. As we watched Airbnb rates go up by about 30% due to increased tourism by the coveted millennial crowd, I decided to take on the life experience of leasing an apartment in CDMX.
It was a little cheaper over the course of the year, it had great light for shooting video, and we were 10 minutes on bike to gorgeous Chapultepec Park.
Even so, I was happy to let the lease go after a year.
The kitchen was about the size of a ship’s galley, and since we were in an apartment and not on a yacht, the charm of a doll size stove and tiny counter wore off after about a week.
There was a ridiculous, unsafe policy that residents were not given keys to the front door of the building. The doorman had to provide access anytime we wanted to leave or enter the building. I tried not to think about what would happen if there was a fire and “el Poli” (as the doormen are known here) passed out before he had a chance to unlock the front door.
Apart from that, at the end of our lease, we had the chance to house sit and take care of a sweet dog in Todos Santos, Mexico. Free rent, and we were ready for a change of scenery. Vamanos!
While we were in Todos Santos, we went to La Paz about once a week for groceries, maybe a movie, and hang out in a coffee shop with decent wif. Each time we visited, I kept thinking, this town is interesting in a non-glitzy, non-Cabo kind of way.
So, after we finished up in Todos, we decamped to La Paz instead of Cabo.
A brief perusal of rents showed us we can live like ricos for about $900 a month rent, and live just fine for even less.
The other day, weighing options and tradeoffs, I realized we are not super fired up to move just now.
I’ve got some US travel coming up and hurricanes are brewing up along the southern coast of mainland Mexico that could definitely rain on our parade along our route back.
So, long story short, it makes more sense and, just as importantly, sounds more fun, to stay in La Paz for a few months.
A trip to a gorgeous beach and equally sublime swimming hole in the mountains sealed the deal. You’ll be hearing more about what we discover here in La Paz in the upcoming months.
This post covers one of the nicest surprise of all, that has no doubt colored our good impression of the town.
The Airbnb we are in right now is the best one we have stayed in yet, based our slow travel lens of staying more than a couple weeks and working online.
Here is a long term stay tip for Airbnb:
Try to stay at least a month because the discount can be substantial. In fact, even if we aren’t going to be someplace the whole month, I always compare the 30 day rate for the exact number of days, say 25 to 27 days. Often the monthly rate is cheaper.
I'll cover specific reasons why the current AirBnB is the best one we have stayed in so far. This is in the context of the fact that Sergio and I are very different travelers in one key aspect.
I share this perspective because you may have a similar dynamic with your partner.
He is the perfect travel partner in many ways - he is very open to new experiences, new people, and new environments. He has a lot of energy. He has lived outside of his comfort zone most of his life, so to him, change is not scary.
Sergio is more outgoing than I am, his Spanish is obviously better than mine, and his willingness to ask anyone about anything definitely opens up experiences that I could not have source on my own.
In Mexico, there is still a strong tradition of “ask the locals” if you need information. It is not uncommon for me to be on google maps at the same time he is yelling out the car window to someone on the street for directions.
Also, now that he knows sourcing local food is important to me, he makes it Job One to find out which señora has the chickens, who the local pig farmer is (if there is one), is there a local dairy cow, who sells honey, and times and location for the traditional tianguis.
The only major travel-style difference between us is this: His definition of travel necessities and mine are at opposite ends of the backpack.
To him, travel size toiletries include a jumbo shampoo from Costco and 2 spare tubes of toothpaste. We have boxes of kitchen spices and other mystery items that now follow us around.
For our stay in Todos Santos, he packed a big suitcase with a heavy coat and sweaters, which we didn’t need, and he told me later he couldn’t fit the fan in the car, which we definitely could have put to good use.
I’m not sniping at him behind his back, he knows this is a sore point for me and I know he wishes I would relax about how changing locations is beginning to feel like we are moving a small Mexican village. We have talked about this at length.
I’m not saying my perspective is necessarily “right”. Just because it doesn’t bother me to wear the same 4 things all the time, I can see how someone else would see that as boring, especially if that person is an artsy, extroverted, attractive Mexican man.
One of the challenges of slow travel with someone of a collecting mindset is this: it gives them more time to accumulate. This is probably worth its own blog post, and definitely worth a conversation if you are planning on travel with your partner. The compromise we have worked out is we each have our own suitcases and once those are full, no más.
Sounds good, right? Actual results vary as extra duffel bags appear out of nowhere, bigger suitcases replace medium sized “maletas” - oh well, its a work in progress.
Obviously, I am a fan of Airbnb. We make new friends, learn about the local community, and save a ton of money over hotel stays. I also rack up airline miles because I use my credit card to pay, something I couldn't do when we were paying a lease. We spend between $700 and $1000 per month with Airbnb. We have spent less, but rarely more.
We eat better and spend less on food because we can cook most of the time at home, even though home changes every couple of months.
Airbnb acquired most of the smaller vacation rental websites over the past few years. I wish they still had some real competition. It would force them to improve their website and core offering. More about that later, too.
With that as a backdrop, here we go:
The current Airbnb we are in is the Best One So Far.
This is why:
Location: we are 2 blocks from the beach boardwalk, restaurants, and coffee shops. Also, La Paz is cheaper than CDMX. For the price of a typical one bedroom Airbnb in Mexico City, we are getting two bedrooms instead of one. We are paying $960 for this unit for 32 nights.
Condition: Newly remodeled, spacious and very clean.
Parking: A garage with a solid door, not just a gate.
Privacy: A freestanding apartment over a garage with lots of natural light. For now, it has no common walls with another unit . From our patio we have a view of rooftops, the ocean beyond, and signs of another unit under construction next door. It apparently not on the fast track, as no one has worked on it since we arrived. Fine by me!
It is very quiet. Much quieter than Todos Santos, which is a fraction of the size of La Paz but overrun with dogs, roosters and big beach trucks with speakers booming out the local top 40 Latin hits.
A nice long island that doubles as a project space or dining table on one end. The 6 burner gas stove is almost bigger than our entire kitchen was in our Mexico City apt. I was rubbing my peepers in disbelief at that one. Gas stoves are very common in Mexico, which is good news for people who like to cook.
New modern full size fridgie.
No dishwasher, but I have yet to see a dishwasher in Mexico, other than the young men in the back of the restaurants, powering through mountains of dishes. Perhaps the luxe rentals include one, I’ve never checked.
Sergio wouldn’t use it anyway, if we had one, he barely tolerates the modern washing machines. He declares they don’t get clothes as clean as the traditional scrub and rinse method his abuela, madre and tias all used.
Again, fine by me, there are only two of us, so the dirty dish burden is pretty light. The tradeoff is Mexicans do not believe in drying dishes. Every Mexican kitchen I’ve ever been in has a mountain of precariously balanced dishes drying in a drying rack. The bigger the family or event, the higher the altitude.
In many kitchens in Mexico, cooking is usually about to happen, happening, or just happened, so this means the dishes in the drying rack are a permanent fixture on the countertop.
As someone who really appreciates vast expanses of clutter free countertops, I have had to choose my battles on that one, and just grab a towel and start drying.
There is a cultural bias in Mexico toward saving and collecting, it is one of the things that makes it such an attractive emerging middle class market for Walmart et al.
As you might guess, Sergio is no exception. We are in an evolving negotiation so we don’t end up with every empty surface hosting an assortment of things that, in my opinion, would be much more comfortable behind the closed door of a cupboard.
To his eternal credit, although he doesn’t understand why you wouldn’t want as many of your belongings as possible out in plain sight all the time, he knows it makes me happy to have things put away, so he does try to do so.
Plenty of dishes and utensils for cooking.
A complete set of pots and pans. 4 knives for food prep, 2 of them are even sharp.
A toaster oven.
A Mr. Coffee coffee maker, but that doesn’t matter as I always BMOFP - bring my own french press.
Full size washer and dryer in a dedicated laundry room, not at the end of the kitchen, outside on a patio, or tucked under the counter in the bathroom. The space has enough room to turn around. This also almost never happens. We don’t use the dryer but it is nice to know its an option if we get several days of rain.
The decor sports a cute non-garish beach theme. There is not just one comfy chair but 2 sofas and a recliner. This is a miracle in Mexico where the seating is often spectacularly uncomfortable.
Big screen TV - we don’t watch TV so this isn’t a big deal to us. We have switched it on to watch soccer once or twice. I need to buy an HDMI cable so we can plug my laptop in and watch Netflix.
2 bedrooms! In this price range in Mexico City, 2 bedrooms would be a rarity.
Each with a big closet. One bedroom is big enough to put my “office” in the corner. Again, this almost never happens.
Plenty of hangers. We can put everything away, including empty suitcases. Can I tell you how happy that makes me?
Even apart from the awesome kitchen, THIS is the reason this Airbnb gets the current “Best in Class” award.
I don’t know why so many Airbnb hosts assume their guests don’t have more than a travel size bottle of shampoo and toothbrush to stash during their stay.
Even if you aren’t like my Meximan, who packs a year supply of products for every hygiene or medical contingency, the bathrooms in most Airbnbs are waaay short on storage space.
For us, the predictable result is that within 2 hours of arrival, our bathroom counter look like inventory week at the local Walgreens. Or, more accurately for Mexico, the corner Farmacia during a tres por dos (3 for 2) sale.
Not this time! Hallelujah chorus, this bathroom has deep drawers so we can put all of our toiletries away. ALL OF THEM. This makes me so much happier than it should.
There is a big shower with natural light.
The toilet is low flush. This should be much more common, especially in the US. When I drove to LA and back from SF a few years ago during a drought, there were signs everywhere to conserve water. Sadly, the toilets in every hotel I stayed in, as well as all the restaurants along the way, were still the traditional whooshing waterchugging models.
And there you have it, many of the elements of a perfect Airbnb
The only complaint, and for me this is a biggie, is the internet is not reliable. At all. I thought it would be better in La Paz but it is actually worse than in Todos Santos. In Mexico City we had great internet, it rarely dropped out.
The Mexican government understands the importance of infrastructure, and Baja has received major upgrades to highways and telecom, especially after category 4 hurricane Odile slammed the area in 2014.
For La Paz, there are long term solutions in the works - a project to bury the trunk line from the mainland under the ocean floor will improve service here. Reports say it will be here by February, one can always hope but that seems optimistic even by Mexican standards.
Fiber optic is present in the city, and right now there are streets torn up to install more cables, but most of the residences do not have fiber optic access right now.
For now, the best upgrade is via the Mexican phone carrier TelCel. They have a high speed data package for residential internet. So now I have a massive craving for one of their little white modems.
You would think it would be simply a matter of dropping by the Telcel office and picking one up, right? Well, this is Mexico, so you would be wrong. More about that later.
What are your top 2 - 3 non-negotiables for a longer term stay? If you don’t know, here is a fun exercise I read about a few years ago that can help you figure that out:
Pack what you think you will need and put all the rest of your stuff away in boxes or a separate closet. Then live for a month with just those things. Keep track of what you miss, need more of, or don’t end up using at all. This is like a dry run for the real thing and can make your first long term trip packing experience easier.
Let us know if you try that, and thanks for reading!
PS - If you are interested in viewing this listing on Airbnb, click HERE.
Todos Santos, Mexico
I walk into the bedroom of the house we are currently caring for, home of a tri-lingual Blue Heeler (Spanish, English and French), a sleek savvy young cat, and a beautiful tiny white kitten with gray tipped ears and tail, blue eyes and huge attitude.
We only recently settled in yet now everything from the closet is on the bed, drawers are open, shirts and pants turned inside out, backpacks rifled through.
No. Sergio is looking for something.
This is a somewhat frequent occurrence. This time, his friend gave him 3000 pesos - about $150 - to take a computer in for repair. Sergio can’t remember where he put the money. It was almost 2 weeks ago and he’s just now remembering that he received the money, because today is the day to go pick up the computer.
Sergio does not have great short term memory, and he doesn’t do well with lots of details in general. It is not just a symptom of getting older. He has been like this his whole life.
His long term memory is pretty good. We were at a beach once and he recognized someone he met in the US years ago. He remembers almost every restaurant we’ve ever been to, but ask him where are the keys, what he did in town this morning, what time it is, or the name of anyone he just met, and he won’t know.
One thing that drew me to him in the first place was his radical way of living in the Now. He lived month to month for about 10 years in the US. He doesn’t like to be alone and he spent very little time in the room he rented with a family. He was always out and about.
He made enough money as a landscaper to pay his rent, send money to his sons, buy food, and spend his free time with his Danza group or the theater group where he was an actor, or in many other community activities.
He saved enough to go to Burning Man twice and take a month off to run with a group from Oregon to LA, but other than that his future planning was limited.
I now see his preference for the Now wasn’t some new age revelation, like it was for me (thank you Ekhart Tolle). For him it is partly a survival tactic built up over decades of realizing that future planning requires keeping track of details, and he’s not good at that. I don’t know if he has ADHD or something else.
I have some theories about how this happened. His nutrition was likely hit and miss as a child. He never had much stability or routine growing up - after his grandmother passed away when he was 5, he moved a lot with his dad, staying with different family members. Even after his dad remarried, Sergio never had his own “space” other than a box for his few things. He didn’t have his own bed until he was in his 20s, when he and his girlfriend moved in together.
He is a very physical, active, social man. He is intelligent but doesn’t learn from mindless repetition and words on a page. In today’s parlance, he likely has a “different learning style”. There was not (and as far as I know still is not) any slice and dice in the rote delivery of public education in Mexico, no enriched curriculum for children like Sergio when he was in school.
He was one of millions of little boys who could not sit still, talked too much in class and craved attention from the girl sitting in front of him. His school performance suffered. Notes were sent home.
Sergio’s father, Luis, finished middle school. He was a chauffer most of his life, and he wanted more for Sergio. He saw the value of education.
Sergio’s grades were a sore point for both of them - Luis thought Sergio simply wasn’t trying. Sergio, who craved his father’s approval more than anything, didn’t know how to improve. My heart aches when I think of how trapped Sergio must have felt, to be trying, failing and not know how to fix it.
There were some rough homework supervision sessions when he was younger. As the years passed, his father’s struggle with alcohol did not improve and Sergio avoided going home until late most evenings.
I didn’t know all of this about Sergio before we adopted this nomadic lifestyle. It wouldn’t have stopped me even if I had, as I don’t believe your past should dictate your lifestyle any more than your possessions should.
But it might have made me be a little more proactive about helping organize us both.
I think of my childhood, and that of most people I know - the gift to have a routine baked into our days, being nagged to clean up our room or make our bed. Arguing over who’s turn it is to set the table for the dinner that shows up every night. To have our own desk, our own bed, our own cubby and a closet to anchor our external world.
I lean on that perspective to help me understand what is going on today, as I look at the jumble of clothes on the bed.
I have never felt sorry for Sergio, pity is a dubious gift, it assumes too much, it is a bit self-serving and not empowering for the other person. But I do have compassion for him.
About a year before I met him, I had been asking the Universe to help me become more compassionate. My own life has been easy, and that has made me open, trusting and generous.
But when you don’t have much real struggle, you may have a hard time understanding the choices or actions of others who have struggled. It may surprise you, but full time travel, when you still have to work to pay your bills, is not easy, so I was drawn to the challenge of that as a way to sharpen my dull edges, too.
Before, I was often impatient with others, and myself, and I knew that becoming more compassionate was the key to growing patience. I believe part of the reason Sergio is in my life is to be a teacher in this sense. His stories, and the people and stories I am able to access just from being with him, are my compassion-building boot camp.
As I stand here looking at the room turned upside down, I am not thinking such enlightened thoughts, not at first. My reflex is to want to be annoyed. Another chaotic search? Another expensive loss?
I reach inside for the sarcastic comment, and I am surprised and happy to find that it is not there. In fact, the negative emotion is not there. I am not annoyed.
I look at his face and I feel, well, compassion for him. He is not yelling or frantic. In fact, he has a disconnected, worried expression, one that I’ve seen before. Probably a survival mode developed after long experience of looking for things that don’t materialize, knowing something took place but not being able to remember the details.
Mexicans can be very blunt with each other, and after years of criticism by family and friends in exactly moments such as this, he doesn’t want to meet my eye. I can only imagine the tape that has started playing in his mind. “Ai cabron, otra vez? Que estabas pensando? Eres tonto amigo.”
His face looks, well, kind of crumpled. He’s going through the motions and has no real expectation of finding the money.
So I think about diving in to help, and then something says,
No, not yet. Chiki needs to be walked.
I say to Sergio,
I’m going to walk la perra and I’ll help you when I get back, OK?
He nods. I take Chiki for her walk, and the calm of the desert expands to meet what is going on inside of me.
We return. The money is still missing. Now, he is beginning to look in places where it has no chance of being, because why would it turn up in my winter clothes suitcase when it has been over 90 degrees since we got here?
Stop, come with me.
I take his hand. We go outside. No matter what the problem is, going outside always helps, especially for him. He sits on the bench in the front porch. We have a plant with the flowers Hawaiians use to make leis. The flowers smell amazing.
Close your eyes.
Try not to think about anything for a couple minutes, just focus on the sounds around you.
The dog panting, the birds, the cicadas, the truck in the distance.
I put the flower under his nose, his face relaxes a bit. After a minute or so I start asking him to visualize when he got the money. You may know the technique - first you picture surrounding details, and then you zero in on thing you are trying to remember. He remembers the room but not much else. I don’t push him, I just accept it.
I can tell that the memory simply isn’t there, or we are pushing up against a broken synapse and he simply can’t access it.
Or can he? Watch what happens next.
I say, “OK, I will go look with fresh ojos” - even though looking is one of my least favorite activities. It is one of the many reasons I don’t want a bunch of random stuff ever again. I still misplace things, but the less you have, the less time you have to spend looking.
The logic of this escapes Sergio, who still hauls twice as much on car trips as we need. Thus the pile of stuff on the bed.
We go back to the room and now I’m wondering where to start. All the sudden he pauses, takes a pair of jeans down from the shelf. He has already checked them but this time he checks the smaller square pocket in the front pocket.
And guess what. He finds the money.
He looks almost stunned, like, what just happened?
Yay baby, that’s awesome!
We celebrate for a minute. I’m so happy for him, I feel like we have made a mighty dent in an old dark pattern.
I go off to take a shower. He comes to the doorway, he’s holding the flower and he says,
You know, I think this flower helped me.
Yes, I think so too.
The next morning as I’m making the bed, I see the flower in some water on his side table.
The situations in our lives are not random occurrences. Many spiritual teachers say that everyone and every moment holds a potential lesson.
Picture the alternate scenario - Sergio looking for something. I arrive and reflexively step into the role of annoyed critic, scolding him, grudgingly agreeing into “help” him look, bringing my own judgmental energy to the whole scene, tossing stuff around, sighing.
Would we have found the money? Maybe, but I don’t think he would have been led to recheck those jeans. I think he would have shut down further.
Much more important than the money, even if we found it, what would have been his emotional take-away? What would I have reinforced in him by bringing impatient irritation in to dance with his stress and worry?
In taking a moment to go outside, connect with the present moment, and then prod gently on the memories of the transaction, I was looking for the literal “Oh yes! I remember now” moment. A key learning for me was, when it didn’t come, I tuned into him, and rather than push for him to try “harder” to remember, I let it go.
So it goes with our life - we are usually looking for a specific, literal outcome. When it doesn’t come, do we let it go and return to our path without negativity - i.e. closing down?
Because look at what happened - something did bubble up for Sergio, an inkling about those jeans that he had already checked.
This is how creativity works, too - we have to trust enough to take breaks, even sometimes at the most irrational moments, and then stay open to what comes up. We expect the answer (or inspiration) will come walking in the front door wearing a sensible blue skirt, and she actually blows in through the sunny window in the next room, in a hot pink sundress.
So that is our Sunday story. If you are considering traveling full time, I hope this list will make traveling with a partner more fun and / or handling different cultures easier:
Check your reflexes
Step back and take a break if something is not working
Check in with nature and the Now
Return to your path with positivity
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