Elizabeth Geren, a freelance designer from Florida, shares her experience traveling abroad for the first time while exploring the digital nomad life in Playa del Carmen, MX.

Finding Myself in the World

In life, having will-power alone just isn’t enough. By choosing to travel, I’ve widened my worldview and increased my mental strength. Proof that environment and experience are determinants of growth. If we limit ourselves to just one geographic area or surround ourselves with small-minds, we limit our own development, or worse yet, miss the big picture of this amazing thing called life. Traveling is kind of like finding the pieces of a puzzle and putting it together – With missing pieces, you can’t have the perspective or appreciation of the completed masterpiece.

Chichen Itza

Traveling has taught me that the path of least resistance can easily take you in the wrong direction. I started my digital nomad journey as an engineer who wanted to build something more for myself. This not only reflects a change in mindset from scarcity to abundance in my life, but also that I am evolving as a person. I loved engineering and the new challenges I faced everyday, yet something was missing. The problem was that I just couldn’t consciously determine what it was. I became consumed by this unfulfilling and hectic lifestyle, first as an Aerospace Engineering student for 4 years and then as an entry-level Systems Engineer for 2 years. Until I began traveling and living on my own terms, I never understood that I wasn’t enjoying the present.

Traveling Abroad For the First Time

I physically left the US for the first time on 5 September 2018, but mentally I had left it much, much sooner. Due to my ignorance of international travel, I envisioned all these mental barriers. I falsely believed that I couldn’t afford to travel, caught up in my own day-to-day survival. Instead of focusing on overall satisfaction, I was thinking only about how much I could earn in 10 years of being an engineer.

Then something really crazy happened: I discovered a new passion for graphic design. I also began to read a lot more, realizing the difficulties I had relating with others at home. Even though I was changing, the environment around me was not. I made the decision to leave my corporate engineering job, founded my own graphic & website design studio, and didn’t look back.

Here are my main takeaways from my first journey abroad as a digital nomad, or a globe trotting boss as I prefer to be called. By sharing my experiences with you, I hope you are inspired to take the same leap of faith to pursue your own dreams. My first destination was Playa del Carmen, Mexico, smack dab in the middle of Cancun and Tulum.

Lesson 1: Embrace the Culture

If you aren’t failing often, then you aren’t trying hard enough. I say this because I “fail” at something almost everyday. For instance, during my first week in Mexico, I didn’t know enough Spanish to even order food that I like and I struggled to get around. This forced me to learn more Spanish and to better adapt to my surroundings. Granted, Caribbean Mexico has a large American tourist influence, but don’t expect everyone to speak fluent English.

The most amazing $2 USD latte from Yum Yum Cafe.

Try New Things

While I discovered that I dislike authentic enchiladas and that Mexican food isn’t my favorite, I now appreciate food from home far more. I did find food that I enjoyed, and although it probably wasn’t authentic Mexican food, it did help me through this period of transition.

I also learned how to travel like a local using taxis collectivos and to take my clothes to be washed at a lavanderia. I could list plenty of things that I learned from, that I’d never previously encountered. No matter the lesson, these new experiences help us find new ways of doing and being. It can be difficult to adjust in the beginning, but this shouldn’t deter one from leaving their country and some new ways are actually better than at home. Granted, it was nerve racking to hop into a van full of strangers after only meeting the driver that yelled “Tulum, Tulum, 45 pesos!”, but I got to where I was going and it was all good.

Meet Local People

Playa del Carmen has plenty of “locals” – more so than you might imagine – considering how much of a tourist destination the town is. During my time there, I has the pleasure of meeting many lovely Mexicans, as well as Argentines, during my stay here. What I loved the most about the Mexican people is their hospitable nature. Their friendliness, their humility and how welcome they made me feel here will always stay with me.

I can’t think of a place where so many people who were strangers were so kind and genuinely interesed in knowing me. For quite some time, I had some trouble making friends at home in US, and following my 4 weeks in Mexico, I have already made a few life-long friends!

The best benefit of meeting locals is their knowledge about cultural references and the national history. Without the help of my new friends, Oskar (pictured above), Jeremías, Diana and others, I would have never learned how to use Taxis Collectivos, who Peter Anguilla is, where to buy the “good” food, Mexican history, and most importantly, how to speak proper Spanish.

I had a really difficult time in the beginning and I thought frequently about going home. That was until I had a heart-to-heart conversation with a stranger who saw that I was struggling. I was really shocked that someone, who I now consider a friend, would comfort me like that, because that would never happen in my own culture. It is refreshing to realize that maybe the world is actually full of good people, and it seems like I won’t have a problem making friends after all!

Be Patient & Go With the Flow

Unexpected things will happen on your journey. Thankfully, my flight on JetBlue was without delay and the ADO buses are always on time. What I struggled with the most was how everyday things are handled so differently in Mexico than in the US. If you want something, you have to ask for it. People here tend to walk slower or do things that are considered unacceptable at home. What I learned is that the longer I stayed in Mexico, the more context I had about how and why things are the way they are here, and I learned to embrace it all.

It’s easy to experience setbacks when traveling or to be confused by a local custom. Either way, it is best to take a step back and remember you’re in their country. They have lived their life in an entirely different way, and it’s your job to become accustomed to that and not vice versa. Now that I’ve traveled to Mexico for a month, I’ve come to appreciate the way of life here and will actually miss it!

Everything I Learned In My First Month as a Digital Nomad – Part Two continues next week!

The post Everything I Learned In My First Month as a Digital Nomad – Part One was first published on Coworkaholic.


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