From 2013-2014 I lived in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, Cancun’s infant brother about 45 minutes away. I worked in sales and as a concierge for a vacation rental company.
I’ve been back in the U.S. for over a year now, but there isn’t a day when I don’t think about my experience in Mexico.
Being in such a foreign environment long term is like learning a crash course in the art of living – it leaves you with the same sense of childlike wonder we all had before being programmed with our safety nets, convictions, beliefs, and more. It was an accelerated learning experience and there are the five major things I took out of my time living In Mexico:
1. We Really Don’t Know What We Want.
Maybe we think we know what we want in the abstract — the linear path of college, big kid job, climbing the socioeconomic ladder, but seldom do we realize that this was a trajectory mostly expected of us versus one we chose. It might not be until you subject yourself to novel experiences — living outside the lines, if you will — that you learn what you truly like or dislike.
We’re conditioned to the American dream of white picket fences, six-figure salaries, three perfect children, but this life isn’t for everybody, and that’s okay. Truth is…there are alternative, unconventional ways of living and working that we can readily adopt, beyond the bubbles we were raised in.
2. There Is Usually Never A ‘Right’ Way Of Doing Things.
It is hard not to be influenced by our culture at large. Traditions further ingrain in us how and when to do things, often arbitrarily, until we figure it’s just normal to move out of our parents’ homes or eat dinner at 7 PM or not take siestas.
When a group of friends go out in Argentina, there is never any nit-picking over splitting the bill — everyone pays equal parts. In Spain, it is common for people to eat dinner around 10 PM, and in Turkey, people drink tea all day long and with every meal.
When you are totally exposed to a different culture, you cannot help but become more open and fluid to these alternative ways of living and doing things. You realize it’s no less “right,” simply different. It’s more than refreshing coming to realize that there really is no universally correct way of doing most things, and that people all over still continue to thrive living in ways sometimes even diametrically opposed to what we are taught to do at home.
3. Experiences Make Us Happier Than Things.
Acquiring experiences over material possessions makes us happier people. I would later find out this is backed by science.
Think about it: While sitting on your deathbed, chances are you won’t be reminiscing about all the time spent with your gadgets, toys, or Louis Vuitton bags. You’ll be thinking about those weeks you spent backpacking in Southeast Asia, or that life-changing weekend at Coachella with your friends that you spent months saving for.
I came to Mexico with one suitcase, but left with a lifetime of cherished memories I would not trade the world, (or 20 Louis Vuitton bags) for.
4. Self-Reliance And Resourcefulness.
Despite the daily hardship of life, majority of us live fairly comfortable lives. We are seldom thrust into situations where we must completely fend for ourselves.
During my time in Mexico, I found myself in many unfavorable situations where I had to think on my feet, fast, and in a different language. I was away from my usual support system of family and friends and had dove in headfirst into an industry I’ve never worked in before. I dealt with clients from all over the world and had to cater to their unique needs. I once drove a birthday cake on the back of a scooter in a thunderstorm for a client’s birthday party. I even had a couple run-ins with the police. Stories aside, when you are immersed in a new and different environment, your brain is challenged by unfamiliar sensory overload and has this brilliant way of figuring things out. As a result, you become increasingly more self-reliant and resourceful — skills that give you an upper hand everywhere and in any situation.
5. Everyone Should Travel.
I understand not everyone has the resources to pick up and travel to a new country. But for those who are in the position to, I highly recommend it. You’ll gain new perspective and fall in love with places you never knew could have such an impact on you. You’ll meet kind people from all over who can teach you things, often unintentionally, about life, love, and everything in between.
There is a sense of connectedness you will experience with at least a fraction of the seven billion (and always growing!) vastly different, equally remarkable human beings we share this Earth with. For those who aren’t in a position to travel internationally, I highly recommend even visiting a different city. Road trips can be fairly inexpensive. Traveling within the United States for example feels like traveling through different countries in and of itself. Let’s compare NYC to Nashville; Los Angeles to Atlanta even. So get out there. Leave your comfort zone, if only for a while, and marvel at all what the world beyond your own has to offer.