Another year has flown by as we get ready to bid farewell to 2017. It’s been a year of change for us, both in terms of location and lifestyle. After several years in Asia, we decided to head south of the border and spend the year in Latin America. In a big change from our years of teaching English in China and studying in Bali, we decided to give the digital nomad thing a try by moving our work online. It’s been a wild ride to say the least, and we’re gearing up for an even bigger year in 2018. Before we get to our big plans, though, here’s a little 2017 year in review.
As far as day-to-day life goes, 2017 has seen the biggest changes for us since we moved to China way back in 2010. Heading to a completely new continent, learning a new language, going nomadic, and working exclusively online have all been challenging yet rewarding experiences. Here are some of our major life-related highlights of the year.
Living in Puerto Vallarta
What started out as one month quickly turned to seven in Puerto Vallarta. With beautiful beaches, delicious tacos, and so much to see and do in the area, we quickly fell in love with this little slice of paradise on the Pacific coast of Mexico. Best of all, we were able to do it on a budget.
Our low cost of living in Puerto Vallarta might surprise you since it’s known as a touristy beach destination. We were able to live a good life, explore on weekends, and save money for our big South America adventure. While we could have easily just stayed in PV, the open road beckoned to us. We’ll be back sooner than later, and it’s nice to know we have a place to call home in one of our favorite countries.
Teaching for VIPKID
What began as a super part-time gig to bring in some money to fund our month of music last year has turned into our main source of income. We’ve been teaching with VIPKID for well over a year now. It’s helped us go location independent and has funded some pretty epic travels as well.
Rather than have to sign a year-long contract and commit to a city in South America, we’re able to bounce around and try living in several places. We make our own schedules, which has allowed us to take more vacation time in a few months than most people take in a decade. If you’re interested in working online and gaining more freedom in your life, feel free to contact us with any questions you may have about teaching with them.
In addition to teaching online, I’ve continued to contribute to several language & culture blogs for Transparent Language. It’s been an exciting year, as I added Spanish to my repertoire. Although my Spanish still isn’t great, I’ve managed to get to a conversational level and have really enjoyed sharing tips and stories on the blog.
A major highlight of 2017 was getting picked up as a guest contributor for some of our blogging idols – the Goats on the Road. Through the handful of posts I penned for them this year – such as 25 Awesome Things to Do in Thailand – we’ve gained a lot of exposure and I’ve also learned so much about blogging from these experts.
Although she doesn’t consider herself much of a writer, Rachel has come a long way with her blogging skills. She’s currently working with another blogging legend – The Broke Backpacker – to write a series about the best hostels in cities around the world. You can check out her post on the 20 Best Hostels in Medellin and expect several more to come.
While we still have a ways to go, we’ve made significant progress with Grateful Gypsies this year. Rachel has been busting her butt and her hard work has paid off, as we’ve increased our following across all social media platforms as well as our overall page views. It’s not easy breaking into this crowded field, but we’re making big moves and hope that 2018 will be our best year yet.
Becoming Debt Free
It’s a good thing I thoroughly enjoyed my college years on the banks of the Red Cedar because that sure was a massive bar tab. It took nine years and my loans being passed around like a hot potato between lenders, but they’ve finally been paid off!
With that massive burden off my shoulders, I’m finally starting to consider going to grad school. Only this time around, I’ll look for a more practical option that won’t put me thousands of dollars into debt. If you’ve got recommendations for great online programs or 1-2 year options in Europe, feel free to send them my way!
After our massive gap year trip in 2013-14, we slowed down a bit in terms of travel. We had plenty of adventures in China and Indonesia while calling those countries home, but it had been a few years since we visited an entirely new country. For 2017, we went ahead and checked a new continent off our list!
It had been a long time coming, but we finally made it to South America. We started out in Cartagena, Colombia back in September and we’re still going strong. So far we’ve traveled in Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru, and we’re going to be winding the year down in Chile.
Most of our time has been spent in cities since we need to stay in places with decent enough internet to keep our jobs, but that’s just fine with us. Plus, we have managed to squeeze in a couple of amazing adventures…
Staying at Casa en el Agua
While hanging out at my parents’ house last summer one day, we saw a BuzzFeed video that a friend posted about the Casa en el Agua. This floating hostel off the coast of Colombia immediately piqued our interest, and we knew we just had to get there.
With bookings opening up 60 days in advance and filling up quick, this took a bit of careful planning and also forced us to pull the trigger on our South America trip that kept getting perpetually delayed. It was the perfect place to play around with our new drone, which thankfully didn’t plummet into the ocean. Check out the video for some highlights from our stay:
If you had told us a year ago that we’d visit the Galapagos Islands on this trip, we would have told you that was complete nonsense. Most people visit the islands on cruises that cost upwards of $10,000 per person, which is just a bit out of reach for a few part-time English teachers and bloggers.
Thanks to a bit of clever travel hacking, though, we managed to scratch this one off our travel bucket list and we’re so happy that we did. Even on a shoestring, land-based trip, we were able to see a ton of wildlife and have an all around incredible time. We’ll have tons of details on how we managed to pull off the Galapagos Islands without breaking the bank in the New Year.
Carnaval in Mazatlan
At the beginning of the year, we had our hearts set on making it down to Rio for Carnaval as it fell during Rachel’s birthday. Unfortunately, life had other plans for us and there was no way we were going to be able to afford it. Rather than mope around, we decided to check out Mexico’s version of Carnaval instead.
We took the bus from PV up to Mazatlan and had a wild couple of days there drinking liter margaritas and rocking out to banda music. We’re happy to say that we are in fact going to make it to Brazil for the 2018 version, so it’s great we got to warm up with a slightly less insane party this year.
We met at a music festival, got engaged at a Phish concert, and spent our “Hippie Moon” seeing the GD50 shows in Chicago. Needless to say, live music is a pretty big part of our lives. While 2017 was a slow year in terms of shows and festivals for us thanks to geography, we still managed to see some good ones.
Summer Camp was the first festival I ever went to, skipping my senior prom to go with some friends way back in the day. After a long hiatus, I finally returned in 2016 to bring Rachel to her first one. We were volunteers and while we had an awesome time, I wanted to play a bigger role in my favorite festival.
I was beyond thrilled to be chosen this year as one of the festival’s Camp Counselors, a role I’m looking forward to continuing for as many years as I can. You can check out the recap – part one and part two – to relive #Scamp17.
After making it through my rookie year, I’m stoked for the perks that are coming my way, such as VIP wristbands and access to all four late-night shows. Cha-ching!
Ever since I saw these guys at Bonnaroo in 2007, I’ve wanted to see them again. I was stoked to find out they were playing in Detroit just a week after Summer Camp. Due to the fact that they rarely tour, it was super sold out. Luckily, I managed to find tickets on Cash or Trade that just so happened to be in the pit! Definitely a musical highlight of 2017.
Phish Baker’s Dozen
We were traveling in Guadalajara, Mexico when Phish announced the Baker’s Dozen run of 13 shows at Madison Square Garden. A quick look at the dates revealed that the finale would be taking place on my birthday.
Phish, at MSG, playing the last of 13 shows, on my freaking birthday.
There was no question as to whether or not we’d be in attendance. After watching as much of the first 10 shows as we could in between teaching shifts in Puerto Vallarta, we flew up to the Big Apple for one of the best weekends ever.
We didn’t manage to score any donuts, but we did catch some of the best Phish shows we’ve seen yet and finally crossed the “world’s most famous arena” off our live music bucket list.
Resistance Festival in Medellin
We’re not exactly huge EDM fans, but we were pumped to find that the Resistance Festival was passing through Medellin while we were there. I had previously seen Sasha & Digweed play together at Bonnaroo ’07 in what was a life-changing concert experience.
We had seen the two of them do solo gigs several times together over the years, mostly in Beijing, but had never seen them do a show together. The production value was through the roof and the crowd was raging in Colombia’s Spring City, making for a memorable night.
We can’t stand those travel blogs that paint life on the road as a never-ending sequence of fabulous Instagram shots and cocktails on the beach. Long-term travel and life abroad is not always rainbows and unicorns. It has its ups and downs just like every other lifestyle.
While we did have a great year overall in 2017, that doesn’t mean it came without its share of issues. Here are some of our lowlights from the year.
Lots and Lots of Dental Work
Last fall while we were in the US, I found out that I needed a root canal and a crown. A few calls around to endodontist offices in the Detroit area left me horrified. It was around $2,300-2,500 for the procedure! Needless to say, this was way out of my budget. Thankfully I managed to find a reputable dentist in Puerto Vallarta who could do it for a fraction of the price.
While friends, family and even my dentist reacted with terror when I told them I was having my dental work done in Mexico, I’m happy to say that it worked out just fine. As fine as a root canal can be, that is. I saved a ton of money, but I still had to visit the dentist about 15 times this year.
Rachel ended up needing several fillings as well right before we left Medellin, which put a big dent in our travel fund. Here’s to hoping our 2018 isn’t quite as full of dental work!
Living in the Slums
I liked to joke around with Rachel that we lived in the slums when we were in Kunming and PV. In reality, we lived in decent neighborhoods in both places. There were, however, shoes on the power lines in one and a pack of filthy street dogs in the other.
Thanks to the massive amount of dental work I was facing, we decided to stay in a super cheap apartment in PV to save some money. The apartment itself was decent enough – especially after we took it upon ourselves to buy some actual bedroom furniture – but the owner was insufferable.
In our 6-month stint living there, these are just a few of the things that went wrong:
- She forgot to pay the power bill, which resulted in our power being turned off for days and us having to stay with a friend while we stored our food in a cooler.
- She also forgot to pay the internet bill, which is awful for people who work solely online. We had to put a bunch of money on our phones and use them as hotspots to get through our classes for a few days.
- She somehow “broke the TV” while we were back in the US and never fixed it. We’re pretty sure she just took it to wherever she was living.
- She lost the keys when we were taking a small staycation for our anniversary. We also returned to find the place trashed with beer cans that she insisted she drank by herself.
In a fit of rage, I demanded our money back. I then proceeded to splurge on a really nice place for our last two weeks in PV, which was a much needed break after her nonsense.
Adjusting to a New Lifestyle
During our time in Asia, it was always easy to differentiate between work and travel. We would request our time off, book a trip and go enjoy ourselves. We could stay in hostels or local guesthouses, go out and do touristy things during the day, and partake in the nightlife once the sun went down.
That’s all changed drastically since we started doing the digital nomad thing.
These days, we need to find our own apartment with workspaces and fast WiFi so we can work. Thanks to the time difference, we’re usually up at the butt crack of dawn to teach our classes. Most of the rest of the day is for blogging work and Spanish classes. Once night falls, we don’t feel like doing anything other than watching a little TV and crawling into bed.
Don’t get me wrong, we’re enjoying the newfound freedom that our online jobs allow. It just hasn’t exactly been easy adjusting to the new lifestyle. We miss the social environment of hostels, going out for Happy Hour and dinner, and all the other things that are tough with our current schedules.
We also have to cut a ton from our travel itinerary, sticking mostly to cities so we can get our work in. This trip has been vastly different from our carefree days backpacking around Southeast Asia. Rachel wrote all about the differences between living the digital nomad life and backpacking if you want to read more.
As you can see, the highlights definitely far outnumbered the lowlights in 2017. This year started out jamming with the Disco Biscuits in Atlanta, and it’s going to end with a bang as we catch South America’s biggest fireworks display in Valparaiso, Chile. From living in Mexico to seeing our favorite band on my birthday, to finally crossing another continent off our list, it’s been a huge year, to say the least.
We hope you enjoyed our 2017 year in review! We’ve got some pretty wild plans in store for 2018. We’re calling it the Year Long Party. You’ll have to stay tuned to find out what that means!
Thanks to all of you for your continued support, and we hope to see some of you out on the road in the New Year!