Why I Decided to Start My Sabbatical With 6 Months in Mexico

When I announced that I was quitting my job after 14 years in the workforce and taking a 180-day sabbatical in Mexico on savings, “Why Mexico?” was one of my frequently asked questions.

My answer is three-fold.

  1. The low cost of living in Mexico (geo-arbitrage!)

The term is called “geo arbitrage,” and the strategy is making your money last longer and go farther by having a U.S. salary (or U.S. savings) to fund living expenses in a low cost of living country. And a lot of people in the Financial Independence Retire Early (FIRE) community do it! Why not me?

As of mid-December 2021, I don’t have a paycheck anymore. I’m living off savings: which means I can live twice as long if I live in a LCOL country (and the average cost of living in Mexico is at least half that of the U.S., give or take depending on the cities). In 2021, as a nomad in the U.S., my spending was just over $52,000. If I can cut half of that from half the year (assuming I’m back in the U.S. or comparable the other half of the year), I’ll save $13,000. A big deal for someone who wants to stay “retired” as long as possible!

Well, why not some other low cost of living country, Julie? The United States is the 15th most expensive country in the world, surely there are other countries you might consider — why Mexico? Yes, of course there are, but you generally have to fly to them — and never say never — but this brings me to my next point…

  1. Mexico is drive-able from the U.S. (albeit with a lot of hoops to jump through and some safety concerns)

I travel with my dog Penny, a 26-lb. miniature Australian shepherd who is now 5 years old. Penny has been to Mexico, Canada, and over 40 states with me, including Alaska. See, Penny is my emotional support animal, and she’s been flying in-cabin with me since she was 4-months-old. If I had a dollar for every time a stranger complimented her good behavior, I would be able to fund my 2022 travels… seriously.

But in early 2021, the U.S. Department of Transportation stopped recognizing emotional support dogs, and U.S. airlines quickly followed, despite most requiring passengers to provide a vet’s note, a doctor’s note, have a phone conversation with an airline rep, and sign an affidavit confirming training and personal responsibility. My point is, the requirements were already stringent to limit people abusing the process… and now, nobody who needs it has the option. 

It’s important to me to keep traveling with Penny. She adds so much to my life as a solo female traveler in terms of companionship and affection, and obviously, emotional support. I don’t want to put my expert flier in the cargo hold, not unless I’ve exhausted all other options. So Mexico it is! And also, Mexico is a gateway to South America, where some Latin American airlines still allow ESAs with documentation (for example, Latam Airlines — woohoo!).

I did a lot of research to understand the requirements for a U.S. citizen driving into Mexico: the paperwork required, the safest routes, how many pesos are needed for tolls, where to stay on the long drive, etc. It’s not as easy as you might think to drive into and stay in Mexico legally! But I’ve prepared as best I can, and I’m ready for the adventure ahead.

  1. Mexican culture and the Spanish language

Mexico is more than its tourist towns; it has a vibrant culture and history, and I’m so excited to experience that in a concentrated way through food, language, dance, and history.

When I was a child, I had a Spanish language computer game that I played for fun, and continued my education in high school. I really do love the language, and I can’t wait to get back my tongue. I don’t think it will take too long to become conversational when immersed in the country. And in adulthood, I took a few years of ballroom and Latin dance lessons. Cha cha (Cuban origin), bachata (Dominican Republic origin), Argentine tango (Argentinian origin), and bolero (Spanish origin) are some of my favorites. I can’t wait to dance in Mexico and South America — surprise, this gringa can move!

  1. Bonus reason: Mexico isn’t scary

I want to share with my followers that solo travel — especially in Mexico — is NOT inherently scary and dangerous. I’ve been solo traveling internationally since my early 20s, and I’ve been blessed to have had many wonderful experiences (and a few learning experiences that have taught me to hone my intuition and think on the fly!). Read my tips for women’s personal safety here, and keep general awareness up, like you would in any country.

My travels have brought me to Mexico before (with friends or boyfriends). They’ve brought me to other central and south American countries solo, like Belize, Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Colombia. I loved my time and I felt very safe among these warm and welcoming people. Read a personal story here.

I also want to note, I worked in the mass media for six years in two top-15 DMA television news markets. I know how sensational journalism can be. And guess what, if it’s on the news, that means it’s “newsworthy” — whether catering to people’s fears or biases, or because it happens so rarely by statistical standards (and unlikely to happen to you) that it’s notable. Something to keep in mind, Mom!

In summary, Mexico seemed like the obvious starting point for the start of my mini-retirement, but it’s not where I plan to stay forever. The nomad life and international travel will continue indefinitely. Six months in Mexico, should immigration give me the full 180 days, brings us to early July… and I’ve got my eye on Europe in late summer. We’ll see what the future brings!

Make sure you subscribe to this blog or follow me on Instagram to see my day-to-day adventures. ¡Viva Mexico!

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5 thoughts on “Why I Decided to Start My Sabbatical With 6 Months in Mexico

  1. If you’re not in Mexico yet, let me know if you’re passing through Nashville on the way down so we can meet up! (I’m taking a social media hiatus so I haven’t been on Instagram for a few weeks now.)

    1. I am actually in Austin, TX and will be starting my drive on Sunday! So I think it will be a little while until I am back in Nashville, unfortunately. But I will definitely ping you when I do go!! I miss it there!!

      1. Aw man! Too bad we missed each other… hopefully our paths will cross at some point, maybe in Florida. I hope you enjoy Mexico! Make sure to blog all about it – I’ve never been but I’d love to go!

  2. Many years ago I spent a couple of months travelling through Mexico and have magical memories of it. I’m sure that much has changed as it was 20 years ago now, but I look forward to reading your updates. Have a wonderful time.

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