Is the Expat life for you?

Desiree and Andrew smiling while having a meal in a restaurantBeware the ideas you emphatically reject, saying you’d never do—- for they will likely someday come back to you as a big learning or growth opportunity.

When I began dating (my now-husband) Andrew, I was aware of his passion for travel. In fact, it was one of the reasons we quickly and easily came together. I had a traveling yoga career and he had recently sold his adventure travel business, so joining in with me was a no-brainer.

For 14 years, we traveled the world together, teaching yoga and loving life. We made friends in many countries and enjoyed all of the colorful and delicious differences in cultures.

When often asked “where would we choose to live if given the opportunity to live anywhere?,” we would always lean in the direction of our favorite destinations: the developing world. No question about it, because life in these countries is so different from what we have known growing up in the US. We enjoyed the vibrant colors, the delicious food and exotic smells, the interesting people and the simpler way of life in every country we visited. We were very lucky with to have had so much experience and to feel comfortable visiting just about anywhere on the planet. This hypothetical question was always just good fun to answer whenever it came up.

sunset with colorful sky, looking over a cityEven though Andrew and I had the desire to travel in common, there was one big difference between us. I was happy to be able to come home to the US and be near my family, while he was longing to actually live in one of these countries. Since I was the one who had children, he graciously conceded to my choice. I knew however, that this longing remained in his heart and mind.

Then along came the year 2020, and with it the first global pandemic of our lifetimes. Almost overnight, my traveling yoga career came to an utter standstill. After adjusting to teaching online, we decided to take that question more seriously. Where in the world would we choose to live?

It wasn’t so easy to figure out the answer to that question. I longed to live near my children and grandchildren in the San Diego area, even though they did not need or demand it and Andrew was ready for a big change. He had graciously agreed to live near the kids for 4 1/2 years, so it was my turn to compromise.

two people dressed up in parade down Mexico street
A typical parade in the central square.

We decided to take a Covid-safe summer road trip for two months in the western US and spent our time hiking and visiting with dear friends. We dreamed of having a home in a small mountain town and even made a few offers, until mid-August, when one of those Colorado mountain towns burst into flames with forest fires, and we were swiftly evacuated from our rented Air B and B.

Shortly after that experience we decided to give San Miguel de Allende, Mexico a try. Why this town? In 2017, on my first ever visit here, we had fallen in love with, and purchased, a vacation home which we had been visiting a few times a year.

After six months of living in Mexico here are some of the things we have learned:

  1. It’s very easy to make like-minded friends in a small, more walkable city. The total population of the area is 140,000 and 7,000 of us are expats.
  2. The pace of life is much slower than what we are used to in the states and we find that we don’t miss the speed or the vibe. Here we get to enjoy visiting with people we know and are constantly meeting new friends. Our time is spent lingering over delicious meals, hanging out in the central square listening to mariachis, watching break dancers, enjoying a parade, or taking in the delightful squeals of children at play.
  3. There is typically an abundance of world class art, theater and music events here and because it’s a small town, we can easily attend and support whatever is happening.
  4. The old buildings are well preserved and there are very few fast food restaurants and no billboards to be seen anywhere in town.
  5. The cobblestone streets naturally slow down the traffic and drivers look out for pedestrians all day long. There are no stop signs or traffic lights, people watch out for each other. We are told that the rule is: “just don’t hit anyone”.
  6. There is no visible homelessness in this town because in this culture people take care of their family members and most homes are multi-generational.
  7. We choose not to own a car because we don’t need one. We buy groceries often and have many choices from small local shops for fresh organically grown food. There is a Costco, about 45 minutes drive away and there are many local shoppers willing to make that trip for us.
  8. The interactions we have had with local doctors and dentists so far have been first rate in every way, and very affordable.
  9. We have felt safe from Covid here, as this town takes the disease very seriously. The protocols here are incredibly tight and most of the locals tend to follow the rules. We never see or feel even the slightest bit of resistance to a law that requires looking out for the well-being of others.
  10. There is petty crime here, because there is poverty. We don’t hang out at bars late at night and we avoid questionable neighborhoods—- the same as we would do anyway in the states.
  11. There is organized crime here in Mexico but it’s targeted. If one is not involved in selling drugs, there is very little risk of being the victim of a crime. We are careful about taking road trips and follow the US travel advisory guidelines to avoid dangerous areas
seven adults doing chair pose on a ledge overlooking a valley
These are my local students practicing “Chair Pose” on a Sunday hike.

This town now feels more like home to me than any other place else we have visited. From here we can easily fly domestically to Tijuana to visit our grandchildren who live near San Diego.

We have become part of a growing local yoga community and are finding ways to offer our services and our teaching as a gift. There’s no better feeling for me than being able to teach what I love to a community that appreciates it. That’s what I have done for over 30 years and now I get to continue doing in a slightly different form.

adults and children posing at a Mexico orphanage.
Visiting a local orphanage with some Christmas goodies

Someday it might once again be possible for me to resume my traveling and teaching career, or not. Who knows? Until then, I feel very fortunate to have found a way to stay close to my longtime friends and students through Zoom as well as make new connections in person.

Gifts and blessings come in unexpected packages. When we bought our vacation home in San Miguel 4 years ago, we had no idea we would someday end up loving our life here. My wish for all who read this piece is that they find their own way through this time of great change and transition and come out on the other side thriving.

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About Desiree

Desiree travels the world full time sharing her compassion and her joy with others interested in the transformational power of yoga. Together with Michelle Marchildon, she has written “Fearless After Fifty: How To Thrive with Grace, Grit and Yoga.” She has produced a DVD series entitled “Yoga to the Rescue” and is a regular contributor to Yoga Journal, having also appeared on its cover.