Working on new adventures

This is the second branch of the school I work at. It’s actually quite near the main branch. The school has a LOT of students and classes, so it’s really thriving. Hence, they need native English speaking teachers constantly. Unfortunately, in my interview, the manager just told me what she felt I wanted to hear. “Sure, getting a work visa is possible. Of course we’ll pick you up at the airport. Certainly, we have complete lesson plans….” Not true.

I was only able to get a 90-day visa for Peru and the school isn’t going to help me get a work visa. I hate teaching on a tourist visa. The school had implied it would help me get one, but I should not have fallen for that. To stay, I’d have to make a border run to renew my visa and hope I can get another 90 days. Frankly, the school just isn’t worth the trouble. They are no worse than any other, but no better, either. Peru is amazing. I love Arequipa. My students are great–but I’m just not going to go to that much trouble for a school that won’t even tell me the dates of the upcoming sessions! AND there’s no guarantee I can even get another visa, or one for long enough. While most tourists are allowed back in, if the border guides decide to suddenly follow the letter of the law, I can’t return. One day, the country will crack down, my luck will run out, and I could get stuck in Chile without my stuff and no way to get back. I’m not doing it.

So here’s my new plan:

  • I’ll teach here in Arequipa, Peru until the end of September.
  • October 2-16 I have a tour of Peru, that includes Machu Picchu.
  • October 18-19 I’ll fly to Huntsville, AL
  • I’ll stay with my dear friend Jeannie until November 4, then fly out of Huntsville
  • I’m doing a hike of Nepal–the Annapurna circuit.
  • I’ll arrive back in the states at the Indianapolis Airport where (I hope) one of my brothers will agree to pick me up. I will miss Thanksgiving, but be able to spend some time with my family for a week or two after.
  • Still working on Christmas plans.
  • I have a lead on a job in Ecuador for the first of the year. Still working on this, too.

My life is messy, but it’s not boring!

Why is it every time I go to the Plaza de Armas, there’s a protest? AGAIN the church and museum were closed. I’ve attempted to come here 4+ times! But this protest was about low wages and benefits for teachers, nurses and doctors. At least it’s a cause near to my heart. This was just the start of the protest. There were more than a thousand people marching.
One of many statues on the boulevard of Avenida Ejercito (Army Avenue).

Differences between Mexico and the US

I just really like all the street art.

I’ve just spent a year living and working in San Luis Potosi, Mexico. As an experienced world traveler, I’ve noticed a few differences between the US and Mexico. Just for fun, I thought I’d share them. This list is in no particular order. The photos are from my last days in SLP.

Time Everyone is a tad delayed here, though it’s not as bad as advertised. The airport time, for example, is 5 minutes slower than my automatically synced phone/iPad/computer. My students don’t really consider themselves late if they show up in the first 15 minutes of a one-hour class. I think differently, however.

Speaking of airports When your flight is delayed or there’s a gate change–nothing goes on the announcement board until after the time flight should have left. And you can’t look at the corresponding arriving flight because it won’t ever be listed as arriving late. Oh, and most announcements are only in Spanish, even for flights going to the USA.

It’s noisy Being loud is simply more acceptable in Mexico. Talking loudly on the phone in public places is common. The school near me had blaring music often in the evening. This past month, fireworks began just after 10pm. The noise and bangs didn’t end until shortly before midnight. This was on a Thursday night. The school is located between a residential zone and a hospital.

Personal space is less It’s common for someone to use your chair, which you are sitting in, for their purse or bags, as though you aren’t even there. At the airport, a woman sat beside me and put her shopping bag on the edge of my chair while she got adjusted, elbowing me twice. She didn’t even acknowledge me. I smiled and handed her the shopping bag as though she’d forgotten it. It’s common for people to touch you as you pass on a narrow sidewalk. They don’t mean anything bad, but as an American, I find it unnerving. Standing in an obviously busy doorway is common. And annoying. When you ask them to move out of your way, they smile and politely let you through, then stand back in the doorway.

Perfume WAAAAAY too much perfume.

Sidewalks They are often impossible to use, which is why people walk in the street. The sidewalks are narrow, broken and may have signs or power poles in the middle of the passageway. Open holes are very common. If the sidewalk is wide, there’s likely to be commerce blocking your way–food carts, especially. Heaven help you if you’re handicapped.

Stop signs There are very few of them. The ones that are there, may be ignored. However, in one year, I didn’t see a single collision at an intersection. I don’t know how they do it, but they do.

Turn Signals It’s rare for someone to use turn signals. Or seat belts. It’s like the USA in the 1950’s.

Green Spaces Mexicans use their parks and plazas. It’s not as trashy as I’d expected either. There was some graffiti, but no worse than in the USA, not that that’s saying much.

Buenas dias People are generally very friendly. People will smile and greet you on the street, even if they don’t know you. Having spent a summer in Russia, I really, really appreciate this.

An afternoon at the coffee house, playing cards (Exploding Kittens. Yes, it’s a thing). Donna, Paula and Pancho.

Sunday is family day. Forget trying to get friends together on Sunday. This day is dedicated to seeing Mom, Dad, cousins, aunts, uncles…. And the city closes down the main thoroughfare, Carranza, just for walking.

Buy stock in Spandex If you like tight clothing on women, this is the place to be. However, I find that if you don’t look good naked, you probably won’t look good in Spandex. The only country with a higher obesity rate than the USA is Mexico. Just sayin’.

Need attention? Beggars and sales people on the street are aggressive. They will follow you for a block or more, regardless of how many times you say no.

Snacking There are levels of snacks in Mexico. Small snacks, like popcorn and chips, are referred to as botanas. Heavier snacks are antojitos, which include tacos, pozole (a soup with hominy and meat) and enchiladas.

Lento, por favor Based on my personal, non-scientific survey, it’s impossible to speak Spanish slowly. People simply have to speak it rapidly. It didn’t matter how often I asked politely for people to speak slowly, the locals responded to me in rapid fire Spanish.

The coffee house.

Mexican kitchens/cocincas There’s usually no hot water from the faucet in a Mexican kitchen. I hate this. People simply rinsed plates under running water. They may or may not use soap. This never seemed to clean things to me, one of the money reasons I didn’t use the shared kitchen in the board houses. The cuisine in the home is cooked entirely on the stovetop, so few kitchens have ovens. They may have a stove, but the oven section will be dismantled and used to store pots and pans. Breads and cakes are purchased at the local panderia, not cooked at home. Tortillas are cheap and fresh in every neighborhood and sold at a separate shop.

More Plumbing Homes have a water pump and storage tank on the roof. Sometimes the pump works automatically to pump city water to the holding tank, but most private homes aren’t automatic. When no water comes out of the faucet, you have to turn on the pump. Yes, this usually happens in the middle of a shower.

It’s like a package of Crayola crayons Things are just more colorful here. Houses, clothing and decorations are multicolored. Windows in old buildings have colored glass panels. It’s lovely.

Hold the salt….and pepper There’s seldom salt and pepper on the table at home or in a restaurant. Instead, you squeeze half a lime (here they are called lemons/limons) to add a salty flavor and salsa for spice.

It’s just spicier here Popcorn (palomitas) and chips are served with a squeeze of fresh lime and hot sauce. Even the local coffee (cafe de olla) has a bit of cinnamon and hot pepper.

I loved this sink in the ladies room.

There’s almost no recycling.

Junk food is easy a little too easy to get There are neighborhood shops, often 2 per block. They don’t carry much, mostly snack foods, chips, candy and soda. They may have milk and beer. Occasionally they will also have liquor behind the counter, but almost never wine. These are tiny, usually one small room. Larger convenience stores are located every 3-4 blocks. These are usually a chain store, especially OXXO or Circle K. Actual grocery stores are much farther apart.

Did I mention the houses are colorful?

Review: Teaching at English Unlimited, San Luis Potosi, Mexico

I worked at this school for just a few days short of one year, from July 2016-July 2017. This is my detailed take away from my time there.

Short version: The city is great, the school isn’t.

Pros

  • San Luis Potosi is the perfect size. It’s not too large (less than 1 million people), but large enough to have public services and events. It has a lovely old downtown (El Centro) with colonial Spanish buildings from the 16th century that are in surprisingly good shape. While there is a LOT of street construction at this moment, they are improving the plumbing and sewage system, so it’s money well spent.
  • The buses are cheap (8.5 pesos per ride, about 47 cents US), though it takes a while to figure out where they go. There’s no bus map and many areas don’t have bus stops, you simply wave the bus down.
  • Taxis are everywhere, but I depended on Uber, since taxi drivers usually got lost if you were going to a residential address. Uber drivers always have a mapping service and are far more likely to speak some English.
  • San Luis Potosi should organize more tourism, especially to US Americans. It’s a lovely city with all the amenities, plus a great exchange rate. Americans like a bargain. However, it’s difficult to see nearby sites without renting a car, so organized bus/van tours would sell here. SLP has great hotels and lots of places to show off. There’s a nice trolley tour, but it’s only in Spanish.
  • The food is great, especially the tacos and fresh fruit on the street. Prepare to get fat.
  • Food, housing and clothing are relatively cheap, if you’re paying in US dollars. Unfortunately, you’re paid by the school in pesos.
  • Mexicans are very friendly and helpful. The more Spanish you know, the better, since there’s little English here.
  • Wonderful weather. SLP is on a mountain, so it doesn’t get as hot as you’d think in the summer, rarely over 85F. There’s often a breeze, but you’ll still want a fan. But the humidity is low. Conversely, winters are mild and most of my students had never seen snow or freezing temperatures. Low temperatures at night are rarely below 50F.
  • Notice how I haven’t said anything about the school yet? Well, here is one pro about the school. You do get paid for the hours you work. (Though not all the holidays promised and sometimes you get stiffed on private students. See details below.) The information you get from the school will say you’re paid “fortnightly,” which isn’t quite correct. You’re paid on the 15th and the last day or the month, as well as the last day of a 4-week session. It’s not unusual to be paid 3 times a month, in cash.
  • If you are a teacher who prefers to be completely left alone, you might like it here. No one will observe your classes, give you feedback or even comment on how many students you passed or failed. There are student feedback forms, handed out every 3-4 sessions, but you’ll only hear about the results if you rated badly or if you ask.

Cons

  • Manager Michael Tan is not a people person. He rarely interacts with teachers or students. He is seldom at the main branch during class hours and when he’s there, his office door is closed. He doesn’t welcome people knocking on his door, either. Lately he has been “out of town” a lot. He will usually leave for a week, but then extend his stay, sometimes for 3-4 weeks, leaving no one in charge. He ignores texts and emails that he isn’t interested in dealing with. If you do manage to talk to him in person, he’ll tell you whatever he thinks you want to hear just to get rid of you. He’s the only manager, there is no other authority. The Teacher Administrator positions have been eliminated, so you must deal with him. Except you can’t. Basically, when you have an issue, you’re on your own.
  • He offers the minimum assistance possible to new teachers. He’s big with promises during your interview (BTW, he doesn’t seem to like Skype. Most teachers get a phone interview. I tried to Skype with him, but he said his camera didn’t work.) If you were promised a pick up at the airport, for example, forget it. You’ll be lucky if he’s even in town. He’ll probably wait until a day or less before your flight and tell you to take a taxi from the airport. You won’t even get a map.
  • The only time Michael will help you is your first trip to immigration. You’ll probably need three trips total, if all goes well. And he will make sure you understand that he is “doing you a favor” by taking you there. Michael canceled four appointments with me (always less than 24 hours) to go to immigration. He showed for the fifth appointment, but was late, then made me sit outside his office and wait while he did other things. We left 35 minutes later than agreed, which meant we had to wait longer at immigration since the place had filled up. It wasted a day.
  • All written information from the school says you’re “guaranteed” a minimum of 15 hours. Verbally, Michael promises 20-25 hours and has even told teachers that the average teaching hours are 25/week. But you’re lucky to get the minimum hours most 4-week sessions. I usually was assigned 14-19 hours per week. On the sessions when I only got 14 teaching hours a week, I was not paid the “guaranteed” minimum. Hence, there is no guarantee. Most teachers had trouble getting enough teaching hours to pay their rent.
  • Contracts of one year are promised, but teachers rarely have any contract. I was given an initial contract of 2 months, then nothing. Most teachers didn’t even get that.
  • Private students are extremely unreliable. While this is a problem in every school, at English Unlimited, if they didn’t show up, you probably wouldn’t be paid. Most schools require private classes to be canceled 24 (or at least 12) hours in advance.
  • You are promised reimbursement of your work visa if you stay a year. If you try to collect, Michael will change his wording from “one year” to “12 sessions.” And if you do the math, you’ll find you can’t do 12 sessions without over-staying your work visa. A session is 4 weeks (48 total weeks in a year). Add in a 3-week break for Christmas, a week at Easter , and he asks you to come 1 week before you start classes to observe (all unpaid, of course). That totals 53 weeks–and your work visa is only 365 days, or 52 weeks. It’s not possible to work 53 weeks without breaking the law. Most teachers quit long before a year, though.
  • The teaching materials are mediocre. I’ve certainly seen worse and there is, at least, enough information to cover the class time, so it’s not all bad. However, there are many mistakes, especially on the exams, that are never corrected. I wasted hours correcting the exams, but my corrects were just thrown away. Many of the readings, especially in the upper levels, are so bad I was too embarrassed to use them.
  • Michael promises to help you find a place to live. In practice, he gives you the address of only one boarding house, take it or leave it. The average room there rents for 2,900 pesos a month, but he won’t tell you that in advance so that you can budget ahead. He also doesn’t mention that you’ll have to pay first and last month’s rent in advance, in pesos. Nor does he tell you you’ll need all your own bedding (sheets, blankets, pillows), hangers and towels. You’ll also need a fan for the summer (there’s no A/C) and a space heater in the winter (there’s no heat), so you’ll have to buy these. The boarding house is not near any store that sells these items, most of which you’ll need on day one. And you don’t know anyone, don’t know the area, or where these stores might be located. It’s a recipe for a very bad first few days. The shared bath was OK and the housekeeper comes often, though she only cleans floors and bathrooms. The kitchen is shared by way too many people and I found it too dirty to cook in, even if I had been given space in the refrigerator, which I wasn’t. Only recently have screens been put on the windows. The internet is pretty good, however.
  • Michael’s information sheet that he sends to new teachers gives a recommended amount of money to bring with you to get started before your first pay. It’s too low by half and he neglects to mention that you need to exchange all your dollars at the airport, since you won’t be able to do it in San Luis Potosi. Local businesses don’t accept US dollars and banks won’t change them unless you have an account with them. Getting a bank account as a foreigner is nearly impossible. And the only time Michael offered to exchange money for me, the rate he offered was basically stealing.
  • Sessions are 4 weeks. You won’t find out your new teaching schedule until about 2pm of the last Saturday of the old session. There’s basically no discussion. He gives it to you last minute, so it’s take it or leave it. If you complain and he promises you he’ll work to improve the situation, don’t hold your breath. He never once lived up to any such promise with me. I just kept my locker packed up so I could walk out if the schedule was bad enough.
  • The lack of information and the misinformation (or should we just say “lies?”) pretty much guarantees that you’re going to have a bad start at English Unlimited. And when you don’t get enough work to pay your rent, it just gets worse. In most cases, telling the truth and giving accurate information would actually be easier than what’s being done now. I don’t know why teachers are treated so badly.
  • If you’re looking for professional development, you won’t get it at this school. There are no information meetings. There’s no training. There’s not even a teacher’s guide to the texts. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a one-hour orientation meeting with the one and only bilingual staff member. After that, you’re on your own. We didn’t even get reminders of holidays or time changes. No communication.
  • Michael pays in cash with pesos. While that does make it easy to spend, cash businesses are notorious for not paying taxes. The school holds out 10% of your wages for taxes. Current pay is 90 pesos and hour, so you get 81 pesos and hour net. Since I couldn’t get a record of the taxes paid, I have no way to know if those were ever paid. And for at least three months, we had a teacher at the school with an expired work visa. It’s hard to believe taxes were paid on him. In fact, Michael tries very hard to avoid putting your employment in writing in any form. For example, I asked for a school ID since teachers get a discount at museums and when buying bus passes. Couldn’t get one from him.

My personal observation is that the school has dwindling enrollment and nothing is being done to stop it. I’d estimate that enrollment is less than half of what it was when I began teaching there. It’s particularly noticeable that many businesses are no longer sending their employees to the school. It is difficult for me to believe the downtown branch is profitable and the last session I worked, it didn’t look like the main branch was doing any better. A business must make money or it fails. And the signs of failure are there—not enough hours for existing teachers, few supplies available (at least one class didn’t even have textbooks last session), high turnover of staff, and staff positions are not always replaced. One-day holidays that fall on a Monday are often not paid (though they are promised). At least once during my year there, the staff was paid late, though so far, teachers were always paid. The last weekday of the final session I worked, we had to close the downtown branch early because there wasn’t enough staff to keep it open.

I was placed at this school through Oxford Seminars. Though the school has gotten worse in my time there, many of the red flags were in place before Oxford suggested I look at the school. When I told them some of my concerns, they refused to help me find another placement, even though I wasn’t under contract to English Unlimited. For me, and for other teachers who have complained, Oxford Seminars repeatedly sided with the school, even about pay issues. I can’t recommend them, either.

A taste of New Orleans in the heart of Mexico

Paula and Donna—they’ve really been lifesavers during my last week, keeping me laughing.

If you’ve been following along, it’s been a tough year. On top of that, Michael Tan at English Unlimited has refused to reimburse my work visa (a value of about $225US). I’ve stayed here a year and he owes it to me, but my placement agency, Oxford Seminars, doesn’t seem to want to back me up. With all the lies Tan has told, I honestly expected this. (If you’re an international teacher, avoid this school!). With the other thefts and short term stays, I’ve basically PAID to work in Mexico. In short, I’m sorry that I came here.

Fortunately, a couple of new friends have really saved my last few weeks here in San Luis Potosi, Mexico. They’ve organized cookouts, kept me from lying in bed all day and helped me laugh. What more can you ask for? Anyway, a special thanks to Paula and Donna, new teachers at English Unlimited (though Paula has decided not to stay since she isn’t getting enough hours to pay rent. See a theme here?). These are photos of our outing to Hank’s a New Orleans (inspired) restaurant near Tequis Park.

Hank’s is a New Orleans restaurant that Donna treated us to.
Donna is from New Orleans, but lost pretty much everything in Katrina. She’s a new a teacher in San Luis Potosi. I hope she has better luck than I did.
the bar
Jambalaya, Paula’s dinner
Trout Almondine with steamed spinach and a salad, Donna’s dinner.
Salmon salad with goat cheese and fresh mango, my dinner.
Our appetizer was listed as a muffaletta, but it’s really more a tortilla pizza with ham, cheese and olive tapinade. Really good, though.

Hank’s dining room
Found in the ladies room

Ways to live frugally as you travel

Being an English teacher is a reasonable way to live and work in many different countries around the world. With some rare exceptions, however, you aren’t going to make a lot of money doing it. The places you can make really great money are not going to work for me. I’m not interested in working in the Middle East. Turkey was close enough for me, but I understand that Saudi Arabia pays very well–if you don’t mind living in a compound and wearing a burka. I’m too old to get a work visa in South Korea (they won’t issue one for people over age 45). China also has visa age limits, though if you are willing to work outside of the major cities, you can probably get one. Unfortunately, China has a horrible reputation for living up to contracts, so you may or may not get the big money promised. And the pollution and restrictions on personal freedom (no Google, Gmail, Facebook, Twitter…..) will probably keep me away from there, except as an occasional tourist.

Not being independently wealthy IS getting in the way of the life I want to lead. It’s not going to stop me, however. Maybe you’re in the same boat. Unless you have a rich family, a regular source of income (like a retirement pension), or have stashed away a bundle before you left home, you are going to have to find ways to live frugally. Currently, I’m in Mexico, but most of these tips will work anywhere in the world. I know that, because this is my fifth country outside of the USA. Here are some things I do to keep my expenses low.

Hair: I keep a very simple hairstyle that I can trim myself—shoulder length, which I wear in a ponytail or with a headband. I don’t color or perm my hair—which means I have completely grey hair now. Am I stylish? Of course not. But this saves money on trips to the beauty shop, plus it saves in frustration. It’s almost impossible to explain what you want to a stylist when the two of you don’t share a language. It also means I need fewer hair products in general.

Clothes: I have a job where I don’t have to dress up, which makes my life much easier and it keeps down the expenses. I have mostly solid color pants/shorts/ tops that can be mixed and matched. My color scheme is pretty boring: black, grey and red. Nothing needs to be ironed or has any special washing instructions. For color and to keep from looking like I’m homeless, I use scarves or simple necklaces. I have scarves from all over the world, in fact.

Makeup: I don’t wear much. I use a simple foundation with sunscreen, powder and lipstick. I rarely wear eye makeup. Makeup products are always pricey and, let’s face it, you don’t always know what you are buying. I know how to wear eye makeup, but 15 minutes after I put it on, I’ve smeared it halfway down my cheeks. Best to do without. Do you get the idea that I’m simply not fashionable?

Eat on the Street: Street food is cheap and there are lots of healthy options. Lots of UN-healthy ones, too! Of course there are risks when you eat off food carts, but that’s true even in NYC. Most countries sell fresh fruit or vegetables on the street. If you’re concerned about cleanliness, stick with fruits that you can peel yourself. For example, I eat an avocado every day here in Mexico because they are inexpensive and filling, not to mention healthy. Bananas and oranges are cheap in most countries. When there’s meat involved, I stick with carts that cook the food right as I stand there and watch. The exception is tacos de canasta, which are wrapped and then steamed. Steam kills most any germs. In Vietnam, there was piping hot soup. Usually bread items are fairly safe on the street. Deep fried foods, though not the healthiest option, are fairly safe from a germ standpoint, though not great for your heart. Not many bacteria or viruses can live through a deep fat fryer.

The one item I stay away from is drinks that are sold on the street, but aren’t bottled, especially in countries where I wouldn’t drink the water from the tap. I also get most drinks without ice. The exception is iced coffee or iced tea. Coffee and tea are usually boiled, but also they do a fair job on their own of killing most beasties in the water.

Eat the local food, in season: Eat what the locals eat. Fast food may be cheap in the USA, but it isn’t in China, SE Asia, Turkey and Latin America. Besides, the local cuisine is probably much more interesting and healthier. As I type this, cactus fruits are in season, tunas, and they are reported to lower blood sugar.

Learn to love plain water: Water is the best liquid for you. Even if you can’t drink the water from the tap, bottled water will probably be less expensive than any other liquid you can buy. The exception seems to be Spain, where the cheapest wine—which was still pretty good!—was less expensive than a bottle of water. Here in Mexico, fresh fruit juices are only slightly more than bottled water and often less expensive than coffee or tea drinks.

I also try to save in this area, since buying water can add up. The larger the container, the less expensive, so go big. Unfortunately, the largest sizes are very heavy. I now carry an electric kettle and a water purifying pitcher from country to country. Here in Mexico, the water quality isn’t totally horrible (better than I expected), but I still don’t drink the water from the tap. I will, however, boil the water and then filter it after it cools. I expect this is as safe as most bottled water. In some cases it might be safer since there are few quality standards for bottled water, even in the USA. I also believe that this is a better environmental option, since the plastic bottles just end up in the trash. There’s little recycling here or in most undeveloped countries.

When I don’t drink water, I usually  have tea or coffee, made in my room with my electric kettle.

Walk: Even the cost of cheap transportation adds up over time. I take the bus or an Uber occasionally. I took a taxi a couple times during my first few days here, but usually I use my feet. It keeps me in shape and reduces my need for a gym membership. (Which I still need. The food here is too good!)

Living accommodations: Learn to lower your standards. When I travel, I stay in hostels, which are cheap, but have zero privacy. I’ve lived in shared apartments most of the last two years while I’ve been teaching. I won’t accept a teaching contract unless the company assists with housing. I’m simply not in a position to find a place on my own, so they are going to have to do the legwork for at least the initial months. In Russia and Spain, the accommodations were part of the compensation. In Turkey, I got 3 free months in an apartment with the understanding that I could extend my stay or even move to another apartment with the same English speaking landlords. In Vietnam, the school had an apartment which I rented (though I hadn’t been told I’d have a roommate. Surprise!). Here in Mexico, they found an apartment for me, (though clearly no one bothered to look at the place or ask the price ahead of time).

Remember, though, that if you lose your job with your employer, you can also lose your housing if they are providing the apartment. Something to think about.

But sometimes, like here in Mexico, you have to look for something better. I look for accommodation (in my price range) based on these things: 1). Safety Can I walk around outside at night? I usually teach in the evenings, so may come home late. 2). Cleanliness I don’t have to be able to eat off the floor, but I don’t want bugs, either. You may have to lower your standards here. 3). Proximity to my work I want to keep my commute time/costs to a minimum. 4) Facilities Does the place have everything I need? Bed with linen & pillow? Bathroom that isn’t shared by too many people? Kitchen with cooking/eating utensils? Is there a washer/ironing board/drying rack? How is trash handled? 5) Location Is it close to the things I need? Grocery? Restaurants? Laundry facilities? Public transportation?

My current flat isn’t ideal, but it (mostly) meets the first two criteria and I’ve found ways to mitigate the others. Though I’ve always had a separate bedroom, living alone is seldom going to be an option. There are some super-small studio apartments here in San Luis Potosi and if I can find one in my budget, I’ll consider it, but I think I’m at the lowest price place I can find but still live in comfortably.

Stay in one place longer: The big expense with this kind of life is the plane flight to a new location and the initial costs of moving.

Flights are expensive and you may have to pay extra for baggage. For example, I carry only one suitcase and a large backpack of belongings. It isn’t much. However, on some flights, only one is allowed without paying an overage charge. The second bag can cost an additional $100. You have to decide if it’s cheaper to buy new stuff or pay the fee.

And there are other expenses, as well. You usually end up paying for a hotel for a couple days when you move to a new city. Since you don’t know how to get around you take more expensive taxis rather than walk or use public transportation. There may be the first month’s rent plus deposit to pay.  And you may or may not have gotten your damage deposit back from the last place. Every new place seems to need a few things. My first flat in Mexico needed a fan and hangars just to get unpacked and be able to sleep comfortably. These are bulkly items that I’m not likely to take with me when I move.

If you stay in one place longer, those costs don’t crop up so often and you have a chance to save up for the next move. Also, some schools have an end-of-contract bonus or will reimburse some travel fees if you complete your contract, typically a year. End of contract bonuses are pretty precarious, however. In Russia, they paid for flights in and out of the country, but they set a cap so low that it only paid about half my travel costs. In Turkey, the end of contract bonus was very substantial. I lived on it for almost 3 months while in Spain and hiking the Camino. Of course, I had to sit in the office for four days straight, waiting for them to pay me. They clearly hoped I’d have a flight out and have to leave before they got around to paying me. It was humiliating and demeaning, but in the end they paid me just to get rid of me. Not everyone was so lucky. Personally, I will shy away from contracts like that from now on.

Frankly, I make enough money teaching to live from day to day and save a tiny bit. It’s like volunteering with room, board and a small stipend. When I transfer to another country, I may have to dip into my savings for the travel and at least some of the initial set up fees. For most “adventures,” like a few extra days in Moscow or Mexico City, I definitely dip into savings. I prepared for this financial situation ahead of time, so it’s not a problem for me, but if I had to live just on what I make, I wouldn’t be able to do much additional travel.

There are some places I’d like to teach that pay even worse than where I’ve lived so far. Some don’t pay at all. India and Nepal are on my list, but I can’t even make enough money to afford to live and eat in these emerging countries. I can’t go to them right now. There are some “volunteer vacations” that, while not pricey by vacation standards, are out of my reach without putting a huge strain on my savings. I’d like to work on an archaeological dig and monitor sea turtles, for example, but it’s too pricey on my teacher’s salary. I’ve had offers for long term house-sitting in Europe, but would need money to get to the home and then be able to eat while I’m there. There’s no guarantee I’d be able to work (and in an EU country with a US passport the odds of working legally are slim).

Having money changes things. I’ll get my first pension in about 2.5 years and while I won’t be wealthy, I’ll suddenly have an independent source of income. In most of Latin American, it’s enough to live better than I live now. Who knows what I may do then?