Three to six months in Mexico differs from a resort stay. Things that you barely miss over a week-long stay emerge as more important than you anticipated.
Living in Mexico for six months or more a year at a time, I’ve learned which things improve my quality of life most while I'm in Mexico.
Sure, eventually you might find most of what you need there (and Amazon show great promise!), but doing without until you find it does get on your nerves. You’re going to be busy with logistics in the first few weeks. Every new place will mean new discoveries of what is and isn't provided or available in stores.
You're busy with so many tasks necessary to settle in once you get to Mexico. You probably have to set up your internet and work out bugs on your electronics (which get very confused and wish you'd stay in one place).
Every rental kitchen is different. Once it took three days before I realized my place didn't have an oven. If you felt hiring someone to stock your frig (highly recommended) was too self-indulgent, you have worry about feeding yourself when maybe you don't feel like going to a restaurant.
The following are some things to bring. While a few of the items are admittedly girly, most apply to even guys...especially if the guy cares about his feet.
1. Spices, oven thermometer - If you are staying more than a week, you’ll be doing some cooking. Cooking healthy food you like, once that first flush of enthusiasm over Mexican cuisine is over, will be challenging.
Fennel, dill, oregano, cayenne pepper, coriander, ginger, rosemary may not be available at all and I guarantee their availability will be erratic at best, even if you know what they are called in Spanish. Spices also look different (Sage looks like a baggie of twigs and broken bay leaves.)
Consider bringing an oven thermometer if you plan to cook. I haven't lived in a place yet that has an oven with a regular temperature gauge. Some are just fire coils in a tin box.
2. An electronic reader and a library card to your local U.S. library. Hauling books is not practical and the availability of English language materials is sporadic, even in most popular expat areas. Don’t forget your library card to your own U.S. city library since many libraries provide books online, and will send them directly to your Kindle.
3. A money belt - Not because of purse-snatchers but because when you are arrive to a foreign country, your balance will be off at first. People who have never lost a credit card in their lives have told me about lost cards the first few weeks of a stay.
So much new information; sights, smells, different currency and even the new energy of a place bombard your senses. You'll be distracted. A money belt can carry a key to where you’re staying, $500 pesos, a copy of your I.D, and a debit card.
For you women, I highly suggest going to a sports-gear store rather than a travel store and check around for one. I'm wild about my new one, marketed as a "hand-free" belt for runners rather than a money belt. It's a black nylon cloth belt you step in to. It's thin and wide, rather than looking like a maxi-pad taped to your stomach..
4. Sound speakers for your computer or phone - Sound speakers are so compact now that I can't imagine not carrying them. If your surroundings don't quite meet your expectations, quality music sound will transcend those conditions. With your music with you, you will be home no matter where you are. Before you leave home, take the time to pour yourself a glass of wine some evening and download new music. You won't regret it.
5. Extra debit and credit cards - Debit cards from two separate banks has saved the neck of many an expat. Access problems with pin numbers or a lost debit card can be terrifying, and debit cards are a huge hassle to replace.
Getting a new debit card mailed to you is a process fraught with anxiety in many foreign countries. Americans take for granted the luxury of a secure postal service (a Mexican boyfriend once told me it was the only thing he admired about America). It could take weeks to get another one.
6. An extra “wallet’ containing a copy of your passport and alternate photo I.D. and birth certificate, along with international bank customer service numbers.
These need to be kept separate from your primary wallet. Make sure you know your credit card PIN, which is different from your debit card PIN. The code will be required if you need to draw emergency cash from a credit card. Your face and passport at the bank will not do it.
Have your banking in order, including notifying them of your dates of arrival and departure from Mexico. Do write pin number down somewhere. Under stress you can go blank.
7. A tablet or laptop (two laptops is an excellent idea if you plan on working) - Be careful to lock your technology in a safe where you stay if the place is new to you. If you have an old laptop, take that, unless you want to buy a more costly laptop with a Spanish keyboard should something happen to yours.
Do not be the least bit embarrassed to demand a safe in which to lock up valuables, even if your place appears to have a secure door. If you can't, at least hide anything very valuable, like a good laptop, to the greatest extent possible no matter how upscale the place appears to be.
8, A book dictionary - Many a time I wished I had my pocket dictionary with me after starting up a conversation with a stranger. In the States I had gotten used to Google on my phone. At times, you may not want to carry your cell phone in Mexico. Same goes for taking an old fashioned calculator rather than your expensive phone as a calculator into busy marketplaces. Sure, all the Mexicans and full-time expats around you are carrying them, but they won't have the hassles you will have if they lose theirs.
9. A small umbrella - You are way down south here and the sun is nuclear. Natives often use umbrellas. If you see Mexicans doing something, there is a darn good reason for it. You won’t always want to wear a hat. Travel umbrellas fall into the category of things you might happen to see in a store right away, but maybe not.
10. Consider a small set of great sheets. If you love your 800-thread sheets, bring a set of single flat sheets. Only the nicest hotels have them in Mexico and they are impossible to find in stores. For day-to-day luxury over the long haul, nice sheets give me far more pleasure than extra clothes do.
11. House shoes, long sleeved cotton shirt, sewing kit, extra reading glasses - Most everywhere you stay will have tile floors that thrash your feet quickly and are hard on the back. Take an extra pair of reading glasses if you use them. Travel sewing kits and a pair of scissors are on many people's list. Make sure your "house shoes" have grippy soles. Those tile floors are also treacherous when wet. A very thin long-sleeved button-down cotton shirt, even for coastal areas, for breezy air-conditioners.
12. A protective cell phone case - For some reason, everyone in Mexico seems to have a cracked phone screen... must be the tile floors.
13. Extra make-up or toiletries - Your favorite brands may not be available. You might be far more attached to a brand than you realize. Same goes for your suntan lotions. Think about all the kinds we use; SPF 30, 50, 100 for face or body or sunless, zinc oxide. Endless choice.
Even in resort towns, that selection is probably not going to be available, and is more expensive (people will actually steal fancy sun-screens at the beach).
Even if they have your brands, you may not know if you have the right product if your Spanish isn’t great. I used Pond’s “Crema C” as body lotion (vitamin C, right?) for a week until I finally looked up the Spanish word “limpiadora” in English (which translates "cleansing."
14. A fold up yoga mat - If you practice yoga regularly, you will find beautiful places that inspire your practice. Moreover, yoga mats have many functionalities that are useful because of those same hard tile floors that tear up your feet. You can buy flat ones that fold for travel rather than the rolled version.
You can stretch on a yoga mat after a day of walking. You can do floor exercises in small quarters. You can fold them into a sitting cushion. You may even run into a real yoga class - a great way to mingle with the locals.
15. Your meds - carefully calculate what you will need and see your doctor about the re-fills you'll need a few months before you go. Doctors can surprise you about how many months prescriptions they are willing to give you. They might even decide that this of all times is the time to change a medication. They can get ornery about it so plan ahead.
Fans are still quite popular in Mexico and Spain.
16. Extra chargers - This is a big one. It can be extremely difficult to find chargers for your electronics. Even phone chargers sold in Walmarts or larger stores are second market. If you use an iphone, the chargers will not be “ Apple certified” and frequently will not work reliably after a few days regardless of what the packages say about compatibility. Spend the extra money and buy extra chargers before you leave.
Take as little clothing as necessary. If you are staying here for several months, you will find it easier and much more fun to pick up a few items in the local stalls or stores than taking multiple sets of dresses, shoes and jackets. I bring three outfits and buy three outfits in Mexico. That takes me though the season. Before leaving, I give away three outfits.
Unfortunately, American women in Mexico tend to dress like they’re visiting a nice campground. Men lean toward Tommy Bahama. Here's my post on what to bring in more detail.
Well-dressed Mexican women may not dress expensively, but you don't catch them in khakis either.
Once you are here awhile, you may begin to notice some very attractive characteristics about the way Mexican women and men dress and become interested in fitting in.
Part of the fun of living a “double life” and spending extended time every year in another country is looking a little different when you are there, a little more local.
In your first month, exploring for a piece of art, some jewelry or a Mexican travel clothing is fun. Running around frantically trying to find a particular type of sunblock or a charger is not. Take the right things with you and spend your time enjoying the beautiful, interesting experiences every Mexican town has to offer.
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About the author, Kerry Baker
I'm a partner with Ventanas Mexico which provides insight and resources to people considering full or part-time expat life in Mexico, include "If Only I Had a Place," a renting system for the aspiring expat.
I am also author of the "Interactive Guide to Learning Spanish Free Online," a curation of the best Spanish language tools on the web. The Guide provides the means to unique lesson plans every day. Never get bored. Get the most out of expat life by learning Spanish now.