New Year, Same Us? A January 2021 Update

by Sasha Savinov

It’s hard to believe we’re already halfway through February. This year is flying by, even though we’re moving slower than we have since we had steady jobs teaching English in Beijing many years ago. We’ve decided to try something new here on the blog and give a monthly update. Sorry, this one is a bit tardy. February has been crazy busy, but I’ll get to that in the next update! For now, here’s a rundown of life, work, travel, and everything else from January.

Table of Contents

Life

For this section of the monthly updates, I’ll talk about our daily life and what it looked like. This includes things like health & fitness, socializing, hobbies, and all that good stuff. For the January 2021 update, I’ve got to start with what was a major, albeit temporary, lifestyle change…

Dry January

If you have hung out with me at all in the last 20 years, chances are we shared a beer (or six) together. It’s no secret that I like to party (sorry if you don’t). I enjoy the hell out of some craft beer, appreciate a nice box of wine, and absolutely love vodka drinks (there’s that half Russian in me!).

Now, I don’t drink every night and I rarely get totally smashed anymore, but living in a place like Puerto Vallarta it’s easy to get lost in the sauce. It’s a hard-partying beach town in Mexico and most of our friends here are degenerates who love a good old fashioned 3-day bender.

I went hard in the paint for NYE…

Ever since getting back here at the end of September, we were going out a lot. There was Halloween… then Thanksgiving… then birthday parties… then my siblings visiting… then Christmas… then New Year’s. It was a fun but expensive and draining couple of months.

We don’t usually make New Year’s Resolutions per se, but I decided to give Dry January a try this year. To be honest, I didn’t start until the 4th (had to rage that NYE long weekend!), but I went a whole 30 days without a drop of booze.

Rather than trap myself in the apartment, I still went out with friends a few times a week. It was a bit tough at times going out to bars, especially as it got later and my friends got drunker, but I made it!

Thankfully our bartender friends here make awesome mocktails and I found Heineken Zero beer at OXXO. It’s disgusting but it satisfied my longing for a sweet, sweet cerveza.

Mocktails galore!

At first I really didn’t think I’d be able to pull it off.

As the days went on, though, it got easier and easier. Whenever I felt the urge for a drink at home, I just made a little mocktail myself or had some herbal tea.

I definitely cracked a few cold beers on that first night past 30 and I’ve been back on the wagon this month, but I’m going to try this thing called “moderation” moving forward. Apparently, that’s when you go out but don’t drink all the things. What a novel concept. I’ll let you know how that goes next month!

To be clear, Rachel did not participate in Dry January. That’s because she doesn’t drink nearly as much as me. She was very supportive and helpful throughout the month and didn’t keep a bunch of cold beers in the fridge, which would no doubt have tempted me.

Apparently, people also do a “Sober October,” so perhaps I’ll give it a whirl again then. For now, I’m happy to have cervezas and tequila back!

Ripped 30

We used to love going to the gym before the pandemic, but we haven’t been to one since last March in Medellin. Instead, we transitioned to at-home workouts.

They’re great and all, and there are plenty of free options on YouTube, but sometimes it’s hard to motivate yourself and choose a workout. That’s why we were stoked to find out about the Ripped 30 program.

Home workouts and protein shakes.

It’s 30 days of workout videos – 3 each day for a total of 30 minutes. There are HIIT, agility, strength, core, and yoga routines and it’s a very well-rounded program.

We both went through Ripped 30 back in the summer but were moving around too much to do it every day. Since we’re pretty stationary now, we both went for it again and did all 30 days in a row.

After a month of working out every day, we both feel great. It was tough at first, but we’re both in the best shape we’ve been in for quite some time. We also have a small gym at our new place so we can add some more cardio and basic weight lifting in.

Before & After

As you can see, I clearly got some results from doing the program.

If you’d like to learn more about the program, there is a free 7-day challenge where Coach Marc sends you an 11-minute video each day.

You can also read more details about Ripped30 in our post about how to keep fit as a digital nomad. Or click here to get signed up.

Planning for the Future

For the last ten years, our “future” plans have always been for the next big backpacking trip or the next Phish tour. Sure, we managed to save $25,000 teaching English in China, but we promptly spent it all on our gap year. Totally worth it, by the way.

Our thoughts on planning for the future can be summed up in one of my favorite Phish lyrics: “Can’t this wait ’til I’m old, can’t I live while I’m young?”

Well, for the past year we haven’t really had much to look forward to in terms of travel or live music. We also didn’t pay rent for 5 months in 2020 (thanks again, family!). As such, we actually managed to save some money in 2020.

We upgraded all of our gear back home, enjoyed an epic Colorado road trip, and got settled back into life for the winter here in Puerto Vallarta. Once we were stable again, I decided to take some time to update our finances and finally start planning our future a bit (beyond the next tour, whenever that may be…)

We can afford to live here and that’s awesome.

In January alone, I started Roth IRA accounts for both of us and funded them. To be honest, I still don’t really know what they do, but I’m working on it!

I also started a high-interest savings account in a different bank so we can put money aside and not see it every time we log in to check our balance or use an ATM.

We’ve been using the app called Trail Wallet for a while now to track expenses. I highly recommend you download that and use it, even when you’re not traveling.

In addition, I signed up for a 30-day trial of You Need a Budget (YNAB) and am loving it. I organized our personal and business budgets, made savings goals, and just generally feel far more in control of our finances now.

Finally, I decided to try my hand at stoncks a bit. I know basically nothing about the stock market (it be going up and it be going down), but I did lots of research and decided to invest some money in a few companies I feel good about.

I’m happy to say that despite my lack of knowledge or experience, both investments have done great in just a month and there’s lots of potential for more growth.

Unfortunately, I also got caught up in the Game Stonck frenzy and lost a bit of money by getting a bit too excited. I’m still on top overall, though, and learned a valuable lesson about the chaotic nature of stocks. What a crazy time to get into the stock market!

I’m reading a book called “I Will Teach You to Be Rich” by Ramit Sethi and have found it to be super helpful. It’s full of practical, useful advice in terms that us normal people can understand.

I realize we still have a long way to go, but I’m just happy that we’re finally making moves to save and invest. Being a nomad is great, but we may want our own place some day and you never know what may happen (see global pandemic for a powerful reminder).

Ashamed, then Proud to be Americans

Watching the events that unfolded in our capital city on January 6th was tough. It made us furious and ashamed to be Americans.

It definitely had me reaching for the tequila bottle early on in my Dry January and really tested my will power.

You did it, ‘merica!

Just two weeks later, it was such a relief to see our nation complete the peaceful transfer of power as we had so many times before.

It was enough to get us to put our LED lights on red, white and blue and for me to toss on my ‘Merica shirt.

Learning to Meditate

The final big life update from January is that we started meditating. I found a deal for 50% off the Calm app and figured I’d give it a whirl.

It’s a great app full of guided meditations, relaxing music, informative talks, and much more. I started out with their 30 days of meditation for beginners and really tried to do it every day.

I missed a day here and there and just did two meditations the next day to make up for it, but I was pretty consistent. I’m definitely one of those people whose mind moves a mile a minute, though, so it’s been interesting to say the least.

While I can’t say that I’ve made some major breakthroughs or anything, I have enjoyed meditating and can clearly see the benefit. It’s helped me to calm down and relieve some anxiety on many occasions already.

Rachel has dabbled a bit with me, as we did one of the 7-day beginner meditations together. She’s so busy with work that it’s hard to get her to sit down for even 10 minutes, though! This brings me to the next part…

Work

For this section of the update, I’ll give a rundown of what the month looked like in terms of teaching, blogging, and all the other stuff we do to pay the bills.

Teaching Online

Teaching English online is our main source of income. We both work for VIPKID and have been with them for several years now. It’s been great, but there have been some changes recently that we weren’t so thrilled with.

In addition, bookings have been a bit erratic of late.

Rachel picked up a job with a new company to try and fill her schedule, and she was still doing both jobs in January. She would teach on Wintutor Mon-Wed then VIPKID Thurs-Sat.

Just another day at the office…

It was going alright, but she was getting burned out and frustrated. Plus, the new company just wasn’t getting her enough bookings to make it worth her time. She gave them her 2-week notice and finished up at the end of January.

As for me, VIPKID bookings have still been pretty good. In January I opened classes Mon-Sat mornings and most Friday nights. I even stayed in a few Saturdays since I wasn’t going out.

Extra bookings started trickling in towards the end of the month as my students went on winter holiday. That was great, but I still had lots of students cancel classes 25 hours in advance that did not get re-booked. That’s just a loss of income for us and it sucks.

Rachel climbing the ladder sculpture on the Malecon.

A bright spot in the online ESL world has been Rachel’s job with Langu.

It’s a British company with mostly adult students in Europe. The pay isn’t quite as good but Rachel has really been enjoying it. Plus the hours are WAY better!

If you want to learn more about Langu click here to check out our post about Rachel’s experience so far.

After a few months of getting the hang of things, she has a dedicated student base and has been able to raise her prices twice. She’s excited about the future with this gig and I may sign up at some point as well.

Slow Times for a Travel Writer

Last year, I was well on my way to becoming a full-time travel writer. I had a ton of work on my plate from some of the biggest travel blogs out there with no end in sight. Then COVID happened and I got furloughed by everybody.

Since last May, my only writing work has been the handful of posts I write for the language blogs. On the bright side, it freed me up to create more content for our page.

Focusing on PV content this winter.

Thankfully I got a big opportunity at the end of the year to write another feature story for the Live & Invest Overseas e-magazine. I spent all of January writing a 6,500-word beast of an article about life for digital nomads during COVID. I think it turned out great and it’ll pay my rent for the next 2 months, so that’s exciting.

I’m not actively pursuing other writing gigs at the moment and focusing my attention to our blog instead. If there’s anything specific you want to read about, just let us know!

A New Round of Students for Rachel

Rachel is still working hard on her online course called Teaching for Freedom. She opened the doors to it again at the end of the year and got a new batch of students who are trying to launch their online ESL career.

Now that we have new gear including better cameras and microphones, she’s hard at work re-doing all of the videos for her course. She’s also updating all of the lessons to reflect new information.

Twice in January, she had group coaching calls with her new students. She really busts her butt on this and has had great results. It’s amazing to see what she has accomplished since coming up with this idea less than two years ago!

Once she finishes updating the lessons she plans to open the doors for enrollment again. Click here to get on the waitlist so you’ll be the first to know!

Travel

In a normal year, I’d likely have lots of travel updates for you. Obviously, that’s not the case at the moment! We’re staying put and laying relatively low in Puerto Vallarta for the winter.

However, I do have a few updates from January…

Whales!

Whale Watching

Every winter, humpback whales come to Banderas Bay to give birth and mate. Since we’ve spent the spring & summer months here, we hadn’t seen any whales yet.

That all changed this year when we finally went on a whale watching tour! Some friends recommended Wildlife Connection and we had an excellent experience. Not only did we see several whales, but we also saw dozens of dolphins.

If you visit PV between December and March, I highly recommend adding a whale watching tour to your list of things to do!

Trying for Yellowstone Again

Last September, our plan had been to visit Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. A rare cold front from Canada plus the wildfires changed those plans, though. We had a fiercely Colorado road trip instead, which was awesome.

It looks like we’ll cross Yellowstone and Grand Tetons off our list sooner than later, though. My mom really wants to go and put me in charge of planning a family trip there.

I spent my downtime in January and booked different Airbnbs for a 2-week trip starting on June 1st. We’ll also get to check Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana off our list of states and we’re pretty excited for it!

Searching for street art in PV.

That about does it for this first monthly update.

Let me know if you enjoy reading these sorts of posts by leaving a comment below. I’m going to keep writing them just as a way to reflect and not let the year get away from me, but I’d love to know if our readers actually find them interesting!

Thanks for reading, and I’ll try to be a bit more timely with the next one.

Cheers!


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