This is the second in a series of articles by Denise Shannon about Living versus Resorting. To read the first article, start here.

After spending two months of winter in Mexico, I have now returned home. As I sit at my desk in my home office looking out at snow flurries, it is time to reflect upon the experience. It was hard to do this last week in Mexico, as I found myself wanting to desperately enjoy every last minute, yet at the same time, was feeling myself pulled home. I needed some time and distance to get a little perspective on this very different extended vacation.

Renting a house for an extended period of time and trying to live like a local (though I’ve learned that those words aren’t completely accurate…) is a great alternative to the typical resort stay. I have now done both, and both have their merits; however, I have learned a lot more and lived in a different way this time around. At the end of the stay, some important considerations and observations stand out.

Finding Your Bearings

As reported earlier, this is the most challenging part of the stay initially. Without having hotel staff to guide you around, finding one’s way and figuring out the little things that are part of daily life are essential, yet sometimes intimidating. However, it is also the most satisfying part of the process. After just a short time, we felt familiar with our surroundings, and began to feel truly “at home.” I confess that my goal of learning Spanish fell short, but I did increase my vocabulary and confidence a little bit!

By the end of our extended vacation, we felt like experts when meeting fellow tourists. We were able to recommend and guide them in ways that their vacation package tour guides fell short. At this point, we knew we had settled in well!

Live Like A Local?

In spite of our comfort level and familiarity with our area, we did not fully live like a local. It would not be wholly accurate to say we did. We clearly were visitors, as evidenced by our language and physical appearance. We were treated very well by our neighbours and everyone we met. However, we lived very differently from the average person, and it was clear that we had privileges in terms of time, money and lifestyle that a typical resident would not have.

The Simple Pleasures

Whenever we are on vacation, we do revel in the pleasures and delights of all we experience. However, having an extended vacation to do so really makes one take in all the wonderful, but simple, aspects of everyday life. Having the time and space really increases the powers of observation, making one appreciate these pleasures all the more. Days stretch out with infinite possibilities. Coffee on the patio in the morning with no need to rush anywhere, having the pool to ourselves all week, making spontaneous decisions to have a moonlight swim after dinner, enjoying the array of colorful tropical birds – these are examples of delights that seemed clearer and fresher with time to observe and appreciate them! Even doing laundry is a satisfying experience when you can slow it down and hang clothes on the line in the sun. Somehow this chore does not have quite the same thrill at home…

Real Life: “The Little Not-so-delightfuls”

Were there times when I missed my home? Absolutely! Sometimes the time seems long, the heat too intense, and the little things seem magnified. I think that is par for the course when you are in one place for too long. These aren’t deal-breakers and from the perspective of being home, they do seem almost laughable now. Being aware of these and learning to roll with those moments is important in being able to get past them and concentrate on what is important.

  • The heat: Yes, the heat is why we come! I love hot summer days, and I’ve always revelled in the heat on previous vacations. So, I was surprised to find myself extremely uncomfortable at times. Maybe it’s an age thing. But one has to find ways to manage the heat, know when it’s most intense and avoid it (surprising find- late afternoon/early evening was the worst- go figure!). And maybe consider a slightly cooler climate for a winter getaway…
  • Stretches of time to fill: As mentioned before, a two week vacation seems to fly by with so many options for activities and excursions, or just some much needed relaxation. Just as two months at home can be long without activities and plans, an extended stay elsewhere may have the same challenges. This was overcome by reminding myself that it was okay to sit by the pool and read all day, and that filling my days at home without the privilege of a beautiful setting and tropical climate would be even more daunting!
  • Expect the unexpected: Little details can throw off your day and alter plans. You’re not at home and things (or people) don’t work on the same schedule as you might be used to. However, “living rather than resorting” means having to deal with mundane daily chores or unexpected things to fix or deal with. Flexibility and a sense of humour go a long way!
  • “I miss my house!”: Yes, I confess to thinking this at times. No matter where you are, the longer you stay away, the more you are going to start to crave your familiar creature comforts. Little things like fruit flies or a constantly damp bathroom are enough to push you over the edge after six weeks of not even noticing! Not much you can do about this, except remind yourself to live in the moment, and perhaps consider that a shorter stay next time may be in order!

The Delight of New Discoveries

Near the end of our stay, we suddenly started making new discoveries! These were lovely last gifts that allowed us to delight in the new and really appreciate our final days. We attended Mass at a church around the corner, having enjoyed the music from it throughout our stay. We varied our usual walk and discovered a charming neighbourhood and a closer store for our daily shopping needs. The days got longer and we experienced more beautiful sunsets. We regained that fleeting sense of time passing by, and resolved to revel in these last days of our extended vacation and become “tourists” again!

Reflections Upon Homecoming

So, we have now been home for four days. We are thrilled to be back in our own home, sleeping in our own bed, getting excited about opening drawers and cupboards and finding things we had forgotten we had! We are also enjoying reminiscing about experiences, sometimes in awe that we actually did this! Yesterday, as I walked around my downtown streets in the wind and wet snow, I felt oddly comfortable and at peace. I know I would not have been able to appreciate a miserable March day had I not had the opportunity to live elsewhere for most of the winter.

Would we do this again? Yes. It may not be for as long a period of time in one place; it may not be in the exact same environment. But, it has been a privilege and a learning experience, as well as a winter escape. I would recommend that anyone who does this be aware of some of the challenges, determine what your own needs are, and be willing to be flexible and open to the experience. It is definitely worth it and will change your outlook on living and traveling!