How Did We Get Here? The Impact of Losing your Remote Job
Yes, this blog is behind. Not just a little, but months of our lives missing, that kind of behind.
In the interest of continuity, I think I’ll start from here, Texas, our temporary visit to the United States that is dragging on. How did we get here? Why did we leave Mexico? I never answered these questions, so let’s start there.
Coming Full Circle: Our Return To Cozumel
We started our Mexican adventure in 2015 with a year in Cozumel after Jason started doing his job from remote. In 2016 and 2017 we traveled all over the country with everything we owned in our suburban. It was great, but overwhelming and exhausting.
We started longing for a home base, and nothing compares to Cozumel for us. It is the measuring stick that we hold every other place up to, the conversation usually starts with “It’s great, but not as great as Cozumel.”
So at the end of 2017 we went back to our Mexican home island, ready to reconnect with old friends and spend long days by the water. We even got the same house although it was under Canadian ownership instead of Mexican and the rent was almost twice as much.
Almost immediately we realized things had changed. Petty crime was up, our friends told us to be careful about our belongings and not to let anyone know if we went away for a weekend.
We arrived on Dec 23 and our neighbor’s house got broken into on Christmas Eve, keeping us all up until 2am as the police climbed the surrounding rooftops looking for the thieves. They found one guy, drunk and laying on the roof, but the other two hid in an overgrown vacant lot until the police left. Then they came back and took the flat screen TV they’d missed on their first visit.
Our little community of 5 houses around a pool had never had a problem with break-ins, but looking around I saw that the walls had no spikes or wire and could be easily climbed. Windows didn’t always lock on the houses and we were told to wedge them shut with wooden dowels, meaning we couldn’t enjoy the breeze but had to rely on the A/C. We put the dogs in our girls’ room with them at night so if anyone came to their balcony they would be chased away. I found myself not sleeping well, getting up to check every noise at night.
A metal worker came and put spikes on the gates but not the walls. They measured the windows on the ground floor of our house for bars, saying that all the houses would get them eventually but we would go first because we were the only ones with kids. I was grateful that the other two full time renters had lived there during our first year and knew us, and while it wasn’t fair to them they agreed that our girls should be safe. All of us were having second thoughts about living there.
The island was not the same, and to be fair we were not the same.
We had left, dropping out of our social circle and activities and now that we were back it was harder to drop back in than we expected. Our friends were busy and we didn’t see them very often. Their kids had new friends that our girls didn’t know, and there wasn’t much of a homeschool community so we were on our own most of the day.
It was beautiful, but a little lonely. We had been visiting places and connecting with other nomads, but our Cozumel friends were full time residents, a real community instead of people meeting up while traveling. It was hard to adjust.
Then in February Jason lost his job.
The one that paid for all of us and everything.
“We’ll Travel Until the Money Runs Out”
That’s what we told people when they asked how long we planned to travel, but it felt impossible.
When Jason lost his job, there was a little bit of panic along with the shock. I’m not going to lie, my first thought was “Oh my god we’re going to have to leave Mexico.”
But then we started reasoning. He was downsized, a managerial decision that had nothing to do with his job performance. He got a severance package and could file for unemployment. We didn’t have much in savings (not nearly as much as we should have) but things should still be ok for a while, and his skills were in high demand so he should be able to find another job.
At first Jason was happy to be unemployed. Without a job he could go anywhere without worrying about cell signal in case something crashed at work. He could go to the beach and not bring his laptop in his backpack. He didn’t have to check his email all the time. He could really be there with us, all the time, and it was wonderful.
Jason figured that unemployment pay is based on your salary, you get a percentage of what you were making at your job, so even after severance pay was gone and he was on unemployment we should have enough money. He would be looking for a new remote job, so we figured he might have to fly somewhere to interview in person but otherwise there wouldn’t be much to worry about.
We were wrong.
Unemployment paid $400 per week max, so that’s what he got. It was about one quarter of what he had made working, and it wouldn’t be enough for a family of 4 long term even in Mexico.
We didn’t worry too much right away. Jason has 10 years of IT experience, his skills are up to date and very in demand, he’s proven that he can do the job from remote and has excellent references. Everything should be in his favor to get a new job easily.
But it didn’t happen.
March came and went and in interviews excited recruiters kept saying, “If you were in X place I could have you hired tomorrow, but remote…”
They all said the same thing: You need to be HERE. It didn’t seem to matter exactly where that was, just as long as it was somewhere in the U.S.
We Need A New Plan
We weren’t finding life in Cozumel as easy and relaxing as we’d planned, and now it wasn’t sustainable unless Jason could get hired somewhere.
By April we decided that a temporary stay in the U.S. would be necessary, just to get back on our feet again. I could work as an RN again in the states too, so that would give us a boost.
A year to get everything back under control, that’s all.
It felt a little like going backwards to return to the U.S., but it was only temporary, right?
We chose Austin, TX because we had visited during the past two summers for Camp Half Blood, an amazing summer camp that recreates the world of the Percy Jackson books.
Austin was also just 4 hours from the border if we missed Mexico, and there was a lot of Latino culture to keep us from feeling too out of place after 3 years south of the border.
It seemed like a good fit.
Let The Culture Shock Begin
Like any other place, visiting is one thing, living there is another.
Big Downside #1: Austin is super, super expensive. After living here for a year every other place in the world looks like a bargain.
Big Downside #2: Traffic. Our friends warned us. We didn’t believe them. Road rage is a serious thing and drivers have no patience.
Both of these things come from the same source, the huge influx of people who are moving here. Some estimates say 180 people are moving to Austin every day. Housing is sky high with an average home price between $350-400K. The traffic here is insane because Austin is so overcrowded the roads and infrastructure can’t keep up. Activities are expensive and fill up fast.
But it’s only a year right?
We moved into our house at the end of May 2018 after being crammed into an Airbnb RV for two weeks. The rent was twice what we had planned on, by far the most expensive place we’ve ever stayed in as home owners or renters or vacationers, but the house seemed perfect (spoiler alert: it’s so not.)
I started working as a nurse in a hospital again after 3 years while Jason kept interviewing. To my surprise I practically had offers over the phone before we ever crossed the border despite the gap in my resume. (Thank you nursing shortage?) Even on a floor that I thought would be my dream job, returning to nursing wasn’t as fulfilling as I’d hoped, but that’s a whole other post.
Jason was still looking for a job, and still having trouble closing the deal despite enthusiastic calls every day. He stopped insisting on 100% remote and started considering other options, both local and with some travel to other cities.
We cashed in our IRAs and emptied retirement funds. My nursing salary was helping, but we needed a break and it wasn’t coming.
In June of 2018 Jason finally got hired to work in a local office in downtown Austin. He would be making less than he wanted but more than unemployment so he took it and went back on site after 3 years of remote freedom. It was a tough adjustment. He and two other people were crammed into an office meant for one person and only two of them got along. He had to get up and leave by 710 to sit in traffic and arrive at work by 8. Without traffic it was a 15-minute drive, but at 8am in Austin nothing moves fast. It’s the same coming home between 4 and 6pm.
One of the hardest things about the new job was that we had to go buy him khakis and polo shirts again because working in an office meant he had to wear PANTS. Every. Single. Day. (If you’ve worked from home you understand the agony of this.)
Jason kept looking for a remote position, something that would allow us to move again when the year was up. Something that would restore his freedom and get him back out of the cubicle.
In the mean time we were living paycheck to paycheck, playing catch up every week even with both of us working.
Old Habits Die Hard, Even The Stupid Ones
We were running low on funds. I was making the most of being back in the land of Goodwill and Craigslist to buy basics as we reeled from the sticker shock of shopping in dollars instead of pesos. After living in places where everything is used and repaired and used again the ads in the free section stating “too lazy to move it, come get it” were mind-boggling.
Our house came unfurnished so we had to buy a lot of stuff, and that turned into too much stuff now that we didn’t have the limiting factor of needing to fit everything in the truck when we moved again.
The kids started school and were gone all day, their evenings were a scramble of homework and dinner and we felt like we hardly saw them. When they did have down time they wanted to hide away in their rooms recovering from the overload of their busy lives, not spend it doing fun stuff with us.
We had fallen right back into all the bad habits we had left to get away from, and it happened so quickly, so easily.
Where We Are Now
After 3 years in Mexico we thought we had things figured out, but it took coming back to the U.S. to show us that we don’t. It’s a constant process, this life thing, this deciding what’s important and how to get there and what we give up along the way.
Our one year in Austin has turned into two, even though we don’t really like it here. Sorry Austin, don’t be offended, we like visiting but moving here was not nearly as helpful as we thought it would be. The major thing that has kept us here is that we finally have good insurance and I found some answers to health problems that have made me a medical mystery for at least a decade, so we’re getting that stuff fixed before we head out again.
After various contract positions that kept us going Jason finally got hired on at the perfect remote job in June of 2019, a year and a half after he was downsized. He loves his boss. He’s challenged instead of bored. He makes more money than he did at the job that downsized him, so it’s a step up.
Hooray, he doesn’t have to wear pants! He does have a “thinking cap” for video meetings though.
We’re paying off the debt we ran up making ends meet during that first year here, and we’re doing ok.
We’ll be leaving again in the summer of 2020. It’s undecided where we’ll go next, but we are still looking for that home base that we can travel out from, a place where we can have the “when we stop traveling” list of farm animals that the girls have compiled. We also miss the ocean (terribly!)
Living in Mexico gave us a taste of all the possibilities that are out there so we know there’s a place that’s just right for us.