We are frequent travelers and typically only spend a day or two in each locale so that we can maximize the number of places we can visit. I was both excited and nervous about spending a whole month in a foreign city. This would be less a vacation and more a home away from home; in a country where we were not fluent in the native language and during a global pandemic. What could go wrong?

The most important thing first, FOOD! There were no grocery stores within walking distance and we were leary of taking a taxi so we decided to try the delivery service Rappi. Rappi isn’t just a grocery delivery service, they will pick up and deliver most anything: groceries, restaurant meals, alcohol, clothes, and household items. We placed our grocery order online and were connected via text with a local delivery person. As he shopped he updated his progress and when he couldn’t find an item we wanted, texted us possible substitutions. When he checked out, he texted a picture of the receipt so we knew it matched what we paid online. The communication was awesome but a major challenge in Spanish and we ended up with only half of the items we had hoped for, and a few surprises, but the service was excellent. We can see why this app is so popular in Playa del Carmen and saw Rappi delivery people and their distinctive orange bags constantly.

Photograph courtesy of the Havana Times

Once we rented a car, we decided to head out for groceries on our own. There are three huge stores on 30 avenida norte within a few blocks of one another: Walmart, Mega Soriano, and Super Aki. All of them had strict Covid-19 safety regulations in place. Only one person per family could enter the store, temperatures were taken on the way in, and a huge squirt of hand sanitizer filled each customers hand on the way in. We love grocery shopping in foreign countries and stocking up on new flavors to try. One of our favorite finds here was discovering that each store sold fresh tortillas, for pennies each. They were warm, served out of big coolers outside the bakery, and sold by weight. Because each of these are “super” stores, we were also able to pick up toiletries, a beach umbrella, a yoga mat, and school supplies for the start of the new school year. They were a bit different than what we could buy at home, which we loved. This experience was easy and fun. We learned to bring our own bags or have to buy new ones and that any snack is worth trying once.

Photograph courtesy of Walmart Playa del Carmen.

Grocery shopping is something we do in most places we visit. It’s usually just for snacks and inexpensive souvenirs, but it was an experience we had figured out on many continents. How to do laundry without a washer and dryer is another story. Our track record with foreign washing machines is pretty poor. We’ve tried them in AirBnBs across the world and have ended up variously with minor electrocution, sopping wet clothes, and shirts being eaten by the washer drum. We learned that in Playa del Carmen, most of the rentals do not have laundry facilities and instead most people take their laundry to the full service laundromat, la lavanderia. We weren’t sure how it worked, so I was thankful for the many YouTube videos that walked me through the process step by step. We gathered our dirty laundry in our new reusable grocery bags and carried them a few blocks to a lavanderia. There, they weighed our laundry and gave us a receipt that let us know the cost and pick up time later that day. While we didn’t have all the vocabulary we wished we did, including the ability to spell our names in spanish, we found the women were gracious and helped us through the process. We picked up our laundry later that night and were astounded to find that for around $5 they had washed, dried, ironed, and folded all our laundry. It was stacked and shrink wrapped in a package half the size we gave them. We were so impressed by the packaging that we had our clothes laundered before packing to head home so it could better fit into our suitcases!

The logistics of day to day life pushed us out of comfort zone a bit but reinforced our desire to live abroad again someday. It was great to have favorite spots, daily routines, and be part of the local community.

A few suggestions:

  • There is no need to reinvent the wheel. You are probably not the first ex-pat to live in the location you are looking into, so learn from others’ experience. We did this by joining several local Facebook groups and reading local websites such as Everything Playa Del Carmen.
  • Daunted by solving daily problems or gaining basic vocabulary? A quick YouTube search will likely lead to several instructional “how-to” videos. Watching these gave us an idea of the language and steps we would need to take.
  • Roll with it. I know this is easier said than done, especially as a Type A hyper planner myself. I’m thankful for my laid back husband who balances me and turns even bad, tough experiences into adventures. Having this attitude going into a challenge can make a huge difference.

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