If you love white sand beaches, clear blue waters, and sunny days… this is the destination for you. San Andres is one of three Colombian islands in the Caribbean, near the coast of Nicaragua.
The island, and it’s nearby partners Providencia and Santa Catalina, are culturally very different from the rest of Colombia. They were historically tied to Great Britain, changed hands a bit, and were officially recognized as a Colombian department in 1928. Due to this, English is actually one of the official languages of San Andres, along with Spanish and Creole.
The trip to San Andres from Medellin, or any part of the Colombian main land, can be pricy, but we did our best to keep it budget friendly. Read on to see photos, a budget breakdown, and my review of of our 7 day stay in this gorgeous tropical paradise!
Flights: $100pp roundtrip from Medellin to San Andres Island – pro tip: The airport on the island is basically in the centro, and walkable to almost all hotels and hostels in the area. We paid for a taxi to our hostel, but just packed our bags and walked to the 10 minutes to the airport for our flight home.
Hostel: $190 total for 6 nights in a private double room. This is relatively cheap for the island, because it was a very basic room and a pretty far walk off the main strip. We also definitely did not realize our room didn’t have air conditioning until we were in it. PAY FOR AIR CONDITIONING PEOPLE. This is non negotiable. We stuck it out for 3 nights before we caved and upgraded to pay for the air because it was just that miserable. It was only about $8 more a night and soooo so worth it.
Tourist Tariff: $35 pp. This was a fun surprise at the airport! When boarding we were turned away from the gate (major Nepal flashbacks) and sent to another to buy our necessary “Tourist Tariff Card”. Everyone needs one to enter the island, and it’s no problem to grab them at the airport before your flight. Just be ready for the extra cost!
Food & Drink: $10 to $20pp for a nice, sit down seafood meal. We decided to stretch our stay to 6 nights, so our budget was pretty thin on the food & drink front. We mostly grabbed cheap meals like Subway to bring to the beach or sought out Colombian restaurants outside of the Centro to save some money. The food is definitely more expensive than it is in Medellin, and the variety isn’t too great either. Alcohol, though, was surprisingly cheap and had more options (because San Andres is closer to Central and North America?) than we were used too. We drank small bottles for rum for $1, and there were plenty of wine choices in the $5 to $10 range as well.
Transport: $50 Buses can take you to any destination on the island for 80 cents each. We usually took the bus only two or three times per day, so it’s an insignificant cost. We also rented a scooter for one day of island exploring, which was $20 for the day.
Rainy/Dry Season: The wet season in San Andres kicks in around June, so luckily we just missed it. It runs until November, so your best bet for sunny beach days is to visit between December and May. Even during the wet season it’s still worth visiting though, as you can expect a rainstorm every day, but usually still have plenty of beach friendly weather as well. A common San Andres saying is “every day is a beach day”, so no matter what time of year it is, you shouldn’t miss it!
Average Temperature: When we visited in late May, it was HOT. Temps ranged from about mid 80’s to low 90’s Fahrenheit every day. We had one cloudy gray day without rain, and one 10 minute rain shower, and the rest of the time the weather was sunny and perfect. Because the island is so close to the equator, this temperature really doesn’t fluctuate at all throughout the year.
While it’s mostly rocky coastline, San Andres also has three main, and very large, beaches to choose from. Spratt Bright is in the center of town, while Rocky Cay is about a 10 minutes bus ride from the center, and San Luis closer to 15 or 20 minutes away. We spent days on all three beaches, and they each have their pros and cons depending on what you prefer.
Rocky Cay: Rocky Cay was my favorite beach! It was less crowded than Spratt Bright, but still had restaurants and vendors around. The main draw of Rocky Cay is the island it’s named after. The small island is about a quarter mile offshore (major guess here, I’m terrible at distances). The coolest part about it, though, is that the water is so shallow that you can walk all the way out from the beach to the island and the sunken ship next to it. It was a very unique experience. We also loved Rocky Cay because its the only one of the three beaches that’s set off the roads. The barrier of palms made it feel much more secluded and relaxing.
San Luis: San Luis beach is a popular choice for those who like less crowded and more serene beach vacations. This beach stretched the longest down the coastline. Some areas were just sand on the side of the road, and others were more built up around restaurants and hotels. Some patches we walked down were completely deserted, so it’s definitely a secluded choice and perfect for a packed lunch or picnic on the water. We also noticed the waves were stronger and larger on these beaches for the adventurous types!
Spratt Bright: If you stay in the center of town, you’ll certainly end up on this beach a couple times. It is by far the most crowded beach on the island, but as a reward for dealing with the crowds you also get the best amenities here. Tons of markets, shops, and restaurants line the beach, and you can rent a chair for a day for only $1.50. Vendors regularly pass by with fresh fruit and other snacks, making this the easiest beach to relax on for sure. We even set up shop next to the Juan Valdez coffee shop so we could access their wifi all day as well! For the most part, Daniel and I spent our days on Rocky Cay and San Luis, and then would enjoy Spratt Bright during sunset on the boardwalk or laying in the sand sharing a bottle of wine.
San Andres is surrounded by 5 tiny islands that are popular day trip destinations for tourists to visit. For me, flying to San Andres was enough, and I didn’t feel the need to spend the money or time on a boat trip visiting the surrounding islands. However, I’ll give you a breakdown of what I read & learned about each one while on our trip. All the boats leave from the Portofino Marina in the centro, and have varying amounts of daily departures based on which island you choose and how close/popular it is. Make sure you check a day or two ahead of time on the trip you want to take at the marina, though, because the government systematically shuts down the islands for a few days or weeks at a time to protect the environment from over use by tourists. Usually only one is closed at a time and others are always accessible.
Johnny Cay: The closest and most popular island (pictured below) can be seen from Spratt Bright beach. The round trip boat ride costs about $8. Most reviews stated that the beaches were super crowded from tourists and everything sold on the island was overpriced, which is why we decided to give it a miss.
Acuario and Haynes Cay: I know nothing about these islands, except that they’re a little farther out and more expensive to reach than Johnny Cay. It’s common to book a boat that hits Johnny Cay, Acuario and Haynes Cay all in one day.
Rocky Cay: Teeny, tiny, little guy off the Rocky Cay beach. No need to pay for a boat to this one, as you can just walk from the coast line to reach it. Once there, you can grab a drink on the rock or rent a snorkel to explore the wildlife and sunken ship around the island.
Cayo Bolivar: This was the island I had my heart set on visiting! It’s the farthest out from San Andres and requires a 50 minute boat ride. The cost is $60pp, and includes lunch and a snorkel to visit the family of sharks that lives near the island. Because of the cost and distance, this island has hardly any visitors and seems like a serene day trip. Unfortunately the price was a bit too steep so we had to give it a miss. Next time!
To Do & See
Morgans Cove: So, apparently this pirate stashed tons of his gold in a cave on San Andres back in the day, and now it’s a museum of sorts that you can visit for $5 pp. We skipped it, but it could definitely be good to see for an hour or two, especially if you’re traveling with kids.
Hoya Soplador: This is a blow hole. Some water comes through a hole in the rocks. I don’t know why it’s so popular.
West View: One of my favorite places on the island, and a must see! Entrance is only $1.50 and comes with bread to feed the fish 🙂 This is an area on the rocky side of the island, so instead of laying at a beach, they built a high dive to jump off the rocks into the water. Kind of scary at first, but very fun! The water is also crystal clear here, so we rented snorkels for $1.50 and had a blast watching all the schools of fish pass by. We swam out further than most and were even lucky enough to see a stingray!
Another popular activity here is the Aquanaut, which is an astronaut type helmet connected to an air tube. Groups would put them on and then walk along the bottom of the ocean with a guide for 30 or 40 minutes. It looked like an awesome time, and cost about $30 each. Additionally, West View has a questionable water slide, a restaurant, lockers and a bar selling drinks in freshly cut coconuts. Yum!
La Piscinita: Kind of like West View, and just down the road from it. it also has a diving board, but no water slide. I’m not sure about the snorkel rental either or abundance of fish. This seems to be less of a destination and more of a relaxed and uncrowded restaurant.
Scuba Diving: So bummed we missed out on this! My friend got her advanced certification of the island, though, and recommends San Andres Diving or Sharkeys. She paid about $200 for 5 dives and her certification, and said her favorite was the Blue Wall, an underwater cliff that you can dive along and see for 30 or 40 meters up and down.
Rent scooters/go carts: Always a must when visiting an island! There are tons of shops to choose from. Our scooter rental was $20 for 8am – 6pm, which was more than enough time. We rode all around the island (a couple times!) explored into the palm forests, tried new restaurants off the beaten path, and even found a lookout with a view of the whole island. Go carts are a bit more expensive but are also probably more comfortable. Definitely recommend getting one for at least a day. The cost also includes the helmet, but I’m not exaggerating when I say we were the ONLY people on the entire island wearing them. Oh well. Helmet hair may be unattractive but so are traumatic brain injuries.
We found the food on San Andres to be average, but expensive, as is usually the case on an island. Our favorite meal was definitely Rosa Del Mar on the main boardwalk in the centro. We paid about $9 each for a GIANT plate of coconut shrimp and chicken fajitas, both of which were amazing. Outside of that though, we mainly packed lunches for the beach, or grabbed a meal at whichever restaurant was closest. Tamara’s Kitchen was a stand we ate at a bit down the road from Rocky Cay which was cheap and better than the main restaurant on the beach there. But all in all, nothing we ate really stood out.
As far as drinking and nightlife on the island, it doesn’t really exist. there we’re a few clubs, Coco Loco in the centro seemed to be the most popular, but for the most part most of the visitors and islanders just grabbed a bottle or a few beers and drank on the beach and boardwalk. Day or night, it didn’t matter. Cost effective, and a guaranteed beautiful view and ambiance. We didn’t visit any of the bars on the island because we preferred chilling on the beach instead.
In conclusion, San Andres is a wonderful, beautiful, tropical paradise. However, due to its location I found the people and culture to be very different from the rest of Colombia. If you want to lay on a beach, this is definitely the place for you. If you want the true Colombian experience, though, and are only visiting for a short time, I’d suggest giving San Andres a miss and hitting the beaches on Cartagena instead. Either way, you can’t go wrong. Six days, for me, wasn’t even close to enough on this tropical paradise, and I can’t wait to come back again soon!
All my love,
PS if you’re prone to altitude sickness, don’t fly straight from the island to Bogota. We flew direct from San Andres to Medellin, and I still had a pounding headache for a day or two from the altitude change!
Have you been to San Andres? Leave a comment below to connect, and make sure you sign up to get the latest updates straight to your inbox!
A WEEKEND IN BOGOTA
To be honest, Bogota, a city of 8 million, was not at the top of my must visit list when I moved to Colombia. However, the VivaColombia flights were only $45 each for a round trip, so Daniel and I decided we should see the capital city for a weekend. I’m so glad we did! Bogota has a lot to offer, like an amazing nightlife, gorgeous parks, beautiful architecture and a phenomenal food scene. We walked over 30 miles through the city during the course of the weekend, save yourself some blisters and explore it here with me 🙂
We arrived on Friday evening and settled into the Hobu Hostel in Chapinero. When we searched for the best neighborhood to stay in in Bogota, La Candelaria, the historical center, was mentioned a lot. however, while beautiful during the day, the barrio isn’t safe to stay in at night. That’s why we chose the Chapinero neighborhood, a hipster up and coming area to the North of Candelaira. Our hostel was situated in a perfect location, so we could walk to Candelaria to explore in the day, and walk to Zona Rosa to hit the bars and clubs at night.
Be warned: Bogota is much more expensive than Medellin. It was normal to see beer prices doubled from what we usually pay, and most bars and clubs had $8 or even $10 covers to enter. Because of this, we limited our night out to Friday only, and met up with some locals to experience the craft beer scene, and dance the night away in Bogota’s famous bars!
After a late start to our day and breakfast at the hostel, Daniel and I set out to explore Bogota. With one taxi ride, we hit three destinations at once. Universidad de Los Andes, a pretty campus with a bustling student life, Simon Bolivar’s house turned museum, and the cable car up to the Monserrate view point. Simon Bolivar’s old home is now a museum with a lush walled in garden, and for the $1 entrance fee it was certainly worth the visit. Afterwards, the weather was gray and cloudy (the usual in Bogota) so we decided to give the cable car a miss and wait for clearer skies.
We walked from the museum down through Candelaria. grabbing a sandwich at the quaint Quatro Mesas restaurant and exploring the winding streets and colorful graffiti of the city. Eventually, we made our way to Libreria Merlin, a must see on your trip. The book store is in a four story house thats full of winding rooms and mazes of books. It featured walls of books in English that we spent hours pouring over, as well as hundreds of choices for any language you may be searching for. It is beautiful, and the perfect cozy respite from the cold, rainy weather outside.
That afternoon, we got lucky and the sun came out just in time to take the cable car up to Monserrate. The cost was $14 for two round trips, but if you go on a Sunday you can get tickets for half price (but will have to deal with the crowds!) The view point sits atop the mountains that form the eastern boundary of Bogota, and it showcases a church, market, and a couple restaurants and gardens. We spent hours up there, enjoying the sun, the view, and finally the sunset while all the lights slowly flickered on across the city. It was unforgettable, and my favorite part of our three day trip.
On Sunday we woke up refreshed, ready to join the masses at Ciclovia. Whats that? Ciclovia is an amazing Colombian tradition, where every Sunday they shut down the main street in many cities (In Bogota, it’s Carrera 7, called Septima) from 7am to 2pm for bikers and joggers to enjoy. We walked the entire stretch from Chapinero to Candelaria, enjoying the vendors, flea markets, and street performers that saturated the streets. Our walk ended in Plaza Simon Bolivar, a massive square full of families (and pigeons, ew!). One side features the dominating Cathedral of Bogota, but there is history on all sides in the surrounding Capitol building and Palace of Justice.
Right around the corner from the church is a classic Bogota establishment, La Puearta Falsa. The tiny restaurant has been in business since 1816, and is officially known as the oldest restaurant in the country! We went for lunch and enjoyed Bogota’s famous dish: Ajiaco. The hearty soup was full of potatoes, chicken and even an ear of corn, and was the perfect filling comfort food for the weather. After lunch we visited the Gold Museum (also free on Sundays!) to see the amazing carvings from the indigenous tribes of the country. Not only is it full of priceless, and beautifully carved gold pieces, all of the exhibits are also in English, a rarity for the country. Definitely worth stopping in for an hour or two on your trip!
Unfortunately, we stepped out of the museum just as a MASSIVE storm hit the city. We jumped in a cab to head back to the hostel, and in all of the confusion trying to get my backpack together, keep my camera safe, and open my umbrella in the downpour, my phone fell out of my pocket and i left it in the taxi. I realized almost immediately and was calling it and tracking it within five minutes, but the driver must be an old pro, and had already snatched it and turned it off so it couldn’t be traced. It was such a shame that he chose to be dishonest, but luckily I only lost 24 hours worth of photos, and my family can bring me a new one from the States when they come to visit next month, so I wont need to deal with hunting down an iPhone in a foreign language here!
While we’re on the subject of taxis, good luck figuring out your fare while you’re here. In Bogota, the number on the meter is not what you pay. Instead, that number corresponds to a price on a chart. Once you have that price, you need to look at the “special occasions” list on the bottom, like if it’s late at night or early in the morning, if it’s raining, etc, and then add on to the price for those as well. However, most taxi drivers either don’t have those charts or refuse to let you see them, and will instead just tell you a random number they think they can get you to pay. Only one actually gave us the chart, but then conveniently had no change for our bills… Maybe I’m biased because of my phone, but I found the taxi drivers and system in Bogota to be more dishonest and less straightforward than those here in Medellin.
The storm we were caught in was so powerful it knocked out our hostel’s power for the night, but we built a fire in the old fireplace and gathered around to order pizzas and share a few beers with the other guests. That’s the beauty of traveling, a tough day can end with one of the most memorable nights.
Our final day in Bogota began with a trip to Simon Bolivar park (yes, everything in the country, actually the whole continent, is named after him!) The park has a lake with kayaks for rent, walking trails, an amusement park, and so much more. It’s even bigger than Central Park in NYC! While nice to see, I think it would have been more enjoyable if it had been sunny and dry (does that ever happen in Bogota??) After a quick lunch at Taco Bell – yes you heard that right, expats, there are multiple Taco Bells in Bogota! – our homesickness was satiated with a Frito burrito and crunch wrap supreme, and we were ready to head back to Medellin.
The flight home was a short 50 minutes, and before we knew it it was back to work for another week (minus one cell phone of course) Ah well, we’re off to San Andres next Tuesday, so it’s not too bad!
All my love,
Have you been to Bogota? Comment below with your recommendations, and sign up to receive updates straight to your inbox!
If you’re visiting Medellin, you’re sure to spend a lot of time in the hip neighborhood of Poblado. But Envigado, the neighborhood just south of Poblado, shouldn’t be missed. It’s been my home for five months now, and the lively streets, beautiful churches, green parks, and delicious restaurants are perfect for a day of exploring (and eating!).
It’s not just a residential neighborhood either… it has a lot of history. Did you know that Envigado was Pablo Escobar’s hometown? He grew up playing in the streets and attending the schools just down the street from my apartment. He invested a LOT of money into the barrio too, and I often find myself walking on a track or through a park that he financed himself.
Although his name is all but banned from being mentioned in Medellin anymore, Envigado is still a pivotal piece in Pablo’s, and therefore Colombia’s, history. You should check it out, and while you’re there, make sure you hit my list of the best restaurants in Envigado!
My Recommendation: The spring rolls are one of the most refreshing appetizers I’ve ever had, and the sauce is amazing too. For a main dish, the Pho (a noodle soup) is served as a huge portion and will only set set you back around $17,000 COP/$6 USD.
The Tom Kha Gai, a coconut curry with veggies, chicken, and rice, is also phenomenal. It comes as a side or a main dish, so you can try more than one dish per visit. Lemoncillo is perfect when you’re craving something new, or just need a light, healthy, refreshing meal choice.
Check them out here
My Recommendation: Visit Cocolatte when you have an afternoon to kill. It’s in the cute little area on Sur 30 in Envigado with quiet streets, shop fronts, greenery, and an almost European vibe to it. It’s the perfect place to chill on a lazy Saturday afternoon, and Cocolatte is a must visit when there. The frappes are piled high with ice cream, and the frozen chai tea with espresso is unreal.
They also serve a rotation of cakes and desserts to tempt your sweet tooth if the sweet coffee drinks aren’t enough. I usually take visitors here not only for the delicious drinks, but also because they have very nice quality “Medellin” shirts for $48,000 COP/$16 USD and packages of coffee beans that make for great souvenirs or gifts to take home.
Check them out here
EMPANADAS LA CATEDRAL
My recommendation: If you’re anything like my friends and family, the first Colombian food you want to try on your visit will be delicious, savory, meaty EMPANADAS! Mmm one of Colombia’s best gifts to the world.
You will see them in the fronts of almost every store or shop you pass, but you have to be picky because quality and flavor can vary wildly. My absolute favorite place to get Empanadas is right on the corner of Parque Envigado (which isn’t actually a park at all, but the main square featuring a beautiful Cathedral, hence the name Catedral Empanada).
There are only two choices, which is how you know it’s good. Desmechadas is pulled beef and potatoes, and Tradicional is ground beef and potatoes. While both are delicious, I prefer the Tradicional myself. They’s always hot and crispy, and not to mention, giant. Oh, and they’re only 50 cents each.
Enjoy them standing at the counter like a local with a shared bottle of sauce, or grab a seat in the square to people watch while you scarf it down. Trust me, you cant go wrong with these!
Check them out here
MAHALO ACTION SPORTS CAFE
Cuisine: Bar Food
My recommendation: Hit this place up during the day for an afternoon of day drinking in the sun, or visit to grab dinner at sunset. Why? Because it’s is up on the mountainside with a phenomenal panoramic view of Medellin.
It was built into an old home, so it has tons of outdoor space, porches, tables under the trees, a fire pit, and even a half pipe and paintball field! The food isn’t too bad either. I had a Serrano ham sandwich and fries that were delicious for around $22,000 COP/$7USD. They also have a happy hour for half price cocktails from 5 to 6. It’s a perfect place to relax with a view.
Check them out here
CONTENADORES FOOD PLACE
My Recommendation: Where to begin. This place is unlike anywhere you’ve ever been, I promise you that. It was built by stacking shipping containers on top of each other and draping the place in fairy lights, making a strange grown up version of a secret garden or maze… but with food.
Each container holds a different restaurant, so you can take your pick from burgers, pizza, Mediterranean, sushi, Asian, and more. It’s all here. I’ve only been once and got the salmon salad at Mezza Luna, but the choices really are endless.
Check them out here
My Recommendation: I never thought when I moved to Colombia that I’d be in walking distance to an amazing sushi restaurant. The Sushi Service Barra is a little hole in the wall with an attentive staff and great ambiance.
Visit on a Tuesday for the two for one roll special. The rolls are HUGE, and one each is more than enough for a full meal. I always get the shrimp ceviche to start as well. It’s super fresh and served with avocado and crispy patacones.
Wash it all down with their can’t-miss limonada de coco, and you’ll be leaving satisfied with a meal for two that will only set you back $50,000 COP/$17 USD. Not bad for a sushi and seafood feast!
Check them out here
My Recommendation: Ok, so I actually ate here twice and while it was fine, it never crossed my mind to include it on the list. Imagine my surprise when I found out Anthony Bourdain featured this little hole in the wall restaurant, 5 minutes from my apartment, on No Reservations! What?!?!?
Of course, he ordered the classic, and most famous, dish of Medellin: the Bandeja Paisa. This thing is HUGE and will probably knock at least a year off of your life (doesn’t stop me from eating it about once a month though!).
If the three giant portions of meat aren’t enough (chorizo, beef, and fried pork), it also comes with plantains, rice, a fried egg, avocado, beans, a bowl of soup and juice. Whew. If there ever was a perfect hangover cure, this is it. I haven’t gotten this dish at Brasarepa yet, but now it’s on my must try list.
Check them out here
Cuisine: Pizza and Pasta
My Recommendation: CRAFT BEER IN MEDELLIN. Not only is Ragazzi run by an adorable husband and wife duo, they are also (finally!) bringing the craft beer scene into Envigado! Their choices vary depending on a cycle with the local breweries and what’s available, but trust me, you’ll find something you like.
Last time Daniel and I ate there, he had an IPA and a chocolate porter, and I had a Marijuana brew from Hakuna Brewery… with 9% ABV. After drinking Club Colombia and Aquila for months (Colombia’s version of Budweiser), trying some new brews was a welcome change.
On top of all of this, the pizza and pasta are both amazing, and the desserts (especially the lemon cheesecake!) are to die for. Daniel and I even stop by on our walk home sometimes to chat with the owner and grab a few beers to take home and try for the night. Ragazzi is a total gem of Envigado, and if you’ve been dying for a craft beer in Medellin or a delicious Italian meal, this is the place for you.
Check them out here
Photo credit: Ragazzi Pizza and Pasta
There you have it, my personal run down of the, in my opinion, best restaurants in Envigado. Which ones have you been to, and which ones have I missed on the list? Comment below!
Teach Abroad: United Arab Emirates
I’ve been asked so many times how I can afford to work and travel that I decided to put together a guide to all of the different opportunities out there for you to work and live abroad.
There are a lot of different teaching posts available around the world, so I’m here to speak with people who have worked in them and spell out the pros and cons of working in Asia, the Middle East, and Europe so that you can decide which one is best for you.
This first post is one I have personal experience with: teaching in the UAE.
Average Income: $2,000 month to $5,000 month
Free Housing/Utilities: Yes
Tax Free: Yes
Free flights: Yes
Vacation Days: 3 weeks Christmas, 2 weeks spring break, 8 weeks summer break, two or three long weekends, and half days during Ramadan.
Certifications: Needed? Yes and no. Abu Dhabi is now requiring a teaching degree or certification (TEFL won’t cut it), but I taught there from 2014 to 1016 with only a college degree. In Dubai, a college degree can still land you a job for now.
Contract Length: Most schools will require you to sign a 2-year contract.
Where to Find a Job:
Teaching Abroad Direct
*Disclaimer I am not affiliated with any of these sites or responsible for any job or experience you may have through them*
I found my job teaching at a SABIS school in Abu Dhabi through my college’s career portal on their website. My husband (only boyfriend at the time) and I both did a phone interview, and I took a bus from Boston to New York (in a snow storm) for an interview as well. They try to set them up for those who can make them, but it wasn’t required. We both were informed that we had the positions for the upcoming school year in February, and we signed the contract in March.
The contract included housing, utilities, flights at the beginning and end of the school year, healthcare, and a $2,200/month salary, equating to $26,400/year. However, we also received a raise our second year and a $10,000 bonus upon completion of our second year.
All in all, we received about $66,000 each in cash payment over the two years. With the value of the free housing, tax free income, and flights, the package was worth closer to $86,000 for the two years of work. Considering we were on vacation for about 7 of those months, it was a killer deal!
Every teacher (and I mean EVERY) also tutors kids under the table. The fees for an hour session usually range from $40 to $50 each, and there were some weeks before final exams where I was banking $1000 in tutoring sessions. It adds up fast.
The culture shock that I experienced after I moved to Abu Dhabi was real and definitely not easy to adjust to. When I first arrived, I thought that I’d be making a major lifestyle shift away from my drinking and party days in college (because it’s the Middle East, right?)
I was SO wrong.
There’s not a lot to do out in the middle of the desert, so we would hit the brunches hard. Brunch is a magical thing. In the UAE, it means that you pay a set fee and get access to a 5-star buffet and open bar for usually 4 or 5 hours at a time. Once those were done, we’d hit the bars and go dancing or drinking for the rest of the night.
There were beaches in Abu Dhabi, but we lived out in the suburbs (Khalifa City A), so they were farther away. It was also too hot in the summer and fall months, and they tended to be expensive to enter.
Instead, we’d usually opt to buy a Groupon to one of the luxury hotels and hit the pool for the day instead. In Dubai, there is a little more to do (the Jumeirah walk, Dubai mall, or Miracle gardens, for example), but you can only go to a mall so may times before you feel like you’re back in your pre-teen days.
On longer weekends, we’d rent a car and drive down to Muscat or east to dive off of the Omani coast. The other Emirates like Ras al Khaimah and Fujairah offered some variety to explore but not much. All in all, the UAE is a strange place. If you don’t drink, and you love to explore the great outdoors, it is definitely NOT the place for you.
Now for the questions that I know you’ve been wondering about.
Yes, the UAE is Muslim. The call to prayer woke me up every night, and we often saw women dressed in burqas. However, they are pretty lax about applying their cultural rules to foreigners. When it came to clothing, my general rule of thumb was to wear either a tank top OR shorts but never both. With one or the other, I was usually fine. When we went out drinking, dresses, short skirts, and high heels were the norm.
The UAE is 80% expats, so there is a LARGE divide between the Muslim Emiratis and the Western expats. For the most part, the country is very first world, and the Muslim culture did not affect me much at all. I read a lot about horror stories and crazy arrests before I went, but they are rare (usually if you really piss off the wrong person). I have a friend who passed out drunk and woke up at the police station TWICE without consequence. It’s not as scary there as the media portrays it to be.
There were about forty other twenty-something Brits, Irish (so many Irish) and other English speaking teachers working at our school, so our friend group was built-in. We all lived in dorm-style apartments and hit the nightlife hard together.
We would also frequent the “Ladies Nights” weekly, which was basically just when bars said f it and let all women drink for free. Awesome! I made some lifelong friends in the deserts of Abu Dhabi, and the social aspect of the schools and carefree lifestyle (lots of money, lots of travel) was an amazing experience.
The school year runs from late August to late June. As teachers, we were required to show up two weeks early our first year and one week before the school year started our second year. Those two weeks are all the training you get before you’re thrown to the wolves though, so it’s NOT easy in any sense of the word.
It was tough because in the US, if you dislike your job, you can quit and find a new one. Teaching abroad is unique in the sense that your job, visa, and housing are all rolled into one. I couldn’t exactly quit if I was unhappy because I would be deported and on the hook for a $1,400 flight home. That being said, NOT every school is the same. If you have a teaching degree, your school quality and salary will increase significantly.
While tough to deal with, it was also nice to have that push to stick it out through the homesickness and culture shock. I’m so glad that I did. I thought about giving up many times and not signing for the second year (and second year bonus), but staying was the right choice. The second year was so much easier in every way.
What else did I go through that I wasn’t expecting? Something that definitely needs to be mentioned is a unique feeling of isolation from the rest of the world. Isolation may be a strong word, but I definitely felt very far away from my friends and family in the US.
Part of it was the 8 hour time zone difference. Our school week also ran from Sunday to Thursday, which meant that when everyone on social media was enjoying their Saturday mornings, I was prepping and going to bed early for school the next day.
Additionally, we worked on Thanksgiving, slept through the Super Bowl, and there were absolutely no Christmas or Easter celebrations in school. We missed two Christmases at home with our families because flights home were too expensive. However, our European friends didn’t have that problem. Still, though, I wouldn’t trade the experience that I had there for anything. For me, the benefits definitely outweighed the cons!
So, in recap, over our two year contract, we taught for 17 months and travelled for 7. We made extra money easily on the side and banked $66,000 each in tax-free cash before we left. If any of this sounds good, teaching in the UAE just may be for you!
Do you have experience teaching in the UAE or Middle East? Please comment below and share your thoughts!
Work Remote: Digital Marketing
I’ve been asked so many times how I can afford to work and travel, so I’ve decided to put together a guide to all the different opportunities out there for you to work and live abroad. This current post is one I have personal experience with: working remotely as a digital marketer!
When I was first starting out, I reached out to other marketers with questions and for advice, but I was always rebuffed. They told me to pay for a consult, to buy their ebook or training course, or just ignored me completely. So, I did it on my own.
Now that I’ve started my business, I’ve been able to travel to Colorado, LA, and live abroad in Colombia. I’ve noticed whenever I post about working remotely or digital marketing, I ALWAYS get flooded with requests about how I got started, and how I do what I do. I promised myself I would never turn away someone asking for help, and this blog series was born. Here is my how to guide with every step that I took to grow my small business and achieve my dreams so that you can do it as well!
Average Income: $2,000 month to $5,000 month
Free Housing/Utilities: No
Tax Free: No 🙁 You’ll pay taxes to your home country, or if you establish an LLC, the country the LLC is declared in.
Free flights: No
Vacation Days: Kind of? You can take time off work whenever you want, but won’t be paid for it
Certifications needed? Nope. I’m completely self-taught, but I have a steady stream of clients and income
Where to find a job: I use many different websites to apply for freelance marketing work, but the one that I use the most is Upwork. Freelancer is also a common choice. Both of these sites are for contract/hourly work. Other sites I have profiles on include Cloud Peeps and Angel List, although the latter is more focused toward finding full-time remote work with a company, rather than contract freelance work. I also recommend building a simple website and promoting yourself through social media and LinkedIn and spreading the word to your friends and family to send more business your way.
My passion for travel has made my goal in life to be able to work from home, wherever that home may be. After teaching and living around the world, I began to brainstorm what skills and passions I have that would allow me to maintain my dream of remaining mobile indefinitely.
This dream came to fruition as Social Saunter, a boutique digital marketing agency that specializes in social media management, content creation, web development, and branding for small business. I partner with clients that have amazing products, ideas, and energy to help them realize their dream of growing their businesses.
Does that sound too salesy? If so, it’s because I copied it from my LinkedIn profile because I’m lazy! But, it’s the truth. I got into digital marketing for the sole purpose of being able to travel and work remotely, and the fact that I enjoy it and am maybe even a little bit good at it is just a bonus!
Let me be clear, I have NO marketing background. Not a single college class, nothing for a side job or internship, nada. So, I went into this totally blind. Here are the steps I took to get from unemployed to successful business owner in 2 months.
1. Read. A lot.
I didn’t sign up for any of the scammy webinars or “social media courses” that are sold at the end of every marketing post and in every email, but I did read a lot of blogs. Some great bloggers in the social media world are Neil Patel, Kissmetrics, Amy Porterfield, Rick Mulready, and others.
Check out my social media blog here for a no bullshit guide to best practices for Twitter and Instagram, how to run Facebook ads, even to get started building your own website. Facebook advertising in particular is the most profitable thing that you can offer because it’s technical, confusing, and people just DON’T want to deal with it.
Once you get the hang of it and can start taking people’s campaigns down from 50 cents a click to 4 or 5 cents a click, I promise you’ll be in high demand. Learn about targeting, writing copy, and even practice building campaigns, ad sets, and ads in your own Facebook ad account without running them to begin to understand the layout
2. Find a willing participant to let you practice on them if possible.
I know that I’m lucky in this regard, but my mom and aunts run a small business and let me take over their social media accounts for a few weeks. They even let me run a week long ad campaign. This taught me so much about how to find and create content, and it gave me practice with tools like Buffer, Canva, and Buzzsumo. Now, I repay them by giving my mom all the new tips and tricks that I learn to use on their accounts 🙂
3. Begin applying to jobs
Like I mentioned above, I use Upwork to find about 90% of my clients. You build out your profile and then can search for any kind of work you want, I always narrowed it down to social media management. You are restricted to applying for only 30 or so jobs per month, so you have to be smart about choosing ones that look like they have a good budget, are newly posted, and are work that you can do (or think you can learn to do fast!)
Some tips on proposals – keep them short and sweet. I was applying with huge long paragraphs about what I could do for the companies, and my response rate wasn’t great. Now I have a go-to proposal that almost never fails.. And no, I’m not going to share it with you 😉
But ,I will say this.
Keep the focus on them. Mention their name and their specific requests to show that you read it, and then ask a couple questions about how you can help them and their business. People feel obligated to respond to questions but will probably skim if you spend three paragraphs talking about why you’re qualified for the job. Save that for a later conversation once you already have them engaged.
4. Accept job (and freak out internally)
Ok, I still can’t believe that I landed two large jobs in my first two weeks of applying. I had zero experience, and even worse, zero reviews on my profile! It was a miracle. Once you have your first clients on board, KEEP THEM HAPPY. That means putting in extra hours and effort to make sure that your work is creative and represents their brand well.
Go the extra mile for them, and most importantly, just be available. Someone who is attentive and responds promptly and politely to emails automatically jumps into the top 10% of freelancers just for that alone. Your quality of work is far outweighed by your customer service. I promise.
5. Learn a lot
Man, when I think about what I know now and what I knew then, it’s crazy that people were even paying me. You will learn SO MUCH as you go. I recommend that, once you’re a few months in, to start leaning towards a niche category if possible.
I had a large client in politics and by running their ads and working with their in-house advertising team, I learned a lot about targeting and writing copy for political news sources. When I picked up a second political client, all of that work was already done, and I could jump right into giving them great results without testing.
6. Get Reviews
Any time a client ends a contract, chase them down for a review. Even if it takes two or three emails, these reviews will change your life.
Now that I’ve been on Upwork for months and have plenty of positive reviews, I don’t apply for jobs anymore. I have a “top-rated” badge which means that I could up my pricing, and now I get invited to jobs who want to work with me rather than the other way around. It’s an ego boost AND a time saver. Reviews are everything. Get them.
7. Build Your Own Online Presence
So now that you’re a master marketer, you should be able to jump from freelancer to business owner and market your own business, right? We filed our business as an LLC with the state of Ohio. It costs about $100, but it protects you from being sued to a certain extent, so it’s worth the money. It can also make your taxes easier depending on your situation.
Then, I bought a domain name and built a basic wordpress site. Daniel has since updated it, but mine was entirely passable without knowing an ounce of coding. Get a Gmail address with the domain name and you will look professional af. Trust me, it goes a long way (and helps you stay organized!). Next, jump to Twitter and Instagram, and start growing your accounts and your followers. Write interesting and informative blog posts to draw traffic in, and bam, you are now a business owner. Congrats!
I don’t want to make starting my marketing company look like a walk in the park because it definitely wasn’t. However, I DO want to show you that it’s possible and not as daunting as you may think. If you dream about leaving your desk job, use these tips to get started learning about social media and land your first marketing clients in your spare time without any risk!
Ok, the most important part. How much money do I make?!?
Here’s the breakdown. I started researching social media management and building my website in August. By the beginning of September, I had my first two clients and was making $2400 a month. Since then, my client base and jobs have fluctuated, but most months end up between $2500 and $3500. This work is done in about 20 to 25 hours a week.
I could (and probably should) bump it up more, but I like to spend my free time on Slight North (or napping. or running, or at the pool…) If you worked a full 40 hour week every week and had clients paying you for it, you could easily pull in $5,000 or $6,000 a month.
The main problem is client turnover. I work with a lot of small businesses who just opened a website and think that once their social media is up, they will immediately begin selling hundreds of products a week. When a month passes and their growth is steady, instead of explosive, they usually take social media into their own hands or abandon their business all together. This means that taking on new clients is a never ending process for me and leads to the fluctuation in income mentioned above.
The cons of owning a digital marketing company include:
- My taxes as a small business owner doubled, from 15% to 30%.
- I am responsible for providing my own health insurance.
- I have no paid vacations.
- There’s pressure not to take time off so as not to lose a client.
However, the pros list seems to even them out:
- I live in South America where the cost of living is low. $3000 here goes A LOT farther than it would in the US.
- Travel health insurance is also a lot cheaper than US health insurance.
- I can travel and take half days whenever I want to, or work from a remote island, new city, or hut in the mountains. Lifting the location restriction from work has been the greatest move of my life.
If you work in the freelance business, you need to have thick skin. If you don’t, I promise that you will soon. One month you may be celebrating record high profits, and the next you’ll be threatening legal action against a client trying to ghost you while owing $1200 (I eventually got it from them, don’t worry).
Be ready to be looked down upon and outright disregarded. That 40 minute phone conversation you had? Yeah, they probably won’t even bother to answer a quick follow up email asking if they still want to work together. It’s easy to be blown off in a digital relationship.
Another difficult aspect of running my own business that I didn’t expect was the burden of bearing the sole responsibility of a project and not having any one else to look up to or get advice from. Everything that I manage and produce is attached to my name alone, and it’s a lot of responsibility to make sure that my work ALWAYS reflects well on me. No tasks will handed up or down the chain of command here.
Owning a digital marketing business is definitely not the walk in the park some bloggers make it out to be, but it may be a good choice for you. My advice would be to always be paid upfront, never turn down an interview or invitation, and not to take yourself, or your work, too seriously.
For me, digital marketing is a means to an end: travel. While working, I’ve been able to visit LA and Colorado, see all of Medellin, and travel to Jardin, Cartagena, Bogota, San Andres, and Cali. Soon, we’ll be moving to Peru, and we’ll take our time traveling through that country as well.
The money is good, and the hours are flexible. Don’t undercut your worth, but don’t overcharge. Work hard when you do, and keep your clients happy. Just like anything, theres a work life balance and the stresses that come with it. In the end, I love what I do and wouldn’t trade it for the world. At least, not until something better comes along 😉
Are you interested in working remotely or breaking into the digital marketing scene? Leave a comment below or shoot me a message, and I’d be happy to answer any questions you have! Good luck!
All my love,