Finding Happiness in México City 🇲🇽
I feel so alive and myself in México. This post is dedicated to my top five reasons why I love it here, the downsides, and my philosophy on choosing where to live.
I randomly saw a flyer for an acro-yoga class in Puerto Escondido, México.
My best friend and I walked up the stairs of the cafe to see another Asian person introduce himself as the teacher. The intro class was surprisingly fun. And the conversation afterward was quite amusing.
"What the hell are you (an Asian dude) doing in a random beach town in México?"
He was a financial something back in Europe that did some vague stuff and came to México to escape everything. TBH it sounded like he was running away from a white-collar crime or something sketchy. 😂
After we parted ways, my friend joked and said if everything went wrong, I could always move to México. This made us laugh so much because, throughout the whole trip, it felt like she was my mom dragging me around.
I spoke zero Spanish and didn't have any interest in exploring México or learning about their culture back in 2018. In retrospect, I only went on that trip because I was high on Tim Ferriss and he said that traveling to new countries is what young people should do.
Fast forward 5 years later, I find it so funny how drastically things change. I just finished my 3rd trip in one year to México where I danced every day and truly explored more of this beautiful country.
I'm convinced that México City specifically will be my home base, or one of my home bases, for the years to come. I feel so alive and myself here.
This post is dedicated to my top five reasons why I love it here, the downsides, and my philosophy on choosing where to live.
#1: I see friends all the time 😁
I've never experienced true college life being on campus and living in the dorms. But life in México City feels like that.
Back in North America, I found it common to schedule hangouts with friends 1-2 weeks in advance. Send each other a calendar invite and show up at the exact time. Then not see each other again for another month or so.
But here at CDMX, it feels so natural and organic to see friends every week, sometimes more.
- We go to the same dance classes and socials. Parque México in particular has become my unofficial third space.
- We live in the same neighborhoods so it's common to run into friends on the street.
- There are dozens of cool events every week and people are simply down to hang, all the time.
Here's a recent example:
I asked the group chat if anyone wanted to practice bachata before dinner. In one hour, a dozen people showed up at Parque México to dance. Then we had a group of 20 people for dinner nearby before continuing the night at a dance social.
It took me little effort to coordinate yet one text resulted in a spontaneous and amazing outcome.
Another cool thing: People celebrate everything here–birthdays, farewells, even a dog's quinceanera. We don't need much to convince people to come together for a good time.
I feel like back in North America, it will take an arm and a leg to organize even a small event.
- People live far away.
- Their schedules are all booked.
- People are comfortable sticking with their cliques.
I remember what it's like to live in the suburbs and debate whether to drive 45 minutes in traffic to see a friend for dinner. It sucked. And I believe the way American cities are designed immensely contributes to the loneliness epidemic.
So what happens if you live in a city where people have the capacity/desire to hang out AND there's little friction to do so?
There's community everywhere.
Being in México City is similar to New York in that people visit all the time. I've played tour guide for at least 10 friends in just three months.
So I'm spending time with new friends here. I can reconnect with old friends from back home. And I can take a quick flight to the US whenever I need to.
Geography (local and global) plays a huge factor in one's happiness–don't underestimate it.
#2: No one knows what I do for work 🤓
I used to shape my entire identity around work. As I got older, I realized that work is no longer the driving purpose of what makes a meaningful life for me.
Very few people here know what I do for work. And I kind of love it.
We may have talked about it once. But after that initial discussion, we go back to talking about travel, dance, romance, philosophy, and life things.
I knew I didn't belong in San Francisco anymore when the last thing I wanted to talk about was work.
It was bitcoin this. Startup that. What do you do? Did you read Sapiens? Have you tried Athletic Greens? Andrew Huberman this. Tech, AI, NFT. Chat GPT. Let me check my Oura ring stats. Jargon, buzzword, jargon.
It's ironic because I write about fundraising and scaling startups for my day job. But that's the thing.
I have a specific time and space where I talk about work stuff. I still think it's genuinely interesting. And after I'm done with work, I want to explore all the other parts of my life.
I want to experience range, baby. 😎
I don't want to go to a random party and talk more about tech, tech, tech. Every single time. 🤪
Some people base their whole identity around work. Heck, I was one of those people too. It was great for me during that chunk of my life.
But I have a different perspective today. And it only makes sense to change where I live to reflect this new perspective.
#3: Mexicans are so friendly 💜
I've had the best experiences in every part of México that I've visited.
And from what my friends tell me, people in Latin American countries are so much warmer and kinder than the average person in the States.
So when you know people are generally nicer, you become a more caring person. Because you'll know you will likely be treated with generosity back.
This creates a culture where there's a positive feedback loop of spreading kindness. And isn't that the most wholesome thing you'd like to be a part of??
Obviously, the US isn't exactly what we read on the news of all the mass shootings or civil unrest. It's actually quite safe and people are generally nice.
But the culture is different. I'm back in the US now and I'm thinking, why is everyone keeping to themselves? Why are we focused on shit that doesn't really matter? Why aren't we kissing?? (on the cheek, the common greeting in México)
It's a different vibe.
#4: I'm not stressed about money 🤑
Let me voice the elephant in the room: gringos like us are gentrifying México City.
We are willing to pay more for stuff like rent or food or clothes. Which drives up prices. We don't pay taxes, even if we stay for months at a time. And some of us can even be assholes like expecting the waiters to speak English, even though we are in México.
Gentrification is terrible for locals. But it's an amazing deal for foreigners.
This is a legitimate reason why CDMX is so attractive to gringos. I'd be lying if I said the cost of living didn't influence my decision to come here.
- I can buy most things without stress
- I can pay for friends' meals
- I can tip very well
- I can donate money to beggars or musicians
- I can buy stuff that I normally couldn't splurge on like private dance classes, massages, and freshly squeezed juices.
The quality of life is simply better.
Whereas in the States, money is always a concern. I eat out less. I'm less generous. I don't buy many things unless I need them.
So when I'm in México, I feel lighter because I'm not financially stressed. And if you've ever been worried about money like I have before, it kind of sucks.
I believe this setup is unfair to locals. I'd like to pay taxes if I ever move to México City. But for now, I pay "unofficial" taxes by basically never letting my local friends pay for anything. Tipping well. Supporting local restaurants and vendors. Bringing more business to local teachers and entrepreneurs here. Helping locals practice their English whenever they ask.
Even though it's normal to haggle at markets, I don't bother. Just keep the extra 50 pesos. It'll mean a lot more to you than it would to me.
Obviously, none of this is mandatory for any other gringos visiting or living in México. It's just the way I'd like to live my life. And I'm still figuring out how to deal with this dilemma.
#5: You can walk or bike anywhere 🚲
I can't imagine ever living in a city that's car-dependent anymore.
I've been really into urban design over the last couple of years. And the more I read about happy cities (there's a whole book about it here), the more I'm convinced that the dependency on cars ruins everything.
Here's the truth: People are happier and healthier in walkable cities.
We see friends more often when we can avoid long commutes in traffic. Our bodies are more active when we walk or bike everywhere. And we feel more connected to community when we regularly see our neighbors, friends, and vendors.
I walk everywhere in México City and I love it. You can use the bike shares scattered across the city where a yearly membership costs $30 USD. There's also the metro here for 6 pesos and Ubers available everywhere.
So you can literally go anywhere, anytime. 🤩
In México City, I take at least 12,000 steps every day without much effort. Whereas when I visit my family on the far outskirts of Los Angeles, it's difficult to get 5,000 steps a day.
We're on a busy main road. There's nothing interesting to walk around to. The sidewalks cut off randomly so I have to basically walk on the road. My mom and I have to drive 10 minutes to a park so we can safely and comfortably walk around the track. Then drive back home.
But after experiencing walkable cities in many places around the world, the idea of going to a gym to ride a stationary bike, instead of riding an actual bike, is bonkers to me.
I want to walk to places. Many Americans do too. But U.S. cities are designed for cars, not people. And this is one of the biggest reasons why it's so difficult for me to live in the States anymore.
Downsides of México City
I believe the benefits vastly outweigh the cons. But of course, no city is perfect.
It's easy to get sick
The air pollution in México City is one of the worst in the world. On my weather app, the air quality is always "bad."
I get stomach problems every now and then. Sometimes it's food poisoning which makes you question everything.
During my recent trip, I had an annoying cough that lingered for nearly a month. Now this could be my fault for social dancing all the time, eating everything, and not taking the proper rest for my body. Or the climate changing frequently.
All my expat friends have had issues with their health in some shape or form living here. It's normal. It's part of the experience. No matter how careful you are, you'll probably end up catching something just because our bodies aren't used to the food, climate, and contamination here.
Lots of small stuff
There's no hot water in my shower. There's no elevator in my building so I have to walk four flights of stairs every day to go home. There's no laundry in-unit and the laundromats regularly shrink my clothes. You don't have the right of way as a pedestrian. You need to be alert to prevent petty theft. There's noise, all the time, everywhere. Etc.
Obviously, I love México City so much that I stay despite issues like these. But I would be lying if it doesn't bother me every now and then.
Whenever I feel frustrated, I think of this quote to calm me down,
"In America, everything's perfect. But nothing works. In Mexico, nothing's perfect. But everything works."
I believe you should seriously explore what cities speak to you if you're fortunate to have the luxury to travel.
Make a list of what things you really want to have in the city you choose to live in. For me, my top three things: community, culture, and quality of life.
- Do I feel connected to the people here? How easy is it to build community from scratch?
- Do I resonate with how people live their lives? How easy/difficult would it be to integrate their culture with my life?
- Can I live afford to live here comfortably? Am I able to safely walk or bike around? Do I feel happy here?
For you, your top thing could be the food. Or the nightlife. Or a specific community like my friend going to Brazil to dance Zouk. Or another friend going to Thailand to train in Muay Thai.
It's important to think these things through. Write it down. Talk with a friend. Don't accept the default of wherever you are just because you were born there.
I definitely see México City being one of my home bases. I'm still experimenting with the nomadic lifestyle this year and will likely make a decision on what's next in 2024.
But in this chunk of my life, it feels perfect. 👌
Tam Pham's Blog
I write about my adventures, learnings, and reflections on living my weird, unconventional life. Subscribe below!