Alex Benazet, Chief Integration Officer
Finance Chats: https://calendly.com/alex-benazet/personal-finance-chat
City of Origin: Sayreville, New Jersey
Current Digital City: Mexico City, Mexico
First Digital Nomad City: Mexico City, Mexico
Current Job as a Digital Nomad: Real Estate Investor
Previous Non-Remote Job: Corporate Accountant
How long have you been a Digital Nomad?
What made you decide to become a digital nomad?
I loved traveling and experiencing different cultures. I knew that just staying in the US wouldn't be enough for me. It wasn't going to cut it. I’ve wanted to travel and work abroad for 10 years now, and it’s finally coming to fruition.
Did any one person inspire you?
Yeah, my friend Annie. Annie was the only person in my friend group in Philly that talked about living abroad. She said she was going to be looking into moving to Mexico. After she made the move, I went down [to Mexico] and visited her and said, oh, I really need to get into this as soon as possible.
So she really got the ball rolling for me. So I'm very grateful to her. I think that's a really great way to do it. Visit a friend. You don't have to do it yourself, right?
If you have someone that you know or trust that has been doing something, it's easier to lean on them.
You don't have to start from scratch. So when she showed me, as soon as I landed in the city, I had a friend group, events to go to, coffee shop recommendations, and “let's go to this party.” And now all those people I'm still friends with, and most of them still live there. If it weren't for that jump-start, I would be starting cold. I'm comfortable with starting cold, but it just takes more momentum to get everything going.
What was your biggest fear of this transition to the Digital Nomad lifestyle?
I think my biggest fear was, ‘is my boss or company going to be okay with what I'm doing?’ And can it function without me being in person?
Real estate, as you know, it is a very personal, in-person local business. And I spend a lot of time developing a deep network in the Philadelphia area, which is where I have most of my real estate business. So not being able to meet people face to face, to go to an office to solve a problem, to add that extra value to clients or to my company, was concerning.
It started out like an experiment, let's do a couple of months. And now here I am.
I went from, ‘let's try three months’ to ‘I'm staying for six months.’ And now it's ‘by the way, I'm a Mexican resident.’ All my stuff is at my mom's house. I don't plan on coming back [home] until next year. So it escalated very quickly.
But I think the most important thing for me is, first of all, I have an awesome team and an awesome boss, and I've had regular communication with him over time to explain my evolving needs and wants. So this wasn't a surprise to them. I wasn't like, hey, I want to blast off to Mexico next month, see you later. It was a work in progress - let's talk about your goals.
“Well, I really like working here, but I really like to experiment with things somewhere else for a while.” We could see how it goes, and they were very supportive, and I think that communication between whoever you're employed by is really important, and it's better to get started earlier.
How did you make friends?
Of course, there are dating apps. They work all over the globe if you're looking to date or meet people. Of course, I like to look at dating apps as dating apps. Plus, you may meet someone who could also turn into a friend. And some people go on dating apps and just say, ‘hey, listen, I'm only looking to make friends.’ So I think it's a valuable resource to get things going. And also just seek out what you're interested in.
I'm interested in Latin dancing, so I enjoy attending salsa classes, bachata classes, and language exchanges. If you want to learn the language, you can meet people that way too.
Also, most cities that are popular for digital nomads have hostels or coliving spaces now so that you can find events there too. For example, Selina (A coliving space and coworking space with more than 50 different locations: https://www.selina.com/). When I was in Lisbon, they had a monthly rooftop party, and it was basically open-invitation for both residents and expats. So I showed up on this roof. There were 150 people on the roof, and everyone was mingling.
I think being in a city that's desirable [is a good idea]. For travelers and digital nomads, you'll naturally find people, but for me, I think it's about following your interests and taking a little peek at what events are going on.
You can jump into any WhatsApp groups and Facebook groups to also meet people. There's usually a Facebook group for anything. Facebook and WhatsApp are used much differently outside of the US. Facebook is actually a legitimate way to ask questions and develop forums and set events. And also WhatsApp, which is not used that much in the US is huge elsewhere. And you can find 250-person chat groups for meetups, events, and fun things to do.
What made you pick Mexico City as your first Digital Nomad City?
I just vibed with the city right off the bat. The weather is really consistent. There are tons of cool coffee shops to work from. There are bars, restaurants, great food, and great people. With a million things to do. It's just a friendly, warm, easy-going environment that's super nice to live in, comfortable, and close to home.
I can book a direct flight to Newark Airport and be home in 5 hours and only switch one-time zone. And I want to be fluent in Spanish.
Yeah, I can go on and on.
What is the biggest struggle you currently have as a Digital Nomad?
Top of mind. One of my biggest struggles is dating. I think it is a little difficult because you have different expectations, and you're in a different mindset. And so you really have to be on the same page with someone early to make it work. And if you plan on popping around every three months or every month, don't bank on developing deep relationships. Right?
I would say relationships, in general, are shorter when you stay in one place, the less deep you can develop connections. Obviously, there are anomalies. You know, you can spend a short amount of time with people and develop deep connections. For me, I would say dating and relationships are a struggle for me, especially while traveling.
I think being accustomed to the daily life of living in a different culture is also a little difficult. Because when you're traveling, you experience what I call ‘micro stressors.’ Little things aren’t as easy as it is in your home country. So if you don't know the language, you can have trouble even just walking into the supermarket. You're looking for a specific thing. You're asking for help. You're bumping into people. It is hard getting used to operating in a different culture and a different language.
What do you know now, that you wish you knew when you started nomading?
Good question. And this maybe applies to even before I started. Once you find a place you really appreciate, you'll probably get stuck there. People who can vagabond for long periods of time, love it. They love being a rolling stone. Every month here, two months there, three months here, I would say the majority of people will get tired of that. So you'll probably wind up with a hybrid situation, which I'm in. You want a home base, but you also want to continue to travel. We both know that Mexico City is so fun, and of course, I want to stay here. My advice to others would be to get your travel out of the way and then pick a place to land.
So if you're most excited about one city, save it for the end. Do a bunch of little short trips.
Hop here, hop there, hop there. And then once you get to your city that you're really interested in and you think you'll vibrate,
What characteristic is most important to managing work/life balance?
I think it's important to show up on time and be grateful that you have the opportunity to be working abroad. Show your employer that you are still providing value, even though you can be somewhere else.
On a different note, I think it's important to communicate with your employer. Let them know how your schedule might flex and offer solutions to your flexing schedule. For example, if a time zone changes, keep your employer updated. If you have an event coming up, just be open and transparent. Be transparent versus people wondering, well, are they working? Where are they? I think that's important.
And also, as far as balance, I'm very fortunate to have found a good work-life balance, but there are people who can't leave the computer until they clock 40 hours. You just have to be aware of what you will sacrifice for that. For example, if you're in Europe and you have to stay logged in till 05:00pm Eastern Time, you're going to be missing dinner with people. You're not going to get out until 10:00 p.m. So you're just going to eat alone, or you might have to say, listen, I'm going to take a break from seven to eight to eat dinner with my friends, and then I'm going to continue working.
Where is next for you?
As much of Central and South America as possible. Chile, Brazil, Guatemala. Oh, and Africa in
2023 as well.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to become a Digital Nomad?
I would say if you really put your mind to it, and it's a goal of yours, you'll make it happen. If you desire the lifestyle enough, you'll make the needed shift. And I would say to anyone who has even a slight thought about doing this or has sort of a passion for travel that's above the normal amount, you'll be so happy you did. It's very easy to stay in one spot and just keep it going as it is, but when you push yourself into something new, it can be so rewarding it's almost hard to describe.
And I think if you want to make it happen, make it happen.
Make the change that you need to make. Sometimes it might not even be as difficult. It might be as easy as just talking with whoever you're working for. Or it might be as difficult as, okay, I'm a nurse in the ER, to now I'm teaching English or doing something else or now I'm working online. But I want to make this happen. So I'm going to do whatever I need to do to make it happen.
Looking for financial advice? Dj mix? Or a new friend in Mexico City. Hit up Alex!
Finance Chats: https://calendly.com/alex-benazet/personal-finance-chat