We were on the road for the majority of February, in our newly finished van!
Jo the Van
On February 10th, we picked up our completed-that-day van (after a variety of unexpected “roadblocks” including pulling down an electrical line) and headed on our first-ever overnight #vanlife trip. Retrospectively, we definitely planned things a little too tightly, and didn’t even give ourselves the chance to get acquainted with the ins and outs of Jo before we hit the road.
We immediately made our way 6 hours to Guadalajara, to Tequila, and then down and up the Bahía de Banderas (including San Sebastián del Oeste, Punta Mita (twice), Guayabitos, Perula, Mayto, and many stops to Puerto Vallarta) over the course of more than 2 weeks. This adventure deserves a blog post all of its own (maybe a few).
We saw SO many wonderful, beautiful places that I had never visited, even with having lived in Vallarta for 3 years. Traveling via van (and also with a local) definitely opens up different, deeper experiences. Highlights were beach days at Mayto (is Mayto ever bad?) with my gf Ally and her boyfriend, family time in Punta Mita, and seeing friends in Puerto Vallarta.
We learned a lot (about the van, each other, and ourselves), and overall had an amazing time – but I don’t think we’ll ever go on a trip of that length again. We’re much more of van life weekenders, than van full timers. We even decided to end our trip a few weeks early, on February 27th (more on that in the “reality check” below), versus through the end of March. It was for the best.
We celebrated Valentine’s Day in San Sebastián del Oeste, which was always a dream of mine. The cooler weather and delicious restaurants made it an easy and cozy choice to spend the most romantic of holidays.
We started by arriving to the town early and exploring a bit (D had never been there), having lunch at one of the best Italian restaurants in Mexico (Montebello), afternoon drinks at the always-dreamy Jardin Nebuloso, and then having a fondue and wine dinner watching the sunset at Villa Nogal.
I am a BIG holidays person, including Valentine’s Day, and my boyfriend is… not so much. But I’m going to work on converting him, while also managing my expectations.
LIFE LATELY: LITTLE BITS
EVERYWHERE WE WENT:
San Sebastián del Oeste
Boca de Tomatlan – Playa del Caballos
El Patio de Mario: El Tuito, Jalisco
We ate so many delicious things on this trip (both that D cooked, and that we ordered), but one of my favorites was also the cheapest and simplest, in tiny El Tuito, south of Vallarta on the route to Mayto. This little restaurant is a must-go, and we stopped by on our way to AND from Mayto/Vallarta. They had many more vegetarian options than last time I visited. El Tuito is known for cheese and cream, and super fresh local produce, and you get to sample all of that in any meal you choose.
Limbo: San Pancho, Jalisco
We went here with D’s family, on an afternoon trip from Punta Mita. I’d been years earlier, and I remember the menu being much smaller. This time, it was quite big, and had a TON of vegan options. One of the perks of having a big group (8 people) we ordered a bunch of things to try. The lentil ceviche (vegan!) was a crowd favorite and so. very. good. We guessed that the secret was using gazpacho as an ingredient…
Jardin Nebuloso: San Sebastian del Oeste, Jalisco
This place had the COOLEST drinks. Many involved fire (always a fan of fire in drinks), and all were based in local ingredients and liquors, including my personal favorite: Raicilla. We tried most of the signature cocktails menu.
Mayto wins, always.
If you love wild beaches where you can walk all morning without seeing another human, this is your place.
BEST BOOK I READ:
An Anonymous Girl (click here to see on Amazon – available on Kindle)
Jess is a financially-struggling makeup artist who poses as a college student in order to take part in a psychological study on morals and ethics (ironic) run by well-known Dr. Shields, and earn a hefty participation fee.
We know from the beginning that Jess is willing to blur the lines of right and wrong, but as the book reveals, Dr. Shields may not be the poster child for ethical activity herself.
A quick and intense read with some sharp, disturbing psychological twists along the way…
February 19 in Mayto, Jalisco
One of my best friends (Ally) and her boyfriend (Spencer) arrived the night before, we all went to bed early (my favorite thing).
D and I woke up with the sunrise, took Felix for a long walk along the beach, got a drink from the Rinconcito bar (a classic, must-do), and D made us delicious mango-avocado vegan ceviche (his own recipe). We spent the rest of the day people-watching (there were some strange photoshoots going on), and lounging on the beach with Ally and Spencer (and Felix!). At some point, we took a nap, and then released sea turtles on the beach before having dinner and drinks as a group before going to bed decently early. Simple, gorgeous, perfect.
ALL of these buys were for #vanlife
Safety dog booster seat (US or MX)
I had one of these for my dog Mickey when I lived in Vallarta (Mickey went to live with my ex-husband, and I gave his booster to a friend who works at a dog rescue), and he loved it, so we got one for Felix in the van.
As part of our van life travels, we will be filming each of the locations we visit, and creating a cooking/travel show. D is the “chef”, which is ensuring hilarity (both because of his personality… and that he doesn’t cook much at home, aside from air-frying sandwiches and sausages).
Flexible Phone Tripod (US or MX)
My sister (who has an incredible TikTok where she specializes in healthy and delicious recipes) recommended that we get this phone tripod for our van. It was by FAR the best filming-related purchase we made. And super cheap!
I love my coffee, and my gf Ally has been selling me on the benefits of a French press forever… so I went ahead and got a little one, to save space in the van.
These have been essential. They dry super fast (hence the name), and roll up very small.
Silverware set (“rose gold” bur really bronze colored) (US or MX)
I’m obsessed with this cutlery and want to make the switch in our home kitchen as well.
Pots and pans (bronze colored) (US or MX)
Bronze is the way to go. They scrape fairly easily against each other, though, so store them carefully. The bumping of the van (and the way I stored them nesting inside each other) has caused some of the nonstick coating to come off.
Measuring spoons and cups (bronze colored) (US or MX)
These are just gorgeous.
Knives set (bronze colored) (US or MX)
Sharp and pretty!
Mexican-theme kitchen towels (US or MX)
Another thing I want to steal from the van kitchen for my home kitchen! These are fluffy and bright, and coordinate with a lot of different decors. I love that they add a colorful pop.
We have 4 in the van and are using the extras in the home kitchen 🙂
Pillows with aloe vera (US or MX)
I’m not sold that the aloe vera really does anything, but these pillows do feel especially soft and fresh.
Van / car seat hooks (US or MX)
So helpful! These would be great in a car as well – perfect place to hang a purse or dog leash or shopping bags that you don’t want to roll around.
Van / car seat organizers (US or MX)
Also would work well in any car – keeps all the odds and ends nicely organized and mostly out of sight while still staying within reach.
Van Life Was Harder than Expected… in many ways
As I mentioned earlier, we realized that we are NOT full-time van lifers. Three weeks in a relatively small van (let’s be honest: REALLY small; it’s short enough inside that neither D nor even I can stand up inside – D can’t even sit up if he’s not in the driver’s seat) was a bit too much.
I want to be the kind of person who travels for months on end in a van, but I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’m just not. I love my home, I need more stable wifi for work (this caused a LOT of stress), and I missed my CDMX community. Going on weekend or occasionally week-long trips is the best situation for both me and D, I think.
We fought more in 6 days than we had in the entire 6 months leading up to this trip. I’m thankful and proud that we tend to resolve our arguments very quickly, kindly, and compassionately (even in the van). Still, though, it wasn’t fun to notice that the number of arguments had grown exponentially, and that any issues had been exacerbated by the newness of the experience and the huge number of things we needed to get used to.
In addition to realizing multiple weeks were too much time in the van, we also needed to make some changes: including switching our way-too-powerful AC for something that takes less electricity, ditching the portapotty that we never once used, adding more storage, and increasing our battery power and adding the ability to charge our batteries from the engine. Because of this, we trashed our idea to travel from Vallarta to the Yucatan, and instead headed straight home from Punta Mita, and passed OUT… for three days… until we were off on another trip (this time, flying).
This post is part of a low-key series, designed to give a behind-the-scenes look into my expat life which, honestly, isn’t usually that much different than a “regular” life! I spend time with my friends, work, and still have to do the dishes… sometimes, while living in a van.
The Extranjera Update series is laidback and off-the-cuff – quite purposefully the opposite of nearly everything going on in blogging right now. The photos are all taken with my iPhone (or, more likely, my boyfriend’s phone), and unedited (though I do sometimes go a bit collage-crazy).
With this series moving forward, I’ll be talking about the main themes of my life that month, some favorites, at least one “reality check”, and what I’ve discovered here in Mexico City (or, wherever I end up moving forward). It’s not because I’m so self-involved to think my life is so fascinating, but rather because especially when I first moved abroad, I felt incredibly alone. If even one thing you read, you relate to, I’ve done my job.
If you’ve got another idea for a section I should include – let me know!!
As always, let me know what you’d like to see more (or less!) of by sending me an email. I love to hear from you and I ALWAYS respond to emails.