How Apartment Hunting Taught Me About Goals…And Jambalaya

Derek Mexico, Perspectives 9 Comments


My exhausting search for a new apartment has finally come to an end!

Tomorrow, the lease on my current apartment is set to finish and that is why my friend Liz and I have spent the past two weeks exploring every corner of Playa del Carmen in search of the ‘perfect apartment’ to move to. We made hundreds of phone calls, sent dozens of emails and in the end, viewed at least 50 different places. We walked up and down every street, drove down every lane and even taxied to places far and near.

“The perfect place, the perfect place,” was our daily mantra and despite being repeatedly disappointed with the apartments we found, we pressed on, determined to leave no apartment un-seen.

We met dozens of people in the process, from real estate agents to building owners to a shirtless and shoeless young man who approached us one day on a street corner out of nowhere, pulling up next to us on his rusty bicycle and asking if we were looking for an apartment. With two gold teeth shining, or more correctly, in need of a shine, he then directed us to a building with apartments for rent nearby. And then he simply pedaled away without a word. It was a nice gesture, but we didn’t like that apartment either.

Overall, as the weeks passed, we found a handful of apartments that we semi-liked, many that we hated and none that we loved.

And that brings us to yesterday. With time running out, and after another morning of unsuccessful apartment hunting, Liz and I went to our favorite cafe to sit down and finally make a decision. Pulling out our notes, we reviewed each apartment carefully and after an hour of discussion, decided on three finalists:

  • An elegant, fully-furnished apartment in an upscale neighborhood for $800/month
  • A $475/month, 2BR, unfurnished apartment with an ocean view
  • A brand new, furnished, 2BR apartment close to the beach but in an iffy part of town for $550

But no matter how hard we tried, none of the finalists felt right. We were stuck and didn’t want to choose any of them.

“What were we looking for?”
you might ask. And that’s an excellent question, one that we really didn’t consider ourselves until yesterday at that cafe. Only when we realized that we were out of options did we decide to take a few moments to create a list of everything we wanted in our ‘perfect apartment’.

Here’s what was on that list:

  • Close to the beach
  • Walking distance to downtown
  • Balcony with ocean view
  • Plenty of natural light
  • Fully-furnished
  • Decent kitchen
  • Internet and utilities included in the rent
  • Basic security
  • Rent of less than $600 per month

So here’s what happened. As soon as we finished compiling the list, an interesting expression immediately started to form on both of our faces. It was that half-smile/half ‘you’ve go to be kidding me’ kind of look. We read the list again just to be certain and sure enough, soon found ourselves nodding in agreement.

Oh yeah, the answer was all too clear. There actually was one apartment that fit every single one of our criteria.

Liz and I laughed, raised our iced teas with an enthusiastic ‘SALUD!” and reached for the phone. We called our current landlord and extended our lease for another two months.

Knowing What You’re Looking For…

The past two weeks have proven to be a valuable lesson in the importance of knowing what you’re looking for before embarking on any journey. ANY JOURNEY AT ALL.

For example, if you’re interested in lifestyle design and having more freedom to pursue your personal goals, just quitting your job and announcing ‘I’m off to live an unconventional life’ isn’t going to get you anywhere. You can search every corner of the planet and you won’t find what you’re looking for, mostly because you’re not exactly sure what you’re after. Before long, you’ll run out of motivation and possibly money and you’ll find yourself confused and frustrated, just as my friend and I were after spending so much useless time searching for an apartment. We had no idea what we were searching for and that is not an ideal way to search.

Think of it as going to the supermarket without bringing a list of what you need. You end up filling your cart with impulsive purchases, spending way too much money and when you get home, you realize you now have enough ingredients to start preparing twenty different dishes but not all of the ingredients necessary to complete any of them. So despite an exciting and wild adventure of impulse, you’re back to eating cheese sandwiches, just as you were before you went shopping for food.

If you’re trying to get yourself away from the cheese sandwich type of life and more in the direction of the spicy jambalaya, it clearly pays to decide ahead of time what ingredients you want in your jambalaya. Then make your bold announcement and begin your hunt for those ingredients.

My Life of Stale Bread & Moldy Gouda…

During the early years of my wanderings, I’ll admit that I was wandering around the world somewhat aimlessly, at times confused as to why my life still felt like a cheese sandwich, boring and providing only the most basic of nourishment. At the time, I thought it was enough just to be wandering and that life would magically work itself out without much effort on my part.

I was never proved wrong, but after a couple of years, I chose to take an active role in creating the life I sought by determining exactly what I wanted to gain from each of my travels. From that point on, every adventure had a specific purpose (or two), such as volunteer work, learning a language, dedicating time to my businesses, travel writing, teaching English, meditation, spending time with friends, etc.

Prior to wandering with a purpose, I simply traveled. But now that I know exactly what I’m after when I cross a particular border, I feel as if I’m a traveler. And at least to me, the difference is substantial, as I’ve now created a lifestyle for myself, not simply a hobby.

Of course, the purpose of this was to avoid exactly what I’ve been doing over the past two weeks, running around in circles for absolutely no reason. I could have easily achieved my goal of finding the perfect apartment in about two minutes had I determined from the beginning exactly what I was looking for. So, shame on me! I messed up. But I’m glad that I learned this lesson again.

I’ve now been reminded that before I take a first step, or even if I’ve already begun down a certain path and am on my tenth or ninety-sixth step, I need to stop off at a cafe every now and then and make a list of what I’m trying to achieve before I proceed any further. I don’t need to spend months devising a step-by-step, 100-point, detailed plan, I just need to know what ingredients I want in my jambalaya.

Only then can I actually complete the dish, find the perfect apartment, benefit from my travels and build my businesses, instead of aimlessly searching for something I have yet to define.


Have you spent time searching for an unknown goal? Do you sometimes wonder why you aren’t making any progress? Have you visited a cafe lately and made a list of what you’re searching for?

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Comments 9

  1. Nate

    Hi Earl! I’m certainly not good when it comes to planning, but there certainly is some great advice here…and it’s quite simple. Start writing stuff down. You may not even know what you want, but when you take the time to sit down and write you may be surprised at what you find.

    Personally, I like writing in a nice journal as opposed to a computer. If we give ourselves the time and freedom to be introspective we might just realize that what we want is right in front of us!
    .-= Nate´s last blog ..Devastation in Haiti =-.

    1. Earl

      Hey Nate – As you know, I’m not good with planning either. But I don’t think that planning is as essential to achieving your goals as is knowing what you want to achieve! And journals are excellent tools for keeping on top of that and keeping us focused on what we’re looking for in life, or in any stage of it. It’s a shame that actual paper journals are becoming victims to technology! But it appears that in your case, you’re not letting that happen any time soon. Well done!

    1. Earl

      Hey Jonny – Glad to hear it. I definitely wish I had done that at the start of my journeys as well, not after two years had already passed. Even a basic idea of what you’re looking for will help transform aimless wandering into life progress.

    1. Earl

      Hey Gordie – It certainly was a relief to finally make a decision and to have the drama over with. I won’t make the same mistake again (hopefully).

      By the way, excellent motivational post you have going over there on your site right now. I just added my answers to the five questions…

  2. T-roy

    Dude thats to funny about finding the “perfect” place. What is it about trying to find an apartment in a foreign country that makes you want to load a gun and pull the trigger vs the hassle of it? I had the same problem in Bangkok this last year and was made even harder because I was only going to be there for 3 months. My criteria I thought was pretty easy:
    1) Internet a must
    2) Kitchen would like
    3) Must be able to pronounce the name of the street to a cab driver (T-roy don’t speak Thai! lol)

    I got lucky and had a local Thai doctor friend who knew a student that had a mother who just happened to have a place that fit that description. Go figure huh?

    Lessons Learned: Always ask your doctor first! 🙂
    .-= T-roy´s last blog ..Haiti Needs Your Help! =-.

    1. Earl

      Hey T-roy – Yeah, apartment hunting is always a challenge. I didn’t even mention the real estate agent that never showed up for our appointment and then reprimanded us the next day, saying that he was waiting for us for an hour! It was challenging…and it all could have been avoided had I made that list of what I wanted at the start.
      And it’s funny you mentioned being able to pronounce the name of the street – my place is on 88th Street and even in Spanish it doesn’t get much easier than that.

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