Maverick Traveler

Location Independence, Geo Arbitrage, Individual Freedom

How To Make Your First $1,000 Online

Earning the first $1 is infinitely harder than earning $100. After that, it gets infinitely easier to earn more money; it’s easier to go from $100 to $1,000 and even easier to go from $1,000 to $10,000.

At the start, it’s important to clarify that in order to make money, you have to sell something, either a product or a service, for which you will receive a payment in exchange. You must have something that another party deems valuable enough to give you money.

Let’s say you have no experience with making money online and are looking to make your first $1,000.

What would you do?

Well, the first step is to figure out what exactly do you want to sell.

What’s your pitch? What’s your product? What’s your hustle?

That could be something physical; for instance, a physical product that solves a particular problem to a specific audience.

That can also be an informational product that provides certain guidance or instructions for getting something done, whether it’s moving to another country or building a specific business.

As they say, information is power. Useful information that comes by way of experience can help others save enormous amounts of time and money, allowing them to accomplish something much quicker and easier as compared to if they lacked this information.

When it comes to actually building something, there are two primary ways of doing so: build an online store that sells products directly or create an information-based site that helps visitors in some way shape or form.

An example of the former is an online store that sells something like mattresses or accessories. An example of the latter is a country portal about Colombia where people can learn about the country and then pay for further assistance in specific areas (e.g., help to find apartments or get a residence visa).

Obviously, it would be a lot faster to generate a profit by selling an actual physical product that people are already searching for and can’t wait to purchase. You simply show the product and people buy it.

On the other hand, when you’re creating a custom service, the prospective customer needs time to learn more about you and trust you before partying with their money for the service you’re offering.

Should you follow your passion?

During my many years of mentoring tons and tons of people, the first question that inevitably comes up is whether they should choose an area that’s closely connected with their passion.

So, if a certain person is passionate about a topic such as dog-training, they should build a site about dog training and then figure out ways of making money from it later.

My answer is that it depends. You definitely want to work on something you have some kind of interest in—at least be somewhat interested in.

Most importantly, however, you must pick an area that already has a sizable demand of people who’re looking for a particular solution to their problem.

For instance, fitness is an area with lots of demand. Same for building a business. Lots of people want to make money online and dump the 9-5.

Even if I’m very passionate about teaching my Yorkie Terrier various tricks (I don’t have one), it’s probably not an area I would choose to pursue and build a business because it’s just too small and constricting in size and scope.

On the other hand, let’s say I’m living in Argentina, and I’m super passionate about helping others move and get settled in properly in the country. In that case, that’s something I might pursue doing because of 1) I’m super passionate about Argentina and 2) I realize there’s a sizable demand of people who are trying to do the same.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people give up because they lost interest in the topic they chose to work in. As time went on, they realized it they weren’t interested in cat knitting or building a site about a little city in Nepal as much as they thought.

Now that you decided what is it you want to work on, the next thing is to figure how to get customers to visit your site so they learn about your products and services and hopefully purchase them as well.

Getting customers to your site

The first thing you need in order to make money is people who’re willing to give you money: customers.

Generally, there are two ways to get traffic: free and paid. Free traffic comes to you via places like Google searches (organic traffic), links from other websites and things like word of mouth.

Paid traffic is traffic that you “purchase” via advertisements. Popular advertising platforms are Google Ads (Adwords), Facebook Ads, and tons of others.

I typically employ both strategies depending on my goals.

If you’re tight with money, then free traffic is ideal.

On the other hand, if you know exactly how much you’re making and how much you need to spend on traffic to either break even or turn in a profit, then paid traffic can work really well.

Monetizing customers

Once you’ve discovered ways of getting people to your door, the next step is getting them to buy something from you. This process is called monetization.

Compared to finding a steady traffic source for your products and services, monetization isn’t very difficult. If you there are people who come to your site because they’re looking for a specific solution to their problem, and you have this solution to their problem, selling it to them won’t be very difficult.

After all, they’re on your site because you promised to help them, right?

While there are tons of different offers you can create, there are two primary ways to make money: sell your own products/services or become an affiliate for someone else’s products/services.

When you sell someone else’s product, you get a cut of the transaction (commission). That’s called affiliate marketing because you’re an affiliate for the seller instead of being a seller yourself.

Affiliate marketing

Affiliate marketing one of my first huge online successes back in 2003. I was one of the largest affiliates for a particular site. If I referred someone and they signed up for the service, I received a commission. As I referred more and more people, I received bigger and bigger commissions (higher tier). As time went on, I ended up making an absolute killing in commissions.

The beauty of affiliate marketing is that you don’t need to build and support the actual product. That means no need to hire web developers and no need to handle customer support. All you really need to do is promote a marketing product or service while letting the vendor handle everything else.

One of the largest marketplaces to find products to promote is ClickBank. There, you can find all kinds of products to promote all kinds of different niches (markets for different audiences). You can also sort each product by how much money is making ensuring that you’re only promoting products that are selling and not some duds that no customer would ever purchase.

For instance, let’s say you’re promoting a product and they pay you a commission of $50 whenever anyone signs up through your link. That means you need to refer 20 users who signup for the service in order to make $1,000. If you’re referring just one paying user a day, you’ll be earning $50 per day. That’s $1,500 per month, a pretty comfortable sum for living anywhere outside the West.

Of course, you also need to provide the traffic. That can be done either via free sources (Google SEO) or paid sources (Google Ads, Facebook Ads).

Dropshipping

While dropshipping is all the rage these days, I have been doing dropshipping back in 2005, so I have quite a bit of experience in this area.

Dropshipping is attributed to ecommerce. You set up a store that sells physical products. A customer visits your store and places an order. But instead of going to your own warehouse, picking out the item and shipping it, you’re asking another supplier to fulfill the order by shipping it directly to your customer.

This way you never even see and touch the product.

Dropshipping is very similar to affiliate marketing. Whereas in affiliate marketing, you’re a middleman for an informational product or service, with dropshipping you’re a middleman for a physical product.

There’s a lot of negativity about dropshipping, but these people don’t understand what dropshipping is. Dropshipping isn’t “positive” or “negative”; it’s simply a logistics model of product fulfillment. So, instead of you fulfilling your orders, someone else does it on your behave. There’s nothing inherently negative about that.

Selling physical products online (ecommerce) is one of the fastest ways to make money. The main reason is that you don’t need to sell the customer very hard on the product. The customer sees the product and they know right away whether they need this particular product or not. They know whether this product can solve their problem or not. This is different from an informational product where the customer needs to be persuaded that this particular product will solve their problems.

The business model with ecommerce is slightly different from affiliate marketing. First of all, you have the cost of the product. So, if you’re buying a product for $25 and selling it for $50, your profit is not $50: it’s $25.

There are other expenses such as the cost of ads (if you’re buying traffic and not getting free organic traffic).

Still, even with all the expenses and overhead, it’s easy to become profitable very quickly if you find a good quality product that solves a problem. And when you experiment with various products, you develop a “sixth sense” for knowing when a product will sell or not.

For instance, let’s say you’re selling a product that you can source for only $5 (you get volume discounts because you’re a high volume seller). It costs you another $5 to ship the product to your customer. Then another $10 for ads. You then sell the product for $30. That means your expenses are $20, so your profit is $10.

In ecommerce, it’s very common to have profit margins of around 15-30% as opposed to 100% when you’re selling an information product that doesn’t cost you an additional amount to produce (e.g., selling another license of software or access to a course).

So, if you can sell 100 of these per month, you will make $1,000 in profit. That’s only 3 items per day, not an impossible feat by any measure.

Building and selling your own product

When you’re an affiliate, you’re getting a cut of the commission (typically 25-75%), but when you’re selling your own product, you keep the entire profit for yourself.

If you already have a certain website up and running and a steady supply of traffic that comes to your website and loves the content, then the next step is creating your own product and service. When you do that, you won’t need to split the profit with anyone else; you pocket 100% of the profit.

The disadvantage is that not only do you need to spend ample amount of time creating this product, but you’re also responsible for all kinds of customer support issues.

If someone signed up and they’re having problems, you must deal with the customer. If your server is down, you must fix it. If your product isn’t being displayed properly, you must fix it.

Unlike someone who’s a mere affiliate who sends the customer over to a third party site, as someone who owns the product, you have a lot of responsibility to handle everything.

I have tried both approaches and there are pros and cons to being an affiliate for certain products, but also creating your own products as well.

The decision comes down to expertise. If you run a website that you’re very knowledgeable about, it shouldn’t be much of a challenge to create products and services that your audience would crave. On the other hand, if you somehow have access to traffic of an audience you have nothing in common with, then it might be wiser to become an affiliate for a third party product instead of creating your own from scratch.

For instance, I have no problems building products in areas I’m an expert in such as digital marketing, making money online, dropshipping and learning foreign languages, but I would never build products in areas I know nothing about like knitting or woodworking.

The right mindset to start

The most challenging part of making your first $1000 is believing that $1000 is somehow a lot of money and making that much money would be difficult if not outright impossible. That’s the wrong mindset to have.

The right approach is to ask yourself the following question, “What can I do right now that will allow to me sell one thing to one person?”

Is it selling a physical product?

Is it helping someone obtain a second passport in Brazil?

Is it teaching someone how to bench press 2.5X their body weight or helping them lose 30 lbs before Christmas?

Is it becoming an authority in a specific area and then consulting companies via your knowledge and expertise?

Now, combine the above question with a group of people who need this problem solved. Congrats: now you have a product, an audience, and a business model.

Final thoughts

I still remember that fateful day when I made my first dollar online. That was over 15 years ago. Of course, the Internet was very different back then. Facebook Ads didn’t exist. Google was an up-coming niche search company.

Nevertheless, the principles are still the same. What worked back in 2003 still works in 2018 and will work in 2033 and beyond.

At the core, any business is really about people. It’s about forming connections. And when a useful connection occurs, money is usually exchanged.

When I think about entering a specific market, usually my first question is, “How can I add value?” or “What can I do to help a particular person or group of people” or “How can I make their lives better?”

This answer to this question usually becomes a product or service that, when combined with an enticing offer, is then presented to the prospective customer. They purchase it.

After all, people all over the world are hungry for various solutions to their problems. And, as a person who happens to have answers and solutions because of an extensive experience and knowledge, it’s your duty to solve these problems for them.

The Problem With Being A Digital Nomad

One of the most frequent questions I get asked here in Ukraine is why I left Latin America at all. This happens right after I explain how I spent 7 years living all over Latin America, how I felt at home in Mexico City, and how I think that Rio de Janeiro is the greatest city on earth.

I first ponder that question, but the answer is always the same: “I had to leave. I stayed as much as I could, but at one point I realized it was time to go home.” 

The reason I left Brazil is probably a combination of many things, but, ultimately, it was because it was time to leave.

I had my fun. I learned my Portuguese. I had a long-term Brazilian girlfriend who wanted to marry me, but, in the end, I decided that I couldn’t stay in Brazil forever.

Ultimately, I didn’t “own” Rio de Janeiro. I didn’t own Brazil. Rio de Janeiro won’t miss me.

I’ve been location-independent since 2008, and when I look around all the digital nomads around me, I see the same pattern. People move around, live in one place for a while (from few months to few years) and then either move back home or spend the winter in Thailand or Bali.

They oscillate between love for their current country and absolute disdain. Either everything is excellent (low cost of living, super feminine women), or everything sucks (too many foreigners, the place is very Westernized).

I think the real issue is something else: the problem is that they don’t “own” the place where they’re at. They’re rootless cosmopolitans who treat locations as simply checkmarks; when one place gets old, they simply move to the next one.

There’s no commitment. There’s no laying down roots. There’s no responsibility. There’s nothing holding them in the country.

It’s crucial to feel that you “own” the city/country you’re in. And, in order to do that, many stars must align.

For instance, take a city like New York City. I grew up in Brooklyn and feel like I understand and know the city pretty well. I’m proud to have grown up in such a place instead of some little village in the middle of nowhere. NYC is heavy.

But, I don’t “own” it. I don’t feel like I belong here. I visit every now and again, but it’s not a city I feel comfortable staying long term. NYC and I don’t mix.

Kiev, on the other hand, is a city I “own.” I have lots of friends here, lots of contacts. I know a great real estate guy who can find me absolutely anything. I know a couple of business lawyers and a great accountant (an ex-girlfriend of mine). One of my BJJ training partners works in the police force as a captain. Next year, I will be looking to buy property in my favorite neighborhood.

One of my friends is planning to launch a restaurant soon, and I’m leveraging my Facebook/Google Ads expertise to help him spread the word out and bring people in when the place opens.

In fact, I will soon be working on lots of “local” projects to market and spread awareness about upcoming events and openings.

In Rio de Janeiro, I was just another gringo who learned Portuguese and had a hot girlfriend.

In Kiev, I’m local.

The difference is like night and day. Not only because in Brazil, I had to deal with lots of bureaucratic tape to keep renewing my tourist visa, but in Ukraine, I’m a fully legal resident—but, because, of the above, everything just clicks here without me needing to put forth lots of effort.

My mom returned to Ukraine last year for the first time after immigrating to the States many years ago. She was duly treated like a VIP guest as I hooked her up with all the best stuff: great hard-to-get-into restaurants, awesome plays, cool theater performances, etc. That’s not something you can do if you’re a mere tourist in the city.

American American vs Ukrainian Brazilian

One of my friends here in Kiev is an American guy who’s originally from New York. He’s been living in Kiev for about four years on and off. He often complains about the city and the country. He’s moody; one day he’s super happy, another day he’s pissed off at everything. 

He often goes to the US for a few months and even spends winter months in Thailand. He barely speaks any Russian.

Compare that to another friend I have: a Brazilian guy who’s been living in Kiev for ten years and is married to a Ukrainian girl.

First of all, the Brazilian guy speaks fluent Russian. His Russian is so good that he barely makes any mistakes (that’s pretty difficult). Knows the owners of all the cool Latin bars. Teaches at a local BJJ academy every now and then. 

He absolutely loves Ukraine. He looks as Brazilian as they come, but I consider him a local. In fact, one of my favorite activities is speaking street Portuguese in coffee shops or restaurants. It gets attention very quickly.

So, what’s the difference between the American guy and the Brazilian guy?

The American guy is just another tourist; the Brazilian guy is pretty much a local.

The Brazilian guy never complaints that something “doesn’t work in Ukraine.” He always has a smile on his face. Even though he’s used to Rio de Janeiro’s tropical summers, he never complains when the hot Eastern European summer quickly turns into freezing winter. He just puts on his warm coat, zips it up and goes outside.

The Brazilian guy doesn’t have the need to constantly switch places like the American guy.

The Brazilian guy is living at his new home; The American guy is a rootless cosmopolitan.

I admire the Brazilian guy, but I don’t feel sorry for the American guy. They both have the exact same opportunities, neither one had the critical advantage of being born in the country or, barring that, other special hookups.

Now, of course, not all places around the world have such strict divisions between what it means to be a local and a foreigner. Eastern Europe does. Latin America does (gringo). Japan does (gaijin). Thailand does (farang). The cities that don’t have such strong divisions are called Western cities.

The more Western is the city, the less is the division between a local and a foreigner.

Western world: where everyone is equal

New York City is the quintessential Western city where everyone is a New Yorker. Spend a couple of years living there and you’re a New Yorker. London is another. An Asian city that’s rapidly moving into that direction is Kuala Lumpur. It’s a rich, international city with lots of expats and an expat culture.

Rio de Janeiro is the quintessential city where you’re either a local or a foreigner; you’re either a Carioca or a gringo. I can never see myself “owning” Rio de Janeiro, for one simple reason: I can’t roll my “R’s” like a Carioca. 

Of course, If I spend 20 years living in Rio, I can see myself becoming a sort of gringo-Carioca or something. 

This is why people spend a few years living in Rio and then go home. This is why people spend a few years in Kiev and go home. This is why people spend a few years in Vilnius and go home. This is why people spend a few years in Mexico City and go home.

They don’t own the cities they inhabit.

All of their friends are other foreigners. They have no local friends, no local connections, no local hookups. They date random girls they meet online instead of being introduced to high-quality women from inside a powerful social circle.

Come to think of it, they don’t own shit.

Becoming a local isn’t easy, but, as you can tell, there’s a multitude of rewards. The main one is never feeling like a foreigner or an outsider. And not experiencing the psychological problems as a result of being a permanent outcast wherever you go.

The first thing you must do is master the language. This is not an optional step. Don’t pass go, don’t collect $200. Master the language. Speak like a local. While you don’t need to become entirely fluent (for some languages, that’s next to impossible), you should at least become conversational. 

I have insane amounts of respect for someone who comes to Lithuania and masters Lithuanian or comes to Mexico and masters Spanish or comes to Ukraine and masters Russian/Ukrainian. This is a person’s way of saying, “I decided to come to a new country, and I’m ready to pay my dues. I’m ready to do what it takes.”

Following that, you have to make a certain commitment to a place where you’re living in order to feel that you fully “own it.” 

When I lived in Brazil, I trained BJJ which connected me to all kinds of Brazilians, young or old. As a result, I had a certain level of connections whether it meant being invited to a cool Favela party or figuring out how to extend my tourist visa.

I also tried to limit the number of gringo friends I had. I knew plenty of expats, but I didn’t come all the way to Brazil to hang out with other foreigners.

Even after doing all that, I still didn’t feel I “owned” Rio de Janeiro. A couple of years just wasn’t enough time; perhaps after 5-10 years, I would’ve felt different. Thus, it’s no surprise that, one day, I bought a one-way ticket back to NYC.

Of course, there’s another option: live in a Western city where everyone is a local and you’re considered a foreigner if you arrived today or yesterday.

Or become a rootless cosmopolitan who’s always moving around without building anything meaningful and lasting in the country they reside.

I’ve done both for many years, and nothing beats knowing you have an actual home, with an awesome apartment in a beautiful neighborhood, and a security guard, a tough grandfatherly man who’s always dropping little nuggets of wisdom about what it means to have a meaningful life.

Mexican Women: The Dark Secrets They Don’t Want You Know

This is a guest post by my friend El Patrón, who’s originally from Mexico City. El Patrón was my roommate and partner-in-crime when I lived in Rio de Janeiro.

Take it away, El Patrón…

Look, I’m not going to beat around the bush. I’m Mexican, and I believe that my country is the best.

We have great weather, awesome food, friendly people who like gringos and sexy women.

Also awesome football players like Chicharito!

México es lo mejor!

I’m very proud of my country.

What else does a man need to be happy?

I’m pretty sure that God is Mexican.

But I don’t want to talk about myself in this article, I want to talk about why I think that Mexico is the best. There are many reasons, but the biggest reason is because the women are amazing.

They’re Latin, sexy, sensual and know how to have a great time. And, above all, they know how to take care of their men.

If you ask me, that’s pretty close to perfection…

Introduction

Mexico is a country rich in history. Before the Spanish conquistadors came, it was ruled by the Aztecs. They built elaborate architecture and structures.

When the Spanish came, they razed it all to the ground and build their own cathedrals, churches and other buildings. In fact, you can see some of the ruins right in the center of Mexico City below the modern buildings the Spaniards built.

Nowadays, Mexico is ruled by Mexicans and is a democratic republic. Our president is elected every five years by a popular vote.

Mexico is one of the world’s largest countries with a population of 128 million inhabitants. The population is increasing rapidly; in 1990, the population was just 80 million.

Mexico is also part of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) a free trade block that consists of Mexico, USA, and Canada.

Language

Mexico’s official language is Spanish. Just like most Spanish-speaking countries, our Spanish is infused with local slang and expressions that only exist in Mexico.

For instance, “Que pedo” can be roughly translated as “What fart” but we use it to greet each other, something like “What’s up?”

There are many other expressions that only exist in Mexico. However, they’re also understood in other Latin countries such as Colombia and Venezuela.

If you’re looking to learn Spanish, Mexico would be the perfect choice to do so. I have many gringo friends, and many of them remarked on how the lessons are cheap and the teachers are great. So, this is something you should consider.

Of course, I recommend you to speak Spanish over English. It will be much easier to express yourself to everyone, including cute women (see below).

The women

Mexican women are typical Latinas. They’re fiery, compassionate, caring and sexy. Just like pretty much any other Latina woman out there.

Mexican women love it when a man pursues them to the end. In the beginning, they may play a bit hard to get, but that’s just part of the game, but in the end, they love a man who doesn’t let anything get in the way and finally conquers the woman he desires.

This element of desire and passion exists in pretty much every telenovela that is watched all over the Latin world.

That means you can expect some games along the way depending on the level of hotness of the girl. Obviously, the hotter she is, the more games she’s going to play.

I have dated lots of women around Latin America, and I definitely think Mexican women can be some of the most difficult to seduce. I’ve had girlfriends that would play endless games until they relented and allowed me to seduce them.

If you’re a weak man who is afraid to continuously pursue a woman because of various obstacles and even rejections, you will be in for a very difficult time.

Any high quality woman will make you work for it before she lets herself be conquered.

She has to; she has many men vying for her and she needs to choose the strongest one.

Mexican men understand this perfectly. That’s why they will not stop until they get what they want.

What kind of men do women like?

Honestly, any man that’s confident and aggressive. Latin women love men who’re passionate, strong and aren’t afraid to go for what they want.

No woman likes a weak man, and Mexican women especially hate men who’re weak and indecisive.

I think that’s one of the reasons Mexican women love macho men and even jerks sometimes.

It’s not because these men act badly towards others, but because they exhibit confidence and aren’t deterred by setbacks, which is always a positive quality in life in general.

Of course, with quieter and shyer women, you need to exercise restraint and can’t be extremely aggressive. If you’re too aggressive, they might get turned off. It’s better to mix up the aggressiveness with a “nice guy” which should do the trick.

On the other side, if the woman herself is playing lots of games and is acting like a smart-ass, you should play a bit hard to get as well because that would signal that you aren’t needy and don’t really care if she likes you or not.

In my experience, nothing turns on a girl more than a man who isn’t really invested in the outcome. The one who’s thinking, “I don’t care if she rejects me — I’ll just go and pursue another woman.”

That’s how a lot of Latin guys are.

Latin guys are the greatest seducers in the world, but if the woman refuses, they smile, shrug it off and move on.

Plus, a lot of Latin guys typically date multiple women at the same time, giving them options to pursue a more serious relationship with a woman they like most.

Meeting women during the day

I read your other article about Brazilian women, and I have to say that meeting Mexican women during the day isn’t as easy as meeting Brazilian women.

In Brazil, the women are super approachable, but in Mexico, they’re a bit guarded.

Also, it will depend on your location in Mexico. Some places are a lot easier for meeting women than others.

For instance, Mexico City is easier for meeting women than a city such as Monterrey where the women are more conservative.

Oaxaca is also not a place to meet women. But, just so you know, in Southern Mexico, women are more “indigenous”; in the Northern part, they’re more European.

Where to meet women during the day

Anywhere. The street, coffee shops, cafes, restaurants, gyms, pretty much anywhere women exist.

In case you didn’t know, I love gringo women. One of my favorite places to meet them was the Central neighborhood (El Centro) in Mexico City.

I suppose it’s also a great place to meet Mexican women as well.

A couple of other neighborhoods in Mexico City that I wholeheartedly recommend: Condessa, Polanco, Park Chapultepec. If you’re looking for a more of a working-class vibe, then check out Balbuena. Just try not to go there at night.

If you see a cute woman, don’t hesitate—just approach her. You’ll definitely be glad you did.

Meeting women at night

Mexico is a place with great nightlife. In most large cities, you can find plenty of clubs, bars, lounges and just about anything to satisfy any interest and taste.

Whether you like American rock music, rap, reggaeton, salsa, cumbia, rock en Español, you will find it in cities like Mexico City, Monterrey, and others.

Mexican nightlife is the typical Latin nightlife. It’s not like the nightlife you experienced in Medellin where people are all sitting down and just talk with those they already know.

Especially in Mexico City, the nightlife venues resemble how nightlife is in American cities like New York or Chicago. There’s going to be a lot of mingling, so meeting people shouldn’t be very difficult.

Of course, some nightlife venues will be more conservative than others. There, you will find groups of friends and approaching a woman will be harder.

Don’t let any of that deter you: Mexican nightlife is a fantastic place to meet women.

Meeting women online

Although I don’t practice much online game, I know that Tinder is fairly popular plus a bunch of other online sites.

One thing I did when I traveled to other countries was “pipelining.” The way it works is that I would switch my location on one of these apps to the target city and start meeting women. Then, when I would arrive, there would be women waiting for me and ready to go out.

This cut down the time needed to go out and find these women. So, this is something that I recommend to gringos who want to visit Mexico.

If that fails, you’ll definitely meet them during the day or at night. It’s just too easy.

The gringo factor

I know you asked me to talk about whether Mexican women like gringos. I remember when we lived in Brazil we were both gringos, so the women interacted with us differently.

I think it’s the same in Mexico. Mexican guys can certainly get away with a more aggressive approach than gringos. I think foreigners everywhere have to deal with a stigma of being in the country just for the women.

I will say this, though, some guys I know are absolutely killing it with the local women. These are mostly other Latin guys like Argentinians or Brazilians who are good looking and have a great game (remember how difficult Argentinian women were in Brazil?).

Another type of guy that I see succeeding in Mexico is the quintessential Scandinavian guy: tall, slim, blonde. That sort of thing.

I know some women go crazy for these kinds of guys, but overall Mexican women can’t pass up a fellow Latin guy because of similar cultural issues and no language barriers.

Generally, the more traditional the woman, the more she’d want to date her own kind. If you’re a gringo, you should focus on women who somehow don’t fit into traditional Mexican culture. These are the outcasts that lived abroad, speak English, and are more liberal than what Mexican culture allows.

And before you tell me that non-traditional Mexican women aren’t attractive, I must stop you: there are many less traditional Mexican women that are just as amazing. In fact, I met one at an art expo and we dated for over a year.

Where to stay in Mexico

Mexico is a big country and greatly varies by the region you’re staying in. There are beach towns, valley regions, beautiful colonials towns in the mountains and everything in between. Northern Mexico is richer than Southern Mexico.

The recent violence in Mexico means it’s prudent to avoid some areas. It’s best to avoid border towns (there’s nothing much there anyway except for Tijuana, which a lot of fun).

I would say the big cities are safe and popular vacation resorts are completely safe. After all, the last thing the Mexican government would want is for other countries to boycott Mexico after a tourist gets killed in Cancun or Playa del Carmen.

OK, let’s talk about the major cities and areas. First of all, you can’t ignore Mexico City. In fact, I’m guessing that’s going to be the point of entry for many gringos.

I talked a lot about Mexico City before, but let me just reiterate: it’s awesome. It’s one of the largest cities in the world, so there are tons of things to do: from cultural stuff to restaurants to clubs to whatever else you want.

There are also tons of places to meet women. Because the city is so large, approaching women is easy since you have this anonymity feeling in the big city.

There are also tons of neighborhoods from bohemian (Condessa and Roma) to more working class such as Balbuena.

It’s a city that I wholeheartedly recommend (get an Airbnb in Condessa), meet women in the center or Park Chapultepec. Or, if you want rich women, go to Polanco.

Another city that’s worth a visit is Monterrey. It’s located in Northern Mexico. Although it’s not as exciting as Mexico City, it’s a different city with a different vibe.

The women there tend to be more conservative than in other parts of Mexico, so they require more face time before you seal the deal. But, I would say that there a lot of quality women there from good families that are looking for a great man to have a family.

When it comes to beach towns, I can recommend cities like Mazatlan and Acapulco on the Pacific Coast. Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Merida on the Caribbean coast are great for relaxing and taking it easy. I also like Oaxaca and San Cristobal de las Casas, which are beautiful historic towns.

Baja California is worth a visit, too. So, if you’re visiting Tijuana, head south and check out cities like Ensenada and Rosarita. They’re great little towns for cheap tacos and friendly people.

When to visit

Mexico’s southern location means there aren’t huge variances between seasons like in America. Mexico City has the same “spring” temperature year-round. If you want something warmer, make the one-hour trek to Cuernavaca. It’s a city located in lower altitude and is thus much warmer than the capital. That’s where a lot of rich people from Mexico City have their vacation homes.

Obviously, there are some hurricanes and what not on the Caribbean coast, but I’m not a meteorologist so I can’t really tell you when to avoid those areas.

All in all, I don’t think there’s a “preferred” time to visit Mexico. Any time is fine.

The food

Mexican food doesn’t really need any introduction, does it? Everyone has heard of tacos, taquitos, quesadillas, and ensenadas. And, err, fish tacos.

But what most people don’t know is that Mexican cuisine is much richer than just tacos. In the North, we have amazing meat called “cecina.” It’s delicious and is similar to Spain’s “jamón serrano.” I also like “adobada” and “carnitas” which are both pork, just prepared differently.

The best part about Mexican food is that it’s spicy. It can be as spicy as you want. For instance, we have this sauce called “habanero” which can make your food extremely spicy. So, if you’re not used to spicy foods, you should be careful.

Final thoughts

What can I say, Mexico is an amazing country and I recommend everyone to visit and see for themselves.

Women are beautiful, sexy, passionate and feminine. Plus, they know how to take care of their man like no other women in the world.

I have many gringo friends that visited Mexico, met a woman, and then decided to remain here. Some of them even have children. Others are planning on getting married.

The reason? They met a great woman, of course. And that woman convinced them to stay in Mexico.

One thing I can’t stress enough is the importance of speaking Spanish. You don’t need to be fluent; just being conversational is enough. If you speak Spanish, everything will be easier and simpler, and you’ll be able to connect with people on a much deeper level.

After you learn Spanish, feel free to contact me and I’ll teach you some cool Mexican slang.

Like we say in Mexico: “No seas mamon!”

Is Dropshipping A Good Business Model?

One of my first business successes was buying cell phones from one eBay seller, adding a markup and then reselling them back on eBay for a small profit.

After finding success, I began buying phones locally in my city and then selling them on eBay. After that worked, I began selling stuff that I didn’t physically have. Right after the customer placed his order, I would ship the item out from the third party store directly to the customer.

Basically, I was dropshipping before dropshipping became a buzzword.

All of this was back in 2005 before the era of the smartphones and commoditization of the market first by the iPhone and then by Android devices.

In the past 3-5 years, dropshipping has been making a lot of waves as a method for creating a business from nothing and making money relatively quickly.

In this article, I want to talk more about the different types of dropshipping, discuss the pros and cons of the business model, talk about my personal experience and close out with some final thoughts.

Introduction

When you dropship, you sell something that you don’t physically have. Then, after the customers order this item from your store, you separately fulfill the order from another supplier (or store) who then ships the product directly to your customer.

The business model is very similar to affiliate marketing; instead of selling your own product, you’re acting as a middleman who connects the customer with the store that actually has the product and then takes a cut of the transaction.

For instance, let’s say you’re selling a widget for $30. You know you can order the widget for $10 from a supplier.

When the customer orders the product, you get paid $30 minus the $10 that you paid to your supplier.

Of course, there’s also the cost of ads that must be also factored in. But, hopefully, when everything is added up, you should have a profit.

Types of different dropshipping

There are different types of dropshipping models. They vary by their business models, the type of products they’re selling and the type of customers you’re targeting.

The first type of dropshipping is the more traditional one where you’re selling high-ticket items such as furniture on your online store. Think of it as a brick-and-mortar store that joined the Internet and built a website.

In this case, your actual supplier is in America and your customers are probably there as well.

The advantage of this model is that, because you’re selling high-ticket items, you’re making a nice profit margin on each one, therefore you only need to sell a couple of items to earn a decent living.

Another advantage is that, because you have an official agreement with your supplier (you’re an authorized dealer), you’re able to deliver the products in a very timely manner (as you’ll see below, this isn’t always the case).

This is the “traditional” model of dropshipping and has been around for at least a decade, if not more.

The Shopify/Facebook Model

Around the end of 2015, a new model of dropshipping emerged that quickly gained momentum. It was called the Shopify/FB Ads model.

In this model, you’re basically taking a product from an online catalog (usually a Chinese site), and then creating Facebook Ads for it. Then, when you have a sale, you forward the customer’s information to your supplier (usually in China), who then fulfills the order and ships it out to your customer around the world.

In this case, most of the products sold are low-ticket items. This could be anywhere from $10-60 price point. Although they are items that have been sold for much more, up to around $200.

There are several pros and cons with this model. First of all, the barrier to entry is very low. Anyone can create a Shopify store$, fill it up with random products from an Aliexpress.com (or something else) catalog, create a bunch of Facebook Ads and then start selling.

The second problem with this model is that unlike in the first case when you’re dealing with a reputable company and become their authorized dealer, here, you’re dealing with some random, no-name supplier in China.

This supplier can exist one minute and be gone the next. That can be problematic when you suddenly stumble upon a great product and sell a ton of it, then you forward the customer’s orders to the supplier and pray they’ll actually ship the item out and your customer receives it in a timely matter.

Unfortunately, this happens often and the new business you started quickly goes from “cash—money” to a nightmarish situation where customers gave you money for products you don’t have and you have zero control of actually putting those products into their hands.

Imagine, you received 100 orders from customers to your online store, just before Christmas. They might order for themselves or as gifts for others.

Then, you forward all the orders to your Chinese supplier who you know nothing about.

The supplier promises to fulfill and ship the orders to your customers, but never does or screws up and messes things up.

This is actually a pretty common situation that I’ve seen happen to many people. Nightmare is the proper word to describe the experience.

Getting a fulfillment center

A solution to this dilemma is to get a fulfillment center in China or elsewhere (America).

This means that instead of sending each order you receive to a supplier one-by-one and praying they’ll ship, you hold inventory in a warehouse and then ship right out of your own stock.

This eliminates the problems of shady suppliers and missing orders. Additionally, by buying directly from the warehouse in bulk, you can get your products at a much lower price.

My team and I actually have a warehouse in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen where we store our products and then ship them out to our customers. Since we have a warehouse, we know exactly how many units we have and have complete control of the shipping and delivery to our customers.

Dropshipping and competition

One of the problems with dropshipping—especially with the low-ticket items sourced from some Chinese site—is the fact that anybody can do it.

Today, you’re selling a certain widget and making good money. Tomorrow, five new guys begin selling the same item from their stores. That would immediately affect your sales.

This is something that happened to us a few weeks ago. One of our best products was picked up by another store which then began promptly selling it.

Our sales immediately took a hit and there’s nothing we could’ve done.

This happens fairly often, so when you stumble on a great product, it’s important to scale it quickly and sell to everyone who you think might be interested.

So, if you’re a possible market of 1 million interested people, instead of selling them 5 items per day, you increase ad spend so that you’re selling 50 items per day (or more).

This way, you exhaust your market quickly before someone else shows up and steals your thunder.

Dropshipping and branding

Of course, worrying about a competitor showing up is not a stable business model. It’s not a passive income business if you can’t sleep at night because you’re afraid your sales will suddenly drop.

The solution is to build a brand. When you build a brand, you’re essentially selling an image and no longer competing on the product itself.

This means if I have a strong and widely recognizable brand, and I’m selling Widget A, and you’re a no-name store who’s also selling the same Widget A, there’s a good chance, the customer will probably buy it from me because they recognize the brand and don’t know anything about yours.

Later on, as your brand becomes stronger, you’re able to retain customers because of something called “brand loyalty”; customers will keep returning to buy new products from your store because they believe in the brand and what it stands for: solid quality, good customer experience, etc.

When you have a brand, you’re no longer selling the product itself; you’re selling everything that comes along with that brand.

The downside is that it takes some time to build up a quality brand; good brands aren’t built overnight.

Making money quickly

One of the biggest advantages of the dropshipping/ecommerce model is the fact that you can scale your sales very quickly and make a ton of money in a very short amount of time.

The reason for this is because you’re paying for customers in the first place (advertising) instead of getting them via organic traffic (free) that you get from search engines.

Once you realize you have a great product, all you have to do is increase the budget on your ads and more people will begin seeing your add. That should typically lead to more sales.

This is how a lot of people are able to make a lot of money relatively quickly, something that’s not possible via other means.

I’ve had situations where I was making something like $50 per day and, then once I realized the product is selling well, I was able to scale it to $500 per day in just a span of two days.

I know many others were making only $100 per day and then suddenly started to make $1,000 per day.

Facebook Ads challenges

On paper, dropshipping from China sounds pretty easy and straightforward.

All you have to do is find a great product, make ads for it, and then start waiting for sales to pour in.

However, one of the challenges with this model is actually in the part where you’re acquiring customers: Facebook Ads.

Facebook Ads, while can be very effective, have a steep learning curve that takes a while to get going. This is the area that creates the most confusion for people because there’s no set pattern of how things should work.

In fact, many experienced people have called the system “random.” Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

I can definitely relate. In my experience, the notion of what works varies from one week to the next, or sometimes even from one day to the next.

One week you can have absolutely amazing sales and then the next week suddenly nothing seems to be working. There are tons of different communities that discuss Facebook Ads and everyone experiences the same thing.

I once remember making $500/day pretty consistently for about two weeks. Then, Mother’s Day came along. On that day, I made like fifty bucks.

Thinking that something was wrong, I checked to make sure everything was working. There were no issues.

The next day things gradually began returning back to normal. This randomness is something you just have to get used to.

One option is to buy ads elsewhere. Many people switch over to Google Shopping network and notice a more stable return on their revenue.

But, Facebook Ads still has an important place. There are over 2B active monthly users and many of these people simply aren’t searching for specific products on Google.

Thus, whether you hate it or love it, Facebook Ads is still very lucrative for any kind of business, especially if you’re selling products that aren’t available elsewhere.

My experience with dropshipping

I started a new store in January of this year.

Initially, I was just experimenting, trying to sell different products, playing with Facebook Ads and just getting familiar with how all the pieces work.

After a few iterations and playing with different products, I was able to find a product saw immediate success and scale it fairly quickly.

I started making about $50/day, and that quickly went to $500/day. That continued until at some point were making approximately $1,000 per day.

Eventually, I added new products to the initial store. Later on, we built two more stores to cater to a different audience.

My plan is to build a couple of new stores in the next several weeks in anticipation of the end-of-year demand, which is higher than usual.

Dealing with customers

Dropshipping also exposes you to a whole array of problems, not least of which are angry or unsatisfied customers.

Unlike in affiliate marketing where you’re simply a middleman who sends traffic to an offer and aren’t responsible for any customer support because the vendor is, in dropshipping you’re the vendor and are wholly responsible for making sure the customer is happy and taken care of.

That means if the customer isn’t happy with the product they’ve received—for whatever reason—it’s your job to make it right.

If you don’t reply to their emails, all they have to do is make one call to their credit card company and the friendly representative will immediately return them the money “pending an investigation.” (Most of these investigations are won by the customer anyway).

Fortunately, most customers are reasonable (at least in my experience), it’s not difficult to work something out if it means a quick refund or an exchange.

Moreover, if you don’t want to deal with customers yourself, you can hire a virtual assistant to do that for you.

Dropshipping is not sexy

One of the biggest problems with dropshipping and e-commerce, in general, is that it’s not a very sexy business model.

I don’t know many people who would call selling furniture or mattresses online as something they’re extremely passionate about.

I know I wouldn’t.

Even, now, in one of our stores, we’re selling small niche products for a very passionate audience.

This is definitely more interesting than selling chairs or tables, but I can’t say that I’m thrilled about selling random products from China.

Of course, it’s a lot sexier to start a blog and write about your thoughts and experiences of living abroad or dating exotic women than selling random widgets and fulfilling orders.

Nevertheless, what dropshipping is, is a business in the purest form. With a blog, you need to wait years and years before you even see a minuscule return on investment (99% of bloggers don’t make any money), but when you start an online store, you’re able to make money immediately.

That’s why many bloggers I know have a blog where they philosophize about life and their place in it and a separate business where they make money and which pays the bills.

If you ask me, I believe that money is money and profit is profit. If you’re able to build something that generates you an income, then who really cares if it’s boring or not—provided it’s at least faintly connected to your interests.

And even if not, you can always outsource the menial work and then sit back and collect the profits.

Final thoughts

So, there you have it. Hope you enjoyed the 30,000-foot view of what dropshipping is, how it works, its main challenges, my own experiences and whether it’s for you or not.

I don’t know about you, but I was initially very skeptical of the whole model. I was more interested in writing about my experiences and thoughts and getting to know people around the world than selling random products in some store.

Many of you are probably thinking along the same lines.

Nevertheless, I now view it differently. As an entrepreneur, I consider any business that makes money as a business that’s worth pursuing, regardless if it’s considered “sexy” or not.

Like my mentor once said, money is money.

What’s Working For Making Money Online In 2018 And Beyond

It’s hard to believe that 2018 is soon coming to a close and people are starting to think about what they’re going to do for New Year’s. I still vividly remember ushering in the 2018 and thinking about my plans for the year.

My main goal for this year was to try new things and expand my business empire. It’s been a year full of challenges and many ups and downs. Fortunately, I also gained experience in a bunch of new areas that I look forward to expanding and growing in the months and years ahead.

E-Commerce

The big push this year was undoubtedly ecommerce. Many of you may not know this, but ecommerce was one of my first online biz successes. Back in 2004-5, I used to hustle on eBay, selling and reselling various electronic products before opening up my online store and sourcing products directly from China.

The beautiful thing about ecommerce is that it’s a pure money-making play. Unlike a blog where you write, write, write and then, one day, hope and pray to somehow monetize it, ecommerce is about making money from day one. There’s a product, a sales page, a checkout page and, finally, my favorite part of all: the credit card input form.

In this way, you have a business from the very first day and a business is only as good as how much money it’s bringing into your pocket. If you don’t know how to sell, you need to do something else or close up shop. I really like this aspect because it forces you to be super focused. Customers either like your product or not. You either have a business or you don’t. There’s no in between.

My team and I are currently running 3 ecommerce stores. A new one is being launched next week, while another one should up and running sometime in October. They’re all selling products in different areas, serving different market segments and audiences.

Timing is key. October marks the start of Q4 (Quarter 4) which is the most profitable time of the year. Q4 includes huge shopping days such as Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Christmas. It’s essentially a period where people are buying everything and anything in sight, either for themselves or as gifts for others.

Ecommerce forced me to understand many interesting things about selling physical products such as sourcing in China, fulfillment of orders, worldwide shipping and even a bit about manufacturing your own products, basically all the behind-the-scenes stuff you don’t even think about—although we’re not yet doing the last one.

Facebook Ads

The other thing I dove into head first at the beginning of the year was Facebook Ads. Many years ago, I used to buy Google AdWords to promote various products and services, so I’ve gotten fairly proficient at it. FB Ads, however, is an entirely different animal.

Advertising on Facebook is extremely powerful because FB knows so much about their users (usually even more than you know about yourself), that it can accurately predict whether the person it’ll show your ad will buy your product or not. As a result of such a powerful algorithm, it’s very easy to quickly see if the product or service you’re promoting will be successful.

The downside of FB Ads is that the platform itself is extremely complex. People who’ve been doing online advertising for decades believe that FB is the most complex advertising system out there right now (or ever was). It’s certainly not for a faint of heart. After several months of experimenting with different techniques (and losing a ton of money), I finally figured out a strategy that works predictably well for what I’m trying to do and makes me money while I sleep.

FB Ads has a rather steep learning curve and that’s why a lot of people start and quit soon after. Still, it’s an extremely powerful tool to reach users around the world and pitch your products/services. Even if your initial campaign or business fails, you can turn around and sell something else on the platform.

In the next several months, my team will be increasing our ad spent in anticipation for the year’s most profitable time, Q4.

Niche sites

While I’ve been building and running different blogs for many years—even before this one—I never took blogging seriously before Maverick Traveler (and even that is more of a hobby instead of a real business). However, this year I decided that I will take blogging more seriously. How? By becoming laser focused and delivering lots of value.

Back in 2016 and 2017, I experimented with building various sites in different topics geared for very specific audiences. Somewhere along the line, I lost interest in running them and they eventually languished and mostly died.

So, I took the lessons from that experience and began building a couple of more laser-targeted sites earlier this year. A few of them are up and running and others are being launched very soon. This time, however, they’re being built around areas of topics I’m super passionate about so hopefully I’ll have the motivation to run them for the foreseeable future.

Brands

The biggest problem with starting an ecommerce business—and where blogs have an upper hand—is in branding. I’ll be honest, the ecommerce stores we’re now running aren’t exactly built around a brand. They’re just products that we’re sourcing from China, putting them into our own warehouse and shipping them all over the world. Thus, it’s very easy for a competitor to come in and sell exactly what we’re selling while undercutting us in price.

The solution is branding. When you create a brand, you’re essentially selling an image. Coca-Cola may sell a black fizzy sugary drink that anyone can make, but there’s a reason it’s a multi-billionaire dollar company and it will be next to impossible for someone else make a similar drink and steal their sales. Their brand is just too strong.

In the upcoming months, the focus will be on creating stronger brands around everything we do, especially in areas where substitute products exist, such as ecommerce.

This means hiring professional photographers, videographers, and designers to create unique experiences for our products and present them in ways that truly connect with our audiences. Since others aren’t doing that, we’ll create a stronger brand and make more money.

Branding is a long-term play that won’t pay dividends immediately but should increase in value in the months and years ahead.

Information products

Thanks to assets that I’ve been building such as niche sites, ecommerce, and other properties, I have access to an audience with specific interests. That means creating more products and services that solve the audience’s problems.

Information products can be lucrative as soon as you know who your audience is and what problems they’re trying to solve. You attract the audience by delivering lots and lots of value, and then you monetize some of that value by creating products that go above and beyond what’s already available out there.

If someone has a specific problem to solve and you have the experience and/or the knowledge to solve that problem for them, they won’t hesitate to pay you for the solution, if it means saving a lot of pain and time in solving it themselves.

I’m currently planning to launch new informational products targeted to the niche sites’ audience as well as the buyers who bought products in our ecom stores.

Maverick Traveler

Last, but not least, there’s the site you’re reading now: Maverick Traveler. To be honest, this site is more of a hobby of mine and a way to give back by explaining what I learned and show you what worked or didn’t. It’s also a way for me to share my living abroad experience to show you how such a lifestyle is possible.

While I haven’t been writing much during the summer, my goal is to put out more content, most consistently. New content will be primarily in two categories: making money and travel/living abroad. I look forward to keeping you updated on my journey in both areas.

Lessons learned

This was the first year when I slowly started building a team. I have a partner on a certain piece of the ecommerce business, and he’s been pushing me to delegate a lot of what we’re doing and outsource it.

Call me a micromanager, but I’ve always been much more comfortable doing everything myself or at least controlling what everyone else is doing at all times. So, delegating and hiring people to do the important things have been challenging to say the least. This is something I need to become comfortable with in order to scale the business.

“Everything works”

When I started my online biz journey many years ago, I only stuck to the business areas and techniques that I was familiar with. I initially thought that I was capable of only making certain things work, and would automatically fail at others.

A few years ago, I realized that my thinking was incorrect. There are a lot of different techniques and methods of making the Internet spit out cold hard Benjamins, and every method and technique should have its place in your arsenal.

The point is that everything works. Everything has its place. Everything. Even if you’re only good at blogging, there’s no reason to ignore ecommerce which is seriously blowing up right now. Even if you’re an ecommerce king, there’s no reason not spin up a couple of (or a few dozen) of niche sites and enjoy free traffic from Google.

If your customers out there, you should find a way to reach them one way or another.

From now on, I’ll be trying anything and everything that even has even the slightest chance of success.

After all, if there’s one maxim I continue to live by, it’s that for all my successes and failures, one thing I still don’t know is how to create the former without the latter. 2019 is shaping up to be an interesting year.

11 Pros And Cons Of Eastern Europe vs. Latin America

Dateline: Kiev, Ukraine

I’ve now spent a combined 10 years living in both Latin America and Eastern Europe. I initially spent about five years living all over Latin America in countries like Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, and Argentina. Then, I arrived in Eastern Europe, where I lived for about six years now on and off. I started out in Lithuania, where I spent about two years, followed by Ukraine where I have spent the last four.

Eastern Europe is one of my favorite regions of the world. Obviously, I’m a bit biased because I’m an Eastern European myself, born in the beautiful Odessa, Ukraine.

But lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about Latin America. I miss the region a lot. I miss its variety of music, its colorful food, the warm and super friendly people and even its great year-round weather.

Just the other day, in one of the big parks here in Kiev, Ukraine, they had a Latin night where people were dancing and enjoying Latin music such as salsa, bachata, merengue, and cumbia.

What both regions have in common is that they’re firmly outside the West. That makes them not only more affordable but much more enjoyable as well.

Nevertheless, there are crucial differences as well that you must take into account before making your decision.

The Pros of Eastern Europe 

Eastern Europe is much safer

Latin America varies from being rather dangerous and unpredictable (Rio de Janeiro) to relatively safe and predictable (Medellin, Bogota). Rio de Janeiro is one of those cities where anything and everything can happen to you in an instant.

When I lived there, many of my friends were robbed in broad daylight while they were just minding their business and going about their day.

Even the relatively normal cities like Mexico City and Buenos Aires aren’t entirely safe. Mexico City isn’t as dangerous as Rio de Janeiro, but it’s nowhere near a completely safe city. Buenos Aires, on the other hand, has gotten much more dangerous over the last several years.

In Eastern Europe, you never experience this sort of unpredictability. Cities like Kiev, Moscow, Minsk, and Vilnius, just to name a few, are completely safe to walk around them during the day and night—provided you use common sense and stick to well-lit streets in good neighborhoods.

Eastern Europe is cheaper

When I initially moved to Latin America, I thought I had it good. I remember my $10 lunches and my $15 dinners in Rio de Janeiro. I also remember renting a decent apartment for $750/mo in the famous Copacabana neighborhood a few blocks away from the famous beach of the same name.

That sure was a hell of a lot cheaper than my overpriced life in San Francisco, which I had just escaped a few months before.

Little did I know that Latin America was still relatively expensive and that a much cheaper lifestyle awaited me years down the road.

When I moved to Lithuania, I rented a decent apartment in the capital of Vilnius for only $350/mo. Correspondingly, my expenses were also half of what they were in Latin America.

Here in Kiev, I rent a great apartment for a bit more than that, but still enjoy amazing $3-4 lunches and $8 dinners. 

Of course, comparing Eastern European cities to a city like Rio de Janeiro, which is a relatively expensive city, isn’t exactly fair, but even when I lived in Buenos Aires, Argentina, my expenses were still higher there than what I’m currently spending here in Eastern Europe.

Eastern Europe is a little more organized

This is probably close, but Eastern Europe is still Europe, so it’s slightly easier to get things done when it comes to dealing with businesses and government. Things like residencies and various permits are easier and more straightforward than in places like Argentina and Brazil.

Brazil is a bureaucratic nightmare. There’s always a “jeito” or a specific way of getting things done and it’s never by the book or law. Other Latin American countries—Chile being the notable exception—work the same way. 

Of course, Eastern Europe is far from having the efficiency of Denmark or Norway, but it’s still more organized than Latin America.

Eastern Europe is culturally and historically richer

Eastern Europe is home to such talented writers like Leo Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Bulgakov just to name a few. This region also endured several wars and close to a century of communism. Walking around central Kiev, Moscow or St. Petersburg and being surrounded by beautiful architecture, you can’t deny that you’re somewhere very special. There are tons of cultural stuff that one can do: visit world-class theaters, watch plays, enjoy a magnificent opera or ballet.

Of course, Latin America has its own history and the beauty of, say, Mexico City’s downtown gives any other city a run for its cultural money. Still, it’s hard to deny that cities like Moscow or St. Petersburg are “grander” than pretty much any Latin American city. They just can’t compare. (If you haven’t been to St. Petersburg, you haven’t been to Europe. That city makes all the other capitals seem like provincial villages).

The pros of Latin America

Latin America has better food

This is a big one. Eastern Europe—and I’m speaking for the entire region composed of many different countries—has very bland food. It’s all the same. There’s meat, potatoes, various soups consisting of meat and potatoes and a bunch of other meals consisting of meat and potatoes. Every country has its own combination of the above that it calls its “native cuisine.”

On the other hand, Latin America has an entire array of different and exotic foods. From Mexico to Colombia, from Argentina to Brazil, there’s never a dull moment when it comes to exciting every single one of your taste buds.

From Mexico’s tacos to Brazilian “churrascaria” to Buenos Aires’ amazing steaks, there’s bound to be a meal that will please just about anyone, even the pickiest eaters.

Latin America’s languages are easier to learn

Latin America’s two main languages are Spanish and Portuguese, not only are these languages closely related to each other, but they’re also one of the easiest languages to learn out there. 

Eastern European languages, by contrast, are much harder. For example, Russian, according to many experts, is one of the hardest languages in the world to learn. So are Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian. 

If you’re not gifted with languages or just want an easier language to pick up, you’re much better off going to Latin America.

Latin America has much better weather

When it comes to weather, Latin America simply rocks. You decide what kind of weather you want. Do you want hot tropical weather? Do you want eternal spring weather? Or do you want a mix of the two?

The only thing you can’t have is snow. Which, if you ask me, is perfectly fine.

When I lived in Medellin, I enjoyed spring weather year round, every single goddamn day. It was unreal to never have to worry about wearing the right clothes because it was always 25 degrees.

On the other hand, if you’re thinking about moving to Eastern Europe, you better enjoy the snow. You’re going to be seeing lots of it. While southern coastal cities don’t have unbearable freezing temperatures, once you go up to Kiev and above, things get very cold quick. Moreover, the winter days become super short and cloudy which explains why northern countries such as Lithuania lead the world in suicides. (I lived there for two years, and I still don’t know how I managed to get through the winters unscathed).

Latin America has much better beaches

I suppose this is a corollary to the previous point, but if you love to relax, there are no beaches like Brazil’s Atlantic Ocean shores or even better—the Caribbean coast of Colombia and Venezuela (and even the Caribbean islands), which I consider to be one of the best beaches in the world.

Geographically, Eastern Europe doesn’t really have many great beaches except those by the Black Sea, including the beautiful Odessa, Ukraine, as well as other beach destinations in Romania and Bulgaria.

Most Eastern Europeans choose to fly to places like Turkey and Egypt instead (plus, of course, Southern Europe). 

Latin Americans are much friendlier

When I lived in Rio de Janeiro, I always had a feeling that I can pretty much stop anyone and begin a conversation with them. That was how friendly the culture was.

Obviously, Rio de Janeiro is definitely friendlier than other Latin American cities, but, as a whole, Latin America, is much friendlier than Eastern Europe.

There’s no city in Eastern Europe where you could be walking on the street and readily strike a conversation with anyone else. Never. That’s just not going to happen. People will think you’re weird and strange. They might even take it the wrong way.

Generally, it’s much harder to connect with people and befriend them in Eastern Europe than in Latin America.

Latin American women are more sensual

I suppose this is up for debate, but I believe that Latin American women are more sensual than their Eastern European counterparts. Of course, this is nothing to take away from EE women, which are stunningly beautiful. 

Latin American women are also friendlier and more open than their EE counterparts.

Latin America is closer to the USA 

I know most of my readers hail from the great USA, and obviously living in a place like Medellin, Colombia with its several-hour-flight from Texas is ideal for someone with family or friends back home. Not to mention there’s not much of a time zone difference between the entire continent and USA/Canada.

Since I have family in New York City, I dread every time I have to fly back and endure a 10-hour flight from Ukraine. Moreover, there’s also an insidious pain of adjusting to the new time zone (it’s more difficult flying to Ukraine, though).

If you don’t need to be in the US often, then this is generally not a problem.

Final thoughts

So, there you have it. While Latin America wins on points, both of these regions are so different from each other that deciding where to go depends on what’s more important to you and your lifestyle.

How To Negotiate An Airbnb Discount

I vividly remember when I had just moved to Brazil and spent the first week or so walking around different buildings and asking the doormen in my broken Portuguese whether there were any vacancies.

Ah, the good old days.

Airbnb fixed that annoying problem for the most part. I’ve used it exclusively for booking short-term stays as well as long-term stays ranging anywhere from a weekend to several months all over the world.

One problem with Airbnb is that since it’s so widely accessible, the prices of the listings are typically higher than one can get by going straight to the owner or by booking through local sites. Plus, there’s the hefty Airbnb commission on top of that’s usually passed over to you.

The flip side is that because the prices on Airbnb are so inflated, that means there’s a lot of room discounts, especially for longer stays.

Here’s how you negotiate an even bigger Airbnb discount.

Contact the owner

Don’t book the accommodation from the get-go. First, contact the owner and ask them if the accommodation is available for a week on your desired dates.

If the owner responds to the affirmative, follow up by asking if they’re willing to give you a discount for a week’s stay.

Mention that you have an impeccable profile with excellent reviews and that there was never a problem with any of your previous stays (your profile should have great reviews from other hosts).

At this point, the owner can send you something that’s called a “Special offer.” This will include a special price for the specific dates you asked for. Once he sends you the special offer, the dates you selected become unavailable to others and you have 24 hours to accept this offer before the apartment goes back on the market.

Ask for an even bigger discount

It doesn’t really matter what kind of discount you received. But if the owner is comfortable offering you a small (10-15%) discount for a week-long stay, he or she should be able to offer you a higher discount for a longer stay.

Wait until the next day before replying and then send them another message. Tell them that circumstances have changed and that you’ll be able to stay up to a month (or longer). See if you’re willing to give you an even better discount for a month stay.

A month may not be a long time, but in Airbnb world, it’s indeed a very long time. You should typically expect to receive a minimum of 25% discount for a month-long stay.

Again, stress that you have an impeccable record and that there’s not going to be any problems in the apartment.

Strategy B

There are several issues with the strategy outlined above. First of all, you need to make sure you like the apartment in order to stay there an entire month. Sometimes it’s hard to book an apartment for an entire month sight unseen.

In that case, what I typically do is reserve for a week using normal rates (or with a slight discount). After I had a chance to live in the apartment for a week or so, I then ask for a special discount for an entire month.

At this point, the owner knows me, they know that I’m legit, and they know that I’m not going to trash the apartment. Thus, they’re going to be more open to giving me a discount.

Paying in cash

Airbnb charges a hefty fee for its service (12%). However, as soon as you book the apartment, you can access the owner directly and, if you’d like, negotiate rent in cash for future bookings.

First, doing this is against Airbnb’s terms. Moreover, I wouldn’t generally recommend doing it because once the apartment owner receives your money, they can do whatever they want, including evicting you from the apartment, especially in countries where the laws aren’t exactly strong like in Eastern Europe or even parts in Latin America.

Even with the discount, I would still pay through the Airbnb system for the peace of mind of knowing that at least you have some recourse if things don’t go according to plans.

Booking for longer than one month

If the owner isn’t flexible in giving you a discount, there’s the option of booking for stays longer than a month. That could be anywhere from 1.5 months (6 weeks) to 2 months or so.

Of course, this is provided that you’ve seen the apartment first and you’re comfortable staying there for a longer period of time.

However, if that’s not an option, only book for longer stays sight unseen if the apartment has many reviews and all of them are positive.

Examples of discounts I’ve received

In Ukraine, I inquired about a nice apartment that was listed for $25 per day. That comes out to roughly $750 per month for the apartment. I asked for a special rate for the month and the owner immediately quoted me a rate of $20/day ($600/month). I eventually talked him down to $500/mo.

In Odessa, during the high season, I was able to negotiate an apartment that was listed for $700/mo down to $550/mo by mentioned that I’m ready to book it for an entire month. The owner knew they would get all the money upfront so they readily agreed.

When I spent a week in Bangkok last year, I was able to negotiate a daily rate of $35 down to $25, giving me a savings of $70. Not much, but every buck adds up.

Basically, I always try to negotiate everywhere I stay.

Final thoughts

Airbnb is certainly far from the cheapest way to book long-term accommodation. But because it’s so widespread pretty much around the world, you’d foolish to ignore it completely.

If there’s one point that I want to drive home, is the fact that you should always ask for a discount when booking on Airbnb. Even if you feel the price being offered is already justifiable. It’s in the owner’s best interest to rent out the whole thing for a month to a great tenant with great reviews because that means they’ll get money upfront and don’t need to check-in, clean up and then check-out many tenants over the period of the month.

Additionally, don’t be afraid to haggle a bit for a lower discount if you feel the discount (special offer) you received isn’t exactly fair for the period of time you’re proposing.

Ukraine: The Ultimate Guide For Tourists, Expats And Digital Nomads

If you’d asked me five years ago, if I would move to some ex-Soviet Union country after living in some incredible and exotic countries (e.g., Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Thailand, Indonesia, just to name a few), I would’ve laughed in your face.

But, yet, here I am, writing this from Kiev, Ukraine, one of my favorite cities on the planet in a country that I’ve gradually made my home over the past several years.

Of course, I may be a bit biased because I was born here and speak Russian fluently. But I don’t think that’s the defining factor in my decision: I doubt I would live in a country like Lithuania, Moldova or Kazakhstan even if I was born in those countries and spoke their respective language. There’s something special about this country that goes beyond even that.

My return to the country was gradual, kind of like dipping toes in a pool before diving in. In 2011, I crossed the border from Poland into Ukraine for the first time after spending more than twenty years living abroad. I spent about three weeks in Kiev and Odessa before flying back to America.

Then, an interesting pattern emerged: I returned again in 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017, and have spent most of this year, 2018, living and traveling around this country.

At this point, Ukraine is easily the country where I’ve spent the most amount of time out of more than 85 countries that I visited in the last 15 years.

Today, I want to talk about what makes Ukraine special and whether it’s a place you should put on your radar as well.

Introduction

When most people think about Ukraine, they think of crumbling architecture, unshaven Eastern European men wearing Adidas pants and drinking vodka, corrupt politicians and freezing winters. 

There’s some truth to all of that (especially the part of about freezing winters), but the reality is that over the past several years, Ukraine has become a very livable country, so much so that I prefer it over any other in Europe and elsewhere.

Flying in

If you’re flying in from abroad, chances are your first point of contact will be Kiev’s Boryspil International Airport. This is the main international airport and is located roughly 45 mins from the city center.

In order to get to the city center, you have two options. The first option is an airport bus ($2) that goes to either a metro station or the main train station or a taxi ($12-15) which goes straight to your destination.

If you are short on cash but still prefer the convenience of a taxi, a good option is to take the airport bus to the main train station and then take the taxi to your final destination.

Kiev has another airport: Zhulyani. It’s much closer to the city center; only about 20-25 mins by car. It’s also smaller and mostly serves domestic routes as well as select international routes.

Mobile SIM Cards

The first order of business after landing and going through passport control is buying a local SIM card. For that, you need an unlocked phone.

If you bought your phone outright from the manufacturer (without the carrier subsidy), chances are that it’s already unlocked. But to make sure, you should check with your carrier.

Having a Ukrainian SIM card will grant you a Ukrainian number, for easy communication with others throughout the country. Most importantly, however, you will have a cheap data plan everywhere you go.

There are three main providers in Ukraine: Kievstar, Vodaphone and Lifecell.

Kievstar 

This is the largest provider and covers the majority of the country. It’s also the most expensive provider.

Vodaphone

The next popular mobile company. Before the whole Russian/Ukrainian conflict, it was called MTS.

Lifecell

Finally, there’s Lifecell (formerly called “life;)”), a mobile company wholly owned by Turkcell, a Turkish mobile operator.

4G/LTE coverage

In the summer of 2018, Ukraine’s mobile providers finally unveiled the 4G/LTE network. This made it possible to get speeds up to 50-70Mbps in the major cities.

As of this writing, my current plan costs me 90 UAH ($3.25)/month, and I get unlimited 3G/4G connectivity.

My mobile plan

When I first began living in Ukraine, I signed up with Kievstar since it was the biggest operator with the best coverage in the country.

Several years later, I switched over to Vodaphone mainly because it’s slightly cheaper than Kievstar and provides enough coverage for my needs. (I mostly live in big cities and don’t need coverage in smaller towns and villages.)

Budget in Ukraine

Here’s a rough outline of how much certain things cost in Ukraine. Prices are based on an exchange rate of $1 to 28 UAH. (To get the prices in dollars, divide the prices below by 28.)

The following prices are for Kiev. They will be slightly lower in other cities and even lower in smaller towns and villages.

Accommodation

Decent Apartment not in the center: 10,000-13,000 UAH

Decent Apartment in the center: 15,000-16,000 UAH

Really nice apartment in the center: 17,000-20,000 UAH

Gym

Regular gym / daily pass: 100 UAH

Regular gym / monthly pass: 600 UAH

Nice gym / daily pass: 250 UAH

Nice gym / monthly pass: 1400 UAH

Food

Lunch (Business; 2-3 courses): 80-150 UAH

Lunch (regular): 120-180 UAH

Fancy lunch: 250 UAH

Dinner (self-service restaurant): 80-150 UAH

Dinner (regular): 150-250 UAH

Dinner in a nice restaurant: 350-450 UAH

Drinks

One glass of wine (150 ml): 60-80 UAH

Beer (0.3 L): 50 UAH

Beer (0.5 L): 75 UAH

Transportation

Metro: 8 UAH

Bus: 8 UAH

Taxi (15 min): 80-100 UAH

Taxi (30 min): 200-250 UAH

Where to go

Ukraine is a huge country—the second largest in Europe by size (after Russia)—and is roughly divided into four parts: Central (including the capital, Kiev), Eastern Ukraine, Western Ukraine, and Southern Ukraine.

Each region is fairly different from the other. The people talk differently, they act differently and they even look different. The cities themselves are also fairly different ranging from Central European-inspired Lviv in the West to the more Soviet-style Dnipro and Donetsk in the East.

Below, I will cover each part in greater detail.

Central Ukraine / Kiev

Kiev is Ukraine’s capital and the biggest city. In my opinion, it’s also the best city in Ukraine to live and visit. It’s friendlier, has more culture and is more aesthetically pleasing than pretty much any other city in the country.

There are lots of things to do in Kiev. There’s a huge array of restaurants, coffee shops, supermarkets, gyms and whatever else you may need. There are also tons of cultural things to do such as theaters, opera houses replete with great performances to attend.

Eastern Ukraine

Eastern Ukraine includes the area of the country east of the Dnepr river. This includes the major cities such as Lugansk, Donetsk, Dnipro, and Zaporozhye.

After the Russian/Ukrainian conflict, both Lugansk and Donetsk (including part of their respective provinces) came under the rebel control and are, thus, difficult to access from Ukraine. At this point, travel it is not advised.

Recently, I spent two months living in Dnipro, Ukraine’s third largest city. Dnipro is a much more “raw” city than Kiev. While it has its share of restaurants and coffee shops, it lacks the “cultural touch” and sophistication of Kiev.

Just to the south of Dnipro, there’s Zaporozhye, an industrial city with reportedly one of the longest streets in Europe. It’s called “Lenin’s Street” and it basically runs across the entire city and then some. While it’s a nice landmark (sort of), one wide and long street decidedly gives the city an “uncozy” feeling that mostly characterizes the Eastern region.

Southern Ukraine

Southern Ukraine is all about sun and sand, at least in the summer. That’s where you’ll find the only city you need to know: Odessa, the premier summer destination not only in Ukraine but across most of Eastern Europe.

Odessa isn’t only my hometown, but it’s also a fairly picturesque and beautiful city worthy of any postcard. There’s the famous opera theater, the cute downtown with cobblestone streets and great beaches.

Western Ukraine

The West of the country comprises of cities such as Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk, and Chernivtsi.

In many ways, western Ukraine feels more similar to countries like Poland, Hungary, and Austria. Lviv and Ivano-Frankivsk look like they belong in neighboring Poland or Slovakia instead of Ukraine. Part of that is because, before WWII, this region was part of the neighboring Austria-Hungary empire.

The largest city in the region, Lviv, is especially a great place to visit in the winter. It’s cozy, has great restaurants, cool coffee shops, and is much cheaper than other large Ukrainian cities.

When to go

Although Ukraine, like the rest of Europe, has four normal seasons, I like to think it’s mainly two seasons: hot summer and freezing winters.

Ukraine’s spring starts around the beginning of May. It’s not uncommon for it to get very hot in just a couple of weeks.

Summer lasts from the beginning of June to around the beginning of September. In the first or second week of September, temperatures start to gradually drop. By October, it’s already fairly cold. November may witness the first snowfall.

Since this is Eastern Europe, winters can get uncomfortably cold. It’s also not uncommon to have temperatures drop to as low as -25 C (-13 F) in January or February, the latter being the coldest month of the year.

It’s also very possible to see lots of snow even as late as in March.

In my opinion, the best time to visit Ukraine is either in the spring or fall. This is when the weather is the most comfortable and it’s not too hot or cold. Another option is to visit in the summer, which does get hot but not uncomfortably so.

Summers are a great time to visit the coastal city of Odessa, with its beaches and beach clubs.

Unless, for some strange reason, you like cold weather and want to walk around in the snow, avoid visiting the region from November to March. 

Moreover, winters can be especially brutal because not only you have cloudy days and snow, but you’re also surrounded by crumbling Soviet architecture, making the whole experience super depressing.

How to rent accommodation

Depending on how long you’re visiting Ukraine, there are several ways of renting accommodation. In this section, I will cover the best ways to rent a pad depending on your needs.

Short term

If you’re a tourist who’s coming to Ukraine for a short visit (a week or so), the best way to rent accommodation is via Airbnb. Although the prices there are generally more expensive than sites tailored specifically to locals, the ease of use and reputation features of the site is worth it. I’ve used Airbnb many times to book accommodation in Ukraine and abroad.

Another way to rent short-term rentals is via local sites. This requires knowing Russian or Ukrainian and being able to trust the pictures displayed to be a true representation of the apartment. I would only advice this method if you have a local friend who can help you. Otherwise, it’s too easy to get burned when the apartment you reserve is the difference from the actual apartment.

Long term

For long-term bookings (a month or more), Airbnb is still a great option because many hosts offer steep discounts if you book for at least a month.

An even better way is to go directly to the source and rent an apartment from an owner instead. One of the biggest sites for doing just that is olx.ua, which is sort of a Ukrainian craigslist, where people buy/sell/rent anything from used jeans to luxury apartments.

Rental scams

Like I already mentioned, be careful with listings that show amazing pictures but have a relatively low price. These listings can be copied from other apartment rental sites around the web and are used to lure people to send a “deposit” to secure an apartment. Once the money is sent, it’s never seen again.

Beware of any third party services that promise you to “find” an apartment in exchange for money upfront. I’ve heard stories of people taking such money and never returning it.

Where to buy stuff

Gone are the days of dark and confusing Soviet Union-era “magazinchiki” (магазиньчики). Today, shopping in Ukraine is no different than shopping in any other Western country.

Ukraine is now graced with modern supermarkets that may easily rival your Western country.

I would categorize shopping to three levels of shopping stores in the country.

The street stores/kiosks

These are small shops that are located on the actual street. They typically sell things like water, cigarettes, various snacks, and even sometimes things like bread and cheese.

ATB, Furshet, Varus, Billa

At the next level of supermarkets, we have chains like ATB, Furshet, and Varus (popular in Eastern Ukraine). 

These are mostly located in more “working class” neighborhoods and are cheaper than other stores.

These would be similar to stores such as Stop & Shop in New York City.

Silpo

One of my first experience shopping in Ukraine was “Silpo” (written as Сильпо). It’s one of the biggest chains in Ukraine and is located across the country.

Silpo is a bit more expensive than the previous stores, but it carries higher quality goods, more selection and attracts a more upscale crowd.

It’s similar to something like Safeway in California.

Le Silpo

Last but not least, there’s “Le Silpo,” Silpo’s luxury brand. There are only four Le Silpo’s around the country in the following cities: Kiev, Dnepr, Odessa, and Kharkov. Each city has only one Le Silpo, typically located in an upscale area of the city.

Not trying to sound like some snob, but there’s definitely a noticeable difference in the service that’s offered in “Le Silpo” vs regular Silpo, and the other stores.

Le Silpo can be compared to Whole Foods Market in America.

Ukrainian culture

If this is your first time visiting Ukraine (or Eastern Europe), then get ready to experience a mild form of culture shock. Although Ukraine has changed drastically over the years (for better), Ukraine is still quintessentially Eastern Europe.

For starters, that means don’t expect much of hand-holding. That includes things like customer service in stores or restaurants. Don’t expect random smiles from people you may not know (e.g., in stores, restaurants, coffee shops).

For more information and examples, check out my article about living in Russia several years ago. I would characterize Ukrainian mentality very similar to Russian mentality described in that article.

I will admit, however, that Ukraine has come a long way over the years. In the eight years that I’ve been visiting and living in the country, customer service and general ambiance have gradually improved. I’ve noticed this mostly in Kiev, but other cities have picked up too.

Language in Ukraine

Ukraine has only one official language: Ukrainian. The reality, however, is a bit complicated. Most of the country actually speaks Russian. While Ukrainian is the official language everywhere (government offices, police, etc), Russian is the main language of communication in every city south and east of Kiev (including Kiev): Poltava, Dnipro, Odessa, Zaporozhye, Mariupol, Luhansk and Donetsk.

In the capital of Kiev, I hear Russian on the street about 80% of the time compared to 20% of Ukrainian. Almost all shop owners, restaurant waitresses and other service workers speak Russian. People who are originally from Kiev speak natively Russian; Ukrainian is mostly spoken in smaller towns/villages outside of Kiev.

Ukrainian is the dominant language of Western Ukraine. It’s spoken in Lviv, Ivano-Frankovisk, Chernitvski and the surrounding cities and towns.

Everyone in Ukraine understands both Russian and Ukrainian, so knowing one language would be sufficient. If you’re going to be predominately living/visiting Western Ukraine, then Ukrainian is the language to speak and understand. Otherwise, if you’re going to be spending time in Kiev and East / South of the capital—especially in the main cities—then the language to learn is Russian.

Since I’m a native of Odessa, my native language is Russian. I have no problem communicating in Kiev, but had to switch to Ukrainian when I went to Lviv last year.

Safety and precautions

All in all, Ukraine is a relatively safe country. It’s safer than North America, South America and even Western Europe.

Unlike places like Rio de Janeiro (and Brazil in general) which is fairly unpredictable or American cities like New York (where you can also get easily robbed), you generally won’t be robbed at knife- or gun-point in broad daylight or even at night if you stick to well-lit streets in good areas of the city.

Nevertheless, Ukraine is no Japan. It’s still a poor Eastern European country with its share of crime. However, this crime is more subtle. About a year ago, I had someone break into my apartment and steal my suitcase full of stuff. This was at an Airbnb which I rented in a nice neighborhood, so it seems like someone had copies of the keys and entered the apartment when I wasn’t there. They stole my entire suitcase and nothing else.

The best way to stay safe in Ukraine is to relax, but keep your eyes open for any strange and suspicious things. Street smarts go a long way.

For digital nomads

If you’re a location-independent professional, Ukraine can be a solid choice. Big cities like Kiev are replete with work-friendly coffee shops and tons of co-working places. Internet speeds have improved dramatically over the years as well. Plus, with the introduction of 4G/LTE in the summer of 2018—with speeds up to 50-70Mbps—you don’t even need to rely much on fast WiFi anymore.

Over the last couple of years, Ukraine with its cosmopolitan capital, Kiev, is witnessing a resurgence in various startups and other online businesses. There’s a nascent startup culture here, which is easily evident when you spend time in some of the bigger co-working spaces. 

Visas and overstays

Most citizens of industrialized countries (e.g., USA, UK, and EU countries) get the automatic 90-day visa on arrival. After your 90 days is up, you must leave the country. 

After leaving the country after your visa expires, you can’t immediately return to Ukraine; you must wait 90 days before coming back. That’s what the whole 90/180 days visa means. It means you can only stay for 90 days within any 180 day period. 

Thus, it’s not possible to stay 90 days, leave the country and then come right back.

If you overstay, the fine ranges anywhere from 510 UAH ($20) to 850 UAH ($30). (There have been reports of it being as high as $200-300 for really severe overstays). There also have been reports of being banned from the country for three years.

Final thoughts

After living in some very exotic countries such as Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico, as well as Bali, Indonesia and Thailand, it seems strange that I would more or less settle in an ex-Soviet Union country where people are so stoic to the point of indifference and where the winters can get unbearably freezing.

While I wrote a lot of nice things about the country, it’s important to understand that Ukraine is not USA or Thailand; it doesn’t have the “civility” of USA and it doesn’t have Thailand’s hospitality. It’s an Eastern European country through and through. For many years, trying to make sense of all that was the source of my frustrations in this country, something that I described in great deal here.

I eventually made peace with the fact that the only livable city (at least for me) in Ukraine is Kiev. The other cities are great for random trips, but making them home will be a challenge.

Nevertheless, even knowing that I can throw a dart and live anywhere in the world, something about the country lures me back in, and every time I open a map and think of a new place to live, picking any other country than Ukraine is becoming more and more difficult.

Odessa, Ukraine: A Local’s Guide To Eastern Europe’s Best Beach Destination

Dateline: Southern Ukraine

Ah Odessa, out of all the countries and cities I’ve visited and written about, I can’t believe I still haven’t written about my own hometown.

Actually, the reason I haven’t written much about Odessa is that I left my hometown in my early teens for a new life in New York. But just because you leave Odessa, doesn’t mean Odessa leaves you.

In the past seven years, I have returned to my former hometown no less than five times.

Here’s a local’s unique perspective to one of the most special and picturesque cities in the world.

Introduction

Odessa is Ukraine’s 4th largest city by population, behind Kiev, Kharkov, and Dnipro with a population of around 1M inhabitants.

While Ukraine has a fairly large coastline of the Black Sea, Odessa is the premier city for getting sun and tan. That has become more so after Crimean peninsula switched over to the Russian side.

That event made Odessa as one of the only viable options for escaping the country’s oppressive summer’s heat. (There’s also Mariupol on Azov Sea to the east, but it’s yet another mediocre Ukrainian 3rd-tier city and can’t compare to Odessa.)

The locals

The entire former Soviet Union not only knows where Odessa is located, but they also have heard stories about the locals, Odessits (Одесситы).

Depending on who you ask in Ukraine (or other ex-Soviet Union countries), that person will have something to say about the locals, whether it’s positive or negative.

Generally speaking, Odessits share a particular humor, have their own colorful way of speaking Russian and even have a very specific accent that only exists in Odessa (I don’t have it, but my mom definitely does.)

Like most ex-Soviet Union cities, Odessa has greatly changed over the years. Many people immigrated to Odessa from nearby towns and cities and from other countries. So, it’s definitely not the same city as it once was.

Where to stay

Odessa is a relatively big city (over 1M), but, as a tourist, there are really two places to base yourself in the summer months. The first option is the beautiful center. The second option is closer to the action near the beach.

Out of all the Ukrainian cities, Odessa’s center is definitely the most picturesque and memorable. Kiev with its charming old town comes close, but there’s something that makes Odessa’s center truly special that visitors and locals alike can’t really put their finger and describe.

The second option is right near the beach and, thus, closer to the action. Although Odessa has several beaches along its generous coastline, most of the action takes place near two nightclubs Ithaca and Ibiza, located near a beach called Arcadia.

Back when I was a young kid growing up in the Soviet Union, Arcadia was a quiet area that was frequented mostly by families; there weren’t many fancy shops or noisy nightclubs.

That’s a far cry from today as the main strip leading from the city to the beach is filled with restaurants, stores, and coffee shops. There’s even a small amusement park for your enjoyment.

Both options are viable so it really depends on what you’re looking for.

How to rent accommodation

Odessa is a seasonal city so it’s pretty easy to rent apartments in the offseason, but that can be very challenging during the peak summer months.

There are several ways of renting apartments. The first is through Airbnb.com. Because Airbnb is typically targeted to foreigners instead of locals, the prices are typically higher than similar apartments that are rented to locals.

It’s not uncommon to find a decent apartment in the center for something like $1,000/mo, while the same type of apartment may be offered for like $600-700 on a rental site targeted at locals.

Nevertheless, negotiating on Airbnb is always an option. If you’re staying for at least a month, ask for a discount. It’s not uncommon to get anywhere from 10-30% off simply by asking.

Another good site for apartment rentals is doba.ua. This site lists apartment that is rented out by night and is aimed mostly at locals.

Most of the people advertising apartments don’t speak English, so it’s a good idea to have a local friend help you make reservations. This is the site I mostly use for booking accommodation.

Finally, there’s the king of all sites: OLX.com. This is sort of a Ukrainian craigslist where you can buy/rent/sell pretty much anything from used kitchenware to luxury apartments. This is the main site that Ukrainians use for pretty much anything. It’s a site where I found my last three Kiev apartments.

While you probably wouldn’t be using the site to find a long-term accommodation in Odessa (you could do that), the site also lists apartments that can be rented for short term, which is typically anywhere from 1-3 months. That’s super ideal for spending an entire summer in Odessa.

Although all three are solid options for finding an apartment in the city, if you’re not on a true shoestring budget, Airbnb is a great choice for securing a great pad in a great location. Assuming, of course, you book well in advance, especially if you’re looking for longer periods of at least a month.

How to get around

There are two ways to get around in Odessa: public transportation and taxis. Fortunately, with the arrival of Uber in 2016, it has gotten much easier to efficiently get from one place to another.

When I spent the summer in Odessa last year, I stayed in the center but enjoyed the sun and sand on one of the less populated beaches at the southern end of the city.

I generally took the public transportation (marshrutka, $0.25) which took about 25 minutes to get from downtown to the beach. I also took Uber a couple of times; the ride was about 7-10 minutes and cost around $3-4.

The best beaches

Odessa is graced with a generous coastline stretching from the northern area all the way to the south where it meets another city, Chernomorsk (Черноморск, formerly called Ильячевск).

Just as you’ve probably guessed, not all beaches are the same. There are three types of beaches in Odessa: public beaches, paid beaches (where you pay a fee for a beach chair or a tent, you can even order food and drinks which they’ll bring right to where you’re seated), and, finally, private beaches that are only accessible to the owners of the private land (and their friends).

When it comes to paid beaches, they vary from those without frills mostly frequented by families all the way to party beaches that rival to party destinations such as Ibiza or Miami.

The closest beach to the city is Langeron (Ланжерон). It’s a beach that everyone knows and, thus, one of the most popular beaches in the city. All you have to do is walk towards the sea from the center and you’ll end up on this beach.

The problem with this beach is that it gets overly crowded in the summer months (even worse on weekends) when the entire city descends on it. The result is that people end up being packed like sardines—lying right next to each other. That’s probably not an idea of a vacation that you had in mind.

A much better idea is to go to one of the paid beaches. It’s something that I resisted when I first visited—why do I have to pay to access a free resource?—but after trying it once, I became a convert and now exclusively go to paid beaches.

Paid beaches range from expensive to completely affordable. The more expensive paid “beach clubs” attract the typical “seen and be seen” clientele, while there are also plenty of “chill” beaches where, for a small fee, you can have a true piece of mind.

The great thing about paid beaches is that you rent a beach chair, an umbrella or even a huge tent for two or more people. You can also order all kinds of food and drinks which are brought directly to you. There are also restrooms and showers.

Thus, you can spend the entire an entire day at the beach instead of breaking up your day when you get hungry or thirsty.

One of my favorite beach clubs was called “Agarti.” It was a chill beach that’s more reminiscent of Goa, India than Ukraine. It was super affordable, had a chill music, and attracted a chill crowd. It was about a 25-minute bus ride from the center, so it was never packed. Thinking back, spending time at that beach club was probably the best part of my vacation.

In the famed Arcadia beach, you have two popular nightclubs that everyone in Odessa knows: Ithaca and Ibiza. These are party nightclubs that are frequented by the “seen and be seen” crowd.

The best time to come

Odessa’s summer season begins around the end of June when the water temperature gradually starts to rise; the water becomes truly warm by the end of July. This lasts up until around the middle of September. Towards the end of September and beginning of October, temperatures drop substantially and it becomes chilly so you need a jacket or sweater.

This is unlike coastal cities on the Mediterranean like Barcelona or Rome which are still very warm and pleasant that time of the year.

Actually, the best time to come to Odessa isn’t in July or August, but in the first half of September. By that time, most tourists have left (because it’s cold), few families are on the beaches (school season started), and prices for accommodation drop back down to normal levels after being in the stratosphere in the three months previously.

Visiting in the offseason

For such a beautiful city in the summer, Odessa is a completely different city in the offseason. Once the summer finally ends in the second or third week in September, temperatures drop quickly and the gorgeous blue sunny skies give way to rain and clouds (although the sun does make frequent appearances from time to time).

In the winter, while the city’s proximity to the sea guarantees that it doesn’t experience super cold -25 C (-5 F) temperatures like the rest of Ukraine, Odessa still gets its fair share of snow. Coupled with short days and not a particularly “cozy” center due to the city’s sizable blocks and few pedestrians, and what you get isn’t the most pleasant to spend the winter in.

In the last few years, I spent a couple of winters in Odessa (even celebrated the New Year there), and it’s definitely not my first choice of a city to spend the winter. Cities like Lviv with their cozy squares and narrow streets are much more suitable for cold, Ukrainian winters.

What language to speak

For a city located in Ukraine, Odessa is a predominantly Russian-speaking. It’s probably one of the more Russian-speaking cities in Ukraine.

My native language is Russian. Everyone in my family uses Russian as their native language. In fact, an easy way to tell that a person is not from Odessa is if they have a Ukrainian accent when speaking Russian.

While everyone understands and speaks Ukrainian, the only language you need to know in Odessa is Russian.

Safety and security

While Odessa, just like Ukraine, is fairly safe and secure, you still should watch out for petty scams. In Ukraine, Odessa has always been known as the city of swindlers (аферисты). While there’s a low chance you’ll experience any kind of serious harm, you should still keep your eyes open for minor stuff.

These include pickpocketing in tourist areas, short-changing you by taxi drivers and restaurant waiters. Some of the more serious issues that tourists have experienced were when apartment owners didn’t return the deposit back (partially or all of it).

Final thoughts

Ever since returning to Ukraine back in 2011, I spent many summers in Odessa. Most of them were quick trips from Kiev, lasting around a week or two. Gradually, my sojourns in Odessa became longer; a year ago, I spent several months in Odessa.

Odessa has always been a special city in Ukraine (and the entire former Soviet Union). It was always a great summer destination for having fun and enjoying the sun.

Ever since Crimea became under Russian control, Odessa became the prime destination for summer tourists for the entire country. This resulted in extreme crowds, jacked up prices from restaurants to accommodation, and, generally, lots of hassle that comes with all of that. I solved this problem by visiting Odessa in September when the majority of the crowds are gone.

Still, have no illusions about it: Black Sea beaches aren’t exactly the Mediterranean, and definitely aren’t the Caribbean beaches I’m used when I was living in America and Latin America. The sand isn’t silky white and often times the Black Sea isn’t exactly clear enough to swim in.

Nevertheless, while there are plenty of cities around the world with better weather, beaches, food and even people, there’s only one Odessa.

Dnipro, Ukraine: What’s It Like Living In A Ukrainian 2nd Tier City

Dateline: Southern Ukraine

Introduction

Dnipro (or Dnepr/Днепр/Днипро/Днепропетровск) is a 2nd tier city in Southeastern Ukraine. Having traveled around Ukraine and decided that Kiev is the best city in Ukraine, I would’ve never visited this city had it not been for my friend’s constant nagging to visit him and check it out.

Finally, another friend of mine who had lived here before couldn’t stop praising this city and asked me to meet her there on the weekend that she would be there. I figured this would be a great opportunity to get to know a new city with a someone who’d lived there before. I accepted her offer and bought a ticket on a fast express train from Kiev.

For the first week, I rented an apartment in a very commercial (and expensive) part of the city that was supposed to be the center of everything (Мост Сити, “Bridge City”). Indeed, it was in the center of everything; there was a huge shopping center right in the same complex complete with a huge supermarket and  Western brands such as Zara, Diesel and Massimo Dutti.

Beyond the expensive department stores, everything about this “commercial center” screamed cheap and underdeveloped. There was nothing “exclusive” or “luxurious” about it, and it was a far cry from anything like Kiev’s “Maidan” (Independence Square) or even some of the more charming squares in other Eastern European cities. Its lack of tasteful architecture was also rather hard on my eyes. The only thing I noticed was lots of concrete.

Thinking that this “commercial center” was all there was to this city, I immediately regretted making this trip and started planning my return back to the capital.

Fortunately, the situation improved dramatically when I switched apartments and moved to a different area. Not only was the apartment itself newly remodeled and one of the most spacious I’ve ever stayed in Ukraine, but the neighborhood was awesome; it was very green and bohemian with plenty of great restaurants and a few cool bars. I enjoyed the area so much that instead of spending only a week, as I originally planned, I ended spending almost the entire summer here.

Awesome restaurants and coffee shops

For an Eastern European 2nd-tier city, there are surprisingly great food choices when it comes to restaurants and coffee shops. There are at least a dozen restaurants that I would easily call “world class” where I wouldn’t hesitate to invite a good friend or even my lovely Mom—my trusted litmus test for a place’s excellence—should she happened to visit me.

As a burger lover, I’ve had one of the best burgers and meat as long as I can remember. I’ve also had excellent Italian food and even pretty decent Mexican enchiladas.

While there are plenty of great restaurants, the coffee shop scene (mainly for getting lots of work done) isn’t terrible but could definitely be improved. After living here for a few months, I still didn’t have my “ideal” coffee shop, one that would be my default choice when I was tired of working at home and needed a change of scenery.

On the other hand, this is where a city like Kiev shines. I can easily name five coffee shops that I can go to and get some serious work done. As a location-independent entrepreneur, this is important.

Compact center

The center: where all the action happens

One of my favorite things about Dnipro is the fact that the center is very compact. One can cover this part of the city in about ten to fifteen minutes. Since the center is where all the desirable attractions are, this makes it super easy to have dinner with a friend (who also happens to live in the center) without being stuck in traffic while taking a taxi or public transportation.

It’s not some tiny center either. There are plenty of great restaurants, coffee shops and bars bunched all pretty next to each other. There are also lots of great clothing stores, whether it’s from a local designer or from some famous Western brand.

I cannot overemphasize how convenient this is. Even in Kiev, which isn’t a huge city by any means, everything is so spread out and there isn’t a “true” center. That means meeting a friend in the “center” easily means either a 30-45-minute walk or a 15-30-minute ride by car (assuming both of you live at least close to center). Here, no such issues exist because you simply leave your apartment and ten minutes later you are outside your friend’s apartment or inside the restaurant.

Just to give you an idea, imagine New York City with only the Prince St. in Greenwich village or LA with a small chunk of Melrose Ave. That’s a hell of a lot more convenient than making the trek from South Brooklyn or Bushwick in NYC.

Western Conveniences

For a seemingly sleepy Eastern European city in the middle of nowhere, there are plenty of Western-style conveniences. There are tons of Western-style supermarkets where you can buy all kinds of products that your heart desires. There are the familiar Western clothing brands such as Diesel, Nike and Levi’s. There’s also Uber for easy trips within the city or even to some nearby destination.

One may argue that these Western-style companies and influences are making Eastern European cities such as this one more “Westernized,” but I’m all for it if it makes the city more convenient and pleasant to be in.

“A city in the valley”

Unlike Odessa, Ukraine, Dnipro doesn’t have access to beautiful beaches of the Black Sea, but it mostly makes up for it with access to a beautiful river, Dnipro, which runs along the middle of the country. The city’s main attraction is the wide riverfront area called набережная. In the summer, that’s where you’ll find all kinds of people walking, sitting and overall enjoying life. There are also tons of great restaurants overlooking the beautiful river.

In some strange way, Dnipro—unlike Kiev and other Ukrainian cities—even has an eery Latin American feel. My neighborhood reminds me of Mexico City’s Condesa or Colombia’s Cali. The fact that it has a Latin American feel was definitely one of the main things that drew me to this city and got me to stay longer.

But unlike Latin America, with its crime and unpredictability, Dnipro, like the rest of Eastern Europe, is fairly safe and predictable.

Dnipro is a “hard” city

It didn’t take me long to realize that it’s a rather “hard” city. When I say, “hard,” I’m referring to the people and their behavior. Unlike Kiev or St. Petersburg, two cities infused with great culture and friendly people, in Dnipro, people almost never say “Hello” when greeting you—unless you say it first—everyone is mostly just going about their business.

I’ve had plenty of situations where I interacted with someone and then shook my head in response to their behavior. Things like opening and holding doors for random strangers were rarely (or never) met with a “thank you.” Ask for something in a supermarket, and the person behind the register would simply ask, “What do you want” point blank without greeting you of any kind.

Generally speaking, Eastern Europe as a region is fairly “hard.” It’s not a region where people typically go out of their way to make sure you’re satisfied with anything. This is something I experienced first hand when I spent a few months living in Russia several years ago.

Nevertheless, over the past few years, the region has been undergoing great gentrification that cities like Kiev are actually becoming more or less pleasant cities to spent lots of time in, even for picky foreigners who’re used to Western handholding.

Dnipro is a bit behind in this regard. It’s quintessentially Eastern European in a sense that nobody really cares about whether you enjoyed the pasta dish in a restaurant or the fact that you don’t understand something in a supermarket. Customer service simply doesn’t exist.

Meeting people is surprisingly difficult here because, unlike in Kiev, where people are more cosmopolitan and are at least somewhat curious of people from other cities or countries, people here are more reserved and guarded.

Of course, it wasn’t like this with every person I met, there are plenty of friendly people who at least went out of their way to help you (mostly in department stores), but for the most part this city was decidedly unfriendlier than other Eastern European cities such as Kiev, St. Petersburg or even Bucharest.

Livable city?

The entire time I lived in the city, I spent a lot of time thinking about whether it’s a city I can make peace with and learn to love. And, indeed, if someone put a gun to my head and told me to live here or else, I would certainly find ways to adjust. It’s a city that has everything one would need for a comfortable life. There are great restaurants and coffee shops allowing you to have a great lifestyle for a fraction of the price elsewhere.

But, yet, even as I was writing the above paragraph, and even if I had a great job and a nice apartment, this city still would never be my first choice.

As someone who was born in Ukraine and speaks the language, I’ve had my share of challenges in the city but for the most part, I’m used to the Eastern European mindset and life, so the lack of “humanity” didn’t affect me all that much; it’s something I fully expect. However, I would never recommend this city to a foreigner. I can already see them complaining about how no one “gives a fuck” about their concerns.

Even the fact that this city is “hard,” can also be flipped on its head and become an advantage. I know many people who actually prefer Dnipro over the more cosmopolitan Kiev. It’s smaller, more navigable and the “hardness” of the city can be an advantage because people always keep their word and don’t flake on you in the last moment like they do in bigger cities.

Speaking of Latin America, here’s what I wrote about Medellin back in 2011:

In many ways, it’s a city without a soul, a city without charm.  A city where everything works but nothing is special that motivates you to return or convince others to come and visit.

As I wrote recently, 2nd and 3rd tier cities are generally boring and nondescript and don’t have the excitement or the cachet of their 1st-tier counterparts.

Ultimately, I realized that regardless of what I thought and how much positive spin I can create around this city, I was still in a 2nd -tier city in Eastern Europe. And, in Eastern Europe, as my experience has proven again and again, the only livable places are really the 1st tier cities; everything else is too broken (both literally and metaphorically) to provide a decent quality of life.

Why live in a 2nd-tier city when I could just as easily be living in Kiev—a truly awesome city—where people and the architecture are much more friendlier and welcoming?

Thus, it seems that no matter where in Ukraine I travel to and live, all roads always lead back to Kiev.

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