Okay, I realize that not everyone enjoys talking technology as much as I do, but since we have an online business in a foreign country it’s a reality we have to face. Working remotely and staying connected in Mexico would be almost impossible without modern technology so here are answers to some questions we’ve been asked about what we use for work, play and keeping in touch with family and friends. I’ll try and keep REALLY heavy nerd talk to a minimum and I promise we’ll get back to beaches, cute kids and crazy things we see around town next post.

How do you watch American TV/Sports?

Other than the occasional Law and Order rerun we really don’t get any American programming here in Playa del Carmen so we have to get creative and stream everything through the computer. Many networks have content streaming on their websites for free and HBO offers HBOGo where you can access all of HBO’s content with your HBO login credentials (or your friend’s). There are several other options out there for watching our favorite shows so I’ll just give the ones we use and what we use them for.

Netflix Streaming– Great for watching older movies and complete seasons of TV series but lacks newer content
Hulu Plus– Excellent for catching the latest network TV series
Amazon Instant Video – Amazon has just about any TV show or movie available but for a price. I don’t mind paying $1.99 for the latest Walking Dead or $3.99 to rent an HD movie but if that’s too steep for you become an Amazon Prime member and take advantage of their free streaming content (just don’t expect it to be current).

We love these services but they’re not perfect. They cost money and you’re supposed to be in the United States to use them. I don’t know a way around the first problem (other than using torrents etc. and since I’m trying to limit the nerd talk I won’t address them here) but there is a simple solution to the second issue – use a VPN. A VPN is a Virtual Private Network which routes your computer through a server in the United States so it looks like you are where the server is. This is perfectly legal and actually increases your security and anonymity on the web. We use Private Internet Access for our VPN service, it’s cheap and takes just a few seconds to set up. Once it’s set up, you’ve got access to US TV.

How do you listen to music?

We of course have mp3 players but let me tell you, after a week long drive we were pretty tired of our music collections (well I was at least tired of Deidre’s) and the local radio stations don’t really play a lot of the kind of music we’re used to so we had to find an alternative. Enter free internet radio. There are a lot of options out there but two we use the most are –

Pandora – Build your own “stations” based on genre, artists and songs
Songza – Pick a playlist based on your mood (yesterday I was loving the Bayou Barbecue playlist)

Once again these aren’t meant to work outside the US so you’ll need to have your VPN set up.

What kind of camera do you use?

All of the still photos on the blog have come from either a basic point and shoot that we’ve had for a year or from an iPhone. We’re currently saving up to purchase a nice SLR camera so we can do justice here on the blog to the beautiful things we see.

All of the video has either come from the iPhone (like the Tampax Flashmob) or my GoPro HERO3. I LOVE the GoPro but am still learning how to use it. It’s tiny, waterproof and damn near indestructible. It has a variety of mounts for different activities but I typically stick on my XShot which allows me to extend the camera away from my body and shoot over crowds or into an underwater crevice I’d be afraid to stick my hand in. It also takes great self-portraits.

No other tourists were harmed in the taking of this self portrait
No other tourists were harmed in the taking of this self portrait

Is it hard to find books in English in Playa del Carmen?

No, it’s impossible. Deidre and I are both big readers so this presented a problem for us until we started using the Kindle Paperwhite. They work great in bright sunlight or in a darkened room. I don’t know what kind of magic they put in these things but it doesn’t strain my eyes like other e-readers I’ve had in the past. The screen even feels like a paperback book!

We also have a Kindle Fire but it’s mainly used to watch movies on the airplane. It works well but reading a book on it after a long a day of staring at a computer screen isn’t as easy on the eyes as the Paperwhite is and I can’t see the screen at all on the beach (real world problems here).

How do you call home/keep in touch with clients?

Mexican Pay as you go cellphone
Ain’t she a beaut Clark?

This was probably the hardest to figure out and after 90+ days in Mexico we are still tweaking our approach. Ultimately there isn’t one solution, we use a combo of communication methods.

Phone – As I said earlier we do have an iPhone but we don’t use it like you would expect. We have a combined US and Mexico plan that enables us to call and text back to the US but it’s pretty limited. Data here is very expensive so we don’t have a data plan. Which means no email, internet, etc without WiFi. So we rarely use the iPhone unless we are in an area with WiFi like our apartment or a coffee shop (more on that in a minute).

We also have a local Mexican “burner” phone that we use to keep in touch with our local contacts and friends. It’s a simple, old school cell phone that enables us to call and text locally on a prepaid plan. We paid $200 pesos (about $15US) for the phone and that included $100 pesos worth of credits that we’re still using. If you mainly text you can typically get by for around $150 pesos per month. To get one all you have to do is walk into a TelMex store (we went to the one under the Mega supermarket) and ask for a prepaid phone, it takes about 5 minutes, and we weren’t forced into a long-term contract.

Skype – We use Skype in a myriad of ways including for our dedicated business phone line and to video chat with clients and family. For a few dollars a month you can purchase a Skype phone number in the area code of your choice. In our case we chose a Kansas City area code so that our clients could place a local call to us and it rings here in Playa. This also enables us to make calls back to the states via the internet thus avoiding all long distance fees and not using up any minutes on our international plan. Another cool feature is the Skype iPhone app that we can use to make and receive calls on our phone as long as we have WiFi (see I told you I’d come back to that).

Video Chatting – By far, video chatting has been the best way for us to keep up with friends and family. We’ve used Skype, Facebook and Google+ to video chat. They all work great, we’d recommend any of them, it really just depends on how tech savvy you or the person you are trying to communicate with is. Google+ has the added bonus of Hangouts that allow people in multiple locations to all participate in the same chat. Best of all, they are all free to use – say it with me now – as long as you have WiFi.

Texting – International texting is expensive but luckily there are some great apps out there that offer texting for free. We use Viber, it’s free, includes calling and works great. Both parties must have a Viber account but it takes just a second to set one up. Keep in mind that since it’s using the internet to connect both parties must be on WiFi.

What hardware/software do you use for work?

If you’re still reading this I’ve either done a decent job of spiffing up a boring subject or you might just be a nerd. Either way, thanks for sticking with me but warning, we’re about to enter a whole other level of nerdom. Since we own our own online business and both of us work from home, the equipment we use is very important to us. We brought all of our electronics with us, and we’re glad we did because electronic equipment is pricey here in Mexico. Our equipment must be reliable, portable and flexible without breaking the bank. For you non-techies out there, hardware is the actual computers, printers etc that we use as opposed to software which are programs installed on those machines. I’ve broken our gear down along those lines below.

Hardware

Lenovo ThinkPad T430s – The ThinkPad is the latest addition to our fleet. It’s where I spend most of my day and with 16G of RAM it has handled whatever I’ve thrown at it so far with ease.

Samsung Chromebook (Wi-Fi, 11.6-Inch) – Cloud based and lightweight, this little guy is excellent to take to meetings or anywhere else portability is needed. It has some limitations but the super cheap price tag makes it worth it.

Gateway Desktop – This old war horse has been with me for a while now and is about ready to be put out to pasture. These days he’s hooked to a big monitor and is normally just used for watching movies or some Photoshop work.

Epson WorkForce 545 Wireless All in One – This printer/scanner is great because it hooks into the WiFi network allowing all of our devices to print wirelessly. It’s also got the added advantage of being economical on ink which saves us a few bucks.

WiFi Antenna – This thing is great for boosting signal in areas with weak WiFi. Theoretically you could sit in a bar with no WiFi while using the free WiFi from the coffee shop down the street, this is only a theory of course.

Software

WordPress – Without a doubt WordPress is the most important software that we use since nearly every website we build rests upon this excellent and stable platform.

Adobe Master Collection – We use the Adobe Suite to do everything from write code to edit images and it is indispensable to our business. It should be said that there is free software out there that will do a lot of the same functions but Adobe is the industry standard. The version we use is older so it’s not available, the link is to the latest edition.

Carbonite – This software automatically backs up everything on our computers. It does slow the computer down at times but since it’s automatic it really gives us peace of mind that our data is secure.

Open Office –  This suite of programs is very comparable to Microsoft Office with one big exception – it’s free!

Tweetdeck – Handy for handling multiple social media accounts.

If you’ve made it this far either I was able to provide you some information that you were looking for, you were reading this before you went to bed in hopes that this would help you fall asleep or you truly are a fellow nerd. Whichever it is, I’m glad you made it though and I hope you got something useful from the post. If you have any questions or want more information specifically please feel free to contact me.