This Toronto influencer moved to Mexico during the pandemic for a less stressful life
If you're prone to wanderlust and missing the sun something fierce as winter drags on, please note that this story might give you ideas that some people will not like.
It could also, however, teach you a few things about courage, compassion and COVID in Mexico.
Ellis Mae, 24, moved to Tulum from Toronto six months ago, right before the pandemic's second wave started swelling in Ontario.
A full-time online health and wellness coach, the Toronto native had been considering the "digital nomad" lifestyle for years and had been living in Australia when the health crisis first hit. She came home to live with her mother amid the uncertainty while trying to figure out her next move.
"I needed to get out of the cold and the lockdown for my mental health. It was my plan to be in Australia for two years until COVID hit," Ellis told blogTO. "I knew I needed to re-locate somewhere warm to focus on myself and my career."
That warm place turned out to be the gorgeous Yucatán Peninsula.
Living in the Quintana Roo region, Ellis says that life in Mexico is "definitely more relaxed" than life in Toronto, even while working two full-time jobs as a content creator (for celebrity magician Julius Dein and goubtube) as well as a holistic health coach.
"There's so much nature around and it's so sunny. Everyone is in higher spirits despite the regulations in place," she says of the area, which is normally flush with tourists but has taken a recent hit due to travel restrictions.
"Toronto in the winter during lockdown has left a lot of people lonely and very sad. We are social beings, this is extremely hard on our mental health. Almost everyone moves here for the same reason and that is to try to make the most of the situation. The biggest difference is the overall happiness I'm experiencing myself and from others daily."
Idyllic as her current lifestyle sounds, Ellis cautions that it's not as simple as packing up and jetting down south; there's a lot of research to do, laws to learn and pandemic-specific regulations to abide by.
Oh — and you'll probably get COVID.
"If you are looking to move somewhere like Tulum, be aware that COVID is present and that if you're here for a while, you probably will catch it if you decide to socialize," she tells blogTO.
"In six months, I haven't met a single person who has been really sick because of COVID, however nearly everyone I have met has gotten it. For me, the risk of getting really sick with COVID here is much less detrimental than what was going to happen to my mental health during lockdown."
That's not to say everyone is walking around willy-nilly with the virus.
In addition to wearing a mask when needed, avoiding travel between regions, sanitizing and staying up to date on all government regulations, people in Tulum are encouraged to protect themselves and especially vulnerable residents.
"Travelling around a lot is when you increase the risk of spreading the virus," she explains. "If you come down south, stay mostly stationary if possible! If you're contributing to the economy and helping the locals while keeping in mind preventing the spread, I think it's totally okay for you to do what you need to do for your mental health."
Not everyone agrees with this philosophy, however, as Ellis found out in spades last month when she became the target of angry Reddit users.
In mid-January, Ellis published a video to YouTube with the title "Life in Mexico During COVID-19: Why I moved, what it's like."
The just under seven-minute-long video, in which talks about how she decided upon Mexico, what kind of precautions are being taken there, illegal jungle parties, how much money people are paying to reserve tables at clubs (up to $25K!) and how she feels safer in Tulum than she did in Toronto.
The video was subsequently posted to a subreddit called r/CanadaCoronavirus, where commenters denounced the move as everything from "irrational" to "disgusting."
Many turned on Ellis herself both and Reddit and beyond, in the comment sections of her content on other platforms, calling the young woman such names as "selfish narcissist," "idiot," "c*nt," "dumb thot" and "pure cancer."
"I never thought many people would see it and certainly didn't expect the reaction that I got," says Ellis. "A lot of people are very scared and very lonely right now. This is such a tough time for so many and I think all of the free time and anger is causing people to be horrible to others online."
"I think it's really easy to dehumanize influencers and use them as a target to get out your own anger and I feel like this is a great example of that happening," she continues.
"I am very aware that COVID is real. I am pretty stationary where I live and hang out with the same small group. It was never my intention to encourage others to be irresponsible, I was simply trying to answer questions that have been asked to me."
Contrary to how people in some corners of the internet have treated Ellis for moving to Mexico, she says that residents of Quintana Roo have actually been quite welcoming and thankful for business.
"The only response I've gotten from locals here is gratitude. I've had countless taxi drivers, servers and store workers thank me for moving here because when the pandemic first hit they were all terrified they would lose their entire livelihoods," she explains.
"Tourism makes up nearly 10 per cent of the Mexican economy. That number is huge! I do my best to tip as much as I can and to show my respect to the locals. I recently launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for Mexican citizens to help provide them with food and medical supplies as well as to provide funding to front line workers."
Ellis reiterates that she loves and respects the beautiful country of Mexico and that she cares for her new neighbours greatly. It's also important to note that while travel itself is discouraged and heavily restricted in Canada, moving to another country is not illegal.
"I am doing absolutely everything in my power to help ensure the locals here stay safe and are okay during this crazy time," she told blogTO.
"As mean as people have been online, I am extremely grateful to have had my eyes opened to how life really is here in different parts of the country."
Moving away to a tropical locale isn't for everybody, nor does everybody have the opportunity to do it.
Despite the internet hate, COVID exposure and other challenges she's faced, however, it's been a worthy pursuit for Ellis.
"These lockdowns are being set in order to protect the older generation and those who are immunocompromised. If this is driving you into a dark place, you need to do what you need to do to protect your health too," she says.
"This whole lockdown in place to mainly protect older generation doesn't make sense if we are losing the younger generation because of it. Mental health is rapidly declining, suicide rates are skyrocketing. I highly encourage people to do research on that and to know that if they are feeling sad right now, they are not alone."
The health coach and influencer cautions that it's important for anyone considering such a move to make sure they stay safe and keep other people safe as well.
"Look at all the factors and put some thought into it, but ultimately your life is extremely valuable and you need to do what you need to do to protect it," she says.
"Understand the risks and if all of those factors are still leaving you with a strong feeling that this is a place for you to be, I think that is your answer... if this is what your soul needs, listen to it. Sometimes you have to put your mental health first."
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