Many people have asked me how I could just leave my job and seemingly travel perpetually. How can I afford it? How do you find places to stay for free all the time? How do you find places to volunteer? All questions I’ve received by email, and now I’m sharing the secrets in a series of posts about how The Happy Nomad Tour Rolls and what things are like behind the scenes.
How Can I Afford It?
This, by far, is the question I am asked most often when I tell people what I’m doing. And if people don’t ask, they probably assume I come from a family with money or have a rich uncle. I can promise you neither is true.
Financially, yes, I have done well in life. Both jobs I’ve had paid six-figures. I worked for an oil services company in the Middle East. Thanks to tax free income and my only expense being food and entertainment, I was able to save a lot. Plus, I was always offshore and had no opportunity to spend money.
I spent every penny I saved on my MBA and living in Spain. I left Spain with less than $1000 left. So, I avoided being in debt. Awesome! But I was also broke.
I headed to Denmark, one of the most expensive countries in the world, and looked for jobs. I stayed with my uncle in Copenhagen and luckily I found a “good” job with a wind power company. I was paid well, though I had expenses and high taxes this time. No problem.
So, despite only working there for 9.5 months, I was able to replenish my reserves relatively quickly.
The point is, yes, I have savings and they are decreasing with each passing day. But the way I travel is very cheap as I’ve laid out in this series. My way of traveling is perfect for me, and happens to be very cheap. I’d much rather sleep on the floor in an indigenous community in Chichia, Panama than in the Ritz Carlton in Paris.
The biggest expense in travel is accommodation. But as I already shared, I outsource my accommodation! I do this to save money, of course, but also because it’s an opportunity meet local people in the places I visit and understand how they live. I’ve built some deep connections with some of the families I’ve stayed with and saying those experiences have been overwhelmingly enriching is an understatement.
As I mentioned in my New Year’s Day post, my goal for 2012 is to become financially sustainable so this party never has to end. But as you’ve been able to see throughout these posts, I don’t have to earn much money to keep the dream going.
My Life Is Cheap
I think it’s hard for people to understand that my nomadic life is far, far cheaper than the complicated life of having a mortgage, car, lots of insurance, property tax, and lots more. My life is complicated in other ways, but in the end it’s quite simple and I avoid pretty much all of these costs.
Even if I did stay somewhere on a more permanent basis, there are many places in the world where you can live at a fraction of the price of a Western country. For example, the hotel I stayed at when visiting my friend in Matagalpa, Nicaragua only cost $15/night. It had a hot shower, rare in Central America, fast wifi, and was in the center of the city. I don’t want to live there, but I’m sure if I did I could negotiate them down to $10/day and pay upfront for a month making my “rent” $300 for the month with internet, utilities, and laundry included. Not bad. And this was a luxury hotel. If I were on a stricter budget, I could easily find something half that price.
An Example – Costa Rica
As I write this, I am on a 9-hour bus ride from San Jose, Costa Rica to David, Panama. For my three weeks in Costa Rica, by far leaps and bounds more expensive than the other Central American countries I visited, I spent a total of $249. And that includes my $18 bus ticket out of Costa Rica, my $16 round-trip San Jose-Quepos ticket, and my $5 fancy non-aluminum deodorant. But even these three big expenses included, that works out to $11.85 per day.
No, I don’t really deny myself while on the road. That $249 included many, many meals. For example, I ate out daily in Cartago for lunch and often breakfast. For my 4-5 days in San Jose, I ate out for all my meals. I bought lots of coffee as well since I was always cold! And yes, a few bottles of beer are in there somewhere, as well as taxi rides to and from bus stations.
Extrapolated to a monthly basis, $11.85 * 30 = $355. So, in this much more expensive country of Costa Rica, I was living on $355/month. So yes, of course I needed savings to finance this trip. But you can see how even a meager amount of savings can go pretty far. And yes, I am frugal but there is room to be more frugal.
It all depends. In Leon, Mexico or Yoloaiquin, El Salvador, for example, I was staying with families and all three of my meals were free. In these places, I spent really almost no money. But I feel Costa Rica is a more representative example of what a traveler might experience.
I hope this has dispelled some myths and simultaneously made you question whether working so hard for all your “stuff” makes sense. I have no stuff and no debt making life much simpler! And if you still aren’t satisfied, the total cost thus far for my trip, after nine months, is roughly equivalent to one month of after-tax income from my previous job in Denmark.
If you have any more questions, put it in the comments below and I’ll either answer your question there or write a new post covering it.