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This particular experiment is very dear to my heart as it has become a way of life. For 9 months I have lived in 4 countries, never staying in one for longer than 11 weeks. I have had the opportunity to do and learn some amazing things by challenging the idea that world travel is prohibitively expensive. I have adapted my lifestyle to actually save money while traveling abroad.
When I tell people that I have been traveling the world they assume that I must be independently wealthy. The truth is that I, like many Americans, make an average salary and have debts to pay (such as student loans). Many people dismiss my story as an outlier at best (or a fabrication at worst) because they have accepted the false notion that only the rich are able travel the world. I’ll show you, through raw data analysis, exactly why that precept is a fallacy. This is the post (and the philosophy) that makes this blog possible.
When I left the USA back in 2010 I wasn’t entirely convinced that this was going to work. I thought it was possible to spend less and travel, but I didn’t have any data to support that premise. What I did know is that many people confuse traveling with a vacation. A vacation is, by definition, a temporary break from the routine. Travelers, on the other hand, adapt to the lifestyle of their destination.
Just the Numbers
It is possible to travel and do similar things to what I do on a relatively small budget. In fact, I’d say I live quite lavishly here in Europe. France (my current home) is by no means a cheap country to live in (check out this Lonely Planet guide to countries that are still cheap). If I did not move around as frequently as I do I would be able to rent an apartment for a longer period of time, which means a significantly better rate (check out Vacation Rentals by Owner if you have a small group or family). Soon I’d like to do an experiment to prove that it is possible to travel on minimum wage, but for now let’s focus on my lifestyle over the last 9 months…
The bottom line is that my entire life here costs less than it did in Southern California. Keep in mind these numbers are mere rough averages per month:
|Southern California||Average Cost in Spain, Morocco and France|
That’s about $2,100 in savings per month. Even if I stay in a hostel instead of an apartment, the costs don’t go up much (a decent hostel usually costs about $35 / night or $1050 a month). With all this saved money I am able to pay for language classes (4 hours a day in the classroom) and still be saving money. When I want to move to a new location the cost of getting to a new city in Europe is rarely more than $100 (from RyanAir, EasyJet or just on a train).
How can I even begin to describe the difference in the quality of food here in France? A French friend recently told me that she could not find any edible food when she visited the US and I am beginning to see why she felt that way. There are 2 separate markets with fresh produce on the 2 minute walk to class, yet the prices and quality are like nothing I’ve seen in the states.
It may be tempting to point out that my SoCal apartment was expensive and that it was near the beach. This is true, but even studio apartments in LA cost well over $1,200 / month. That said, my quality of living is just as good, if not better, in these European cities. The Mediterranean has just as nice of weather as Southern California, the beach is always close, and it is actually much easier to find interesting things to do than in the spread out city of Los Angeles. I am getting a comparable product for significantly cheaper.
* Included in my rent in each case thus far
** The California number includes car loan payments and insurance as well as gas.
*** I have deliberately excluded a few things that are equal in both situations, like health insurance and student loan payments. I have (thankfully) not had the need to test out the health care here in Europe, I know I am covered by my insurance and I am under the impression that (if anything) it will be cheaper.
What’s the Secret?
There are a lot of things that contribute to how much cheaper my time abroad is.
- My lifestyle is fundamentally different. In your own country, especially in big cities, it is easy to get sucked in by all the expensive excursions. In Los Angeles I might have driven 6 hours with friends up to Mammoth to go skiing for the weekend (paying hundreds of dollars in lift tickets, gas, parking, lodging, etc.) Here in France my idea of a good weekend is to take a train to a nearby city / landmark with my camera, a book and a packed lunch (about $40 total cost and I’m back to stay in my own room). When I need something new I just move to the next country.
- European cities are small and easy to get around. Most everything I could want to do is in walking distance. No need for a car loan, gas, insurance, etc.
- I use resources available to me like Budget Travel, Lonely Planet and — most importantly — friends that I make on the road!
- The temptations are fewer. In your home country it is easy to get sucked in by the trends. My particular vices include new techno-gadgets and clothing. While on the road there’s no point in buying new gadgets or clothes – all they will do is weigh down my suitcase!
- My group of friends is different. In your home country you’re probably surrounded by other professionals who don’t think twice about paying $15+ for a meal or $5 for a drink. Most other travelers are on a budget, though, and enjoy cheaper activities.
- I pay much less in taxes while living outside the USA. I’m going to stay away from providing tax advice for now since I am not qualified to do so, but I can say I paid less in taxes in 2010 than in 2009 even though I earned more money. My taxes are all done by a certified CPA who specializes in situations like mine, and (to me) the annual filing fee is well worth the peace of mind of knowing everything is done by-the-book.
What Does This Mean for Me?
You may be thinking that this article doesn’t apply to you. That’s only true if you have no desire to travel the world. If you do desire it, don’t sell yourself short! The primary hurdle to traveling the world is making an income independent of your location, and that income doesn’t have to be enormous. In future articles, I will show you how to transition from working in an office to working from your anywhere you please. The other hurdle is challenging the status quo. It’s very easy to become indoctrinated by the rhetoric that you must have a 9-5 job to be financially secure, a mortgage to be successful and a big-screen TV to enjoy life.