How I Travel the World For Less Than You Pay to Stay at Home
Long-term, perpetual travel is the dream of many. But surprisingly, for such a popular desire, few people realize how accessible it is.
When asked what people are working all of their life for, a common answer they give is, “To retire and go live on a beach somewhere, lay in the sun, and do what I love every day.” This is both admirable and sad.
It’s admirable because they have a genuine desire to enjoy their life to the fullest.
It’s sad because they don’t have to work their entire lives to do it. In fact, I lived on one of the most beautiful beaches in the world (Nai Harn, Thailand) when I was only 27 years old. And I had only had a steady-paying job for three or four years. Friends of mine have lived on Borocay (Philippines), Caborete (Dominican Republic), and Bali (Indonesia).
None of them are retired either.
On my Facebook profile, I have photo albums of dozens of countries: Ecuador, China, Indonesia, Australia, Russia, all back-to-back-to-back. I get messages and emails all the time from old friends, college classmates, acquaintances and people who read my website asking the same thing:
“How do you afford to live like this?”
It’s as if they think I discovered a pot of gold somewhere or won the lottery. They don’t realize that 1) I work just as hard as anyone else for my money and 2) those places can be enjoyed for a fraction of what they suspect.
You know how much living on that beach in Thailand cost?
Hold on a second—let me help you out here with some more info: It was a beach that’s often rated in top 10 lists for most beautiful beaches in the world. The weather is perfect year-round. I had my own studio apartment with a kitchen, bathroom, balcony, fully furnished with satellite TV and wireless internet. I had a housekeeper who came every day, lived down the street from half a dozen local Thai restaurants, and would rent a motorbike 2–3 times a week to go on joy rides around the island.
Want to take a stab at how much that cost?
OK, make sure you’re sitting down for this:
About $1,000 per month.
Why would you work your ass off your entire life, buying and selling expensive crap over and over again, when you could likely go and live on that beach right now the way I did? Right this minute.
And even if you don’t have the money now, scrounging together a few thousand isn’t the hardest thing in the world to do.
Have a full-time job? If you work for a major multi-national corporation, getting re-assigned all over the world is often not much harder than asking. Or you could switch professions to something that allows you to travel more.
You could get a job abroad. You could start a business. You could volunteer for an organization.
A good friend of mine who is a consultant, after seeing how easily I lived abroad, decided to take a stab at finding clients in foreign countries. He now spends 10 months a year outside of the US, enjoying a much higher quality of life than he did within the US for less money.
If this all sounds a bit ridiculous or pie-in-the-sky, I just ask that suspend judgement for moment and keep an open mind. You just need to be willing to work hard and stomach a little bit of risk.
In November of 2007, I started an online business on a whim. I did it primarily because I enjoyed it and it was a way to make some money on the side. I was still convinced that I was going to follow a typical career track in finance.
In June of 2008, I quit my day job to focus on my internet business full-time. In September of 2009, I gave up my apartment and most of my possessions and began living in various parts of the world, working and living off my internet business.
I’ve been to over 50 countries and lived in nine of them for more than a month. I speak four languages and I’ve seen some of the most spectacular locations in the world and met hundreds of fascinating people.
In the beginning, I actually made little money. In fact, to travel through Europe in 2009 I had to scrounge up clients as I went. And I also crashed for a few weeks at a friend’s house and then another couple months at my mother’s.
In fact, my lifestyle back in Boston before I began traveling around the world was actually more costly than my new nomadic one.
My cost of living in Boston hovered around $40,000 per year before I took the plunge and pursued my internet income. And in a city as expensive as Boston, I was not exactly living well: my apartment was small, I rode a bike everywhere, I ate at crappy restaurants and didn’t have much money to go out and see friends.
What I’m saying is this: you can live a higher quality of life by spending less money and fulfilling your travel dreams at the same time.
I’m about to prove that point.
Take a look at the list below. It’s a list of everything I did in a single year a few years back. As you read through it, keep in the back of your mind how much it likely cost. Yes, that includes ALL expenses (visas, airfare, insurance, lodging, etc.)
- Spent three weeks studying Spanish four hours per day in Guatemala with a private tutor. Took salsa lessons. Hiked volcanoes. Had a two-floor apartment with a spiral staircase.
- Learned to surf on the beaches of Costa Rica, spent 10 days with my own room on the beach.
- Spent three weeks in England (London and Bristol).
- Three weeks in Prague, Czech Republic in the center of the Old Town. Went out and partied almost every night.
- Lived for a month in St. Petersburg, just off Nevsky-Prospekt (their version of Broadway) and studied Russian with a private tutor every day while I was there.
- Met up with a friend to travel and party through Budapest (Hungary), Odessa (Ukraine), Berlin (Germany) and Ibiza (Spain), all for a week apiece, going out partying and eating out almost every night for more than a month straight.
- Visited Barcelona, Amsterdam and Dublin on my way back to the US.
- Met with a client in Miami and stayed on South Beach, visited friends in Chicago and Boston, and then visited my brother briefly in Seattle.
- Lived in an apartment on a tropical beach in Thailand for three months with multiple visits to Singapore and Bangkok and Chiang Mai.
- Spent three weeks traveling around India: New Delhi, Agra, Gaya, Goa, Bangalore, etc.
- Spent two weeks in Beijing, China. Saw the Great Wall, Forbidden City, and Mao’s Mausoleum.
- Short stopover in LA to meet with a business contact and see friends. Partied in Hollywood. Flew to my mother’s in time for Christmas.
To put it in more statistical terms:
- 17 countries
- 32 cities
- Lived on two world-class beaches, visited three others.
- Rented furnished apartments in the best part of town everywhere I went.
- Studied Spanish, Russian, salsa and surfing with private teachers.
- Ate out most nights.
- Partied my ass off.
- Saw some of the most famous tourist sites in the world: Taj Mahal, Great Wall of China, Hermitage, Berlin Wall, Sagrada Familia, Westminister Abbey, etc.
So if you were to add up everything, my entire year, how much do you think I spent? All of those crazy experiences, all of those flights, all of those lessons and apartments, how much do you think it ran me?
Less than $33,000.
That’s a full 20% LESS than it cost me to live in a dingy apartment in Boston with no car.
Chances are that is less than it currently costs you to live in your home country too. That is a VERY modest middle-class income back home. That cost of living will get you a small condo in a shitty suburb of most US cities.
You may be saying, “Well, Mark, you don’t have car payments and you don’t have a mortgage.”
You’re right. I’ve eliminated all unnecessary expenses and items from my life in order to afford my experiences.
I realize this is not a common life decision, but it’s mine, and I ask you to consider it.
I lived like a king. I saw some of the most amazing sites in the world and ingratiated myself in a myriad of foreign cultures. I tried new food, spoke new languages, laid on beaches and climbed up mountains. I made new friends, learned new skills, partied my ass off, ate amazing food. And I did it for the same amount of money most people spend eating Hamburger Helper and watching CSI reruns every day after work.
Whether you’re a student who wants to take some time abroad, an activist who wants to explore and volunteer in uncharted parts of the world, an internet entrepreneur who wants to find cheap, amazing locations to set up shop, or someone who just wants out and needs some time off, whatever — I assure you, you can find a way to maximize every dollar (or pound or euro) when it comes to experiencing the pleasures of living abroad.
If you’re interested in learning more about long-term travel and living abroad, check out my course, Escape Plan. It’s part of the subscription to my site that includes a whole lot more and starts at just $4/month.
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Originally published at markmanson.net.