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A question I’m frequently asked is how on earth a self-employed single mama like me is able to afford a life of full-time travel. It sounds pretty out of reach when you put it that way, but it’s actually much more manageable than most folks would imagine. Heck, you might read this and think, “Wow, I could do this too!” (And I really hope that’s the case – that is the entire reason I started this blog.)
The thing that I want to express with this article is not “Yay look at me! I’m in Greece!” The thing I want to express is that Big Goals can happen even when you have a tiny budget. Your Big Goal may be very different from mine, but you’d be amazed at the things you can make happen when you think about them differently.
Where my money comes from
Sadly, I’m not independently wealthy. I didn’t get a big inheritance from a long-lost relative or pick the lucky numbers in the lotto. But I’m in a pretty good position to wander. Because I work online, I can take my business with me wherever there’s an internet connection, so I’ll still be earning the same amount of money that I did at home in the US. My income has remained steady.
It’s important to note that I’m not “on vacation” when I’m traveling. My business is a full-time job. I still work 8 or so hours per day. I just get to do it from fantastic places. One of the easiest ways to make a life of full-time travel (or any other wild and outrageous dream) possible is to be self-employed and have a business that is mobile. The next best option is to be a remote worker. Anything that lets you work from your laptop is a possible key to the lifestyle.
First things first, I don’t have housing in the United States. I don’t have a “home” anywhere. I have some stuff stored with my daughter and pay her a bit of money each month for that and the care of our family pets. To do this, you have to get rid of as many of your “back home” expenses as possible. If you choose your destinations carefully, you’ll find that housing is surprisingly affordable. I don’t stay (at least not for long) in super-expensive hubs like Paris and London. I stay in less expensive countries and opt for shoulder seasons instead of the height of the tourist season.
When you rent an Airbnb or Booking.com apartment for a month, you get a hefty discount. And what’s more, all your bills are rolled into that payment: rent, utilities, internet, etc. So you have no bills outside of your rental payment. Often, you get to know property owners and can sometimes rent from them directly if you extend your stay or return to the same destination. Then, because they don’t have to give away a cut, they offer you a discount and it’s a win-win situation.
Transportation is expensive once. My one-way flight over to Europe was about $1200 but after that, transportation is not outrageous. Once you’re in Europe, you can inexpensively fly to other countries, generally for less than $100 USD round trip. Ground transportation is even cheaper – if you take the bus or a train, you can often get from A to B for a song. A favorite way to travel between destinations is by hiring a car and driver. I usually use MyDayTrip.com and pay a little bit extra for some tourist stops along the way. This means that a trip that would take 4 hours directly might end up taking 6-7 hours, but it’s well worth the extra time to see some things that are off the beaten path. Most of the time, the price is comparable to a flight, but it has the following benefits:
- You get to stop and see cool places.
- You have door-to-door transportation.
- You don’t have to drag your luggage into a cab, out of the cab, check it, wait for it after the flight, drag it back into the cab, then drag it back out of the cab.
- The drivers I’ve had all spoke great English and were friendly and personable.
Once I get to my destination, I don’t use a lot of transportation. I stay in walkable areas. I usually stay in “Old Towns” that are pedestrian-only – no cars allowed. Within these areas, it’s easy to find shops, markets, cafes, and bakeries to fulfill your day-to-day needs. So – no more car payment, no more insurance, and I sure don’t need a gym membership. When I do need transportation, I’ve found that taxis and Ubers are a lot less expensive in Europe than they are in the US. And taking the city bus or subway is an adventure all on its own.
One thing I splurge a teeny bit on is food. I don’t want to go to all these exotic places and eat ramen noodles over a hot plate. I have planned in my budget to eat out once a day so I can enjoy trying the local cuisine. To me, local food is one of the best parts of travel. Another benefit to staying in less expensive countries is that everything is cheaper – including food. So I can get a great meal at a restaurant for $10 or less in most places. The servings are pretty big, so if you’re shameless enough to ask for a box for your leftovers (and I totally am), that meal will often turn into two meals.
I also hit the grocery store or market every other day. There I pick up odds and ends for eating in my apartment. Snacks, bread, butter, eggs, tea, fruit, and other goodies are on hand for breakfast and those days when I might want to stay in or when I get the munchies. Groceries are dirt cheap and I generally spend the equivalent of about $30 US per week on food from the market.
I have health insurance through Cigna. Another popular insurance company for travelers is Allianz. These insurances are so much less than health insurance in the states and the coverage is great. Aside from this, I don’t have any unusual expenses. Just like I would if I was living in a house in the US, I still get laundry soap, shampoo, haircuts, and lipstick but the prices are equivalent or lower. I’ve found that I save an astonishing amount of money just because I live out of a suitcase. I don’t have unlimited space, so I don’t buy new clothes or shoes very often. In fact, I have a one-in, one-out rule if I purchase something like that. The only “souvenirs” I purchase are jewelry. I like to pick up one interesting piece in every city where I stay. Often, I pick those keepsakes up for a song at second-hand stores or flea markets. As well, I no longer buy home decor items or new bath towels or cleaning products because… well, I don’t have an actual home. Even though I’ve always been pretty thrifty, I’ve discovered a fair bit of extra money that I can use for touristy things instead of stuff I didn’t actually need anyway.
The expenses I no longer have
Because I don’t have a home in the US anymore, there are lots of expenses that I no longer have.
- Home insurance
- Car payment
- Car insurance
- New clothing
- Lawn service
Since I’m earning the same amount of money I did back home, when I cut out these expenses, then I am actually spending less traveling the world than I was before I left.
Traveling in other locations
The information above is specific to Europe. With the pandemic, I’m not globe-trotting quite to the same extent. However, it doesn’t mean I’m settling down and getting back into a spendy lifestyle. I’m currently living outside the US for a few months and have settled in one place in order to manage any potential lockdowns or outbreaks.
Most of my expenses remained the same as above, although I did need to pick up a vehicle, as I’m not able to walk everywhere.
I chose a place with a far lower cost of living than the United States but I still make my US income. This has recently been named “geoarbitrage” and I’ll be writing a full article about that soon with the details. There are a lot of benefits to this if it is a workable lifestyle with you.
It might just be possible for you, too.
If you’ve dreamed of making dramatic changes to your life but felt like you couldn’t afford it, maybe this look inside my finances will give you some ideas about how you can make it happen. Remember, if you want to radically change your life, you have to be willing to radically change your life. If you have any questions, just let me know in the comments. I’m happy to help.