Bulgarian property auctions by Bulgariadirect

Bulgaria travel

I’ve had two conversations in two weeks about how great Bulgaria is, with other people who have visited. One was a fellow travel writer who has had serious trouble getting editors to take a story about the place. It’s not trendy, not a hotspot, not a place where luxury hotel chains are scampering to open new properties. But that makes it a great place for budget travelers who appreciate a great value.

I wrote some blogs posts and this article on Bulgaria that won me a few awards after I was there a few years ago. The country is in my World’s Cheapest Destinations book and it’s also featured in the new one, A Better Life for Half the Price. I’m obviously a fan and it’s a place I definitely want to get back to for a longer period. It’s not the bleak, ex-communist wasteland people probably expect to see, if they expect anything at all.

traveling Bulgaria

Last time I was traveling as a guest of Odysseia-in adventure tour company and I would use them again on my own dime when I go back with the wife or whole family. They have great connections and knowledge for the full country and can enable you to get around that whole language barrier thing, which can be serious in the countryside.

Plovdiv street

Because you really do need to get into the countryside to see what makes Bulgaria so great. Sure, Sofia is pleasant enough, but most backpackers go there by default, even though it’s not that great of a city. You’re better off spending the city time in Plovdiv (pictured above) or the great Veliko Tarnovo (pictured below). The latter is one of those places that should be mobbed with tourists, but thankfully isn’t. It’s right on the main train line between Istanbul and Bucharest, so it’s a great place to start or end.

Veliko Tarnovo

You can do hut to hut hikes here like you would in Switzerland, but for 1/5 the cost. The green mountains are surprisingly well preserved and you get stunning scenery along the way. Round a bend and you may end up an a monastery a few hundred years old, then a small village where you’re sure to get a great meal.

hiking bulgaria

That Perceptive Travel story I linked to earlier was as much about the food as it was about the countryside because one of the greatest draws here is what you sit down and eat each meal. The meals are often organic, slow food, made from scratch. That’s not because they’re being trendy though. It’s just the way they cook. If something is in season, it will be on your plate. If you’re there in winter, you’ll be getting stews, pickled vegetables, and aged cheese. And always great bread, great beer, and great wine. I’m salivating just thinking about it.

If you go an love it so much you’re thinking of putting down some roots, it’s not going to cost you much. Check out these home auction prices.

vacation rental

Sure beats a cheap motel

The first time I went to Salt Lake City for the Outdoor Retailer market convention, I was in a crappy Econolodge motel with stained carpets, intermittent Wi-Fi, barely working heat, lukewarm hot water, and a lumpy bed.

This time I stayed in a pristine room with a heavenly mattress, in a craftsman bungalow house in a quiet location. The Wi-Fi and hot water worked flawlessly and I had a table I could work at.

The interesting thing is, the latter was cheaper.

There are plenty of times a hotel is the best bet for where you’re going and the good ones can be excellent spots to roll into to get some work done or be right in the center of the action. If rates are at their peak though and there are not many empty rooms, you can really pay a premium. That’s how I ended up in someone’s spare bedroom in Salt Lake City two weeks ago: when a big convention comes to that city like the one I was attending, even the crappiest places like Motel 6 and Super 8 will raise their rates to $150, $200 or more per night.

I used AirBnB for that crash pad (with some lovely hosts) and got a beach rental place through them the month before in Puerto Escondido. We paid less than we would have for a very basic hotel, but had two bedrooms and a pool to ourselves.

They’re not the only game around though and when you’re looking outside of the United States, there’s often another dominant player or two you should pull up as well. In some Mexican towns, for instance, you’ll find more listings on the traditional sites like VacationRentals.com. When we still owned our beach house in the Yucatan state, you could rent it for $250 per week through there.

If you’re headed to Europe, HouseTrip has more than 300,000 places to choose from and is active almost anywhere you would want to go. They can save you some big bucks when you’re in an expensive European capital, or just give you some more space and a kitchen if you want to keep your expenses low and have more room to spread out. Unlike some of those rotten chain hotels, the owners aren’t going to charge you to use the internet signal.

Athens rental

Kitchen of a 47 euros per night European apartment for 4

I pulled up their Athens listings because the Travel Bloggers Exchange Europe–where I’m going to be a speaker—is happening there in October. I checked out what’s available for four people and there are some terrific values. Plenty of apartments are under 100 euros a night and there are quite a few that are half that. If you get a larger place for more people the cost per person would be getting a real apartment for less than a hostel dorm bed.

I like hotels a lot and my job has me reviewing a lot of them. When I’m with my family though, it gets old when all of us are sleeping in the same room, sharing the same bathroom. Renting two connected rooms can be inexpensive in some countries, but often not. When we went from a cramped Bangkok hotel room to an apartment we rented on one trip, the price was about the same but we had three times as much space.

How about you? Where have you found terrific vacation rental deals?

crafts Oaxaca

Why do people rave so much about Oaxaca? Sure, it’s a nice colonial city with some beautiful buildings and a shady zocolo central square. You can say this about a whole slew of cities in Mexico though. What makes this one special, besides all the great food, is what’s around outside the city when you go exploring. We rented a car for two days of our trip and struck out in several directions.

We were lucky enough to be in Oaxaca during the Guelaguetza festival. In this case, high season was definitely the right season. Normally there’s a decent selection of handicrafts from the state in the shops, but in late July many of those villagers come to the city and set up a booth in an artisan market to sell direct to the crowds. We wanted to strike out on our own anyway though, hitting some sites and strolling some real village markets.

Monte Alban

The city of Oaxaca sits where three valleys converge and each of those valleys has long been populated by indigenous people who farmed the land (there’s evidence that the first corn crops started here) and created beautiful handicrafts. They also built some amazing structures, the most famous being dramatic Monte Alban. The Zapotec people flattened a mountaintop by hand and built a series of grand temples. The city is older and thrived for much longer than most Mayan headquarters, active from around 500 BC to 700 AD. This may have been the first place in what is now Mexico with written records and a calendar.

Mitla

Mitla

The panoramic views from the site give it some extra drama and it’s easy to see why this location was a tough one for rivals to attack—especially by surprise. You get the usual Mayan temples, a ball court and a grand plaza with good acoustics. There are a few oddities here though, like tunnels leading from one platform to another, probably so the priests could give the illusion they had the ability to magically disappear from one and reappear on another. There are also large flat stones carved with pictures of deformities and births gone wrong, with the baby coming out feet first. There was a hospital here and these were probably used as teaching materials.

The second major site in the area is Mitla, which is a very different kind of place. The setting is also beautiful here, with mountains rising up in the distance, but what makes Mitla notable is the series of 14 geometric designs made from individually cut stones fitted together. Well, that and the fact that was a place for human sacrifices.

worm saltThe market towns around Oaxaca are a lot of fun, especially Ocotlan on Fridays and Tlacolula on Sundays. People come from all the nearby villages to sell their homemade mezcal, their vegetables, and items that are a big hit locally but are not very popular with foreigners. Fried crickets coated in spices are sold by the bucketful and you see people munching on them and putting them in tacos. You can also get some worms served up too, or buy worm salt like you see here. We passed on both, but I did buy a glass of pulque (fermented maguey juice) as you don’t see that very often anymore in a lot of places in Mexico.

We also had a great mole lunch in the market at Ocotlan. If Frida Kahlo had made it to old age, she probably would have looked like this woman running the stall.

Ocotlan market

Handicraft villages

Different villages in the valleys around Oaxaca are known for producing specific things. If you visit them on a tour or with a guide, you’ll probably hit one of the workshops and maybe a local market if you come on the right day. If you take a bus or come by rental car, you can just wander around on your own on foot as none of them are all that large and you’ll find workshops on nearly every block.

San Bartolo Coyotepec is the place that cranks out all the black pottery from Oaxaca you see for sale all over Mexico. If you get it here at the source, it’s amazingly inexpensive.

San Martin Tilcajete produces many of the fantastical alebrijes that are brightly painted wood figures. The two at the top of this post are now sitting on a shelf in my house. Very cool. The wood carvers in this area are quite talented. Look at the custom order this guy at the Jacabo & Maria Ángeles center has been working on for months:

Oaxacan wood carver

I didn’t feel flush enough to buy any carpets, though maybe I will next time I visit because they’re really beautiful and well-made. If you visit the Isaac Vásquez Gutiérrez workshop in the weaving center of Teotitlán del Valle, you can see the looms in action and see what kinds of plants and minerals are used to make the natural dyes.

Oaxacan carpets

If you want to try a variety of mezcal, you’ll find the biggest concentration of distilleries in Matatlan, where the surrounding land is filled with spiky maguey plants. Mezcal is not nearly as popular as tequila, so most of the distilleries are quite small. The owner or master distiller might be the one pouring you a sample. You can find plenty of others all around the state in different villages though, some sold off a guy’s front porch in recycled bottles with a hand-scribbled label.

Tule largest tree

About That Big Tree…

There are a lot of trees that are older and taller than the Arbol del Tule in Oaxaca: if you want to see them all you can check them out at ILiketoWasteMyTime.com (seriously, that’s a real site). This giant cypress tree is the largest by girth though. It is 11 meters thick at its base and is believed to be 1,500 years old. It’s a pretty impressive thing to walk around and there’s a smaller one nearby that is on deck to take over I guess if this one croaks in 500 years. The town of Tule is only about 15 minutes from Oaxaca City.

See more on the region at the Oaxaca Tourism site.

 

 

half price living Granada

$1,800 for two is “extravagant” here…

Are you happy with your finances? Are you content with how much you’re paying for your basic expenses each month? Does the future look cheery and bright where you are in the USA, Canada, the UK, or Australia?

I’ve been dropping hints and asking for sign-ups all year for my latest book, A Better Life for Half the Price, and now it’s here. It’s filled with stories from expats who have made the leap and are living large—or at least not going broke—in some of the cheapest places to live in the world.

I’m one of them myself, of course, kicking back in the highlands of central Mexico and enjoying a gorgeous climate. I’m also enjoying having twice as much money to work with as I had before, without having to work more hours to increase my earnings. If you want to see my view, my dining room, and our cool Mexican kitchen (plus my $15 electric bill), here’s a video for you.

 

There are plenty of other places on this big planet where you can do the same though. I interviewed couples easily coasting on $1,500 a month or living extravagantly for less than $2,000. You can find shoestring backpackers getting by in Chiang Mai, Thailand for $500 a month, but those who are spending more than $1,000 are often having the times of their lives. I spoke with singles, couples, and families who cut their expenses in half (or more) as soon as they got set up in such diverse locations as Argentina, Portugal, India, and Vietnam.

If you’re curious about how this would all work, pick up the e-book and see.

4 Additional Reports from Experts:
Besides this e-book, which is the paperback equivalent of 300 pages of great info, you’ll also get some worksheets from me on choosing your ideal spot, plus these special reports:

The Best Tools for Mobile Workers by Natalie Sisson of The Suitcase Entrepreneur
Negotiation for Expats by T.W. Anderson, author of The Expat Guidebook and editor of Marginal Boundaries
How to Get Free Accommodation (when you’re scoping out your ideal spots) by Nora Dunn of The Professional Hobo
Getting Started With Working Online by Christine Gilbert of Almost Fearless

If you’re committed to ditching your high-priced life and finding a better way, there’s a package with all that plus webinars, audio interviews, and a private Facebook group for sharing answers and ideas.

If you’re ready to go all-in, you can avoid all the pitfalls and really do it right with all of the above plus live online sessions and one-on-one coaching from me.

See the options here

This book has been in process since 2013 and to give you an idea of how robust it is, when it comes out in paperback form at the end of the year it will be more than 300 pages. It’s filled with expat stories, details on important things like visas and costs, and lots of resources to turn to for more depth.

To get the full scoop and decide this is something you’d like to pursue, see some tales from the expats here.

moving-500

If you’re going to move abroad by choice rather than for a job posting, it can seem overwhelming to view the sea of possibilites and narrow it down. Some people use this as an excuse to not take action, others send me e-mails or leave blog comments asking for a short cut answer to “Where should I go?”

Now I’ve got a book I can send everyone to for answers, with some consulting options for those who need it. Here’s an excerpt from there about where to start.

There are three main criteria most pros and cons about a destination fall into. There are head items, which are factual “must-have” factors you can easily substantiate from the comfort of your sofa with a laptop or tablet in hand. Then there’s the question of “What can you afford?” That one’s pretty cut and dry, once you have good information on the costs for basic living expenses and setting up residency. If you’re lucky to pull in $1,000 a month, head to Cambodia, Nepal, or Nicaragua. If money is no object, you can pretty much ignore this part and just look at the head and heart items. Most people fall somewhere in the middle though.

The heart factor is the hardest one to work out remotely. Sure, you can collect e-books, watch Travel Channel shows, check out YouTube videos, and join Facebook groups or message boards for that destination. Really though, none of those things will fully prepare you for how that place will make you feel.

Let’s look at each factor on its own.

Head

If a place doesn’t meet your main criteria for an ideal place to live, you’re probably not going to be happy living there. As a travel writer who visits ten or twelve different countries each year, I often ask myself when visiting a new place, “Could I live here?”

Usually the answer is no for some very specific factual reasons — my head reasons. It’s too cold, too hot, too cloudy/rainy, too isolated, too overrun with gringos, too ugly, too unfriendly to pedestrians, and so on. For others, there may be no such thing as “too hot” or “too overrun with gringos,” They may think a steamy hot place where they can speak English every day with their fellow countrymen and women is perfecto.

Puebla at night

If you have health issues though, this may be the first place to start in narrowing down your choices. If you are allergic to mold, you may want to seek out a dry climate. If you have limited mobility, you don’t want to live in a city built on the side of a mountain. If you’re someone who just doesn’t want to die young, you’re probably not going to want to live in Beijing, where pollution levels are frequently 20 times the levels considered healthy and you can’t see more than two blocks away because of the smog. If you’re a retiree, you probably also don’t want to be in some remote location that’s a day’s drive from the nearest decent hospital. In almost any area where you find lots of people in your age bracket, there will be at least one good medical facility in town and many other larger ones you can get to in a couple hours or less.

What’s on your checklist? Think about climate, culture, food, air connectivity, land connectivity, and apartment/house options. What’s a deal breaker?

Lisa Niver Rajna of We Said Go Travel has lived in multiple countries for three months or more at a time and says it’s important to listen to the signs, to be willing to scratch your plans if something better arises. “We never would have gone to Ko Samui in Thailand if a friend of a friend hadn’t invited me on Twitter. Once we got there, it just felt right. Look for something that fits with you and matches your passion.”

“If it doesn’t feel right, move on. We had planned to live in Panama for six months, but after 13 days we left and were in Costa Rica. When we wrote about our feelings on the blog, we got a lot of negative feedback and people saying, ‘You need to give it a chance.’ But we did give it a chance. We went to five different locations and compared to Thailand where we fell in love, Panama was a big disappointment.” It wasn’t right for them, so they moved on. For someone else, it may be just right.

Wallet

While you may be dreaming of retiring on the Amalfi Coast of Italy, on the beach in the Virgin Islands, or in a nice slopeside chalet in Switzerland, your bank account might not agree with those plans. You need to find a way to combine your checklist of ideal factors with places you can actually afford.

If you picture yourself in a lakeside cottage looking up at jagged snow-capped mountains, you don’t have to spend $100,000 a year in Switzerland. You can move south of Bariloche in Argentina and live for one-fifth that amount instead. If you want to be on a warm-water beach with hot weather, there are 100 choices in Latin America and Southeast Asia that are a fraction of the cost of a Caribbean Island residence.

cheap place to liveFor most of the cheapest places to live, a pair of retirees living off two social security checks or an equivalent pension can get by just fine. In some countries, if you earn $1,500 for one person, $2.400 for two, you’ll be living on far more than the average middle-class local. That may not sound like a lot where you live now, but it will be double, triple, or quadruple what’s considered a good local salary. If you’ve got more than that coming in, you can be choosier about where to go and can upgrade your living standards.

Keep in mind though that there are major variations within a country, especially a big country like Mexico. The more expatriates there are in an area, the higher the prices will probably be: witness San Miguel de Allende. The more of a tourist destination it is, the higher prices will be: witness Los Cabos.

Also, just because you can live on $1,500 a month doesn’t mean the government thinks that’s enough wealth to grant you permanent residency. In Nicaragua a retiree only has to show monthly income of $600 a month, but in Mexico you have to show $2,000 for you and another $500 for each dependent. There are ways around this sometimes if you can show other assets or finagle a work permit, but do keep these restrictions in mind before making big plans.

Heart

The authors of Freakonomics and Think Like a Freak do a regular podcast on NPR and in one episode they answered a listener’s question about how an economist would pick the perfect place to live. Stephen Leavitt said some of his most important factors — what economists would call “amenities” — were access to golf courses, fast food drive-throughs, and houses with big yards. He didn’t care much about museums and cultural activities, but he could never live in a place without easy access to a golf course. In other words, he was meant to live in the suburbs, and specifically an American-style suburb.

Steve Dubner lives in New York City and said his most important factors were the density of ideas, people, and creativity–and the resulting spillover effect. Without being in a big city where people interact a lot, he wouldn’t get any of that. “I could never live in a place without a good diner,” he added.

In the end, they decided that choosing a place to live was only an economic decision when it came to finding a place with the right amenities: childless couples don’t care about schools, but for parents it may be #1. Otherwise, it’s a decision you make with your heart.

beach living

Most “heart” factors can vary a lot even between couples who are on the same page in most other attitudes and ideals. A place may feel “just perfect” to one of them, while feeling like “a total s#*thole” to the other. As you can imagine, this can be the beginning of the end if they ignore these differences and try to plow forward.

For all these factors, it’s worth taking some quiet time with no distractions to talk them through, maybe even writing down the answers mind-map style. When I’ve asked people what they love about a place, there’s often a mix of head and heart in the answers and the heart ones can end up being really esoteric. Some cite a specific yoga teacher, a local hike they love, or the kind of pottery they use in their kitchen. One left the first place she lived because “the coffee really sucks there. I was annoyed every day.”

For couples, talk out loud when you’re traveling about why a place would be a good place to live and why it wouldn’t. The time to argue about what’s important is before you move, not after.

Then go do a trial run to see if what looked good on paper really pans out in person. More on that later…

Hear how other expats are living a half price life abroad on the Cheap Living Abroad site.