Puerto Escondido

There are cheaper places to sit on a beach in the Americas than Mexico, but it can still be a great value one country down from the USA. Many travelers visit one of the big resort areas and presume that’s how much things cost throughout the country. Those are oddities though, bubble places full of foreign tourists who fly in for vacation, spend freely, and then fly back out.

I just spent five great days in Puerto Escondido. This is a town discovered by, and still very much filled with, surfers. That makes it different from Tulum, a place that was once full of backpackers but is now full of moneyed tourists trying to act like backpackers while spending big bucks for a designer yoga retreat with no electricity.

This has happened in other spots too to some extent, from Sayulita to Loreto to Zihuatanejo—all destinations the budget travelers latched onto first. Mexico has a lot of sandy coastline though and even if the government would like to turn every pretty bay into a mass market tourism destination, it’s not going to happen. There are just too many places even if the numbers doubled.

So don’t worry, if you ask around and do some research, you can still find a nice beach spot in Mexico where you can chill for a week on a reasonable amount of money. Here in Puerto Escondido, prices are geared to surfers, backpackers, and average Mexicans. As in double hotel rooms right across from the beach advertised for 400 pesos ($30) and hostel beds for 80 ($6.25). All over town there are 2-for-1 cocktails (“happy hour all day long”) and two beers for $2.30. Food at the beach restaurants is reasonable and if you head into the center, everything is just as cheap as it would be in any other town in Mexico. You can get a meal of the day or a plate of tacos for $3 and a kilo of fruit for a buck.

Carazilillo Beach

Apart from the seriously overpriced rates at the airport if you fly in from somewhere, taxis are far cheaper than in places like Cancun and Ixtapa. We went from Carrizalillo Beach where we’re staying to La Punta at the far end on the other side of town and it was about $3.25. All the other rides have been $2. We bought tickets in an express passenger van up the long and winding road to Oaxaca City and they were about $16 each for seven hours.

I’m here on vacation with my family, so we’re in a rental apartment that’s $100 a night with all the fees, a few minutes walk to Carrizalillo Beach pictured above. There are only three of us, but the place can sleep six and there’s a huge TV with cable, a swimming pool, hammocks, and a full kitchen. Like a lot of places here it’s not air-conditioned though, so it’s deathly hot in the afternoon. Don’t underestimate the heat at a Mexican beach at the end of July. Or how fast you’ll get sunburned.

Carazilillo Puerto Escondido

We’ve tried to stay in the shade much of the time on the beach by renting chairs and umbrellas from one of the restaurants. The thing is, you don’t really have to rent them as long as you order something to eat and drink from the accompanying restaurant. They say 100 pesos each (about $7.80) but they’re pretty low-key about it and you can hang out there the entire day. If you want to gorge on seafood you can spend a lot, but you don’t have to: beers are two bucks and a plate of fish tacos about $5. With a gorgeous view of the water and surfers or learning surfers. But of course you can just plop on a sarong or towel for nothing. Bring a cooler if you want.

I’ve been buying a good cup of coffee in the morning for $1.60 and really good gelato from Italian immigrants for $2 or so a pop. Overall the prices here are pretty similar to what you find in central Mexico where I live, which means they’re a great value.

I’m off to Oaxaca City after this and between the mole, mezcal, and Monte Alban it might be a while before my next post, but I’ll be back with a report on that place then.

I’ve been dropping hints and links for a while now about my next book, asking you to get on the Cheap Living Abroad newsletter list if you wanted to cut your expenses in half just by changing your address. But now I’m less than a month away from release date.

Better life moving abroadI’m officially announcing the “friends and followers” launch date of August 13, a few days before the packages go on sale (at a higher price) for the general public.

The book cover is above, voted on by the newsletter readers as the one they liked best. Here’s the full title and subtitle:

A Better Life for Half the Price: How to prosper on less money in the cheapest places to live.

This will be in e-book form now, in paperback come December. This is not some wimpy short e-book that makes you go, “I paid how much for that?” When it comes out in print it will be some 260 pages long, packed with great general info on moving to another country to cut your expenses in half, as well as specific recommendations where the cost of living is low and the place is foreigner-friendly enough for you to set up residency there. You’ll hear stories and real prices from people already living the dream of a better life for far less money. Even if you skip half of it, the book should save you tens of thousands of dollars.

If you’re just curious and want the book alone, that’s fine.

If you’re beyond the dreaming stage and are starting to put the wheels in motion, the second tier package (“Committed) will have a private Facebook group, webinar replays, a batch of extra reports, and an insiders newsletter.

The top package (“All In”) will include all that plus live webinars, tailored interviews, conference calls, and personal coaching.

I’ll have package details and prices posted a week before the launch.

If you’re not on the notification list yet, go find out more here. Otherwise, watch this countdown clock and join me August 13!

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Benny digital nomad

Benny Lewis from FluentIn3Months.com

It used to be that if you wanted to pack everything in storage and go traveling for an extended period, you need to have lots of savings or you need to find some kind of international job. That job was usually low-paid in a low-skilled job, or it was doing something like teaching English as a second language.

Then the internet came along and got faster. Then came Voice over IP, like Skype, Vonage, Magic Jack, and Google Hangouts/Google Voice. And Paypal. And smart phones where you can stick in a new SIM card and have the world at your fingertips from anywhere. I use a SkypeIn number to have a U.S. number companies can call, plus a Skype subscription to make unlimited calls to regular phones in the other direction. It’s almost like I never left–except when the connection is bad.

All these tools have created a new roaming band of part-time workers and full-time digital nomads. Most of them are freelancers, some are telecommuters, some are entrepreneurs. What they have done is taken their “office” on the road and moved the place where they earn an income wherever they happen to be. Without the huge monthly nut they had in their expensive home country, they don’t need to earn as much either.

The New Digital Nomads

I recently published an article for Lonely Planet on the subject, profiling three singles, a couple, and a family who are working virtually. You can see it here: Meet the new Digital Nomads.

One key thing I wanted to do in there was show that the most visible and obvious thing people may think of is not the best: being a travel blogger. As someone who has been a speaker at two Travel Bloggers Exchange (TBEX) conferences and will be speaking at two more this year in Cancun and Athens, I’m here to tell you without a doubt that this is a very tough way to make real money. It can literally take years to get any real traction the way Google works these days and until then you’re spending loads of time on what’s basically a hobby. It can work, yes, and some travelers are doing quite well. But some musicians, painters, and tennis players are too. Not most.

So if you want my advice, look hard at your skill set and figure out what can be done virtually. If you’re good at something that is already easy to do remotely, then you’re halfway there. If you have paying clients or know where to go get them, you’re probably 2/3 there. If you’re good and your disciplined enough to do quality work from the road, you’ll probably get more clients later by referral. You can also bid for clients on services like eLance, oDesk, or Envato. Things like web design, WordPress work, graphic design, translation, and technical writing are just a few of the skills in regular demand.

virtual work abroad

On a post-workday walk…

If your current job is something very hands-on, then is there a way to do that hands-on job somewhere else? Or can you make money teaching others how to do it better or make more money at it?

If you come up empty, there’s nothing wrong with being an ESL teacher. I was one in Istanbul and Seoul and wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. It was a rewarding job where I really felt like I was accomplishing something each week and in Korea anyway, the two of us saved $30K in a shade over a year. In 1998 dollars.

Whatever path you choose, you will need a bit of money set aside to get rolling and you’ll have a few grand in expenses up front from shots, travel gear, lingering bills, plane tickets, and your first month or two of traveling. If you can make money from the road after that though, at least $1,000 a month to be safe, then you can travel through The World’s Cheapest Destinations almost indefinitely.

Want to change your permanent address instead of roaming the globe like a vagabond? Sign up for the Cheap Living Abroad newsletter and get a free report on where to stay on a tourist visa for four months or more!

cost of living in Hungary

Hungary is not super cheap in every way, but the destination is a good value for people who want to live a good life for less in Europe. Anyone moving to Budapest from a similarly sized city in Europe, North America, or Australia can easily cut their expenses in half. And the rest of the country costs less.

Estimates of how many expatriates live here range from 30,000 to 50,000 and there are enough in Budapest to support a business newspaper in English. So you won’t be all alone if you choose to move here.

Gary Lukatch was earning around $60,000 gross in New Mexico working in the financial industry, after having lived in a lot of other states before that. “When I moved to Budapest and began teaching English, my monthly net earnings after one year were around $600 per month, increasing to around $1,500 per month after, say, five years,” he says. “In short, I took a huge pay cut, but was 1000% happier.”

After teaching English in Budapest for eight years, he is retired, living a much better life than he could elsewhere on what he has to spend. “The cost of monthly house payments or rental, plus car costs alone, would be more than my monthly income, which is around $2,100 net,” he explains. “Here in Budapest, my monthly flat rental, plus utilities, averages around $400, right in the middle of town.” He says public transportation is excellent, so he doesn’t need a car. “I eat out several times a week and I still have enough money to travel wherever and whenever I want; I have now been to 53 countries, with at least five more trips scheduled this year.”

Australians Karen and Neil D. came to Budapest because her husband got a job offer in his industry and they thought it would be a great adventure. They had already lived in Poland and the Czech Republic though, so they and the four kids didn’t have to make a huge adjustment going to Hungary. “Hungary has been the cheapest of the three,” Karen says. They’ve watched the city get easier and easier as the years have gone by, partly through them adjusting but also because the level of English fluency locally has gotten steadily better.

Hungary joined the EU in 2004, but the country still uses the forint, which is a volatile currency. Prices quoted here are based on 220 to the dollar, but I’ve seen it as low as 198 and as high as 250. So check the current rate before cursing my name when you read this because prices have changed.

Eger

Eger, Hungary

The countryside of Hungary is very cheap, but few expats live in the rural areas unless they’re in the wine industry. Most choose to live in Budapest, around Lake Balaton, or in one of the smaller cities like Eger or Pecs.

Hungary got hit hard in the European economic crisis like many other nations on the continent, but has recovered faster. The official unemployment rate was 8% in mid-2014, which looks downright glorious compared to Italy, Spain, Greece, or Portugal. In many ways, this feels like a nation on the rise and the young are displaying something not seen much in the past couple hundred years of Hungary’s history: optimism.

Housing Costs in Hungary

housing costs BudapestThe residents of Hungary give their rent costs in hundreds, not thousands, and you won’t find many single people or couples paying more than $500 a month, even in the capital. When you get into smaller towns, you can get a large house for that. When I was last in Budapest, I asked several locals I talked to what they were paying per month for an apartment and the answers came in between $150 and $300. In the southern wine region I visited on my first trip a few years earlier, there were houses with a nice garden going for the same. I met an expat from New Zealand working for a winery by Lake Balaton. He was paying $210 a month for his two-bedroom apartment with a lake-view balcony.

The site Numbeo.com uses New York City for a price basis and compares costs of living around the world to that, using 100 as the NYC average. For rent prices, Hungary comes up a 10 and Budapest is 12. This will vary greatly by location, of course, but on average you can expect to pay 1/8 to 1/10 of what you would in your current situation if you’re living in New York.

Gary pays a shade under $300 for his apartment in District 5, one of the most desirable and central areas of the city. (If you’ve come to Hungary as a tourist, you’ve been there to see the sites.)

If you decide to buy something eventually, which you can do freely as a foreigner, “a typical apartment in Budapest will cost between 90,000 and 130,000 euros for 100 square meters.” Karen says. It’s a buyers market right now for a very bad reason: a lot of Hungarians took out loans to buy property in the pre-EU days and did it in Swiss Francs because that was a stable currency. Now they owe far more than what the property is worth because of the Swiss Franc’s rise. “So there’s a mass selling of properties because of exchange rate changes,” Karen says. Combined with the high unemployment so prevalent in much of Europe now, there are far more sellers than buyers.

Health Care Costs

In this country the medical care is good, the dental care is great. With the rise of cross-border medical treatment happening in many places in the world, Hungary has jumped on the trend with both feet. Many Europeans come here to have dental work done or to receive good medical care at a discount. I was actually having some dental problems while in this part of the world two years ago and started asking around for prices to get a new crown. I ended up not getting it done because of timing, but prices I was quoted ranged from $250 to $350 all-in. (In the United States, this can easily top $1,000.)

Getting a cleaning and check-up at the dentist is around $30, getting a set of x-rays about that much again.

The one time Gary had to have serious medical work done, the total bill was about 1/10 the price of what it would have been in the USA.

Budapest market

Food & Drink

you can normally have a very fine cloth-napkin dinner with wine for $15. If you eat at more humble places, a soup will be a dollar or two and main dishes range from $3 to $7.

When you shop in the market, prices are at the low end for Europe. You can get rolls for 10-25 cents each or a huge baguette for a dollar or less. Get 100 grams (around 1/5 of a pound) of good cheese for a dollar, 100 grams of good local sausage for $2, and a jar of pickled veggies for another dollar or so.

For a buck or less, you can generally buy 100 grams of any of these things in the market: raisins, peanuts, sunflower seeds, banana chips, or dried apricots. Or you can get a kilo of seasonal fruit or peppers, cabbage, potatoes, radishes, or carrots. I saw a big bunch of white asparagus for about a dollar when I was there. How much do you pay for that in your local Whole Foods?

“We probably spend $80-$100 a week on groceries, not including wine,” says Karen. “In Australia we could spend $300 or $400 a week easily.”

Hungarian wineHungarian wine should be known around the world, but the Soviet occupation days seriously hurt its reputation and the recovery will be a long one. So for now it’s one of the best quality-to-price values in the world. In many countries, expats complain about the difficulty of getting decent wine for a decent price, so if that’s a big priority, put Hungary on your list. (Along with Argentina and tropical duty-free Panama). You can find a decent table wine bottle in a store for $2, something quite good for $4 to $8. If you spend over $10 you might end up with something from a “winemaker of the year” who has adorned Hungarian magazine covers.

This once being part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, you can get a killer coffee and pastry here just as you can in Vienna—but for literally 1/4 the price. After you do a double-take at your low bill in a wine bar, finish with a coffee and dessert for another nice surprise.

Transportation Costs

Getting around Hungary is relatively cheap by bus or train when you want to get out of town. Figure on $10-$12 for a trip of two hours, or $30 to go as far as you can possibly go within Hungary. Seniors and young children travel free. The longest ride on the suburban railway out of Budapest (30 kms) is just $2.50.

Hungary travel by train

Budapest has a metro and while it’s no real bargain on a ride-by-ride basis (around $1.55), a monthly pass that also works for the trams and buses is a good value at less than $50. If you’re of retirement age, you might squeak by for free.

Apart from the ride from the airport, taxis in Hungary are a bargain. In general you can get around the center of Budapest in a cab for $3 to $7. It’s around $2 to start and $1.25 for each kilometer, so it’s hard to spend $10 anywhere unless it’s a long haul. Like much of Europe, this country is set up well for those on a bicycle and some expatriates use a bike as their main means of transport. In Budapest there are lots of dedicated bike lanes and in the countryside there’s not nearly such an abundance of cars as you see in the capital.

Frequent promotions on the train system and Eurolines bus make international travel from here a bargain. If you plan ahead you can get to Vietnna for less than $20 or to beach locations of Greece, Bulgaria, or Croatia for around $60.

Other Costs

If you pay your own utilities they can vary greatly by the season. His utilities vary widely, from $30 to $200 a month. “My place is not the best insulated in town, so I pay more in the winter for heat. In the summer, it’s very low.” Internet is $15 to $30 depending on speed and if you want a great connection, you can usually get it in the cities. The lowest-priced speed is generally 5 mbps, which is fine for a lot of people.

The land of Liszt and Bartok has an abundance of cultural performances going on at all times, from high-brow opera in the capital to an annual festival of wine songs in the south each year. Performances that aren’t free are very cheap by European standards. “The theater is amazing here,” says Karen. “The cost of going to a ballet or opera can nearly bankrupt you in Australia. Here it’s for everyone. Tickets usually start at $5. If you buy really great seats on a weekend for a popular show it might cost you all of $25.”

Budapest coffee pastry

Visas in Hungary

Hungary is part of the Schengen Agreement covering much of the European Union, which means you can’t just stick around here on a tourist visa. You get three months upon entering the zone, but after that you have to leave the whole Schengen area for three months before returning. No problem if you’re only coming for the summer. Terrible if you want to settle down for longer.

To get residency without being tied to a specific employer, you generally have to show you’re doing work a local can’t do, like teaching English, or you have to show that you’re self-supported by income from abroad. You can see a sample of costs and documents needed at this site, which also warns you that requirements may change at any time: http://washington.kormany.hu/entry-for-long-stay

A work visa is good for a year and renewable. Expect to endure a lot of bureaucracy and if you don’t have a college diploma, it’s going to be even tougher. You will have to apply in your own country and will then have 30 days after entering Hungary to get the local paperwork sorted out.

Most people who want to stick around either get a work permit connected to a specific job and company, or a residence permit that’s not tied to one employer. “Americans can only get residency for two years,” says Gary, “then they have to renew.” He’s now looking into permanent residency though, which you can apply for after being in the country for three years. This costs money for a lawyer and requires a lot of additional paperwork. Most of the items need to be translated into Hungarian as well, plus you have to show proof of health insurance or buy into the Hungarian health care plan..

Do you have Hungarian blood? If so, you could be on the fast track to residency. If you have ancestral roots in the country, you can get real citizenship without giving up your original one, making you one of those enviable people with two passports. You have to speak Hungarian, but you can take intensive language courses while you’re living there and collecting paperwork. This is a back door into the EU, which would give you the ability to live elsewhere too.

Hungarian

I wouldn’t count on it…

Downsides

The political winds are blowing strongly to the right as I put this book together, with overt racism, anti-Semitism, and discrimination against minorities all rearing their ugly heads on a regular basis.

Hungarian is an especially tough language to crack, but you’ll often need at least some basics when you get outside the capital.

This is an excerpt from the upcoming book A Better Life for Half the Price, about cutting your expenses in half by moving abroad. Sign up here for updates and release notes.

Taiwan travel story

(c) Rich J. Matheson

With that title you probably know…it’s time for a new collection of the best travel stories on the web. The July issue of Perceptive Travel is out now and we go wandering in pursuit of some strange angles.

Luke Armstrong is back with another tale from his adopted home of Guatemala, following a naturalist with exploration in his blood who is looking for a rare butterfly first discovered by his great-grandfather.

Guatemala travel story

Steven Crook, author of several books on Taiwan, takes us deep into Blood Rites in a Taiwanese Temple.

Carolyn Heller returns this month, fresh off her award from the Travel Media Association of Canada for a previous story on northern Ontario. This time she looks at isolation of a different kind while encountering a North Korea soldier on the border with China. See One Step Across.

William Caverlee checks out a few soul-searching travel books from Frances Mayes, Donna Leon, and Esther Woolfson. Graham Reid covers new world music albums from around the globe, including a great collection of Indian classical music and the return of Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars.

STM laptop bag for travelWe give away something cool each month to a Perceptive Travel subscriber/follower who is paying attention and last month two readers scored. They each got gift certificates to go shopping at the Samsonite USA website for a new suitcase or a daypack. Speaking of something to take on your next trip, this time one lucky reader will get this nice $140 value Drifter Pack from STM Bags. I’ve been using one of these myself lately and it has become my go-to daypack when I need to travel with my laptop and have loads of pockets for other gadgets.

If you’re already on our newsletter list, then just watch your inbox and check the bulk folder if the address is not in your approved list. If not and you want to get in on this month’s, just go follow Perceptive Travel on Facebook and watch for the announcements that will run a few times in July.