Browsing Posts in Long-term travel

Latin America budget travel

I started traveling a lot in Latin America after I had a child and needed to hit the ground running when returning from a trip. With two continents only varying by a few hours for time zones, staying in this hemisphere has obvious advantages if you’re American or Canadian. You also only have to wrestle with one language for most of it except for Brazil, which you should probably avoid anyway. (See tip #2.)

Much of the region is a great value too. If you’re on a low budget and want to maximize what you have to spend, here’s how to do it right.

1) Pick the Right Destination(s)

This is going to have a bigger impact than anything else on this list, so I’m putting it first. Saving $100 by flying to Costa Rica instead of Nicaragua is going to be offset by much higher prices once you get there, for nearly everything. Most countries from Mexico on down fit into one of three tiers: very cheap, not too painful, and Ouch! Read The World’s Cheapest Destinations for details, but that bottom rung includes Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras, and Peru, though that last one depends a lot on when you go and where you go. Lately Argentina has dropped into the very cheap category again, but only if you’re bringing in lots of cash. Mexico is borderline cheap too, depending on where you go within the country. Panama is not too bad once you get out of the capital.

2) Avoid Brazil

This is the most expensive country in Latin America by far, the expense compounded by the fact that hotel supply has not nearly kept up with demand. Add long distances, high taxes, and a reciprocal visa fee, and this is one to save for later when you’re loaded.

lunch Nicaragua

This was $3…

3) Make Lunch the Big Meal

If you’re going to eat one restaurant meal a day, make it lunch. A “meal of the day” goes by different names in different places, but it usually means a multi-course sit-down meal for somewhere between $2 and $6, sometimes including a drink. It’ll be filling and reasonably nutritious and can sometimes be downright great. If you want the very cheapest version, then…

4) Head to the Market

I think it’s safe to say that any Latin American town with more than 1,500 people or so in it has some kind of local market that has food stalls. This is where you’ll sit next to local workers and chow down for the equivalent of a few dollars. You’ll probably find a set meal here, but also you can order whatever the local cheap and filling food happens to be: big sandwiches, stuffed tortilla variations, rice & beans, stews, or whatever else is popular locally. While you’re there you can stock up on fresh fruit and other staples that will load you down for a few bucks.

market lunch

5) Drink What’s Local

Look around at what most everyone else is drinking in a bar and that’s probably what you’ll be ordering too if you’re on a budget. That means tequila or mezcal in Mexico, wine in Argentina, rum in hot countries, and whatever the local beer is everywhere. The one place you can throw this aside is Panama, where anything you want will be a bargain because it’s a duty-free zone. Bolivian beer

The opposite is Ecuador, where only rum and local beer are anywhere close to affordable. On the non-alcoholic side it’ll be fruit juice (or fruit juice mixed with water), cold jamaica tea, or coca tea perhaps. Don’t assume that if you’re in a coffee-producing country though that the coffee will automatically be good or cheap. The best beans often get exported, so you have to seek out a real coffee shop to avoid the drek.

6) Don’t Book All Your Hotels in Advance

Yes, I know it’s oh so easy and comforting to just pull up HostelBookers or Trivago and reserve places to stay all along your route, but it’s often a bad idea financially. A huge percentage of hotels in Latin America are not listed through any booking agency (they don’t want to pay the fat commissions) and some low-budget ones still don’t have a web page or working e-mail address. Unless you’re flying through the region in a blur, which is a bad idea (see the next tip), you’re usually better off looking around after you arrive. Or at least for night two onward. You can actually see the room this way and you have the power to negotiate for a better price or a better room.

7) Take Your Time

If you look at how far it is from Lima to Cusco or Buenos Aires to Salta, you should figure out quickly that it’s going to take you quite a while to get from point A to B. Even when distances look short on a map, however, that doesn’t mean you’re going to get there quickly on the roads you have to travel on. If you’re going to spend 36 hours in transit, it’s pretty silly to then turn around and go somewhere else just 48 hours later. Take your dream itinerary and cut it in half: fewer places, but twice as much time in them. Your wallet will thank you and you’ll have a much richer experience.

8) Learn Some Spanish

Now that we’ve skipped Brazil, that means you can get by with Spanish or English everywhere except the Suriname countries and remote villages in the Andes or Amazon. Since Spanish is so useful in such a vast territory though, don’t assume you’ll be able to muddle through in English like you can in Southeast Asia or Europe. Learning the basics will save you money and make your travels less frustrating.

I went from zero to bumbling with the Pimsleur course and still use it now and then—I’m on Level 4 to help my intermediate fluency along. I especially like using it on a solo car trip because it’s audio only, now in app form. Hit play and let it rip. I’ve tried a fair number of podcasts for the same reason. I sometimes us SpanishDict, Spanish Verbs, Hola Flashcards, DuoLingo, and a few others on the apps side. And of course a good old-school phrase book is one of the best learning tools out there—for less than $10.

local airline

9) Check the Transportation Competition

There’s no cut and dry advice on how to get from place to place in Latin America. In Mexico the buses are really comfortable, but they’re not all that cheap now and prices are pretty uniform between companies for specific classes of service. Sometimes it can be less money to fly on a promotional fare on an airline like Interjet or Volaris for long distances and you’ll save a day or two of travel. Same for Avianca within Colombia. In Argentina, however, flight prices are a total rip-off and in Peru you’ll pay two or three times as much as the locals do for most airlines. Both those countries have several competing long-haul bus companies though, so it pays to do some research and shop around.

10) Book Adventure Excursions Locally

This is a no-brainer for most backpackers, but unless you’re trying to book something with limited permits, like the Inca Trail in Peru, you’ll nearly always be better off waiting until arrival before booking an adventure tour. Ask around for who’s good and find out what’s worth doing from people who just went. This is true for rafting, trekking, biking, or just touring outlying villages. I’ve heard of several people getting half-price Galapagos trips by just flying to Baltra and finding an open cabin to fill.

costa rica rafting

11) Hit Big Cities on a Sunday

I did a whole blog post on why Sunday is a great day to be in a capital city. Free museums, closed-off streets, and outdoor music performances are common on Sundays in Latin America.

12) Don’t Skip the Culture

When you’re in Europe, you have to be really picky about which cultural attractions are really worth splurging on. I can’t remember ever paying more than $8 to enter a museum anywhere in Latin America and more often it’s a dollar or two. Live music and dance performances are often 1/5 what they would be for a comparable show in the USA, Canada, or Europe. Take advantage of it!

For more, check out these Transitions Abroad articles I wrote a while back on budget travel in Mexico/Central America and in South America.

 

living in Guanajuato

A morning view from my office

“What are you doing down there?” is the first question I get about living in Mexico. (Half the time followed by “Is it safe?”)

“Same thing I was doing in the other places I lived,” is my stock answer. I worked for many years to put myself in a position of being location independent, so all that changes from a work standpoint is how fast my internet connection is and what kind of view I’ve got outside my window.

There are lots of people in my position though. Graphic artists, translators, online professors, marketing consultants, sales reps, technical writers, systems analysts, and on the list goes for at least a hundred jobs. Then there’s the big one: entrepreneur. Create your own job and say adios to the cubicle forever. You can then cut your expenses in half (and lengthen your start-up runway) by moving somewhere cheaper. That’s what I talked about with Jen Leo, Gary Arndt, and Chris Christensen on the This Week in Travel podcast. You can get it on iTunes or click on the pic below to stream it:

This week in travel podcast

OK, first we talked about fights over reclining airport seats and a public statue you can get sued for publishing a photo of, but after that we get into lots of info about moving abroad. After you’ve listened, go here and you could win a free copy of the book or the Committed package: This Week in Travel promo.

Sabbaticals and Long-term Travel

But what if you only want to take off for a while, not permanently? That’s fine too. I’ve done it many times. Here’s a great BootsnAll article from a year ago that I and lots of other people were quoted in with their experiences. It’s called Why a Travel Break Can Be the Best Career Move You Ever Made and it dispels some of those myths about how your career will take a nosedive if you go traveling for more than two weeks.

A gap on the resumé? Better to have actually done something during that gap than to have been one of the millions who sat around waiting for the phone to ring. If you spin it right, that trip or living abroad experience can set you apart from the pack also. For many it’s more of a positive than a negative when they go back to the grind.

Where to travel for cheap? You’ll have to close the “50 Hottest Sex Tips” pop-up ad to get to this Men’s Health slideshow article, but there are some good ideas on bargain destinations from yours truly. (They decided I knew more about that than how to pick up women or get six-pack abs.)

You need to hold onto your money though and keep it from prying fingers. I’m quoted in this article from Nora Dunn on 14 Ways Travel Experts Carry Cash While Traveling.

Speaking of safety—and false perceptions—I’ve said before that a lot of people avoid Mexico City for outdated reasons. Here’s an article I wrote for American Airlines’ magazine on how to have a great 48 hours there.

 

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.

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, check out the full story here.

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. Or just get the e-book and go already!



cheap living abroad