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.

Mali travel story

It’s time for the August 2014 issue of Perceptive Travel, where I happen to be founder and editor. It launched in 2006 and is still alive and kicking, so we must be doing something right.

This month we go off the beaten path, waaayyy off in fact. If we were trying to sell magazines on a newsstand based on the places featured on the cover, we’d be in trouble: West Papau, Gürün in Turkey, and some remote hidden villages in Mali. There’s a geography quiz few people would pass.

That’s okay though, because we like good travel stories better than the latest restaurant rundown for some place you’ve already read about a hundred times.

James Dorsey has won quite a few awards for stories he has published in Perceptive Travel and elsewhere and this time he ventures into villages in Mali that are hard to even see from a distance. There he encounters people who claim to be from a distant star in outer space and aren’t exactly the model of hospitality. See The People Who Are Not There.

Marco Ferrarese feared he might be starring in his own version of Midnight Express when a policeman ordered him to pack up his tent and come with him to the police station. But things turned out a little differently in this remote town in Anatolia. See Gürün Prison Blues in Rural Turkey.

paddling West Papau

The photos are a lot prettier when we move from rural Turkey to the South Pacific islands of West Papau, where coral gardens and gorgeous islands are on the itinerary for Micheal Buckley’s multi-day kayaking trip from one cove to another. See Up a Tree, in a Wetsuit in West Papau.

Each month we also review some cool new travel books and some world music worth downloading and taking with you in your travels. Susan Griffith checks out a diverse set of travel books covering Italy, Tibet, and “radical architecture” in poor parts of Latin America. Laurence Mitchell spins some new world music albums from around the globe, all combining at least two cultures to create a new hybrid sound.

Could you use free travel gear?

Pickpocket proof business pantsEach month our subscribers and followers have a shot at winning something useful for their travels. Last month reader Keith W. from Oregon scored a nice $140 STM Drifter pack for carrying all his gadgets and gear. This time we’re giving away the new nylon Pickpocket Proof Business Pants from Clothing Arts. When I wear these around I look good enough to go meet with a hotel manager for my job, but can walk through the diciest looking parts of town knowing nobody is getting to my valuables without knocking me out first. We’re talking layers and layers of frustration for even the craftiest thief.

How do you get your own pair and get in on future giveaways? It’s very easy: subscribe to the monthly newsletter.

Guelaguetza Oaxaca

When dishing out budget travel advice, I usually tell people to avoid going somewhere when it’s high season. There’s a whole chapter on timing in Make Your Travel Dollars Worth a Fortune about finding the sweet spot of shoulder season where you’re going. When crowds are at their peak, prices are bound to be at their highest.

Sometimes it’s worth it though. Sometimes it’s high season not just because of vacation schedules, but because there’s really something fantastic going on. That’s what I’m experiencing right now during the week of the Guelaguetza Festival in Oaxaca. We didn’t even know this was going on when we first planned our vacation; we just lucked out. But now that we’re here during prime time, I’m really glad we made it when we did.

tamale festival

Woman making “tejate” drink at the tamale festival

I was originally going to call this post “Mole and Mezcal in Oaxaca” since we spent the first morning here at a tamale festival (many of the tamales featuring different kinds of mole sauces) and the next afternoon at a mezcal fair. In both cases we got to try a huge variety of them in one place. The tamales were less than a dollar each and the equivalent of $3 got us into the Feria de Mezcal where we could walk around sampling them or buying bargain-priced cocktails for a few dollars each. Both of these events were unique to the Guelaguetza week and would not be going on other times during the year.

The same goes for all the artisan stalls taking up the whole rest of that park, with each booth listing the Oaxacan village that artisan came from. You can buy direct from them at this time, with no middleman and no traveling out to some remote town and finding the workshop behind an unmarked door. Two other artisan areas were set up in different parts of the center, also temporary, coming down in a few days.

mezcal festival

But what’s Guelaguetza? It’s an incredible dance performance featuring groups from different villages around Oaxaca. It’s an elaborate affair in an amphitheater overlooking the city and was far more spectacular than I had expected. There were 16 dances in all, over several hours. That sounds kind of excessive, but it never got boring because they were all very different. My daughter was also more into it than I thought she’d be too due to one key factor: at the end of each dance they threw things into the audience. So besides the hat, seat cushion, fan, and t-shirt we got upon arrival, gifts were flying through the air every 15 minutes or so. We scored some things like cool little baskets, woven fans, fruit, rolls, chocolate, and packets of coffee.

Guelaguetza Festival dance

Guelaguetza is the reason to have lots of other things going on in Oaxaca the same week though. We saw Lila Downs one night in that same amphitheater and it was quite a production with all the extra dancers in town.

We had already planned to do some shopping to buy things for our house in Mexico, so we had a lot to choose from with all the artisans in town. Thankfully we’re taking a bus back instead of a flight because we have loads of extra stuff to carry.

Oaxaca City

There was one downside to being here in high season: we couldn’t rent an apartment to stay in near the center, so we ended up in a hotel. The hotel, Las Golondrinas, didn’t jack up its rates though and we paid 780 pesos a night for a triple. It’s a decent deal. We got into restaurants fine and no place felt packed out. This is a tourist city anyway, so Oaxaca can absorb the traffic okay. So in the end, I don’t think we paid a premium at all for being here during high season, despite renting a car for two days too. Everything was just more crowded than it would normally be.

For more information, see the Oaxaca Tourism site, where they’ll have info posted on the 2015 Guelaguetza Festival far in advance. See their festivals page in Spanish for others or get a good guidebook. You can also trust what you see on the About.com Mexico site because the writer Suzanne lives in Oaxaca and also works as a guide.

 

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.