This blog is all about traveling better for less and getting the most out of your money by living abroad. So I’m happy to run the following guest post is from John Linnemeier, author of How an Average Man Lived an Adventurous Life.
Take it away John!
I’ve traveled to over 120 countries, and along the way, I have discovered some affordable paradises. In my book How an Average Man Lived an Adventurous Life, I included a chapter called, “Six paradises where you can retire comfortably for $500/month.” If you need a cook, a gardener, and a nanny it will cost $1000/month. I’ll tell you where these paradises are, and if you’re really serious about escaping from wherever you are, email me at himalayansp [at] hotmail.com, and I’ll help you any way I can.
After you look at this list, buy the appropriate Lonely Planet Guide, spend a day or two doing Google searches, and you’ll have what you need to know. Once you’ve done that, you’re ready for an exploratory visit. Or maybe just keep it in the back of your mind so that if everything goes to hell in your life sometime in the future, you don’t need to give up hope. These places can be your “get-out-of-jail free” card.
I define a paradise as somewhere that’s safe, beautiful, has a pleasant climate, good food, adequate health care, a community of foreigners to keep you company, and is, of course, cheap.
Here’s the list:
Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
It’s the only one of my paradises that you can drive to from the U.S. or Canada. For some reason, it’s comforting to know that you can load a truck up with whatever stuff you want to take with you, point it south, and in three or four days, be in one of the most beautiful places you’ve ever seen.
Lake Atitlan (pictured at the top) is twenty miles across, one thousand feet deep, and crystal clear. It’s surrounded by volcanoes, lush, green vegetation, and is elevated enough in the highlands so the temperature is always spring-like. Do a Google Image search and see what I mean; it’s gorgeous.
You’ll first arrive at the town of Panajachel, often referred to as “Gringotenango.” It’s a jakey-looking place, but very inexpensive. It has some rather pleasant little places to stay, which are tucked off of the main streets. The food is fantastic, of great variety, and real cheap. Any business you need to transact can be done here easily. This is as far as most people get, and if you want to watch CNN, smoke reefer all day, and live for peanuts, this may be your spot.
On the other hand, there’s a boat that circles the lake every day. It stops off for a few minutes at all the little villages surrounding the peripheral of the lake. Each village has its own personality from party-central to new age hippy deluxe, replete with solar warmed hot tubs. If you want to be the only gringo in town, there are tiny villages for that too. Somewhere along that continuum, you’ll find one village that will fit you to a T.
Unlike the next five spots, it can actually be a little bit dangerous in Guatemala if you don’t do the right things and go to the right places at the right times. I wouldn’t drive it at night, but a lot of people do. In general, talk with the local expats and follow their advice about what is safe and what isn’t.
Any of the many valleys that go up into the Himalayas
I’m most acquainted with the area just north of Almora, but all of the others would work as well. I stay in a little place that is a forty minute walk back from the road. The view stretched in front of you includes some of the tallest mountains in the world. Absolutely stupendous. The place I’m talking about is set on a series of terraces planted in every kind of organic fruit and vegetable. There are a dozen little cottages, mostly out of sight of each other, sprinkled around the area. You get a nice little place with a kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom/living room. You’ll also get a veranda that looks out on one of the greatest views on God’s earth. Cottages rented for $40/month the last time I was there but may be closer to $60/month now.
If you’d like, they’ll deliver milk every day and freshly baked bread every two days directly to your door. You can do your own cooking or, if you arrange ahead of time, there’s a French lady who’ll cook for practically nothing. The owner of the place walks his daughter into town every day, and if you’d like, he’ll bring back a copy of The Times of India for you.
The nearest internet connection is an hour’s walk away, and it is tenuous at best. Frankly, I call this a plus. You can buy groceries in this little town, hang out at the restaurant and socialize with the wider community. I’m not going to give you the name of this place because I don’t want it overrun with people. If you’re really determined though and use the clues in what I’ve written here, you’ll surely find it, and maybe I’ll run into you.
This has been a hippy paradise since the ’60s. It’s a lot more crowded now but also offers infinitely more diversions, including every kind of food, yoga, Tai-chi, and meditation class imaginable. If you want to learn about singing bowl treatment or any of another billion activities, then you’ve come to the right place.
Find the beach that suits you. They all have different vibes, from five-star international la-de-da, to bare-bones little cement boxes that don’t cost much of anything. If you get there before the season starts (late October to early November), you can rent some extraordinary houses if you’re willing to stay for the whole season.
The weather is near perfect until late January when it starts to warm up a little too much. It’s the dry season, so you most likely won’t see a cloud while you’re there. A few hardcore expats stay straight through the monsoon season. Just about everything is closed down by then, but a few people like it that way because everything is green, and it’s mango season.
I’ve seen an awful lot of ruins in my life, but the ruins of Hampi are my favorite. See them by the full moon, and you’ll never forget them. Hampi is a one day train ride through beautiful jungle with waterfalls, monkeys, and gorgeous birds. Incidentally, both Hampi and Goa have full moon rave parties that set the standard for world-class craziness.
Nepal is not dangerous, no matter what the press says or what you may think. It’s where I started the Jomsom trail, one of the great experiences of my life. Pokhara is picture perfect, a tiny little town surrounding a lovely lake with Machupuchari in the background. Again, do a Google Image search and be prepared to be wowed. The Nepalese are wonderful cooks and innkeepers, and they will treat you right. Everything is cheap as can be.
Lake Toba, Indonesia
Sumatra is the sixth largest island in the world. In the midst of it is Lake Toba, and in the center of this is a lovely little tropical island. Accommodations are more than comfortable and the architecture is very unique. People play chess a lot, and the loser normally has to give the winner a back rub. The food is good, and everything is super cheap. The locals have a fascinating culture. Just a few generations back, they were cannibals. If they’re really sore at someone, they’ll say “I pick the flesh of your ancestors from between my teeth.” These days though, the place is safe as can be.
Even though westerners have been coming here since the thirties, the Balinese are still gracious to strangers. There’s a tradition of art, music, puppetry, and dance that is truly unique. Everyone seems to be an artist of some kind, and people care deeply about beauty. You’ll be amazed by how gorgeous your little rented house or hotel room is. Prices are ultra cheap, so as long as you stay away from the international style hotels, you can get by for very little.
The town of Ubud in the highlands is a nice choice. The food is out of this world and very inexpensive. If the main street in town is too busy for you, just do an about face, pace off 300 yards through the rice patties, and you’ll be surrounded by tranquility. Some people have moved on from Bali to the next island, Lombak. Parts are as beautiful as Bali and less crowded, but it doesn’t have the lovely Balinese culture. Stay out of Kuta Beach, which is awful anyway, and you’ll be safer than you would be living in a little town in Nebraska.
Story by John Linnemeier. Pick his book up at Amazon.
Photos are Flickr Creative Commons shots, courtesy of the photographers. Click on the individual photos for their portfolios.
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