Living as digital nomads is an exciting lifestyle filled with rich experiences and unique challenges.
Our friends tend to think that our travel lifestyle is exotic and out of reach for them, mainly due to finances. While having a steady income is essential for nomads, living costs nearly anywhere in the world can be affordable depending on how you approach it.
As we have written about in the past, there are only three core expenses for digital nomads: lodging, food, and transportation. Believe it or not, this is much simpler than having house payments, car payments, insurances, utilities, maintenance costs, etc...
But within those three core expenses are nuances that must be well navigated to travel around the world on a limited budget.
For instance, you can walk into practically any hotel in Southeast Asia or Central America and pay for a week or the month for a reasonable rate that will include all utilities and maybe even breakfast. You can usually pay in cash or with a debit card, but it's also good to have back up credit cards just in case.
On the other hand, the cost for lodging in developed nations is much higher. This causes us to plan longer stays and look for good deals on vacation rental websites or house-sitting gigs. When we spring for larger apartments or homes, we save a great deal on food costs since we can cook it ourselves. All-in-all, we've been able to keep our total housing costs (food aside) to around $1500/month in every part of the world, including Hawaii, but excluding Australia.
Also, grocery stores are prevalent anywhere, even in the third-world. Finding the basics for snacks and meals in foreign countries is almost as convenient as stopping in any quick mart around the corner from where you grew up.
As for budgeting for food; again, in "developing" nations you'll be able to eat more meals out at restaurants. In Cambodia, we ate all three meals out nearly every day.
Whereas in the developed nations, it's usually around $75 for five of us to eat out at a cheap place. So that doesn't go very far. Yet we can buy $200 in groceries that last us the whole week at one of the many mega food stores to choose from. Food is always a matter of preference and budget no matter where you are but we have found that eating local foods is a great way to experience the area better as well as save money.
Transportation is perhaps the most difficult expense to plan for when you're not sitting on a big savings account. International bus travel in Southeast Asia or Central America is a great inexpensive way to move around, but at some point airline tickets will be needed.
It's recommended to have a transportation fund for airline tickets tucked away to be able to jet home in case of an emergency. And it's wise to add what you can to it each month. This will prevent getting stuck in a region of the world that you're bored of or miss being able to leave if a family emergency arises and you want to be there to lend a helping hand.
We were stuck in Malaysia for a bit longer than we would have liked in order to save enough for a continental shift. It's not fun to wait around when you have itchy feet.
The final expense to transportation are travel visas. This takes a tremendous amount of planning to get the most of the costs and time allotted. This might be easier for the carefree lone backpacker but for a family of five the cost of border hopping is very real.
The cost to travel and get stamped in and out of new countries adds up quick for perpetual travelers. We always prefer to stay for the maximum that a visa allows which gives us plenty of time to explore several different areas of a particular country.
Ultimately traveling the world is possible on a limited budget. Sometimes you may sleep in a shack and sometimes you may be in a palace, but that just adds to the adventure.