Saturday, February 20, 2016

Digital Nomads: How to Travel the World on a Budget

Ever thought about leaving the 9 - 5 rat race behind you and traveling the world?  A lot of people would love to see the world while working, or at least love to travel more – if they only had the time…or the money… if they had no family, can’t quit their job…  or whatever… There’s always a reason: It’s dangerous, it will be lonely - or what will I do after?


Where is the creativity?  
"But I have young children” has been countered by families like the seven-year family-travel veterans at SoulTravelers3.  When asked why:  “To see the world and know it more deeply, connect deeper with ourselves as individuals, as a family and with others and experience freedom and peace in new ways with lots of time and enjoy it all.”

John Russell Interviewed Seven "Nomads".

"For many, the Internet is an opportunity to combine work and traveling the world. The term ‘digital nomad’ is frequently overused and often simply means hacking around in cheap accommodation with a small level of income to keep you going. But, there are some folks out there who have shown that you can combine a career with the freedom to travel on your own schedule."

You can do it! 

Seniors and youngsters, hippies and millionaires, people of every race, gender and nationality.  They experience the spirit of travel:  freedom, personal growth, and creative expression.  There is always a connection to be made, a story to be shared, and a bond to be formed.
Jody Ettenberg, full-time traveler: "It’s not a calming choice to walk away from what you grow up being told is normal, but at the same time if you are excited enough about that flexibility to build a life on terms you find compelling, the latter is a very rewarding option."

It’s the attitude, not your bank account. 
You are born with your energy, attention, and all of your time. Over the years, you learn to exchange these things for money.

Not all of the strategies and tactics here are totally free, but in each section, there are free options – with which you could go on a trip costing you very little money.  The image regarding travel is one that’s all glory and fun and magic and luxury. The reality is different. Perma-travel is just real life lived somewhere else.  It also doesn’t require any special talent or knowledge. 
Natalie Sisson, SuitcaseEntrepreneur: "Invest in your future now and make the change you need to live your best life.  I can’t tell you how many people I talk to, advise mentor, and coach who is afraid of living their dream.  Sometimes it pains me to see them make excuses for not taking action or to let limiting beliefs overpower their natural talents and gifts."


It’s possible to travel the world without spending a dime!  All our basic needs: food, water, shelter – can be had almost for free through various techniques, and the travel-specific need, transportation, can often be done for free as well.  We have to pay with either time and energy or money.  It just means we’re making a tradeoff in these several areas:

Time – if we’re not spending money, we’re going to have to trade our time for a lot of things. That might mean waiting for a car to pick us up while hitchhiking, walking instead of using public transport, or working in exchange for food or shelter.

Convenience – No more priority boarding, taxis, or other premium conveniences. Creative solutions to travel problems that don’t cost anything tend to take longer and be less “fun” than exchanging cash for instant solutions.

Comfort – There are ways to end up staying in luxurious locations for free, but as a general rule, comfort is going to be sacrificed if we’re not spending money.

Safety - If we’re not spending our money, we’re going to be relying on other people a lot more for transportation and shelter, and with that comes increased risk.  Yet, most people are kind and helpful, and most places are safe.

Opportunity – Obviously, less money means less choice. Transportation is the most obvious example here. Also – Visas often cost money, and depending on the passport you hold, it might be a requirement that you have a certain amount of funds before entering some countries.


Why Try Thrifty Travel?
Most people think that traveling for $1,000 a month is crazy.  You don’t need to travel for free.  I like taking the metro, seeing museums, going to movies, etc..  This sort of lifestyle might be called “minimalist travel.”  You might have heard about study after study showing that our consumerist model of living isn’t good for the individual or the planet, and recently there’s evidence that the average Western lifestyle is a recipe for mental illness. Minimalism means letting go of all these things that are weighing us down, stressing us out, and actively preventing us from feeling as happy and fulfilled as we could be.


Planning - What You Need to Know
Is it safe? Wars, hazardous weather patterns this time of year, diseases are rampant, etc.
Climate – what will I need to wear, will I be comfortable?
Visa Info – How long can I stay? Is visa runs possible?



Get Tourist Info.

TripAdvisor: Huge library of user reviews for hotels, sightseeing opportunities, and restaurants WorldTravelGuide Type in your destination or just browse travel suggestions
LonelyPlanet: The world’s leading travel website for good reason.
ExpatsBlog: Contains a nice forum where expats (or travelers) can discuss their destinations, exchange tips, and plan meetups. Also contains articles relating to expat lifestyle.
Visas: Just Google “Wikipedia visa requirements for...

Colin Wright a Digital Nomad:
"I can go anywhere I want at any time, and so long as I can hop on the Internet every once in a while I can continue to do my work (work that I love) from wherever I land.  I work for myself, so I make all the decisions (creative and otherwise) about what I do and how I do it, and I have an absolutely amazing audience of readers who are encouraging and wonderful and make even the tricky aspects of my lifestyle incredibly easy and enjoyable in lots of ways."


Travel Insurance
What type of insurance should I get – if any? Health: Screw that up, and there’s no 2nd chance.  Lonely Planet recommends WorldNomads. Why are they the best?
They are one of the only providers who let you extend your insurance or purchase some for the first time, while outside your country of residence.  They are not only by far the most flexible – but it’s also amongst the cheapest private insurance providers you’ll find. Generally, the longer you purchase the insurance, the lower the cost. 



Travel as a lifestyle is much different than a weekend in New York City or spring break in Miami.  What Travel Bag / Backpack Should I Use?
In general, we are going to fill the amount of space we have, especially if this is our first trip – it’s just human nature.  I recommend a 20L bag, try out several, get them adjusted properly for your body, and choose something that’s going to be comfortable to have as a companion for the following months or years.

2 blouses/shirts

1 long-sleeve shirt / Turtleneck
2 T-shirts

1 pair of convertible pants
1 pair of shorts (optional)
3 pairs of underwear
3 pairs of socks
1 pair of extra shoes/flip-flops
Maybe a lightweight towel
Travel belt, light jacket
For colder climates, you might consider borrowing (or buying) a jacket and other winter wear at your destination, saving you bag space and weight while on the move.
Toiletries: toothbrush, soap, deodorant, hygiene products.
Razors, nail clippers, toothpaste, shampoo, etc. can usually be found on-site.
Other important items:
Passport, driver's license, insurance, copy important documents and keep them separate.
Money, wallet, bank cards
Phone, e-books, computer
Tim Ferriss has shared his lightweight packing list, which is complete with the “necessary” survival electronics at less than 10lbs / 5 kg.


Flights / Boats / Busses
The plane ticket is generally the largest item in the travel budget.  A single flight has the ability to rip through hundreds, if not thousands of dollars that could be put towards some good, local fun in the form of food, excursions – or even just saving the money and traveling longer.  Depending on your own situation and priorities, your flight searches might be biased towards any one of the three:
  • Route
  • Connections
  • Price
The lowest-priced airfare usually has crappy connections, obscene flight times, or routes to obscure airports that are costly to get to and from.
The best connections might save you a stressful layover, but it might behoove you to consider overland connections or other more time-consuming (yet cheaper) options.
And the best routing will practically deliver you from door to door, but at what cost (and are the connections reasonable)?
When to Buy: According to the analysis of a CheapAir database of over 1.3 billion fares, 54 days in advance came out as being the best time to buy.  Tuesday afternoons are often the best time for deals.
The pros don’t necessarily do anything special other than being thorough.  They check tickets on multiple flight-aggregation websites, and then always check out promising-looking tickets on the website of the specific carrier.

Recommended Resources: – Search for flights across a whole week, month, or year!
KayakExplore – Nice world map interface let’s you see prices to any destination around the globe 
WhichBudget – search many budget airlines simultaneously
Rome2Rio – Comes up with interesting route combinations you probably wouldn’t think of yourself.
TravelSuperMarket – A British flight aggregator worth testing out.
And the best of the rest, which are worth checking if you have the patience: CheapOAir, Momondo, HipMunk, Kelkoo,, Dohop, and TravelSpec.  

If we want to look at free flights, we need to look at using travel points through credit cards and frequent flyer cards for specific airlines.  Lots of credit cards offer a truckload of miles for signing up, and often, simply by putting your normal living expenses on the card you can rack up enough miles for free flights without much sweat.  Steve Kamb from NerdFitness flew around the world for only US $418, and he recommends: 

"The Starwood Preferred Guest American Express Card. 10,000 points on first purchase, 15,000 points when you spend $5000 in six months.  These points are great for hotels, or you can convert them to many different airlines with a 20% bonus (convert 20,000 points to AA, get 25,0000 AA points, for example).  This is one of the few cards I gladly pay the yearly fee for each year."

"The Chase Sapphire Card – 40,000 points when you spend $3,000 in three months. These points also convert to various airline and hotel programs, or you can pay for flights and hotels directly with your points.  This is also one of the few cards I gladly pay to keep open each year."

Free alternatives that are really useful if you don’t mind doing a bit more legwork include One Mile at a Time and FrugalTravelGuy.  Another resource is: "23 Ways to Reduce Your Flying Cost" by TheMoneySavingExpert.


There are a ton of ways other than flying to get around the globe – by car, bus, train, bicycle, boat, on foot, and for the truly adventurous: hot air balloons, camels, and dog sleds.

In order to find routes for planes, ferries, buses, and trains, start with, an amazing search engine that will find routes based on all available transportation options.

You can discover all the service providers who cover that route and link directly to their website to book a ticket.  Because in a new and unfamiliar region, we’re not going to know all the local companies who provide bus, train, and ferry services – and unlike a Google search, which will tend to turn up the high-priced tour services who are savvy marketers, Rome2Rio has often covered the carriers the locals use too.
For increased safety, let someone know when you’re leaving and where you’re going, as well as the number/place to contact if you don’t check in by an agreed-upon time.  Travel with a friend, or with a fellow traveler you met along the way.

Travel and Work as a Way of Life.

Follow Tim Ferriss’s recommendations from the 4-Hour-Work-Week: stay in one place for at least three months, get to know the culture and learn a new skill.  This has the added benefit of lightening the monetary strain on our transportation budget – as no transportation is the cheapest transportation.


Hospitality Exchanges.
Hospitality exchange is where you are the guest in somebody’s home free of charge. Typically, these arrangements last only a couple of days, though if the host and guest get along this might stretch to a week or more.  Often, the type of people you’ll find to be hosts are those who are interested in traveling (and travelers) themselves:
CouchSurfing – The most well-known service, CS provides the opportunity to browse online listings, learn about your prospective hosts/guests, and make arrangements. They have a solid system of safety checks in place to help keep out troublemakers, though that in no way means you can skip doing your own due diligence.  When you’re ready to contact someone, read my article about how to make the perfect couch request.

HospitalityClub – It might be unfair to say “basically like CouchSurfing”, but the Hospitality Club is a reputable alternative to the industry leader.

GlobalFreeloaders – One interesting twist: They require guests to reciprocate within 6 months. If you’re not going to be up for that, best pass on them. – a cycling-specific version of the above. Many world travelers make their mode of transportation the bicycle, and this is a great way to find a place to stay with a fellow enthusiast. 


Stay For Free with Volunteering.
To a lot of people, the idea of working for a good cause in exchange for the opportunity to live in another country sounds wonderful.  Unfortunately, when looking for volunteering opportunities abroad, there is frustration that a lot of would-be volunteers share: many of these opportunities cost more than it would just to stay home and play video games.

Fortunately, Nora Dunn compiled a lot of volunteering opportunities that she shared on Ramit Sethi’s blog,

Stay For Free – House & Pet Sitting.
There are people all over the world that want to have their homes and pets looked after by complete strangers.  Staying for free in posh manor houses most of us can’t even envision owning – to look after a dog or a cat and water the flowers once a week!

Many of the house-sitting sites are quite similar to CouchSurfing in terms of the profiles and review process, the main difference being in the nature of the agreement.  A big benefit – these arrangements are usually for longer time periods than the CS variety, from weeks to several months:

Cheap Rental.
If you can’t find a free option that is convenient or desirable, then there are a lot of budget options available, such as Hostels:
HostelWorld: Listing for over 27000 hostels around the globe. 
HostelBookers: The main competition of HostelWorld will sometimes have better prices.
Airbnb: where people can list their home, apartment, or spare room.  It’s generally a bit more expensive than a hostel, but there’s the benefit of often having private space, as you will have the place to yourself or be sharing the space with the owner.  Airbnb also provides convenient maps so you can see where exactly the places are located.

Renting a Room / Apartment
Renting an apartment is the way locals do.  Use Craigslist or Kijiji in North America and Europe, Gumtree in Australia, in other parts local newspapers or local sites on the Internet. To find a great location at a great price:  Explore the area, talk to locals, and enquire at different places about vacancies.  This is by far the most comfortable and enjoyable way to live in a new region and to dive into the culture for several months.


Inexpensive / Free Food
Depending on the destination, food can be ridiculously expensive (Norway, Switzerland) or barely worth the energy it takes to consider the price (Laos, India).  The low-cost solution is to have living arrangements that include food, however this often will not be the case. 
The most simple option is to eat food fresh from markets/supermarkets – buy what the locals do, and pay what they pay.
In addition to this, oftentimes religious buildings will serve free meals.  If you are planning on looking for free food this way, the least you can do is to take part in the ceremonies, be curious and respectful, and take a genuine interest in the people.


Earning Money While Traveling.
The best way to earn money on the road for most English speakers will be ESL.  
Dave’s ESL Cafe has a great bulletin board where companies make requests.  Most listings are for Asia, with some Central / South America and Middle Eastern opportunities as well. Another option is doing some sort of freelance work such as writing, programming, translating, graphic design, editing, marketing, or customer support through sites such as UpWork, Guru, or even Fiverr if you have some weird niche skill.  If you’re a writer, TextBroker is a great place to find writing jobs.  For graphic designers, try 99designs.

What you should do is check the local laws.  Some countries, such as Thailand, may consider freelance work online while in the country illegal – unless you have the appropriate work visa.  Always verify the working and taxation regulations.  Find out well ahead of time what the laws are.



Are we willing to do what’s necessary to get what we want?  Or maybe we just like the idea – the daydream. That’s okay too.  After all, not everything is as good in reality as it is in our imagination.  And perma-travel, if nothing else, will be different than you imagine.  One thing is sure, once you become a long-term traveler / digital nomad: You will enjoy a good quality of life for less money.  You decide...

More Resources - Just Click on the Links:

Listen to a FREE Audio-Book by Tim Ferriss: The-4-Hour-Work-Week

18 jobs & skills that enable you to work from anywhere and travel the world

How to Travel the World While Working

Workation for digital nomads - work and travel at the same time

Nora Dunn at TheProfessionalHobo gives tons of advice and interviews digital nomads

How to Succeed at Becoming a Digital Nomad

Why You Should Quit Your Job and Travel the World

5 Digital Nomad Office Spaces

Living and working in paradise: the rise of the 'digital nomad'

Digital Nomads are congregating in Ubud / Bali

10 ways to become a digital nomad without the skills to work online

Great Nomad Forum with lots of Questions and Answers / Tips


1 comment:

  1. Hi Doris-Maria,

    Fabulous post! You covered how to make the quantum leap from home town to globe trotter in detailed fashion. Like you said, we are born with our energy, and can mold that energy however we choose. Having done this full time digital nomad bit for almost 5 years I see no better way to live. Follow your fun. Be free. Fall in love with the wild, exciting ride.