Traveling for Cheapskates. How We Traveled for 3 Months Without Going Broke.

You know all those “How to Quit Your Job and Travel the World” posts that promise you a simple, fool-proof formula for leaving your office job behind and raking in cash while traveling to exotic places? (The ones that we kind of roll our eyes at, but secretly love to click on, and frantically exit of out the moment our boss walks in…)

This isn’t going to be one of those posts. In fact, while we were traveling Central America for 3 months (and making money as we went), posts that promise an easy, breezy, hassle free life of wealth and travel started to sound a lot more like fairy tales than reality.

Market
Sunday market in Panajachel, Guatemala

In truth, I became convinced that the path to long term travel, and doing so in a sustainable way, will look different for each and every person. That’s part of the fun and craziness of the process.

While someone else may have blown up as an Instagram sensation, they probably aren’t telling you about the investments they made up front in photography equipment, nor are they telling you how un-fun it can be to lug that equipment around everywhere you go or spend hours scouting out the perfect scenic vista and posing for one of those seemingly effortless and casual “oh this is just my everyday life” posts.

Balcalar
Drone shot in Bacalar, Mexico (see large backpack in kayak). If we’d have stepped a few inches to the left, the sand would’ve swallowed our legs

That said, I’m a big believer in sharing what you know. John and I obsessively poured over travel blogs and articles before setting out on our trip, and we were able to pull helpful advice from many different sources.

All the pieces probably won’t fall together for you precisely the same way they fell together for us, but maybe a few of our strategies will resonate! We were able to step down from our full time jobs, travel for three months working remotely, and come back home with more money than we left with.

So, here’s how we did it:

  1. Sub-letting 

Because we own a seasonal business, our travel plans weren’t open ended. We knew we needed to be back in Atlanta well before our busy season, and we needed a place to live. So, breaking our lease and putting all our stuff in storage wasn’t an option. However, this actually worked in our favor. We listed our apartment on AirBnb and Craigslist, and found a great sub-letter we felt comfortable with. It was a mutually beneficial scenario for both of us. And, because we left the apartment fully furnished, we were able to charge above the cost of rent, meaning, not only were we covering rent, we were making a slight profit just by leaving our stuff at our place.

30
We spent my 30th birthday biking around Tulum, Mexico and swimming in a nearby Cenote

2. Online Jobs 

For us, this was key. We didn’t want to live off of savings, so traveling without remote jobs wasn’t an option for us. There are many different ways to work remotely, but for us, this looked like teaching English online to Chinese students. It paid well, we worked consistent hours, and we had the ability to take off as needed. And our students were AH-dorable. It was so fun to get a glimpse into their everyday lives and learn their personalities. And it was a great reminder that no matter what cultural differences are at play, kids are still kids. And they are hilarious.

VIP
Our work uniforms. Coffee is really the only way I made a 4am wake-up call

I would by lying, however, if I told you that it’s easy to do this while bouncing around on the road. We highly recommend teaching online if you decide to land in one spot on a long term basis, but we had to learn the hard way that reliable WiFi just isn’t something you can bank on when you’re on the road, particularly in a different part of the world. We made it work, but we absolutely turned a few hairs grey in the process. (Also, due to our timezone in Central America, we started teaching at 4:00am every. single. morning., and were typically in bed by 8:00pm each night. So, yep. Sacrifices must be made.)

About halfway through our trip, I also landed a remote editing job. #praisehands. Traveling freed up our schedules in new ways to pursue opportunities that we might not have otherwise!

3. SkyMiles 

Thanks to the bonus miles we received for opening our credit cards, and to using our credit card heavily for our business, we racked up enough SkyMiles to send us to Central America and back again. We booked tickets to Cancun, and then back again from San Jose, Costa Rica without cleaning out our bank account in the process. If you’re smart about how you use your miles, you might even have enough left over for another trip – we do!

swing
A local family in Flores, Guatemala hung a rope swing in their backyard, and welcome visitors with nachos & drinks for just a few bucks

4. AirBnb

I love staying in hotels. I love fresh towels and pools and room service. However, AirBnb gave us a lot more power over our budget. On the surface, AirBnb nightly rates may look similar to decently-priced hotel rooms. But, most AirBnb listings have a weekly or, even better, monthly discount if you’re planning a long term stay (which again, is what we would recommend!)

We spent 6 weeks on Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, and woke up every morning to breathtaking views of the lake and volcanoes. A single night in our apartment would’ve typically cost around $60, but we paid right around $20 night with the monthly discount. We were usually able to book spots with kitchens, allowing us to cook and stay in for meals. Sometimes laundry or maid service was included, and once we even had a pool, so you don’t necessarily have to kiss those hotel-quality amenities goodbye!

In three months, we stayed in 19 different places, and were more than happy with the majority of our accommodations. Not to mention, we met some really cool people along the way!

Airbib
Morning views from our apartment on Lake Atitlan in Santa Cruz, Guatemala
Playa
Our airy rooftop patio in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico

5. Transportation

From the moment we landed in Mexico, we were at the mercy of public transportation. This was sometimes a curse, but mostly a blessing. Traveling along the Yucatan Peninsula, for example, is a backpacker’s dream. It’s cheap and easy to get a ticket on a clean, air-conditioned charter bus to major destinations, and collectivos (or group taxi’s) are even more affordable and can get you to more off-the-beaten-path locales. In Costa Rica, you’ll face higher tourist prices for direct transportation between destinations, but during a longer stay, this will still save you from the high taxes that are tacked onto to rental car agreements.

With a bit of flexibility and the occasional sacrifice of comfort, we avoided renting cars completely and relied almost solely on public transportation via bus and boat. When we arrived in a new place, we explored mostly by foot and tried our best to stay in places that were walk-able. In many cases, we traveled as the locals would. Though, I’ll admit we splurged on a flight in Guatemala to avoid a 13 hour bus ride (I have no regrets), and also used Uber in parts of Mexico and Guatemala where we could do so.

Bus
Our budget friendly ride from Chetumal, Mexico to Belize City

 

As we traveled, we so many kindred spirits who were living their dream abroad after starting a business, landing remote jobs, or just being strategic about how they spend their time off. Nearly all of them had their own unique approach and strategy to making it work for them. And we discovered that it’s easier than we could’ve imagined to find a network of friends and fellow travelers who you can learn from and share ideas with.

There is so much I could say about why traveling is meaningful to us, but that’s a whole other blog post. Returning home, we realized more than ever how many resources we have at our disposal, and felt a deeper gratitude for the ability to leverage those resources to connect with and learn from other cultures around the world.

class
One of our best investments was splurging on Spanish classes with our new friend, Juana 

Traveling shouldn’t just be a luxury for the extremely wealthy, and it also doesn’t have to clean out your bank account. Our 3 month trip didn’t, and I’m now convinced that anyone who hopes to make a long term trip can do so wisely and frugally.

What ways have you found to make long term travel affordable and sustainable? I would love to hear from you!

 

 

 

 

 

 


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