“Swingin’ on the Riviera one day
And then layin’ in the Bombay alley next day”
Ignoring the fact that we are not secret agents nor have we been lying in any alley anywhere, Johnny Rivers Secret Agent Man is our life. We crisscross the globe and when our week includes Florence, Marseille, and Athens it sounds like we live some extravagant wealthy lifestyle.
How to afford a life of travel
We do lead a wealthy lifestyle but we are not wealthy. So how do we afford to fly so often and spend our days in the great cities of the world?
It’s all about substituting one way of life for another. It’s about where and how you spend your money.
This blog is not about the price of everything, it is about the real possibility that you can travel the world without being wealthy
I’ll give some examples of what we’ve substituted and the difference in cost compared to living in the U.S.
Substituting an Airbnb for your mortgage or rent
Housing is typically the single largest expense for people. Our rent in Flagstaff, Arizona, where we last lived in the US. was $1,500 for our apartment and $2,300 when we owned a house.
Our Airbnb when we travel averages about $1,200, running between $700 to $1,500 monthly. Of course, we stay in nice places. Using our Flagstaff apartment as a baseline, we save about $300 a month by living in other countries.
No utility costs
But there’s more to these savings. We have no utility costs. We don’t pay for electricity, water, gas, trash, or internet service. That’s all included in the Airbnb fee.
In Arizona, those utility costs ran about $270/month. This brings the housing savings to $570 monthly. But there’s more, we are not paying for cleaning products, paper towels, and appliance repairs and replacement, nor do we pay for insurance or property tax. I’m going to add just $30 a month for all of that to make the house savings and even $600.
Substituting air, rail, taxi, and metro for your car
The next big expense is transportation: the car.
For this, I’ll need to use an average because we don’t actually own a car. So, the average car payment in Arizona is $400, insurance is $70, and maintenance is $50. Then there’s fuel. I’m calculating $200 a month, thinking you might fill up once a week for $50? Total cost $720. And not worrying about rattles, warning lights, scratches, and tickets, is priceless.
Our transportation costs fall into three categories
- Long haul flights
- Regional travel; short flights, trains, and ferries
- Local travel: metro, subway, taxi, and light rail
Twice a year we fly to a region and back to the U.S, a total of 4 one-way long-haul flights. Those flights average about $600 for each of us so that comes to $4,800 annually.
We take regional transportation about once a month. This varies greatly. For example, a flight from Kuala Lumper to Penang was $28 – for both of us! The train from Florence to Marseille was $100 – each. This averages to close to $100 a month (total for both us) for 8 months, remember four months of the year we get to our destination on a long-haul flight. So, $100 X 8 months is $800 annually.
Local transportation is really inexpensive. But many times we have to use a taxi to and from the airport, not always inexpensive. Our average local travel cost comes to $70/month
$4,800 in long-haul flights + $800 in regional travel = $5,600 annually. That is $467month. Add $70 each month for local travel and our monthly transport expense of $537
Average savings: $183/month
Substituting food for great food
The harsh reality is, American food is low quality compared to what most of the rest of the world eats. It’s not just the food quality it’s also the preparation and the atmosphere. I’ll talk about this in another blog but I want you to be aware that in other countries you pay less for more when it comes to food.
Also, in many countries, it’s equal or less expensive to eat out. We do cook for ourselves but we often eat in restaurants every day.
Groceries and eating out for both of us, and this includes two to four, morning coffees as well as evening cocktails, is about $1,000/month.
It’s too expensive to live this kind of lifestyle in the U.S. When we lived in the U.S. we didn’t go out for coffee every morning and we didn’t eat the majority of our meals at a restaurant. And still, we spent more than we do when traveling. Our food expenses in the U.S. ran about $1,200/month.
Average savings: $200/month
Substituting things for experiences
Because we travel we buy less stuff. This is a huge saving because Americans buy more stuff than they realize. The travel life is about experiences.
Kim and I rode horses in the mountains of central Mexico to see the Monarch butterfly migration. I’ll take that memory, which will be with me forever, over a new Ikea table. Kayaking Lago Maggiore at the foothills of the Alps in Stresa, Italy – much more rewarding than a new blender.
Let’s look at clothing. I travel with 12 shirts, 2 pairs of pants, 3 pairs of shorts, a pullover, a rain jacket, two hats, one pair of shoes, flip flops, and socks, underwear, belt, a tie, etc. Now take a look at your closet. How much money would be in your pocket if you had only bought enough to fit in a suitcase?
The same for the kitchen. We travel with a coffee maker, some spices, stevia (hard to find in some countries), and an all in one tool which includes a corkscrew and can opener (both surprisingly absent from many Airbnbs). Airbnb supplies the kitchen with everything else in.
I’m not going to put a dollar value on this because experiences are much more than the price and prices vary so much. The horses into the butterfly sanctuary were costly to rent but priceless for the experience, especially for Kim. The kayaks in Italy we borrowed from a friend – no cost, and paddling across the lake with my son, how do you put a price on that?
Many of the experiences we have are free, it’s just what happens naturally as you travel.
- Strike up a conversation with a guy at a cafe, he happens to have the keys to a castle that’s closed for renovation – he took us on a private tour.
- Family we were visiting had a party for business associates – suddenly we are at a 5-star restaurant sipping champagne with European business leaders.
- Taking video of the Istanbul City Wall – workers on the top motion us to come up and we were walking in the footsteps of the Romans and Ottomans (the wall is strictly off-limits to everyone)
But many of the experiences have a dollar value. We occasionally take tours and we pay a lot of entry fees. For us, this is money better spent than on patio furniture. So, we will call the stuff vs. experiences equal. Although I think we spend less not buying things.
What is important to you?
Really, you have to decide what is important to you. Are you willing to trade the stuff for the experiences? This life is not for everyone, but if it is for you, you can have it. It actually costs less to live a life of travel.
Here’s how I look at it, at the end of life people don’t wish they had bought more stuff, they wish they had taken more opportunities and experienced life. I don’t intend to die wishing I had done more.