Do you yearn to travel around the world on a low budget? There are more ways to do this than ever before. This report will be relevant for a number of people, including the following (categories are not mutually exclusive):
- Retirees or anyone who’s thinking of retiring to another country.
- Digital Nomads or anyone who want to learn more about this lifestyle.
- Families who want to take exotic but affordable vacations.
- Anyone who dreams of traveling more extensively, in a more interesting way than the typical tourist, and for less money!
I’m a frequent traveler myself, based in the U.S. Therefore, when I talk about things like visas, passports, and other legal issues, I’m speaking from the perspective of an American. I will try to make the principles as widely applicable as possible and note when I’m speaking as an American. However, keep in mind that rules and policies can change quickly.
Health has been an increasing concern for travelers after the Covid pandemic of 2020. While, as of now, travel restrictions are not in place, there’s no guarantee that there won’t be other issues in the future. Aside from taking sensible precautions and keeping up with the latest global health situation (depending on where you’re traveling of course), the following tips may be helpful.
The Importance of a Strong Immune System
Illnesses don’t strike everyone equally, whether it’s the common cold, the flu, or the Coronavirus (along with a myriad other conditions). If you’re immune system is compromised you’re far more susceptible. That’s why it’s crucial to stay healthy and strong in between as well as during trips.
- Get sufficient rest. This can be challenging when passing through time zones. If you’re jet lagged, take a day to recover. This is a good reason not to do the touristy 10-cities-per-week pace. If you spend more time in a destination, you can give yourself time to rest and reset when you have to.
- Get regular exercise. It’s better to exercise daily than to be a weekend warrior. If you’re an active traveler who tends to walk/hike/bike or engage in outdoor activities, you probably get plenty of activity without thinking much about it. If, however, you’re inclined towards sedentary activities such as theater, gourmet dining, and touring by car or bus, make sure you make time to exercise.
- Eat a balanced diet with a focus on natural rather than processed foods. Try to choose accommodations where you have cooking facilities so you don’t have to eat out all the time. Avoid fast food and junk food, at airports as well as at your destinations.
Travel in the EU and Schengen Area
Travel regulations and restrictions are constantly changing. Of course, in 2020-2021 the pandemic created many restrictions. Since then, the EU is planning various changes. If you’re not from Europe but want to visit there, you need to be familiar with the Schengen Area, which are the following 26 countries:
The Schengen Area is not identical to the EU (European Union), though there’s much overlap. Notably, Ireland and the United Kingdom are not part of Schengen (with Brexit, the UK isn’t part of the EU either, but that’s another story). Depending on your citizenship, you may need a visa to enter the Schengen Area. The good news is that your visa applies to all these nations.
Schengen, EU, UK, and Visas
These distinctions are important for anyone (not from one of the EU/Schengen countries) who wants to stay in Europe for more than a few months. For an American, a Schengen Visa is good for 90 days while a UK tourist visa is good for 6 months.
In third world countries, “border hopping” is a common practice. For example, people staying long-term in Costa Rica often make quick “border runs” to a neighboring country such as Panama and then return to get another 90-day visa.
Authorities in many countries don’t look too closely at these tactics. However, I wouldn’t recommend trying this in Europe, where border controls are far more strict. If you don’t have a legitimate reason to be somewhere, you could be sent home and not admitted again in the future.
Update For 2023-2024
Beginning in 2024, Americans will need a “visa” to visit many EU countries. Nations included under ETIAS (European Travel Information and Authorisation System) will require United States citizens to register before traveling to Europe. In most cases, you should be able to get authorization within minutes after paying a small fee. For more information, see Etias.com.
House sitting/Pet Sitting
House/pet sitting is one of the primary ways I’ve traveled for the past 6 years, so I can speak from personal experience as well as research gathered from other sources. While some form of house and pet sitting has gone on for as long as people have owned homes and pets, it’s really taken off in the digital age. There are now many sites where you can arrange housesits well in advance. These sites function similarly to Airbnb, with trust largely established with ratings and reviews. Some of the biggest sites are:
- Housesitters of America
There are quite a few others as well, with new ones springing up all the time. Nor do you have to rely on formal sites to secure housesits. The easiest way, in fact, is to start of informally, for friends, acquaintances, or family members. Lets look at some of the pros and cons of house and pet sitting.
- You can stay almost anywhere in the world for free.
- If you’re an animal lover, you get to spend time with lovable furry companions.
- You live somewhere more like a resident than a tourist. For example, you can cook at home.
- You can’t always perfectly match your ideal location and schedule. In fact, homeowners often want sitters off season. Hence, I’ve done sits in Texas over the summer and Ontario in the winter. On the other hand, some locations are seasonable all year round.
- Locations are not always ideal/central. When you see listings, they often list the closest city. The actual house, however, may be in the suburbs. Longer sits in particular tend to be in less convenient areas. This is because people who live in the center of cities tend to be younger, less settled, and paying higher rents so they aren’t in a position to go away for long periods (though there are always exceptions).
- The process is not always completely reliable. I’ve never been badly burnt (knock on wood!) but I’ve heard horror stories of sits getting canceled at the last minute, after the sitters flew halfway across the world! I have had homeowners return early due to emergencies. These arrangements are trust-based, so there is no legal protection if a sit is canceled. Then, none of the lifestyle options discussed here are really meant for the overly cautious!
This is the largest site and has listings all over the world. In some ways, it’s not totally user-friendly as the listings aren’t categorized by date (though members can do a search). It’s also fairly expensive, at $120/year for both homeowners and sitters. I actually dropped my membership after not being able to find sits during the pandemic but it’s still going strong from what I hear.
I’ve been using this one with some success the last couple of years. As the name suggests, it’s strictly for US house/pet sits.
I’ve browsed other sites such as Nomador (which is mostly for Europe), but haven’t booked any sits through them.
Digital Nomad Lifestyle
The term “digital nomad” became popular soon after Tim Ferriss released his popular book, The 4-Hour Workweek (I’m not sure if he invented the term or not but he is certainly one of its most famous proponents). Digital nomads reap the advantages of living in low-cost regions such as Southeast Asia or Central America while often earning money online from North America, Europe, Australia, and other developed countries. I should point out at the onset that it’s not quite as easy as Ferriss and others who hype the lifestyle claim. Here are a few caveats:
- Constant travel gets complicated due to visa issues. You can do the aforementioned border hopping, but it can get tiring and complicated.
- Earning money online is not always as easy as it sounds. If you’re fortunate enough to have an actual job that lets you work remotely, that’s one thing. Or if you’re established as an author, programmer, graphic artist, or other profession, then it’s great.
However, if your plan is to start a brand new online business and head to the airport with your laptop, you may find it’s a little more difficult than you thought. Most people selling the digital nomad dream talk about one or more of the following:
- Ecommerce -set up an Amazon or Shopify store.
- Affiliate Marketing -earn commissions on other people’s products.
- Freelancing -this includes writing, web design, programming, and other skills.
These are all viable ways to make money but they aren’t easy, especially for beginners. I’m certainly not trying to discourage anyone. I’m just pointing out that you shouldn’t count on making a consistent income in a field in which you haven’t any experience.
Teaching English (and other subjects)
I haven’t done this myself, so I can’t speak about it from personal experience. I have, however, run into many people who do this and it’s definitely a real possibility.
For the best jobs, it’s best to get TESOL-certified (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages). There are also many online teaching jobs. Of course, you can do those right from home. But they can also be done while traveling as long as you have consistent internet service.
If you have any other skills, you may also be able to teach these, either online or in person.
Retiring to another country is another option. This requires a bit more planning than the other travel lifestyle choices we’ve discussed. For one thing, you can housesit or be a digital nomad informally, while playing at being a tourist (especially when crossing borders). Retiring, by contrast, is a formal designation. You’ll have to meet certain requirements, which differ widely from one country to another.
Because retiring to another country is a more permanent action (though not necessary irreversible), you need to keep certain things in mind.
- Take a trip to your chosen destination before making a commitment. Spend at least a week there, preferably longer.
- Calculate all of your assets and expenses. This includes all sources of income, taxes, cost of renting or buying property, utilities, transportation, food, etc.
- Make sure you have access to good healthcare. Your ability to take advantage of health resources in the new country will depend on your citizenship status. Be sure to research your options.
International Living -Another broad-based resource for international travelers. While Transitions Abroad is focused more on younger travelers who want to work, study, or volunteer, International Living has a lot of info for retirees and others who want to permanently relocate. Both, however, have lots of good general travel info.
General Travel Resources
The following are some great resources that can be useful to any of the above lifestyle choices. As always, I can’t guarantee the validity of links. However, I try to pick resources that have been around for a while and are likely to continue for at least another few years.
An informative resource for all types of independent travelers. Covers areas such as teaching English, volunteering, finding a job, and lots more.
As of this writing (late 2023), there are multiple hot spots around the world and we never know when war, terrorism, natural disasters, or other events may effect travel safety. If you have any doubts about the safety of traveling to a certain country, you should do your research. The following is a site for travel advisories by the United State government. Other countries have similar resources.
Getting an internet phone number is very useful if your cell phone service doesn’t work while you’re traveling. There are other solutions, such as getting a local SIM card. However, a Google Voice number can be used globally. You need to get it before you leave, though, as you need to verify your identity with a valid cell phone number.
I will update this article as changes occur and as I discover new tools and resources.