When we talk to our friends about our digital nomad lifestyle, they will often joke that we must have won the lottery to be able to afford our life of constant travel. It always shocks them to find out that we spend less money traveling now than we ever did when we were living in one place.
How could it possibly be cheaper to travel around the world than it would be to live in one place?
First of all, our digital nomad lifestyle means that we don’t have a house so we don’t pay rent or mortgage. We also don’t have any heating bills, electricity bills, water bills, telephone bills or internet bills. We don’t have to spend any money on furniture, carpet cleaning, gardening, or lawnmowers.
We also don’t have a car so we don’t spend money on petrol, car repair or parking. We don’t even know how to drive, but this doesn’t stop us from getting anywhere. Using public transport when you need it over the course of a year is a fraction of the cost of driving a car and the walking that we do is much healthier.
We also don’t spend a lot of money on clothing or other possessions, because everything we own has to fit in a backpack so that we can carry it around the world with us. When you live in one place you end up accumulating a surprising amount of stuff over time, which all costs money. While we are on the road, Lee doesn’t have an Xbox (which he would have spent money on and bought games for) or a TV and I don’t have a closet full of shoes or more than one shade of eye shadow. We don’t really mind though, we would rather have a digital nomad lifestyle at this point in our lives than any possessions.
We also don’t have a mobile phone contract that we are tied to for two years, a Netflix subscription or a membership to a gym. We don’t have a dog or a cat so there is no pet food, kitty litter, or vet bills. We don’t have to buy cleaning supplies or pay for repairs or renovations.
When you add up the cost of what we are not spending, you realize that living in one place can get pretty expensive! Since we have a digital nomad lifestyle and make a living online, we can avoid all of these costs and spend our money strictly on traveling. We don’t make a fortune from our online work, we make an average wage but we just use it very differently.
Another reason why our digital nomad lifestyle actually saves us money is because we spend a lot of time traveling in countries which have a cheaper cost of living. We have spend the last two and a half months in Thailand and Malaysia, where we can rent a hotel room for between $10-20 per night and eat a delicious meal for two including drinks for less than $5. When you work online and earn dollars or pounds, converting that money into Thai Baht or Malaysian Ringgit automatically means you can afford a much higher standard of living with a digital nomad lifestyle. We have been traveling and living a good lifestyle here, eating out, having a few drinks now and then, seeing the sights and enjoying the culture, while actually building up our savings.
Sometimes we travel in countries which are more expensive, such as in North America, the UK and Europe. In these places, we can still afford our digital nomad lifestyle of constant travel although we might not be able to put as much money into our savings account. In these destinations, we have many ways of cutting down the cost of our travels.
We hitchhike and we use Couchsurfing.org to find free places to stay. We look for accommodation that has a kitchen so that we can buy cheap food at the supermarket and cook rather than eating out every night. We look for ride shares, cheap last minute bus and train fares to get us around and any other clever travel hacks to cut down the cost of our digital nomad lifestyle.
For example, when we went to New Orleans from Virginia this spring, we choose to take the bus instead of flying. It was a 24 hour bus ride each way, but it saved us hundreds of dollars on our flight and we also didn’t have to pay for accommodation that night because we slept on the bus. We also save money by traveling slowly and being very flexible with our dates, meaning that we can catch a train or a bus on whichever day offers the cheapest fare.
People ask us why we stay in hostels when we could afford to stay in a fancier hotel, but we know that we could spend a week in basic accommodation for the same price as a couple of nights in a posh hotel. Going for the cheaper option whenever we can means that we can make our digital nomad lifestyle of constant travel sustainable for many months or years. For a great illustration of this, read one of my favorite travel blog posts ever by Wandering Earl about the Currency of Pad Thai.
Travel is always perceived as being so expensive, so it can be difficult to imagine how our adventures around the world are actually costing us less than living in one place. However, the digital nomad lifestyle really works for us as a way to travel the globe while still saving money for as long as we want. You CAN have your cake and eat it too, you just have to be willing to live a life which is a little bit unconventional.