I get asked all the time “How can you afford to travel?” or people quip “I’m so jealous you can afford to travel like that!” 

To be quite honest, I can’t afford to “travel” all the time, but that is really not what my lifestyle is about. I generally choose a ‘homebase’ in another country and live there for 3-6 months at a time, only taking short trips from that location.

I will be completely honest that I DO NOT live the life of these luxurious Instagram influencers and bloggers you see all over the internet, who are doing multiple outfit changes, or worse yet, wearing outfits that very much do not seem to match the circumstances of where they are visiting. My life is not always easy or glamorous. I DO make sacrifices. I do not take certain trips and I budget in order to make sure that I can continue doing what I love, living abroad. 

Backpack trip

The real truth of the matter is I cannot afford to live in the United States. I will explain below shortly using a monthly expenses comparison. I have a ton of debt to pay down, including about $250,000 in student loan debt, and so when I left my job in medicine, in order for travel to even be a feasible part of the equation, I had to make sure the “math worked” so to say.

I generally look to live/stay in a place with a favorable exchange rate, so although I would love to travel and live in Europe, the exchange rate living on the euro is not really good enough for me to be able to do that for a long period of time.

This is why you always see ‘digital nomads’ (a term for many of us who work and travel) going to a lot of the same places including southeast asia, latin america, and eastern europe for example. You want to look for places where you will get more currency in exchange for your home currency, so for me the US dollar carries a much higher value than the mexican peso (1:19), colombian peso (1: 3,369), thai bhat (1:30) , or indonesian rupiah (1:14,195) for example. 

When I first set off I debated going to Thailand first, but when I found a ticket to Mexico City for $100 I changed my plans and settled on Latin America. That and the fact that I spoke Spanish sealed the deal. From there hearing good things about Medellin and again finding cheap flights had me settling in Medellin, Colombia for a while.

To give you an example of my monthly expenses living in Austin vs Medellin see below. My expenses were actually much worse when I was in residency and living by myself in a one-bedroom apartment and covering all the expenses myself but I figured for comparison I should try to pick circumstances that were closest to being equivalent (sharing a space). 

My monthly cost of living in Austin, TX: 

Rent $600 (1 bedroom in 4 bedroom house in N Austin)

Utilities: $150

Gas $200

Groceries $400

Health insurance $200

Phone $60

Business expenses (Aweber, Adobe, Zoom, VPN) $70

Misc expenses (spotify, amazon) $15

Total: $1695

My monthly cost of living in Medellin, Colombia:

Rent + Utilities  $260 (1 bedroom in 6 bedroom house near Estadio)

Transportation $50

Groceries $150

Phone $60

Travel insurance $40

Paying for med visit and meds out of pocket: $60

Business expenses (Aweber, Adobe, Zoom, VPN) $70

Misc expenses (spotify, amazon)  $15

Total: $705

I realize I am potentially opening myself up for criticism here but I am all about being transparent. My expenses are about one half to one third what they would be living in the US but that is cutting out a lot of “luxuries” perhaps. I don’t rent a car overseas, I use public transport, and I more or less live like locals do and try to assimilate the best I can. Some may question my expenses and all I can say is they are what works for me—I have cut back in certain areas, canceling Netflix and other subscription services that I did not deem necessary (Spotify is a lifeline for me and must stay) and splitting my Amazon account with a family member. For those curious, I do pay taxes (US federal but not state income taxes) and this year I am looking into potentially filing for a FEIE

Keep Austin Weird

You may say but sure didn’t it cost you basically nothing to move back in with family for a period of time, and YES that was true. I moved back in with both my parents for a short period and then my sister when I came home to visit after traveling. But traveling (i.e. living in another country for short stints) is the best way I have been able to find to balance my finances, independence, and need for adventure, and sanity at the same time. I am not a natural homebody and as much as I adore my family, I cannot handle living with them for long. The loss I experience in productivity, I more than make up for by choosing an environment where I can thrive that is cheap to live in. 

So my key message here, is that it is not that you cannot afford to travel. Maybe you cannot afford to travel how you imagine living in glamour and at resorts, but you have to personally determine what is important to you.

Even when I “landed” in Medellin and started living in the touristy area, I determined that I would much prefer living in a more authentic neighborhood feeling area of town than walking down the street and seeing “gringos” everywhere, so I moved. It also ended up being cheaper, so along with getting the feel that I wanted, I saved my wallet. 

People may also judge me for not taking tons of trips or doing all the touristy things when I live somewhere, but realize that I am living there, I am not coming to a place with a ton of extra cash to spend. This was hard for me to accept at first but I have really gotten used to it now. I may plan out a vacation or two where I will give myself more freedom, but otherwise, on most days I am cooking from home, and basically just going about living my life in another country. Sure I splurge here and there, but I make conscious decisions about where my money goes.

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