Traveling and Living Abroad Cheaply

Even the automobiles are preserved in historic Colonia de Sacramento, Uruguay.

Even the automobiles are preserved in historic Colonia de Sacramento, Uruguay.

My experiences traveling and living outside the United States over the past two years have provided me with some insights which I will share here. Please add ideas from your own experiences so that those who follow in our footsteps might benefit. I am not addressing traditional vacationers who travel on a larger budget and stay in more upscale resorts or who prefer cruises.

This article addresses two distinct groups:

  1. those who wish to travel abroad cheaply, and
  2. those who wish to live abroad cheaply.
We learn how easy it is to make new friends at the Backpacker Hostel in Iquique, Chile.

We learn how easy it is to make new friends at the Backpacker Hostel in Iquique, Chile.

The former group consists of those whose objective is to see some of the world on a tight budget. These folks typically backpack, camp, couch surf, utilize hostels, and travel mostly by bus. They will discover places they love and perhaps one day they will return to live for awhile.

I enjoy traveling with this group. Hostels are great places to meet travelers and there is a constant turnover of people. The hostel is a communal environment, and everyone has a story to tell. Also, hostels provide the use of a community kitchen where we can prepare food ourselves rather than eating every meal at a restaurant. Think twice about hostelling if you like to go to bed early because hostel folks are generally better at partying than us older people.

An incredible variety of fruits, nuts, vegetables, meats, etc. is sold at the Central Market in Valencia, Spain.

An incredible variety of fruits, nuts, vegetables, meats, etc. is sold at the Central Market in Valencia, Spain.

Most people decide to live abroad because it is less expensive. They have a source of income, and most often they are retired. I am a member of this group. I have spent time in a dozen countries. In each locale I ask myself the question, “Would I want to live here?” Here are some sample criteria, all of which pertain to quality of life:

  1. Is living here affordable?
  2. Would I feel comfortable going for a walk or bike ride here?
  3. Is the air clean?
  4. Are there interesting things to see and do?
  5. Is the climate agreeable?

Once you find a place where you would like to live, here are some basic tips:

It takes two Walk lights to cross the Av. 9 de Julio in downtown Buenos Aires, Argentina.

It takes two cycles of the WALK light to cross the Avenida 9 de Julio in downtown Buenos Aires, Argentina, the world’s widest boulevard.

  1. Rent, do not buy. Anything can happen to change your mind about where you wish to live. Do not get tied down until you have lived someplace for an entire year. If you decide to buy a home, make sure you fully understand the laws governing property ownership. And yes, you will probably need to consult with a local attorney, so ask around for a good one.
  2. Determine if you will need a car. Is the local transportation system reliable? You can save a lot of money doing without a car, and you can always rent a car for special outings.
  3. Learn the language. Even if you only know a few words in a foreign language, use them. And keep studying to improve. The more you learn the more you will enjoy the local culture.
  4. People typically over-pack. Go light where you can, especially with books. (Invest in an eReader.)
  5. Make sure you have a good internet connection. This is how you will stay in touch with the folks back home.
  6. Be flexible in your plans. You may discover something better than what you planned once you hit the road.
  7. Start researching now for the lifestyle you wish to pursue later. Get excited!

My blog is all about the places we have seen and the places where we have lived. We do not plan to stay in one location for more than a year, so we will not be buying a house. We are already thinking about the next place we wish to live. Until then I will be sharing my stories from Cuernavaca, Mexico.


46 comments on “Traveling and Living Abroad Cheaply

  1. Great advice – look forward to hearing more of your travels.

  2. mkesling63 says:

    I was in Baja, Mexico and in the 70’s they kicked out the Americans and wouldn’t let Americans own land there. Has that changed? I loved the Baja part of Mexico. Outside of border towns, I don’t know the other Mexico.

    • Good question. I am no expert on owning property in Mexico. Nonetheless, I see Americans retiring in Mexico. There are expat communities in Cabo, San Miguel de Allende, Cuernavaca, etc. It is possible they are on a 99 year lease or some other legal arrangement. You might consider investigating via the expat blogs. They would be better able to answer your question. (ex. –

      • Jim says:

        Americans can own land in Mexico. Only on coastal and border areas are they subject to owning land via a special trust arrangement called a Fideicomiso. Never do anything in the way of real estate in Mexico without using a bilingual lawyer who comes with excellent and checkable references.

      • Thank you for your important updates.

  3. Marty Bauer says:

    Great Post! Thanks for sharing. I’m curious, what do you find to be the optimal time for staying put in one location?

    • Wow – that’s a tough question because it’s so subjective. For example, Ireland holds great appeal for us, but I’m not sure I would care to spend all winter there. There are still so many places I would like to visit that six months seems like a fair stay with the option to stay longer if we wished. I’m sort of focused on Spain at this time, and that’s the fun of planning. There are plenty of possibilities after you have visited lots of places. I think if we were in Sicily we might make it our permanent base, but I am still new to the process so I cannot say for sure. I hope that helps answer your question.
      Thank you for your comments.

  4. Douglas E says:

    All great points – and I would extend your comment regarding waiting to buy to not buy. The positives of renting significantly outweigh any negatives – from ownership issues to upkeep to taxes to …….. We are even thinking of cashing out of our real estate in the US which would make it even easier for us to pick and spend a month here, six months there, a year yonder, etc.

    • That is exactly what we did – sold our house, both cars and all our furniture and appliances. Now everything we own fits in our suitcases. That may sound radical to some people, but it is also a very liberating experience. And we don’t miss any of our ‘stuff’.
      Thank you for adding your thoughts, Douglas.

  5. “People typically over-pack” <– Love!
    My whole world changed when I came to this conclusion for myself.
    One backpack. Done.

  6. edebock says:

    Excellent advice! Thank you for visiting my blog today and liking my latest entry. I hope you’ll be back again.

  7. brickthomas says:

    Great post and it’s good to hear of another white haired traveler enjoying hostels.

  8. Jenny Dorsett Dahl says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and adventures. I’m living vicariously through your blogs while dreaming of my own “retirement”.
    I was at Camp Long the other day – the first time I’d been there in about 35 years. I thought of you and other friends as I walked around on the trails and gave Sherman Rock another go.
    Travel safely my friend.

    • Thank you for your comments, Jenny. It’s good to hear from you. I always think fondly of those days at Camp Long. The last time I was there they had the Rock gated off for restoration. That had to be about 18 years ago. I hope it’s holding up. It’s a historical treasure.
      I appreciate you following. I hope there are many more tales to share, like our tour in Mexico City this weekend. 🙂

  9. LaVagabonde says:

    Very good advice, especially about not buying anything before you live somewhere at least one year. Totally agree. It takes time for the honeymoon to wear off and for you to determine if you can get used to the local problems.

  10. Another point I would add is to research access to emergency/medical services, especially for retired folk- example, the ambulances in Lima will cause you to wait so long it is better to hop in a cab and go yourself. If you have any health concerns, you should probably research what kind of care is available locally, because obviously if you have to travel somewhere else often, that will dig into your budget. Also, some places have phenomenal health care (eg, top notch dentistry for a very low cost is often easy to find in Latin America).

    • Your point is a good one as to considering costs for health care. In Boquete, health care was affordable by American standards although often out of reach for locals. About needing an ambulance in an emergency, there was one expat who served as a self-appointed 911 call center, which was an amazing service and contribution to the expat community. And those who were not fluent in Spanish always called one particular taxi driver whose English was excellent.
      Thank you for sharing your thoughts for every reader’s benefit.

  11. ShruTroup says:

    I agree with you about hostels and couchsurfing. We always stayed in hotels and isolated ourselves during vacations. Last year we left our jobs and decided to travel long term. It was our first experience with hostels. We had fun hanging out with other travelers at the end of the day and exchanging travel stories and sharing food. It was an eye opening experience!
    Great post!

    BTW, thanks for visiting my blog and liking my posts!

  12. globalequities says:

    Completely agree on hostels. I would not travel any other way.

  13. innamazing says:

    I’ve been to Colonia del Sacramento – such a cute little town! Nice post.

  14. Ave 9 de Julio is wide! – It consistently took us 3 walk lights to make it across 🙂

  15. Kanchi says:

    There is a wealth of information out here. Thank you.

  16. I am drawn to your blog at my first visit. It is great to hear about your travels, lessons learned and I look forward to reading more. Vive wanderlust!

    • My appetite is stimulated by the photos on your blog. And it all looks healthy – yum! We try to learn about the foods in every country we visit. We plan to move to Great Britain later this year. Maybe Spain next year.
      Thank you for the kind words.

  17. Great blog! I’ve been quickly going over a few of your posts, and as someone who loves travelling, I look forward to reading more of your posts!

  18. Nia Simone says:

    Excellent post! Thanks for coming by my blog today.


  19. blade3colorado says:

    Good post GE! I agree with everything you said. Especially, the part about renting. In fact, I will go one step further – unless someone has an extraordinary need to have their name on a property, renting is the way to go IMO.

  20. Yes, we are of like minds on buying vs. renting. Why would a person who travels buy a home, or perhaps second home? That just tells me they have too much stuff. I know people who bought homes in Panama and spent over $20,000 shipping their possessions. Why? Their furniture wasn’t worth that, and the furniture made throughout Latin America is BEAUTIFUL, and so much less expensive than in industrialized countries – such a waste of money.
    Thank you for your comments.

    • blade3colorado says:

      I keep coming back to your post because of other things you touched on. For example, right now I am in a Sydney hostel and it’s much better than the previous place I was staying – a community retirement home for people in their 50s, that has units they rent to tourists. All well and good, except for 2 drawbacks: 1. It’s in the sticks; and 2. No communal camraderie as a hostel has (which you pointed out).

      This is usually what I do when traveling . . . I stay in hostels when I am looking to meet people (same deal with AA, since I have not drank for decades – I go to meetings in the countries I am in and inevitably, I get invited to lunch, dinner, or sightseeing). I like staying in hotels when I want to be pampered a bit. It’s a treat for myself and coupled with going to AA meetings, I am still connected with the local populace and tourists who also attend meetings.

      Yeah, no idea why people buy homes in these countries. Me? I downsized my life by selling a large, beautiful mountain home for a condo. Why? Because I got tired of moving snow from point a to point b. It was so empowering to get rid of that junk and move into a place that fit my footprint. I also didn’t worry about wildfire and blizzards damaging my home (which happened twice – once during a dive trip to Belize). I think people acquire crap and are after the “holy grail” of job promotions, large house, big expensive car in their 20s, 30s, and 40s; then in their 50s, they want to shed themselves of that stuff. At least I did.

      • At first glance, it seems like an easy life change, at least in hindsight, to downsize like you and I have. However, I think for many people it is such a drastic change and so counterintuitive compared to how we are brought up to believe ‘The one with the most toys wins.’
        Now we are role models for those who may follow our path! 🙂
        I am enjoying following your journey. Buen Viaje!

  21. reocochran says:

    I enjoyed the post and always treasure your pictures. I was in Valencia when a senior in high school on a 6 day tour of Spain. I wish I had taken more pictures. In 1974, I was fairly broke and didn’t realize that pictures would make a difference looking back years later! I now follow several travel blogs to see places I have been and ones I have yet to see!

    • I know just what you mean. Our one brief visit to Valencia has me perusing blogs for more information about Spain. One day is not enough. I’ve been contemplating Spain ever since. Living in Latin America and speaking Spanish has made me feel ready for the Big Time!
      Thank you for following and commenting!

  22. Jim says:

    Great blog, and I couldn’t agree more with your suggestions. Currently, I live in the southern part of Baja, but have lived in several L. American countries and several cities in Mexico.

    By the way, do you have a favorite place thus far as regards places you would consider living in permanently?

    • My favorite spot was Pucón, Chile. My wife preferred Iquique, Chile, which was nice, too. Mercedes, Uruguay was also a close contender. However, geography played a role in our decision to choose Panama first, since we both have family in the U. S. that we wish to visit, and S. America was a more difficult commute.
      Great question, Jim. Thank you for asking.

  23. Hi and thank you for visiting my blog at ! I am enjoying reading your posts and the comments – one day I will make it to South America!!

  24. I’ve been meaning to write about a post about traveling and living abroad (I’ve done both) cheaply…great article and good information. I will definitely link up to you once I’ve written my post! Thank you for sharing!

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