How to Live and Work Abroad for Less
on the Road: The Unconventional Guide to Full-Time Freedom
By Nora Dunn
3/11/2015 with resources updated 9/5/2018
Live and work abroad for less,
then take it slow if and when you wish.
To many people, the dream of traveling
the world and earning a living while doing so seems impossible;
common excuses against living and working abroad include
a lack of career options or an overly expensive lifestyle.
I had those same excuses myself, until I proved myself wrong,
and discovered dozens of other people also debunking the
Since 2007, I've traveled the world
full-time while living and working on the road. As much
to my own surprise as to anybody else's, I discovered that
working abroad and traveling full-time generally costs less
(way less) than it does to live in one place. It's possible
to live and work abroad for less money than you probably
I'll illustrate the cost of living on
the road with profiles of people (solo travelers,
couples, and families) who live and work abroad in various
careers, lifestyles, and locations as well as the logistics
of life on the road, work-life balance, how to organize
your affairs, tools for the road and for business, and much
* * *
Excerpt from Working on the Road:
The Unconventional Guide to Full-Time Freedom
Income and Expense Choices
Income and expense choices are personal.
We all make choices about how we earn money and how we spend
it. However, when we're not conscious of our earning and
spending habits, our incomes can end up dictating our lifestyles
(i.e. "keeping up with the Joneses"), taking the
power of lifestyle design out of our hands.
When I was a financial planner, I earned
upwards of six figures, but strangely, the more money I
earned, the less I seemed to have. My expenses consistently
rose with my income—from business expenses such as needing
assistants, liability insurance, and other overhead expenses,
to the personal expenses of needing to “walk the talk” by
having a nice car, loft, and treating clients to fancy meals.
Although the sports car was lovely, the relentless hours
I had to work and stress I carried had its own cost. Deep
down, my actual quality of life when I earned $120,000 wasn't
much better than when I earned a third as much.
In 2007, I turned the tables, designed
the lifestyle I wanted, and then found a way to earn the
money required to make it sustainable.
Now, my income is a means to my lifestyle,
not vice versa.
In the first few years on the road,
I earned a fairly low income while building my freelance
writing and travel blogging business. But I could comfortably
sustain my travels, so it worked, and I chose not to
work any harder—since I was escaping a work-heavy lifestyle
to begin with.
After publishing my income and expense
breakdowns on my site, Chris Guillebeau and I were chatting
about our businesses via email. When I asked if he had any
suggestions, he said “earn more money!”
Shortly thereafter, a reader commented
that they admired my “just getting by” lifestyle, thinking
it might be a more authentic way to travel.
I took issue with both comments; my
travel lifestyle was (more than) sustainable, very comfortable, and
I didn't have to work full-time hours. So why did I
need to earn more money? I didn't want to find myself trapped
once again in the rat race from which I had worked so hard
to escape. And I really didn't feel like I was “just getting
by”; I simply made different spending choices.
I am far from miserly in my full-time
travel lifestyle; rather, I’m choosy about how I spend my
money, and savvy about where I can save it. But when I want
lobster, I eat lobster.
The Income Curve
Building any business usually involves
traveling up an income curve, where the ratio of work to
income becomes more favorable over time. So despite my issues
with working harder to earn more, my income grew anyway,
almost doubling between 2011 and 2012. My cost of living
also rose proportionately (as tends to happen, almost inexplicably).
Although this rise in income didn't
mean a proportionate increase in working hours, I still
struggle to find the balance between the time and effort
spent earning money versus enjoying it (something we'll
Financially Sustainable Travel
The cost of living on the road is an
intricate part of financially sustainable travel, which
is an entire niche unto itself - of which working on the
road is just one element. Earning money and spending money
are two different things; epending on how much money you
earn—or want to earn—you can determine your lifestyle preferences,
or vice versa. Ultimately, you choose your expenses...and
you also choose how high your income will be.
SOLO TRAVEL—Cost of Living
on the Road: The Professional Hobo
(Editor's note: Here's a breakdown of Nora's expenses in 2018 and income in 2018 for comparison with the earlier years itemized below.)
My full-time travels in 2011 had a lot
of variety. The first five months were spent volunteering
in New Zealand, before five months of hectic travels through
North America, Europe, and Asia (including the Ultimate
Train Challenge which spanned 10 countries via 29 trains
in 30 days). I finished off the year catching my breath
while housesitting on the Caribbean island of Grenada.
All in all I traversed 13 countries
and traveled a total of 73,000 kilometers (over 45,000 miles)
Total Cost of Living for 2011:
of expenses for the year, converted to US Dollars
|Food & Drink
|Medical & Insurance
notice my accommodation expense for the year was ridiculously
low. During 2011, I managed to stay almost exclusively for
free, either by volunteering, house-sitting, staying with
friends and family, or couch surfing. The $173 was for two
nights at the Hilton in Stockholm as a special treat!
Note: I wrote a book called How
to Get Free Accommodation Around the World, if you're
curious how I do it.
Gifts: Included in
this category are gifts for couch surfing and hospitality
exchange hosts as a thank you for their hospitality and
I spent the first three months of 2012
sailing the Caribbean (living on five different boats spanning
three countries), before visiting a friend in Florida for
a month. Then I returned to Grenada for three more months
of house-sitting, then two months of house-sitting in Switzerland
(with some time spent in Paris and London), before capping
off the year setting up a home base of sorts in Grenada.
(Oh yes, and while I was in Grenada I “popped up” to my
home town of Toronto for a quick visit).
Total Cost of Living for 2012:
of expenses for the year, converted to US Dollars
|Food & Drink
|Medical & Insurance
my accommodation expenses for the year were still only a
shade more than what many people pay for a month, they were
notably higher than in 2011. This is because I decided it
was time to create an (inexpensive) home base in Grenada
with a partner, sharing a new raft of accommodation expenses.
Food & Drink: This
expense nearly doubled over 2011. Part of the reason is
because for the first five months of 2011, my food was free
with accommodation in exchange for my volunteering. Good
food is also one of the things I'll happily spend money
on, so when my income became more flush in 2012, I spent
* * *
Pursuant to the title of this article
and tips explored in the guide, here are some ways to live
and work abroad for less:
- Travel slowly. The
faster you travel, the more money you'll spend on transportation,
accommodation, and food. If you are staying locally for
a few months, you'll save money in a variety of ways
including lower accommodation rates, shopping locally
for food, cooking at “home”, and taking fewer flights.
- Get free accommodation. Although
this certainly isn't a pre-requisite, it's responsible
for my spending $173 for an entire year's worth of accommodation
and $1,718 the next year. Accommodation is one of the
biggest expenses we have (at home and abroad), so if
you can save money by housesitting, volunteering, or
other forms of free accommodation, you'll spend exponentially
less. (See also: 5
Ways to Get Free Accommodation Around the World).
- Work abroad. When
people think of travel, they often think of vacations,
where all their time is leisure-based, and thus needs
to be filled with costly tourist activities. When you
work abroad (either on a location independent career
or an on-the-ground job—both of which are profiled
in-depth in the guide), your days are already filled
with a culturally enriching activity; thus you're only
spending money after work, which stretches your income
- Practice currency arbitrage. If
you are earning Dollars, Pounds, or Euros, and living
in a country with a weaker currency, you're practicing
currency arbitrage. Many countries with weaker currencies
(such as in Central/South America and Asia) have a lower
cost of living to begin with; couple a lower cost of
living with currency arbitrage, and you don't need to
earn very much money to live and work abroad.
For more information, profiles of travelers
who live and work abroad, interviews, lifestyle tips, and
practical advice, check out Working
on the Road: The Unconventional Guide to Full-Time Freedom.
Dunn is The
Professional Hobo: a woman who sold everything
she owned (including a busy financial planning practice
in Canada) in 2006 to embrace her dreams of full-time
travel. She's been on the road ever since, and has
penned a few books about her adventures, including How
to Get Free Accommodation Around the World, andTales
of Trains: Where the Journey is the Destination.
(Editor: We have
no affliation relationship with the author for her ebooks
or in any way. Nora has written many articles for TransitionsAbroad.com
in the past and we support her fine new book by way of