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Living Abroad Part Time – Financial Trip Planning

Next in my continuing series on living abroad part time, is determining if you’re going to “live” in one area for several weeks, or if you’re going to travel around. These are two completely different types of projects, even if you’ll be gone the same amount of time in both.

There’s a very big difference between living in Berlin for a month versus taking a month and visiting London, Berlin, Zurich, and Paris, spending perhaps a week in each city. I’ll call the first scenario “single location” and the second “multi-location.”

The biggest difference is cost. A multi-location trip is going to be far more expensive than a single location trip, far more than you may realize, since a single location trip is often far less expensive than people think.

Using sites like Airbnb, you can rent an entire non-crappy apartment for an entire month for less than US $800 in many mainstream cities. That’s less than US $27 per night. Pretty tough to beat that using hotels or even other per-night apartments in Airbnb (unless you use dorm room-type hostels, which is an option if you’re really tight on cash).

Therefore, if you’re moving around a lot, not only are you paying for extra travel costs, but you’re also paying increased daily lodging costs. This is why on multi-location trips, people are often surprised at how much it costs, and on single location trips, they’re surprised at how cheap it is.

From my home in the Pacific Northwest USA, I can fly to Shanghai, round-trip, for about $850. I can rent a reasonably nice apartment for a month for less than $1100 USD, and that’s in the nice, high-tech area (Pudong). There will be other costs during my visit, such as food and incidentals, but I would incur those costs anyway, even if I didn’t travel. Thus I can live abroad for an entire month for less than $2000 in a very distant and very expensive city.

I don’t think most people realize this. The typical American family is going to spend WAY more than $2000 on a simple trip to Disneyland (ask me how I know).

On top of that, I will always be doing a little extra work during that one-month stay that will pay for some or all of that extra $2000 expense, drawing that number down even further. Moreover, all my usual work continues, so my income flows into my life regardless. It’s living abroad, not a vacation.

On a multi-location trip, because I know the costs will be much higher, I go out of my way to find the cheapest places I can find to stay that are not horrible. My goal is always $50 USD per night. I’m usually able to do this, or at least get very close to it, using sites like hotels.com, hostels.com, and Airbnb for my research.

Note: Avoid using the actual hotels.com or hostels.com site to actually make payment and reserve the room. Instead, use them to find good places that meet your minimum standards, then Google those places and make the reservations at those sites. You’ll have much less problems that way, trust me.

Often in Asia I can find decent, clean hotels that are $50 a night and are located in prime locations. True, the rooms are often very tiny (don’t care) and in places like Asia the shower and the toilet are located in the same “closet” (again, don’t care). I might splurge just one or two nights and stay in a nice expensive hotel in a corner suite with a view, but I consider that an extra maybe, and not a part of the official plan.

Apart from plane travel and hotel accommodation, the last piece is incidental costs, which would be things like food, entertainment, and getting around (subways, taxis, etc.). My working model for this is $70 USD per day on all incidental costs. I track my expenses very carefully on every trip, always trying to keep things down to an average cost of $70 per day. On every trip I’m able to hit this $70 figure or below it, even in extremely expensive cities such as New York or Tokyo.

I do this by making sure that I eat at very cheap places most of the time, including 7-11 type convenient stores, and always use subways and buses instead of taxis whenever possible. It’s not difficult at all, and I never feel deprived by doing any of these. As a matter of act, experiencing and figuring out a new city’s subway and/or bus system is actually part of the fun (at least for me).

When you get a minute, pencil out how much you spend per day on average on all food and local transportation (including gas and auto upkeep) in your typical life. Then pencil out a long future trip you might want to take to another country, using a basis of $120 per day you’re gone ($50 for hotel + $70 for incidentals) minus the number you came up with above, plus the static cost of the plane ticket. Best places for plane tickers is kayak.com and google.com/flights.

You might be surprised how cheap this will be. Again, if you do a single-location trip, you may be able to get the $50 daily hotel costs down to $25 or less.

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