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Even though the digital nomad lifestyle is becoming more mainstream, there are certain things I hear all the time. I guess, to many people, it’s still a kind of strange concept. And I mean, I can totally see choosing to be house-less could seem odd.
But, without doubt, the question I get asked most is the one Brits usually shy away from: money!
When people find out about my nomadic lifestyle, they usually want to know,
a – how I make money
b – how I afford to travel all the time, or
c – how much it costs to live a location independent life
Today, I’m going to answer that last one. Ready to talk money? Let’s do this!
Is travelling full time expensive?
When most people think of travel, they think of an expensive hobby they enjoy a few times a year. And when they think of long term travel, they imagine cutting back on coffees and saving every last penny for months or years to enjoy the trip of a lifetime. Or maybe you think of your retirement fund.
Whatever comes to mind, it’s hard to separate thoughts of travel from thoughts of your bank balance. And usually it’s with the idea that the former’s going to eat into a good chunk of the latter.
Spoiler alert: I spend less money travelling full time than I did when I lived in one place.
Most people are pretty shocked when I tell them that. Given how often we associate travel with hefty credit card bills, I guess it’s no surprise. But a travel lifestyle really isn’t the same as a one-off trip. Here’s why:
How much it costs to travel full time
Here are all the expenses I have living as a digital compared to the expenses I had living in London. I do appreciate that London is a very expensive city to live in – it’s one of the reasons I left! But since it’s where my whole life was based before, it’s what I have to compare things to.
Probably the biggest change in my expenses is accommodation. Rent in London is EXPENSIVE. Before I left, I was paying £800 per month for a room in a three-bedroom flat. The living room and kitchen was a single, small room. There was only one bathroom. And that was considered a good deal.
I often get asked about where I stay when I’m spending time somewhere and the answer is usually an Airbnb apartment. Of course, it helps that Brendan and I usually travel together, but we’ve spent anywhere from £200 to £800 on a one bedroom apartment. No shared bathrooms, lots of living space and usually a very central location. Given that the most we’ve spent is the amount I paid without bills in London, going back to London seems like a pretty silly idea.
I probably stay in a hotel no more than 4 nights per month, and even then it rarely costs a lot. We’ll usually splash a little when we’re somewhere affordable, like in Koh Samui or Kuala Lumpur, and even then it’s way better value for money than London.
It’s hard to put an average price on accommodation because it varies so much from country to country, but I would say it averages out to around £500 per month each including hotels and Airbnbs. If you’re interested in any particular country, I’m adding all my digital nomad homes – and the cost of living there – to this post.
Okay, so here’s one that can cost a LOT more than living in London. On months when I’m flying – which, to be fair, is most of them – my flights can set me back a fair bit.
In 2018, I spent between £50 and £1100 per month on flights, and on at least a few months I spent nothing. I didn’t take a single flight between September 30 and December 15, meaning my transport costs were low. In the early summer, a lot of my flights were paid for by tourism boards I partnered with, and again I spent nothing for a good two months.
The only other transport costs I have are the occasional airport transfer (usually around £20), taxis or rental cars. In Namibia, the rental car was for the workshop, which was a business expense for Brendan. The other cars we hired cost around £350 per month and around £700 respectively (4WD’s are around twice the price in South Africa).
Given that I used to spend about £220 per month on getting to the office, it’s really not a lot – especially on the months I don’t fly. Plus, if I wanted to, it would be easy to cut this figure down by staying in places for longer or taking public transport.
Now, I’m going to start by saying this is an area where I’m nowhere near as frugal as I could be.
Again, it depends on the destination, but I would say my daily food and drink intake comes to around £20. That’s much more than I would spend in London, but I’m sure it’s not far from the average Londoner’s spend.
The big difference between now and then is that I rarely cook. In many places, it’s simply cheaper and easier to order in or buy ready to eat food instead of cooking. Not only that but it saves time on cooking and cleaning up – time that I can instead put into my business.
It’s something I’ve thought about long and hard, but I ultimately decided that my time is worth more than the saving I’d make by cooking more regularly. That and I really enjoy trying the local food – it’s one of my favourite parts of travelling!
Bills & utilities
When I lived in London, my monthly bills were pretty hefty. Once I paid for electricity, gas, water, internet, council tax and a TV license, it came to around £120 month. Add a phone bill and home insurance on top of that and the least I was spending every month was about £150.
Now, I spend less! With no household utility bills to pay, my costs are limited to a phone contract and insurance. Admittedly, I do pay a lot more for insurance but it’s totally worth it considering it’s still less than council tax alone. I use World Nomads travel insurance for all the reasons outlined here, and it sets me back around £36.25 per month (but I pay annually). It’s pricier than other travel insurance, but it offers a lot more cover – especially for long-term travellers who don’t go home much. Plus, since it’s my only ‘household bill’, it’s worth it!
And then there’s my phone contract. Until recently, I had a SIM-only deal with Three that cost just £14 per month. I’ve now moved that to Pay As You Go because I found a great deal on the Huawei Mate 20 Pro and switched to it when I got back to the UK. On my current deal, I get 100GB per month – and can use 4G around the world! – for £36 per month.
In countries not covered by my UK SIM, I’ll usually pick up a local one and pay around the same per month.
One of the biggest differences when I started travelling full-time was the massive change in my social life. When I lived in London, it wasn’t unusual for me to go out at least 3 or 4 nights per week. This was often to brand-hosted and PR events, so technically it was a free (or paid!) night out. That would usually involve stopping somewhere for a coffee and a snack to kill time after work, and I’d also hang out with friends at least once or twice a week.
At weekends, I would go shopping, go out for friends’ birthdays or head to the latest pop-up restaurant or one-off event in London. Most weekends involved at least a brunch or a few drinks, easily setting me back an extra £20-30 per week.
All in all, I think I budgeted around £150 for monthly social and entertainment costs in London. Now, I don’t really do anything… except travel.
This is a pretty tricky one to work out. On the one hand, I rarely go out, drink alcohol or treat myself to fancy brunches (one of the upsides of having no friends around!). On the other hand, I eat out more regularly because it’s an excuse to get out the house – but I don’t really count it as ‘entertainment’ any more.
My main expenses in this category now are travel experiences and, even then, I don’t spend as much as you might think. During all our time in Cape Town, we went on one sunset cruise (around £20pp), one whale watching trip (£40pp) and went to the cinema twice (around £6pp). All in all, that only comes to £66.
If I were backpacking or on a gap year, I’m sure this sum would be a lot higher. But since I’m just ‘living’ – and usually working! – I have to be pretty strict with my travel time. It does also help that I often get experiences for free (or make money from doing them) because of this travel blog. Which brings me on to…
How I travel for free
I couldn’t possibly write a post about how much travelling costs me without acknowledging that it sometimes doesn’t cost me anything at all. Yep, I’m talking about press trips and other #bloggerperks that I get because of blogging and YouTube.
A press trip is a trip organised by a tourism board, hotel, airline or other travel brand. They invite the ‘press’ – hence the name! – along to experience something in the hopes they will share it with their audience. These trips can include a mix of bloggers and traditional media, just bloggers or be entirely solo and designed for my audience. The latter is always the best but I do enjoy the group trips for the temporary social life!
When I’m on press trips, I don’t pay anything for hotels, flights, food or any other day to day activities. My only expense is sometimes alcohol – and I don’t really drink much. That means that when I’m on press trips, I’m essentially living for free – and paying rent or a mortgage would be a waste.
Another important note: although these trips and activities don’t cost me actual money, they do cost me time. Sponsored and free trips can be some of the most time-consuming content to produce because I have to find a sweet spot that meets the needs of you guys AND the tourism board hosting me. That’s trickier than it sounds and I put a lot of effort into finding the right angle.
How much would it cost to stop travelling?
Now you know how much it costs to travel the world full time, I’ll leave you with a final thought. Aside from Japan, I don’t think anywhere has cost more per month than my (very modest) London lifestyle. And for that reason, I really struggle with the idea of setting up a more permanent base.
Simply put, travel is cheaper. When I think of all the costs involved with having a house, it scares me. Renting would mean I throw away money every month, especially when I’m out of the country. And buying a place would mean unexpected costs, like a broken boiler or leaking roof, could happen at any time. That scares me now.
The thing about travelling full time is it can cost as much as you want – or need – it to. You probably know someone who’s been backpacking and spent double your normal monthly expenditure, but it’s hard to spend that much when you’re also working! I know people who live on less than £500 per month, living in places like Chiang Mai or Medellin. Others I know spend much more than I do.
For me, the main benefit is that I can adapt my spending to my financial situation. If I lose an income stream or things go AWOL, I can simply rent a cheaper apartment, eat cheaper food and not go out. And that’s something I would find hard to give up!
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