This post is by staff writer Tim Sullivan.
It was always my dream to be paid to travel. I thought I’d write guidebooks or be a tour guide. A few years ago, my wanderlust was acting up again, so I crunched some numbers, adding up the cost of living where I was (New York) versus traveling for month. With some careful planning, I spent a month in Paris and ended up with more money than when I left.
The cost of staying in one place
I’m sure most of us know our monthly expenditures. Rent, utilities, Internet, cable, Netflix, gym membership, gas, cellphone, and the list goes on. Granted, all of us have different interests and different monthly expenditures, but there’s usually a basic bottom line for all of us. I thought if I could zero that out, then a month away would become more of a reality. Living in New York made it easy to sublet my apartment for a one-month stint. I raised my rent price a couple hundred dollars to cover my utilities, Internet, and cable. I put my Netflix and gym memberships on hold, and at the time, pay-as-you-go was all the rage so my cellphone had no contract. My car stayed parked out back and my gas expense dropped to zero. My monthly expenses dropped from around $1,500 to nothing at all.
I knew I wanted to be centrally located in Paris, but didn’t need much more. On Craigslist I found a lot of graduate and doctorate students who had to travel for their dissertations. They were looking to rent out their apartments for cheap, real cheap, just so their rent wouldn’t be a total loss. Not only that, most everyone I talked to was willing to negotiate. I ended up with a small room on the top floor of the building (the former maid’s room) for €150 a month, less than a fourth of my rent back home. The student was traveling to Africa and was happy to have someone to watch his cat. (If you want to go even cheaper than that, you can try house-sitting. Friends of mine have been paid to stay in beach houses in the Caribbean or mountain homes in Montana. I have yet to do this myself, so I’m curious if any of you have stories.)
Food, and becoming the invited guest
When I travel, everything is new. Yes, five-star restaurants are appealing, but street food gives me the most pleasure. Some of my best meals had been Nutella crepes and crusty baguettes, often for less than €3. At home, not only was I prone to $8 burritos when I didn’t have a chance to make something after work, but I’d also have a small dinner party for friends at least once a month. This often meant having either wine or liquor and cooking for five, a lot pricier than cooking for one.
When abroad, I’m usually the one who’s asked to dinner. Through volunteer work, attending free book readings, or helping someone carry groceries down the street, I found myself being the invited guest to at least one dinner party a week, and it was a great way to try some of the traditional French dishes, learn the language, and interact with people. Put yourself out there, learn some niceties, and you might be surprised how willing people are to want to share their culture and open their doors.
One problem with long-term travel, especially when traveling internationally, is that short-term work isn’t much of an option. You need proper documentation, and there aren’t many listings for month-long positions. So not only are you taking time off work, but you’re not working in your place of travel. However, I didn’t want to take a month long vacation, and I definitely didn’t want to end up in the red. This is when my search for Internet work started. Whether it be selling things online, writing, designing, editing, or in my case, translating, with some effort, there is work that travels with you if you look hard enough. GRS has offered advice often enough on making money on the side here, and here, and here. With a few side gigs lined up, I was making less money, but with my living expenses substantially lower, too.
That month, I didn’t rush anywhere. It meant slower meals, slower glasses of wine, and more than anything, slower transportation. I walked everywhere. Three miles would be an ungodly distance to walk back home, but that month, three miles was chump change and more scenic than anything I had ever seen. I saved a lot on gas and train tickets. With that slowness, the desire to keep up diminished, too. Not only my desire to keep up with the commuters around me (goodbye road-rage) but my desire to keep up with social norms. I didn’t purchase any clothing, nothing for the home, no luxuries, just because everything seemed so new and held my attention.
There’s a French word, flâner, which is the best travel advice I could ever give. Flâner is hard to translate, something like “to meander about with an eye for beauty, with the eyes of a poet.” It’s the art of strolling, the art of observation. It’s slowing down.
Taking a month off to travel (and spending less money than if I stayed home) was a dream. By planning my trip like this, I was able to spend an month in Europe instead of spending a weekend in upstate New York at some lodge (Which sounds wonderful, but just a weekend compared with an entire month?). Once I compared my living expenses for a month in New York with those in Paris, it was clear it was possible.
Have you ever traveled and reduced your living expenses?
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