A Month of Travel for Less than a Month at Home

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.

Accommodations
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.

Work
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.

Slowing down
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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Money Beagle
Money Beagle
8 years ago

The only way I would ever see this being feasible is if you’re going somewhere for work and they pay for all your food and transportation costs. Since I have a house, those payments get made regardless if I’m there or not.

Marianne
Marianne
8 years ago
Reply to  Money Beagle

I did exactly this for three months when I was younger. We have family friends in France and I worked for them in exchange for room and board. Worked out well- I really didn’t need much else!

Marla
Marla
8 years ago
Reply to  Money Beagle

He said he rented his place for a month. Same thing would apply for a house; just might be more difficult depending on what area you live in.

Steve
Steve
8 years ago
Reply to  Marla

I agree it depends on the area you live in, but as for house vs. apartment, it’s almost certainly easier to rent a house. Subletting an apartment requires the landlord’s approval.

Michelle
Michelle
8 years ago

Great post! I would love to do this one day.

Meghan
Meghan
8 years ago

I love the concept of the flâner (or flâneuse for women). I’m glad that you addressed the issue of work and making money while away. I have often thought about spending some time overseas when I finish my dissertation, but don’t want to blow all my savings. One concern for me now is that my apartment has a “no sublet clause”, so I would probably wait until I’m at a point where I am ready to give up my apartment.

HRK
HRK
8 years ago
Reply to  Meghan

Depending on the state (assuming you are living in the USA), regardless of what the lease says, it may be within your rights to sublet.

http://law.onecle.com/new-york/real-property/RPP0226-B_226-B.html

victoria
victoria
8 years ago

I really enjoyed this article — thanks!

Have you had good luck with subletters in the past?

Matt at Healthy N' Wealthy
Matt at Healthy N' Wealthy
8 years ago

This is amazing! Though I prefer to not have to work or take care of a cat on my vacation, the ideas here are wonderful! It’s really inspiring that someone could travel to Europe for a month and actually MAKE money. None of the “sacrifices” seem ridiculous. It’s not like he slept under the Eiffel Tower for a month.

I’ve used homeaway.com once before, and found a great deal (though not as good as a room in central paris for €150).

Short arms long pockets
Short arms long pockets
8 years ago

I love homeaway.com! We have used them or other similar services in France, Montreal, NYC and Portland with great results. They are especially effective if you are traveling with kids. Often for the price of a single hotel room you can get a whole appartment with a kitchen which allows for huge savings on food as well. Plus you get to live in neighborhoods that you might not normally see if you stayed in a hotel. Also, although many folks whio advertize their appartments for rent say they prefer a minimum one-week stay, we have always been able to find… Read more »

Matt at Healthy N' Wealthy
Matt at Healthy N' Wealthy
8 years ago

I know! My girlfriend and I stayed at a 5-star resort in Miami for HALF of what the hotel would have charged. Just like you said, we got a suite with a kitchen for LESS than a standard hotel room. We saved by cooking for ourselves. It was really unbelievable. I was sure it was a scam. I feel so lucky to have found it. Also, Homeaway just had their IPO last year. It doesn’t look too promising by the numbers yet, and there’s some weird accounting going on, but with priceline and Wynn looking good, I’m hoping to get… Read more »

Jason B
Jason B
8 years ago

Tim,

This sounds excellent, but I’m left wondering about the one thing you didn’t mention, which was the cost of flying to Paris.

Thanks,
Jason

Bella
Bella
8 years ago
Reply to  Jason B

Tim did mention he lives in NY, from the East Coast (and yes I used to live there an take advantage of this fact) it is considerably cheaper to fly to Europe/Great Britain than it is to California. I flew to London for $200 and my parents flew to Italy for $200. Add in cashing in credit card miles – it’s easy to find good flights when you have a month to play with.

SmartMoneyHelp
SmartMoneyHelp
8 years ago

Thanks for the post. That’s inspiring. I think we all need to take sometime to slow down and enjoy the simple beauties around us every so often. Major plus for finding a way to do it at a lower cost.

EXK
EXK
8 years ago

I’ve done this too, and I think the housing is by far the most important issue – once you’ve got that taken care of, it’s really easy to not spend more on things like food and transportation. Obviously it’s easier to rent your place out if you’re single, in a good area, don’t have pets, etc., but we all have to start where we can and it just might not work for everyone. The one thing that kind of made me flinch was the free meals bit, though – in my experience as a frequent guest and host, it shouldn’t… Read more »

John | Married (with Debt)
John | Married (with Debt)
8 years ago

Great post. I think many people would be surprised to learn that they could live abroad for cheaper.

I would like to set things up where I work for 6 months at home and save up enough to live the next six months abroad.

This is a big challenge, but I’ve met people who are doing it. Granted it is almost impossible with a family, but I like to tackle ideas that are supposed to be impossible.

Anne
Anne
8 years ago

I did this for a family thing. Some expenses were less. Some were far more. Unexpected things cropped up. I can’t say it was cheaper. (Though this depends on where go.) We had many expenses paid for, but we still managed to pay out of pocket quite a bit and I don’t regret that. I think I would have hated the trip if I had been pinching my eurocents. There’s no point this if you’re going to get there and be stuck just wandering around the city like hobo. There’s lots of free stuff to do. He’s right that wandering… Read more »

Kraig @ Young, Cheap Living
Kraig @ Young, Cheap Living
8 years ago

Wow, this is shocking. I had no idea something like it was possible. I suppose it is if you really want it bad enough. I think it really comes down to the income. If you can make income from anywhere in the world, somewhat reliably, I think picking up and exploring the world is definitely possible. Just take out the cost of living in once place by doing what you mentioned above and then convert those costs into smart, frugal decision at your destination and you’re good to go!

Well Heeled Blog
Well Heeled Blog
8 years ago

I think you can do it if you go to an area with a cheaper cost of living or if you go to an expensive area during the low season. I am evaluating whether I should quit my job early to travel to China for a month before I go to grad school, and while the expenses of getting to China is high ($800-$900 for a round-trip ticket), once I am there I should be able to live and eat for much cheaper than I do in the States. Especially because my plans are hostels, trains, and local eats.

K
K
8 years ago

GO, I have been to 25 countries and China was by far, the cheapest place I have even been.

LC
LC
8 years ago

DO IT! You will regret it later if you do not. This is the perfect opportunity for you to do it, as you are already leaving your job to settle into school. ENJOY!

Elaine
Elaine
8 years ago

Congrats. You should definitely do it. I’m actually planning the same thing before grad school.

Consider getting two one way tickets out of separate cities. And using trains/buses/local transport to backpack between the two. For example, a Beijing to Bangkok trip would be epic…

I’ve had luck with cheapoair.com for finding low cost carriers, but buy early.

My pre-grad school trip…

Korea – (Beijing) China – Mongolia – (Moscow) Russia … most of that trip on the transiberian railroad.

But I’m starting in Japan (where I live now) which makes getting to Korea *slightly* cheaper (marginal).

Minerva
Minerva
8 years ago

Traveling on a shoestring budget like this with a family might take some thinking outside the box. Hmmm.. food for thought. It sounds like you had great fun. When I was 18 years old in college, my friend invited me to go visit her family in a small town in Mexico. I didn’t have much money, but I decided to go. We stayed for almost three weeks with almost no money. Her grandmother was a very nice lady who let us stay at her house for free. We helped around the house and made sure to have quality conversations with… Read more »

Economically Humble
Economically Humble
8 years ago

This was a wonderful post. As a scholar, I have been considering the possibility of teaching on-line so that I can teach around the world (and integrate each location into my courses). Ideally, my partner will also have a similar gig, or be able to intern or learn a new skill at each location. Actually, this is probably the only way we can do it. That said, I usually follow these rules when I travel internationally. As a student it is a challenge to save up the funds for a trip, but once I have the cost of an international… Read more »

Sean H
Sean H
8 years ago

This is a great idea! I wonder where I would go. You should do it more than one month out of the year now that you’ve tried it and conquered it.

inghram
inghram
8 years ago

My thought is that this is wonderful and something I would like to do, but I am wondering about health insurance? Did you still have it through your employer? Did you go back to work there when you came back? This is always the stumbling block for me. I am old enough to feel like it is an important safety net to keep and it is a roadblock sometimes to following a dream.

Nan
Nan
8 years ago

This sounds like something I could have done in a heartbeat…BEFORE HAVING 2 CHILDREN!!! One of my current projects is figuring out the logistics of moving to Japan for a year. I have the potential job figured out, it’s the housing, school and transportation details and costs that keep this in “holding pattern” instead of “on the runway” status.

Ron K.
Ron K.
8 years ago

I do a lot travel for my employer. Depending on the project we may get sent to various parts of the world. Last time I stayed in a fancy UK town, all expenses, including rental car, covered. The only problem was that I spent 50-60hr M-F weeks working during that time. On the one hand this has made me appreciate being home with a 40hr week. On the other this travel gave me a chance to see a tiny bit of the world and experience other countries in my spare time. The pay and per diem from 6 months was… Read more »

Christine
Christine
8 years ago

I am interested in more details about your Craig’s List transactions, Tim. I’ve heard so many tales of folks who are swindled in such circumstances. Did you just go with your gut?

MamaMia
MamaMia
8 years ago

Ah, to be young and single again! Sounds like you had a wonderful time, hope your frugal travel adventures just keep on coming.

Samantha
Samantha
8 years ago

I’m not usually a naysayer, but I’ve got to speak up. Don’t most people have “day jobs”? How do I ask for a month off (presumably without pay) and then hope that they hold my job for me upon my return? I can get past most of the other hurdles, like our dog being boarded for a month, or even the exorbitant cost of flights… but it seems this is only feasible for someone who works for themselves doing online work.

Amber
Amber
8 years ago
Reply to  Samantha

Fake pregnancy. jk.
Seriously, how do you ask? You get ready, you accept rejection is possible, and you ask. Believe in your value and they will believe it too.

mgr_type
mgr_type
8 years ago
Reply to  Samantha

Samantha, it might depend on the type of job you do, too. I manage a support team at a software company, and it’s not unheard-of to have a person take a month off. It isn’t great for the team members left behind, and we surely don’t actively encourage it, but the type of work means it IS doable. (we also have a generous vacation policy) However since I manage the group, I don’t think it would be feasible for me to take a month or more off (certainly for a family emergency, but not for pleasure!). It’s something I weighed… Read more »

twiggers
twiggers
8 years ago
Reply to  Samantha

Become an academic! 1 month Christmas, 3 months in the summer, 1 week in the Spring, and a bunch of long weekends (perfect for road trips/short flights). Rated as the #1 job in the US because of the flexibility 🙂

SB @One Cent at a Time
SB @One Cent at a Time
8 years ago

Good points overall, I would like to add that you shouldn’t forget some other tasks that are needed to be performed at home before going out.

1. cancelling phone plans temporarily
2. getting a calling card for intl calls

cc
cc
8 years ago

i know of an american artist who was so enamored with paris he moved there with his wife, has an agent in the us and is registered with the french artists association so he’s able to get small amounts of work abroad.

sounds wonderful!

Amber
Amber
8 years ago

Preach it Tim! I totally agree this is the way to travel. I have resisted going a lot of places in the last 5 years simply because I didn’t want to pay $2000 to fly somewhere and stay for just a week. Not to say that I’ve suffered … I stayed for free in Honolulu, Hawaii. Right on Waikiki beach in a timeshare. No one believes I tell the whole truth, but literally I saw an ad on craigslist by searching the short term housing section. There was no catch, no gimmick, no sex and no identity theft. A really… Read more »

BZ
BZ
8 years ago

I really like the idea, especially if you can rent out your own place. But what about your valuables? I’m concerned that clothes, furniture, jewelry, art, etc., might all disappear?

Wilson
Wilson
8 years ago
Reply to  BZ

When my wife and I did this the other year we put our valuables and much of our stuff in our attic and simply put a lock on the door into it. A few highly important docs and items were sent to my parents.

A storage unit would also suffice. Or a bank deposit box if your items are small enough. If you’re worried about furniture, etc take a refundable deposit.

Amber
Amber
8 years ago
Reply to  BZ

Having been hired as a house & dog sitter, and also having hired someone to do the same for me – I agree that there is a lot of trust in the exchange. A lot of house & dog sitters will be what is called “bonded & insured” and belong to a professional organization. See Pet Sitters International for an example. that is the official way of communicating that they take the responsibility seriously and any damage or loss will be covered. Beyond the paperwork though, it is most important to do a thorough interview – in-person if possible. You… Read more »

BrokeElizabeth
BrokeElizabeth
8 years ago

Great post. I volunteered at a place in Sweden for two months last summer, and will do the same for three months this next summer. I got free room and board, worked simple cleaning jobs that I enjoyed, and got to live in a new country.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago

Last month I had a discussion with other readers here over getting into student debt to study abroad. I argued that you don’t need to burden your future with bankruptcy-proof debt in order to travel and learn about other cultures, and that it’s possible to travel for cheap and work while being on the road, especially when you’re young and unattached. I suggested a few options on how to do it (as a temporary laborer, or by joining the peace corps, or as an english teacher; or in the case of the article writer, by using his photography skills as… Read more »

Amber
Amber
8 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

you forget exchange student programs like Rotary, AFS, etc.
If you do this as a high schooler instead of a college student the savings are tremendous because you aren’t paying tuition and often not paying for boarding (housed by volunteer families). I sometimes think college exchange programs are a major scam. You have to pay the full tuition of your home school while attending what is often times a significantly cheaper school abroad. Often you live in dorms with other exchange students – not with regular students or families.

AAsyed
AAsyed
8 years ago

Some families do that one person from their family comes to USA and supports the family back in homeland.This gives them a big boost and the family lives very lavishly.

Crystal
Crystal
8 years ago

I really wish I would have been able to read this post about 8 years ago… this seems like a dream now. Would be very difficult to do with a husband, two small children, a mortgage, and full time job.

If anyone is independent and is pondering something like this, go ahead and just go for it! You regret the things you DON’T do far more than the things you DO do.

Karla
Karla
8 years ago
Reply to  Crystal

15 years ago we had two mortgages, a 5 and 4-year old and we moved to Turkey. The pay was crap and the work, um, interesting.

But housing was free and the people we met!!!! The places we traveled!!! If I was told I could move back to Turkey (and I am trying right now) someone else would have to pack all my stuff, because I’d be on the next plane to that job.

And this time I have a 19 and 18 year old–and college tuition to worry about.

Paula
Paula
8 years ago

Tim;
Thank you for the wonderful article.
Perhaps I can think of a creative way to stay in Osaka, Kyoto/Nara or Kobe, for a month, without breaking the bank. Now I have hope that this is possible.

Krantcents
Krantcents
8 years ago

Thanks for the pointers, I never thought of subleting an apartment from a student. It sounds great!

Tom
Tom
8 years ago

A room in Paris costs 600 euros a month, and short-term it can be 600 euros a week. That’s a room in someone’s house; aAstudio apartment costs much more. Check out Craig’s list; anything cheaper is almost certainly a scam. I say this because I’ve lived in Paris for three years, and as I’ve had friends coming in often I have kept a close eye on the housing market the entire time.
This article doesn’t have enough specifics for this to add up.

Sadie
Sadie
8 years ago

I’m a fellow budget international traveler, and I live in a globally popular destination for visitors. I agree that it is possible to find inexpensive lodgings and food, and have good experiences. But I think it is bad manners to be somebody’s guest in another country and not offer anything in return. Surely, when you are invited for dinner as a guest, you bring a bottle of wine, a box of chocolates, or some flowers? And when a local is taking the time to show you around, you buy the cups of coffee or glasses of wine, to say thank… Read more »

Drew C.
Drew C.
8 years ago

Such a great idea. Loved the article. I really need to do this as I love traveling so much. Is it really possible to find work on a short-term trip like that?

Joe
Joe
8 years ago

Cute idea if you’re doing nothing with your life already. If you’re actually building wealth and a family, rather than coasting, this 1-star travel plan would be lackluster if not disastrous.

lmh
lmh
8 years ago
Reply to  Joe

isn’t the point of this blog to teach you to build wealth so you can use it for things that bring you joy? and maybe living a variety of lives in the space of one lifetime is one thing that brings a lot of people joy? i wouldn’t call that doing “nothing” with your life, and i also have seen this done with kids many times over during my own travels. it definitely requires thinking outside the box, but thank you for reminding us that not everyone always wants to do that.

K
K
8 years ago

I’m still stuck on some French dude let a total stranger from a foreign
Country watch his CAT for a whole month.
I would never leave my animals with unknown people like that and

That’s why I don’t do house swaps with people when I vacationing.

Jacq
Jacq
8 years ago

I spent about $3500 traveling in my RV this summer for 7 weeks. That’s less than I spend at home, but I didn’t rent my house out. I could have done it for a little more than $2000 if I wouldn’t have traveled as far and cut back on campgrounds via more boondocking. Of course, that doesn’t include the cost of the RV (or insurance) in the first place, but some of them are pretty inexpensive.

On the downside/upside, I found out that I don’t really like traveling for that long. 🙁 It was good to get home.

I Am 1 Percent
I Am 1 Percent
8 years ago

Doesn’t sound like practical advice for the masses, carrying a strangers groceries down the street? No thanks…I don’t think I could ever do it…

Carla
Carla
8 years ago
Reply to  I Am 1 Percent

Well given you are a 1%-er, you don’t have to worry or wonder about how to travel for less, do you?

BD
BD
8 years ago

The only thing I took away from this article is that the cost of living in New York is SO expensive, that it’s cheaper to go to Paris for a month than to live in New York for a month.
I hope I never have to live in New York.

Amber
Amber
8 years ago
Shannon
Shannon
8 years ago

A home exchange is another way to cut costs. We managed a month in Europe (with two kids) – two weeks in Paris and two weeks in London. Now, we’re living in China for a year – 6 months in Hong Kong and 6 months in Shanghai – again with two kids – although we’re on fellowships. It takes a lot of leg work to make this happen without losing money, but it is possible – and SO worth it.

twiggers
twiggers
8 years ago

I’m a Professor and I figured out how to combine my love of my research/teaching with my love of travel: I’m developing a summer Study Abroad program. All expenses paid for 3 weeks in Europe every summer PLUS a salary. And I can stay over in Europe after the program ends to do some personal travel (air fare already covered). It’s a win-win!

JMK
JMK
8 years ago

We took our two kids to Europe for a month a couple of years ago and while it wasn’t free, it was significantly less than most holidays. First we all flew on points earned by doing everything on our credit card (and paid off weekly so no interest). I cashed in Airmiles for gift cards for hotels with European locations which greatly subsidized those nights. Twelve of our 30 days were on a mediteranean cruise which was bookd when massively on sale – it’s a very cost effective way to bundle hotel, transportation and meals into one fixed cost. I… Read more »

Allan Wallace
Allan Wallace
8 years ago

I think the word for flâner in English is “saunter.” Henry David Thoreau said something to the effect, “Sauntering is an art.”

I’m soon headed to Punte Del Este, Uruguay, where I expect to exercise our common art.

Thad P
Thad P
8 years ago

Excellent article. So many people think that the only option to travelling internationally is to be wealthy, when the truth is you mostly need to just leverage what you may already have (especially if that includes a home/apt you own or rent).

Adeline Elliff
Adeline Elliff
8 years ago

I spent one week learning Spanish in Antigua, Guatemala and one week in Oaxaca, Mexico. You will learn fast in both places, but the atmosphere is completely different. There are lots of tourists in Antigua, and bars will be like a magnet after school. Oaxaca also has lots of tourists, but they don’t take over the city like in Antigua.There are lots of interesting places to explore in both cities. Maybe instead of going to one or two places, do a tour across different countries, staying in each place for 1-2 weeks?Don’t book lessons on the internet. They overcharge quite… Read more »

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