As part of the ongoing series I was talking about in my last post, I’m going to be taking a closer look at living and working remotely from anywhere in the world, and taking you through first-hand experiences of cities and countries that have great infrastructures, an extremely low cost of living, and provide the creature comforts of home in an environment that is at the same time both exotic and foreign yet comfortable and providing you and yours with everything you need.
This first post focuses on one segment of the product I’ll be releasing around January. In Part One we will discuss accommodations around the world, the differences between hotels and apartments, the pros and cons of living in furnished apartments, and some really affordable places to live in the world where said accommodations are a fraction of the cost they are in most Western nations.
There are those who argue that renting apartments is a waste of money. Perhaps that is true for some people, but for those of you who enjoy having the flexibility to enjoy life in a variety of locations while working, it just makes sense to find cheap accommodations that include all the amenities you need and use the money you would otherwise be putting towards a house to travel and explore.
When you are looking at spending anywhere from 2 weeks to 6 months or beyond in a given location while you scout it out for possible long-term living or just to experience a new place for the first time, furnished apartments are the way to go. I’m not going to go into the details of how to find the best deals on apartments in local environments (that topic is covered in the book), but I can talk about the benefits of furnished apartments versus hotels.
With a hotel you generally get a bed, WiFi, breakfast, and access to any facilities that the hotel might own, such as a pool, massage parlor, gym area and so on and so forth. But even in the cheapest destinations in the world a relatively cheap hotel or bread and breakfast experience will range upwards of 40-50 dollars per night, even for a single person, which adds up to a lot of cash at the end of the month. If you figure a 30 day average at 40 dollars per day, you are looking at 1,200 dollars in rent. Meanwhile you can generally find furnished apartments for anywhere from 250-400 USD per month, and while they might not come with access to the gym or a pool, you are spending at most 400 dollars on a fully furnished, WiFi-included apartment that includes a kitchen, TV, amenities and beyond, for mere third of what it would cost for a cheap hotel. When a gym membership only costs around 50 dollars a month, it’s very easy to see that a furnished apartment allows you to save a far larger portion of your money and use it for other things. Bear in mind these numbers are only a rough estimate based upon the figures I’ve seen in countries such as Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, Greece, Italy, Turkey, and Mexico. But 250-400 dollars per month versus 1,200 dollars a month is simple math…hotel areas always tremendously expensive compared to long-term, furnished apartment rentals.
Pros and Cons of Furnished Apartments
There are always pros and cons to any type of living arrangement. With a furnished apartment the pros are fairly evident right off the bat. Most furnished apartments come complete with a kitchen and all furniture, plus WiFi and AC/Utilities. Some places might charge extra for utilities (such as my place in Cancun; electric is separate from the rent, but it only costs me around 15 USD per month for utilities and that’s with running my AC 24/7), but for the most part furnished apartments are all-inclusive deals when you know how to find the right sort of places. The place I am staying currently, for example, focuses on long-term leases from English-speaking foreigners, and the prices range from 350-600 dollars a month, depending on the size of apartment you want, ranging from studio to small single bedrooms to the large executive studios for business travelers. Electric is never more than 20 USD a month, so your only bills are the rent + groceries + whatever other expenses you might have, such as a car, cell phone, or covering any extracurricular activities. I don’t own a cell phone; I use Skype for everything, and I rely on public transportation, and with a central location a furnished apartment can provide you with everything you need. My location in Sofia, Bulgaria was the same, with a fully furnished place on the main tram route through downtown.
The downsides to furnished apartments is that you don’t own any of the stuff inside. This is a major turn-off for some people because they want to “own” their things. But I’ve always gone with the Tyler Durden approach: the things you end up owning end up owning you, all using money you don’t have to pay for shit you don’t need.
I realize I’m not everyone in this approach. Some people need to know that they are working towards a tangible, physical goal of some kind, such as a house or a nice car. For other people the destination is not important, but rather the journey, and for those people the cons of a furnished apartment really aren’t that big of a deal. For those of us with adventurous spirits the flexibility of only needing the things in your backpack, your camera and your laptop are far more important.
You also do not have any physical roots when you use a furnished apartment, because you aren’t purchasing things to tie you down. Some people prefer to have roots in a specific place. It really is up to the individual.
And another important con of a furnished apartment, I think, is the fact that you can be limited in space in the sense that even if you do find something worthwhile that you want to purchase, you might not always have some place to put it, because you do not own your own place, but are rather renting. It all depends on your point of view.
The Myth of Developing Countries
There’s no running water. There’s no toilets. They have third-world health standards. They don’t have an infrastructure. Their Internet isn’t up to par. They don’t have nice cinemas. Their crime rates are too high.
While this may be true of certain countries around the world, this sort of generalized thinking is what has so many people in the world trapped into thinking that they can’t leave their “home” because society has told them that the world outside of the borders of their city or country is just too “impossible” to achieve. This is a lie. This is a lack of education on a massive scale. People who paint the world with generalized brushes have absolutely no clue what they are talking about, because they are limited by their own lack of adventure. The world is a giant place and it is full of amazing opportunities, none of which you can experience if you stay in your home country.
While there are certain countries around the world where things are that bad, there are a great many others who have been rapidly developing in the past 20 years and can now provide Western style amenities in the major cities, all at a fraction of the cost it is in places like the U.K. or the U.S. Places such as Bulgaria are becoming popular places for medical tourism because the doctors there go to the exact same schools as the doctors in the U.K., for example, purchase their supplies from the same European sources, and have access to the very same dental equipment. They also uphold the same measures of clinical excellence, yet a procedure costs a fraction of the cost. In early 2010 I had my teeth cleaned, the plaque removed, a cracked tooth filled, and some other general maintenance and the entire procedure cost me 35 USD. The exact same process in the U.S./U.K. will range anywhere from 350-700 USD, depending on where you live.
Crime, murder and kidnapping? Seriously? Do people really believe that these things are more rampant in developing/third world countries than it is back in the U.S., for example? Any major city in the world, regardless of the country, has its good and bad sides. There are always gangs, shady neighborhoods, and places where you just don’t go if you are a “normal”, law-abiding citizen and want to stay out of trouble. Do you think you can’t get murdered by gang members in New York, Los Angeles, Frankfurt or London? The fact is, crime exists everywhere in the world, and while it is true that it is more prevalent in certain countries, as long as you pay attention to where you are going you will be just as safe as any suburban section of the United States.
High speed internet is available in every major city on the planet. WiFi is accessible and available in every corner of the globe. Satellite Internet allows you to travel anywhere you want, even the depths of the jungle or the heights of the Himalayas and still have Internet access. I’ve yet to see a place that didn’t have running water, and bottled watered can be purchased in any major city on the world. The movie theaters are brand new, IMAX is everywhere, the infrastructure is great in Eastern Europe and Mexico, for example, and the only downside is that the bureaucracy can sometimes be a little slow and backwards. But as a general rule the myth about developing countries being places where there are no amenities and where you end up murdered or kidnapped are completely fictional.
Cheap Places to Live
Off the top of my head, speaking from my own personal experience, Turkey, Bulgaria, Greece, Italy, Macedonia, Serbia and Romania are all extremely cheap places to live. I’ve also found this out about Cancun from my nearly two months here (out of a planned 6 that is looking like it’s going to turn into something even more long-term, such as a base of operations for the next 2-3 years). If you want Western-styled amenities such as AC, a security guarded apartment building and all the creature comforts of home, you can expect to pay between 300-400 USD per month in cities within these countries for studio-single bedroom apartments. If you want luxury accommodations you can expect to pay double those amounts, which is no different than anywhere else in the world. If you don’t mind living by local standards (which change depending on the country and city you are on), which means occasionally going without things like AC, perhaps seeing a scorpion or cockroach or two (depending on if you live in the tropics), and having a small, studio apartment, you can pay anywhere from 200-300 USD per month.
The average 2 bedroom place will run you between 450-600 a month with Western amenities, or half that that for a place that the locals would use. Bear in mind we are talking fully furnished apartments here, which means all of your furniture, dishes, laundry facilities, WiFi and etc. are generally included. In cities such as New York, a 1 bedroom furnished apartment will run upwards of 1k per month unless you are living in the absolute slums.
Having only been in Cancun for 2 months I can say this: you can find nice places in the downtown district for 300-400 a month for furnished studio and 1 bedrooms. Hotel Zone it’s triple that. If you don’t mind taking a 30 minute bus ride to the hotel zone, you can actually head out into the suburbs of Cancun and find places to stay where you can rent a studio room for 150-200 USD per month, but you should speak Spanish and have a working knowledge of the bus routes and streets before you get to this point, otherwise it’s easy to get lost. Plus, that far out from downtown and the Hotel Zone not everyone is going to speak English, so you’ll stick out like a sore thumb if you are a gringo.