I'm a full-time digital nomad, and credit card points make travelling 8 months of the year no more expensive than staying at home

Courtesy of Caroline LupiniCaroline Lupini in Fernando de Noronha, Brazil, in February 2019.
  • I’m a full-time digital nomad who travels about eight months a year, but it’s no more expensive than staying home. In fact, it might even be cheaper.
  • In 2019 I spent just about $US18,000 – or $US1,549 a month – on transportation, lodging, food, experiences, and shopping combined.
  • I’m able to keep my transportation and lodging costs low largely by using points and miles from my credit cards, which ultimately provide me with a lot of value.
  • See Business Insider’s picks for the best rewards credit cards ยป

As a full-time digital nomad, I’m always on the go. This doesn’t mean that I’m necessarily paying bills on top of my “regular” bills, but rather that my “regular” bills are incorporated into my travel.

For budgeting purposes, I like to keep track of how much money I’m spending, when I spend it, and how I’m spending it. Here’s what it cost me to travel in 2019.

First, let’s reveal the big number: $US18,595.09. Divided evenly per month (although it fluctuates in reality) that’s a meager $US1,549.59. With that figure, you may already begin to notice that travelling the way I travel – and leaning heavily on credit card miles and points – isn’t necessarily more expensive than staying in one spot.

Let’s take a look at each of my spending categories to break down that analysis a little bit more:


Transport: $US2,083.38

Courtesy of Caroline LupiniCaroline Lupini in Mexico in June 2019.

Coming in perhaps surprisingly low is my transport costs for the year. This is primarily because I leverage points and miles from my credit cards to cover much of my transport costs.

My most expensive transportation month ended up being March at $US577.43. During that month, I was back in the US skiing and preparing for the trip to Spain. By contrast, my cheapest transport month was June at just $US26. I was in Mexico City for a bit, but I also was home without an enormous need for transportation cash.


Lodging: $US4,895.15

Courtesy of Caroline LupiniCaroline Lupini in Northern Spain in April 2019.

I’ve written before about how I find affordable lodging around the world.

However, I was able to leverage some of my credit card points and miles towards accommodations (including some incredible hotels) this year, which really reduced the amount of cash I needed to front.

By far, my most expensive month in terms of lodging was April, at $US937.72. I spent April in Spain and stayed in Airbnb properties, which meant that I wasn’t redeeming any points or miles. Instead, I was putting those bills onto credit cards so that I could earn more points that month! My cheapest month was November, costing only $US189.23 to work from Costa Rica.

I share a home in Colorado with my boyfriend, but renting it out on Airbnb for three months when neither of us are in town pays the mortgage for the year.


Food & drinks: $US6,327.56

Courtesy of Caroline LupiniCaroline Lupini in Fernando de Noronha, Brazil, in February 2019.

This is no surprise to anyone who knows me, but my largest spending category of the year was food and drinks. Luckily, my Chase Sapphire Reserve card earns 3x points on dining.

I spent the most on dining this December, which came in at $US1,057.02 (thank you Santa Teresa, Costa Rica). My cheapest month was October with just $US195.67, while I was spending time studying Spanish in South America and visiting the Caribbean.


Shopping: $US2,708.79

Courtesy of Caroline LupiniCaroline Lupini in Northern Spain in April 2019.

I spend my money on a variety of things, but since I don’t stay in one place for very long, a lot of my shopping is online, subscription-based if I can snag a good promotion, and gifts for family and friends. However, it’s much more sustainable to go shopping wherever I am for local treasures, and this is one of the major perks of travel!

I spent the most shopping money in May, at $US547.66. This is in part because I was finishing up the trip to Spain, but also partially because I was home in the US for a little while. Especially with subscription-based or online shopping, it’s easiest to make those purchases when I know I’ll be home to receive them.

By contrast, I spent the least money on shopping in April, spending only $US38.46! We stayed in a tiny Spanish village with only 11 people in April, so I spent my time sightseeing, relaxing, and working instead of shopping.


Activities & sightseeing: $US2,580.21

Courtesy of Caroline LupiniCaroline Lupini in Olinda, Brazil in February 2019.

With activities and sightseeing lumped together into one category, I still only spent about $US2,500 on exploring and having fun outside of my digital nomad life.

One of the best things about being remote and location-independent is the ability to do the things that the locals do, and see the things that are famous, unique, and different wherever I am. Even though I do work full time, I still have the ability to be flexible with my hours and explore as much as possible.

In May, I spent a whopping $US4.90 on activities and sightseeing. This is likely due to the fact that I was home for much of May. However, I spent $US672.65 on activities and sightseeing this past September. Although South America is quite inexpensive, I chose to spare no expense and get the most out of my trips around Bolivia and Argentina!

With these numbers, it’s easy to see that travelling full time can be even cheaper than staying put. For this, I have my points and miles prowess to thank, as well as extra benefits from my many premium credit lines.

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