Photo: Flickr / n.stauffer
Four years ago I was $6,000 in debt, worked two jobs (travel agent by day, waiter by night) and was on the verge of a nervous breakdown.Since then, my wife and I have traveled. A lot.
We’ve trekked the Himalaya, dove Thailand’s crystal clear waters and spent last Christmas drinking rum on a Caribbean island.
We’ve published a book, meditated in India and – somehow through it all – built a successful online business.
How did this happen?
In a word: the recession.
Why the Recession Changed Our Lives Forever
When the real estate market crashed, my two rental properties were suddenly worth a lot less than what I paid for them.
Meanwhile, friends struggled to find any form of work (unemployment peaked at 10% in October 2009), which made me feel like one of the lucky ones.
Even with work, the more money I made, the more I would spend and I was getting nowhere.
With rent, gas, cable, insurance, clothes, food, utilities, entertainment, our bills were out of control. My wife was commuting over an hour a day to work and the gas bill was up to $100 each week. That’s $400 per month, and $4,800 per year. It was insane.
We needed to make a change.
After selling all our possessions (and I mean all of them), paying off our debts and saving every cent we could – my wife and I moved to Southeast Asia. And that’s when everything changed.
We were free.
A New Perspective
Overseas, we lived a simpler life.
We no longer had to spend $400 on gas each month… we simply walked. It was like taking a step back in time, but in reality it was more a step forward. It just made sense.
The more we traveled the more our perceptions changed.
travelling the World Is (Often) Cheaper Than Sitting At Home
The recession made it hard to afford day to day life in California. We lived frugally – meals at home, cheap wine on occasion – but saving money remained difficult.
However, travelling through Southeast Asia we ate out every meal, took taxis (or tuk-tuks) and still had money left over. All in all, we spent about 50% less travelling than we spent sitting on a couch in California.
Of course, it’s not just where you go, it’s also how fast…
travelling Slow Is The Cheapest (and Richest) Way To See the World
Living off savings makes you aware of every cent. You learn to make your money last… and the easiest way to do that abroad is to travel slow.
Staying in places longer means you pay less per day. You trade monthly rates for daily (which can be up to 50% less).
As I write this, we live in a three bedroom, three bathroom apartment in Quito, Ecuador. To my right is an overlook of the entire city. It’s the type of view you’d pay $3,000 (or more) for in San Francisco or New York.
Our rent? $900 per month. And that includes power, water, garbage, wifi and use of the gym.
Think about that for a second. You could spend $900 for two weeks in a hotel here for the same amount. By travelling slower, you can literally travel twice as long.
Plus, travelling slow lets you dig a little deeper. You find local hangouts, visit your favourite shops and get to know other people who live there.
In other words: you start living like a local.
Numbeo compares the cost of living in different countries, which makes it easy to see how far your dollar (or pound, or euro) will take you.
And speaking of money…
There Are More Opportunities Online Than Anywhere Else
Sure, stretching your dollar is great, but you still need to make some money. Fortunately, it’s easier to make money online than in your hometown.
Sites like eLance and Guru let you find online work in a wide variety of fields. We picked up a few freelance jobs (writing, mostly) which turned into part-time work. When living abroad, that money goes much further than back in the U.S.
But that’s really only the beginning…
The Recession Forced Us To Become Entrepreneurs
Freelancing taught us a lot about working online. Armed with this knowledge, we started building our own websites, which made money either through advertising or selling products.
This was the beginning of our business. Quite frankly, it wasn’t much, but we learned and kept building.
Now, four years later we’ve got a killer travel site which lets us travel the world and actually get paid to write about it.
I always dreamed writing for a living. I always dreamed of travelling. Now, I get to do both. And quite frankly, if it wasn’t for the not-so-subtle push the recession gave us, I’m not sure I’d be doing either.
So if you’re struggling financially, I feel for you. I really do. But maybe all you need a little shove to start in a new direction. Maybe you need a different perspective. Maybe now is the time when you turn it all around.
What’s stopping you?