If you have the freedom of working anywhere you’d like, you have the amazing option of going on a “workcation,” or vacation where you also get work done. While the prospect of being a digital nomad sounds exciting, globetrotting isn’t cheap. What are some savvy ways you can see the sights without burning a deep hole in your pocket?
What Is a Digital Nomad?
First things first: What exactly is a digital nomad? In a nutshell, a digital nomad is someone who relies primarily on their phone and computer for work. They might be a full-time remote worker for a company or a self-employed freelancer. They could work as an independent attorney or as a freelancing creative – such as a UX designer, marketing professional or content creator.
Instead of going into an office every day, digital nomads conduct meetings over Skype or via phone and may have co-workers in different time zones. Because they’re free to work anywhere there’s Wi-Fi, they might work out of coffee shops, in co-working spaces, out of an RV or even in another country.
Here are some tips on how digital nomads can travel on a budget.
Compare Costs Beforehand
Before you travel, go online to compare costs of living in one place versus another. A great site to do this is Nomadlist, which includes an entire section on costs of living, such as what you’d expect to pay in rent, for a co-working space and for an average dinner.
Jeffrey Trull, a freelance content strategist who has traveled to Colombia and New Zealand as a digital nomad, used the nomad cost on the Nomadlist site before deciding where to hop to next. If you’re traveling on a budget, look for places with a lower cost of living than your current stomping grounds. “I knew Colombia would be a good amount cheaper than living in the U.S., so that was a huge plus for me.”
Save Money on Expenses Back Home
While you’re traveling as a digital nomad, see how much you can cut back on your expenses back home. If you plan on being gone for an extended period of time, consider subletting your place, or perhaps move out altogether and put your belongings in storage.
You might also be able to put a vacation hold on your internet or cable subscription services. That way, you won’t be paying for services you aren’t using. Just be sure to reach out to a customer rep ahead of time to get the details. Some internet providers have a minimum period for a vacation hold. For instance, you may need to hold an internet service for at least two months; if you try to reactivate it early, you may have to pay fees or pay for your full subscription.
Be Flexible on Travel Dates
The more flexible you are on when you travel, the better deals you’ll get on airfare, points out Trull.
For example, fly mid-week and scour travel comparison sites to see which dates are the cheapest. Also, try traveling during the off-season or shoulder season, which is that sweet transition period between the peak and off-peak seasons.
When Trull traveled to New Zealand, he stayed just before the busy tourist season. While the weather may not be the most ideal, attractions were less busy, and there were more available accommodations, explains Trull.
So when exactly is the best time to book a flight? According to a new study by CheapAir.com, for international flights you’ll find less expensive flights at least two months before your travel date. If you’re looking to see the sights in the U.S., your best bet is to book between three weeks to three-and-a-half months in advance.
Look for Deals at Nearby Travel Hubs
Now that you’re at your desired destination, look for travel hubs where you can easily hop to a neighboring city via train, bus or airplane. Sure, the Malaysian city of Kuala Lumpur seems exotic and faraway when you’re in the States. But once you’re in Thailand, it’s not terribly difficult – nor expensive – to get there by train.
Spend some time looking up these travel hubs, which destinations you can travel to and how much standard transportation costs are. Chances are you won’t have trouble finding fun places to explore without breaking your budget.
Look for Accommodations on the Cheap
You can find less expensive housing through hostels and choosing to couch surf. If you’re planning for a longer stay, you’ll be able to find affordable lodging options. Trull suggests avoiding Airbnb for long-term stays.
When he was in Colombia, he found a place to stay through Facebook groups and estimated saving at least 50% of the cost. “While Airbnb is convenient, it also caters to tourists and short-term travelers – and tacks on fees,” explains Trull.
Even if you do book lodging through Airbnb, if you book a place for a longer duration, some hosts offer a discount of anywhere from 10% – 20% on their standard nightly rates, says Trull. While in New Zealand, Trull scored a 15% discount for weeklong stays.
Group Up When Traveling
Although you may arrive solo, look for travel buddies to adventure with. That’s what Oz Chen did during his time in South America. “Hostels aren’t only a cheap lodging option, but they also introduced me to fellow travelers to go on side trips with,” says Chen, a digital publisher and content strategist.
For instance, in Peru, he met a group of intrepid travelers and ended up renting a car to explore various Inca sites together. In turn, he was able to split sundry travel costs.
Besides hostels, you can find potential side-trip adventure buddies by staying in spaces created particularly for digital nomads, such as Outsite. These co-living spaces help you find like-minded travelers who may also be looking for friends to tour the town with.
Live Like a Local
One of the many perks of being a digital nomad is that you can enjoy regional haunts and eats for a fraction of the price. Skip staying in touristy areas, and choose just a few major attractions to check out, suggests Trull. “If you’re budget-conscious, there’s really no reason to stay in the prime tourist area if you’re a digital nomad,” says Trull.
Instead, choose a place that has excellent public transportation. Then spend time figuring out where the locals eat and what they enjoy doing for fun. If the place you’re staying in has a kitchen, you can buy ingredients at a neighborhood market and concoct some regional dishes at home. While you’ll definitely want to enjoy local cuisine, you can savor a taste by visiting an outdoor market or gourmet food hall.
Another great way to see the city is to attend free walking tours, suggests Chen. “It’s a great way to get to know the context and basics of the city I’m in,” says Chen. Plus, the tour guides oftentimes give great, budget-friendly ideas on how to enjoy the city.
Look for Ways to Save on Fees
Fees you incur when traveling can certainly add up quickly. To save on cellphone roaming charges, consider hopping on a phone plan that provides free international data. That’s what Chen did, which saved him hundreds in roaming charges.
The same goes for foreign transaction fees when swiping your credit card. These can run anywhere from 1% – 3% of the purchase amount. To avoid paying such costs, use a solid travel credit card, which helps you save not only for pesky foreign transaction fees but also comes with benefits like free trip cancellation or reimbursement for delayed flights or lost luggage.
As you can see, you can still travel that digital nomad life without spending too much money. All it takes is a bit of resourcefulness, planning and creativity to be a budget-conscious globetrotter.
What excites you most about the prospect of being a digital nomad? Let us know in the comments below!
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