The Digital Nomad: What does a roaming lifestyle cost?

The romantic vision of the Digital Nomad is of an independent traveller roaming the world at will, visiting exotic places, thrilling at amazing interactions with people, and stumbling upon delightful events and cultural experiences.

Not your ordinary bedroom window! A beautiful art deco hotel in Guatemala – for about $6.50 per person per night…

Well, from my experience of being a Digital Nomad, this is actually true! Here is a snapshot of just my last week:

  • Spent a lovely evening with an eclectic group of fellow travellers, sharing stories while we enjoyed a curry buffet and naan bread…in Guatemala.
  • Stumbled upon a road closure. 100 feet in front of us the president of Guatemala was about to give a speech. We hung around and heard three federal ministers and the president give speeches. Right in front of us.
  • Hiked 3 hours along a trail with stunning views, visiting small towns and thrilling at the beauty of the country. At one small town we ran into a fellow Canadian I had emailed before coming to Guatemala. Total coincidence.
  • Through no planning of mine, landed a hotel room next to someone we had met earlier on the trip – someone who we ended up having some insightful conversations over dinner with.
  • Helped the owners of a local restaurant with their marketing in exchange for a couple of lovely meals and insights into life as an expat in Guatemala.
  • Met a dozen or more fascinating people over drinks and casual meetings.
  • Ate numerous beautiful, fresh, and delicious meals made from locally grown food.
  • Stayed in 2 lovely places, one a beautiful glass-art hotel and the other a delightful thatched roof cottage with the rich smell of wood in the air.
  • Started my day with yoga and meditation every morning in the warm post-dawn sunshine, high up over the lake with a stunning view of 3 volcanoes and mountains surrounding the lake.

Sounds good, but what did this all cost? Not everyone is a millionaire!

Most people know that nothing is perfect. So what did my amazing week cost…not just in terms of money, but in what I had to give up?

First, the “giving up” part.

One thing about being a Digital Nomad is that you must have very few hangups – beliefs, fears, “must haves”, insecurities, required habits, etc. I wrote about clearing out this gunk in a previous posting. In my case, the last week of amazing experiences came with the following things I did not get:

  • We had a shared bathroom in two of the three places we stayed.
  • We couldn’t cook our own food in most of the paces we stayed. We were on the move a lot so didn’t rent a longer-term place with a kitchen.
  • The internet was not always working perfectly.
  • Guatemalans are a joyfully noisy people – you have to seek out peaceful times and places.
  • Few locals speak English – you have to speak in Spanish, which I am still learning.
  • Not all of our “normal” foods and amenities are available here – your diet will vary day-by-day.

Did any of these trigger discomfort in you? No? OK, I talked only about a week, during which most people would be happy to suspend many of their needs in exchange for an amazing experience. What about a month? Or two months? Or three? Are you starting to hesitate about having such an experience for a longer period of time?

Amazing breakfast
An amazing breakfast can be had for 1/2 the price of a comparable meal in USA or Canada. Perhaps 1/4 the price of most of Europe?

At this point you might realize some of the complications of the Digital Nomad lifestyle. One key one is that you have to make up your life as you go along. The normal foundation pieces of your life simply aren’t there – your home, furniture, kitchen, shopping patterns, friends, eating patterns, routines, etc.

Having to create your life every day is a cost you have to pay for being a Digital Nomad. And it may not be an easy price to pay if you are not prepared for it mentally.

Money

So, what does it cost to live the Digital Nomad lifestyle?

There are three costs to consider:

  1. Travel costs. As this varies by your experience and where you go, travel costs will be a topic for later consideration.
  2. Non-daily expenses – medical care, clothing, tools (ie a cell phone), etc. These too will be a topic for later consideration.
  3. Daily expenses – accommodation and food.

Let’s look at this last one. Before coming to Guatemala, where I am writing this, I started delving into the costs of the roaming lifestyle. And while here, I did some more comparisons. Here is a snapshot of costs in Guatemala versus costs in USA or Canada. These numbers may not reflect all places in  Guatemala or USA/Canada, but can give you a sense of what costs might look like if you choose to be a Digital Nomad inexpensively:

Assumptions:

  •  You are keeping a modest home base somewhere – a cottage, condo, etc. that you rent out or sublet, so that it is costing you little or no money while you are roaming the world.
  •  You don’t have an expensive fixed cost structure at your home base – no car payments, for example, on a vehicle that is sitting there depreciating while you roam the world.
Costs Location Guatemala USA / Canada
Accommodation (single, with internet, including taxes)
Basic – a dorm with shared bathroom in a hostel $6.50 $23.00
Basic – a private room with private bathroom in a hostel $13.00 $45.00
Good – a nicer private room with private bathroom in a hotel $15.00 $85.00
Premium – a really nice private room with private bathroom in a hotel $25.00 $140.00
Accommodation (per person, double occupancy, with internet, including taxes)
Basic – a private room with private bathroom in a hostel $6.50 $23.00
Good – a nicer private room with private bathroom in a hotel $7.50 $43.00
Premium – a really nice private room with private bathroom in a hotel $12.50 $70.00
Food: Restaurants (per person, including taxes and a tip)
Breakfast – basic – eggs, toast, juice, coffee $5.00 $10.00
Breakfast – good – a full breakfast $6.50 $14.00
Breakfast – premium – a full exotic breakfast $8.00 $18.00
Lunches are the same price in Guatemala, but 25% more in USA or Canada. ie. 5.00 ie. $12.50
Dinners are 25% more in Guatemala and 50% more in Canada ie. $6.25 ie. $15.00

Insights:

Accommodation in a modest-cost country like Guatemala costs 1/4 the price of comparable accommodation in USA or Canada, when travelling alone, or as little as 1/6 the price when travelling with another person and sharing a room.

Food costs about 1/2 that of USA or Canada.

OK,  those are big savings.  If you choose to be a Digital Nomad on a modest income and live in inexpensive places in the world, you can really do so inexpensively.

Cool.

A final thought on money:

The longer you stay in one place the cheaper it gets. So, if you decided to stay for 3 months in Guatemala, for example, your overall costs would drop from those noted above as your accommodation is cheaper per night when booked monthly, you can rent a place with a kitchen and cook for yourself, thereby lowering costs, and you won’t have as many travel related costs.

That’s my Fall 2013 plan.

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