If you are just about to start your digital nomad journey, you might be worried that you don’t have enough savings to get by. After all, you have just started a new remote job and are not sure if your income is stable enough in the long run. Luckily, the digital nomad life is not as expensive as many people believe. In fact, you can save quite a lot of money while traveling if you really want to. The following list gives you some of my favorite tips on how to travel on a budget and save money as a digital nomad.
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Accommodation is one of the biggest expenses you are going to have. Hence, there is also the biggest saving potential. Don’t assume that you have to stay in hotels while traveling! This would quickly eat up your budget and is absolutely unnecessary. Here are my top three accommodation tips:
How much does it cost to housesit? NOTHING! Exactly, you can stay for free in someone else’s house or apartment while they are away on vacation or on a business trip. In return, you water their plants or watch their pets.
I’ve housesat (is that even a word?!) quite a few times during the past couple of years and always loved it. It’s a great way to get in touch with locals and to live like locals. There is no better way to get to know about their lifestyle. On top of it, I love being surrounded by cats and dogs and whatnot. So I’m happy to take care of them, especially, when I get free accommodation for that.
The easiest way to find open housesitting options is via platforms like Housecarer. You only pay a small fee to get access to countless opportunities around the world. This will pay off big time!
In case you cannot find a housesitting place in the area where you want to stay next, you should check locally before you book something online. By that I mean:
- Arrive at the place and get a hotel room or Airbnb for the first couple of nights.
- Walk or drive around and ask if there are short or long-term rentals available.
Why is that such a great solution? Many locals are renting out lovely little apartments without offering them somewhere on the internet. They just hang a sign at the door or wait for someone to refer them. So ask your hotel owner, other nomads along the way, or the staff at cafes or restaurants if they know places for rent. You will be surprised how much cheaper you can find accommodation that way.
Easy one: The longer you stay, the better rates you get. No matter where you book it. If you only stay a couple of nights, you pay more per night than if you stayed for a month or two. Owners don’t have to look for new tenants, don’t have vacant rooms and therefore can get you a discount.
Plus, it is so much better to stay somewhere longer. You can really soak up the local life, get to know the culture, and are also more productive with your work because you have more time.
Transport is another aspect that usually costs a lot of money. Again, you can save a lot here:
I love booking my flights with Skyscanner. First of all, it shows you the cheapest flights you can find. But what I love even more is the way how you can find them, for instance:
- If you don’t have set dates when you want to fly, you can select “entire month” and it shows you the prices for each day. That makes it super easy to find the cheapest.
- If you don’t mind which city you want to fly to, you can also simply type in the country you want to go to and it will show you the cheapest city.
- If you don’t care at all where you go next, you can also leave the destination field blank and it will show you the cheapest flights going out from your departure city or country. Super handy for flexible nomads!
You should also consider public transport whenever possible. Taxis from airports to city centers are often very expensive. Big cities will surely have a public transport system in place to take you there at a fraction of a taxi fee. That can be trains, busses, or local shared buses. I try to use them whenever possible.
Depending on the city you are arriving in and the time of the day, you might want to google the safety situation beforehand. Some public transport can be a bit dodgy, especially in the middle of the night.
I don’t even want to know how much money I’ve spent on withdrawal fees in the first few years of my travels! Definitely a few hundred dollars! Don’t be like me but do it right from the very beginning:
N26 & Wise Borderless
- Their bank accounts don’t cost a single cent.
- They can easily be opened online (no need to go to any branch or fill out any paperwork!).
- They don’t charge withdrawal fees for many countries.
- And they have super smart apps to use.
They have saved me so much money and I wouldn’t want to travel without them!
Wise, formerly TransferWise
In addition, Wise, formerly TransferWise, is also my go-to tool to transfer money from one currency to another because it is the cheapest and most reliable option. This comes particularly handy when your clients or customers are using different currencies and you have to exchange them all the time. #digitalnomadproblems
4. Travel Insurance
Yes, you need travel or international health insurance. I will not get tired of telling people how important this is. Many want to save money and don’t get one, thinking that they will be ok. (Read here why this is a very dangerous thought.) While some insurance providers are indeed pricey, there are a few very reasonable options out there:
SafetyWing is a bit of a new kid on the insurance block. Although they have not been around for as long as many others, their monthly rates are super cheap, starting from only $42.
While you can’t cover your equipment with them, they still take care of all the necessary health-related things, like emergency medical treatments or hospital stays. You also do not need a (registered) residence in your home country or anywhere else, which comes in handy for all the “homeless” nomads amongst us.
Insured Nomads is a relatively new company, founded in 2019. Here you can pick between travel insurance and health insurance. While the first one covers you for single or multiple trips throughout the year, the latter one allows you to live and work wherever you want.
The prices are a bit higher than the SafetyWing plans but then again they also offer things like mental health therapy or dental and maternity treatments.
Food is obviously another big part of your daily expenses. The good news: In many regions of the world it will be super easy to get something cheap to eat. Want to make it even cheaper? Check out these two tips:
Eat like locals
If you eat in tourist restaurants all the time, you will not only miss out on more authentic local dishes but also pay more. Watch where and what locals eat. Prices will be much less in local restaurants or at street food stalls.
Buy at markets
If you prefer preparing your own food, make sure you buy seasonal fresh produce at local markets. The fruits and veggies are super fresh and you support local farmers. If you go to big fancy supermarkets, you will often pay more because of the packaging, transport, and maybe even import.
6. Working Space
Work is obviously a huge part of being a digital nomad. Hence, there is much saving potential. You need good internet and a nice and inspiring place to get your work done. Here are you cheapest options:
Most cafes offer free WIFI today that is decent enough to do your work. All you need to pay for are your drinks and food (please don’t sit in a crowded café all day consuming only one cup of coffee, that’s not nice). It’s also a great place to connect with others, especially if they are working there regularly, too. On the downside, the busy and noisy environment is not for everyone, as your productivity may suffer.
Again, this one totally depends on what kind of working person you are. I personally love working from home, where it’s quiet and I can fully focus on my work. Others hate being alone at home all day and can’t get much done there at all.
If you do want to work from your accommodation, make sure (before you book it) that the internet is working and that you have a proper desk and chair. You don’t want to work from your bed all day! That’s not going to work.
Check out these productivity hacks that will help you work from home.
Coworking spaces are often not a great place to save money as a digital nomad. Especially the big chains, like WeWork, can be super expensive. If you still prefer working from there, make sure you book them long-term. They usually come much cheaper if you book for 1-3 months instead of on a daily basis.
If you only stay in town for a few days, look for places that offer free visitor passes, which allow you to work there for free all day or at least a few hours.
You could also see if you can find smaller or newer coworking spaces. They will probably have cheaper rates.
Local SIM cards
Do you need reliable mobile internet to work anywhere and anytime? This doesn’t have to be expensive. A great way to get cheap internet is by buying local SIM cards wherever you go and topping them up with data volume. If you don’t want to change the SIM card in your phone, get a mobile hotspot. You can insert the card and get WIFI for your phone and laptop.
Of course, you don’t only want to work but also explore the new country and region you are traveling to. There are a few ways how you can do so and save money at the same time.
Free walking tours
There are so many cities that offer free walking tours. You don’t always have to book an expensive bus or even a private tour to get to know the area. Walking tours are often done by locals with a passion for their city. A great way to get information and details that a normal tour guide might not tell you. And again, this is a fantastic way to make friends while traveling.
Bikes or scooters
If you want to explore the area on your own, bicycles or scooters are a great and cheap option. You are more flexible than when using public transport and it is cheaper than taxis. On top of it, it’s more fun and cycling helps you keep fit.
Tourist bars might look fancy but drinks are also more expensive. If you want to save money and go out as locals do, go to local bars. They are often smaller, hidden inside roads, and cannot be found on TripAdvisor and such. But it’s surely a great experience and way cheaper.
If you are young (at heart) and want to go out and save money, check out hostels. The bigger ones often have a bar that is open to everyone even if you are not a guest. Prices for drinks are usually super cheap and it is incredibly easy to connect with other travelers. If that’s your thing, many hostels also offer pub crawls where you check out several bars and pubs and get cheaper entrance and drinks.
Bonus Tip: Make a plan
To get a better feeling of what you are spending, you should make a financial plan. That could be a simple Excel sheet, where you list every single dollar that you spend throughout the month – a cup of coffee, lunch, bus tickets, etc. I know this sounds a bit crazy and over the top but it’s super interesting and helpful to see.
I’ve done that a couple of times and trust me, you’ll be surprised how much money you really spend in a month! This also helps you identify potential areas to save money. If you realize that you’ve spent a lot on alcohol during the past four weeks, you might think twice about the obligatory drink every night. Good for your savings and your health.
Also, make a plan on how much you want to spend each month at a maximum and regularly compare your target to your actual spending. This will help you make adjustments before you end up broke.
Bonus tip 2: Extra bank account
As soon as you have a little bit of spare money, put it in an extra bank account. If you keep your money easily available all the time, you will spend it. “Oh, I’ve got so much money in my bank account, of course, I will buy that expensive shirt that I don’t need at all and might hardly ever wear.”
Keep your savings out of sight and only use them for things that you really need or that bring you true joy – not on impulsive shopping trips.
Save Money and Live Cheaper Than Ever Before
As you can see, there are quite a few things you can do to get along on a tight budget. I personally live way cheaper as a digital nomad than when I was still living in “my old life”.
One of the main reasons for that is, of course, that I usually stay in cheaper regions like South East Asia, Eastern Europe, or Latin America instead of Central Europe or North America. However, the mentioned tips help me a lot and I’m sure I’ve saved a couple of thousand dollars implementing them.
I hope they will help you just as much. If you have any additional tips, please let me know in the comments below!