Considering costs is a vital part of planning your entry into expat life. Neglecting budgeting can abruptly cut short a stay. On the other hand, a little financial planning can pay off in a longer and more enriching lifestyle than you dreamed possible.
A great web-based tool for this is Numbeo. Just type in the name of a city or select a country from the drop-down list. You get the standard information, like how much expensive it is to rent an apartment. You also get much more detailed figures, such as the cost of imported vs. domestic beer. Near the bottom of the page there will be a colored pie chart, showing which expenses will take the most bite out of your budget.
Money isn’t everything, however. More expensive isn’t always better, and cheap isn’t always a bargain. You might want to drill down even deeper to determine quality of life. You could be torn between two countries that seem almost equally attractive to reside in. In that case, you can try using If It Were My Home. You can choose two countries and get a breakdown comparing them on life expectancy, health care, and other important factors.
Have you been an expat? What tools did you use to do research? Please share your tips and experiences in the comments.
There has been a recent debate about budget travel against cheap travel: the article draws some interesting comparisons between budgeting your trip, and actually being too much of a cheapo to make the best out of it. As much as I agree with many of the statements presented in the article, I had to stop and think hard to find a parallel with my own experience. Because I did not.
For example, as my own travels in greater Asia testify, it is still very much possible to travel for less than 10$ a day, without being a cheapskate, and actually enjoying your time. It surely requires more work and preparation – like, many hours on Couchsurfing, reading guides, browsing message boards and blogs of other travelers who have been there before you -. To top it all, it probably would come more difficult if attempted in Europe or other Western countries for an obvious currency disparity. Nevertheless, you can trust me, it does work. (more…)
Have you ever returned home, only to feel like home was more foreign than any of the exotic locales you’ve visited? You’re not alone. Reverse culture shock has a way of ambushing people, despite how much you may have heard about it. When we travel, we have our awareness up. We know we must learn and adapt. But home? We let our guard down. We don’t have to think too hard, because we’re back on familiar ground. Or so we think.
CNNGO published the Ultimate checklist for returning U.S. expats. The article covers a wide range of topics, ranging from practical matters like money to more social niceties like pop culture. The writer is mostly tongue-in-cheek in tone, particularly the section on what’s hot and what’s not these days.
More sobering is the final section on reverse culture shock. Every one of the points resonated with me. Here’s one excerpt:
Nobody cares where you’ve been
People outside the U.S. often like to hear what life is like there. Americans, owing to either a sense of superiority or disinterest, aren’t all that curious about what’s going on in Mamalikibooboostan.
This is why our Rolf Potts in Vagabonding emphasized that travel should be a personal decision, not to prove something to others. No one will care as much about your travels as you do.
I returned to the United States after five years of working and traveling in Asia. Like many, I was blindsided by the process of re-adapting. Here are some ways I’ve dealt with culture shock:
1) Use Skype. I still regularly chat with some of the close friends I’ve made while on the road. Talking to people with the same shared experiences has been a huge morale boost.
2) Make new friends. I’ve been active on Meetup.com, joining groups that match my interests.
Did you experience reverse culture shock when you returned home? Where had you been living and traveling before then? What did you do to cope? Please share your stories in the comments.
Most career break literature out there is focused on the employee who requests a leave of absence from his boss. Rarely is it about the boss who takes a sabbatical from his own business. Inc. magazine had this story: Inside the mind of a runaway CEO.
While most office satire is about the workers being stuck in their jobs, this article illuminates that entrepreneurs can feel trapped by their companies as well. They may have started their business to escape the grind of working for someone else, only to realize they just created their own grind instead.
The social dynamics of a boss taking a sabbatical were interesting too. Entrepreneurs often fancy themselves as being leaders who are essential to the company’s survival. It can jarring to discover your employees are much happier when you’re away. Of course, it can be more humbling if the business actually does better when you’re not there.
One thing the article focused on is the complications of the CEO’s relationship with his No. 2 manager while he was gone. Initially, the deputy manager felt abandoned and afraid of not knowing what to do. As time passed, he became more comfortable with having that authority. By the time the CEO returned, it had come full circle: now he was afraid the boss would take away his newfound sense of leadership.
The employees are also greatly affected. Initially, they enjoyed the freedom of the boss being out of the office. However, what does it do for their morale, to read a steady flow of Facebook and Twitter updates of all the fun the CEO is having while the staff are still busy with work?
Have you had a business you left behind to travel? Or the opposite, you had a boss who did that? Please share your experiences in the comments.
Have you ever wished you had another country’s passport? For some nationals, they have the right to get working holiday visas all over the world. They can pick up and move to a country, and have the right to live there. Your passport has a big effect on how well received you’ll be in another country, in the eyes of their immigration officials.
The Economist had a chart called The Wanderers. A law firm named Henley & Partners compiled a list of twenty countries, ranking them according to easily their nationals could enter foreign nations without needing a visa. Makes you realize how much of that is beyond an individual’s control. If your government happens to be oppressive or unfriendly to immigrants, it’s the humble citizens who get punished with paperwork and exorbitant visa fees when they go abroad.
The first time I experienced this was when I taught English in China. My boss, who was from Iceland, observed that Europeans paid much lower China visa fees than Americans. That was when I learned about “reciprocity,” which basically translates as tit-for-tat. If America charges high visa fees on foreigners, than those countries will return the favor when Americans visit. Have any of you dealt with this?
The most extraordinary story I heard was from a Hong Kong girl. She has passports for Hong Kong, China, the United Kingdom, and Canada! That’s ultimate mobility, right there.
What are your experiences of dealing with passports and visas? Please share your stories in the comments.
Pop quiz, hotshot: what are the best travel tips you can share? I’m more comfortable writing stories about other travelers. This time, I was on the other side. Jessica Spiegel, a fellow vagablogger, put me in the hot seat in Budget Traveler Interview: Marcus Sortijas.
The piece was displayed on the website CheapTicketLinks, along with interviews of other vagabond luminaries such as Seth Kugel, who writes “The Frugal Traveler” column for The New York Times. Nice to be positioned along such esteemed company.
You can see my top picks of the most affordable travel destinations, and the biggest way to save money in Japan. As is human, I thought of some great tips after the interview was published. Here are some of them:
–Go to airport websites to look up the cheapest route to get to the city center. Usually there will be a page labeled “Transportation” or something similar that will break down all the ways to go into the city. I once did this for the Hanoi airport in Vietnam, and found out about the minibuses that local people use. They’re really shared vans, rather than “minibuses.” By taking a van instead of a taxi, I only spent US$3. If I had been really cheap, I could have taken a public bus for US$0.30. But I didn’t want to put up with all the stops.
–Read up on scams and common crimes in guidebooks before arrival. In Beijing and Shanghai, sometimes “art students” approach tourists, claiming they want to practice their English. Later, they try to divert their marks to art galleries or overpriced tea shops. By doing some homework, you’ll not only protect your wallet, but also your pride.
–In certain countries where meters aren’t used, negotiate the fare before getting into a taxi. Enough said.
I emphasized in the interview that going abroad on a budget forces you to be more resourceful and adaptable. I’ve gone through Europe both on the backpacking circuit and on a package tour. I can unequivocally say I learned more and had a lot more fun the first way. Spending less was a pleasant bonus.
One challenging question was “What’s the most embarrassing thing you do to save money (travel or not)? My answer involved “group buying” with other vagabonders at supermarkets, to take advantage of deals.
If you’re interested in reading more, you can visit my personal travel blog at Marcus Goes Global. There’s a contact form if you want to send me a message.
What are some of your favorite or embarrassing ways of saving money? Please share your stories in the comments.
Working as a writer abroad is like tackling two dreams at once: writing and travel. Tough to pull off, though especially if you want to earn a living. Graham Holliday, an experienced journalist, laid out his strategies for success in this Slideshare presentation: Frontline Club – solo foreign correspondent.
My favorite advice was in slide #26:
Go somewhere cheap – especially if money is an issue – and go somewhere odd. If you’ve done your research and you’ve made contacts and you have fairly good inkling of what you’re going to be letting yourself in for – Just go.
Our very own Rolf Potts got his big break with Storming the Beach, when he was in Thailand. Matt Gross, the former Frugal Traveler columnist for The New York Times, got his start as a newspaper copy editor in Vietnam. Speaking from experience, my first opportunity in publishing was also serving as a copy editor, but in Taiwan.
It’s difficult to get that first assignment, though. When I applied for that job in Taiwan, there was a lot of competition from ESL English teachers who wanted to get out of teaching and into writing. If you’re a relatively recent university graduate like I was at the time, don’t expect to snag a journalism job abroad straight away. Especially in Asia, it seems like almost everyone does a bit of English teaching in the beginning before moving on to other work.
-Start a blog. Write a lot: the more, the better.
-Write guest posts on other blogs. The more prominent the website, the better.
-Monitor the media jobs websites regularly to see new openings.
Lastly, but most important: network, network, network. You can never know too many people. I find that my best networking is in casual settings, rather than formal events. I was once at someone’s house party in Shanghai, and nearly every person there was a foreign correspondent. Collect business cards habitually, and always follow up with an e-mail the next day.
Another thing about networking: most of my best opportunities have come from acquaintances I didn’t know that well, compared to close friends. I think it’s because these people were more outside my circle and in industries I didn’t get exposed to as often. Usually, my friends have similar backgrounds and careers as I did. Malcolm Gladwell talks about “the strength of weak ties” in his book The Tipping Point.
Do you work as a writer or journalist overseas? How did you get your job? Please share your stories and advice in the comments.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a slideshow is worth a novel. Nomadz.nu, a partnership of two Belgian women, created this excellent presentation: Don’t be rich, live rich – one year on the road – the good and the bad. This would work well as an “orientation” film for new vagabonders ready to head out into the wider world.
The whole thing is well-structured, a sign of that these women, Ine and Catherine, are marketing pros. The first section has stunning photographs and tidbits about the grand adventures they had. Then it goes into the step-by-step planning process they took. You get to see decisions they made, and why the made them.
Starting at slide #39, Ine and Catherine talk about “The Hard Stuff.” Their frank honesty is greatly appreciated, because a lot of people don’t realize the challenges of long-term travel. For trips of that duration, you often have to be more independent and do more things yourself, rather than relying on a tour company to take care of everything.
Although the fantasy of remote working is typing on your laptop at the beach, the reality doesn’t always turn out that way. The two of them realized they actually were more productive in an office setting. As a result, they once rented space in Buenos Aires so they could get more done. The irony is that a cubicle can be a “productivity retreat” from your journey. Still, that’s more preferable to have short bouts of work while traveling, rather than short vacations from work in the 9-to-5 world.
For the digital nomads, you might want to jump ahead to slide #53. In the following slides, Ine and Catherine reveal the gear and apps they used to take care of business while on the road. For more cool stuff, visit their website at Nomadz.nu.
What lessons have you learned while working during your travels? Please share your experiences in the comments.
For the last year and a half that I have been living in Asia it has been a constant expensive struggle to maintain regular use of vitamins and supplements. It is a bit difficult to find bottles of vitamins here in Korea. If they are found it is little more than a basic multi-vitamin and they come at a ridiculous price. And it isn’t just supplements that are hard to find. If you’re looking for anything from the artillery of natural living remedies, you will likely come up short for these as well.
Sure I could just forgo taking supplements, but why compromise my health and energy? There is a vast difference between my mood, health, and energy level when I do not maintain a regular regiment of certain supplements.
Someone recently pointed me in the direction of the great website iHerb.com. iHerb is an “online store, supplying a vast selection of brand name natural products”. Customers can go online and choose from countless supplements, brand names, natural beauty, and natural living products. Product details and reviews are listed right there on the website.
The entire website is available in English, Spanish, Korean, Chinese, and Japanese and the company ships world wide. The best thing about iHerb is that shipping is always a standard $10 fee. If you are planning to make large orders of $80 or more, they offer a reduced shipping deal.
If you are living abroad and having a hard time finding your typical range of vitamins or other natural living supplements, iHerb could be exactly what you’re looking for.
As vagabonders, we love the feeling of “getting into the culture.” Where you finally understand how the people think, how their society works.
Inc magazine had a fantastic article titled A Constant Feeling of Crisis, about the struggles of entrepreneurs in Argentina. I once talked to Antoni, the New Zealand owner of a gourmet burger restaurant in Taiwan. I suggested there were different levels of knowing a place:
From my experience of working in a foreign country, you get to know it pretty well. Especially if you’re with a domestic firm, and your boss and co-workers are all locals. Antoni suggested one further level of immersion: doing business in a country. He said there’s no better way to find out how things work–and often don’t work–as trying to keep your enterprise alive. You’re forced to deal with government bureaucrats, local employees, sometimes dodgy infrastructure, the whole lot.
I can see how you would look at a place with clearer eyes if you were more invested (bad pun, sorry). When you have a stake in a country for your livelihood, you notice a lot of things you’d miss if you were just passing through. A charming dirt path could seem different if you had to rely on that path for transportation and delivery of raw materials. Delightful traditional houses might not have the electricity and high-speed Internet access you would need to get work done.
From that article, it’s painfully clear how entrepreneurs are vulnerable to outside forces beyond their control. A swing in currency rates can wipe out the value of bank accounts. A new government regulation could put assets at risk of seizure via nationalization.
Have any of you started a business abroad? What were some of the challenges and joys you experienced? Please share your stories in the comments.