GCC: Before we retired I looked long and hard for International cost of living/travel data. What I found was limited, vague, or outdated. Since then many sites and blogs have offered new data or a new approach.
Recently I found a new favorite… The Earth Awaits. Others like it too; it is currently featured on BBC’s The Travel Show.
In this Guest Post, see what the Frugal Vagabond has to say about his creation:
A Labor of Love
I love the world, and think that travel makes us better, more thoughtful, and more charitable with each other. In a world that seems to be turning inward, we could all use a little more of that.
Back in July, my wife, my father-in-law, and I sat down to a delicious Indian dinner. Dinners like this are always a little bittersweet— my wife’s mother passed away early last year, and her dad misses his wife terribly. Without her, he has an understandably tough time finding things to look forward to. Seeing his struggle with this loss always reminds me that time is our most precious resource.
As we ate, my father-in-law casually mentioned that his youngest brother had retired, making him the last of his siblings not to have done so. “Someday,” he said, “they’ll find me dead at my keyboard, I guess.”
I glanced at my wife and saw that she wore an absolutely miserable expression. She wants her dad to be happy, but doesn’t know how to help him look forward to anything.
“Hey… you’re collecting your Social Security, right? How much is that check every month?” I asked.
“About $2,300, why?” he replied.
Looking back, that was the moment that The Earth Awaits was born.
The Possibilities Are Endless
“Bob, are you kidding?! $2,300 is a fortune! You just need to get out of Silicon Valley! Even better, you need to get out of the country!” I exclaimed, already calculating just how far that Social Security check would go in many of the places my wife and I have contemplated as slow travel destinations.
“Thailand. Portugal. Spain. Mexico. That kind of money could pay for an amazing lifestyle in any of those countries! You could live among a bunch of English-speaking expats, if you really wanted. You could sit at cafes all day and hang out on the beach! You could stop working today, Bob!”
We talked for the rest of the evening about retiring overseas, and I saw the glint of excitement in my father-in-law’s eyes as the seed of adventure— and possible escape from death by desk— was planted.
I already knew from writing a series on retiring abroad that the $2,300 monthly budget was doable, but I wondered just how I could prove it. On the drive home, I started to imagine a tool that would build budgets for places all around the world while considering the important aspects of a person’s lifestyle: their price range, family size, housing needs, and their lifestyle expectations. I knew about Numbeo, which gathers cost of living data for cities around the world. I knew where to get information about safety, visa information, and I had a pretty good idea of how to create a budget that would reflect the local cost of living anywhere in the world. Someone just had to put all the pieces together. Why had nobody thought of this before?
Within days, I had written the first version of what would soon grow into The Earth Awaits. It did exactly what I had envisioned: learn about the visitor, then calculate what it would cost that person to live in hundreds of cities around the world. It got rid of the cities that wouldn’t work for them (or that they couldn’t afford), and showed them the very best of what remained.
When it was ready, I plugged in my father-in-law’s Social Security income, allowed for an ample lifestyle, and even opted for a three bedroom apartment so that wherever he went, his family would have a place to stay when they visited.
The results blew me away. The cities that fit his budget included places like Braga (Portugal), Valencia (Spain), Cuenca (Ecuador), and over 200 others. More importantly, I knew that many of the places were safe, fun, and offered all the comforts of home.
My Father-in-Law Is Not Alone
My wife’s dad isn’t a stupid man— quite the opposite. He’s just like thousands of other Americans approaching retirement. They may have only known one home their whole lives, or maybe they’ve become set in their ways. Retirement is in their grasp, if they could only learn to see things from a different perspective. There are thousands— maybe hundreds of thousands— of people around the world who are literally one discovery away from a life of leisure and adventure.
What does this have to do with the early retirement community? What if I told you that you might already be financially independent? Setting aside all your fears or worries about the logistics of doing so, is there a chance that the perfect place might be waiting for you out there, and that you might already be able to afford it, potentially taking years off of your path to financial independence?
Those questions are exactly the ones that The Earth Awaits was built to answer.
A Tool For Globetrotting Retirees
Let’s consider a few ways a person approaching (or having already achieved) financial independence might use the The Earth Awaits to their advantage.
Retire Sooner – If you’re living in a high cost of living city (or country), and can accurately estimate your cost of living elsewhere, you may be able to quit working years earlier by relocating to a cheaper area.
Retire in Better Places/With a Better Lifestyle – Some people, like my father-in-law, are creatures of habit. Just because the life you have is the only one you know doesn’t mean that a cheaper, better life isn’t out there waiting. There are almost 100 cities where English is spoken as the primary language where one person can live an ample lifestyle for under $2,300 per month… and those are just the cities the site tracks! Many of them would be a significant step up from the daily Silicon Valley grind.
Avoid Retirement Failure – A source of huge anxiety in the financial independence community is what to do if the market takes a sudden, significant downturn immediately after you retire. If the 4% rule doesn’t pan out going forward, are we looking at a generation of early retirees that goes crawling back to their employers? Hardly! Rather than going back to work, why not use the magic of geographic arbitrage to decrease your costs and ride out the downturn living in comfort abroad? (GCC: The 4% rule is fine.)
Live in Expensive Places (Some of the Time) – If you’ve got your heart set on a retirement in the south of France, but it requires working an extra ten years to achieve it, why not alternate between the place of your dreams and an interesting, low-cost place? Spend six months in the south of France, then offset it with six months on Southeast Asia, South America, or Mexico. Now you’ve achieved your dream retirement without all that extra work!
Adventure is Waiting
We’re still working on my father-in-law, being supportive and encouraging. I’m holding out hope that someday we might be able to set him on the path to adventure. We’ll take him out to eat tasty foreign food and wonder aloud how the carne asada tastes in Monterrey, or why the crepes always taste so much better on the street in Paris.
Maybe it’s time to stop thinking about life abroad or slow travel as rewards for having achieved financial independence. For some people, they may be viable tools to help retire sooner, happier, and with an even better lifestyle. I’m continually surprised at all of the places (most of which I had either never heard of or never thought of) where we can afford to live today. If you’re a little like me— and if you’re on this site, you probably are— then I think there’s a pretty good chance that your perfect place in the world is out there waiting for you to discover it. Every moment you wait may be a missed opportunity to be free. Visit the site, tell us about who you are and what your dream retirement destination looks like. The results may change your life.
– the Frugal Vagabond
The Frugal Vagabond is an engineer living with a wife and two dogs in Silicon Valley. After falling into the trap of tech company excess for a few years, he realized that despite their high cost, none of the fancy things he bought really made him any happier. This set him on a journey that led to the early retirement community. Today, he and his wife save every spare penny with a goal of retiring early and living abroad by the time they both turn 40. They travel abroad at least twice a year in search of adventure and the best places to call home on their slow travels. Their next adventure is to Australia in early 2017, a $214 trip thanks to careful planning and the miracle of travel hacking. (GCC: Check out our travel hacking tips.)