It’s been a few years since I’ve had a solid travel experience (I was in India/Nepal for 60 days).
I finally got on the road again as a digital nomad.
This time in Central America.
Time to firm up how to work remotely.
But I just needed to make enough income to make the trip financially feasible.
Hey, just trying to keep it simple and live the digital nomad life.
My main goals are to:
1. Take Spanish Lessons (fluency in a 2nd language is a bucket list item).
2. Work remotely while living abroad in Guatemala.
3. Live/Travel/Serve in an inexpensive place.
I spent two weeks at a language school in San Pedro at Lake Atitlan (only about 4 hours from Guatemala City).
I found it to be a great digital nomad destination (Antigua, only a few hours away, is also really incredible!)
[As I recapped the cost of my Guatemala digital nomad experience, Antigua was a part of my trip!]
A Private Spanish Instructor is Affordable
Having a private instructor and them forcing you to speak only in Spanish is incredible.
You’re able to advance very quickly at speaking.
The cost was approximately $100 for 20 hours of lessons.
That’s right, $5 per hour for private lessons.
You can go less expensive, but this is from a top school in Guatemala.
[On a side note: If you ever plan to attend language school in Guatemala, there’s no need to pay online before you go. I recommend putting your eyes on the school and speaking with the staff.
Only pay for it once you’re comfortable. It’s pretty standard for students to be able to start the very next day — as I did].
Speaking of prices, let me give a few of the deals I’ve found, and you can decide if you think Guatemala is affordable or not.
[note: these prices are from my travel in 2013, but they’ll give you a nice comparison to where you live]
- My accommodation costs me 35 quetzales per night (approximately $4.50) for a private room and bath with an incredible view!
- I can buy three tacos for 10 quetzales (approximately $1.25) [which on a sidenote, turns into 6 mini tacos since they give 6 mini tortillas. The first time I ordered I didn’t understand why they gave me 6 until I bit into my 1st taco and half of the stuff plopped to the waiting tortilla below. Brilliant!]
- I can get a fresh fruit smoothie for 5 quetzales (about $.60)
- And my new favorite is a ChocoBanana for 1-2 quetzales (less than $.25), a frozen banana on a stick dipped in chocolate and peanuts. Delicious!
Working Remotely as a Digital Nomad
My 2nd intention was to work remotely.
I got a phone from Republic Wireless (it looks like they’re now owned by Dish).
I was scared because I’m in real estate and need an operating phone plan (although I have a strong distaste for phone calls and divert most of my business to email and text).
The phone works on WiFi.
Check out how cool this is!
I made my calls from Guatemala back to the U.S. from my cell phone at no additional cost.
Nothing other than the $20 I paid per month for the plan.
But hey, for $20 and the fact that I can operate a business from a foreign country, I’ll take it.
My other tool is my Google Chromebook.
It was $200 and was an obvious purchase after I sold an older laptop for $200 to a friend – an even swap.
Understand that you can’t download any software onto the computer.
But this won’t be an issue if you’re like me and already use Google for everything (Drive, Calendar, Docs, Contacts, Gmail, etc.).
Just imagine computing with only a Chrome internet browser.
You just need decent internet.
And I found the internet connection at each location I stayed to be fine for web browsing and handling business.
You also have a hard drive where you can store files.
If you need a specific piece of software (editing software, for example) that you have to have, then the Chromebook isn’t for you.
But I’ve found an app or website for literally everything.
I’m in the real estate business, and I can 100% run my company from this ‘cloud only’ laptop.
Need to edit photos? Use Canva.
Need to edit a purchase agreement via a pdf? Try Small PDF
Need to share and store documents and files? — I use Dropbox
Everything is online.
I was in Guatemala for six weeks.
During those six weeks I:
- Wrote 4 offers for real estate investor clients.
- Entered 2 new real estate listings into our local MLS.
- Closed 1 real estate transaction.
- Moved 2 pending deals closer to close.
I worked hard and enjoyed the process.
Of course, I wanted to enjoy the country and be a tourist while visiting Guatemala.
I spent an hour or so looking at the top places to visit while visiting.
Two were close to the airport and capital – Antigua and Lake Atitlan.
It was easy to choose both of these places, given the positive reviews and how easy it seemed for me to get to them.
They had a cool project going on called the Mayan Eco Homestead.
I wanted to meet them in person and give them a hand while I was down there.
I’m living proof that you don’t have to take only a 2-week vacation from your job.
You can work while you travel.
And you can travel to a location where your cost abroad is less than at home.
Let’s Review the cost of my Guatemala Digital Nomad Experience.
After returning, I crunched numbers on my finances and figured out that the cost for me to travel the world for six weeks was equivalent to my cost of living at home.
Let me say that again.
Traveling the world for six weeks as it would to sit on my couch at home cost the same.
It would have been cheaper if I stayed longer than six weeks because the flight cost would spread out longer.
When I say it was equivalent to living at home, I mean that.
My traveling costs weren’t in addition to my expenses at home but instead in place of.
I’ve structured life so that most of my expenses are variable, meaning I only pay when I use them.
My only fixed expenses (mortgage and utilities mainly) are pretty low, and I was able to cover these by finding a renter.
We’ll review my expenses while on my trip and what I learned from this particular travel.
Let’s Dive In The Costs.
$615 – Flight Cost
$165 – Cash from Airport Money Exchange
$1,163.66 – Cash Withdrawn from 5 ATM visits
$615 – The cost of my round-trip ticket to Guatemala.
I did a good bit of searching before my trip.
I was willing to fly out of 2 nearby airports, but surprisingly, my local airport was the same price (actually slightly cheaper) than those.
$1,328.66 – Total expenses that I incurred in Guatemala for six weeks.
The cost included 80 hours of Spanish Lessons as well!
I didn’t write down my expenses but kept up with my ATM receipts since I lived on a cash basis the entire trip.
Spent $42 Per Day.
I could judge approximately how much I was spending per day by averaging the amount I had taken out the last time with the number of days that had passed (i.e., if I took out $250 the last ATM visit and six days had passed, then I was spending approximately $42/day).
On my trip, I made 5 ATM trips, about one trip per week.
I didn’t do the above math during my trip, as I could tell that things were inexpensive and that I was spending less abroad than I would be back home.
I wanted to do the math (for this post) after the trip to see how my finances worked out on my travels.
$23.02 – ATM fees were charged and later reimbursed (so no real expenses incurred here) —
I recommend a Fidelity Account as I’ve had great experiences with it thus far (I also have a credit card that pays me 2% cashback on ALL purchases through them).
The ATM is best because it uses the current exchange rates, not a created one, as money changers do. I love using travel credit cards that provide points to continue traveling!
*A lesson learned before using the ATM.
When I arrived at the Guatemalan airport, I was anxious to go ahead and get some cash.
A professional-looking money change company (with no fees or commissions) talked me into changing money.
The more I changed, the better rate I received. So I exchanged $175 or so.
But guess what I didn’t know.
What the current exchange rate should be. Even the ‘great’ rate that they gave me was terrible.
So I lost about $27 on the transaction.
So the ‘non-fee’ company cost me approximately 15% in exchange.
Remember that when you see friendly employees in suits at a business.
Clearly, it’s a successful business, but it can mean something other than that it’s the best deal for you.
$47 – Travel Health Insurance through Seven Corners — a large company, recommended.
When you travel/live, you lose your food, travel, fuel, entertainment, and other similar expenses back home.
They are included in your travel budget.
$750 – Back home, I still had to pay for my mortgage and utilities, but this was offset by the $750 that I received by renting out my home for the month (a great win/win because some friends needed a place to live while they were renovating a section of their home).
$197.60 – Amount I made from renting out my Jeep via Turo (was called RelayRides at the time) while I was gone.
This was incredible, as clearly I didn’t need to use it while I was gone.
Of course, I had to get help to meet up with the renter to get them keys.
In conclusion, the net financial effect to my being in Guatemala was as if I never left.
The effect on my bottom line was the same.
It’s challenging to measure perfectly due to the number of variables involved.
But when calculating for total income made during my trip, my total trip costs, and money saved for giving, taxes, and long-term savings, the net effect to me was equivalent.
The net effect was the same on my expenses and income since traveling in Guatemala was business as usual.
So I’m living proof that you can travel for the same amount it costs you to live at home (depending on your travel location).
It’s common to hear the following:
“I wish I could, but I can’t do that.”
“I don’t know how you do it, it’s impossible for me.”
If they don’t open their minds and destroy the box, it will always be impossible for them.
If you desire more affordable travel, know you can do it too!
Where have you been?
Where do you want to go?
Have you done the math to figure out how much it will cost you to travel the world?
It might not be as much as you think…