Travel the World on $1,500 a Month
Once someone learns that we have recently returned to the U.S. after nine months running around Thailand and Laos, they ask, "How could you afford such an adventure? It must have cost a fortune to stay there that long, living in guesthouses and hotels, and eating out!" When I tell them that the trip didn't cost us anything -- in fact, we made money -- they're floored.
When we left for Thailand in August 2005, the Standard & Poor's 500 index closed at 1,219. Today, it closed at 1,274, for a total gain of 4.5% -- even after the 4%-plus drop over the past month. Sure, we had expenses, but our net worth still increased. Whenever I'm considering one of these trips, I ask myself, "Can I afford it?" My answer shocks some: "I can't afford not to go."
The cost of not retiring
"That all sounds good," you might be saying. "But I still have to pay the bills." OK, so let's look at the numbers. For example, say you have an invested net worth of $500,000 in an S&P 500 index fund. The last 10 months would have yielded you a return of $22,500, or approximately $2,250 per month. I'm sure there are some who could spend that much in Thailand monthly, but not us. We live very comfortably there on $1,500, including a swimming pool, maid service, restaurants, health care, shopping, and beaches in Phuket. But let's say you're a big spender and blow $2,000 per month, or $20,000 in 10 months. But as in the above example, your investments made $22,500, which more than covers your expenses. You'd also have to figure in taxes -- after all, no matter where you live, Uncle Sam wants his cut. But with the standard deduction and such low reportable income, the bite isn't very bad.
The bottom line is, you've now been to places most people will only see in books or magazines, tasted foods unlike anything in the States, and have new experiences that will last your lifetime -- and your net worth hasn't dropped. So, how much did this trip really cost you?
Considering that you're probably going to spend $2,000 per month or more in the States anyway, you could look at this excursion as actually saving you money. This is especially true if you approach it as a lifestyle instead of a vacation. I know there is the expense of airfare, but that is amortized over the entire trip -- one reason we do not visit faraway places for short periods of time.
I know the market doesn't always rise, and some have suggested that we were just lucky to benefit from the bull market of the 1990s. If that's the case, then we must have been unlucky through the stressful 2000-2002 bear market -- which we survived, as we wrote about in an earlier article. Yet history shows that the market increases about 70% of the time. Those are odds we're willing to take -- we've happily done so for the past 16 years.
Packing up your finances
First, you need to get your various financial and living houses in order. Can you access your money at ATMs worldwide? Your local bank card won't work in Thailand, whereas major no-load fund firms have accounts that can accommodate this requirement. Make that change.
Secondly, you must get your U.S. residence in order. Can you let it be unattended for periods at a time? How about asking a relative to house-sit for you, or having a neighbor check on it periodically, watering your plants or cutting the grass? What services can you put on hold?
Your car needs attention, too, but that's easy. Just disconnect the battery. I know others disagree, but this works for us. Or you could arrange for someone to start it up and drive it short distances, just to keep the fluids running.
If you have family you want to be in touch with during this long period, it's much easier now due to Internet telephone services such as eBay's (Nasdaq: EBAY) Skype or Vonage (NYSE: VG), which allow you to call via a computer. You can even use a webcam to see the people you're speaking with. This is a very affordable option compared to traditional phone service, and most of the Internet cafes we used in Thailand offer it.
Affordable health care
English is the international language, so you will be able to fill your medical requirements without fear. Not only that, but the costs will be considerably less -- another place where you could be saving money.
Retirement through a
We, of course, subscribe to the latter school of thought.
Travel has broadened our minds, giving us a perspective of the world and confidence that pervades daily living. It's a passport dividend.
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About the Authors
Billy and Akaisha Kaderli are recognized retirement experts and internationally published authors on topics of finance and world travel. With the wealth of information they share on their popular website RetireEarlyLifestyle.com, they have been helping people achieve their own retirement dreams since 1991. They wrote the popular books, The Adventurerís Guide to Early Retirement and Your Retirement Dream IS Possible.
For more information about financial independence and travel, visit our book store
Billy and Akaisha continue to journal and photograph their world travels.