In the past seven years of my life, no winter has lasted for more than a month. No, I am not Superwoman in tight clothes, magically changing the climate. I just did some serious travelling and sun-chasing. Sounds pretty awesome, right? It does come at a price, but not as high as you may think.
Back when I was working for the Man in London, the bad weather was something I had a hard time coping with. You know, those short winter days when it’s dark as you wake up, and it gets dark again before you get off work?
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It affected both my personal life and my work, and out of that misery was born a simple idea: relocate to a warm country.
Many warm countries, fortunately, have a low standard of living. I spent my first year living in Morocco, and it was awesome. A $100 ticket and a two-hour flight from my hometown of Paris, and I was in Casablanca.
Back then, I was working as a freelance writer, and my main clients were travel sites. Exotic Morocco provided rich pickings for good stories, and I was living the dream of getting paid for travelling.
I lived in Casablanca for around $1,000 a month – my one-bedroom apartment cost $500. Add to that $100 for internet and utilities, $200 for groceries, and some extra cash for eating out, which was very reasonable at local restaurants.
Imported products – such as alcohol, cheese, and pork meat – came at a premium, but I enjoyed the occasional treat. Add another $200 for gas and travel. During that year, I used to fly back to France or Spain once every two months or so, bringing back with me the things that were expensive to buy in Morocco.
I love Morocco, but being a woman on my own, with very little Arabic, I can’t say I had a great social life. I wanted to go to a country where I could speak the local language.
Guatemala came up top on my list, as I had previously lived there for three years. At the time, I had lamented the fact that it was so far from Europe and my friends. The tectonic plates stayed put, but some key developments brought the continents closer.
First, technology. You could now use Skype or WhatsApp to call home like you lived next door. Back in 2003, the internet in Guatemala was really bad.
Second, low-cost airlines also made travelling affordable, with $150 flights from Europe to Cancun, or a $200 round trip from Guatemala to Miami.
As nice it may sound to live in a sun-soaked jungle paradise, once in a while, I knew I'd long for a bit of the social life I'd grown up with.
Finally, the fact that I was making way more money did push me faster toward Guatemala. I had enough savings to buy a little house, cash down; and flying back home three times a year, even on the expensive, $1,200 tickets, wasn't a problem anymore. In the last year alone, I travelled to Europe three times, once to Miami, and once to Arizona and Utah for a two-week hiking trip.
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And the best thing is, this lifestyle isn't breaking the bank.
I turned my house in Guatemala into a guesthouse. So it makes money for me, and I pay a handyman and a housekeeper to take care of it. Both of them are guesthouse expenses, but they also take care of the new house I just built for myself.
My new house, a huge two-bedroom, two-and-a-half bath, on a $40,000 lakefront plot, cost me around $50,000. My total monthly expense is $300:
- $20 for electricity.
- $70 for Internet, which is expensive in the jungle.
- $10 for cooking gas.
- $150 for groceries, including wine and other nice imported treats.
- $50 for gas, as I barely use my car.
My only big expense is voluntary, as I give over $700 a month to an education project I started in my village, so that the kids here would have access to English and Computer classes, as well as a library.
The bulk of my spending is on international travel. But again, I get creative. I found out that a round-trip ticket is $600 if booked in Paris, and over $1,000 if bought in Guatemala.
True, there are the irritants: once I woke up with some creature crawling on my back, it turned out to be a scorpion. And I have killed one snake so far in my kitchen.
Each time, I tell myself that this is the place where honeymooning couples from the First World come seeking a short-term paradise, departing reluctantly. And I am a permanent resident here – with an income!
Relocating isn’t for everyone. It works for me because the pros outweigh the cons. But if you dream about life under the sun, it can definitely be done on a budget.
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