There is no feeling like leaving familiar territory for the cities and countries you’ve only visited in your dreams. But regardless of whether you’re walking the streets of Tokyo, lounging on a beach in Ghana, or hiking the trails of Patagonia, you’ll need to make sure your bank account remains as healthy as your Instagram feed. I’m here to help. After months of living abroad, here are three things I do to save money that you should seriously try:
1. Eat ALL the food… that you make yourself
One of the best things about being in a new city is trying all of the foods, especially the ones you can only get in that region. Real sushi in Japan, mouthwatering paella in Spain, tasty tacos in Mexico. Unfortunately, even in cities with a great cost of living (Vietnam, you forever have my heart), eating out for every meal can quickly rack up a bill. Instead of letting the pro’s cook you up something special, how about you become a pro yourself?
Next time you’re walking by a cafe and see a dish that calls to you, take a picture of the menu and Google how it’s made. A trip to the grocery store in your neighborhood will give you a true sense of what it’s like to be a local.
There’s a magic to rubbing shoulders with strangers as you reach for ingredients you’ve never used before.
Using Google translate for words you don’t understand, squinting at their questionable interpretation, and hoping you’ve bought baking powder, not baking soda. And when you studiously follow a recipe, pouring and chopping and tasting and stirring, you form a connection to the food. You share a bond with the grandmothers that have made it for generations. You develop a deep gratitude for the city that brought it to you. And when you bite and enjoy something you’ve prepared with your own hands, you have the satisfaction of knowing you’ve done the work to know this culture in a way that will remain baked in your bones long after you fly away.
2. Dress to the nines (like the 99 cents)
Why do clothes just seem cuter when they’re in the windows of foreign boutiques, adorned with labels of designers whose names you can’t pronounce? I know, It’s incredibly tempting to buy a new wardrobe of kimonos in Kyoto or an entire leather matching set in the medinas of Marrakesh. Resist. If you’re at the point where you truly need to refresh your wardrobe after living abroad, thrift stores are where you’re needed.
The thrill of discovering a vintage find that fits you perfectly is amplified when you’re pulling the piece off a hanger in a foreign country. The best part? You end up with threads that are truly of the place you’re living in. It’s been hit by the winds and sun and rains and maybe even surf of your city. It survived all that, and all its owners before, so it could get to this moment. Wrapping around you, hugging your curves, draping over your shoulders, keeping you warm, keeping you cool. And it doesn’t want anything from you, or at least, far less than what those boutique shops demand.
Help these clothes fulfill their destiny of belonging to your body, all while saving your coins.
3. Have fun for free
You never realize how much fun you can have for free until you’re broke. Let’s not let that account balance dip into the negative before you explore options that won’t break the bank. The activities at your disposal will differ depending on the city you’re in. However, there are some mainstays that tend to be consistent no matter where you are.
Whether it’s sweating and trekking to experience an amazing view with your own eyes, swimming and lounging as the sun sets over the horizon, or breathing deeply and meditating surrounded by green space and water fountains, nature is the perfect backdrop for a beautiful day.
It’s totally free to turn to the person next to you and strike up a conversation. You don’t have to pay a single dime for the wisdom they share from their lived experiences.
No invoice is due for the laughter and delight you share with each other.
No Venmo request will turn up for the lifelong friendship you could kindle in that moment. The only bill will require being present, being open, and being kind, and the tally will round up to zero dollars and zero cents.
What a blessing we have been given! We can repay the communities that have welcomed us wholly, we foreign travelers looking for adventure. We can return their warmth and grace by volunteering something equally precious: our time. In every community there are people like us that need help. Sometimes there are refugee children, other times women escaping violence in their home. WIth the privilege of traveling comes the reminder that we are sampling a life that others may not be able to escape from. Volunteering your service for meaningful work in your temporary home provides you with a level of satisfaction deeper than any excursion you can buy. You will leave the country knowing its a little more healed then when you arrived.
What are some ways you save money when living and traveling abroad?