If you’ve ever thought about becoming a digital nomad then I hope our personal story can give you some insight as to how exactly our lifestyle of traveling and living abroad full-time became a reality.
In this guide, not only will I be sharing a behind-the-scenes look into our slow travel lifestyle, but I’ll also endeavor to give you practical information along the way so that, you too, can become a full-time slowmad. If you have any questions, feel free to send me a DM on Instagram or write me an email!
Our Story: Becoming Full-Time Slowmad Travelers
Slow traveling and living in Guatemala
First things first, what’s a ‘slowmad’ and what’s the difference between a digital nomad and a slowmad? Basically, a slowmad is a digital nomad who travels slowly. If you aren’t familiar with slow travel or the digital nomad lifestyle, then check out those pages and guides!
So, let’s get into it!
To understand our life of travel now, I first must state that Paul and I began traveling together years ago in order to stay together.
We chose to travel and live abroad, in countries other than our own (USA and France), because we wanted to physically be together. (We’re about to enter into our 10-year anniversary!) After years of maintaining a long-distance relationship, we decided to keep traveling abroad.
Before I get ahead here… What’s important to know is that we weren’t that couple that said screw it to our 9-5s and decided to go on a world trip. Instead, traveling abroad was already a part of our relationship, and that’s mainly thanks to higher education.
Traveling Abroad for Education
Living and studying in Groningen, Netherlands
When I was at university, where Paul and I met, I chose to do a year-long study abroad program. So for my junior year, I moved and lived for about 14 months in France. I completed a summer school in Chambéry and two semesters in Lyon, France.
After that, I returned home to the States for my final two semesters. During that time, I knew it wasn’t possible for Paul to move to the USA. We endured long-distance once again. So when it came time for me to graduate in May 2015, I began looking online in my desired career field (humanitarian aid) for jobs and graduate programs. I found a grad assistant position in Kathmandu, Nepal, and it just worked out that I would be moving there shortly after. Paul moved there with me, and we stayed there for about one year.
Keep in mind that, during this time, both Paul and I began dabbling in beginner online jobs to make money. We both began freelancing, translating, and learning how to build/grow affiliate blogs. We did whatever job online we could that matched our skills.
I terminated my grad program early, due to several reasons I won’t get into right now, and applied for another grad program in humanitarian aid that would take place in Europe. I chose my home university to be Groningen, Netherlands, but the program took me to live and study thereafter in Aix-en-Provence (France), Bogotá (Colombia), and finally in Brussels (Belgium) where I finished up my internship and wrote my master’s thesis.
Deciding to Live & Stay Abroad
The first year (2018) we moved to a beach town on the west coast of Mexico
It wasn’t until I was free of my educational responsibilities that Paul and I decided to move abroad once again. However, this time, we had free reign for where to move to.
Our thought process here was rather simple. We needed a country that could ‘satisfy’ our requirements, which were:
- Easy to move to visa-free (in other words, we could go just on a simple tourist visa)
- A place we could slow down and stay for 6 months
- Relatively easy for Yoda, our travel cat, to move to
- Somewhere warm
- Not in Europe, not in the USA
From that criteria, the results shot out Canada (but not warm), Mexico, and Panama.
So, it was in February of 2018 that we decided to move to Mexico as digital nomads for the first time. We touched down at the Puerto Vallarta airport on April 22nd, 2018 — on Earth Day.
Since then, we have lived in Mexico on and off for about three years in a…
- Small beach town in Nayarit called San Pancho
- Popular boho resort town in Quintana Roo you no doubt know as Tulum
- Magic Town in the Chiapas Highlands called San Cristóbal de las Casas
We left Mexico about every 6 months (the time we could spend on our tourist visas) and returned a couple of weeks or months later to restart another 6 months in-country.
In between that time, we also bought a van in Mexico and road-tripped across Canada, visited our families and spent the summers in France and the USA (Tennessee/North Carolina), and have temporarily lived in both Lake Atitlán and Antigua in Guatemala.
How We Slowmad Travel – Practically
Living (and following that dream) temporarily in Tulum, Mexico
While most people will swoon over our full-time travel lifestyle, there are a lot of pros and cons of the digital nomad life. (Check out the guide in case you’re interested in this lifestyle!)
That said, below you’ll find how we actually pull this off practically. How much does it cost? How do we organize our travels? What’s the hardest part about traveling and living abroad?
How Much It Costs to Travel Slowly
It can be hard for our families and friends to understand our life of travel because they immediately default to the thinking that,
- we must be rich
- our travel lifestyle is like their vacations
The truth is, however, is that when you travel full-time it’s not like you are on vacation full-time. We still work and have jobs that require at least 40 hours per week, if not more, because we are building our own businesses and must rely on our own independence to bring that income in.
Secondly, we aren’t well off — and you don’t need to be in order to make this lifestyle a reality.
So how much does it really cost?
Trekking to Annapurna Base Camp in Nepal
Paul and I typically spend about $1500-2000 USD per month total whenever we are living in countries such as Mexico or Guatemala. That’s for two people living comfortably in a popular beach town or in a modern tiny home on the slope of a volcano.
That breaks down to be about:
- $500 average for rent (the most we pay is around $750, the lowest we’ve paid is around $350)
- $500-750 on entertainment and food, including restaurants, cafes, activities, etc
- $0-100 on transportation (we always walk or bicycle once at our destination)
- $200-400 on groceries (about $50-100 per week, depending on where we live and our shopping habits — i.e. shopping at local produce markets or buying organic imports from supermarkets)
- $0-100 misc — SIM cards and data packages for our phones, random purchases, internet upgrades, etc.
Plus, whatever it costs to do the actual traveling part (as in, get from destination A to destination B).
I always say that living and traveling abroad is actually cheaper than living at home.
We don’t have a car payment, mortgage, trash collection fees, HBO subscription — or whatever other fees many families in the USA/Europe incur these days because they live a more consumerist lifestyle than we do on the road. In fact, those costs all go into our piggybank for when we need to purchase flights (or other modes of transport).
Planning Slowmad Travel
As for how we actually plan our travels, it’s pretty easy! We typically do it in this order.
- Think about what lifestyle we want (e.g. do we want to live somewhere tropical?), then we start planning to make that happen
- Research countries we want to go to (how long do we have visa-free in the French West Indies?)
- Start eyeballing flights or planning overland travel to get there
- Wait until our apartment contract is up, and that we are all set to move onward
OK, so a lot happens in between those five steps. But that’s the overall gist. We plan, prepare, pack, and just go.
Applying for visas, going to medical check-ups, taking Yoda to the vet for his travel certificate, and all of that stuff on the “to-do” list isn’t really hard. You just have to make a list and check it off.
When we plan for long-term travel or slow travel, we break down the steps we need to take. For example,
- Logistics — How are we literally getting from point A to point B? Uber, bus or taxi to the airport, then rental car or bus to the new apartment? Driving overland?
- Preparing — Do we have everything important we need packed and ready to go? Are all of our belongings in order? Are we leaving the place better than we found it? Are all our payments to the homeowner squared away and we’re all set to go?
- Expectations — Have we researched our new destination? Did we find an apartment beforehand or are we finding one when we arrive? What’s our work/life balance going to be like? What’s there to do in the area?
It truly helps to compartmentalize everything, so you’re sure not to have missed out on an important step in the planning and preparing process of travel.
Adapting to the Unfamiliar
One of my favorite things about this full-time slowmad travel lifestyle is actually getting to enter, again and again, into the unknown. That feeling of the unfamiliarity of, “Where am I?” and then getting to explore to find out is the BEST. I love it.
While living in Nepal we had the amazing opportunity to celebrate Holi — the festival of color
Of course, culture shock can happen — especially when you’re new to this lifestyle and have never jumped countries before. I’ll write another guide about dealing with culture shock soon!
In any case, whether you love or hate this sensation of being outside your comfort zone, adapting to your new destination is essential.
Things that I’ve found that have helped and/or bring value to my experience abroad are:
- Practicing the language with locals whenever possible
- Shopping locally and getting to know your neighborhood
- Observing daily life in the local plazas, parks, or markets
- Smiling and chatting with strangers
- Checking out/attending local events (i.e. live music events, meet-ups, etc)
- Leaning into the local culture and learning about its history
- Avoiding playing into the stereotype of my nationality or physique
- Learning about the problems and issues the inhabitants of X face, and how I can contribute or lessen my impact
Those things are what help me adapt to my new destination.
Staying curious and open-minded will really help you integrate into your temporary home, make new friendships, and leave a positive vibe or impression behind when you move on.
Final Thoughts About Slowmad Travel
Slow traveling as a digital nomad, rather than country-hopping every couple of weeks, makes all the difference in both your lived experience and of the locals living there.
I think it’s especially important that, as digital nomads, we make extra effort to integrate into the communities we visit and live in. We aren’t just tourists who come and go each week. We have the opportunity to plant seeds of change and make a positive impact. Even if it’s small, like nano or micro small.
I hope by sharing a little more insight into our personal journey that you can feel inspired to potentially one day live and travel abroad, even if it’s for a short period!
Don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions!! I love hearing from you and chatting with you guys in my Instagram DMs and email.
If you found this helpful, I would so appreciate it if you give it a share!