How An Extended Career Break Can Cost Less Than Your Last Vacation

You’ve probably seen articles by single backpackers about how to travel the world for $500 a month.

Sure, it’s possible, if you stay in dorms or hostels in Thailand and live on street food. In fact, it can be a great experience, but it’s not right for everyone.

If you’re a family like us, or you just want to travel with a little more luxury, is it still possible to afford to travel for months at a time?

It is possible. In fact, you can take a career break and travel for a couple of months for less than the cost of a typical vacation. I’ll explain how we do it.

Charles and I are always asked how we can afford to travel for months at a time, especially with two little kids. As a family, we’ve traveled for months through Mexico, Costa Rica, the US, Asia and the Philippines. Trust me, we’re not lottery winners, or independently wealthy. We have to to work for it, just like everyone else.

We’ve learned some great tricks that might just help you take that dream long vacation. Stay with me, and I’ll explain how we do it.

Career Break Longasta Beach Costa Rica

Imagine Hanging Out Here For A Month or Two!

A traditional vacation is insanely expensive

Because most people take their vacations at peak times like Spring Break or Christmas, they pay top prices for everything: food, hotels, airfare, tours and attraction tickets. Peak prices are almost always two to four times more than off peak rates!

On top of that, because they’re understandably trying to compress all of their fun into a short time, they end up paying for conveniences like restaurant meals and expensive tours, when they could do the same thing for a fraction of the price if they had the time.

We’ve all been there (us included), trying to schedule a vacation during time off from work, and stuck with crazy high season prices. There’s a better way.

Avoid the crowds and cut costs

By traveling off peak or shoulder season, you’ll cut your prices significantly. We just splurged for a night at the four star Delta Sun Peaks Resort in British Columbia, Canada for $102 during their shoulder season. The resort’s regular season rate is $189.00. Not only are prices lower during non-peak season, but it’s much easier to negotiate travel deals and added perks.

Save money by renting for longer

The savings add up. Not only can you reduce your rate by going during non-peak times, but you can lower it even further by renting for a longer period. This sounds counter-intuitive, but stay with me.

When you travel for a month or more, you can get a monthly rate on a vacation home or condo. As a rule of thumb, we find that monthly rates are about equal to what the owners ask for two weeks. This strategy works best with individual owners (rather than property management companies). Most owners are delighted to have their place rented out for a month. It’s much less hassle than having to deal with renting their condo out to different people, often just for a few days at a time. Plus, they’re guaranteed a certain amount of money for the month.

During our last stay in the Playa del Carmen, Mexico, we rented a gorgeous two bedroom condo, everything included, with a nice pool and a four minute walk to the beach, for $1,200 per month. If we’d been prepared to stay longer in the Mayan Riviera, we were quoted rates as low as $900 per month (for staying up to four months) for something similar. If we’d been staying truly off season (in the summer) we probably could have reduced the rate by a couple of hundred dollars more per month. We stayed for a month at the clean and modern Mango Condos in Tamarindo Costa Rica, for $1,200 as well.

Once you stay at a place more than a month, you can start to negotiate local rates. Landlords start to think of you more as renters than tourists, and prices go way down. The longer you stay, the cheaper your rent becomes.

Career Break Travel Tip Find a few condos you like through Airbnb (my new favorite for the lowest prices), VRBO, HomeAway or TripAdvisor, and email the owners asking for their best monthly rate. When they email you back, ask for a further discount. Always be extremely polite, and say that your budget only allows for a certain amount. This goes a long way towards getting someone to help you.

You can slash your accommodation costs completely by using a home swap service like HomeExchange or HomeForExchange . Both of these sites will let you swap a stay in your home for a stay almost anywhere in the world. Because we’ve rented for the past few years, we’ve never done a home swap, but we’ll definitely give it a try when we own again.

House sitting or volunteering (some volunteer positions provide accommodation) may be a way to reduce your costs even more.

Shop like the locals

Because you can self-cater, you’ll pay much less than eating at restaurants for every meal. On top of this, in tropical destinations, fruits and veggies are a fraction of the price at local markets than at your supermarket at home.

Try to shop like the locals, and you’ll save a lot of money. In many countries, including Mexico and Costa Rica, locals buy most of their fresh food at outdoor markets for much less than at large chain supermarkets. We’ve found that we pay almost the same price all over the world for typical, packaged convenience foods in supermarkets however some countries sell staples like dairy or chicken for much less than at home.

When you’re somewhere for a month or more, you have time to scout the local restaurants, and ask the locals the best places to eat. Not only can this save you a fortune, but you can find some of the best local hangouts. Our two month stay gave us time to find some of the most affordable restaurants in Playa del Carmen. While you will be eating more because you’re staying longer, you’d be eating at home anyway, so there’s no real additional cost.

When you stay for a longer time, you have more time to explore the area, cutting down on costs for entertainment and tours. For example, a $85 whirlwind guided cenote and snorkeling tour in Mexico’s Yucatan can become a leisurely two or three day affair, costing a tenth of the price simply using existing transit.

Flexible travel times = cheaper flights

You can also save on airfare for a long vacation. During your typical one week holiday, travel dates are usually very constrained, because you want to get as many days at your destination as possible. With a longer stay, you have enough time to move your dates a few days in either direction. Having a little flexibility in your dates can save you a lot of money. In general, traveling mid-week (especially Tuesday through Thursday) is much cheaper than traveling on the weekend. On top of this, airfares are much cheaper during non-peak times, saving you more.

Career Break Travel Tip Our favorite airfare search tool is ITA Matrix. ITA Matrix, now owned by Google, will let you search a calendar of fares for up to one month, and give you results for airports near your destination and departure cities. Like any search engine, there are some smaller discount airlines (like Allegiant air) that aren’t included in their searches, so be sure to check discount airlines as well. You can’t book flights directly through ITA, so you’ll have to find the best price and book directly with the airline or another search site like Expedia.

You really can travel for a couple of months for what most people spend on their winter vacation, if you travel off peak, rent a home or condo for an extended stay, and eat and entertain like the locals.

Need some more inspiration? Check out 30Traveler’s list of apartment rentals you can score for $400 a week around the world.

What about getting time off work, taking the kids out of school, or being able to save enough money? 

These are great questions, and I’ll tackle them in detail in our next posts. Depending on your situation, dealing with these may be easier than you think.

If you’re a little further along in the planning process, check out what we do with our stuff when we travel.

Have you ever wanted to take an extended career break? If you had a few months off, where would you go?

 

27 Responses

  1. Fives OntheFly

    What an fantastic post! The term “shoulder season” was new to me, and I appreciate hearing your success with asking for discounts. I guess there is lots of room for negotiation if you politely ask and explain your situation. I’ll have to check out airbnb as another place to find places for rent. You’ve given us quite a lot of useful tips for the future :)
    Fives OntheFly recently posted..Our War on StuffMy Profile

    Reply
    • Micki Kosman

      We’re definitely starting to get bargaining down to a fine art. I think most people think you have to be aggressive to bargain, but I find that it works best with a really light hand, genuine friendliness and politeness.

      Reply
  2. Single Travel

    Excellent post! Even if you are not on a career break I can see this helping out a retired couple who want to get away from it all.

    Reply
    • Micki Kosman

      Great point. We’ve met a lot of folks who are retired and love to get away for a few months at a time. It’s amazing how much money you can save with a little creativity and flexible planning.

      Reply
  3. Leah Travels

    You offer such great advice. I’ve just gotten into renting apartments or houses, and I really like it. I used many of your tips in my month long trip to New Zealand last year. There are so many ways to save money, but it takes a little knowledge and a lot of research. Great job.
    Leah Travels recently posted..Texas Tuesday: Floore Country StoreMy Profile

    Reply
    • Micki Kosman

      Thanks Leah. Renting a house or apt. saves money for sure, but the best part is that we end up living among the locals instead of hanging out with other tourists in a hostel, or being more isolated in a hotel. We’ve met some great people, and saved some money along the way, too.

      Reply
  4. T.W. Anderson @ Marginal Boundaries

    These are all things I cover in The Expat Guidebook, and each one of my immersion guides through Marginal Boundaries has city-specific tips for the places I’ve lived. Take, for example, Mexico, which I know you guys have lived in. A: I speak the language. B: I work on immersion travel, which means I stay for longer durations. My current rent is about $300 USD, although it can go as high as $425 USD if the dollar is down against the peso. I have a fully furnished, 100% all utilities included, cable, Internet, etc. apartment. (I’m in Cancun).

    Groceries? Ridiculously cheap. I made a YouTube video and associated blog post showing how the average grocery bill for a single person is $5,000 cheaper here in Mexico than in the United States, and over $10,000 a year cheaper for couples. Same thing in Colombia and in Bulgaria. But it’s not just about shopping at the local markets. It’s also knowing little local tricks like which days are market days…and knowing how to speak the local lingo so you can negotiate with people directly. (I picked up 5 whole chickens the other day for about 1 USD per and stuck them in my freezer. Whole chickens for a dollar apiece. Try finding that in the U.S.)

    And it goes beyond that to known things like….which pharmacies have discount days, which markets have discounts days, which restaurants have discount days and beyond. One of my favorite places here in Cancun, for example, is 30% off every single Tuesday….but none of the tourists know about it because it’s not advertised. You have to speak the language and know the local tips (it’s all about living like the locals do in those destinations).

    Long-term immersion travel also gives you the ability to avoid the gringo tax (same thing applies in Bulgaria), where the governments have a foreigner tax on everything. Once you get your residency visa, you can negotiate for local rates on things like entry into the cenotes and ruins. Where tourists have to pay to get into Tulum, I can go on Sundays (free day for Mexicans) and as long as I get a well-tempered official I can flash my residency card, speak Spanish and get in for free. Same thing when I was in Bulgaria; once I had my residency card I was able to get the Bulgarian rate on ski passes and museum entry and the like…but before I had that card I was paying 60-80% more than Bulgarians for everything.

    I actually think Air BNB has some of the more expensive prices. I always go straight to the local classifieds, since almost all newspapers are online these days. Or I use my local contacts to find things for me in advance of going to a destination. But that’s just personal preference!

    Some good tips here. Sharing this on Facebook and the like :)
    T.W. Anderson @ Marginal Boundaries recently posted..Comment on Five Reasons to Live Abroad by T.W. AndersonMy Profile

    Reply
    • Micki Kosman

      Hi T.W.

      Excellent points, especially for those planning to live as expats or longer than a month or two. For someone who’s visiting a country for a month or so, it can be difficult (not impossible, just very difficult) to negotiate through local classifieds, as I’ve found people who advertise in the classifieds are generally looking for longer term tenants. It’s also a strategy that many visitors aren’t comfortable with, as it can be hard to tell if a landlord is legit (especially if you’re negotiating from out of the country). That said, you’re right about airbnb’s prices, they are a bit high, but the trick is negotiation. We’re often able to get prices down by at least half (depending, of course, on if there’s a lot of demand or not).

      I agree, being able to speak the local language is a great help in cutting costs. It lets you read the local classifieds, and chat with the local landlords directly without having to deal with an English speaking property manager (which increases costs exponentially, I think).

      Not all’s lost if you don’t speak the local language, though. Google Translate is a huge help in the first stage of sorting through classified ads, though I wouldn’t recommend relying on it during actual negotiations.

      If you don’t speak the language, I’d bring along a friend who speaks the language to any negotiations. If you don’t have a friend who speaks the language, try staying in a local hostel or B&B, become friends with someone who works there, and ask them to help with the search. A good tip is not to let the owners know that the rental is for a foreigner until prices are negotiated, as prices seem to go up immediately.

      Reply
    • Micki Kosman

      You’re so right, Lesley. Now that our oldest is in grade one, we have to arrange for his schooling when we’re gone. We’re still sorting out whether we should go the route of home schooling, distance learning or enrol him in a local school. It was a lot easier when he was younger, and we could just take off. At the same time, he’s easier to travel with now that he’s more independent.

      Reply
  5. Abby

    This couldn’t be more true! My career break was forced — I lost my job. It was terrible. Then I discovered I could live in Central America for a fraction of the price. It changed my life forever! I eventually went back to work — without mountains of debt, and without having to have moved back in with my parents in my mid-30s lol.
    Abby recently posted..Hitting the red carpet with Kelly RowlandMy Profile

    Reply
    • Micki Kosman

      Hi Abby! I hear from quite a few folks who’ve lost their jobs, and who decide to travel for a while. It takes a lot of guts to turn such a tough situation into a positive. But you’re right, it’s so eye opening to see how little you can really live on elsewhere in the world. The trick, I think, is to be immersed in the local culture and life. You can easily visit Central America and pay North American prices for everything from food to hotel rooms, but with a little research and time, you can cut your costs to a fraction of that. The key ingredient is time – the longer you have, the more you’ll be able to get the local prices and deals.

      Reply
  6. T.W. Anderson @ Marginal Boundaries

    @Abby:

    Absolutely. I paid off all my debt when I was 29 and I’ve been living debt-free since then. I’m 32 now…and by January of 2012 I had saved up enough money from freelancing to buy a 2-bedroom place here in Cancun, one of the best beach-resort destinations in the world. I still haven’t found the right place yet, so I’m still renting, but my monthly costs average around $650. Right now it’s more like $500 since the dollar is up against the peso, but that’s everything…food, utilities, rent, internet, entertainment, transportation, fun with my friends on the weekend, movies, dinners out etc. etc. etc.

    I couldn’t do that for less than $3,000 a month when I was back in Colorado…which is a middle-of-the-road state in terms of costs.

    Same thing when I was in Colombia and Bulgaria living in Bogota and Sofia….500-600 a month in total expenses. Last year the only reason I hit $12,000 of total costs was my tickets to/from Bogota out of Cancun, otherwise my annual expenses only run around 9-10k a year, max.

    It’s all about living like a local and going the immersion route. Plus, you don’t have to stay in bud-ridden hostels with loud, drunk party kids, no hot water, spotty Internet, no security, etc. Don’t get me wrong…I’ve done my share of backpacking and I think you can meet some interest cats in hostels, but when I’m working professionally and doing the immersion route I do *not* want to have to deal with hostels. Much prefer having a local base of operations and then I can backpack around the countryside locally with my friends for a fraction of the price and know all of my stuff is safe back at my pad.
    T.W. Anderson @ Marginal Boundaries recently posted..Comment on The Secret of My Success – Jets Like Taxis by A Bit of Shine and a Starting Point: Interview at Marginal Boundaries | Jets Like TaxisMy Profile

    Reply
    • Charles Kosman

      Years ago, when we travelled without the kids our costs were definitely lower than they are today. Of course, there’s 4 of us now so we need more of everything from sleeping arrangements to food and activity budgets. The nice part is that with extended stays the costs aren’t directly linear to having 4 of us. It’s cheaper (per person) to buy food in larger quantities and being able to prepare them ourselves is a huge bonus. Shopping locally you can buy what the locals buy and eat what the locals eat so you’re not missing out on everything local restaurants have to offer. We definitely eat at less restaurants than we used to so in a lot of ways our food costs haven’t dramatically increased from when it was just the two of us.

      Having stayed in many less than perfect hostels over the years T.W., besides for the easy camaraderie and meeting interesting people from all around the globe we don’t miss staying in them at all either. The one thing that amazes me the most about so many of the “perpetual travellers” out there isn’t their continual travels but their willingness to stay in hostels for extended amounts of time. It’s nice to hear you figured out a way to keep your expenses low and still maintain a decent quality of life. Good luck with your future purchase and keep enjoying the good life in the beautiful Yucatan Peninsula!

      Reply
    • Charles Kosman

      One of the things we’ve found while doing extended stays Lisa is to go away for a few days in the middle of your stay. I know it sounds ridiculous to leave a place that’s paid for but in the large scheme of things it evens out. If you’re staying at a place for a month and being charged the equivalent of 2 weeks (or even less), then you’re still saving money if you take off for a few days and explore some areas that are a little too far for a day trip.

      Spending a solid month or more in one place is hard for some travellers but usually the money saved helps offset that. With extended stays you can afford to immerse yourself in the culture and “live like the locals”. This doesn’t mean that you can’t sneak out here or there and indulge in a day or two of activities. The nice part is that you can go any time and head back when you’ve had enough.

      The added benefit is that you can travel lighter and quicker on these short bounces. With kids that’s a blessing in itself. Anyone travelling with children knows how hard it is to travel as light as they did when they were backpackers. The kids also get to look forward to an adventure within their adventure and are much more likely to be willing to do things outside their normal comfort range because they know it’s only a day or two until they’re back to home base.

      Reply
    • Micki Kosman

      Ayngelina, that’s so true. I’m going to look into housesitting for our next trip. Not sure how it’ll work with two little kids, but it might be a great way to keep costs down.

      Reply
  7. Bethaney - Flashpacker Family

    Oh I’m so with you on this one!

    We just spent two months in Asia and feel like we’ve saved money NOT being at home. I’m pretty sure our friends would spend the equivalent in their two-week vacation as we would have spent in two months. It’s all about being smart with your cash and prioritising travel as an expense.
    Bethaney – Flashpacker Family recently posted..PenangMy Profile

    Reply
    • Micki Kosman

      Asia’s a great example of how you can travel cheaply and at a very high standard for a long period of time. I agree with prioritizing travel as an experience – I often think along the lines of: well, I could buy a new car for $35,000, and sure, I’d enjoy it. Or, I can buy a used car for $7,000 (which runs well and looks good), and save the difference to travel.

      Reply
  8. Steve

    This is a great resource. As you mention, the expensive part of travelling in moving about – staying in one place for longer gives a real chance to explore and learn, whilst saving money. My life in Asia is so much better value than back in the UK.

    Reply
    • Micki Kosman

      Hi Steve,

      We absolutely love Asia as well, Steve, especially Thailand (food, beaches, and culture – what more could you want!).

      Reply
    • Micki Kosman

      Exactly. We love to spend some time and get to know places and people. One of the great, unintended, perks of having little ones is that they force us to slow down and get to know a place better.

      Reply
  9. SM

    Interesting post. Curious though about getting around. For example, in Playa, did you get a month-long car rental or rely on local transport?

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

CommentLuv badge