As the great resignation shows no signs of slowing down, I know there are many people, myself included, who have wondered how much savings they need to put in their 2-week notice and catch a one-way flight to anywhere.
The answer to that question is so relative and nuanced that one could argue that answering it is pointless, but I think there is some valuable information and experience that I can share with like-minded individuals who are looking to pull the trigger.
In October I joined the hoards of professionals around the world who decided to quit their job and live off their savings abroad for a bit. I bought a one way ticket to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil with a rough plan to stay for six months.
I rarely do anything on a whim. It’s not how my brain works. Thus prior to the big decision, I was crunching numbers, reading blogs, and talking to friends who are in similar situations to find out how much such an endeavor would cost me. There is no manual for this stuff.
I didn’t exactly draft up an itemized budget, but I had an idea in my head of what I would need. And now that I have two full months in Brazil under my belt, I have a big enough sample size to analyze my expenditures. (Econ majors: Keep your opportunity cost comments to yourself.)
First things first, no two travelers are alike
Before you start looking at my expenses and comparing them to yourself, it’s important to remember that no two travelers have the same exact profile.
I have been living in Brazil, which I would consider a relatively cheap country. It’s certainly not the cheapest if you were to compare to countries like Indonesia, Argentina, or Mexico. But I can assuredly conjecture that I would have spent more going to places like Europe, Japan, or Australia.
Brazil is a big country, and I’ve been in Rio, which Brazilians will tell you is one of the more expensive cities. Reminder that living in a big, desirable beach city does not equal living in a farm town of the interior.
I have taken the ‘travel slow’ technique, spending longer chunks of time in less places, as opposed to bouncing around the country to experience as many places as I can. I personally prefer the slow method and it definitely lends itself more to learning the local language.
I would also profile myself as somewhere closer to the ‘thrifty’ end of the spectrum, but not too thrifty. I tend to cook at home more nights than not, but I also am not afraid to go out and taste the local cuisine. (That’s the point of traveling right?)
I rented a small room in an apartment right on the beach. Were there cheaper options further from the beach? Yes. Were there more expense options also on the beach? Tons.
I rented a bike to facilitate transportation, but also didn’t hesitate to take an Uber if needed. Between November and December I only did one trip outside Rio, where I camped in my tent for USD $5/night.
I even splurged on a volleyball club membership fee that ran me nearly $50 for a month. The investment was well worth having a consistent group of people to play my favorite sport with.
This is just to give you an idea of how you might compare. I would say I definitely could have spent less money, possibly at the cost of fun experiences, and I also could easily spend more money if it were not an object.
The numbers: What I’ve spent
Long story short, life in Rio de Janeiro has cost me roughly USD $1,400/month for the months of November and December 2021.
Here is the category by category breakdown of where my money has been going on average each month (costs converted to $USD).
You can view the complete spreadsheet here if interested.
Lodging – $372
Knowing that I was going to spend my first two months in Rio, I decided to rent a room from a Brazilian friend that I had met years ago in San Diego. The room was about $350 per month, which considering that it had an ocean view and access to a pool, was about the best of its kind I could find in Rio.
To be fair, it was a small, door-less room with a fold-out futon, which also housed the washing machine and dryer. It also didn’t have AC, which only got to be bothersome as summer started to hit in late December.
Overall, I’d say the value was pretty good, but I wouldn’t say it’s impossible to find something better.
The only other lodging I spent money on was camping for $5/night in the small town of Ubatuba during a skim contest.
Groceries – $273
I do enjoy cooking a meal at home, and it’s much easier to make a vegan meal than explain to a waiter that fish, butter, and eggs are not vegan. So, you could say I cooked a good amount.
It’s worth noting that I am borderline addicted to fruit smoothies. I splurged a bit on protein powder, which is rather pricy and, going out on a limb, might have accounted for about a third of my grocery costs.
I don’t mind investing a bit in what I put into my body!
Dining out – $184
When in Brazil you can’t not go out and try some of their delicious culinary staples such as açaí, moqueca de banana, or (vegan) feijoada.
I have become particularly fond of the Brazilian home-style buffets where you pay by weight. It’s quick, easy, cheap, and nutritious.
Transportation – $196
I rented a bike for about $50/month. I pretty much biked anywhere within a reasonable distance if the weather was good.
Other transportation costs included Ubers, shared bicycles, buses, metro, and trams to some of the iconic tourist spots in the city.
I got my flight with airline miles earned from credit card spending bonuses. If you consider yourself financially responsible, you should look into the world of credit card churning. It’s not for everyone, but there is a lot of free flights to be had!
Toiletries / Medicine – $22
Advil, shampoo, sunscreen, etc. Anything bought at a pharmacy.
Cell service – $10
The last time I lived abroad (2014) I got away with not having a smartphone, but oh have times changed since then. In 2022 you need a smartphone with a cell plan to take Ubers, unlock the share city bikes, scan bus tickets, etc.
Thus I got a Brazilian SIM card, which has much better service than what my T-mobile SIM card from the USA can provide. It’s also much more affordable than what the US cell service oligopoly offers.
Miscellaneous – $106
Something I’ve learned in life is to always account for hidden expenses. This category is random purchases as well as items on my bank statement that I couldn’t recall. (i.e. books, a surf webcam subscription, printing services, visa renewal etc.)
Miscellaneous cash – $93
Brazilians use an app through their banks called Pix to transfer money. Everyone uses it. Even the guy selling you coconuts on the beach will accept Pix. However, given that I am a foreigner and cannot open a Brazilian bank account, I have to pay people back with cash. I try to use as little cash as possible because the exchange rate that an ATM will give you is lower than the exchange rate that a bank will use to convert a credit card purchase.
Travel Insurance – $136
I dove into some deep rabbit holes on the internet trying to figure out what to do about insurance when I’m abroad. After hours of research I decided that World Nomads* fit my needs best out of all the options. They offer both travel and medical benefits geared towards people that are kind of aimlessly bouncing around the world like me. The medical only covers emergency visits, so I can’t just walk into a doctor’s office for a check up. Brazil does have social medicine, but it’s good to have the peace of mind that hospital bills won’t bankrupt me should anything happen.
From what I understand, as long as I don’t live in the US for more than three (some say six) months out of the year, then I am not required to have US health insurance and don’t have to pay the fine for being uninsured. Did I mention that the healthcare system in the US is complete trash?
Anyway, my plan also covers me for up to $3,000 in stolen items, which makes me feel better about traveling with the computer that I am currently writing on.
*No I am not sponsored by World Nomads, but if anyone that works there is reading this, hey, what’s up?
Get out there!
Going through this exercise has been helpful to me in my planning and budgeting, but by turning it into a blog post I hope that it helps clear doubts and inspire others to pull the trigger on their dream trip to experience the world as well!
Traveling can be expense if you want it to be, or it can be quite cheap if you know how to play your cards. Even for those who don’t have savings, you can always look for cheaper ways to go abroad, like teaching English, exchanging lodging for work, or getting involved in an NGO.
If you have any questions about my experience shoot them down here in the comments below.