One of my favorite parts of any trip is when the plane breaks through the clouds and you can see the new world you’re about to enter. The buildings are different, the landscape is different, and it’s the first time you realize you’re not in Kansas anymore. This experience is even better after a really long flight because the sleep depravation and drastic disruption of routine only adds to the surreal feeling of entering another world.
We were lucky to have that experience multiple times over the last few months during our incredible Early Retirement Preview. We visited Czech Republic, Cambodia, Malaysia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, and Israel and spent over a month in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
I’m back in Scotland now though and I have to say I’m struggling to get back to normal life. When everything you experience on a daily basis is new, interesting, and exciting, it’s hard to just get back into the routine again.
You’d think that after traveling to over 45 countries and living on three continents, my wife and I would have perfected this travel thing long ago but this is the first time I’ve felt like we finally have it figured out.
Here are some things that made this trip our best one yet:
This is the first time we decided to travel with carry-on luggage only and it was amazing! We saved a fortune on luggage fees, our bags didn’t get destroyed by baggage handlers, our valuables were never out of sight, and it was so easy to pick up and move since everything we had could be comfortably carried on our backs.
We flew on some budget airlines during the trip and we had no problem bringing either bag onboard as carry-ons but both were spacious enough to hold over a week’s worth of clothing.
Both bags are panel-loaders, so it was very easy to get things in and out of them, but mine has a laptop holder and a separate compartment at the bottom for shoes and dirty laundry (I don’t like when dirty clothes touch clean clothes but Jill is gross and doesn’t mind).
The things that made the biggest difference on this trip, second to our bags, were our packing cubes. These cheap, simple cases made our lives exponentially easier. Rather than deal with a bunch of loose articles of clothing, I instead just had to deal with three cubes – one containing t-shirts, one containing boxers and socks, and the third containing all of my cables and chargers.
I can’t believe they made such a big difference but trust me, they really did.
There were two apps that we used nearly every day on our trip that I’d highly recommend.
Maps.me is a free app that allows you to download detailed maps of countries, which you can then use offline without any wifi or cellular signal.
You can also drop pins on the maps so whenever we were going to visit somewhere new, we’d put pins for our hotel, metro stops, etc. the night before and then we’d be easily able to figure out where we had to go when we landed in the new country.
I love when bloggers go the extra mile and create useful tools for their readers so I was excited to use their expense-tracking app on our trip.
We didn’t have a budget for the trip but I wanted to track every penny anyway so that I could share the costs here so I used the app every day and it was flawless.
So what does over two months of non-stop traveling cost?
Here are our flight costs (per person):
|Glasgow||Prague||British Airways||4500 BA||$27.50|
|Bangkok||Siem Reap||Cambodia Angkor Air||$57.77|
|Siem Reap||Kuala Lumpur||Air Asia||$93.00|
|Kuala Lumpur||Chiang Mai||Air Asia||$83.44|
|Chiang Mai||Koh Tao||Nok Air||$90.88|
|Koh Tao||Bangkok||Air Asia||$66.07|
|Bangkok||Tel Aviv||Various||27,000 AA||$68.60|
|Tel Aviv||Glasgow||British Airways||12,500 BA||$125.46|
The Prague to Bangkok leg was part of an amazing $276 USA-to-Europe-to-Asia flight that I booked.
The best flight on that list, however, was the flight from Bangkok to Tel Aviv. Thanks to this article by my favorite travel-hacking blogger Travel Is Free (many people have said that Travel Is Free is like the Mad Fientist of the travel space so maybe that’s why he’s my favorite), Jill and I were able to fly from Bangkok to Tel Aviv on some of the nicest airlines in the world…in business class!
Now, I’ve never spent extra miles to fly in a premium cabin before (because I’d rather save my miles and take more trips in economy instead) but as Travel Is Free describes in his article, it’s only an extra 7.5k AA miles to fly in business class (30k vs. 22.5k) on what is actually a really long flight from Southeast Asia to the Middle East so it’s worth it.
Since we didn’t have any time pressures, we decided to really maximize the value of our business class experience so rather than flying directly to Israel, we built up an incredible one-week trip for the same price!
Here’s what that leg of our journey looked like:
- Bangkok to Columbo, Sri Lanka on Cathay Pacific (3.5 hours)
- Columbo to Doha, Qatar on Qatar Airways (5 hours)
- [21-hour layover in Doha]
- Doha to Dubai, UAE on Qatar Airways (1 hour)
- [23-hour layover in Dubai]
- Dubai to Amman, Jordan on Royal Jordanian (3.5 hours)
- Amman to Tel Aviv, Israel on Royal Jordanian (1 hour)
So not only did we get to explore Doha and Dubai, we got to experience over 14 hours of flying in some of the best business class cabins in the world and we got to enjoy tons of free food and drinks (including some 40-year-old port) on the planes and in the different airline lounges.
It was definitely worth the extra 7.5k miles and it was a bargain at only 30k AA miles. Actually, I got 3k miles back because I have the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select credit card (see this page for more info) so it was only 27k miles each!
Since we stayed in Chiang Mai for over a month, we had planned to get a long-term rental but when we got there, we decided to just hop around the different parts of town instead so we ended up staying in hotels and guest houses for the full two months. This definitely increased our costs quite a bit but as you’ll see, it was still pretty cheap.
I kept track of every room we stayed in so I can tell you the average quality of hotel was 3.22 stars and we spent an average of $32.99 per night.
We didn’t do any hostels and we always had a private room and bathroom to ourselves but the rooms ranged from basic guesthouses to 5-star hotel suites with multiple bathrooms (why that’s necessary, I have no idea but I’ll take a free upgrade anytime I can get one).
In addition to the costs above, we also spent 33,597 Club Carlson points and 5,625 SPG points but we earned 898 Amex points and over 57,605 IHG points (thanks to their “Set Your Sights” promotion). If I use those IHG points for their Point Breaks hotels, which cost only 5,000 points per night, that means we earned enough points for 11 free nights (I’m also half way to a free hotels.com night as well so that number is actually 11.5)!
The beauty of longterm travel is that hotel cost aren’t an additional expense like they are when you go on vacation, since you aren’t paying rent or a mortgage back home. We luckily sold our house in Vermont a week before we left for our trip so that meant we had absolutely no recurring expenses to worry about. It was an incredible feeling knowing that the only dollars being spent were the ones I pulled directly out of my wallet.
Since I also keep track of all my normal expenses, I was excited to discover that it was actually cheaper living out of hotels on our trip than it was to live in our modest home in Vermont! When you factor in all the expenses like utilities, property tax, and maintenance costs, it worked out to $40.77 per night in Vermont, or over 23% more!
Food was ridiculously cheap and delicious in Southeast Asia so that meant we ate out for all three meals every day (sometimes I would even fit in a fourth meal) and we’d also stop for fresh fruit shakes in between meals.
To give you and idea of how cheap things are, here are some Chiang Mai prices:
- Pad Thai – $1.06
- Watermelon Shake – $0.76
- Fresh Coconut – $0.91
- Thai Curry with Rice – $1.52
Here are our daily food costs (per person) in each of the places we visited:
|City||Avg. Food Costs|
The reason the Doha and Dubai numbers are low is because we didn’t eat much there, since we had been stuffing our faces with so much free food in the airport lounges and on the planes.
The rest of our trip costs were for transport ($327.49), alcohol ($155.88), entertainment ($433.33), including a cooking class and a visit to an elephant sanctuary, and other miscellaneous expenses like sunscreen and bug spray ($337.86).
We didn’t hold back or watch our spending at all on this trip so our ~$1,750 per person monthly average is high considering where we were but it was an amazing experience and I wouldn’t have changed any of it.
Based on our daily costs and having talked to people who have longterm rentals in Chiang Mai, I think it’d be easy to live a very comfortable life there for less than $500 per person, per month. That means you’d only need a FI savings of $150,000 to cover your expenses (using the 4% rule)! That’s pretty incredible, considering how great the quality of life is there.
Geographic Arbitrage and an Early Retirement Preview
Moving to a country with a weaker currency can drastically decrease the amount of time it takes to achieve financial independence!