Travel + nomadic living tips

← Back to Kevin's homepagePublished: 2019 Mar 21


After 12 years in Portland, Oregon USA, my girlfriend and I decided to evaluate other cities where we might want to live. In 2017 September, we each packed a duffel bag, put our stuff into storage, and skipped town.

We’re not vacation traveling — eating at fancy restaurants, sightseeing castles, skydiving, etc. — but rather just moving to a new city every few weeks/months.

This page covers the tools and tips I’ve found helpful.

The travel log at the bottom of this page details our rough costs, which might help you financially compare this nomadic lifestyle to, e.g., getting a mortgage, dog, BMW, child, etc.


We’re traveling to evaluate different cities where we might want to live. From that perspective, important factors include:

These factors take time to investigate, so we tend to spend a few weeks or months in each city.

In this case, accommodation cost dominates travel cost. So while it’s easy to comparison shop for flights, there’s a much higher return when that effort is instead put towards accommodation.

Short-term accommodation (a few nights or a week) tends to be more expensive than longer-term accommodation, but tends to be worth it in terms of optionality when first arriving somewhere: It lets you get oriented, find out which neighborhoods actually feel good “on the ground”, and secure a lower rate on longer term digs.

Here’s our process:

  1. Choose a promising city.
  2. Initially stay a few nights in a hostel/hotel to get oriented.
  3. After initial scouting, pick a neighborhood in which to stay longer.

Choosing cities


Buying travel

Money stuff

Credit cards are wonderful for travelers because they offer lots of travel-related perks, consumer protections, and insurance. (Just don’t hold a balance, okay?)

I have a Chase Sapphire Reserve, which effectively costs $150/year. Benefits I have personally used:

For ATMs/cash, I have a Schwab High Yield Investor Checking account, which has no foreign transaction or ATM fees.

I carry extra cards in a separate place for theft/loss/emergencies, but don’t use ‘em.

For sending/recieving/exchanging currencies in larger amounts, I have a TransferWise “Borderless” account, which makes it easy to convert and hold currencies and provides local accounts credentials, which have been handy for paying rent in Scotland and Australia. (Shout out to Australia’s banking system, where normal people send money via instantaneous electronic transfer instead of writing checks and waiting 3–5 days like animals.)

Never change currency at physical booths; ATMs will always provide a better deal. (Not sure what to tell you if you’re going somewhere without ATMs — maybe bring cartons of cigarettes and bottles of liquor to secure assistance from locals?)

Tax stuff

Special section for Americans: If you spend more than 330 days abroad you may be eligible for the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion, which could save you $10k+ on your federal taxes.

It’s also likely you won’t need to pay state taxes, since you won’t be residing in a state.

(Note: I’m not your tax expert and this is not tax advice.)

Stuff stuff

There are many obsessive people on the Internet who like to discuss fancy, lightweight, multipurpose travel stuff. That’s cool, everyone has hobbies.

However, I didn’t buy much — partly because I don’t like buying things, but mostly because I’m traveling to places that have, uh, clean water, electricity, and the aforementioned ATMs.

So I just took the clothes that I already wore and the things that I already used daily.

If you absolutely want buy things via affiliate-links, here are some nice things:

Phone / data

Before leaving the US, I switched all my two-factor authentications to Authy so I’d be able to log into websites without SMS.

I ported my US numbers to Twilio such that voicemails are emailed to me and incoming SMS messages are logged to a server. This is latter bit is necessary for some shameful two-factor logins which are SMS-only and don’t support Authy.

I use prepaid SIM cards, which I just buy from the first official-looking telecom store I see. (Once an airport vending machine sold me a broken SIM for £20, so now I prefer to work with humans who can make sure data works before I leave the store.)

I just pay for the $20 cheapo plan, which tends to include local calls and enough data for occasional tethering. My phone is a Nexus 5 model D-820 leftover from a 2014 client project. (I’m not really into smartphones, but Google Maps is nice.)


Travel log

The following table shows our housing expenses for the first year of our travels.

Excluding free nights spent with friends, our mean cost was $71.58/night — about $2200/month.

NightsNightly costNeighborhoodCityCountry
6$0.00SydneyAustraliaStaying with friends
28$96.64Victoria ParkMelbourneAustraliaAirBNB two-bedroom above carpenter's shop
12$107.08Victoria MarketMelbourneAustraliaAirBNB Ikea special
120$66.78Victoria ParkMelbourneAustraliaSame two-bedroom above carpenter's shop
2$73.72ChristchurchNew ZealandVisa run; Jailhouse hostel
1$94.01LorneAustraliaGreat Ocean Road trip, Lorne Hotel
1$83.93Apollo BayAustraliaGreat Ocean Road trip, Apollo Bay YHA
1$91.57LorneAustraliaGreat Ocean Road trip, Pub at the Pier
1$120.95WellingtonNew ZealandAirport hotel
31$59.43Lower CubaWellingtonNew ZealandAirBNB, private room in two-bedroom apartment
2$65.61DowntownQueenstownNew ZealandJucy Snooze, 2 of 8 pods in shared room
1$101.14QueenstownNew ZealandReavers snow lodge
25$58.91Various campsitesSouth IslandNew ZealandJucy campervan rental + campsite fees + petrol
2$50.44DowntownWellingtonNew ZealandCapital Nomads hostel (private room)
10$0.00Portland + SeattleUnited StatesStaying with friends
3$70.83Northern QuarterManchesterEnglandHatters hostel (private room)
4$102.52University of ManchesterManchesterEnglandAirBNB Ikea special
1$46.78Northern QuarterManchesterEnglandHatters hostel (private room)
1$35.20Leith WalkEdinburghScotlandDestiny student accomodation
57$54.00Old TownEdinburghScotlandGarden level one-bedroom via Factotum Letting
1$77.69AviemoreScotlandAviemore Youth Hostel
1$59.00IvernessScotlandCity Heart Campus accomodation
1$177.80LochcarronScotlandLochcarron Hotel (price included dinner)
1$20.00Glen BrittleIsle of SkyeScotlandCampground (slept in Mercedes CLA)
1$114.63Fort WilliamScotlandHotel
1$115.61SouthsideEdinburghScotlandStudent Castle
4$151.31ShoreditchLondonEnglandPoint A Hotel London Shoreditch (paid w/ credit card points)
25$87.55AmsterdamNetherlandsThe Student Hotel West (studio room)
7$90.57KamppiHelsinkiFinlandForenom aparthotel (studio room)
4$68.12R. Morais Soares 61LisbonPortugalAirBNB two-bedroom with another couple
4$53.32EriceiraPortugalSurf Holiday two-bedroom with another couple
12$96.53AnjosLisbonPortugalAirBNB two-bedroom with a friend (price doesn't include their third)
29$62.93KleparzKrakowPolandAirBNB two-bedroom
1$52.13GatwickLondonEnglandAirport hotel