Lessons Learned From Over a Decade of Travel
A decade… it seems like such a long time, but I swear, it feels like only yesterday that I nervously left the United States for a three-month trip to Romania. Just nine short years after that trip that was supposed to only last three months, I returned to the US. Quite surprising to me at the time, I experienced culture shock in my own country and was counting the days until I could leave again and never come back. I actually went a little more than a decade ago. It was 2009 when I left the US for the first time, and I never returned even once in those nine years. I lived in Romania for five years and then decided to bounce around Europe and Asia for a few years staying in each country for the maximum amount of time allowed by my visa before deciding to give Latin America a go. Finally, I “settled” in Ecuador mainly because of CoVID.
Over the years, I’ve become fluent in Romanian and Spanish and have learned to bastardize several other languages. While I often don’t speak the language of the country where I’ve landed, I’ve seen many nomads do things very wrong and either waste money or put themselves in bad situations.
- “When in Rome, do as the Romans!” If you’re in a country where the locals go to a city and then look for accommodations, you do the same! From my experience, Airbnb and hotels are usually 2 to 5 times the local prices. Where I’m staying in Ecuador, she asked for $1,000 on AirBNB, but I talked her down to $500 for a couple of months. The average rent is between $300 and $500 here for a 1 bedroom apartment on the coast. Airbnb & other travel websites certainly have their place, but it shouldn’t be the journey’s end. Also, join local FaceBook groups. You’ll find groups for ex-pats and locals that often show apartments much closer to the local rates. Don’t just read the listings post what you’re looking for! I’ve found several great apartments and houses this way. Finally, never send a deposit until you’ve seen the apartment! I don’t care how nice the person seems to be.
- If you come from a country where you usually buy from big-box supermarket chains, stop! When I went to Romania, I lost almost 50 kg (110 lbs) just from following the local eating habits and eating organic food from the local markets. However, the rest of my habits remained practically the same. It is disgusting and unnerving what manufacturers put into our food just to make a dollar!
- Never underestimate the value of a good mule. Many countries (especially South America) have mules carrying items (clothes, electronics, etc.) from other countries for clients. For example, a laptop in Ecuador is 2x — 3x the price in the United States. The mule will usually charge $60 — $80. It’s a no-brainer! If you have the time, test the mule out with something of less value.
- Don’t intrinsically trust the police as we do in most larger countries. They are often severely underpaid and expect bribes for practically everything. If you have a complaint against someone, the person who comes up with the biggest bribe usually wins. In Mexico, these shakedowns are so bad that I would walk around with a police bodycam. Doing that and telling them, “Estás siendo grabado ahora (You are being recorded now),” has saved me from several corrupt cops. Don’t pull out your phone. They’ll just grab it before you can start a live stream.
- Always be on the lookout for new business opportunities both online and off. You never know when something already in existence in your home country or one of the countries you’ve lived in could be the next big thing in another country. For instance, I sell stuff from Mexico, the US, and Europe in Ecuador & Peru on Mercado Libre. But, of course, as with anything, don’t be too trusting.