January 2021

Work from Home Gift Guide: 21 Amazing Gifts for Remote Workers

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A cool home office for a remote worker
Posted: 12/17/20 | December 17th, 2020

The pandemic has made working from home a permanent fixture of our lives. What once just techies and bloggers did, now accountants and all kinds of office workers do.

When the pandemic subsides, I think many will go back to the office. However, working from home is here to stay and I suspect a lot of people will continue to work from home. Not only is it cheaper for businesses but it means more flexibility, time with family, and less commuting. I think a lot of companies are realizing they don’t need huge corporate offices to have successful employees.

In the future, I suspect there will be some all-hands meetings and some rented space for those who want to go into an office, but for everyone else, the future of work looks increasingly remote.

While I love working from home, it does have its challenges. Being productive and finding that elusive work-life balance can be tricky. It’s a constant battle – but one that can easily be accomplished with a few helpful gadgets.

To help my fellow remote workers stay on task this holiday season, I’ve created this work-from-home gift guide for you or the remote worker in your life.
 

1. Ergonomic Office Chair

A comfortable office chairEveryone who works online or in an office knows that back pain and bad posture are constant threats — spending hours at a computer takes its toll on your back. I know, lumbar support isn’t sexy, but invest in a good ergonomic desk chair with lower back support, a padded seat, and padded armrests. You’ll thank me later!

Buy now on Amazon!
 

2. Standing Desk

A standing office deskLike your office chair, a solid desk will go a long way in making your work more enjoyable and physically comfortable. A standing desk gives you the option to sit or stand, allowing you to take some of the pressure off your back throughout the day. While they aren’t cheap, they are a worthwhile investment for anyone who plans on working from home and needs a dedicated, flexible workspace.

Buy now on Amazon!
 

3. Standing Mat

A black standing mat for standing desksIf you have a standing desk, make sure you get a padded mat to stand on as well. This will keep your feet from getting sore and help with your posture. A basic piece of carpet will help if you’re on a budget, though a proper padded mat will work wonders for your back and feet.

Buy now on Amazon!
 

4. Laptop Stand

A small laptop standRegardless of what kind of desk you’re working on, consider purchasing a laptop stand if you’re using a laptop every day for work. This will reduce neck pain and strain and help improve your posture, since you’ll be looking straight ahead instead of downward toward your laptop. They’re super affordable and make a huge difference in how your work impacts your body. I can’t recommend them enough!

Buy now on Amazon!
 

5. External Keyboard & Mouse

A wireless mouse and Apple keyboardWorking on a laptop keyboard and trackpad can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome. Not only that but it’s just not a comfortable setup for an optimized workflow. Instead, invest in a Bluetooth keyboard and wireless mouse. They will improve your workflow and keep your wrists and hands from getting repetitive strain injuries.

Buy now on Amazon!
 

6. Noise-Canceling Headphones

Bose QC35 headphonesFrom screaming kids to barking dogs to traffic outside, there are a lot of distractions at home that can derail your productivity. To help you stay on track (and stay sane), invest in a good pair of headphones. Wireless Bose QuietComfort 35 headphones are widely popular from my go-to brand. They are comfortable and rechargeable, and do an amazing job at removing background noise. (If you’re on a budget, consider the QuietComfort 25 instead.)

Buy now on Amazon!
 

7. Laptop Bed Tray

A laptop bed/couch trayShould you be working (or watching Netflix) in bed? Probably not. Will it happen anyway? Probably. Make life easy on yourself and purchase a basic laptop tray you can use when in bed or on the couch. While not 100% necessary, it’s one of those bonus items that just make life easier whenever you feel like using your laptop outside of your office.

Buy now on Amazon!
 

8. External Monitor

An ACER external monitorWhile we’re all used to the smaller screens of a laptop, sometimes having a larger screen can help — especially if you’re working on your computer day in and day out. An external monitor can hook up to your laptop and give you a larger screen to work with, helping both your vision and your posture in the process (it’s also much more enjoyable for watching Netflix). A 27″ monitor offers you twice as much space as your standard laptop without breaking the bank.

Buy now on Amazon!
 

9. MacBook Pro

A brand new MacBook Pro from AppleIf you need a new laptop to work from home, the new MacBook Pro is faster than ever. Apple’s new M1 chip has really kicked their laptops up a notch. While I like the MacBook Air better for travel (it’s lighter and does everything I need), the new Pro is also super light and powerful. It’s a reliable choice for anyone looking for a new laptop for the home office.

Buy now on Amazon!
 

10. External Hard Drive

A black external hard driveNothing is more devastating for those who work online than losing your data. While I also keep a digital backup of my files in the cloud, having a physical backup of your hard drive is a no-brainer. After all, you’re just one spilled cup of coffee away from losing everything! Buy an external hard drive and get into the habit of backing up your device every week. That way, if something happens to your laptop, you won’t have to start from scratch.

Buy now on Amazon!
 

11. 3-in-1 Charging Station

An Apple 3-in-1 charging stationThis charging station has room to charge a phone, AirPods, and a smartwatch all at the same time. If you’re a die-hard Apple fan and have all the accessories, this charging station is a must, lest you constantly struggle for space to charge your devices. If you don’t need a 3-in-1 charging station, this regular wireless phone charger will do the trick.

Buy now on Amazon!

12. LED Light with Charging Port

A LED lamp with a USB charging portSince you’ll need a light for your desk, you might as well get a light with a built-in USB charger. That way you can charge your phone, Kindle, external battery, or any other accessory easily without having to give up a coveted electrical outlet!

Buy now on Amazon!
 

13. Ring Light

A ring light on a tall tripodIf you’re going to be doing a lot of social media videos or Zoom calls, consider investing in a basic ring light. This will ensure that your videos and calls are properly lit, which goes a long way toward improving your video production quality (especially on social media). It’s one of those extra touches that people notice and that set you apart from the competition.

Buy now on Amazon!
 

14. Blue-Light Glasses

Three pairs of blue light glassesOver the past year, I’ve seen tons of ads for blue-light glasses. They claim to help prevent eyestrain when staring at a computer screen day in and day out. While the science is still out, our Community Manager Chris bought a pair earlier this year after dealing with eye strain, and they’ve helped him immensely. You can find pairs for as little as $25, making them worth checking out if your eyes are extra tired, dry, and/or strained.

Buy now on Amazon!
 

15. VPN (Virtual Private Network)

A cool home office for a remote workerWhile many of us use VPNs (virtual private networks) to protect our data while we’re abroad, most of us don’t use them at home — even though we should. Keep your data safe and your browsing habits private by using a VPN. You wouldn’t leave your house or car unlocked all day, so why would you leave your digital doors open? Stay safe by using a VPN.

Buy now from TunnelBear!
 

16. Meditation Mat & Cushion

A comfortable meditation mat and cushionMake sure you step away from the laptop regularly to rest your brain and your body by purchasing a meditation cushion and mat. Just 10 minutes of sitting a day will work wonders for your state of mind, help you stay refreshed, and lower your stress. Keep them beside your desk so you’re more inclined to use them regularly. Also, download a free meditation timer like Zenso, so you can time your meditation breaks.

Buy now on Amazon!
 

17. Yoga Mat

A pink yoga mat rolled upAnother helpful tool for stepping away from the laptop and getting your blood flowing is a yoga mat. There are tons of free yoga videos on YouTube for both short and long sessions, making this an easy and affordable way to add more movement into your day. Whether you want to build muscle, burn fat, reduce stress, or improve your flexibility, there’s a free yoga or workout tutorial for you!

Buy now on Amazon!
 

18. Art & Maps

A colorful travel scratch mapWhile I’m not much of an interior decorator, I do appreciate the effect art, photography, and (especially) maps have on an office space. Most photographers sell prints of their work, and you can find all kinds of cool custom maps and works of art on sites like Etsy. Spend some time browsing for pictures, art, and maps to brighten up your space. It will make all the difference.

Here are some suggested maps and prints to check out:

 

19. Notebook/Travel Planner

The Exploration Journal from Crabtree & Evelyn If you’re a regular traveler and want a notebook that isn’t just blank pages (like my boring Moleskine) but rather has space for itinerary planning, places to jot notes in the local language, a packing list, and much more (including a map you can fill in as you travel), get an Exploration Journal. They are designed specifically with travelers in mind, so you can take notes and write down stories and reflections during your travels.

Buy now from Crabtree & Evelyn!
 

20. Reusable Water Bottle

lifestraw water filterSince you can’t just drink endless amounts of coffee all day (or, in my case, tea), get a reusable water bottle to stay hydrated. Dehydration will make you groggy and tired, so treat yourself a LifeStraw. They have built-in filters to ensure your water is clean and safe.

Buy now from LifeStraw!
 

21. Dry-Erase Wall Calendar

A white wall calendar with dry erase markersFor anyone looking to stay organized, a dry-erase calendar is a must. They’re perfect for keeping track important meetings and appointments and give you a quick overview of your entire month at a glance. If you struggle with procrastination or time management, definitely add a calendar to your wish list.

Buy now on Amazon!

***

Working from home is only going to grow in the years to come. These items will help you create a comfortable and functional workspace, build better habits, stay healthy, and ensure you’re always doing your best work. Since it looks like it will be many more months before people go back to the office, now is the time to finally take the leap with some of these items if you haven’t already!

Book Your Trip: Logistical Tips and Tricks

Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner or Momondo. They are my two favorite search engines because they search websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is left unturned.

Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use Booking.com as they consistently return the cheapest rates for guesthouses and cheap hotels.

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. I’ve been using World Nomads for ten years. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:

Need to book your trip?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel. I list all the ones I use when I travel. The are the best in class and you can’t go wrong using them on your trip.

The post Work from Home Gift Guide: 21 Amazing Gifts for Remote Workers appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.





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Giving Back: Please Check Out These Social Impact Organizations

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Students from FLYTE on a trip abroad posing near street art
Posted: 12/21/2020 | December 21st, 2020

Travel is a privilege — even budget travel.

The ability to hold a passport and purchase a plane ticket to another country is a luxury not afforded to most people around the world — including many in my own country.

That’s the reason I created FLYTE over five years ago. Travel has changed my life completely, and I wanted students who didn’t grow up with the same privileges as me to have that same opportunity. So many inequities exist in our world today. The least we can do is try to give back to help balance the scale.

The goal of FLYTE is to empower youth from underserved communities through transformative travel experiences. Since 2015, we’ve worked with six schools and nearly a hundred students, who have collectively traveled roughly 300,000 miles around the world. They come from communities where international travel is not readily accessible, so these trips give them the opportunity to get on a plane for the first time, helping them understand the vastness of the world — and their power to change it for the better.

To make these experiences as impactful as possible, we work hard to ensure that these trips maximize the benefit to the communities our students visit.

While we give the teachers and students the power to craft their itinerary so that their trip reflects what they’re learning in the classroom, one of the few requirements we have is that there is also some type of service or learning component.

We’re very intentional about what this involves, as the ethics around volunteering and travel are complicated. All too often, volunteers benefit more than the communities they visit. We want to avoid that.

Besides volunteering, another powerful way to make sure your tourism donors sustain the areas you visit is to support social enterprises. These are local businesses that don’t rely on grants or donations but rather are financially sustained through sales of products or services, the profits from which directly go back to the community to fund various social initiatives.

Today, I wanted to highlight a few of the nonprofit organizations and social enterprises that our students and our team have visited around the world in hopes that you’ll be inspired to visit them on your next trip:

Casa Victoria – Quito, Ecuador
Our FLYTE students traveled to Quito in 2017. While searching for an organization for them to work with, Jackie and Christine (the teachers leading this trip) were deeply inspired by Alicia Durán-Ballén, who recognized that she could no longer wait around for her community to improve — she had to be the change herself.

Casa Victoria, which she founded, is a nonprofit program that provides academic help, social support, and hot meals to the youngest members of the community.

The FLYTE students brought Snap Circuits, a gadget used in the Robotics Club back at Excelsior Academy in Newburgh, New York, for the kids at Casa Victoria. They also volunteered their time and learned to cook traditional Ecuadorian food.

Para la Naturaleza – Puerto Rico
Para la Naturaleza works to protect the natural ecosystem in Puerto Rico, which our next group of FLYTE students from New Orleans will be visiting next summer (or when it’s safe to travel again) in order to work on coastal restoration and reforestation projects throughout the island. Coming from a city that understands the impact of the climate crisis, these students will be able to learn from this experience so they can create meaningful change in their own neighborhoods.

Konojel – San Marcos, Guatemala
Konojel’s goal is to reduce chronic malnutrition and endemic poverty in San Marcos. When our students from Victor, Montana, traveled there in 2018, they learned about the reality of life in a rural village. They had the opportunity to visit and volunteer at the community center where undernourished children receive healthy meals and educational enrichment. Together, they broke down cultural differences by reading books together and playing football and basketball.

As Lindsey, the teacher leading this trip, shared, “These multicultural connections we were forging made the news from home of separated immigrant families at the border seem both unbelievable but also conquerable if we simply continue to foster friendships and understanding, like those I was seeing form in a matter of days.”

WAS Foundation – Bali, Indonesia
Bali is known for its idyllic beaches, Insta-worthy rice paddies, and yoga retreats. But there is more to the island than that. The WAS Foundation allows tourists to dive deeper, by organizing beach cleanups and recycling workshops to preserve and sustain the natural environment. It also conducts workshops on traditional wellness practices for local youth and the wider community.

Crabtree & Evelyn, FLYTE’s major partner, also supports this organization as part of its philanthropic efforts.

Amigos de Santa Cruz – Santa Cruz, Guatemala
During our FLYTE trip to Guatemala, students visited this social enterprise that aims to improve the lives of the indigenous people of Santa Cruz and surrounding villages through support for education and sustainable economic empowerment. In addition, the organization has an artisan store where local women can earn a fair living wage through their sewing, weaving, and beading handicrafts. Our students learned about Mayan cuisine from Claudia, a Santa Cruz resident, who taught a cooking class.

Experience Real Cartagena – Cartagena, Colombia
One of the big highlights of our 2019 trip to Colombia was the students’ journey to Barrio San Francisco with Alex Rocha from Experience Real Cartagena. His tours are designed to make deeper connections with the marginalized communities of Colombia. The proceeds from these tours fund an after-school program. Our students had an opportunity to meet with some of these youths and participate in activities like drawing, dancing, and soccer.

This was also a chance for both our students and chaperones to talk to the local youth to learn about what their life is like, which helped them form connections between their two worlds. Aliza, a student, felt that this was the highlight of the trip because she “was able to see the kids and understand their environment and how they live every day.” Another student, Jany, reflected on “how they make the best out of what they have. They’re grateful and humble and always try to find something positive.”

Akha Ama Coffee – Chiang Mai, Thailand
Chiang Mai is a remote-worker hot spot, and as a result, there is no shortage of cafés in the area. However, Akha Ama Coffee serves fine cups of fair-trade coffee that’s sourced from the villages around Chiang Mai. Blogger Shannon O’Donnell visited there and wrote about the collective of coffee growers that “represent 14 families from the Maejantai village area who have joined together under one brand to increase their ability to control, market, and command fair prices for the coffee they grow. They formed the collective so each family could bring in more money and thus assure themselves fair wages with which to obtain an education for their children and modern conveniences.”

Sheroes Hangout – Agra, Indi
While visiting the Taj Mahal may be the highlight of a trip to Agra, a visit to Sheroes Hangout might be just as powerful of an experience. This is a center for women’s empowerment, where survivors of acid attacks and other social crimes operate a café, community center, and handicraft store. These inspiring women have lived through the most heinous of situations, and Sheroes Hangout provides them with a safe space to connect, share their stories, and create a sustainable livelihood.

***

With the privilege of travel comes the responsibility to be mindful of how we spend our time and money. Even though our world has many complex challenges and injustices, there are also many individuals and communities committed to changing it for the better. We’re so grateful to learn about these organizations and hope that both you and our FLYTE students have the chance to do so as well.

What nonprofits and social enterprises have you visited abroad? We’d love to grow this list, so please comment below with any experiences that have really impacted you on your travels!

P.S. – Want more students to have opportunities to visit ethical tourism opportunities and social enterprises abroad? Donate to FLYTE below! Our work has been funded by thousands of donations, and we couldn’t do this work without our generous community.

Book Your Trip: Logistical Tips and Tricks

Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner or Momondo. They are my two favorite search engines because they search websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is left unturned.

Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use Booking.com as they consistently return the cheapest rates for guesthouses and cheap hotels.

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. I’ve been using World Nomads for ten years. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:

Need to book your trip?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel. I list all the ones I use when I travel. The are the best in class and you can’t go wrong using them on your trip.

The post Giving Back: Please Check Out These Social Impact Organizations appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.





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Oaxaca: An Even Bigger Love Story

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The narrow, colorful streets of Oaxaca, Mexico
Posted: 1/26/21 | January 26th, 2021

Have you ever arrived at a destination and just knew it’s for you? Something in the air just told you that this place is everything you dreamed it to be and you were going to be in love with it forever.

I’ve felt this way only a few other times before, in Paris, Hong Kong, and Tokyo.

And I felt that way again when I got to Oaxaca.

The city’s energy and mine just synched. We were a pair. I could recognize the signs: a sense of unconditional joy emerged in my heart. My eyes constantly shifted to every shade of color, every movement, as if I had an insatiable hunger to take in everything. I was in love.

My two subsequent weeks there only deepened that feeling.

Oaxaca, a city in the central part of the Pacific coast of Mexico, is set in a valley surrounded by craggy mountains. (It is also the name of the state it lies in.) The area has been inhabited for thousands of years by indigenous Zapotec and Mixtec peoples. In 1440, the Aztecs arrived and annexed it, naming it “Huaxyacac,” meaning “among the huaje” (a type of local tree). Less than a hundred years later, the Spanish conquered the region.

The narrow, colorful streets of Oaxaca, Mexico

Fast-forward to today and Oaxaca has become a center for heritage tourism, owing to the many historical attractions (including Monte Albán, a UNESCO Heritage Site; and Mitla, a Zapotec archeological site) in the city and surrounding area. It is a city of colorful buildings, scenic rooftop restaurants and bars, street art, historic Spanish colonial churches, cobblestone streets, and many parks.

In the last decade, as mezcal has become incredibly popular, it’s also become the hub for all things mezcal, with tourists reaching record numbers (pre-COVID). And, along with Mérida and Mexico City, it’s considered one of the gastronomic centers of Mexico.

In short, the city had everything I like: history, booze, and food. Add to that, an attractive urban aesthetic that created an easy-on-the-eyes venue for consuming said food and drink, and you’ve got an ideal spot to spend a week or three.

A

It wasn’t that I loved Oaxaca because of the sites. There’s a pandemic raging and I wasn’t comfortable being around crowds. My friends who haven’t had COVID were even less comfortable. While mask-wearing was prevalent, the closer we got to Christmas, the more crowded the city became, and it just felt like there were too many people around.

So there were no tours, crowded markets, or sightseeing in general for me, but there was dining, drinking, and seeing my friends who lived there.

This city of 300,000 inhabitants just had the je ne sais quoi that filled my spirit and my stomach.

Oaxaca is famous for its mole (a traditional marinade/sauce), tlayudas (a pizza-like street food), chiles rellenos (stuffed peppers), memelas (grilled corn cakes with bean, meat, and cheese toppings), and tetelas (triangular corn snacks filled with beans and cheese).

And I ate them all. Given the climate, the restaurants all had outdoor dining, so it was easy to do so safely. I couldn’t walk a block without stopping and wondering, “Should I go there? Maybe a third dinner?”

A small but colorful local market in Oaxaca, Mexico

Wandering among the 10-peso (50-cent) taco stalls of the city, I also came across the famous hamberguesa: a burger topped with a hot dog, sliced cheese, Oaxaca cheese, ham, pineapple, lettuce, tomato, and jalapeño. It’s all the delicious unhealthy foods you could ever want for 35 pesos ($1.75 USD). And it was the best burger I ever had in my life! I tried a few different versions, but the verdict was always the same: one more, please!

Then there’s the famous Mercado 20 de Noviembre, a huge bazaar of little stalls and a famous Pasillo de Carnes Asades, or “Meat Alley,” a gauntlet of grill stalls where the scents of hundreds of dishes waft in the air, all beckoning you to their source. In Oaxaca, it’s best to graze, for there will be many tempting meals on offer.

And you should not limit yourself. (The number on the scale when I returned home showed me I followed my own advice.)

A local man in Oaxaca, Mexico with a bicycle near a colorful building

Then, there’s the mezcal, the region’s quintessential spirit. While it is produced in a few states, Oaxaca is the center of the mezcal world, and just a few hours away is the main producing area, near the town of Santiago Matatlán, where you can’t walk anywhere without coming across a mezcalería. They’re like pho stalls on the streets of Saigon, pubs in Prague, wine bars in Bordeaux, or Starbucks in any big American city: everywhere.

My friends Anna and Brooks from Rambling Spirits drove us around on a full-day tour, and I learned a lot about the drink. Like tequila, mezcal is made from agave, but unlike tequila, the heart of the plant is cooked in a pit in the ground before it’s crushed. Then water is added, and it’s allowed to ferment. Since it’s cooked, mezcal has a much smokier flavor than tequila.

But, beyond the food and drink, were the wonderful and cheery people I met. From José, the mezcal production owner, to Asís, a local friend of a friend, to the staff of the hotel I lived at, to the hamberguesa maker I kept returning to, everyone was hospitable, warm, and welcoming. “You should stay” and then “Well, come back, ok?” were phrases I heard often.

And, if I didn’t have to go home, I would have stayed the winter.

It was by far my favorite spot in Mexico and now holds a place my heart in a way I did not expect. I mean, I knew I would like it, but to love it so much? That was a surprise.

But, then again, it’s the destinations that we have the least expectations about that turn out to be our favorites.

So, now, along with a very small handful of places in the world, I can add Oaxaca to the list: cities I will love for the rest of my life.

P.S. – All photos by my friend ExplorAddict. Give her a follow on Instagram!

P.P.S. – I did a thing. I created a Google map of all the places I love to eat in the world (or the ones I can remember at this moment). It’s shareable and saveable and it has all my Oaxaca favorites listed. You can check it out here.

Book Your Trip to Mexico: Logistical Tips and Tricks

Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner or Momondo. They are my two favorite search engines because they search websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is left unturned.

Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld as they have the largest inventory. If you want to stay elsewhere, use Booking.com as they consistently return the cheapest rates for guesthouses and cheap hotels. My favorite place to stay in Oaxaca is:

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. I’ve been using World Nomads for ten years. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:

Looking for the best companies to save money with?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel! I list all the ones I use to save money when I travel — and I think will help you too!

Want More Information on Mexico?
Be sure to visit our robust destination guide on Mexico for even more planning tips!

The post Oaxaca: An Even Bigger Love Story appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.





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23 Ways to Cut Your Expenses and Have More Money for Travel

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A large piggy bank full of money for traveling
Last Updated: 1/7/2021 | January 7th, 2021

Get out a sheet of paper and write down all your set expenses: rent/mortgage, car payments, cable/streaming bill, cell phone, insurance, school payments, etc. Tally them up.

Then write down all your discretionary spending. This is what you spend on food, movie nights, drinks, shopping, that daily coffee from Starbucks, cigarettes, sports tickets, your daily midday snack, and other similar things. If you don’t know what you spend money on, go track your expenses for a two-week period, see what you spend, and come back.

Add that all up — what did you get? Probably a large sum of money.

And I bet there will be many expenses you didn’t realize were there. Financial experts call these “phantom expenses” — we never know they are there because the expenses are so small. People bleed money without realizing it. A dollar here and a dollar there adds up. Even a daily bottle of water or candy bar can make a substantial difference over the course of a year.

What does this have to do with travel?

One of the main reasons why you think you can’t travel the world is money. “I can’t afford it,” people say to me, “I have too many expenses.” Most of us certainly have expenses we can’t cut (though remember when you travel the world long-term, many of those expenses disappear), but if we cut our phantom expenses, reduce our set costs, and find other ways to save we can build our travel fund much more quickly.

In short, if you want to start traveling more or save up for a specific trip, you need to create a budget. This will let you see where you can make cuts and where every penny you earn is being spent.

Cutting your daily expenses, being more frugal, and downgrading to a simpler way of living will allow you to save money for your trip around the world without having to find extra sources of income. I know these tips work because I used them before my first round-the-world trip (and still use them to keep my living expenses low).

Of course, the lower your income, the longer it will take to save enough to travel. But longer doe not mean never. A little bit every day adds up to a lot over a long period of time.

Here are some simple and creative ways to cut your expenses, make money, and get on the road sooner:
 

1. Track your spending

As mentioned in the introduction, most people don’t have a budget so the first thing you need to do to save money is to know where you’re spending it. In an age where you tap an app and a car comes, it’s easy to not think about how much we spend. Create a spreadsheet or use a service like Mint and track all your expenses. You’ll probably be surprised at where your money goes once you start paying attention. I live in Austin and I found myself realizing I was spending close to $100 USD a month on escooter rides. The distances I take them aren’t that far and, since the weather is usually nice, I decided to start walking more. It’s healthier and cheaper. That’s a $1,200 a year savings (i.e. a few months in Southeast Asia!)

Start tracking your expenses – and keep doing so – so you can keep cutting out the low hanging fruit and find where you’re spending money. You can use a spreadsheet or website like Mint to do so.
 

2. Set up a separate bank account

Financial experts have long recommended this. Set up a separate bank account and have money automatically deposited into that account each pay cycle. No matter how much you put away there, putting that money in a separate bank account means it’s away from your spending and you won’t overspend. Think of this like a piggy bank. Don’t raid it. It’s your travel fund.
 

3. Cut the coffee

Love your Starbucks? Well, Starbucks loves your money. Coffee is a daily expense that quietly drains your bank account without you even noticing. That daily $5 USD coffee costs you $150 USD per month. At $1,800 USD per year, that’s two months in Southeast Asia.

What’s more important: your daily cup of Joe or spending more time on the beaches of Thailand or exploring the jungles of Borneo?

Sure, giving up your cup of coffee seems like a “duh” thing. And, yes, there is utility in the time saved from buying one. Under normal circumstances, this would be “small thinking” financial advice that isn’t worth the time or effort.

But, right now, you have a travel goal to reach and every penny counts.
 

4. Learn to cook

We all need to eat but restaurants are expensive. To keep your food bill low, cook more often. I learned to cook while in college (a skill that has helped me ever since) and before I left for my first trip, I cut down my eating out to two times per week. Every other meal I cooked myself. I would save the leftovers from dinner for lunch the next day, thus saving more money.

You don’t need to be a whiz in the kitchen, either. There are a million and one cooking sites, YouTube videos, and recipe blogs that will teach you how to cook fast and healthy meals. I never spend more than 20-30 minutes making a meal.

Here are some sites to check out to get the ball rolling:

 

5. Lose the car

Between insurance, repairs, loan payments, and filling your tank with gas, cars are crazy expensive to own. Get rid of your car if you can. Learn to love the bus, take the subway, bike, or walk. It may take longer to get to work using public transportation, but you can use that time to plan your trip, read, write, or do other productive tasks.

I understand that this tip may not be feasible for everyone, especially those in smaller towns that don’t have an extensive public transportation system, but an alternative is to sell your car and buy a cheaper used one, which you will only need until you leave for your trip. Buying a throwaway car will allow you to pocket the money from your more expensive car and put it toward your travels.

Additionally, with the proliferation of Uber, Lyft, and other ride-sharing services, it’s never been easier, even in small towns, to find transportation. Do the math on it but it may be cheaper to get Lyfts around town than to own a car. (Plus, if you need a car for long distances, you can easily rent one.)
 

6. Save on Gas

Gas adds up! Luckily, there’s plenty of ways to save on gas! First, use the app GasBuddy to find cheap gas near you. Second, sign up for all the major gas station loyalty programs. By default, they save you around 5 cents per gallon. Shell’s Fuel Rewards is the best because you attached it to a dining program leading to savings up to 50 cents a gallon. Moreover, use GasBuddy’s credit card, which can be tied to any of these loyalty programs and then used for an additional savings of 25 cents per gallon. Most supermarkets also have loyalty programs that offer gas savings. And, if you sign up for Costco, they have huge savings too.
 

7. Stream!

In the age of Hulu and free (and legal) streaming TV, there’s no reason for you to be spending $50 USD per month on cable television. Get rid of it and just watch everything online for free. You can also start sharing your streaming costs with friends or family. Standard Netflix is $12.99 USD per month. If you can cut that in half by splitting it with a friend, you’ll save a few bucks.
 

8. Downgrade your phone

The average American phone bill is over $100 USD per month. That’s crazy! While smartphones are handy devices, getting a cheap phone without any fancy apps will cut your monthly phone bill in half (if not more). You might get bored on the train not being able to read the news, but saving an extra $600-800 USD a year will allow you to spend a few more weeks in Europe, buy fancier meals, or learn to scuba dive in Fiji.

Consider buying a simple flip phone or even a refurbished phone. You’ll waste less time online and save money. Double win!
 

9. Get a new credit card

A travel credit card can give you free money, free rooms, and free flights. After accruing miles and rewards points with your card on everyday purchases, you can redeem them for free travel on your trip. Travel credit cards are a big weapon in a budget traveler’s arsenal. You’ll even earn huge sign-up bonuses when you get a new card.

When used properly, these cards generate free money so start early. As soon as you decide to travel the world, get a travel-related credit card and begin earning points on your daily purchases. A few credit cards worth checking out are:

  • Chase Sapphire Reserve – The best card on the market, offering 3x points on restaurants and travel, lounge access, and over $300 in travel credit.
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred – A more affordable version of the Reserve with 2x points on restaurants and travel as well as no foreign tranaction fees.
  • Capital One Venture – An easy-to-use card with a $100 credit for Global Entry over 10 airline partners you can tranfers points to.
  • Chase Freedom Unlimited – A simple cash-back card with 5% cash-back on travel.

For more credit card suggestions, check out this list of the best travel credit cards.

And, for more information on travel credit cards in general, here is my comprehensive guide on how to pick a good travel credit card.
 

10. Open an online savings account

While saving, you can have your money grow a little bit more by putting it in a high-yield online savings account. I’ve done this since the time when I was preparing to go away on my first trip and I netted a few extra hundred dollars. Interest rates are pretty low these days but you can still get 0.50-0.80%. Good online US banks include:

  • Salem Five Direct (0.80%)
  • Citibank (0.70%)
  • CIBC Bank (0.70%)
  • Discover Bank (0.60%)

Not from the US? Check out these websites for more local information:

 

11. Get a Charles Schwab account

Charles Schwab bank refunds all your ATM fees and has no account fees. With this card, you’ll never pay an ATM fee again. When you think about how often you take out money — both at home and abroad — this is a game changer. For more on saving money when you bank, read this article.

Note: This is only available to Americans.
 

12. Sign up for travel newsletters

No one likes to clutter up their inbox, but by signing up for mailing lists from airlines and travel companies, you’ll be able to get updates about all the last-minute sales or special deals happening. I would have missed out on a round-trip ticket to Japan for $700 USD (normally $1,500) if it wasn’t for the American Airlines mailing list.

Additionally, consider signing up for a website like Scott’s Cheap Flights. They hunt down deals and send them directly to your inbox — for free! They also offer a premium service that offers more (and better) deals but at the very least join their free newsletter. Chances are you’ll find some awesome deals!
 

13. Build a network on Couchsurfing

Building a network on Couchsurfing can help you make friends with locals and get free accommodation when you do travel.

However, if you’ve never used it before you might not get many responses. After all, someone who hasn’t been vouched for and has no reviews isn’t an appealing candidate. Before you go away, sign up for Couchsurfing, find a local meetup (there should always be at least one in your area), and attend. You’ll make friends, be added to people’s profiles and vouched for, and have a network you can utilize when it is time to actually go away.

Of course, if you have space in your apartment you can also host travelers before you depart (or just meet up with them for coffee). This is the best way to build your network, get familiar with the platform, and earn reviews that will help you down the road when you’re looking for a host.

If possible, verify your account as well. Having a verified account will boost the chances of a host accepting your request.
 

14. Replace your light bulbs

Electricity costs money and since every penny counts, using energy-efficient light bulbs will cut down on your utility bills. Fluorescent light bulbs are cheap and replacing just five bulbs can cut $75 USD per year off your electric bill. Plus, due to energy efficiency initiatives in certain states, many electric companies will give you a rebate if you buy fluorescent bulbs! Be sure to check out which rebates your local energy company offers no matter where you live in the world.

Going green can save you green!
 

15. Buy second-hand

Why pay full price when you can pay half? Use websites like Amazon (discounted books and electronics), wholesale websites, and clearance sales to buy at discount. Towns big and small usually have a thrift store where you can pick up clothing and odds and ends — most of which also have regular sales. Sure, you don’t want to buy everything used, but you can definitely buy most things used!
 

16. Cut coupons

The Entertainment Book, grocery coupons, Groupon, and loyalty cards all reduce the price you pay at the register. Clipping coupons might make you feel like an 80-year-old grandmother, but the goal here is to be frugal and save money, and coupons definitely help with that.

Many grocery stores also offer electronic coupons based on your shopping habits. Sign up at your local grocery store for their loyalty program and you can lower your weekly grocery bill with discounts either sent via email or added directly to your loyalty card. Here are some discount and coupon websites worth checking out are:

 

17. Sell your stuff

Before I started long-term travel, I looked around my apartment and saw just a lot of stuff I had no need for anymore: TVs, couches, tables, stereo equipment. Instead of keeping it in storage (which costs money), I decided to just get rid of everything. I sold it all and used the money to travel. After all, I’m not going to need my couch while eating pasta in Rome!

Sites like Craigslist, Amazon, and Gumtree are excellent places to sell your unneeded consumer goods.

If you’ve got a ton of stuff, consider having a yard sale. That’s the fastest way to clear out your house and make a few bucks in the process.
 

18. Skip the movies

I don’t know about you, but I find movies ridiculously expensive. It can cost up to $20 USD for a ticket, and that much again for the popcorn and soda. Cut out the movies or rent them online via Netflix or iTunes. Whatever you do, cutting out trips to the movies will save you a bundle.

If you do want to see the occasional movie, go on the cheap night (most theaters have one) and sign up for their loyalty program to earn free movies.
 

19. Stop drinking alcohol

Alcohol is expensive. Cutting down the amount you drink is going to have a big impact on your budget. While this might not apply to everyone, those of you who are carefree might go out with your friends on the weekend. Drink before you go out to the bar or simply don’t drink at all. Cutting down the amount of alcohol you consume is considered low-hanging fruit — an easy way to save money.
 

20. Quit smoking

Smoking kills not only you but also your wallet. A $10 USD pack per day amounts to $3,650 USD per year. Even half that amount would still yield enough money for close to two months in Central America. If you don’t want to stop smoking for your health, do it for your trip.
 

21. Stop snacking

A snack here and there not only adds calories to your waistline but also empties your wallet — another example of phantom expenses. We don’t think much of them because they cost so little, but they add up over time and eat into our savings. Eat fuller meals during lunch and dinner and avoid the snacks.

If you do want to snack, bring snacks from home and plan your snacking in advance. That way, you can buy cheaper (and healthier snacks) and avoid buying chips, chocolate bars, and other expensive junk.
 

22. Earn extra money on the side

The sharing economy has made it really easy to earn extra money on the side. You can rent your spare room out on Airbnb, drive with Lyft, cook dinner on EatWith, or lead personalized tours through Get Your Guide.

No matter what skill or unused asset you have, there is a moneymaking service for you. Use these websites to boost your trip savings and travel cheaper. Here is a full list of sharing economy websites you can use to earn some extra cash on the site.
 

23. Buy a reusable water bottle

Single-use water bottles are not only harmful to the environment, they are also harmful to your wallet. One or two water bottles a day at $1 USD per bottle will add up to at least $30 USD a month. That’s $360 USD a year! You can spend a week in France with that much money!

Instead of plastic, buy a reusable water bottle and fill it with tap water. You’ll want one for your trip anyway, so buy one now and get in the habit of using it. I like Lifestraw as it also has a water filter.

***

These tips will help save you thousands of dollars and will make your dream trip seem less like a dream and more like a reality. I know some of them are obvious but it’s the obvious things we rarely think about.

The most important thing you can do though is to track your expenses as everyone’s situation is different. For me, the biggest “Wow! I can’t believe I’m spending money on this” were Lyft and escooters. Hundreds of dollars a month were being wasted with me realizing it.

Track your spending so you can keep cutting what is discretionary spending. And keep this list in mind so you always remember what to cut so you can save for travel!
 

How to Travel the World on $50 a Day

Nomadic Matt's How to Travel the World on $50 a DayMy New York Times best-selling paperback guide to world travel will teach you how to master the art of travel so that you’ll get off the beaten path, save money, and have a deeper travel experience. It’s your A to Z planning guide that the BBC guide the “bible for budget travelers.”

Click here to learn more and start reading it today!
 
 

Book Your Trip: Logistical Tips and Tricks

Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner or Momondo. They are my two favorite search engines because they search websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is left unturned.

Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use Booking.com as they consistently return the cheapest rates for guesthouses and cheap hotels.

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. I’ve been using World Nomads for ten years. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:

Need to book your trip?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel. I list all the ones I use when I travel. The are the best in class and you can’t go wrong using them on your trip.

 

The post 23 Ways to Cut Your Expenses and Have More Money for Travel appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.





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Mexico: A Love Story

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A huge, bright historic building in Mexico
Posted: 1/12/21 | January 12th, 2021

Some things just aren’t meant to be. Sometimes, no matter how much you want something, the universe seems to conspire against you.

While I believe you make your own fate, I do think the universe has a way of saying, “Hey, the timing isn’t right. You should rethink your plans.”

So it was with my move to Mexico.

Last year, I wrote how I had planned to move there for the winter.

I needed a mental break, wanted to save money by renting out my apartment, and had a number of friends living there. My goal was to work, eat tacos, have a little social bubble, and spend a lot of time socially distanced at the beach.

But, thanks to a new management company that refused to allow me to sublease my apartment, those plans withered away. And while I’m not above having someone live there “under the radar,” most people in Texas need a car — and a parking pass for my building would definitely require my property management company’s approval.

Thus there would be no winter in Mexico for me.

But I discovered something during this process: Mexico is awesome.

Yes, I know I’m late to this party. So late that the hosts are cleaning the dishes and asking me where the heck I was all night.

Mexico is not some undiscovered land. Nowhere I went could be considered “off the beaten path.”

But while it was not my first time in the country — I’d briefly touched its shores as part of a cruise and once spent three days in a resort on a press trip way back in 2011 — it was my first time really seeing it.

Before this trip, I never gave Mexico much thought. It’s just a few hours away from Austin, so I had always figured I could go there anytime. Why visit Mexico when I could see French Polynesia instead?

People rarely explore their own backyard. To many, travel is about long flights and faraway destinations.

So it was for me for a long time. Though in recent years Mexico rose higher on my list of places to visit as more friends raved about it, it just never seemed to make it to the top. I’d make plans to go, only to be distracted by a shiny object (i.e., some other country).

Oh, how I regret that after seeing what I’d been missing!

Mexico is magical.

In the six weeks I was there, I spent close to three in Tulum (which was terrible), one in Playa del Carmen, five days in the Yucatán, and two weeks in Oaxaca.

The original plan was to spend a few weeks in Tulum then move to Playa del Carmen, where some friends lived. We’d form our little social bubble, and I’d get some work done and stay until March. But by week three, I knew that wasn’t going to happen. I hated Tulum and I didn’t really vibe with Playa. (Here’s a long post on why I hated Tulum in case you missed it.)

Playa was nice. There was a lovely beach, some good restaurants and bars, and lots of digital nomads. I can see myself going back, meeting people, and partying on the beach. But in the age of COVID, that’s not what I wanted to do, so Playa didn’t really feel like the place to be right now.

Between that and my apartment situation, I realized my stay in Mexico was coming to an earlier end than planned.

But what to do with my remaining time that was also COVID safe?

A relaxing park in Mexico

While in Tulum, a friend and I took a car to Yucatán — which was like crossing over into Shangri-La. Suddenly, the roads got better. Masks were being worn everywhere, there were restrictions on group sizes, and business hours were limited. Here was somewhere that took COVID seriously — and I loved it. The area felt safe, and its case count (only a few dozen a week in the entire state) reflected that.

It was also the first time since I landed that I really felt like I was in another country, not someplace designed for tourists who wanted a “safe” version of Mexico. I loved the Spanish architecture, the incredible and diverse cuisine, and, of course — as clichéd as it is — the people. So many people just wanted to stop and talk, and I felt a lot of hospitality there.

In Mérida, we found Mezcalería La Fundación, a mezcal bar recommended by a few bloggers, but it seemed closed. On a whim, I decided to walk around the block to this hot dog restaurant I had seen and ask if they knew if the bar would be open later.

“The bar closed permanently because of the pandemic,” she replied.

“Crap,” I said turning to my friend. “I guess we’ll go to the market now.”

The server turned to the other guy in the shop and, in Spanish too fast for me to understand, started talking, and then turned to me. “This guy will take you to a place nearby. It’s very good.”

So we followed a stranger back down the street toward the closed mezcal bar. At first, I thought there had been some miscommunication, but he knocked on another door instead, one so barely noticeable I had walked past it twice. A man came out, words were spoken, and we were told to go in.

“Whoa,” I exclaimed. “We’re in a mezcal speakeasy!” I was beaming, as I love speakeasies and fancy cocktail bars.

“Ohh, this is not the speakeasy,” the bartender said. “For that, follow me.”

He walked to the far end of the bar, then opened the bookcase into another secret bar. A bar within a bar!

“What’s this bar’s name?” I asked.

“We have no name,” the hostess said.

“How do people find this place?”

“You have to have our number. It gets shared by word of mouth.”

After a few drinks in the secret bar, we met the owner, Roberto. He used to work in advertising but got tired of it and started a mezcal brand. The bar we were in, Acervo, opened a year ago but was kept fairly secret. The speakeasy, which has no name, social media, or website but does have a beautiful outdoor garden, was started right before the pandemic.1

On hearing we were going to Oaxaca, he gave me the number of his friend. “He’ll teach you all about mezcal.”

Then into the night we went; music and dancing filled streets and plazas.

Even against the backdrop of the pandemic, Yucatán, and specifically its capital, Mérida, adhering to public health rules, showed that you could balance life and COVID and still keep case counts low. (Admittedly, this is aided by their ability to be able to do outdoors and spaced apart.)

But, while I loved Mérida, it was Oaxaca that really made me swoon.

A quiet historic street in Mexico

Have you ever showed up somewhere and before you know it, something in the air just tells you that this place is right for you? That it’s everything you ever wanted and you’re going to be in love with it forever?

That was Oaxaca for me. The food, the mezcal, the architecture, and (of course) the people were amazing. The city is a mix of modern buildings painted in bright colors, historic Spanish colonial churches, cobblestone streets, and lots of parks.

In the last decade, as mezcal has become incredibly popular, Oaxaca has also become the hub for all things mezcal, with tourists reaching record numbers before COVID. And, along with Mérida and Mexico City, it’s considered one of the gastronomic centers of Mexico.

My expat friends and I ate and drank our way through the city. We discovered the hamburguesa, an Oaxacan street burger that contains beef, ham, hot dogs, two kinds of cheese, pineapple, tomatoes, and lettuce, all in a grilled bun (it’s as delicious as it was unhealthy); ate lots of moles, tacos, and Oaxacan cheese; and went to the mountains to see some ruins and learn how Mezcal was produced. And, of course, we met Roberto’s buddy, who did indeed give us an educational mezcal tasting on his bar’s rooftop (and who helped my friend find her apartment when she decided to stay in Oaxaca for the winter).

***

I was surprised by how much I loved Mexico. Sure, it has problems: many cities are no-go zones because of cartels, corruption is rife, there’s a lot of violence and poverty, and it gave its people no assistance to weather the pandemic. “You’re on your own,” said the government.

And there’s a lot I still need to learn about the country. I only saw a tiny sliver of it through mezcal-tinted glasses. There’s a lot more to see and a lot more of the culture, people, and life I needed to learn. I barely scratched the surface.

But that’s all the more reason to return.

I can’t believe I missed this place for so long.

What I fool I was!

I won’t make the same mistake twice.

 
1- If you want to go to the speakeasy, you need to make a reservation. Text +52 999 658 1678 for that evening’s password. On Thursdays, they have jazz.

2 – Let’s talk COVID. Mexico is open for tourism. It doesn’t require any testing or quarantining. (I got a PCR test before I went because it’s just the right thing to do.) And that’s why so many people go there to party. I mean, Tulum was insane, and I was glad to get out of there. Masks and restrictions were enforced in Yucatán and Oaxaca, but not so much in Quintana Roo (where Tulum, Playa del Carmen, and Cancún are).

But, frankly, I wouldn’t advise going to Mexico right now. Cases have risen a lot since I first went and even once-safe places like Oaxaca aren’t so safe anymore. I know that sounds hypocritical of me since I was just there — but things were different in November and, if I had to make the same decision now, I wouldn’t do it. Mexico can wait.

Book Your Trip to Mexico: Logistical Tips and Tricks

Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner or Momondo. They are my two favorite search engines because they search websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is left unturned.

Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld as they have the largest inventory. If you want to stay elsewhere, use Booking.com as they consistently return the cheapest rates for guesthouses and cheap hotels.

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. I’ve been using World Nomads for ten years. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:

Looking for the best companies to save money with?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel! I list all the ones I use to save money when I travel — and I think will help you too!

Want More Information on Mexico?
Be sure to visit our robust destination guide on Mexico for even more planning tips!

The post Mexico: A Love Story appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.





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