Lessons Learned From Traveling The World For The Last 13 Months

Notre Dame Cathedral Paris

This post began life as a Twitter thread here, so forgive any oddities in formatting and flow!

I’m a Digital Nomad. For the last 13 months, my family and I have been traveling around the world. We spend 1-3 months in each city we visit. We started in Central America, but have spent the bulk of our time in Western Europe. This is a short thread of things I’ve learned.

The biggest thing I’ve learned (though I always suspected) is that people are 95% the same everywhere. Yes, there are small cultural and linguistic differences, but they are SMALL. Everywhere, kids are kids, people love their families, dislike corruption, and work to live.

While people are largely the same, governments are actually quite varied. The differences in laws and taxes and the availability of various goods and services because of said laws are sometimes immense. For example, differences in pharmacies and what is and isn’t OTC. 🤦🏻‍♂️

Speaking of laws and taxes, imagine my delight when I learned about the Foreign Earned Income Exclusions. As a US Citizen, staying outside the country >330 days/yr, you get to exclude up to $104,000 per adult in income from taxation (+ up to 30% for housing if renting). 👍

If you’re a frugal traveler (say, in the $50/day/pp @nomadicmatt camp), just the tax savings alone could fund a decent chunk of your travels. There’s a lot of nuance here, so consult a tax pro, but yeah, the FEIE is amazing.

Speaking of taxes, in many cases, if you spend less than 183 days a year in any one country, you can more or less have no foreign tax home. You’ll still be stuck paying sales tax/VAT, but income tax can be avoided. Lots of folks are expats and nomads for just this reason.

I’ve learned that, while I absolutely love exploring new cities, I fucking hate the process of getting there. Especially traveling with a kid. Destinations rock, but transit blows chunks. Slow, cramped, frustrating, inefficient. Sigh.

Flying in particular sucks. Even business class, which is way better, is still colored by general airport shitty-ness. So now I mostly travel by private transfer (nice van with a driver). MUCH better, often cheaper, and sometimes faster. Trains are my 2nd favorite option.

If you stick to major cities (we do), pretty much all the comforts of home are there. Movies theaters with movies in English, massages, food delivery services, Uber, house cleaners, babysitters, etc. We love our comforts, and being able to find them everywhere is awesome 🙂

Speaking of comforts, food: we love Indian, Chinese, Japanese and Lebanese food, and we’ve been able to find good examples of each pretty much everywhere. Yay for immigrants and cross-pollination of cultures!!

We’ve yet to travel somewhere where people didn’t speak at least some English, though we always try to learn at least a few dozen words in the local language (have to at least make an effort!) I’m no polyglot, so the prevalence of English has been wonderful 🙂

Part of why we’re traveling is that we’re sick of the divisive political shit show that America is becoming. We don’t want to be there now…but despite that, pretty much everywhere, folks still think of America as the land of promise and freedom. Puts things in perspective.

In the US, we lived in Seattle, so our mental framework for pricing was set high. With that in mind, everywhere we’ve traveled has been cheaper than Seattle overall, even in Paris and Amsterdam (though housing was on-par in both).

Earning in GBP, Euros or USD while spending in Romanian Leu or Croatian Kuna is AMAZING 🙂 I love geo-arbitrage, and can’t imagine living any other way now. Thanks to @tferriss for the first introduction to that concept.

Traveling is also incredibly healthy, in many ways. I’ve lost like 12 lbs. We’re way more active (walk 5+ miles/day), eat better quality food (food laws are much more strict), and good private healthcare in Europe is a bargain compared to back home. Last doc visit cost $8 😉

Everyone asks us about schooling for our 8yo son. It’s a mix of homeschool/unschool, a combo of iOS apps, YouTube, Khan Academy, and practical lessons. And yes, he’s incredibly social. Most extroverted kid ever, makes new friends in every city. Formal schooling is shite :/

We focus his education on a few fronts: core subjects (reading, typing, math), cognition (logic/rhetoric/philosophy/psychology), and STEM (programming, game design/dev, physics, chemistry, astronomy). He hates structured lessons, but sponges up unstructured lessons.

All in all, we love traveling. It’s an amazing experience, one we hope to continue for at least 3-4 more years, maybe longer. We’ll see what things look like in the US then, but we’re leaning towards splitting our time between 2 places (Canada/Mexico, or Spain/Portugal). Why?

Canada and Mexico will each let a US Citizen stay for 180 days at a stretch on a tourist visa, and if you buy a home in Spain/Portugal, you can get residency. And again, as long as you spend less than 183 days/yr in any one country, generally no income tax 😉

One last thing: we’re not rich. Not by any stretch of the imagination. Single earner (me), and I make less than a mid-level developer would in many places. It’s a solid income, but I’m no millionaire or multi-six figure earner. You don’t have to be “rich” to live like this!

AMA in the comments below.

Sam McRoberts

Author of Screw the Zoo. CEO of VUDU Marketing.

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