Welcome to today’s installment in my new travel blogger interview series! The goal of this weekly series is to help spread the blogging love and introduce you to some other awesome travel bloggers! Any travel blogger, whether new or experienced, can sign up to be featured in this new series. Today I’m happy to share that I’m featuring Marco from Nomadic FIRE!
I am a refugee from the drab cubicle walls of US corporate finance. Tired of the grind from 70-hour weeks to pay off a mortgage, a car, student loans, and countless bills, I said screw it all and retired early at 41 years old.
I started Nomadic FIRE to provide simple, low-cost strategies to save for retirement. Nomadic FIRE is a lifestyle combining digital nomad slow travel and the investing principles of the Financial Independence Retire Early (FIRE) movement.
I published my first post in 2019, but I did not take it seriously until 2020. I started it, partly because I found my English vocabulary shrinking. After living in foreign countries for 7+ years, it becomes second nature to speak in simplified English to make it easier to communicate. Clipped speech has the unintended consequence of losing my vocabulary. I was starting to struggle to find the right words to correctly describe what I want to say when speaking “normal” English.
Also, as nerdy as it sounds, I like talking to people about living overseas and retirement planning. 99% of the people I meet are oblivious to personal finance basics. Retirement is a vague concept they don’t understand and don’t want to think about. When I show them all the fantastic places you can travel and live for 70% less cost than living in the US, it blows their minds. There is a certain giddiness I get when someone works out the numbers, and they see what kind of life they can have living in Thailand, the Philippines, Colombia, or Romania.
People in the US have so many misconceptions about living and traveling abroad. They think the options are living in a dirt shack in the jungle or a crime-ridden capital city. They believe that healthcare anywhere outside the US is scary or subpar. The term “third world” gets thrown around a lot without understanding what it means.
Most US folks have no idea how comfortable living overseas can be. A frightening majority of people in the US haven’t saved enough for retirement. Living abroad is a better alternative than working 60 hours a week until you are 65 just to live a cash strapped lifestyle in the US.
Be prepared for how crappy that start-up ramp can be. At least initially, enjoy blogging for the sake of blogging. You need to love working on the blog, even when no one is reading it. You must find joy in writing, regardless of how much traffic you are pulling. It takes time to build readership. If you do not find joy in the work, it can get very discouraging.
How much better travel becomes with the right partner. I was single for the first three years of traveling. There are definite advantages of going solo: you decided what to do when you want to do it, it’s easier to meet people, dating is fun. But having your partner with you to share travel experiences intensifies the moments: sunsets are brighter, food is tastes better, and those “first-time” travel experiences are more unforgettable. Even better, you get to continually relive those special moments with someone for years after.
Having a partner even saves you money. My girlfriend pays half the expenses. 2020 was my lowest spending ever, just $12,000 for a full year of travel. With the side benefit of watching her wake up and smile at me every morning, traveling with her is a big bonus.
It’s equal parts hating winter, loving good food, and disliking the psychology of work.
I chase the sun to avoid getting cold or wet: Spring and Summer in Europe, Fall in S. America, and Winter in SE Asia. Hopping back and forth keeps me away from winter and rainy seasons.
My most significant expenditure in life is food. I love how each country has its unique dishes. It becomes a challenge to find the best version of that signature dish. Where in Viet Nam has the best crab spring rolls? Which restaurant in Lima, Peru, has the best ceviche? In the Philippines, is Cebu Lechon better than Lechon from Luzon? I drool just thinking about finding out.
It’s a common retirement adage that to be happy in retirement, you have to “retire to something” not just “retire from something.” Many retirements fail, not only because of money but because of our psychology. Especially in the US, our job predicates so much of our self-identity. We don’t separate who we are from what we do for work. If retirement is only “retiring from work,” then you will struggle to define who you are when you don’t have a job. To help fight this, I “retired to travel.” I craft my self-identify through my experiences and discoveries made wandering the world.
What is “best” is always a complicated type of question. Best how? Most fun? Most Enlightening? Most memorable? I have so many; it’s hard to narrow down. One of my favorites was trekking the Himalayas in Nepal. I spent a month climbing to Everest and Annapurna Basecamps. Imagine falling asleep exhausted from hiking for days up a mountain. Your head is heavy. Your feet ache. The altitude causes a headache that doesn’t go away. Yet the next morning, you wake up in the crisp mountain air and are rewarded with panoramic views of the sun coming up over the snowcapped Himalayan peaks. It’s stunning.
My worse was getting arrested in Pai, Thailand. I spent six hellish hours in police custody. That is a super long story, but the moral is to follow the rules of the country you are visiting. Always remember we are guests of the country; this is their home. Repeat after me people, “Follow the rules.”
I have no problem going solo to a new location. It is easy enough to meet people once you arrive. For exploring after you arrive, small groups of likeminded and easy-going folks are ideal for me. Getting a little 4-person travel crew is fun. Anything more than four people is chaos. Large groups are super frustrating to find compromises that makes everyone happy. Organizing anything is like herding cats. Something as simple as going to get food becomes a three-hour-long discussion about what people are in the mood to eat.
I loved Medellin. For extended stays, whom I am with matters more than where I am at. A social circle makes or breaks a place for me. Having friends in a location makes a place feel like home rather than a place I am only visiting. In Medellin, I met up with some remarkable people that I continue to keep in touch with several years later.
The cost of living in Medellin is as inexpensive as SE Asia. I can live an upper-middle-class life, eating out seven times a week, a nice flat in a central location, high-end gyms, daily yoga sessions, and weekly maid service for $850 per month.
It’s hard to get over the hyperbole of the weather, but the weather in Medellin is the BEST. People who live in Medellin will tell you how amazing the weather is. Until you live there, you will think, “what could be so great about the weather?” Then you experience it first hand: consistently sunny, moderate temps, no humidity, and no mosquitos. THE BEST.
Learn how to travel with only carryon bags. It was difficult at first, but it’s second nature to me now. I have saved thousands of dollars, not paying extra for checked luggage. In addition to the cash savings, you won’t believe how liberating it is not to have so much stuff. Packing takes 15 minutes. There is less clutter in my room. Things are less likely to get lost or stolen. Getting dressed in the morning takes 5 minutes tops.
This goes back to my previous answer on why I travel. I travel to eat. When I arrive in a new city, I immediately start my hunt for the best version of the country’s signature dish.
That is way too long of a list. To simplify, I’ll give me my Top 3 favorite desserts from last year:
Filipino Taho- warm silken tofu custard mixed with caramelized cane sugar and tapioca pearls.
Bulgarian Mekitsa- flat deep-fried doughnut pizza topped with cream cheese and jam.
Czech Makovy Kolac- round pastry stuffed with sweetened poppy seeds.
Plane or train? Plane. I get access to Business and First-class lounges at most airports: free food, fresh coffee, beds, and showers FTW.
Hotel or hostel? Co-Living flats. Cheaper than a hostel and nicer than a hotel.
City or nature? My girlfriend likes to call me a concrete kid. So yeah, city.
Popular site or off the beaten path? I’m in between. Peace and isolation are okay in small doses. Too much separation can get boring. Long lines of selfie-takers are not my jam either. I prefer 2nd tier or less popular places vs. ones everyone flocks to: Slovenia vs. Austria, Bucharest vs. Budapest, Black Sea vs. Mediterranean Sea.
Suitcase or backpack? 40L carry on sized backpack.
Fast travel or slow travel? Super SLLLLOOOOOOOW. 6 to 12 months in a single city is my preferred rate.
Professional camera or iPhone photography? Google Pixel 4.
Warm or cold weather? Warm and Dry
All photos used throughout this post are taken by Marco from Nomadic FIRE.