I recently had the pleasure of crossing virtual paths with Lainie Liberti and her son Miro. They are the team behind RaisingMiro.com, which details the adventures of Lainie and Miro, originally from California, as they live “a nomadic lifestyle and have no destination in mind or an end date to count down to.” That’s right; they basically picked up with the clothes on their backs, and a little savings in the bank, and set out to live in many countries around the world.
Naturally, I had several questions for them, and after trading emails a couple times I realized they were natural frugalists – mostly because they had to be! Lainie and Miro agreed to answer a few questions and share more of their experience here.
Which country have you found to be the cheapest to live, comfortably?
Ah, this is a very interesting question. I think living cheap and comfortable are separate concepts and I will answer them separately here. Living cheaply in another country is different than living frugally in the United States. However, we take a budget of what would equate to living frugally in the States and have the opportunity to live richly by experiencing different cultures.
I am traveling with my son on an eight-year around the world adventure. We live on a small budget and have several strategies to keep our expenses down.
Our combined budget for living and traveling for both of us is around $1000 a month, sometimes less, and in all honestly a few months we have spent more. However, this is a budget not possible in the United States. We do live frugally based on American standards, and have managed to maintain that in every country we have visited, so far.
However the description of living frugally is not really an accurate one because the economic standards are very different compared to the United States, and different in each country we visit. So far, we have been traveling through Latin America – for the first year and a half we were in Central America and now, we find ourselves in South America.
Living comfortably is a different concept altogether, and if we address standards of living (sometimes equating to products and conveniences) to the United States, you will not be able to reasonably compare. Apples to apples, oranges to oranges. So, what we have done, is adapted to travel with a long term plan which allows us to live in a country as close as possible to living as a visiting local.
What we don’t do is visit a country like a typical American tourist. We do not stay in expensive hotels or condos built for foreigners, dine at expensive restaurants, or take the exclusive tourist excursions. Yes, we may be missing some part of the experience, but we are traveling around the world in order to experience the culture, not something you can do if you only opt for the tourist experience.
We found both Nicaragua and Guatemala to be two favorites, so far, both economical. There were differences between both experiences and both places, however we lived in both long(er) term, one for three months and the other for eight months. In both instances we lived in a quaint colonial towns, with lovely pastel buildings and a wealth of history.
In Nicaragua we lived in Granada, and in Guatemala we lived in Antigua. Both places offered a pretty good infrastructure for us, including internet (for the location-independent worker), modern supermarkets, gyms, and good public transportation. Also, both had a large population of Westerners living both within the city proper and the surrounding areas.
In Nicaragua, my son and I shared a large private bed room with each other with a private bath in a hacienda style house with 8 bedrooms total. The house was a typical Spanish-style house with all the rooms surrounding an open garden in the center of the house. The home had many shared living areas from a front sitting room, garden area with hammocks, two dining rooms and two kitchens. Our monthly rent was $200, but did not include internet or laundry.
In Guatemala, we rented a large 3 bedroom house near the city center.
The house shared 3 walls with the neighboring tenants. Our house was two levels, had a small open-air garden, a big beautiful kitchen, a main living room, washer/dryer, and cable and internet for $650 a month.
During the seven months we lived there, we rented out one the two extra bedrooms on weekly or monthly basis which left our portion of the rent to be on average around $350 – $400 a month.
There are definitely differences though between the countries and our living experience. For one, Nicaragua is much hotter and the quality of life for the general population was tougher due to the heat. There is fruit readily available on trees through the city which many people eat.
There are class divisions for sure in Nicaragua. In the neighboring capital of Managua, you have a few very wealthy, but the majority lives in poverty. We found the food was generally bland, a lot of gallo-pinto which was rice and bean, fried fish, and an abundance of chicken and pork was available. There was a low selection of fruit; we still haven’t taking a liking to things like sour star fruit, jamaica, and granadas, to name a few.
Interestingly though, none of the fruits were very sweet and neither Miro nor myself grew a fondness for them during our stay. Fresh vegetables were not very abundant other than tomatoes and potatoes. Nicaragua did have a rich history and people especially in the city we lived in were highly politicized and passionate about improving their lives. Overall, our stay there was comfortable, economical, the weather was hot and the people were passionate and helpful. We would absolutely spend time there again.
Guatemala has two distinct populations, the indigenous or people of Mayan decent and the people with a majority of lineage of Spanish decent. The indigenous still lived in villages. The women still wore the traditional costumes and the community functioned much the same way it did hundreds of years ago. They did not integrate into modern culture with the exception of mingling for commerce. The Mayans are farmers and from my observation, tend to work well together.
In comparison to Nicaragua, which has no current indigenous culture, the Mayans in Guatemala filled the markets with exotic fresh fruits, vegetables, beans, rice and spices all for pennies, by American standards.
A trip to the market where I’d purchase produce for the week (we tend to cook vegetarian at home) would cost me about $10 a week. I would buy a large pineapple, and a large papaya to make juice (liquidados) , strawberries, and black berries. Also included in in $10 a week budget would be tomatoes, spinach lettuce, onions, potatoes, green onions, squash, green beans and black beans and rice. Eating on a budget and healthy in Guatemala was easy to do.
Your son is getting a great education by expanding his world view, but how do you keep up with the formal educational requirements?
We have opted not to follow formal education, thus making the formal educational requirements not a focus. We are “world schooling” or “radically unschooling,” a formal name given to many in this movement.
However, traveling is not a requirement of unschooling, but it just happens to be how we are experiencing it.
We actually did a podcast episode talking all about unschooling, even spoke with another single mom who’s raising her son the same way. It’s an interesting conversation.
How do you receive (snail) mail?
We don’t. On the rare occasion I need to have something snail mailed to us, I have a family member accept it on my behalf. Part of our goal preparing for our trip was to radically disconnect from all traditional ties. I have no credit cards, therefore I have no credit card statements. I do still have an American bank account, however, my account is set to the ‘paperless’ option. All of my other correspondences are digital, sent to my email account. I do still have a California telephone number through Vonage and am notified of messages via email.
What’s your favorite cuisine? Your son’s favorite?
We have only traveled so far through Latin American countries so I’ll answer this question based on our travels. I love all the fresh fruits and vegetables available in Guatemala. However, as I write this here from Colombia, I have since discovered many new fruits that are absolutely amazing.
I fell in love with nispero, which kind of looks like a potato, but it tastes like a cross between a pear and a date. I also love uchuvas, which are tiny orange-like grapes which are sweet and sour at the same time. So easy to keep popping then in my mouth. Also love zapote which is related to the nispero, but is orange and fleshy inside. Of course, the papayas always excite me and my son has become a mora (blackberry) addict.
I learned how to make traditional black beans in Guatemala, taught to me by one of our friend’s mom, and I love fresh black beans with rice and chili. Also, I learned how to make arapas in Colombia which are white corn pancakes fried with cheese. Also, in Panama, I love all the fresh ceviche. I have been told to expect amazing ceviche once we get to Peru, so I’ll check back in and report my findings.
Miro’s all time favorite food is an El Salvadorian special called pupusas. Like the arapas, they are a corn pancake, but they are somewhere between a tortilla and a pancake. We would go to a pupusaria in Guatemala, that offered pupusas stuffed with everything from mushrooms, chicken, chorizo, onions, bean and cheese. Wow, just writing this make our mouths water.
The key to staying on a tight budget is eating local, eating as the locals do and buying local. There are those occasions where we’ll shell out the ridiculously outrageous price to by a jar of imported peanut butter, but that’s the exception rather than the rule. If we wanted all the regular foods from the States we would be better off staying in the States.
Tell us more about couch surfing. Any particular concerns/lessons learned for parents looking to doing this with kids?
We absolutely love the couch surfing project.
Couch Surfing is a community of people, not to be confused with simply a free accommodation. It is true that one of the many benefits of Couch Surfing is that it can make your travels more affordable, however the most meaningful benefit is the connection you make with other Couch Surfers. We have experienced cultural exchanges that help us experience the world as a safe place to live and travel.
In our opinion, The Couch Surfing project helps to raise the collective consciousness, spread tolerance, and facilitate greater cultural understandings. All that, by opening up one’s personal spaces, hosting & being hosted and sharing what it means to be a global citizen.
We have been involved in Couch Surfing since 2007, when we hosted our first guest in our Los Angles loft. We continued to host many people over the year before we left the country, somewhere around 30 guests over that period of time. After that, we Couch Surfed in Mexico, Belize, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala, until finally settling in Antigua, Guatemala for 7 months where they became one of the only couches available and ended up hosting well over 50 travelers during that period of time.
Without a steady income (or steady expenses), how do you handle budgeting?
When you don’t have a lot of money, it’s easy to be frugal. We walk a lot, take local buses, eat locally and volunteer.
We live as if it’s a privilege to be in the countries we visit. With that attitude, it’s easy to give back, either by helping out how ever we can, volunteering or being of service some other way. As locals invite us into their homes, we are always in a state of gratitude and the exchange is never about money, it’s about sharing our unique cultures with one another.
I cook a lot for our hosts, play with children and even help out with English lessons. Our attitude is never about what can we get, it’s about what can we give, and since money isn’t an option for us, we’ve become more creative with our giving.
It’s simple to live mindfully, frugally, and in a state of grace with that concept.
The funny thing is, even when our money gets tight, we always seem to have exactly what we need.
I do work freelance design from the road to support us, however my goal is to phase that out entirely. We have started to generate a little ad revenue from our web site and travel podcast at RaisingMiro.com. Also, we receive donations from our listeners, who are inspired by our journey and have become inspired to support us.
How do you move (both locally and country to country) without wiping out savings?
We travel by bus and have actually come to love bus travel. I tend to sleep like a baby on buses and because of my small stature, I don’t usually have problems with cramped seats. Local buses are the cheapest, but there long distance bus companies that offer direct routes. It depends if we’ve decided to travel to our next destination or desire to explore the smaller villages along the way. That will determine how we travel.
There have been a few occasions when we have flown, but only if there is no other option. We never book our flights through American website outlets, as they are always more expensive. If we do fly, we research the countries local airlines, then try to book through their web sites. Sometime that requires asking for help from a native speaker is an English version of the web site is not available. Making mistakes on flights can be an expensive mistake.
Some will argue that a “nomadic lifestyle” does not provide a stable environment for kids. How do you respond to that?
I suppose one could argue living a mainstream lifestyle consisting of waste, mindless consumption and fear is not a healthy or stable way to raise a child either. Stability is simply a man-made concept and we can perceive our lifestyle as being more stable because of the life preparation my son is receiving.
In my mind, raising my son with the world as his classroom, real-life learning as his teacher and hands on experiences cannot compare with the a traditional life back in the States. We slow travel, therefore we immerse ourselves in the communities we visit.
Will this adventure eventually stop, and if so, are you scouting a place to settle down?
Eventually I suppose it will. Or perhaps it will not. I assume though after my son turns 18 he will no longer desire the company of his mom. He has the best attitude though. He says he wants to experience every country in the world in order to know exactly where he wants to live.
If I had to make a guess now about his life path, (which could change) I would guess he’ll do something like join the peace corps and combine his love for travel and service. Only time will tell. But I am certain of one thing, the education he is receiving from both a humanitarian perspective and with a true understanding of how local economies work, he will do great things with his life and for the world.
Thanks again to Lainie and Miro for taking time to address these questions. Always enjoy reading new perspectives from others with experiences vastly different than my own. Another personal finance blogger, Baker from ManvsDebt.com, has chosen to take a similar path, and is currently traveling for a year (domestically) by RV with his wife and young daughter.