Living Abroad, Frugally: An Interview with Mom and Son Team Behind RaisingMiro.com

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.

Read: Miro’s blog post about his favorite foods

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.

Comments

    • You CAN Sam! That’s the beauty of it today, thanks to tech, it’s never been easier to do frugal long term travel and it’s an amazing education for kids and wonderful time to bond as a family. If a single mom and child like the lovely Lainie can do it and a family with 8 kids ( did it for 15 months) ..then it is truly doable for ANYONE today who wants to. It’s actually a growing trend! ;)

      We’ve been on an open ended world tour for the last 5 years ( 39 countries on 5 continents on 23 dollars a day per person) and can’t recommend the life highly enough. We’re monolinguals raising a fluent trilingual/triliterate ( Mandarin Chinese- Spanish-English) and find it the best way to live frugally, freely, educate our child and have more time together. We travel the world for MUCH less than we ever could living at home and build our nest egg as we roam such exciting places as Bora Bora, Paris, Sydney, Venice, Singapore and Istanbul.

      There are over a million North Americans living permanently in their RVs with no permanent address, so you can always start that way. We use many modes of transportation and lodging, but one way we have seen most of Europe is via small RV which is a cheap and fantastic way for families.

      We’re in tropical Asia for the winter now ( in a luxury resort and 3 bedroom furnished flat with spectacular ocean views for a pittance) so my child can immerse in her Chinese, but will be back to Europe for the summer. ( Our RV is in covered storage for a practically free and makes a perfect vehicle/home/storage unit for cheap long stays roaming Europe).

      We don’t want our child to miss the greatness of traveling America so will do a road trip there this fall ( between India. Europe and another winter in Asia). If this kind of thing inspires and excites you, I say look into in more, know that ordinary folks CAN do this and if there is a will there is a way!

      • You only can if the other parent is on board or totally out of the picture. If we even try to do the RV thing my son’s Dad will sue for custody siting unstable living environment.

        See also my comment (five comments down) on my attempts to get my kid a passport.

        • I am really sorry to hear that Sam. I always wonder where the father is and how that works with a traveling family. It seems like most divorced parents would want some rights to see their child regularly and only fair really. We’d both perish if our child was at a great distance from either one of us.

          I hope your child at least gets to spend some time with his father and they have a good or at least some connection, as I do think two parents are important even if there is a divorce, but it’s a pity that your ex sounds so unreasonable.

          Travel is so enriching for kids and families and I’d think he’d at least be open to your RVing in the US.

          • My son’s father is on the other side of the US. My son has seen his Dad maybe a dozen times max. His father is always “too busy” or “too broke” & has never even sent a birthday card.
            He’s tried for custody twice and admitted to our attys in the hallway after the last time it’s just so I can pay him child support.
            Every attempt I’ve made to help foster a father-son relationship has fizzled. I gave up after 7 or 8 years.

            The family legal system is a sad thing – while yes, everyone has a right to spend time with family, if a person doesn’t use that privilege after X amount of time then there really should be a way for their rights to be forfeit. I’d love for the haunting to stop so we can have the freedom to live as we’d like. My son would greatly benefit from traveling the world.

  1. Great interview with one of my favorite travelers. Can’t wait to get in the same location as her and have some drinks and compare notes. If you want to interview someone that went round-the-world on a budget (and never took a single airplane), feel free to check out my website and send me a note. Thanks!

  2. Great interview! I think this kind of life is appealing to more and more families. There are many families doing it, although maybe not for the length of time as Ilainie and Miro! Bravo!

  3. Thanks Young Tightwad! (That felt strange calling you that) :)
    Sam, you can do it! It’s just a matter of trust, letting go, and doing it!
    Thank you both for the comments!
    Best,
    Lainie

  4. I love reading this story! It is awesome to know that it is possible for this to be done. I do also want to make a statement here that I hope is not taken the wrong way. For those who “wish they could do this” or think “oh, Lainie is so lucky to be able to do this”, this has nothing to do with Lainie being lucky. This didn’t fall in her lap. I am sure it took some time to line her life up this way to make it possible. Now, of course, this life is not “for” everybody, but if it is something that you *really* wanted to do, you could make it happen. I hope that comes across correctly!
    I am going to head over to Raising Miro to read more!
    Bernice
    In pursuit of happiness, or joy?

  5. No, it’s not a matter of mind set or budgeting. My son’s father refuses to allow my son to get a passport & both biological parent’s signatures are required. I tried like the dickens when my son was three (so we could go to the great wall) and agina when he was five (Russian wedding).We’ve missed two over seas weddings & several trips with friends because of it :(
    But it’s one of the few things my son’s Dad can still use to control me so I guess it makes him feel good (never mind the kid’s opinion about it).
    We’re making a wish list(based on PBS specials) & when my son turns 18…. watch out world!

    Enjoy your freedom Lainie :-)

  6. As a child I experienced a very abbreviated version. I lived in Europe for four months. We only stayed in hotels for maybe five (5) days in Switzerland. We stayed with relatives in two countries. I was 10 and played with the local children. It was a remarkable experience,learning the language, culture and being with other children. I went to plays in the language of the countries we visited and ate local food. I will never forget the experience! It has given me a love of travel, people and other cultures. We travel frequently overseas (every other year) and I use these experiences in my everyday life.

  7. Michael,
    I know our paths will cross on the road at some point! In the meantime, I find inspiration in your travel stories from you blog! NIce to see you here too!

    Amy,
    Yes, I agree with you. As the economic climate changes in the States and beyond, many more families are opting for a ‘living life to the fullest’ option. Families benefit tremendously from the experience, time together, experiences shared, and adventures to be had. Thank you so much for your comment here!

    LIving the Balanced life ( Bernice)
    Thank you so much for the comment. Yes, I agree with you, luck had nothing to do with our journey. There are two things that are responsible: inspiration and trust. I was always inspired to live off the grid, serve, travel and be a global citizen. I trusted that my inspiration was guiding me on my path. I did so, without fear and that’s how we continue to travel.

    Kaye,
    Thanks for sharing our story! Send me the link of your round up when you get the chance.

    Thanks again everyone!!
    -Lainie
    http://www.raisingmiro.com

  8. When this lady turns 65 and has no money for retirement, she will realize how foolish her decision to travel the world was. People need to stop living in a dream world and get to work.

    But the worst part is that the child is not receiving an education. How will this child be able to function when he becomes and adult with no formal education? More and more citizens of the world are gaining a formal education and this kid will be terribly underprepared. He will have no grasp of technology or how to conduct formal business.

    • I don’t have the guts to do what she is doing but I think it is really cool. It is hard for us to imagine living an untraditional lifestyle but I think this child will actually end up better off than many American kids who mostly just watch TV and play video games all day and don’t learn much at all. This great “education” you seem to think all American children are getting is not so much.

      Also, kids can also pick up technology in about ten minutes. I never used a computer until college and somehow was able to work in IT less than a year after graduation. It’s ridiculous to think that kids somehow need lots of technology training. I don’t think they teach kids how to conduct “formal business” in school either!!!

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