How to retire early and travel the world

early retired budget travelers in mumbai

Your dream is to retire early and travel the world, or maybe you have a serious plan in place but you’re looking for some inspiration to actually do it. We hope we can help in both cases.

We freely give examples of how we did it – and how we continue to do it today! Our real world experience can offer you suggested guidelines on how you can retire early and travel the world.

Theo celebrates his ability to retire early and travel the world at a fort in Portugal.
Theo celebrates financial freedom in Portugal, one of several countries we have visited as budget slow travelers in early retirment.

We are not financial advisors, and we don’t give investment advice. What we offer is a road map to understand the impacts of your spending, saving, and investment decisions – and how your decisions translate into budget slow travel in the real world.

This is an independent website. We aren’t trying to sell you anything. We don’t work with sponsors or affiliates.

Now, let’s get to the good stuff!

How to retire early and travel the world

So how’d we get here? With all of this free time to provide a free service to fellow budget slow travelers and wannabe budget slow travelers in retirement?

Theo & Ellen in Istanbul, 2023.

First, we lived below our means and we didn’t waste money on needless things. Our spending was frugal – not extravagant. Yet we weren’t cheap, either.

We saved, we invested. The magic of compounding and a long bull market multiplied Theo’s holdings; he began investing at the dawn of his career. Ellen didn’t start until age 30 — but she’s an example of how to accumulate wealth with a late start. Neither of us made six figures.

Theo has always been a talented, shrewd shopper. He always found the best deals from groceries to gifts. Today he finds the best prices in town – in foreign countries!

We own a modest home in the USA. It is a comfortable, efficient, rehabbed property in Cleveland, Ohio. Theo paid it off years ago, and it’s now rented long-term, netting us about $800 a month in passive income.

modest home in Cleveland, Ohio, used as a rental property to help us retire early and travel the world
Our modest property in Cleveland, Ohio.

To give you a specific example of living below our means, Ellen spent 24% of net income on rent in Cleveland for many years – not 35% of gross income, which is the formula most Americans use. Bonus: Cleveland is a low cost-of-living city.

We each chose not to have children. (But we know many early retired couples who do!)

No ‘keeping up with the Joneses.’ We did not buy or lease new cars every few years like most Americans. In fact, today we don’t own any cars! We slow travel the world mostly by trains and buses, and we fly only when absolutely necessary. It’s not only cheaper, but it’s better for the climate crisis we all are facing.

You’ll hear adjectives like ‘sustainable’ and ‘authentic’ thrown around when it comes to ‘responsible’ travel. For us, these adjectives describe our lifestyle as a whole — not just for travel.

Other minimalist examples: we never bought expensive jewelry, expensive clothing, or pricey home decor. Our credit card balance finance charges were minimal, and we avoided late fees.

Ellen paid off her student loan in a lump sum after a few years of heavy saving.

These examples are how we got here.

There are many more intentional choices that led to our early retirement. We could write a book. Maybe one day we will. For now, we are having too much fun traveling the world!

Our travel budget

What we spend each month varies on where we are in the world. Places like Mexico or Thailand cost less than Italy or Montenegro.

Ellen walks with an elephant in an open field in Pai, Thailand.
Ellen walks with an elephant at a special, humane camp in Pai, Thailand, in 2019.

Our budget goal in developing countries is to keep monthly expenses under $2,000. Accounting for the $800 monthly net rental income, that means we need less than $1,200 per month from our savings.

Some months we exceed the budget. Thankfully, we have that flexibility. However, $2,000 outflow is the goal.

We are able to travel the world in early retirement because we don’t stay at five-star resorts or eat at white-tablecloth restaurants. Instead, we have comfortable living accommodations in exotic places, delicious food in average foreign eateries. We experience incredible sites on Earth because we still live within our means now that we are retired.

This lifestyle would not have been possible if we had stayed in the U.S.

We are open about our $2,000 per month budget and frequently share real-world examples. In the second half of 2023, we expected Europe would cost up to 50% more to maintain our lifestyle in a post-COVID, inflationary era. However, we stayed within 2k per month because of intensive, experienced efforts at finding affordable housing. (Read more on that on our sweet summer deals post.)

Housing is always our biggest cost. But we don’t house sit. That’s too much work to be responsible for someone else’s property.

Post-COVID budget slow travel examples:

ellen and theo at playa balandra, mexico, near la paz in 2017
Ellen and Theo in Playa Balandra, Mexico, in 2017.

Annual totals:

Examples of pre-COVID travels:

Theo & Ellen in Varna, Bulgaria, summer 2023.

How to retire early and travel the world and not worry (too much) about health care

We pay out of pocket for medical care. We know that option sounds scary to most Americans. However, our experience proves quality health care exists at reasonable prices around the world, even in emergencies.

We should write a book solely about our health care as early retired budget slow travelers, but that feels like too much work. After all — we’re retired!

However, we did create a free health care guide. No gimmicks, no signups, no downloads, no charges.

We share this to help other travelers and would-be travelers. In fact, we maintain this website for pleasure — not for profit. You’ll notice there are no ads here, and we don’t ever work with sponsors or affiliates.

Our free guide to health care while traveling without insurance offers many examples of real world needs we have encountered since 2015.

2 big expenditure examples:

  1. Ellen’s double mastectomy in Croatia: total cost was around $10,000 for everything related to the early-stage diagnosis in 2018
    • mammogram, biopsy, pathology reports, surgery, recovery in a private room, oncologist opinion
  2. Ellen’s broken wrist in Thailand that was reset in Malaysia: total cost was around $2,200 in 2022
health care overseas can be managed if you plan to retire early and travel the world

Mundane examples of health care costs

There are many examples of health care costs on this website. Here are several recent mundane experiences:

  1. Eyeglasses in Mexico, Spain, Philippines, India (2016 to 2023)
  2. Dental work in Malaysia in 2019, and again in 2022
  3. Ear, nose, throat specialist in the Philippines (2020)
  4. Oncologist & gynecologist examples from Malaysia (2022)
  5. Root canal in India (2023)

We have a ton more examples of health care experiences overseas — including an itemized hospital bill from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where many expats go for medical needs. We uploaded the entire bill in our special health care guide.

Free global health care guide

To illustrate how to retire early and travel the world without travel health insurance, we have a free global health care guide. No gimmicks, no email collection, no downloads like other travel sites.

We share this freely simply because we want to.

The guide has suggestions on how to find doctors and hospitals, how to buy prescriptions, how to read test results in foreign countries, and more — all without travel health insurance. However, the principles can also be applied to budget slow travelers with insurance.

How to stick to your budget

We cover a lot of ground about how to retire early and travel the worldon a budget. It’s not only price examples fellow budget slow travelers have to consider. Visa lengths, proof of onward travel, itineraries, are a few examples – not to mention cultural considerations!

Here are direct links to topics we cover as they relate to budget slow travel:

  1. How to effectively plan a budget slow travel itinerary
  2. Proof on onward travel (a big one – read this if you are serious and really want to retire early and travel the world!)
  3. The best way to pack to avoid airline fees
  4. Tricks to find crazy low airfare and Airbnb deals (2023)
  5. How to cross borders on visa runs
  6. Find good – and cheap – street food
  7. Best way to find apartments as a budget slow traveler
  8. How to buy prescription drugs overseas
  9. How to connect with other people in this lifestyle
  10. Why renting is better than buying for travelers like us

And there’s more — all in addition to other articles on this site about how to stretch your money at destinations around the world.

With some planning and determination, it’s totally possible to retire early and travel the world — without spending a ton of money.

Related: Do you really need a million dollars to retire early and travel the world?

You got this

We hope our website will give you ideas about how to live this budget slow travel lifestyle. Take some time to explore this site for additional money-saving tips based on our real world experience.

You can also contact us anytime. We always respond to reader email as soon as we can.

One more resource for you: we had a Facebook group with thousands of like-minded, retired (or nearly retired) world travelers for many years. However, Ellen stepped back from social media in late 2023, and paused the group. The archives are still available to people who were members when the group was ‘paused.’ (It was paused so group members could use the archives as a resource. Had it been deleted, the posts dating back to 2018 would have disappeared.)

Don’t worry – if you were never a member, you will find all of the information we posted on this website. Just give a search with keywords like destinations or topics.

We hope we’ve been a useful resource for you as you decide to retire early and travel the world – or even if you aren’t retiring early but are interested in budget slow travel.

As you can see through our lifestyle since 2015, a budget slow travel lifestyle in early retirement — or retirement at any age — is possible! You just gotta really want to do it.

Theo jumps into a cenote in Tulum, Mexico to celebrate how he was able to retire early and travel the world.
Theo jumps into a cenote in Tulum, Mexico, in 2015.

Thanks for reading, “How to retire early and travel the world.”

Read more about Ellen & Theo.

See budget breakdown examples.

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when you know how to retire early to slow travel the world you can enjoy stress-free sunsets like this one in thailand
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