6 Ways Digital Nomads Can Save for Retirement


There is a common misconception that traveling is only about spending money. However, there are many people (myself included) who have figured out how to sock away money for retirement while on the road.

Travel offers some surprising advantages when it comes to savings, especially because the cost of living in many foreign countries is much lower than in the U.S. If you're able to eliminate a pricey mortgage or car expense at home, you're already well on your way to saving more than you thought possible. (See also: 5 Incredible World Cities You Can Afford to Live In)

You'll need to talk to an accountant about whether you're eligible to contribute to an IRA. If not, you could set up an investment account filled with tax-advantaged investments, or simply stash money in a savings account. Here are ways you can still save for retirement while traveling full-time. (See also: How to Travel Full-Time for $17,000 a Year or Less)

Earning an Income Anywhere in the World

The first step is to plan how you can earn an income on the road. There are many ways of doing this, which will depend on your skills, interests, and career goals.

1. Become a Digital Nomad to Earn Money From Anywhere

One option is to move your current business online or find remote jobs that allow you to work from anywhere. If you have experience as a software programmer, a web designer, a graphic artist, or a writer, these jobs can easily be done remotely, giving you the freedom to work from anywhere.

Another option is to start a travel blog. A blog is not a surefire way of getting rich, but if you're traveling the world, you will likely have a lot of material to write about. Creating quality content and establishing a readership may allow you to eventually monetize your blog. (See also: These Social Media Stars Make More Money Than You)

2. Get Short-Term Jobs at Overseas Destinations

Not all travel jobs require a computer. For example, you could work as a divemaster, waiter, or another type of seasonal professional that allows you to have greater flexibility. Some people in these professions work for half a year and travel the other half.

Seasonal jobs are a good way to work in a new place while you're traveling. Growing up in a ski town, I saw many foreigners who found jobs at the mountain during the winter. In these types of jobs you may work long hours, but for just a few months out of the year. When you finish the season, you are free to travel, or find another seasonal job somewhere new. (See also: 15 Ways to Make Money While You Travel)

Cutting Costs

An important part of saving for retirement on the road is to cut any costs you can. Luckily, some of these are painless.

3. Eliminate Traditional Living Costs

Traveling full-time means that you don't have to pay housing costs back home. I spent nearly a year traveling after I graduated. I'd never signed a lease, so I didn't have to pay for rent as well as accommodation abroad.

If you own a car and a home, you can sell them, cutting out mortgage and car payments, as well as insurance and upkeep. Or, you can rent out your home, turning a cost into an income stream. Airbnb can be a lucrative way of renting out your home short-term and you can make a fair amount of money doing so. If you'll be away for a long time, consider having a friend, family member, or a hired service manage the rental for you. (See also: How to Rent Your Place on Airbnb — and Succeed)

4. Use the Right Travel Credit Card

You will want to carefully consider which credit card you travel with. Some of the best travel cards offer sign-up bonuses that alone can get you a free flight. For instance, I recently opened a credit card with a nice bonus and was able to easily meet the spending requirement on a trip I took with my family.

On top of rewards and perks, the credit card you use overseas should never charge foreign transaction fees. When deciding on which card you want to open, you can also check out what other travel perks the cards offer. For example, some cards come with free rental car insurance that can save you a bundle.

5. Find Free or Steeply Discounted Accommodations

How you save on accommodations depends on how you like to travel and where you want to go. Some options include house sitting, couch surfing, or just cashing in your hotel credit card points for free stays.

I've used couchsurfing while traveling in the south of Spain. A hostel would have cost me $25–$30 a night, and a traditional hotel would have been at least $50. Even over a short weekend trip, I was able to save nearly $100 on accommodation, plus connect with some interesting locals that I would have never met otherwise.

A lot of backpackers will offer to work in a hostel in exchange for free accommodation. Some websites facilitate this type of exchange. However, in my travels, I've had hotel owners offer me this type of exchange more informally. Talk with whoever is running the hotel or hostel and find out if they are looking for help and what type of arrangement they'd be open to. (See also: 6 Easy Ways to Score Free Travel)

6. Avoid Unnecessary Banking Fees

Your bank may charge fees for withdrawing money abroad, and foreign ATMs may charge fees on top of that. These fees really add up. Say your bank charges you $5 for using an out-of-network foreign ATM, plus a 3% foreign transaction fee, and the ATM owner charges you $5 per transaction. If you make four withdrawals of $100 each per month, you'll spend $52 a month, or $624 a year, just on fees.

Cutting down on the number of withdrawals you make can reduce any flat fees you have to pay. But also check your bank's fee structure before you leave. If it's expensive, you may want to switch banks and put these fees into your retirement savings instead. A few U.S. banks will even reimburse you for all ATM fees at the end of the month. (See also: 8 Ways to Make Sure You Never Pay an ATM Fee Again)

Saving for retirement while you travel full-time doesn't have to be difficult. Make a plan before you leave. Once you're traveling, you can make adjustments when you see which strategies are really helping you to meet your travel and retirement goals.

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Guest's picture
Rhonda Albom

I agree. Travelling shouldn't be a huge money spender. When we were travelling a few years back we did a house swap, which was quite helpful as it made it very cheap to live in Spain for a few months.