This post is a deep dive into the workings of The Earth Awaits, a web tool that will help you explore and build custom budgets for almost 600 cities worldwide tailored to your budget, lifestyle, family size, and many other needs. To go directly to The Earth Awaits, click here.
Over the past few months, I’ve been working on something very special. It’s something that has stretched my technical abilities and challenged me to invest a substantial amount of my money and time into something I believe in. Today, that project is ready, and without exaggerating, I believe it has the ability to change lives.
It’s called The Earth Awaits.
Months ago, my wife and I were having dinner with her dad. He wistfully shared with us that his brothers had all retired, and that he never would. “They’ll find me dead at my keyboard one day,” he said.
My father in law has a dry sense of humor, but there was a certain degree of honest sadness behind those words. Of course, being the author of a popular series about retiring abroad, I excitedly began to list all the places that his monthly Social Security check would give him a lifestyle far surpassing the current one. As I talked, he seemed to become honestly excited about some of the options I threw out, like Portugal, Malta, Thailand, and others. Though I didn’t convince him to make any major changes, I went home excited about having given him a little bit of hope.
The Retire Abroad series has inspired more visits, comments, and arguments than any other subject on the blog. People love the idea of taking a comparatively small monthly income and living well on it somewhere exotic and new. The problem with those articles, and every other article about retiring abroad on the internet, is that they are rapidly out-of-date. Even the most well-researched article is quickly obsolete as prices change. Moreover, the budgets I create reflect my personal tastes and priorities, and wouldn’t apply completely to anyone else.
Until today, the automated tools to help you discover your cost of living around the world have been rudimentary. Numbeo is the data source for all of my Retire Abroad articles, but there’s a huge gap between a list of prices and a realistic budget. NomadList is a spectacularly good site, but it’s really aimed at Digital Nomads, and we differ somewhat on budgeting methodology.
Most importantly, there’s never been a site that combines accurate cost of living data with input about your lifestyle to produce a budget that reflects your tastes, your housing needs, your family size, and a variety of other qualities in a city that are important to you.
The Earth Awaits
This is The Earth Awaits. Very simply put, it’s a tool that matches you up with cities around the world using your own monthly budget, family size, apartment size, lifestyle (from very lean to opulent), as well as filters on things like pollution levels, crime level, and others.
Once you enter the information about your family and needs, the site will search through hundreds of cities around the globe, build monthly budgets according to your specifications, and filter out the cities that don’t meet your needs. It will show you a custom list of cities, what it would cost you to live there, and help you to learn a ton more about each of those places. If the automatically prepared budget isn’t quite right for you, you can edit the budget yourself, share with friends, and download a copy for your records.
You can experiment with lifestyles, family sizes, housing, and budgets to make your budget work for a specific destination, or to maximize your quality of life by selecting a new destination.
Know Before You Go
Before we start discussing example searches, I want to emphasize that every search builds budgets for every city, from scratch, based on your input. The budgets you will see aren’t just some number calculated in advance. They’re produced on demand, tailored to you.
There are three inputs that control how the budget is built. Let’s take a look at them.
The Family Size input tells the site how many members there are in your household. Items like food, transport, and entertainment are multiplied by the number of people living in the home. At the moment, family size can be a value from one through ten.
The Apartment Type input tells us what kind of apartment your family will need. At the moment, you can select a one or three bedroom apartment either within or outside of the city center. Generally speaking (but not always), apartments within the city center will be more expensive. You can also select no housing at all, on the off chance that you can arrange for housing through some alternate, free, means.
Finally, and most importantly, the Lifestyle input allows you to select how luxurious of a life you want to lead. This lifestyle selection produces a multiplier that is applied to your finished budget. In other words, you might choose to build a budget that’s Very Lean (75% of local average), Lean (100% of local average), Modest (125% of local average), Ample (150% of local average), or Opulent (175% of local average).
All of the other controls (budget, pollution, crime, search term) limit the results to varying degrees, but the ones above are how your budget is actually built. All of the above explains why the same city might have a budget of…
Let’s explore some example searches to see just how powerful this site can be for retirees, expats, exchange students, or anyone else wanting to relocate for a life of adventure.
Example 1: The Pensioner Couple
John and Jane Pensioner worked hard their whole lives as teachers. They paid into their pension plan, but like many Americans, they didn’t save much otherwise for retirement. Their combined pension income is about $2,500 per month.
John and Jane aren’t interested in living in Asia or Africa, but they both love Europe. They wouldn’t mind living in North or South America, either. They’d be happy with a one bedroom apartment, and they’d prefer to be in the city center so that they don’t need to own a car.
The Pensioner family has always lived pretty modestly, but they wouldn’t mind upgrading their lifestyle a bit in retirement. Nothing fancy, just a little more going out to dinner, to the movies, or maybe a few road trips. They don’t want to deal with too much crime or pollution, but an average amount of both isn’t a problem.
On the Earth Awaits search page, we’ll adjust the budget to a maximum of $2,500 per month, and leave the default two-person household and one bedroom apartment in the city center.
We’ll also set their lifestyle to “Ample.” This lifestyle increases the basic budget by a certain amount to account for a nicer place to live, better food, and more activities. We’ll also set the Pollution and Crime rates to “Moderate,” which is about average.
Finally, we’ll uncheck Asia and Africa from the list of continents.
With all of our lifestyle data entered, we’ll click “Search,” wait a few seconds, and…
Wow! There are over 75 great destinations matching the exact specifications of the Pensioner family, and they can browse them and see a bunch of useful information before clicking “Details” to explore each one in depth. Within each city’s page, they can explore demographics, plan travel, learn about personal freedoms, LGBT and Women’s Rights issues.
Example 2: American Beauty
The Yankee family is your standard family from the USA– two parents, two kids. They want to move out of their high cost of living city to accelerate their savings, and the parents have managed to negotiate with their employers to work remotely in exchange for a modest pay cut. The Yankee family wants to stay close to their relatives, so they don’t really want to leave the country. They want to spend around $4,000 per month and save the rest of their income.
Just as above, we can set a top budget of $4,000, a family size of four, a three bedroom apartment, a lean lifestyle, and a moderate crime rate and pollution rate. To make sure we only get results for one specific country, we can open the Advanced search options and enter “United States” into the text search box (if you were interested in any other country, or a specific city, you can also search for it by name here).
After starting a search and waiting a few moments, the Yankee family would find over 40 awesome locations in the US to choose from, complete with budgets tailored to their specification.
Of course, the Yankees might not agree with exactly how the site generates budgets… but lucky for them, all they have to do is click “Details” on a city they’re interested in, switch to the Budget tab, and edit the budget quantities and multipliers to their heart’s content!
Example 3: The Pampered Traveler
Even though it’s not the primary aim of the site, it’s possible to generate a budget fit for a king, too. Mr. Pennysworth is a single early retiree, and he wants only the very best of everything. He wants an excellent apartment in the city center, low crime and pollution, and the ability to outspend locals almost two-to-one… but he has only $2,000 per month to accomplish that goal.
It’s a tall order. Shall we see if there is anyplace in the world for Mr. Pennysworth?
Of course there is! From Spain to Ecuador, from Hungary to Poland, there’s a place for everyone.
The Really Fun Stuff
Just click “Details” on any of the cities to learn more about it. From any of the pages, you can share the city (along with your household size, housing needs, and quality of life) to social media by clicking any of the share links.
The City: On the first tab for each city, you’ll learn a little about the city itself. Population, Broadband speeds, quality of life, pollution, and crime statistics. You’ll see the local airports, as well as the best airfare prices from your location to both the country and the city (where available). The airfares are based on bookings made by others around the world in the past day, and represent the best round-trip prices for the next year. By clicking one of the links to start your search when you’re ready to travel, you’ll support the site.
The Country: The second tab is all about the country. Currency, visa and immunization requirements for Americans, local languages spoken, and the percentage of English-speakers are all here.
Freedom: Not every country is as welcoming to every gender, sexual orientation, or lifestyle. The Freedom tab covers freedom of the press, internet freedom, corruption ratings, laws regarding alcohol and cannabis, women’s equality, and LGBT issues, among other things. This tab is designed to give you a basic feeling of the permissive (or restrictive) nature of the local culture.
Weather: The weather tab gives average high and low temperatures for each month of the year in the city. Months with a weather quality index of 75% or higher are rated as “good.” Months with a weather quality index of 90% or higher are rated as “excellent.”
Budget: The budget tab is the full, item-by-item budget built specifically for you based on your input. A representative collection of housing, food, entertainment, and other costs are created. The food, entertainment, and “other” costs are multiplied by the number of people in your household. The entire budget is multiplied by what we call a “lifestyle multiplier.” A lifestyle multiplier of 1.0 means you can survive on exactly this budget, paying exactly the average cost for the area. These multipliers range from 0.75 (Very Lean, can survive on 75% of the local average cost) to 1.75 (Opulent, expect to spend 75% more than the local average).
The great news about the budget tab is… it’s completely editable! If you completely disagree with any part of the budgeting methodology, you can change the quantities for items, multipliers, and number of members of the household! Feel free to build a budget you’re comfortable with using our tools!
The Earth Awaits Us All
In the end, this is the point: there’s a place for us all, even if we don’t know where to find it yet. Is it possible that you or someone you love is already on the verge of living comfortably and happily, whether it’s abroad or closer to home?
I believe that that place is out there waiting for and for me. I believe that The Earth Awaits can help us all discover that place.
Random Statistics and Facts
Here’s some random and interesting pieces of information based on example searchesl:
- The cheapest city in the database is Thiruvananthapuram, India. The most expensive is Hamilton, Bermuda (followed by Luanda, San Francisco, New York City, Washington DC, and Zurich).
- There are 161 cities currently in the database where two people can live an opulent lifestyle for under $2,000 per month. 21 of them have both a low crime rate and a low pollution rate.
- The number of cities by continent as of today are: South America (23), North America (161), Europe (204), Asia (114), Africa (22), Oceania (18). Suggest a city that’s missing and I’ll happily add it (assuming it meets my standards for required data and general interest)!
What I Need From You
To be completely frank, I invested a large amount of both time and money to build this tool. I did it because I love the subject, and because I believe in the idea. To make it last, I could use your help in getting the word out.
If you are preparing to travel or move to one of the cities you discover through The Earth Awaits, consider clicking the flight booking links on each city’s page. If you need more reading material, consider clicking on one of the Amazon links. Whitelist the site in your ad blocker.
Share the page on Reddit (/r/financialindependence, /r/leanfire and /r/iwantout would be good ones), Facebook, or other forums when the idea of living or slow traveling abroad comes up. Write about it on your blog. Submit it to Hacker News, Product Hunt, or any other site where it might be of interest. If you’re affiliated with a travel or retirement business, consider sponsoring the site as a whole, or a specific city. If you’re in the media, let’s talk about how this site can connect people with the right place for them anywhere in the world!
Most importantly, while you’re playing and enjoying your search through all of these great cities, hit the Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ links on each page and share with your friends. Let’s get everyone’s imagination working overtime!
I want to make The Earth Awaits last, thrive, and to add new and exciting information and functionality. Some things I’m looking at are adding automated calculation of frequent flier miles to each location, saved custom budgets, and a bunch of other fun stuff. If you are able to support the site in one of the ways mentioned above, it will go a long, long way towards ensuring that this resource is always there for people like us.
Let’s do awesome stuff and explore the world.