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25-year-old digital nomad who lived in Europe on $1,000-$2,000/month shares 4 travel hacks

SIM cards "are so much cheaper overseas, and you can get a lot more data."

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Rocky Trifari in Madrid.
Courtesy Rocky Trifari

After years of dreaming of long-term traveling during high school and college, in 2017 Rocky Trifari finally began doing the math for what it would cost to spend a few months abroad. For his first trip, Trifari was looking at Europe.

Instead of saving up a lump sum for the entire trip in advance, Trifari, who is now 25, decided to save about $1,000 for initial expenses and to then work throughout his travels to cover the rest. "I had done some research about cost of living overseas," he says. He estimated that as long as he made between $1,000- $2,000 per month, he could keep going.

Trifari got a job working as an online English tutor through VIPKid and took off for Greece in July 2018. From there he traveled to Poland, Spain, Croatia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina before returning to the States in December 2018. He later spent eight months studying Spanish in Madrid from January 2019 to September 2019.

The pandemic has made it difficult to travel, and Trifari is currently living in his hometown of Parsippany, New Jersey, building up his blog and searching for his next full-time job while looking forward to a time when he can go abroad again. Here's his best advice for travelers planning for such a trip.

'Make every single dollar go as far as possible'

Look at which destinations let you "maximize every dollar," Trifari says. "That was my philosophy: 'How can I make every single dollar go as far as possible?'"

Consider resources including Nomad List and Expatistan to compare the cost of living in different places. The sites show users the average monthly cost in dollars, which make it easier to calculate how much you may need and what you may be able to do.

When Trifari's trip was in the planning stages, he checked the cost of living in "places like Poland and Bosnia and Herzegovina" and found that "your dollar goes really far there in their currency." So that's where he went. 

'Get a local SIM card'

Trifari relied heavily on his phone to use apps like Google maps as he oriented himself in his new locations. Having internet access is key: It can help you communicate with people abroad and use language apps that could make it easier to get around locally.

He didn't end up keeping his U.S.-based plan while abroad, and that was a good choice for him. "Get a local SIM card," he says. "they are so much cheaper overseas, and you can get a lot more data."

Rocky Trifari in Mykonos, Greece.
Courtesy Rocky Trifari

Check if your cellphone provider allows you to pause or suspend your plan while you're traveling, Trifari recommends. Depending on your plan and destination, carriers such as Verizon and AT&T often charge $10 per day to use your phone abroad.

By buying a local SIM, "I was in countries where I had a whole month of data for like $10," he says.

'Maximize your points' with the right credit card

Look into travel credit cards as a way to save money, Trifari recommends. "When you're picking a credit card, you really have to use that to maximize your points and your trip," he says.

By using a particular card, you could earn extra points by booking travel expenses like airfare and hotels. Plus you could be earning rewards that could be redeemed for other travel expenses. Many travel-specific cards have extra perks for cardmembers, including waived airline baggage fees or priority boarding.

"I had flights that were free because my travel expenses would get those welcome bonuses where it would basically cover the cost of the flight," says Trifari. Compare various travel cards and make sure to read the fine print so you understand both what the cards include and how to capitalize on those offers.

'Plan early'

"Sometimes when you get those last-minute flights, the price can be a lot higher," he says. So "plan early."

Given that travel restrictions and safety are still in flux due to the pandemic, if you buy ahead, it's smart to pay attention to cancellation and refund policies. Research whether travel insurance might help provide peace of mind.

Trifari at the Acropolis in Athens, Greece.
Courtesy Rocky Trifari

"A standard cancellation policy costs about 7%-10% of the insured trip cost," Megan Moncrief, chief marketing officer at SquareMouth, previously told Grow. A Cancel For Any Reason policy "increases that premium by about 40% and refunds up to 75% of the insured trip cost."

Planning ahead and keeping up with restrictions and world events will also enable you to be flexible, which is key in these uncertain times.

This kind of attitude helped Trifari even before the pandemic. At times, he let prices determine aspects of his trip. "I started my backpacking trip in July," he says. "That wasn't for any other reason other than that the flight to Greece that day was really, really cheap."

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