We love getting the most bang for our buck when living somewhere, so any city that can offer a great quality of life at an affordable price is something we’re always on the lookout for. In this post, we’re going to share four of the best value cities for long-term travel in 2020 based on personal experience.
We embarked on a permanent state of nomadic travel in December 2015. Right from the beginning, we knew the “slow travel” lifestyle was going to be more cost-effective and less stressful in the long run. In 2020, we’re still of the same mindset, which is why we like to stay at least a month in any given city unless it’s a stopover situation. All in all, we’ve stayed in 17 different cities across four continents for at least a 4-week period each!
Basis of Evaluation
From the very beginning of our travels, we kept specific accounting of every purchase made in a custom spreadsheet. We filter the data for daily living expenses, which allows for an apples-to-apples comparison between cities all over the world. Daily living expenses include things like rent, groceries, eating out, transportation, routine entertainment like going out for drinks, as well as miscellaneous stuff like hair cuts.
Of course, when we look back on the places we’ve been, it’s not necessarily just the cheapest cities that stand out. At the end of the day, the question really is: would we want to go back and live there again? In other words: VALUE for money. In rough order, here are some of our top priorities determining value:
- Daily Stress Level (includes factors like safety and attitude of locals)
- Internet Quality
We like to break the affordability metric down to cost per day and cost per month. Since we are two people, we only really have solid data for what a couple might expect to pay. For a solo traveler, we estimate living expenses at 2/3 of the couple figure, since you don’t get the extra savings for rooming with a partner. Accommodation, for the most part, is based on Airbnb rentals with the often significant 28-day discount.
#4: Medellín, Colombia
- Average cost per day for a couple: $42.42 USD
- Average cost per day for a single person (estimated): $28 USD
Medellín is an exciting city. It has come a long way since Pablo Escobar’s heyday and is now considered the top digital nomad hub in the Western Hemisphere. Part of that has to do with how affordable it is to live there. While not necessarily as cheap as other South American countries or neighboring Colombian towns, Medellín has so much going for it that it cracks our top 3 list.
By far the most populous city on this list, the 2.4 million inhabitants of Medellín are by and large young and dynamic, full of energy and optimism. There are a surprisingly large number of hip cafés and restaurants, especially in the neighborhood we stayed in: Laureles. You’ll also have no trouble meeting other expats and nomads if you’re into that. In fact, our social life in Medellín was far and away the most robust in all our travels so far.
Medellín – Cost of Living
You can find simple but adequate accommodation for under $400 USD/month if you do a bit of research and have some Spanish speaking skills. A multi-course lunch (“menú del día”) can cost as little as $4 USD/person. Medellín has a decent monorail public transit system that can zip you around for less than $1 USD per ride – or you can take a taxi/rideshare across town for as little as $3 USD.
Our monthly expenses in Medellín as a couple:
|Rent||$350/month for a studio apartment in the Laureles neighborhood|
|Transportation||$20/month (mostly Ubers)|
|Entertainment||$120/month (more night life in Medellín)|
Medellín – Livability Factors
Medellín also scores high on the other factors that are important to us. Safety has improved greatly since the 90s and you should have no problem nowadays if you use the same common sense you’d use anywhere. Internet speeds were not fantastic when we lived there in late 2016 (About 10 Mbps), but speeds have picked up to an average of 19 Mbps since then according to speedtest.net’s June 2019 snapshot.
The climate in Medellín is fantastic; it is known as the “city of eternal spring” for a reason! Located roughly on the equator but high up in the mountains, the temperatures stay around 23° C all year round. It can be rainy at times, but temperature-wise the climate can’t be beat. The city also has a surprisingly high amount of green areas depending on the neighborhood you live in.
Don’t hesitate to try out living in Medellín if you enjoy nightlife and perfect weather at an inexpensive cost of living.
For detailed guides to Medellín, check out our Medellín series.
#3: Tirana, Albania
- Average cost per day for a couple: $38.64 USD
- Average cost per day for a single person (estimated): $26 USD
Albania is an often overlooked country, but the capital city of Tirana has a lot to offer. The young folks are eager to put their dark communist past behind them and build a new future. Looking to the West for inspiration, Albania is a candidate to join the EU and is adopting EU standards. Culturally, too, we noticed locals who had a vibrant social life and dressed well (seemingly to imitate their stylish Italian neighbors across the sea).
With a population of about 550,000, Tirana was the perfect size for us, offering cosmopolitan culture without sacrificing walkability. While still a little rough around the edges, it didn’t come off as pretentious. The smaller towns in Albania may be a bit too provincial for some travelers, but Tirana itself is well-connected. And English proficiency among younger people was surprisingly good.
Tirana – Cost of Living
Right now, Albania is one of the most affordable countries in Europe. Rent costs are shockingly low, even on Airbnb. Fresh produce is super cheap as well, though you’ll have to buy it from smaller vendors with outdoor stands since supermarkets generally don’t sell produce within their stores. And you can get some tasty meals (especially fast food) for under $4/person.
Our monthly expenses in Tirana as a couple:
|Rent||$450/month for a 1-bedroom apartment in the city center|
|Transportation||$0/month (we walked everywhere)|
Tirana – Livability Factors
One thing we loved about Tirana was their massive “Grand Park,” which is accessible from a big chunk of the city. We love cities that offer lots of green space and having Grand Park nearby was a huge plus of living there. The city also felt pretty walkable, though you need to be wary of aggressive drivers while out.
Internet speed was fast (25 Mbps+) and reliable in certain areas, but worth checking with your host first before committing if that’s important to you. Finally, the climate was excellent for most of the year with relatively mild winters and pleasant shoulder season temperatures. Only the summers are too hot with highs of 31°C / 88°F in July and August.
#2: Plovdiv, Bulgaria
- Average cost per day for a couple: $42.04 USD
- Average cost per day for a single person (estimated): $28 USD
Our recent stay in Plovdiv really impressed us. Not only is it super affordable, but it is very charming and pleasant as well. If we had to sum up our life in Plovdiv with one word, it would be “easy.” It might be the most stress-free city we’ve lived in so far. To us, that’s a wonderful thing. Though perhaps not surprising for the oldest continuously inhabited city in Europe! There’s a strong “aylyak” culture here, which means relaxed and absolutely free to enjoy the pleasures of life. It certainly does feel like the locals live by this philosophy.
Plovdiv – Cost of Living
The cost of living in Plovdiv is barely higher than Medellín, but you get a lot of the things commonly found in Europe which are not always available in South America – like private laundry, drinkable tap water, and a high percentage of locals who speak English.
Accommodation is a bit more expensive here compared to Medellín. We paid about $560 USD/month for our Airbnb, but it was also quite a bit nicer. A meal at a local restaurant will run about $7 USD/person. Groceries are noteworthy in that the variety of specialty and imported items available at supermarkets is excellent. At the same time, you can find fresh local produce at outdoor stands for mere cents. The cost savings for cooking at home are noticeable, but we’ve had trouble sticking to this since the restaurants in Plovdiv are so good!
Our monthly expenses in Plovdiv as a couple:
|Rent||$575/month for a one-bedroom apartment in the city center on Airbnb|
|Transportation||$0/month (we walked everywhere)|
Plovdiv – Livability Factors
In terms of internet quality, Plovdiv is truly excellent. Our Airbnb WiFi averaged an astounding 75 Mbps download and 48 Mbps upload speed. The climate here is definitely seasonal with hot summers, cold winters, and perfect shoulder months. The city of 350,000 is also extremely walkable, boasting the longest pedestrian-only street in Europe.
We are already plotting when we can make it back to Plovdiv after our visa time here is up. We love it here and think you will too if you value affordability, pleasant living, and fantastic internet.
For detailed guides to Plovdiv, check out our Plovdiv series.
#1: Guanajuato, Mexico
- Average cost per day for a couple: $32.95 USD
- Average cost per day for a single person (estimated): $22 USD
Guanajuato scores huge points for affordability, but that doesn’t mean you’re sacrificing an arm and a leg to live on the cheap. There are compromises, sure, but some things in your daily routine you just get used to and it’s no big deal. At the same time, you get to enjoy living in a magical city full of history and culture. Mexicans from all over the country flock to Guanajuato for weekend trips, and once you live there you understand why. This UNESCO world heritage site is colorful and vibrant, proudly showing off its stunning architecture built during its colonial silver-mining boom.
Guanajuato – Cost of Living
We’re also suckers for Mexican food, so the availability of cheap and delicious tacos is compelling. Overall, cost of living is incredibly low across the board. We found a private apartment for $350 USD/month. You can get a tasty and filling meal for under $3 USD, and groceries are very inexpensive unless you can’t live without your imported luxury items. If you can figure out the bus system you can get around town for $0.35 USD per ride – or just hire a cab for a couple dollars if you don’t feel like walking. That being said, it’s very easy to walk most places you’d want to go.
Our monthly expenses in Guanajuato as a couple:
|Rent||$350/month for a one-bedroom apartment slightly outside the city center|
|Groceries||$500/month (though we cooked at home more than usual)|
|Restaurants||$90/month (though we ate out less than usual)|
|Transportation||$20/month (mostly buses)|
Guanajuato – Livability Factors
We would consider the stress level to be low, but it’s hard to put your finger on. We’ve found that although life is hard for many Mexicans, they tend to have a positive attitude about life and take a lot of the difficulties in stride.
Internet speeds are really hit-or-miss. Most areas, including apartments you might find, will have about 10 Mbps download / 2 Mbps upload. However, certain cafés and co-working spaces have fiber connections with 100 Mbps download speeds.
The weather in Guanajuato is usually quite pleasant, with both winters and summers being relatively mild in terms of temperatures. Heating is not super common though, so even during the mild winters, it can get cold at night unless you’re bundled up well. Try to avoid coming during the rainy season months of June – September since one-third to one-half of the days will be rainy.
There’s just something magical about living in Mexico and Guanajuato in particular. The culture is so rich and the food is incredible. It doesn’t hurt that it’s also one of the most affordable places on the planet to live either!