By John Marshall
Everyone at one time or another has wanted to get away from it all and beach/ski/paraglide-bum it in some foreign land. Small problem: that’s very expensive. Or is it? (That’s our sweet rhetorical way of saying maybe not.) Check this list of 12 shockingly affordable paradises you can live in for peanuts… though you’ll probably be packed and out the door by number seven.
1. Avarua, Cook Islands
Credit: David Holt/Flickr
Where exactly is this place: The Cook Islands are technically part of New Zealand, but are located 2,008 miles northeast of it, smack in the middle of the South Pacific. Avarua is the capital and rests on the island of Rarotonga. Raro-ton-ga. Raaaarooo-toooonga. Doesn’t that just sound nice?
Why you should move here: It’s got tropical beaches, like in Hawaii or Tahiti, but the average rent for an apartment is $130 a month, unlike Hawaii or Tahiti… or anywhere else in America that’s isn’t an Airbnb igloo some dude is renting in New Brunswick.
Other things you should know: The inhabitants are mostly Polynesian natives; considering the Cook Islands’ natural beauty, they remain stunningly un-commercialized and host relatively few tourists annually, around 100,000. To give some perspective, Hawaii attracts near 8 million.
What you can do once you get there: Whale watching, hiking, snorkeling, forgetting that cubicles are real.
So… what’s the catch: Er, well, foreigners can’t buy property on the island. But they can lease it for up to 60 years. If you want to buy, you’ll have to become a full-fledged citizen or get special permission.
2. Český Krumlov, Czech Republic
Credit: Dimitris Sp/Flickr
Where exactly is this place: In the Bohemian region of the Czech Republic.
Why you should move here: There’s a huge castle, cobblestone streets, and an overall medieval feel, which culminates in a summer solstice celebration that loosely resembles a Renaissance fair called the Five-Petalled Rose Festival, which includes jousts and fireworks and probably oversized meat legs. And you can get a three-course meal for two for 20 bucks year round and rent an apartment for $13 a day (which is cheaper than a smoking habit in New York City).
Other things you should know: It’s a small town, mostly full of Czech families that have roots going back centuries
What you can do once you get there: Live your Game of Thrones Fantasies and lead whitewater rafting on the Vltava, which is supposed to be one rollicking river.
So… what’s the catch: Trying to speak Czech.
3. Koh Tonsay, Cambodia
Credit: Matyas Rehak/Shutterstock
Where exactly is this place: It’s a small island (Koh Tonsay translates to “rabbit island”) in southern Cambodia, near the mainland city of Kep.
Why you should move here: It’s a rugged jungle paradise and you can stay in a beachfront bungalow for a cool six bones a day. No, they don’t operate on a femur-based currency — that’s just slang for “dollars.”
Other things you should know: This island is mostly uninhabited, save for a few fishermen and their families.
What you can do once you get there: You can relax on the beach or explore the cave-laden jungle. Or you can also check out the crab market where they’ll cook the live crustaceans of your choice right in front of you for five bucks.
So… what’s the catch: This isn’t some squeaky-clean island where you rent an umbrella in peachy sand. The untamed beach is occasionally graced by packs of feral dogs and lumbering wayward farm animals. Hey, free pets.
4. Guanajuato, Mexico
Credit: Ismael Alonso/Flickr
Where exactly is this place: In the middle of Mexico.
Why you should move here: It’s a cool, intellectual city. Some hack would probably call it the “Brooklyn” of Mexico. Plus, you can rent an apartment for around $6 a day, beer costs around a buck, and a movie ticket is a measly $3.
Other things you should know: There are lots of mummies. Seriously. There was a cholera outbreak in the mid-18th century and so many died that a tax was placed on buried bodies. As many couldn’t afford it, many corpses were disinterred and natural mummies resulted. Author of Fahrenheit 451 Ray Bradbury wrote a story called “The Next in Line” about his experience there.
What you can do once you get there: Go and see the mummies. There’s also a big, famous arts festival called Festival Internacional Cervantino, named after the author of Don Quixote, which is supposedly so wild that it makes Sundance look like a lame tea party.
So… what’s the catch: Mummies are scary.
5. Pearl Islands, Panama
Credit: Chuck Holton/Flickr
Where exactly is this place: The Pearl Islands are a group of (duh) islands about 20 miles due west of Panama in the Pacific.
Why you should move here: Because so many of the islands are uninhabited, you could conceivably live rent free (see “pirates” below), which would make rent $0 a day. Or you can rent something near the beach for $10 a day. And, hey, it was nice enough for the Shah of Iran to spend his exile here.
Other things you should know: Until the ’70s, the only people that lived here were pirates trying to lay low. While they’ve since constructed a number of ritzy resorts, there’s plenty of unscathed and unclaimed beach left for you to start your new life.
What you can do once you get there: There are a lot of pearls (again, duh). In fact, Elizabeth Taylor owned La Peregrina, a famous 30-plus carat monster pearl that was found here. So you can make your new life pearling (not the piercing, you monster).
So… what’s the catch: They’ve shot three seasons of Survivor here. They might shoot another.
6. Agonda Beach in Goa, India
Credit: Magnus Von Koeller/Flickr
Where exactly is this place: The southernmost coastline of Goa, a state on India’s west coast.
Why you should move here: You can ride an elephant on the beach, get a bottle of wine for $.44, a haircut for $.60, and a beach shack for $4 a day. Seriously, what else do you need? In fact, skip the haircut and get two bottles of wine without breaking a buck.
Other things you should know: It’s pretty unpopulated. Unlike the rest of Goa, which is India’s wealthiest state (thanks partially to tourism), Agonda beach is relatively free of tourists and the things they bring (e.g. plastic sunglasses, kitschy pre-fab resort communities and worrying cries of Woo!).
What you can do once you get there: Beyond the beach, there’s not much. Maybe get your hair cut? There’s also yoga, temples, and naan.
So… what’s the catch: There are a lot of soul-searching adrift hippies. They will ask if you can spare any cash or hash (or both).
7. Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria
Credit: Gleb Kachaev/Flickr
Where exactly is this place: In north Bulgaria in the Veliko Tarnovo river valley.
Why you should move here: The former Bulgarian capital is one of the oldest cities in Europe, with evidence of settlement from 3000 BC. And its Riviera on the Black Sea coast is as naturally beautiful as France’s famed own, but in Bulgaria a beer only costs $.80.
Other things you should know: The population is about 200,000 Bulgarians who probably don’t appreciate how cheap their beer is.
What you can do once you get there: Often called the “City of Tsars,” this town is all about its history. Whether you’d rather see corbelled vaulting from the Middle Ages or cave painting, Veliko Tarnavo has got it. Its got the laid-back vibe of a place that’s seen the rise and fall of a half-dozen world empires. And you can get an apartment here for $6 a day.
So… what’s the catch: The city’s many ruins and old churches don’t have the same safety standards as the States. That means no handrails, and if you see a rickety stairway that looks as if it might break, it might actually break. And, unlike in the States, there’s probably no one for you to sue.
8. Ho Coc Beach, Vietnam
Where exactly is this place: The southeastern coast of Vietnam.
Why you should move here: You could guide tours through its 11,000-hectare tropical forest or go snorkeling in its tropical reefs or just enjoy being on a beach that’s near deserted on weekdays and paying rent that’s $6 a day.
Other things you should know: It’s a very small beach community with tight-knit locals.
What you can do once you get there: Check out the Binh Chau Hot Springs, where several lakes and a mineral-rich aquifer converge into a swim treat that stays near 80 degrees year round.
So… what’s the catch: People in your tour group saying, “Good morning, Vietnam” or that they “love the smell of napalm in the morning.” No one will be upset if you “lose” them in the jungle.
9. Hainan Island, China
Credit: Cheng Don/Wikimedia
Where exactly is this place: Just south of China in the appropriately named South China Sea.
Why you should move here: It’s often called the Hawaii of the East. And, to encourage tourists to come here, China instated a duty-free policy on the island — and is currently in the process of the developing the world’s largest duty-free shopping center. However, a foreigner can only spend $770 at a time, twice a year sans-tax. But when rent is $10 a day, who can complain? Compare that to Hawaii, which is $50 a day, and wonder why you ever went there.
Other things you should know: While this tropical island was overlooked for a long time, its days of going unnoticed are behind it. Like the pretty girl in a teen movie, she has taken off her glasses and now everyone knows she’s beautiful.
What you can do once you get there: In the nearby town of Sanya, there is an annual dragon boat race, so, you know, you could do that. Race dragon boats. Why not?
So… what’s the catch: Morgan Stanley and the Agile Group have bought a beach here and have built three golf courses, which will attract slick-haired bank honchos.
10. Ksamil Beach, Albania
Credit: Artur Malinowski/Flickr
Where exactly is this place: The southern tip of Albania on the Adriatic Sea.
Why you should move here: Ksamil is a small town and part of the Butrint National Park. Its got a quintessential Mediterranean climate, which is to say your new job could be making olive oil or growing tangerines. And, unlike Greece or Italy (or more recently, Croatia), the land is unspoiled and things are cheap. How cheap? Well, it’s not Bulgaria (beer here costs an average of 90 cents), but to rent a one-bedroom apartment would cost about $4 a day.
Other things you should know: Only about 2,000 (very lucky) Albanians live here.
What you can do once you get there: Eat seafood at a café (a meal is about six bucks at a mid-range restaurant and there’s 30 varieties of tasty fish in the Adriatic), drink cheap wine (about six bucks a bottle), hire a paddleboat and make out on an island with no other people.
So… what’s the catch: Whatever the catch of the day is.
11. Iquitos, Peru
Credit: Christian Vinces/Shutterstock
Where exactly is this place: In Northeast Peru on the Amazonian basin.
Why you should move here: You can find rambling riverfront mansions adjacent to wooden stilt houses with straw-thatched roofs that straddle the water like a leggy bird. And an oo-lala three-course meal for two costs 13 bucks. And while there’s a wide range of housing available, the average for a one bedroom apartment is $6.50 a day.
Other things you should know: A mix of native Amazonians (many of whom still get around in dugout canoes) and more recent immigrants from within Peru live here.
What you can do once you get there: Check out the wildlife: giant otters, manatees, and the very rare red-faced Uakari monkeys. Also experience Amazonian Pop Art (also called Wild Naïve art), an electric, effervescent style, which is said to combine the crass commercialism MTV (à la Warhol) with the (very) potent hallucinogenic tea, ayahuasca, a trippy cocktail that’s been ritually drunk by Andes natives for centuries.
So… what’s the catch: Bull sharks have been known to swim up the Amazon, probably looking to score ayahuasca.
12. Las Trancas, Chile
Where exactly is this place: Southern Chile.
Why you should move here: Unlike further up in elevation, this valley is cheap but still near some of the best slopes in South America. You can ski all winter and pay $10 a day in rent.
Other things you should know: The very rich live up the mountain and the very rustic live in the valley. You could be the latter, teaching snowboarding and growing cocoa for your gourmet hot chocolate truck.
What you can do once you get there: Snowboard, hike, and/or ski. There’s also an obscene number of hot tubs (nearly every rentable cabin has one) all of which (probably) need maintenance.
So… what’s the catch: There’s not much to do in the warmer months… besides totally chill and realize you’ll never have to think about morning commutes every again.
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