Meet the Expats who Set Up Low-Cost Businesses – and Prospered

Imagine the place you want to be right now.

Maybe it’s swinging in a hammock overlooking turquoise waters, your toes dug into silky-soft, white sand…perhaps you’re sipping wine in a sidewalk café in Paris…or you’re walking in the path of the ancient Incas in an Andean mountain valley.

Not so long ago, this is exactly what I was doing. Housebound during a blustery Nebraska winter, I imagined myself in these kinds of settings.

I had some money tucked away, so I could have gone off on the vacation of my dreams and then returned to Omaha and the weary workaday world. But that wasn’t what I was after. I wanted to hop aboard the fast train to paradise and I wanted it to be a one-way trip.

If you’re at the same kind of crossroads, maybe my experience will help.

I’ve been in all those places I once dreamt about. And I’ve figured out a way to earn enough money to keep me moving forward…and avoid dipping into my savings.

My primary job is as a travel writer and editor for International Living. But I’ve also done some copywriting and photography, I’ve led custom-designed tours, and I’ve purchased artisan handicrafts to sell at private parties back in the Midwest.

I’ve also met scores of others…just like you can do…who have figured out how to earn enough money to keep their dreams alive.

A friend in pretty Montevideo, Uruguay, for example, designs ads for websites. And no, he’s not a graphic designer nor does he really have any artistic ability. It’s just something he kind of fell into. As of now, he makes enough money to pay his rent and buy the occasional bottle of that famous Uruguayan wine—but it’s an income he thinks he’ll be able to increase over time.

In gorgeous colonial Mexico, another friend, who had always loved food (and who doesn’t?) noticed other expats curious about the unfamiliar produce sold in local mercados. So he started giving guided tours and cooking classes in his home. He’s now appeared on television shows with Martha Stewart and Rick Bayless…and earlier this year, was ranked by Travel+Leisure as having one of the best cooking schools in the world.

In Placencia, Belize (where you’ll find the country’s best white-sand beaches, by the way) another friend also started small. With no training, but a true aptitude, she had a portable table built and she began giving massages to tourists on the beach. Eventually, she was able to open a small day spa, and now, it’s become one of the top businesses in this sunny sand-and-sea locale.

My friend, Bob, may have the best gig of all. He’s a house-sitter. Most of his “jobs” last one to three months and he typically has the run of a really gorgeous home. I don’t recall how many countries he’s spent time in over the past two years, but he concentrates on Latin America and the Caribbean (“nowhere with snow”) and he says in every destination, he’s managed to keep his monthly out-of-pocket expenses at less than $500. (Of course, he also has to pay his travel expenses from place to place.)

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