The Earth Awaits is a search engine that tells you where in the world you can afford to live, given your budget. The site's creator is a Silicon Valley engineer with a sideline blog about thrifty traveling, a blog which itself grew from a plan to eliminate debt, save every penny, and retire at 40 to travel the world. Readers were particularly interested in the retirement part, and blog posts on the cost of living in various cities proved popular. But blog posts go out of date, so the anonymous authors built a search engine to do the job.
The data comes from Numbeo, a global, crowdsourced database of consumer prices and other metrics, which means it should always be up-to-date.
It works like this: You tell The Earth Awaits your budget, and a few more details about your needs, and it'll spit out a list of cities around the world where you can afford to live. The site lets you narrow down the search by continent, by the level of pollution, and the crime rate of the cities you may move to. You tell it your lifestyle, from "very lean" to "modest" to "opulent," along with some basic details about the size and location of the apartment you want.
An advanced search adds in filters like "primary language" and "minimum freedom score," as well as other important details such as temperature range and internet download speed. Plug in all your requirements, and the site serves you a list with at-a-glance cards for the candidate cities, showing their cost, pollution level, crime rate, and population. These results can be sorted any which way (internet speed, quality of life, and many more), and viewed on a map.
Shall we take a look at some of our options?
Instead of dumping in our entire salary, which doesn't really narrow things down much at all, let's set some limits. Perhaps you want to downsize your life, and you take a job where you can work from anywhere and have plenty of free time. Or you really are retiring, and you want your savings to stretch for as long as possible. All cases assume two people traveling together.
Let's start with a nice round grand-per-month budget, and set the criteria to anything at all, with a one-bedroom, city-center apartment. There are 73 results, most of which are in either India or Eastern Europe/Turkey. When sorted by the default "quality of life" criteria, the top spot is Bursa in Turkey. It has low crime, low pollution, and overall costs of $956.38 per month for two people. The health care quality is "very high" (87/100), the average internet speed is 8.7 Mb/s, and the population is just shy of 1.5 million.
However, if you are a woman, or care about political rights and freedom of the press, or about the internet not being censored, then pick somewhere else to live, because Turkey doesn't score high on any of those points.
Instead, how about Mangalore, India, second on the list when sorted by quality of life. The $541.76 monthly cost for a "modest" lifestyle includes $228 rent, $190 for food, and $123 for "other." The average internet speed is a poor 1.2 Mb/s, but health care is great, the temperature rarely drops below 70˚F, and a domestic beer will cost you $1.50 per pint. However, if you're the wrong race, you might not get along with your neighbors: They're classified as "discriminatory."
What if we sort by other criteria? In the $1,000-per-month bracket, the fastest average internet download speed is in Sibiu, Romania, with 29.6 Mb/s, letting you keep your smug travel blog easily updated. Sibiu also has the highest Freedom Score, with anti-discrimination laws, LGBT people allowed in the military, and legal abortions. The least free spot on the list is Damascus in Syria, followed by Algiers in Algeria.
The scale maxes out at $20,000 per month, so I slid it all the way to the left and picked the "opulent" lifestyle. I also excluded anything under $10,000, and picked a three-bedroom city-center apartment over the one-bedroom choice in the previous section.
The winner here is actually also the cheapest. Geneva, at only $10,333.02 per month, tops the quality of life chart. The most expensive of the eight results shown is Luanda in Angola, at $17.243.46, followed by Hamilton in Bermuda, at $16,028.94. Most of this goes on the rental, and if you can afford $20,000 per month, you can probably afford to buy your own mansion.
The more budget-minded of us may want to avoid Hamilton, though. It only has a population of 902, and even a cheap, one-bedroom out-of-town apartment costs $1,800 per month, which means that your neighbors will likely hate you for being poor. Worst of all, though, is that a paltry 10Mb/s internet connection will cost you $140 per month.
What about the really low-budget option? Can two people really survive on something like $200 per month, without living in a filthy hovel and eating deadly ramen? Lets take a look.
A couple can live modestly in India for under $500 per month, but even that's a stretch, with just three cities listed, and all of those still cost more than $400. Move the lifestyle dial to "lean" and your options open up a little. Mostly it's still India, but you can now choose Sumy in Ukraine (population 294,456, $147.97 per month for an apartment, $0.50 for a beer), or Kumanovo in Macedonia, where you can get a city center apartment for $80 and pay $9 for your internet. In Macedonia, same-sex marriage isn't recognized, but same-sex sex is legal. Women's equality is a surprisingly good 70.1% (for comparison, Irvine, California, scores 74% for women's equality), and the country scores overall as "partly free." Crime is low, pollution, high-ish, and health care is good. Overall, Kumanovo seems like a pretty decent spot, especially at those prices.
A few things become clear if you spend some time studying these listings. One is that the rights we typically enjoy in Europe and the U.S. are relatively rare. Same-sex relationships (and relations) are still illegal in many places, women's rights are limited, and the freedoms of the press and the internet that we assume as rights are similarly curtailed, to varying extents. Discrimination against your neighbor is often worse than it is at home.
The Earth Awaits is a fantastic tool, not just for travelers, but for those interested in just how the familiar things vary in cost around the world. But as a way to pick where to retire? Perhaps not. After all, you don't decide where to spend the rest of your life based on cost. You move to another country for far more romantic reasons. As a way to reality-check your dreams, though, and to prepare you for living alone and unsupported in a foreign land, The Earth Awaits is fantastic.