You all keep asking, so I might as well answer. Here’s how I afford full-time travel… and how you can, too.
The year was 2012, but I remember like it was yesterday.
At a small round table in the common room of a hostel in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, I shouted in conversation with a shirtless, dreadlocked French man over beers and bumping beats.
The conversation was typical backpacker: Where are you from? How long have you been traveling for? Now I loathe this conversation, but this was my first real backpacking trip; I was wet behind the ears, eager to learn.
I told my dreaded acquaintance how I was doing an exchange semester at a university in Bangkok, Thailand. After my semester, I planned to travel through Southeast Asia like many first-time backpackers before me. Frenchman responded with his own story, telling me he’d already been on the road for seven months and planned to travel for years to come.
My eyes bugged. Seven months? Years?!?
Coming from the United States, where long-term travel is frowned upon and career climbing is everything, I couldn’t believe it. Who knew traveling for so long was a thing? Even more, I couldn’t fathom how someone could possibly pay for it all. Mind blown, I drilled him with questions.
(Unfortunately he wasn’t so helpful—just rich.)
Anticlimax aside, the seed had been planted in my mind. I, too, wanted to travel the world for months, maybe even years. If this guy—and the multitudes of backpackers I met after him—could do it, why couldn’t I? I just had to figure out how to pay for it all.
Make it rain
Six years later, I’ve figured it out. Sort of.
Obviously, the solution wasn’t instantaneous. A lot happened since that fateful hostel conversation: I graduated from university. Moved from the US to the Netherlands. Held a variety of jobs—both freelance and contractual—while figuring out how the heck this Adulting biz worked. (Side note: still figuring it out.)
Lost With Purpose’s birth coincided with my travels, and I had distant hopes of generating income through it. Though I began the blog with business on my mind, it was easier to assume I wouldn’t make any money from it. I like low expectations—pleasant surprises are preferable to letdowns.
… but travel blogging turned out to be a terrible way to earn money online.
No one wants to pay you. Companies constantly try to take advantage of you. Pay—when you do get it—is pathetic given the time necessary to manage a blog and create content. Opportunities that arise from running a travel blog are valuable, but don’t count on flopping in a bathtub full of bills any time soon as a travel blogger.
Nevertheless, after 2.5-ish years on the road, I’ve found a kind of financial equilibrium. I’m not raking in the ca$hmonies just yet, but I am finally making enough through blogging and remote work to sustain my travels.
So how do I afford full-time travel?
Yeah, yeah, I know this is what you’ve been waiting for. Hold your horses.
There are a few things that go into funding my life of travel:
Most important: I travel on a tight budget in “affordable” countries and places.
But that has nothing to do with paying for travel!!1! you’re probably crying in outrage. How is that point #1?!
Au contraire. This point is everything.
Many people assume the costs of my long-term travel are akin to standard holiday expenditures. That you can take the price of a week in Europe, multiply it by 52, and get how much I spend on my travels each year.
I literally cannot afford to travel long-term in Europe. In most of the countries I’ve visited on this trip, I traveled on a budget of $15-25 per day depending on the country. Yes, that includes everything: accommodation, transportation, food, visas, etc.
South Asian countries—India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal—are manageable to visit on $15 per day. There’s a reason I spent more than one year in India! (Aside from the fact that it’s awesome and offers long visas.) Countries like Kazakhstan or Uzbekistan are more pricey, so I up my budget to $25/day.
Of course, “affordable” is relative. For some, $15 per day is a joke. For others, that’s an impossible amount of disposable income. But even in “poor” countries, I’ve noticed that those affluent enough to travel generally spend much more than this on holidays. Even in low income countries, people have inflated notions of how much travel costs.
And that’s fair. Sticking to this daily budget does require finagling beyond basic trip planning… and low standards to boot.
I’ve slept on beds where rats literally crawled through my hair and nibbled my toes. Camped on the deck of a Bangladeshi boat because it only cost $2.50. My cheap street food diet would make a nutritionist cry, and my intestines host all kinds of creepy crawlies from the hygienically dubious food and drink I consume. I ride in the lowest train classes, don’t hire private cars, and take buses some people wouldn’t be caught dead in. Most of my days are spent simply wandering around and talking to people (fun and free!), and I rarely pay for tours.
This is the true key to affording traveling for as long as I have. Many people overlook or underestimate the significance of traveling on a budget, but this approach is something almost anyone can take.
Alas, I know this isn’t the answer most of you are looking for. Time to indulge you; time to talk financials.
Most consistent: I make money through travel blogging.
Yep, you can make money blogging… though I assure you it’s not as easy as the internet sometimes makes it out to be.
I’ve spent thousands of hours building the blog to this point. Coding themes, writing posts, editing photos, managing social media. Considering how much time I’ve invested versus how much I make, it’d probably be more lucrative to flip burgers than blog.
At this point (mid-2018), the blog regularly makes $500-1000 per month in revenue from a variety of sources. Banner ads are the primary moneymaker—they suck but they pay my bills—and further income comes from sponsored content, affiliate sales, photo sales, etc.
The profits aren’t fat enough to live in a developed country, but they’re enough for me to wander around South Asia and have the freedom to splurge on good coffee or a proper bed every once in a while.
But hold your excitement—I’ve still got some real talk up my sleeve. As always.
That number might seem like an exorbitant amount to some of you, but you need to consider the amount of work that goes into that payout… and how much of it ends up in my pocket at the end of the day.
After the money reaches my account, I still have to pay for hosting, plugins and other blog services, social media tools, the salary of someone who helps me with the business backend. Let’s not even talk about how much my photography gear costs. *Shudder*
What might start out as a cool grand can easily deplete to less than half that depending on the month’s expenditures.
In short, running a business costs, and my blog ain’t making megabucks. Travel blogging alone likely will not make you rich; I’d have trouble existing (for now) on just this blog’s income. Which brings me to my final point…
Most lucrative: I do all kinds of freelance work.
To supplement my (meager) blog income, I also freelance when I have the time and internet to do so.
A lot of people I meet don’t really get what that means. They think freelancing is interwebs magic: you sign up to a freelance website and start raking in ca$hmonies.
I don’t actually use websites like Freelancer and Upwork to find work. The race to the bottom is fast, and it’s virtually impossible to find good-paying jobs when professional freelancer firms in developing countries can undercut my prices by more than half. (… often for half the quality, but that’s another story.)
Instead, I rely on work from clients who approach me directly.
I do graphic design and occasional web development work for clients from the US and the Netherlands whom I worked with prior to traveling. This blog is also a source of freelance opportunities: occasionally I’m hired to write articles for websites or publications.
Though I spend much less time on freelance work than blogging—this girl ain’t got time for constant travel and blogging and freelancing!—freelancing is a big source of income for me. One or two gigs for companies paying western wages (anywhere from several hundred to several thousand dollars for a project) can sustain me for months in South Asia.
Freelancing prevents my bank account from hitting zero, provides padding in case of emergencies, and has kept me from going broke during this current (damned expensive) stint in the United States.
It’s a lot of work to juggle all these things at once, but that’s what I have to do to fund my travels. So be it!
So how can I make money fund my travels like you?
Now that you know how I manage to pull this off, I assume you want to know how you can make money online to fund your travels, too.
(Many of you have already explicitly asked me—I don’t mind answering, but please stop sending me messages akin to “How 2 make money online like u?” Do a little research yourself first, thanks.)
Giving general advice is tricky; everyone has different skills and ambitions, everyone’s situation is different. Nevertheless, here’s some steps most of you can take:
1. Figure out what you’re good at.
Are you a language whiz? Good with people? Designer extraordinaire? Master of video content? Write down some of the things you could do professionally… if you aren’t doing so already!
Make sure you have some proof of your skills. Testimonials from people you’ve worked with, online portfolios for photographers and designers, a blog for writers/social media gurus. You get the idea.
2. Figure out how you can use those skills on the internet.
Freelance writing and design and coding work are obvious enough to sort out, but what about other skills?
Good with languages? Consider working as a translator. Grammar Nazis are well suited to freelance editing. People skills could lead to a job teaching languages online. Those with niche skills can offer online consulting services. Organized folks who know their way around the internet/a computer can find virtual assistant work (anything from managing email or social media to formatting blog posts or checking Excel sheets).
3. Before looking for work online, foster business relationships with people at home.
It’s much easier for someone to trust you enough to let you to work remotely if they’ve met you in person. Working your home network is easier than seeking out clients online.
Spend time building up a reputation locally before making the jump to remote work on the road. Nurture those relationships long enough that the client might want to hire you even if you’re on the other side of the world. That’s basically what I did!
4. If looking for work online, directly seek out clients rather than using freelance websites.
Though it’s possible to make a decent living through freelancer sites, it’s not easy. A more effective approach to finding online work is to lurk where people might look for people with your skills.
An example: I’m part of a variety of Facebook groups regarding blogging, digital nomadism, and creative arts. When someone is looking for, say, a graphic designer for their next logo, they often post in those groups before broadening their search to freelancer websites. If you’re in the group—and conduct yourself well—you have a better chance of getting noticed and hired compared to generic freelance websites flooded with people seeking work.
5. Don’t be an idiot.
A lot of people miss out on opportunities because they simply don’t conduct themselves professionally online. Avoid making the same mistake.
Don’t harass people about hiring you. Don’t pitch to people who don’t need your skills, be selective and strategic. Check communications for typos multiple times before sending. Don’t send War and Peace-length pitches to people. And, for the love of god, when someone hires you do what you said you would on time. Ain’t no one gonna hire you if you flake out on your first assignment. I sure as hell wouldn’t.
Finally: be patient
Rome wasn’t built in a day. Neither was my business(es). Remember, I spent years freelancing before traveling, and invested thousands of hours into this blog over more than two years to get it to this point.
It takes time to establish yourself and make a steady, reliable income on the road. There is no quick and easy solution to making money online. Determination and persistence are necessary no matter what your skills.
Take small steps, don’t get discouraged, and don’t give up. If I can do it, maybe you can, too.