In this series, we’re exploring the various careers of world travelers, and how they make ends meet financially while living abroad. Yes, financially sustainable full-time travel is possible!
Christopher Many of Gates to the World, born in New York City in 1970 to an American father and German mother, has always had a knack of breaking conventional norms and following his own dreams. More than anything else, he wanted to find out what lies “beyond the horizon”. After completing an apprenticeship as a boat builder in Bavaria, Christopher lived modestly at various locations, alternatively working and backpacking through the Caribbean, Asia, Europe and Australia. In 1997 Christopher set off on his first motorbike world trip with Puck, his Yamaha Ténéré, and rode from Germany to New Zealand via India. Three years later he returned to Europe, found a job in Scotland, and began to save up for his next venture: a round-the-world voyage with an ailing Land Rover he bought for only £700 (a little over $1,000). He named the Landy Matilda, and between 2002 and 2010 they journeyed together for 3,000 days through 100 countries. His book about this trip, Left Beyond the Horizon – A Land Rover Odyssey, became a bestseller in Germany, and was recently released in English. In 2012, reunited with Puck and with his partner Laura Pattara, Christopher left Europe and headed towards Australia. Right Beyond the Horizon – A Motorcycle Odyssey will tell the story of his most recent four-year adventure, and will be published in September 2016. The future? That’s anybody’s guess. Only one thing seems certain: even after 19 years on the road, Christopher has no intentions of settling down with still so much to explore on our wonderfully strange planet…
Read on to discover how Christopher earns his living as an author!
How long have you been living/working on the road, and where have you traveled to?
I sold all my belongings, apart from what would fit into a rucksack, and opted out of conventional society to become a permanent nomad in 1997, when I was 27 years old. Since then, I’ve been continuously circumnavigating the globe, either with my Yamaha Ténéré motorcycle “Puck”, or my antiquated Land Rover “Matilda”. Both vehicles have carried me safely through Asia, Africa, Australia, both Americas, and Europe – together we’ve visited more than 100 countries.
Please describe what you do for income.
I’m a published author. The income from my previous book “Left Beyond the Horizon – A Land Rover Odyssey” is fully sufficient to cover my travel expenses, purchase petrol, and fill my belly. On occasion, I can even afford a slice of cheesecake, which I consider vital to achieving a state of wellbeing. I’m not sponsored in any way by companies, and needn’t promote my trips by holding regular slide-show presentations or book-reading tours (thank heavens … I’m severely prone to stage fright), but instead, I can focus full-time on doing what I love most: traveling the world and writing about what I experience, without any distractions.
How many hours per week do you work on average?
Work? I view writing more as a fervent passion than a job! Anyway … I guess every author develops their own routine, and what works for some, may not work for others. My routine? On average, I need about a week to research and write a 10-page chapter. So once every month, I try to find a comfy and inspiring setting where I can settle down for a few days, reflect upon the past weeks’ experiences, and put my thoughts to paper. Or – to be precise – into my laptop computer. My publisher would have a heart attack if I handed in a 400-page hand-written manuscript!
How much money do you make?
My income fluctuates, and depends solely upon the quantity of copies my publisher sells. I receive an annual royalty payment – always in the first week of January – and whatever I earn, will have to be enough to cover all my expenses until the following year. The basic calculation – as stipulated in my contract – is really very simple: my royalties are 8% of the net retail price per copy (most publishers pay between 6.5% and 10% royalties for non-fiction). So, as an example, my previous book “Left Beyond the Horizon” has a net price of USD $25. Of these $25 dollars, my publisher gets $23 dollars, and I get $2 … which explains why not many travel writers are mentioned on the “Forbes List of Wealthiest People on the Planet”. Still, one mustn’t forget that the publisher needs to cover the costs for editing, printing, distribution, marketing, and more … all I need to do is write. I’m not complaining: every time a reader buys a copy and I receive my $2, this allows me to fill my motorcycle’s tank with a gallon of fuel (and ride another 47 miles towards the horizon), or my belly with a big slice of cheesecake! Thank you, dear readers …
Do you make enough money to support your lifestyle?
Yes I make enough. I never knew that the Land Rover enthusiast, motorcycle fan-club and overlanding communities were this large! And no, I do not need to engage in any other work, at least not in return for payment. Sometimes I might help out here and there for a few months, but purely for the enjoyment of “fun” jobs. I never accept money – give me a bottle of wine, some food and good company – that’s all I ask.
I’m fortunate, I presume … not every author sells enough books to finance his lifestyle. But I also live modestly on the road, travel less than 1,000 miles per month on average, cook my own meals, and camp usually “wild” in the bush for free. This way I can keep my travel budget to under USD $6,000 per year, which – in other words – necessitates the sale of only 3,000 books p.a. Should I sell more, and have money left over, then I deposit the excess into my savings account, splash out on a new set of tyres, or go perhaps scuba-diving with my partner Laura. Should the book-market crash and I sell less, well, it’s not the end of the world. I’d then travel slower, cover shorter distances per month, spend less time in costly countries, and if need be, even forgo my cherished monthly bottle of wine. Where there’s a will, there’s always a way.
What is your vision for the future of your lifestyle on the road?
I love the simplicity of my nomadic lifestyle: I sleep when I am tired, eat when I am hungry, and shovel my Land Rover or motorcycle out of a Kalahari sand dune when I get stuck. And I write books some people will hopefully enjoy. That basically sums it up! I probably have far fewer problems than your average home owner with a nine-to-five job and a family to feed – my life and the past 19 years on the road have been comparatively easy. So if you were to ask me, if I can imagine traveling for another two decades, my answer would be “yes, definitely”. However, it is not my habit to think that far ahead. Laura and I tend to plan our days only one hour at a time – who knows where we’re going to put up our tent tonight, what we’ll find to eat and who we’re going to meet? And I believe that it’s precisely this unpredictability – the fact that the future is never foreseeable – is what makes life so incredibly exciting!
Any advice for the aspiring traveler about living and working on the road and managing finances?
The best advice I can give you, if you have a meagre annual income, is to travel slowly … especially if you are an overlander with a vehicle. I probably couldn’t live on USD $6,000 per year if I traveled any faster. Why? Well, remember that the combined costs for fuel, visas, shipping and flights can easily amount to HALF of your trip’s budget. Irrespective whether you conclude your voyage in a year or ten, the grand total of these expenses remains the same.
But what you can influence is your average expenditure per year. For example: an overlander who rides his motorcycle from Europe to Australia might cover 30,000 miles, including a few detours. If his bike’s consumption is 40mpg, and the average fuel price is four dollars per gallon, he’ll need to budget $3,000 for fuel alone. Let’s assume he obtains all the permits to cross China for $2,000, spends $500 on visas for the two-dozen countries on his route, and the shipment of his bike (including his own airfare) from Indonesia to Darwin costs another $1,000. That’s $6,500 all up … a hefty sum for a one-year journey!
However, if the overlander takes things slowly, and covers the distance over four years (like I am currently doing), his average annual expenditure drops to a reasonable $1,625. On top of that he’ll only need to cover the costs for food, accommodation and insurances, which are proportionate to his trip’s duration. In the end, a four year motorcycle trip is only twice as expensive as a one year journey, NOT four times! If you now subtract $1,625 from $6,000 and divide the remainder by 365, this leaves me with almost $12 per day for food and accommodation … which is more than enough. On my Land Rover journey, by the way, the situation was much the same. Whereas my Landy’s fuel consumption was higher, the trip lasted eight years instead of only four. Hence, my average annual expenditure was nearly identical.