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!
Danielle and Mat are a couple of minimalist nomads and freelancers from Ottawa, Canada who have been exploring long-term travel since 2012. They work online so they can earn an income on the road, and they keep their expenses low by house sitting and road-tripping in their camper van. They started the Exploring Alternatives blog to share their experiences, and they also share videos on their YouTube channel about people who are living alternative lifestyles.
Danielle and Mat have financially supported their full-time travels in a few different ways, making them true freelancers; here is their very inspirational story of how they’ve managed to stay on the road.
How long have you been living/working on the road, and where have you traveled to?
We sold our house in 2012 and have been nomadic for almost four years now. We like to travel slowly and live like locals so that we can really experience each new place we visit. We’ve backpacked in Costa Rica, California and Thailand, we’ve attended month-long artist residencies in Colorado, Iceland, Berlin and Barcelona, we’ve worked as house-sitters in Australia and in the Pacific Northwest, and we’ve road tripped in our camper van across the US and Canada.
Please describe what you do for income.
Our income source has varied over the past four years. The first year, we financed our travels with the money we earned from the sale of our house, and we also spent some of our savings.
When we got back from that first trip, we picked up two jobs each and worked our butts off for six months to save enough money to hit the road again. Mat worked at a cafe and for the city, and I got a contract at a not-for-profit organization and also worked at a health food store.
Following our six-month stationary working stint, I (Danielle) secured a location independent job working for a friend’s online store, and Mat picked up graphic design contracts and made paintings and sculptures to sell when we went home to visit friends and family.These jobs allowed us to travel and earn an income at the same time so we didn’t have to worry about running out of money or plan the end of a trip since we could travel in perpetuity. It also helped that we didn’t have a home or an apartment to pay for, so that we didn’t have to earn money to pay rent/mortgage, and our travel expenses at the same time. We’ve spent the last year starting our own business, which is a sort of social media project that allows us to share videos on YouTube about people living alternative lifestyles, and our income comes from the Google AdSense program (we get paid for the ads they run on our videos).
How many hours per week do you work on average?
To be honest, we’ve never actually calculated how many hours we work on our own business, but I can tell you that it’s a lot.
Sometimes we work seven days per week filming and editing videos, and travelling from one interview location to another. Sometimes we’ll choose to work 12-14 hour days to finish a few videos in advance so that we can take a few weeks off.
One thing that we’ve noticed since we started working for ourselves is that we don’t watch the clock anymore. We enjoy what we do, and we put in the hours we need to in order to get everything done.
We’re also much more flexible about when we work. For example, if it’s a nice day out, we might decide to have a lazy breakfast and go for a walk or spend time with family and friends in the morning, but then we’ll work until it’s almost time to go to bed at night.
How much money do you make?
During our first three years on the road, we earned and spent approximately $35,000 CAD per year (that’s for the both of us combined, including everything from plane tickets to travel insurance to groceries). Since we still had a small chunk of savings in our bank account that we never touched, we felt comfortable spending everything we earned each month knowing we still had a backup plan if ever something happened. We also made sure that we both had access to credit lines and credit cards in case of an emergency.
Now we’re earning between $1,500-$2,000 CAD per month with the Exploring Alternatives project, which is about $1,000 CAD less per month than we were making before. It’s still enough for us to keep travelling in our camper van and doing some shorter international trips since we live a minimalist lifestyle and we’re very careful with our spending.
We’re hoping to eventually earn as much as we did before so that we can use the extra money to start planning for our retirement.
Do you make enough money to support your lifestyle?
We are currently earning just enough money to support our lifestyle, and travelling in our camper van has helped us avoid some of the larger travel expenses we’d normally encounter, like flights, accommodation, and eating out.
That said, we’re excited that we’ve been able to start a business with virtually no startup costs, and that we’re already able to live off of the revenue it’s generating. We hope diversify our income so that it’s not all coming from our YouTube channel, since it can be quite unpredictable due to exchange rates and ad rates. We’ve written a new eBook and also launched a new video course about how to live in a camper van, and we plan to create more alternative living guides if people find them useful.
What do you like most about your career and lifestyle?
We’re both over-the-moon excited that we’ve been able to create work for ourselves that we both enjoy. We have a great time meeting new people and filming videos about their alternative lifestyles, and we also enjoy the video editing and planning aspects of our work, too. Best of all, our new careers allow us to continue exploring the world.
What are some of the challenges you have with this career and lifestyle?
We spend hours hunched over our laptops while we edit videos and plan our interviews, and we can definitely feel the physical effects of that. We get sore backs and necks so we do our best to cut down on the number of hours we’re online. We also alternate between a sitting and standing desk, and do frequent stretch breaks to avoid sitting in the same position for too long.
Another couple of challenges that we sometimes face with our career and our lifestyle are uncertainty and self-doubt. We’re earning our living from YouTube, which as a concept is still fairly new, and it can be quite unpredictable. We never know how many people will watch our videos, or how much we’ll earn from one month to the next.
We’re also living our lives quite differently from most of the people we know and sometimes we feel like we’re missing out on the close-knit relationships that we had when we were settled in one place. To combat this, we do our best to stay in touch with everyone, and we usually plan to visit our family and friends for a few months each year.
What is your vision for the future of your lifestyle on the road?
We don’t have any plans to settle down or make changes to our lifestyle in the foreseeable future. We might upgrade our camper van to a larger one so that we can stand up inside it but we thrive on change and plan to keep travelling as long as we can.
Any advice for the aspiring traveler about living and working on the road and managing finances?
We always suggest that people try a lifestyle before they commit to it for any length of time. For example, before we moved into our van, we tried living in a car for two weeks, and we also rented a tiny apartment for six months to see how we could handle living in small spaces together before investing in our van.
Be flexible. Being nomadic and working and living on the road means that you’re always trying to find a place to sleep, to eat, to get WiFi. And sometimes things are not going to go your way. Accept it as part of the journey.
Plan to have some backup savings in case of emergency, and/or to get yourself settled if you need to suddenly stop travelling.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
We don’t regret the lifestyle we’ve chosen for a minute. The more we make lifestyle choices that are genuinely in line with our priorities and our values, the more things seem to work out for us and we’ve seen the same thing happen with many other people who choose to live nomadically. It’s not as scary as it seems, and you can always settle down if you don’t end up liking life on the road.
These freelancers are a great example of how they’ve designed their careers around their lifestyle aspirations (instead of the other way around). Want to know more about how to design your life so you can earn money while traveling the world? I interview all kinds of freelancers in Working on the Road: The Unconventional Guide to Full-Time Freedom.