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!
Since graduating college in 2012, Erika Bisbocci of www.erikastravels.com has lived in Namibia, New York and Seattle and traveled across much of Asia, Europe, Africa, the South Pacific and the Americas. She now works as a flight attendant for a major US airline and spends her days off backpacking, blogging and enjoying the outdoors. Here’s how Erika makes ends meet on the road with this semi-nomadic lifestyle!
How long have you been living/working on the road, and where have you traveled to?
I just hit my 70th country and have traveled to five continents, the Caribbean and the Pacific Islands. After graduating college in 2012, I moved to Namibia to teach English and have since returned to the US, where I’ve been working as a flight attendant for the past two years.
Please describe what you do for income.
I am a flight attendant for a major US airline.
How many hours per week do you work on average?
Hours worked weekly in the airline industry are very difficult to calculate. Sometimes I work every day for 10 hours a day, and sometimes I don’t work at all for a week or more. I have a lot of flexibility to choose which dates I want to fly and, as a result, I find that some weeks I work 50 hours, while others I don’t work any at all.
Since flight attendants are only paid when the boarding door is closed, it is difficult to compare the number of hours we work with other jobs. A full time monthly schedule is between 80-100 hours per month.
How much money do you make?
Pay is another component that is difficult to calculate as a flight attendant, since it varies so much month to month and year to year. Hourly salary at my airline starts at $25/hr and tops out at over $60/hr after twelve years. In addition, I receive hourly per diem and the possibility for flight leader pay, international pay and language pay. After completing my second year, I am now making about $30/hr.
In 2015, my gross earnings were $42,000 and I cleared just shy of $30,000 after taxes, healthcare contributions and 401k contributions.
Do you make enough money to support your lifestyle?
Absolutely. I’ve always been a saver as opposed to a spender, so I’ve found it relatively easy to make ends meet thus far (I think living in Africa on a volunteer stipend for a year certainly taught me how to stretch my pennies).
While being a flight attendant is certainly not a high paying job, it complements my lifestyle very well and allows me to live relatively comfortably within modest means.
One of the greatest perks of my job is that it gives me and my family unlimited plane tickets to see the world either for free (domestically) or at very reduced costs (internationally and with partner airlines). This has saved me thousands and thousands of dollars over the last few years and enabled me to live out my dream of traveling on a semi-permanent basis.
Each month, after paying for rent, bills and travel expenses, I have a few hundred dollars left over that I invest in savings and my 401k.
What is your vision for the future of your lifestyle on the road?
For the foreseeable future, I plan to continue my semi-nomadic lifestyle by working for the airlines and backpacking extensively on my days off. My goal is to eventually focus less on flying and more on my blog—hopefully flying on a part time basis and shifting focus toward becoming a location-independent, freelance writer or digital nomad.
I imagine that at some point I’ll settle down a bit, though I hope traveling continues to always be a central part of my life.
Any advice for the aspiring traveler about living and working on the road and managing finances?
Figure out what your priorities are and learn to spend money on what matters most to you. If you really want to see the world, don’t put off travel until “someday,” because life may get in the way and that someday might never arrive.
Yes, traveling is expensive and it can be difficult to do while in debt or paying off student loans. But if you have enough money for a new car and can afford out to dinner and drinks on a regular basis, chances are that you will be able to afford living on the road—especially if you complement your nomadic lifestyle with a job that is either based overseas or allows you to work remotely.
It just depends on how you choose to spend your money and the level of comfort that you require.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I definitely struggled (and sometimes continue to struggle) with the fact that I am not doing what everybody around me expected me to do with my life—that I am not working a 9-5 job, attending graduate school and beginning to settle down. A few years ago, I was sure that, by this point in my life, I’d be off climbing the ladder of success. I certainly never thought I would become a flight attendant.
But I here I am, working at 35,000 feet and scraping my pennies together to travel the world in the best way I know how. Do I question my decision? Sometimes, sure. But traveling is what I love. It is what gives me a better education than I could ever buy. It is what keeps me looking forward to the future with enthusiasm and excitement.
So I try not to dwell too much on what others think and, instead, choose to follow my own unpredictable path to happiness and fulfillment.