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!
Erin McNeaney and Simon Fairbairn are a digital nomad couple who sold everything they owned and left the UK in 2010 to travel the world forever. They write about their slow travels around the world, the delicious vegetarian food they eat, how to pack light, and the ups and downs of nomadic life at Never Ending Voyage. They are the creators of the iOS app Trail Wallet, which helps travelers stay on budget. Here’s more about how they pay for their full-time travel lifestyle!
How long have you been living/working on the road, and where have you traveled to?
We’ve been working on the road for over six years. In that time we’ve travelled to over 30 countries—mostly in Southeast Asia, Latin America, and Europe.
Please describe what you do for income.
When we first started out, Simon did freelance web design and development, but after a few years, he gave that up to create his own iOS apps. This gives us more freedom to travel as we don’t have client deadlines to worry about. His main app is Trail Wallet, which is an easy travel expense tracker. We created it for ourselves to help us stay on budget, but it has now been downloaded by 80,000 other travellers. (Nora’s Note: When I had an iPhone, this was one of my favourite apps. I’m getting another iPhone soon, and I’ll be very happy to be reunited with this app! Here’s my review.)
We run the travel website Never Ending Voyage, which makes money from affiliate commissions, advertising, and sponsorships. I very occasionally do freelance writing.
We also still own a house in the UK. We originally wanted to sell it, but the market crashed, and we couldn’t get a good price for it. The rent covers the mortgage and expenses, but it doesn’t bring us any extra income at the moment. We are probably going to keep it as a long-term investment, though. An agent manages it, so we don’t have to be involved.
How many hours per week do you work on average?
Simon keeps track of his time much better than I do and his average for the last year is 13.5 hours a week. We had a busy summer in the US and Europe where travel was our main focus, so we didn’t work much for five months (although travelling is research for the blog, so it’s hard to define what work is!). When we’re settled somewhere, the average is more like 20 hours a week.
How much money do you make?
In the last year, we averaged about £2500 a month. 36% was from app sales (primarily Trail Wallet), 35% from affiliate sales, 19% from advertising, 9% from sponsorships, and 1% from freelance writing.
App and affiliate sales are increasing, and we want to focus more on them. Advertising income is declining (it was our main income source a few years ago) and is no longer a priority.
Earlier in the year, I released my first book, The Carry-On Traveller, about how to pack light and travel carry-on only (which we’ve been doing for six years). Hopefully in the coming year that will be another income source.
We also sometimes do media trips where accommodation, activities, or whole trips are provided in return for us writing about them. We don’t keep track of the value of these, and it’s not something we do regularly (we’re very careful about who we work with), but it does help reduce our expenses.
Do you make enough money to support your lifestyle?
Yes, we do. Our average spending in the last year including all business expenses was £2200 a month. This was higher than in previous years, but we are no longer budget travellers and prefer more comfortable accommodation.
In our first year on the road, we had to use savings to supplement our income, but that was planned—we saved enough to live off for a year if necessary while we grew the business. In years 2-5, we broke even, and in the last year, we managed to increase our savings, which we put in tax-free ISAs.
What is your vision for the future of your lifestyle on the road?
We have no plans to stop travelling, although I’m sure we’ll end up staying in places for longer. Right now we alternate periods of renting apartments for three months or so with faster-paced travel, and that’s working well for us.
Any advice for the aspiring traveler about living and working on the road and managing finances?
I recommend saving up as much as you can before you leave. When you work for yourself, your income varies each month, so it’s always good to have a backup.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I think it’s important to decide what your priorities are. We realized that we are just not motivated by money. There are things we could do to earn more money, but we’d rather work on projects we really love. We also prioritize complete freedom—for us, that means no deadlines, Skype calls, clients, or long hours at our laptops. Most of our income now is passive, so we are able to take time offline and travel and still have money coming in. (Nora’s Note: See also – Lifestyle Inflation: Why Earning More Money Sucks (The Life Outta You)
Want to know more about how to design your life so you can earn money while traveling the world? Check out Working on the Road: The Unconventional Guide to Full-Time Freedom.