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!
A status-quo dropout, Jessica is an avid adventurer who has been traveling the world – one hometown at a time – since 2014 with her vlogger partner, Will Sueiro, and their free-spirited children, Avalon and Largo. Jessica’s diverse background as an award-winning designer, real estate investor and property manager, blogger, photographer and serial entrepreneur has not only equipped her for the family’s unique lifestyle, but also has enabled her to launch and operate WorldTowning.com, co-founded by she and Will. Upbeat and ready for adventure, Jessica is a voracious dream pursuer and glass-is-half-full type of gal – even when the glass is shattered into 1,000 pieces and her super glue is dried up. Jessica and Will’s mission is to empower as many people as possible to live out their dreams of living abroad.
Jessica and Will have reinvented themselves many times, and are in the process of doing so again, with a new location independent business (WorldTowning). To do so, they cut ties with their last careers and brought their incomes from 6-figures down to $0. They’re living proof that you have to put in some serious hours at the start if you’re serious about making money on the road, but that it can pay off handsomely if you persist.
How long have you been living/working on the road, and where have you traveled to?
Will and I have been living/working on the road for almost three years now (gasp!). Every time I put that in writing, I go back in time to the moments when we thought this dream would never come to fruition. I still pinch myself most days.
Our long-term, worldschooling, digital-nomad, travel journey started in Costa Rica. We stayed there for one year and then proceeded on to Ecuador for nine months before landing in France for what will be 10 months. Next, we will campervan Europe for a year (or two) and then take to the ocean, on a boat or backpack Southeast Asia, the jury is still out on this one.
The small village in the south of France we currently call home has been enriching – and delicious. We affectionately call this leg of the journey our “year of food,” as we have not just delighted in the eating of French cuisine, but we have also taken this time to improve our cooking skills. Once we start campervanning in July we will move much faster, push ourselves even farther out of our comfort zone and throw some more caution to the wind. You only live once, baby!
Please describe what you do for income.
How long do you have (wink, wink)? Will and I are both Corporate America drop outs. For me it happened a decade ago, but for Will it happened in stages. Ready?
When we left the USA, all we wanted was to be location-independent with our current careers. I was already a graphic designer working from home, so that transition was relatively seamless for me. I, however, was not making the bulk of our income. Will was a corporate accountant for a global company. He put on a suit and went to an office every day. He managed people, went to meetings, worked long hours and came home after the kids were in bed each night. Will wanted to work from home in a foreign country, but the company said no. So, being risk-takers, we decided to move to a foreign country anyway and try to make it work on my artist’s income. We did just that for six months, but then others came calling looking for his skills. Our dream had come true. We could travel the world and still have an income. Life was good, we were happy and our travel life rolled on.
Now, let’s fast forward several years. Just over a year ago, I closed my design business to focus on work that was more in line with my passion. This meant developing a travel-related business. At that point, my income was reduced to zero almost overnight. A year later, we experienced another career change. This time with Will. Due to upper management changes at Will’s company, a decision was made not to renew any contractors. Will was offered a salary position in London. In a matter of days, we had to decide if we wanted to trade this travel life and the freedom we had created for less family time and long office hours in London. It took us a matter of minutes to say no and begin plans to reinvent again. That day, Will became a full-time partner in our business WorldTowning, which launched on March 13th. We are just over a month into our first “official” business together. Overnight, we went from a comfortable six figure income to zero income. And then, as hard work, passion, commitment and HUSTLE would have it, we got our first client. Then came our second and our third. We are still barely making any money, but it is a start in the right direction. WorldTowning is a very grass roots start-up. We are not financially backed, so we have to get creative, but we are happy. It is a wild ride, but one that we believe is well worth it.
How many hours per week do you work on average?
In our design and accounting life, we worked 30 and 40-to-50 hours, respectively. Now with WorldTowning we work 70 hours each. I know it’s crazy, but we are in the beginning stages of this business. We know this is what is necessary right now. The good thing is that we can pretty much put these hours in from anywhere. So, we can travel and adventure, and still get our work done. Some days we work for 18 hours straight. Other days, we take the day off to hang with our kids, and we work the night shift. It is not always ideal, but it gives us the freedom to schedule our day how we want and that is something we value.
How much money do you make?
As I said, between Will and I, we previously had a six-figure income. It was in the low six-figure range, but it was enough for us to survive on while still saving for retirement and college. We did not have company 401k or medical insurance. Thus, we had to purchase this on our own, which frankly was a big expense.
Again, our income now with WorldTowning is zero. Actually, I am being dramatic. We are making some money, but because this is a new venture, every penny is going back into the business. Our projection is that we will make a $15,000 profit in our first year. If we hit that benchmark I will consider our endeavour a grand success.
Do you make enough money to support your lifestyle?
Not yet, but the business is only a month old.
One way we offset our lack of income is through the rental of our vacation property in Mexico. This and future rental properties are also a part of our WorldTowning business model.
We have other real-estate investments, as well. Some make money and some don’t, so, to be honest, at the end of the day, it’s really a wash. Selling one of our properties, however, gave us the ability to focus on our start-up with less stress. Saying “no stress” would be an understatement. It is a startup, and we are not independently wealthy. There is always an underlying feeling of financial stress.
What do you like most about your career and lifestyle?
It is hard to know where to begin. Despite the stress, there is a lot we like about this career and lifestyle – a lot.
First, we get to do something we love and believe in every single day. We have a passion-based business, and that is pretty darn cool. I guess it does not hurt that I have a hot latino (as I affectionately call him) sitting across the desk from me every day.
Second, we get to give back. It gives us both great joy to share what we have learned (the good, bad and ugly) with other prospective travelers. Many people want a grand travel adventure, but they give up during the planning phase. It is hard for them to know where to start. We understand this. We were once there, and we worked through it. We now know how to navigate that, so we can guide others through the process. That is a big part of our business. Plus, we get to meet the coolest people. It is a different type of person who wants to defy the status quo and think out of the box. They are the wild ones, those in relentless pursuit of authentic living. I am inspired by them and their energy. It is contagious, and I just want more and more.
Third, we have freedom. It may not seem like it to those looking in, as we describe the insane hours we work, but we are free to work when, how and where we want. That is a gift that many people across the globe never experience When I am tired, and I don’t think I can go on any longer, I remember that having the freedom even to go down this road is a true blessing that many never get to experience.
Fourth, we get to learn something new every day. Some days the frustration makes me want to cry, and other days I am amazed at how far we have come, how we have reinvented our lives and how we have changed our careers in our early 40s. It is in these challenges that we realize how much we have learned and grown – as individuals and as a family.
Finally, the biggest benefit we see to this lifestyle choice is that we get to be with our kids all the time. They are only with us for a short period of our life, and we want to make the most of every minute. Plus, our children are experiencing deeper levels of family bonding, witnessing parents who are partnering in life and business, and learning how to become adventure seekers and dream builders. Avalon and Largo are able to learn the inner workings of what it takes to start a business and how fruitful it can be to pursue one’s dreams. (For more on the benefits of living/traveling with kids, check out Family Travel: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly).
What are some of the challenges you have with this career and lifestyle?
As we continue to travel, we anticipate reliable internet occasionally being a challenge. We have already devised several backup plans for this. We also envision challenges as we maneuver multiple time zones with our employees and clients. (See also: 6 Location Independent Career Myths – which discusses these – and other similar challenges).
In addition, building the technology for future phases of the business could get complicated. Luckily, we are aligned with some amazing techies. I worry about growing faster than our interface and employees can handle.
Because we have been living this lifestyle for three years now, we are confident that we are prepared for many of the challenges based on our previous work experiences. That said, we always struggle as a family for a couple weeks in a new location until we find our groove. We know that this will require more attention and we realize that may stretch us thin in the business arena. And, of course, we miss our family and friends across the globe. It is never easy to leave a location and the people we have grown to love there. This, too, must be considered, as it impacts our ability to work at a breakneck pace.
What is your vision for the future of your lifestyle on the road?
Our plan is to continue on this travel lifestyle path forever or until any one family member decides he or she doesn’t want to do it any longer. So far, everyone is on board and loving it, but we really don’t know what the future holds.
We envision WorldTowning growing into a global brand. Every day, more companies are open to allowing their employees to work in a location-independent capacity. Digital nomad titles and entrepreneurial lifestyles are becoming more common. More and more, people are desiring freedom, authentic living and travel. We don’t see this dying out any time soon, if ever. We believe WorldTowning was born at the perfect time and maybe even just a tad before its time. Our plan is to become the premier expert (go to) in long-term travel planning for people seeking the slow-travel life.
To that end, we see the company growing in many related areas – international real estate, WorldTowningkids, philanthropy and much more. The truth is, we do not see WorldTowning as a company – we see it as a movement, a way of life, a community. We have only just begun to scratch the surface of what WorldTowning is with our initial launch. Ultimately, we plan to make WorldTowning a household name for travel enthusiasts and seekers.
This might be a good time to chat about what the company actually does. WorldTowning helps future full-time travelers tackle all the logistics in order to get them launched. We help those who want to live in a foreign country for 3, 6, 12 or more months, work through all the details necessary to authentically accomplish that goal. We do everything from helping them find travelers’ medical insurance to identifying the right schooling options for kids to locating the ideal housing situation for a given traveler or travelers (and everything in between). We offer this service in customized packages designed to meet varying levels of interest and need. Basically, we hold our clients’ hands through what can be a very daunting, exciting and overwhelming process. We set deadlines and meet regularly to figure it all out together. This describes our most hands-on package. At the opposite end of the spectrum, we offer information in YouTube video format for those who want to hack their way through the process and figure it out on their own. Coming in September, we will offer an intermediary option that borrows from both of the existing packages.
Any advice for the aspiring traveler about living and working on the road and managing finances?
Just do it! You only live once. Who wants to wake up at 80 years old with a boatload of regret? All that being said, I would also offer the following. Simplify your life as much as possible, eliminate debt, have some money in savings, pick brains, hustle/hustle/hustle, never give up and be willing to adjust your original plan. Also, as soon as you have the funds, hire folks smarter than you to reduce your busy work, so you can focus on growing your business. Then, hustle some more. This is a biggie. Be the best at what you do, and always try to put yourself out of business. I say this because, if you are not thinking like this, someone else is – someone who will take you by surprise. Have an alternative wifi system, and back up everything. Never stop learning. There is a YouTube video for everything. Take advantage of software that helps you better manage your business, projects and employees. Hustle. (Did I say this already)? Be flexible, which means be willing and able to work in any environment, even if the only outlet to charge your computer is in the bathroom. Start your day early. Eat well, sleep, drink water and exercise. Cherish and reward those who have been with you since the beginning, and don’t lose their support. And, finally, spend time with your family and adventure. You need to continually center yourself and recharge your creative juices.
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.