Laura Nalin is a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania native who has been living and working abroad since 2013. She’s a huge fan of oolong tea, spicy food and she keeps a folder on her phone of cats she spots around the world. She makes ends meet as a primary school English teacher and blogger. Learn more about her career path and travels here!
This post was originally published in 2018. It has since been updated for accuracy of links and content.
How long have you been living/working on the road, and where have you traveled to?
I moved to South Korea in 2013 to work as an English teacher and stayed there through 2016. After finishing my contract, I backpacked most of Southeast Asia with my partner for five months, and relocated to New Zealand immediately after. We posted up in Auckland through April 2017, and are currently based in Saigon, Vietnam.
Although I think I initially developed my desire to see the world while taking a travel writing course in Lima, Peru during college, I didn’t get a chance to see much of our planet until I moved to South Korea as an English teacher. Since then, I’ve been to the following:
South Korea, Japan, China, Hong Kong, Canada, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, Malaysia, New Zealand, Ireland, England, Scotland, Italy and France. It might not be much, but I am impressed with myself as I didn’t see this life coming. It’s an honour to have experienced so many different cultures and travel to places I didn’t even know existed.
Please describe what you do for income.
I work as a primary school English teacher and do a bit of freelance writing on the side. I also make money off sponsored posts on my blog, Willful and Wildhearted, as well as my Instagram. My goal is to get to a point where I can make passive income via Willful and Wildhearted, but I’m not quite there yet. I’m plugging away and hoping it will pay off in the future.
(Learn more about being an English teacher abroad here).
How many hours per week do you work on average?
I work as an English teacher about 12 hours per week. The amount of time spent on my blog varies, but I try to dedicate at least two hours per day.
How much money do you make?
I earn nearly $1,800 USD per month as an English teacher. While it might not seem like a lot, it’s quite a decent amount in Saigon as the cost of living is super reasonable. Outside of teaching, I charge about $200 – 300 USD per sponsored Instagram post and $150 – 250 per sponsored post on my blog. My freelance earnings vary, as each client is different.
Do you make enough money to support your lifestyle?
I am currently making plenty to live off of and am finally able to put some earnings away into my savings. I managed to save $25,000 USD in South Korea in just over two years, which has been a nice cushion to fall back on. Ideally, I will be able to save a decent chunk while I’m working in Vietnam; all of my savings will be through my work as an English teacher, though. The money I currently make through my blog is supplemental. Within the next year I my goal is to be making a substantial living off my blog.
What do you like most about your career and lifestyle?
I like that I am able to work as an English teacher as well as write just about anywhere in the world. I’m a creature of habit, so I love that I am able to maintain a normal schedule while teaching and still have time to myself in between lessons. While there are certainly places where TEFL is more demanding, I am able to write from just about anywhere with a Wifi connection. It’s given me a sense of freedom and keeps me goal-oriented. I like that I have daily tasks for myself and the fact that I’m constantly striving to better my skills and discover new trends. Something is always changing, whether it is SEO or a new social media algorithm. It keeps me on my toes!
What are some of the challenges you have with this career and lifestyle?
It can feel a bit daunting to think about the distant future. I sometimes wonder how I’ll be able to stay afloat, although I know that I will be alright. I think uncertainty happens in any career, in every country, at every age; my challenges are often magnified as I’m facing them all while living in different countries. I think sometimes friends will see me as living this extravagant lifestyle full of travel (and it often is), but people don’t realize it’s not always sunshine and palm trees. It’s a precarious lifestyle, for sure! (Nora’s Note: Amen, sister! See also: Brace Yourself – Travel Isn’t all Roses and Lollipops)
What is your vision for the future of your lifestyle on the road?
I dream of owning my own apartment someday and subletting it as a means of passive income. In addition, I would love to be able to cash in on affiliate marketing far more than I currently do. I plan on staying in Vietnam for at least another year – who knows where the wind will take me! My partner and I are working toward my application for a U.K. Partnership Visa, which is pretty expensive, so I don’t see us going anywhere any time soon! I truly love it here. Once we leave, I am sure we will go elsewhere to continue this living for a bit longer. I’d love to live in Taipei, Taiwan for a bit.
But I’m leaving all of this up to the universe for now. I’ve found that things often happen the way they are meant to; I would rather just surrender to the flow than let the anxiety rear its head and get me overwhelmed about the future. I think it’ll work out – everything is always subject to change, right? As long as that change is for the best, I’ll be cool with it.
Any advice for the aspiring traveler about living and working on the road and managing finances?
I use a mobile app called Expense. I track all of my spending and make small goals for myself. This app was a godsend when I was saving up $25,000 in South Korea. I made it a point to only spend a certain amount of money and it became a game for me. That’s sort of how my mind works, though. I think it will benefit anyone wanting to save as you can review where you’re spending the most money by category. The data is presented in graph form, which is pretty helpful. In addition, I think this goes without saying, but takeaways and alcohol are the quickest way to drain your account. (Nora’s Note: I use Trail Wallet to track my expenses)
If you’re serious about saving, start cutting out unnecessary spending from your budget. Stop getting your nails done and do it yourself. Bring your lunch to work every day rather than going out; even small spending habits add up quickly. Before you know it, you’ll find that your bank account will benefit from these changes.