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!
Pouneh Eftekhari of Longing to Travel has been a world traveler most of her life. She specializes in living abroad more so than traveling abroad, and has worked and/or studied in six countries (USA, Denmark, France, Spain, Turkey, and Sweden). She is a world citizen and truly feels at home wherever she goes. Find out how she makes ends meet while living around the world!
How long have you been living/working on the road, and where have you traveled to?
I have worked and studied for over a decade in various cities in the the USA, China, Denmark, Spain, France, Turkey, and Sweden. To date, I have traveled to over 26 countries around the world and am currently in Sweden for two years.
Please describe what you do for income.
Whether in the US (my home country) or living abroad, I earn money by working for an employer and working as a freelancer. You could say I have multiple income sources which range from writing assignments to project management to teaching English to working at universities.
Over the years I developed a special interest in internationalization of higher education. My main areas of professional and academic focus have been on quality assurance of higher education and internationalization of higher education (i.e., international student services, study abroad, and internationalization of the curriculum). Some of my previous responsibilities have included developing and implementing international student orientations; pre-departure orientation for study abroad students; working with faculty and staff to help them better serve international student populations (i.e., help them understand learning differences between cultures, emotional needs of international students, etc.); and raising awareness of cultural differences and how those differences impact learning.
How many hours per week do you work on average?
On average, I work full-time. But in reality, I work for a few years full-time, then work part-time for a bit, then back to full-time. The part-time working periods are usually during transitional periods when I’m moving from one country to another and by choice.
How much money do you make?
Because my income stream is locally based, my annual income varies year by year. I can say that I have lived my entire adult life living like the middle class of whatever country I reside in. The dollar amount varies because the cost of living and currency differences in each place.
I have also earned income from freelance work like research papers ($4,500.00/ea), teaching English ($35.00/hr), blog post writing ($35 – $50/article), etc.
Do you make enough money to support your lifestyle?
Luckily, my husband and I have learned to live within our means and save 20-50% of our income (depending on the country/our work situation). Our philosophy is that only education and a home mortgage are ‘acceptable forms of debt‘. To date we only have to pay off our car loan and one undergraduate college loan. My graduate program was paid for in full and my husband’s program is also paid for by scholarships and our own savings.
What is your vision for the future of your lifestyle on the road?
Nomadic living, the way we have been doing it for nearly a decade — living in a new place almost every year — will not be the norm in the future. Traveling and living abroad will be. In a perfect world, we would live and work abroad and spend our summers at home with loved ones. Working remotely, being entrepreneurs and/or being consultants/freelancers are all possibilities, but we’re not opposed to working for an employer if it fits our career paths.
Any advice for the aspiring traveler about living and working on the road and managing finances?
It is possible to live, study and travel abroad without going into debt. It just takes a lot of strategic planning. Want to study abroad? Study in countries which don’t charge tuition or apply for scholarships. Want to intern abroad? Why not work abroad instead and earn some money? Interested in just traveling? Skip the expensive cities and visit lesser-known, but equally impressive places in a country. It’s all possible if you just open your mind to another way of thinking about traveling and living abroad.
Some may look at my lifestyle and wonder why I’d “waste my prime earning years” in order to “take vacations” and “do things that I can do in retirement”. I explain the following:
1) I travel with purpose and intention. I never go somewhere if there is not a clear financial or professional gain.
2) I have not acquired new debt as a result of living abroad. In fact, living in the US is when I spend the most money.
3) With a bit of flexibility and detachment from material things, it has been easy to live a very comfortable life abroad (i.e., middle-class and comparable to US living standards).
4) Living abroad is not a vacation. I work full-time, pay bills, pay off debt back home, save money for the future/retirement, etc. Responsibilities follow you wherever you are.
5) In some cases, it’s possible to earn less money abroad, but live better (and save more) due to low costs of living. For example, my quality of life had gone up during my time in Turkey while my actual income had decreased. I also managed to save 50% of my earnings.