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!
Ray and Laura Blakney met in 2006 when Ray went to Mexico as a Peace Corps volunteer and Laura was one of the teachers hired by the Peace Corps to teach them about language and culture. Ray’s background was in software engineering, and Laura was a Spanish teacher. Two years later and newly married, they launched a bricks & mortar language school together, and from there, their online education language school LiveLingua.com was born. In 2010 they sold the physical business and focused on their location independent business and lifestyle. Since then not only has LiveLingua.com taken off, but they’ve ventured into a variety of other business, and even some angel investing. Here’s more on Ray and Laura’s lifestyles and incredible (and profitable!) business ventures!
How long have you been living/working on the road, and where have you traveled to?
We have been living on the road since 2010. We have a “base” in Mexico but spend three to four months traveling every year. We like to spend one to two months at least in a new country to really get to know it instead of moving through them in a few days. In the last few years, we have been to France, Germany, Luxembourg, The United Kingdom, Cuba, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Peru, Panama, The Philippines, Japan and Hong Kong. We have also traveled all over in the US and Mexico.
Please describe what you do for income.
We build online education businesses. Our main focus is in online education in language. Depending on the business the revenue comes from paying for the services (for example paying for language lessons with one of our teachers) or from monthly membership fees to the sites.
In the past few years I have branched out into other projects as well including an online education math tutoring site (onmatu.com), a travel site for Mexico (teachmemexico.com) and I’m currently working with a partner in the US on a site to help kids in underprivileged communities in the US catch up on their vocabulary (my400words.com). Laura also gives cooking classes when we are home in Mexico (laurascocina.com).
We have recently also taken a step into Angel Investing and own shares in a chocolate factory in the Philippines (gintochocolates.com) but for now that is an expense and does not generate profit.
How many hours per week do you work on average?
Ray: I “work” about 40-55 hours a week. But I am an admitted workaholic and love what I do. Creating online businesses is my idea of fun so by my definition I only really “work” (doing stuff I don’t enjoy like paying bills) about 5 hours a week.
Laura: I work 10-20 hours a week.
The important detail here is that we work when we want and because we want to. It is not because somebody is looking over our shoulder. If we are tired, we take a day or week off whenever we want.
How much money do you make?
Between all of our online education businesses and after paying our virtual staff we net about $18,000 US per month. It has been steadily growing at about 10-20% a year for the last few years and we hope the trend continues. It does fluctuate a bit since we are in the education field and we have high and low seasons based on the US school year calendar. The profit comes from payment for classes or membership fees on the sites. I just added – three weeks ago – some Adsense to a free section of Live Lingua and it looks like it will bring in about $200-300 a month, but it is too early to tell.
We also make some extra money when I get invited to do talks on entrepreneurship and Laura gives her cooking classes, but those are very inconsistent.
Do you make enough money to support your lifestyle?
Yes. We actually only pay ourselves about 25% of what we make each month. We live a very simple lifestyle. We don’t own a car, own our house in Mexico (we renovated a small old historic home in downtown) and have no debt. It also helps that we make USD and spend Mexican Pesos since the strong dollar means everything and Mexico feels like 50% off to us now.
The rest we are saving and investing. We max out our 401k plan each year and have the rest in short-term bonds (best we can get with the low global interest rates) as we are saving up for a down payment on a house or apartment in the US that we hope to use as rental property to generate more passive income.
What do you like most about your career and lifestyle?
The freedom. We work when we want from where we want. We also like the ability to create a new business. That creative process is what get’s us up every morning and gets us excited to work. To me, creating a business, is now like an art form. Once you learn the basic tools and skills, it is a matter of hard work and letting your imagination run wild. I have a list of over 100 businesses I want to do on my computer right now and can’t wait to get started on them. Of course, we will probably only have time to do 5-10 in my lifetime, but it does not matter. It is the knowledge that we “can” do any of them that keeps us motivated and excited.
What are some of the challenges you have with this career and lifestyle?
The uncertainty. Both in the lifestyle of traveling and in being an online entrepreneur there is no guarantee. We have gotten to borders and not been able to get across due to visa issues, which changed all our travel plans. We have lost businesses overnight due to changes in Google’s algorithm and had to build them up again from zero. The lifestyle is not for the faint of heart, but the rewards for doing it are worth it.
What is your vision for the future of your lifestyle on the road?
In the next 12 months, we are planning on moving to Southeast Asia. We will set up a base in the Philippines (I am half-Pinoy) and then spend the next three to five years exploring that area. Laura has always dreamed of taking a yoga course in Bali so we plan to spend some time there as well. After that, we want to move to Italy for a few years and explore more of Europe and northern Africa.
On the business end, we will continue to work on our existing online businesses and maybe creating a few new ones. The beauty of our work is that as long as we have internet it will go with us anywhere.
Any advice for the aspiring traveler about living and working on the road and managing finances?
Make a budget before you start. Don’t just try to wing it as you go. You can find some great information online on average costs in the countries you are going to visit to get started, but always assume you will pay more. In many countries, you will be overcharged once they realize you are a foreigner so it will cost you more. Also, always make sure you have an emergency “get me out of here” fund set aside before starting, and never touch it for anything else. That just has to be enough really for a plane ticket home. That way if anything happens you always have the peace of mind of knowing you can go home whenever you want. (See also: Having an Emergency Fund While Traveling)
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Living on the road is definitely not for everybody. You will miss home, your family, and your favourite foods. It will also change you in ways that you don’t realize, and this may make things harder if you ever do go home. You may find it harder to relate to your old friends who do not travel. You may have already experienced it if you have ever traveled before to an amazing place. You get home and want to tell everybody about it, but other than the polite “how was it?” question most people will not care as much as you do. It was hard for us to realize this at first. Travel will change you. Not necessarily for the better or worse, but it will happen. For Laura and I it is an experience we would not change for anything. (See also: Dear Nora: The Nitty Gritty of Returning Home After Travelling)