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!
Ryan O’Connor grew up in Philadelphia wanting to play guitar in bands. When that didn’t work out he got into online marketing and SEO knowing it could be a path to working for himself and traveling. On his first trip to Thailand in 2014 he started One Tribe Apparel to complement his SEO consulting business. Read on to learn more about how Ryan combines his passion with business and lifestyle traveling, and how his visionary approach (replete with a temporary dip in income) has led to more happiness.
How long have you been living/working on the road, and where have you traveled to?
I’ve been living and working on the road for almost four years. I started in August of 2013 with a trip to Zihuatenejo in Mexico and since then I have lived in California, Thailand, Philippines, Ireland, England, Vietnam, Bali, Colombia and I’m currently in Mexico City. Those are all places I’ve stayed for at least a month but I’ve had other short stops along the way.
Please describe what you do for income.
My background is SEO (search engine optimization) and when I started traveling I was only doing freelance client work. On my first trip to Thailand in 2014 I co-founded One Tribe Apparel and that’s been my main project since. At first I was doing 20 hours per week consulting and 20-25 on One Tribe Apparel and now I’m down to about 5-10 hours per week consulting.
How many hours per week do you work on average?
I would say it’s pretty variable but 30-50 on average. I’ve never been the best at work/life balance so I’ll often have a week where I’m working 12 hour days and then not even look at my laptop for a day or two to recharge. I also occasionally take time off like I recently did for Carnaval in Rio where all I did was check email on my phone and reply to urgent messages. After that I had to put in a lot of long days to catch back up.
How much money do you make?
I think what makes me an interesting case study is that I’ve given up a lot of potential income from consulting to try and build a brand. When I first started traveling in 2013 and 2014 I was making $11,000 a month in consulting. I’ve at times had that go down to as low as $1,000 a month depending on the projects or how much I’ve been focusing on the business.
For April 2017, I should bill $3,600 in consulting. I have one old affiliate site that brings in $150-$200 per month. I expect One Tribe Apparel to do between $8,000 – $10,000 in revenue most of which will be reinvested back into the business for summer expansion. That being said, I do take payments from One Tribe Apparel at times and I also expense to the business as many legal write offs as I can such as flights, gym membership, co-working space, dinners that can be related to the business, etc.
My goal is to build a 7-figure per year revenue business with One Tribe Apparel so I’m willing to sacrifice now to continue to build towards that goal.
Do you make enough money to support your lifestyle?
Yes, I’ve chosen the past two years to live in lower cost cities (primarily Saigon and now Mexico City). While there are cities that are cheaper than both of those mentioned they have a balance of a lot to offer while still being more affordable than a major city in the USA or Europe.
This year I’ve already been to Macchu Picchu in Peru, Carnaval in Rio and I’ll take short trips travel around Mexico over the next few months. Overall I’m having a great time and I’m very happy.
What do you like most about your career and lifestyle?
I really love the flexibility of running my own business (One Tribe Apparel). I think about my business all the time, I’m always jotting ideas down on my phone but it doesn’t feel like work in the same way. I used to get a pit in my stomach on Sunday nights when I had a regular office job and I never feel that these days.
I also really think that at times people need space to think or clear their head. I remember when I would occasionally have those days and had to stay at my cubicle it was just miserable and compounds and makes you dislike your job more.
I also really love the building of the business, hitting milestones and looking back and seeing where we’ve come in the last six months to a year.
What are some of the challenges you have with this career and lifestyle?
As great as being your own boss is, the decisions and the outcomes they lead to all rest on your shoulders. That can cause stress and uncertainty especially in a physical products business that already has a lot of variables.
I also don’t think I’m nearly as much of a “nomad” as many of my peers. It’s great doing a one or two week stint traveling between locations but other then that I really prefer to stay somewhere for at least three months if not longer. I like having a routine, social circle, etc. (Nora’s Note: I couldn’t agree more! Check out my thoughts on Slow Travel here.)
What is your vision for the future of your lifestyle on the road?
I don’t have plans to settle down permanently any time soon. There are a lot of places left for me to travel to and live. My ideal vision would be to own a condo in a city I like so I can have a home base and then rent it out part of the year while I travel or live somewhere else.
Although I live out of one suitcase I’m not as minimalist as some of my friends. I’m getting to the point where I’d like to have a place where I can keep a guitar, keyboard, TV, some nicer clothes, etc.
Any advice for the aspiring traveler about living and working on the road and managing finances?
I would say my biggest piece of advice would be to educate yourself early on with the best ways to manage your finances, tax write offs, travel credit cards, etc. I’ve only really started taking all of that as serious as I should in the past year. (Nora’s Note: You can start with my Financial Travel Tips!)
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
To anyone who wants to get started in business but don’t feel like they have the skills or money yet I’d tell you not to wait. Social media has created an incredible opportunity to build an audience in almost any niche imaginable. I had someone recently reach out to me because they wanted to start a street wear clothing brand and they wanted to know if $1,000 was enough money for samples, building a site, etc. The truth is that it’s definitely not but what I told them was to get a nice camera or GoPro and start building up an Instagram and or YouTube channel about street wear.
Growing a social profile like Instagram is only limited to your hard work, not how much money you have and once you start to have an engaged audience, brands will reach out to you and give you free clothes and/or pay you. In fact, sometimes I think I’m on the wrong side of this business when I see how much many influencers are able to charge for a single post.
The moral being that taking action now no matter where you are in the journey is 10x better than waiting or over thinking it.