Shannon Ullman of Livesabroad.com is an American travel blogger and writer who has been traveling the world for more than 10 years. For the last 2 ½ years, she has been working and living her way from China back to the U.S. Currently, she is living out of a van while touring around New Zealand for the next five months. Read on to find out how Shannon earns her living on the road!
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!
This post was originally published in 2016. 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 have been living and working on the road for 2 ½ years. During that time, I have traveled to China, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Indonesia, Australia and New Zealand.
Please describe what you do for income.
My jobs have varied since starting this journey. I taught ESL and was a private tutor in China for a year, briefly taught ESL in Vietnam and taught English as a subject in Thailand.
(Editor’s Note: See Also – How do I Get Into Teaching English Abroad?)
I have also made money by being an extra in commercials and movies in both China and Vietnam. Within the last year, I started teaching an online student conversational English, started freelance writing, travel blogging and social media managing which all help me bring in an income.
How many hours per week do you work on average?
I typically work around 25-35 hours a week.
How much money do you make?
My money varies drastically each month, especially lately. When I was teaching ESL in China, I was making $1,500 USD a month. I was also working as a private tutor and would make $20 USD an hour, but my classes each week varied. While teaching in Vietnam, I earned $20 an hour and while teaching in Thailand, I earned $1,000 USD a month. My online English student brings in about $75 USD a month.
My freelance writing can range anywhere between $300 and $800 a month and my social media managing is bringing in about $200 a month. The income from blogging has not quite taken off yet and only brings in a few dollars every month.
Do you make enough money to support your lifestyle?
I make just about enough money to support my lifestyle at the moment now that I am living in New Zealand. When I was living in Asia where things are cheaper, it was much easier for me. When I do happen to be earning more than I am spending, I am saving the excess in my bank account. Unfortunately, I have a large chunk of student loan debt that is making my lifestyle since leaving my ESL job a little more difficult. I am lucky enough to have a little bit of savings from previous jobs and sometimes I need to use them in order to pay student loan debt every month.
What is your vision for the future of your lifestyle on the road?
Due to high student loan payments every month, I am finding it hard to balance my savings account and spend money on constant travel. I plan on heading back to my hometown next winter and continuing to build up my blog, work on my freelance writing and take on a higher paid, online English teaching job.
In addition to that, I plan on working full time at an undetermined job as well. With around three or four income streams and low monthly costs, I plan on paying off one of my school loans quickly before hitting the road again. If I can get rid of at least one monthly loan payment, the digital nomad lifestyle I am living now will be much more feasible for me.
I also plan on putting out some e-books, launching an online course and potentially starting a new niche website in the future that can also help me achieve my goal of being a long-term digital nomad.
Any advice for the aspiring traveler about living and working on the road and managing finances?
My number one piece of advice would be to pay off any debt before diving into this lifestyle full time. That being said, I don’t think people should put off travel and work until the “perfect” financial time. There are plenty of highly paid jobs abroad that can help them have their cake and eat it too. Many schools pay $1,000 to $2,500 USD a month for ESL teaching positions around Asia with very little monthly bills. If I would have gone for a job like that, stayed there for more than one year and not traveled internationally so often, I could have paid off one of my loans in very little time while still seeing the world.
Also, I would recommend finding creative ways to travel and work without shelling out a lot of cash. House sitting, Couchsurfing and WOOFING can be really useful for people trying to live this lifestyle. (See also: How to Get Free Accommodation Around the World)
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
There are so many ways that you can live, work and travel and with a little creative thinking, you can create even more. Look into all of your options, like working visas with other countries and volunteer programs. Also, while you are traveling, talk to as many people as you can. You never know who you are going to meet and what sort of resources they could provide you with in the future.