Sophia Cheng and Jayme Elkins have been nomadic since 2015, and are trying to balance financially sustainable living with a life on the road. And they’re doing pretty well! In my experience it’s a balance that requires constant tweaking. Sophia works in communications and has a blog called With Many Roots and Jayme is a musician and composer with a music portfolio at Music By Jayme. They combine their creative juices via their new Instagram account.
Learn more about these unique careers and how they make it work on the road.
This post was originally published in 2017. 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?
Both: We left our rented accommodation in London just over two years ago. Since then we have lived in Slovenia, Paris, Madrid, California, Nicaragua, Colombia, Mexico and more recently this year, Indonesia.
Please describe what you do for income.
Sophia: I work in communications, helping projects and campaigns reach new and wider audiences. Two days a week I work for an environmental film project, If Not Us Then Who?, promoting the role indigenous peoples play protecting forests. I started this project in London full-time but as the team did not have an office and many of our partners are based in different countries, I decided to take the role on the road.
I also support a start-up, and I have only met my client twice in person! A usual day for me involves a few Skype meetings, email writing, coordinating online communications and managing stakeholders across the world. I’m often working at odd hours due to the time difference! Now I work on this project a little less. I’m at the stage where I am also on the lookout for more exciting projects I can support in a consulting capacity.
Jayme: I’m first and foremost a musician and composer, writing soundtracks on a part-time basis. Since travelling I have been supplementing my income by providing remote technical support for a UK charity. This contract has recently come to an end so now I am fully committed to writing music full-time, something I have always wanted to do but making it a reality feels very scary. I’m not a natural sales person so putting myself out there is tough. What keeps me going is the thought of being 70 and knowing I never really tried. I’ve just finished my new website and I’m really pleased with it (link in the bio above).
How many hours per week do you work on average?
Sophia: I aim to work four days per week. But I am not very good at switching off so often I end up dragging things out. This year I want to dedicate more time to writing so I’m trying to carve out more time for myself.
Jayme: My contract work was 10 hours a week, the musician work can be much more time consuming. I often sit for for hours writing and don’t realize where the time has gone!
How much money do you make?
Sophia: I make around £1500 a month on average with my two regular contracts at the moment. That’s before tax.
Jayme: I’m aiming to bring in around £1000 a month in the first year of trying this, building up my client base and then grow from there. I have savings to fall back on during this period.
Do you make enough money to support your lifestyle?
Both: So far yes, although now things will be a bit more challenging over the coming months.
For the first year we didn’t do a lot of financial planning. But as it turned into a lifestyle we wanted to continue we got more serious about it. We live within our means, keeping track of our daily expenses. We also put aside money each month into an ethical savings account. We travel slowly when we can and often opt for cooking at home rather than eating out.
Living and consuming ethically is really important to us, although it can be challenging on the move – Sophia offsets off her air miles through Cool Earth and donates 10% of her profits to effective organizations as part of the Giving What You Can movement. We try to spread our spending and seek out establishments that support the local economy. Aside from money matters we try to make other steps like cutting back on plastic and single-use items.
See also: My Zero Waste Kit for Travel (and Home)
What do you like most about your career and lifestyle?
Jayme: I really appreciate the freedom and autonomy with this lifestyle, I’m able to prioritize the things that are really important to me which gives me more creative energy and further inspires my work. This lifestyle has opened my eyes to many things, beautiful and ugly in equal measure and I love to express these feelings through my music.
Sophia: I relish new experiences and have long had the travel bug. I am very grateful to be able to combine pursuing a career I care about with exploring the world. I enjoy learning the local languages, picking up phrases here and there and meeting people from different walks of life, reinforcing my values or challenging my echo chamber.
What are some of the challenges you have with this career and lifestyle?
Jayme: When moving to a new country there are no home comforts or friends to fall back on, and it takes a couple of weeks to settle in, this can put quite a bit of pressure on the relationship. We’ve found that practicing being vulnerable and open has really helped, even if it’s over something minor. We proactively seek out separate working spaces and social groups when we get to a new place too.
Sophia: Oh there are many! It’s not all sunsets and filtered photos (Nora’s note: Amen, sister). Lack of certainty, lack of routine, lack of space to name a few. The challenges vary depending on how long we’ve been away, how frequently we’ve moved, whether we’ve been able to make some good friends in a particular area, our accommodation or just how much sleep we’ve had the night before! I’ve been reflecting on the lessons we’ve learned in the last 18 months in a recent blog post.
(See also: 12 Lessons Learned from 12 Years of Travel)
What is your vision for the future of your lifestyle on the road?
Both: We have learnt a lot about ourselves and the world around us over the last 18 months and we’d like to continue exploring for the foreseeable future but balance our environmental impact more effectively. One thing we have realized, is we feel like we can’t ‘go back’; we don’t see our lives on the road as a delay or stop gap before the ‘inevitable settling down’. We strongly feel that individualism has played a major role in today’s global problems, so we’re at the very early stages of exploring alternative lifestyles.
Any advice for the aspiring traveler about living and working on the road and managing finances?
Sophia: When we were preparing to pack up our London lives, we didn’t know anyone doing the same thing as us. I took some advice from Exploring Alternatives duo Danielle and Mat, to surround ourselves with those already doing it, in the digital realm if not in real life.
So I started following various Facebook pages, including The Professional Hobo. It meant the news of new lives, new houses and new life commitments of my peers were regularly interspersed with travel inspiration, tips, honest accounts of daily life on the road and some fantastic photos. It helped making that leap more realistic.