Tiffany Soukup of Vagabond Way is an adventurer, writer and photographer. Together with her husband they take off for far flung adventures around the world for months or years at a time, supporting themselves by getting seasonal jobs along the way and doing freelance writing and photography.
This Financial Case Study was originally published in 2016. But a lot can happen in six years, so I asked Tiffany to give us an update on her lifestyle and career. Find our more about how they make ends meet and how things have changed, below!
How long have you been living/working on the road, and where have you traveled to?
2016: I started moving around the country and then world once I went to university. It was during this time that I realized how easy it actually can be to move around the world and find interesting jobs while living in amazing places.
Since 2001 I have:
- Lived in Flagstaff, Arizona and worked as a secretary for the campus Fire Life Safety Department;
- Lived in Denver, Colorado worked as an Americorps Member doing environmental conservation projects;
- Lived in Salt Lake City, Utah worked as a Wilderness Therapy Instructor;
- Lived in New Zealand picking cherries, grapes and worked for some people we met on a beach;
- Spent a month traveling around Fiji;
- Lived in Gettysburg, PA worked in an At Risk Youth Home;
- Lived in Elmore, Vermont worked as a Park Ranger;
- Spent a winter in Costa Rica and had a big road trip to Florida;
- Lived in Waterbury, Vermont worked as Park Supervisor;
- Moved to Australia for two years and worked on a potato farm and cafe;
- Made a few trips out of Australia to renew my visas and traveled to Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia;
- Lived in Groton, Vermont worked as an Innkeeper returning for three summer seasons;
- Spent one winter doing a four month trip through South America visiting Peru, Chile and Argentina;
- Did a massive overland trip through Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Botswana, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa.
Throughout all of these travels, moves and jobs are many other mini-adventures, various skills gained and many memories made.
2022: I am quite pleased to say we have continued to enjoy extended travels to update this list with. Since our initial post we have:
- Traveled around Asia for one year. (Highlights: hiking in Nepal and saw pygmy elephants and visited other amazing parks in Malaysia.)
- Took at trip to Egypt and Jordan.
- Worked at Townshend State Park (a very charming historic park.)
- Did a big 2 month USA road trip and calculated all our costs.
- Did a five month Mexico to Ecuador trip. (Highlights: famous ruins, Panama Canal, 15 days in the Galapagos!)
- 2 month trip to Brazil with goal to see jaguars, giant ant eaters, and the maned wolf. We did see all those and our maned wolf video went viral and is almost up to 6 MILLION views so far!
- Worked at Camp Plymouth State Park.
- Found out about these amazing backcountry, off-grid lodges in the middle of the woods run by the Maine AMC (Appalachian Mountain Club.) Spent two winters running the charming Little Lyford Lodge and loved it!
- Have utilized the Covid times to continue learning, investing in ourselves, help family on some significant projects and be grateful for the areas we have been fortunate in.
- As a complete surprise, Tiff got a total hip replacement in November 2021! Turned out I had severe arthritis and it got to a point where it severely impacted my daily life. I feel so much better after surgery! This video shows me shoveling my driveway 1 month after surgery. This winter we continue healing, working on ourselves and being cozy in Vermont.
Please describe what you do for income.
2016: Right now my primary income source has been from seasonal jobs around the world. This has been highly advantageous to me as I have been able to move to get the best jobs I can find. I am slowly building up contacts with magazines as a freelancer and getting some other sources of income gigs lined up as well.
2022: Primary source of income is still from our VT State Parks job. The past two winters we also worked our seasonal winter job with Maine AMC which helped boost long term savings and investments a good bit.
I did make over $3,000 this last year in various business and side hustle money. Most of these have a W9 to go with them, so I will pay back a decent chunk of the $3K in taxes. Sources were mostly selling photos on Adobe, YouTube, Etsy, writing and selling cards.
This past spring I got curious about different ways to save money I might not be aware of. I went down a rabbit hole that ended up in me writing this post: How I Saved $535 in Two Weeks. Prior to challenging myself to research this post I had not heard of apps like Fetch I wrote about in the post. Now I use them all the time. Since April of this past year I earned $1,581 of various reward money – not bad!
I also got a lot more educated about finances and taxes. If you are able to take advantage of incentives such as maxing out a Roth IRA and an HSA (Health Savings Account) for American readers, doing so may reward you with tax deductions and lower AGI (adjusted growth income.)
The bottom line I can’t emphasis enough: be frugal and continuously educate yourself.
How many hours per week do you work on average?
2016: Well, this depends a lot on what I am doing at the time. When I worked in a remote mining town in Australia, I worked two jobs and squeezed as many hours in as I possibly could. On average, I worked at least 65 hours per week if not more, and yes, I did get tired after a while. But, that push helped me and my husband not do any official work for an entire year. So it seemed like a pretty good pay out.
In recent times I have found myself working seasonally as an Innkeeper as I manage a beautiful lodge in a 27,000 acre forest. I really enjoy this job, although it is demanding. I am scheduled to work 48 hours a week and I try not to work any more than 55 hours a week. It is because of working this more intense job, both of us have been able to take our winters off and not do any official work for five months of the year. I have used this time to see our families and spend one winter in South America and last winter we had an epic road trip across ten African countries last winter.
2022: This fluctuates greatly throughout the year. When we are in season and on payroll for our park job, we refer to it as “park-living.” We live and work there. When it’s peak season it feels like blur and everything blends together. There are quieter times in the season when we get to enjoy the park more and maintain hours. I know I work 48 hours a week minimum.
When we are off season and not working in the park, then the pendulum swings and I am working on my projects. I try to maintain a routine with some discipline otherwise I would be a scatterbrain and never get anything done. Ironically during these periods, I often wake up at 5am to get started on my projects. I find having that discipline helps keep me on track.
If I’m being honest, my head space can go all over. It takes me a while to get in the groove so by getting up early, I allow myself that wind-up time I need to focus. This early morning time seems to be a tangible way to make myself sit in a chair and make progress on my goals.
We also approach our travel style, to a certain extent, as a job. We invest a lot of time in researching trips and finding the best value. We exchange time for slower transportation, cooking, altering our schedule to get better deals, taking red eye flights. So, although it’s not work per se, we exchange a great deal of time in order to reduce our cost and therefore need to work less overall to pay for the trips.
How much money do you make?
2016: My travel style has varied greatly over the years and is still changing all the time. I’ve gone an entire year traveling off savings and had no money coming in. Then I have other times I have worked 70 hour weeks and been able to put most of my money in the bank. So I guess what I am saying is there is no normal year!
To give you at least an idea, and keep in mind since I am married, we file our taxes jointly, our annual income ranges between $30,000-$48,000 per year combined. There are also years like 2012 where we did not earn any income and lived for an entire year off savings while going on a massive road trip around Australia.
2022: Our annual income still fluctuates a lot between $30K-50K combined. As we didn’t work in Maine this past winter, I anticipate being on the lower side this fiscal year.
What I think is more pertinent to focus on is how much we can save. Over the last year I have gotten back into the habit of tracking all our yearly incomes and expenses.
Here are some rough calculations:
Usually our annual expenses, including our trips is usually: ~$25K. Covid year and no traveling: ~$15K (We just hunkered down and worked. One month we spent $0 on gas as we didn’t even need to fill our gas tank once!) So on our higher income years, we are able to save and invest a decent bit of money.
Every year we have made it a priority to grow our savings and investments larger than they were the previous year.
Do you make enough money to support your lifestyle?
2016: Saving has always been important to me. I never wanted to put myself into a situation I couldn’t get out of, so I have always ensured to have a savings and continue to grow it. To me it is exciting to reach certain saving milestones and continue to set other financial goals.
My savings goes up and down greatly depending on whether I am earning (ie working) or spending (ie traveling). I still never feel quite comfortable when I watch the bank account going down, but I make money to travel. That is my passion and that is what I do. So I choose to work seasonal jobs while also working on my writing and photography and that combination is enough to support my lifestyle.
2022: Yes we do. We have continued to grow our investments over the years and recently I have taken our finances and investments a lot more seriously. Chris and I both have always been disciplined at saving and somewhat knowledgeable about investing. I have become more interested in the FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) movement. I spend many dinners watching documentaries, verified YouTube channels, reading books, and looking for anything and everything I did not yet know regarding finance.
Without quite realizing, we have essentially semi-retired, on average, about six months of the year for over a decade. We have had our good health and youth to go on all these far-flung adventures. All the while we always believed in saving. I foresee a future continuing where we have our comfortable short-term retirements as well as long term retirement. I am proud to say it is possible to do both: travel for extended periods of time and grow one’s net worth.
What is your vision for the future of your lifestyle on the road?
2016: I am always thinking about the future and how I will continue to evolve. I know I want to keep pushing myself towards the next step of professionalism with my writing and photography. People ask us all the time if we will ever ‘settle down’ or will we stop traveling. (Nora’s note: I hate that question!).
Traveling and this lifestyle is definitely not a short term endeavour for us. When we get tired of living out of our backpacks, we find a job or a place we like and stay there a while. When we feel rested we hit the road again.
The best part about this lifestyle is I feel free to live the life I choose. I feel so very fortunate to be able to pick and choose where I want to live, work and what I want to do. I am motivated every day to jump up out of bed because I know I am working towards my goals and dreams. And to me, that is one of the greatest feelings of being alive.
2022: The same.
Any advice for the aspiring traveler about living and working on the road and managing finances?
2016: From my experiences, the best thing you can do for yourself is do whatever it takes to get rid of any debt you have and live a frugal lifestyle. Especially when Chris and I were younger and still had college debt, we made sacrifices and chose not to participate in a lot of expensive activities that a lot of our friends did. We rarely went to bars, we didn’t eat out a lot and we didn’t buy things we were not going to use.
After getting rid of debt, always have a savings that can last you at least six months. As a traveler and if you are looking to work on the road, always, always, always have that core savings.
2022: Emphasis on frugal lifestyle – because then you can get so much value out of whatever it is that you truly like. I love finding so many other bloggers and YouTubers living and praising the frugal lifestyle. I get energized seeing other people brag about how long they have owned a T-shirt or how they used up all these random ingredients to make a meal. Less food waste and money saved. It’s been informative and fun to find other people taking pride in achieving that goal.
That energy continues to grow and snowball as I see our investments growing and we are in the position to travel comfortably for months at a time.
Never underestimate the value of saving $5, the value of investing $5, the importance of having a secure base (both emotionally and financially) for yourself, and the power of being kind to everyone.