Financially Sustainable Travel: My 2012 Income

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After publishing my 2011 Income and 2011 Expenses, a colleague made a comment to me about how I should set a goal to earn more money in 2012.

I replied with an essay about income and expense choices in the realm of financially sustainable full-time travel, and how I’m quite happy to not make any more money.

Well, dammit. Despite my best efforts, I earned more money anyway.

Given six years of full-time traveling while building a location independent business as a writer, the (l)earning curve has now tipped in my favour, resulting in lucrative freelance gigs, advertisers, and sponsors having come knocking on my door with little to no recruitment effort on my part. This is in addition to the long-standing columns I write and passive income from affiliate sales.

This post was originally published in 2013. It has since been updated for accuracy of links and content.Β 

Click here to see all of my Annual Income and Expense Summaries!

2012 Income Sources

– note: although my income was earned in three currencies (US Dollars, Canadian Dollars, and Great British Pounds), all have been converted to US Dollars for illustration purposes –

Freelance Writing: $20,785

This is a huge leap from last year’s $11k, due largely to some lucrative print gigs coming my way. I also wrote a massively popular article for my column on Wise Bread, which worked in my favour as they pay me per page view.

Affiliate Sales: $10,954

This has doubled over last year’s figures, due to a few more alliances being formed, and increased traffic to my site and other columns. Affiliate sales remain a great form of passive income – a very welcome stabilizer for a location independent traveler.

Advertising: $7,688

Advertising is also up by over 30% from last year (largely in the form of text links and banners), but online advertising is a bit fickle, and much of it dried up in the latter half of the year as advertisers scrambled around Google’s recent changes.

Total 2012 Income: $39,457

…which is almost double last year’s figures.

The Income Curve

Building any business usually involves traveling up an income curve, where the ratio of work:income becomes more favourable over time. I am at a happy place in this curve, and I anticipate that if I apply myself to a few new venture possibilities, the increasing income trend will continue.

Then again, I am still struggling to find the balance between the time and effort spent making money versus enjoying it. Years ago I traded in a work-heavy rat-race of a career to travel full-time; I’d like to think I’ve learned from history and won’t find myself in that predicament again.

Freelance Fluctuations

But freelance work (which represents a large portion of my income) is a fickle thing that reeks of feast or famine. When jobs come knocking (as they do from editors past and present), it’s tough to say no to getting paid. Because there often comes a time in a freelancer’s life when work dries up for one reason or another.

So you make hay while the sun shines.

Coming up in 2013

…Stay tuned. At this point your guess is as good as mine as to what 2013 will bring. My freelance writing and blogging business is well-established and should continue to support me. And I have a few irons in fires for new projects that should be lucrative, travel-based, and an interesting addition to my portfolio of life experiences.

But I’ve also learned (a few times over) not to count on chickens before they hatch. I am confident as always that my path will reveal itself when the time is right.

This doesn’t mean I don’t have a business plan of sorts in place; rather, until I choose my new direction given the options available, I’m going to keep my cards close to my chest. Don’t wanna jinx anything!

Do you have any specific income/career plans for 2013?

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38 thoughts on “Financially Sustainable Travel: My 2012 Income”

    • Thanks Jo! I really enjoy writing these income and expenses posts, as they provide a lot of insight (for me and for others I hope), but also reflection of my own (which ultimately, I hope is insightful for others too)!

    • Yes, Chris Guillebeau’s products are the highest portion of my affiliate income, due largely to the great fit between his products and various review posts I’ve written over the years for Wise Bread.

  1. Inspiring, and well deserved, to say the least!

    The only “downside” that I can see in regards to location independent income streams is that one would have to spend some “lead time” on the road, gather experiences and best practices, before being able to have a credible point of view. It’s that time frame that would break most travelers’ banks. Unless there’s an unrelated source of income.
    Obviously, there are many factors to succeeding, one of those is definitely the frequency of publications, and the skills to write a captivating story. Yet, it appears as if the field of travel writing is filling up quickly, leaving me to wonder whether it is slowly gravitating toward “niche writing” or highly topical writing?
    Case in point; the train challenge: very topical. very nich-ey, and not something many people would undertake given the time/distance traveled.
    So, my question to you, Nora; do you see travel writing as a field that’s becoming more specialized, as opposed to “general” travel writing, or is there still enough room for general writers?

    • Michael – you bring up two great points:
      1) It’s good to have your location independent career up and going to to a point so that you have a little more freedom and time to balance work with travel.

      2) Yes, “travel writing” is a little broad to cast your net as a writer; I was well-served with my expertise in personal finance as a way to build a writing career while I was learning the ropes of travel.
      Here’s a tip I wrote about getting into travel writing:

    • Hey Linda – Sweet! Thanks for following! There’s a lot of content here, so if you need a guiding hand, send me an email and I’ll point you in the right direction.

  2. I wish I had your guts….not sure I can just drop everything and travel full time. Having said that I wish I could. The dtails you gave are great and certainly useful in preparing one self for a smilar life adventure.
    You seem to have spent very little on Food and Lodging which is unusal unless you were starving half the time and slept a la fresca
    You show monthly expenses saying: Personal effects and business expenses…what might those be? just curious. Thanks for the excellent and detailed post. Cheers Nora,

    • Hey Berge –
      I believe you intended this comment to be on my 2011 expenses post here:

      To answer your questions:
      Accommodation expenses are always low for me as I specialize in volunteering in trade for accommodation. For the entire year of 2011, I spent $173 on accommodation (and not a night spent on a park bench or beach). I will publish my 2012 numbers shortly, and by comparison it was higher, since I started chucking in for housing in Grenada in the last quarter.

      As for Food, when I’m house-sitting and have a lovely kitchen to cook in, I revel in shopping locally and cooking meals – which is quite inexpensive.

      Personal effects were a large range of things, from clothing and personal items, to discretionary expenses like the odd pedicure or hair appointment, to anything, well, personal! It’s a highly subjective category that somewhat falls outside of “the cost of full-time travel”, but is certainly “the cost of living” – depending on disposable income.

      The smaller Business expenses were mostly accounting or professional membership fees, and any larger expenses were explained (such as the month I bought a new laptop).

    • Hi Izy – Good question. Some weeks, I dive into my laptop and put in 50 hours. Other weeks, I work 10 hours (and feel guilty for it)! I think it probably averages down to 20-30 hours per week…probably closer to the 20 mark.

  3. Thanks for sharing, Nora, and congratulations on making such a big jump from last year! It’s really interesting to see how you’re making it all work and I love how you’ve diversified your income streams. I hope to be somewhat location independent and what you’ve done is really inspiring!

    • Thank you, Kim!
      It’s certainly nice to reap some of the benefits of my hard work in the initial years – and my continued efforts!
      Good luck to you in developing your own location independent business!

  4. Thank you for being so open about your earnings! We are VERY new bloggers and we are not looking at monetizing but its nice to know that when we are ready to take that leap, there has been success for some people.

    Congrats on your success!

    • Thanks, Nicole! Like any business, it takes time to build the foundation and produce steady income. But it’s most certainly possible!

  5. I agree that it was very generous of you to post both your income and expenses for the year since that gives us an idea of what and how much you are spending your money on. Obviously you have to be careful with your money when you are living this type of lifestyle, but I suspect that it is no sacrifice! Very inspiring!

    • Hey Lori – I think the principles of budgeting and living within our means applies whether or not we’re traveling full-time! And temptation lurks everywhere….
      And you’re right – even when I was earning very little, I felt no particular sacrifices to live…compromises perhaps, but never sacrifices! Then again, it’s all in how you look at it! πŸ˜‰

  6. I never dreamed of making money through writing and blogging but it’s happening. I started blogging one year ago and I’ve just started reaping the rewards over the last few months. As it’s something I never expected to happen, I’m chalking it all up in the win column right now. After 2+ years as a SAHM it’s wonderful to have my own little source of income again. Now… if I could get to your stage of pulling in $40K a year over the next few years, I’d be very happy!

    • Bethaney – Well, $40k was just as much a surprise to me as anybody else! The freelance writing is the key, as it cross-pollinates nicely with blogging, and I’ve found the better I’ve gotten at writing (and establishing myself as a niche expert), the higher the pay scale has been.

  7. Hi there,
    I just have a question about your advertising income. You mention that much of it has dried up due to Google’s recent changes. I’m just wondering what you mean by this. What changes are you referring to and how you are not able to make as much money with these changes?

    • Hi Nick – When it comes to Google, and SEO, and algorithms and such, I don’t have a good understanding (at all) of the inner workings, but I generally know just enough to keep my head above water.

      So my explanation will be lacklustre, but here goes: Google recently introduced Google Authorship, which they claim will become more important than Google Page Rank.
      In so doing, they changed their search algorithm (as they tend to do every few years), which also changes the weight they put on certain links and back links. In some cases formerly productive advertising links have become counterproductive for SEO purposes, hence advertisers exit en masse.

      And before I totally stick my foot in my mouth for not really knowing what I’m talking about(!), I’ll stop now.

  8. I love the fact that you increased your income by that much! I really appreciate the detailed information concerning your expenses and how you make your income. It is very educational because we all wonder “How does she do that?” Continued success!

  9. Wow, incredible. I still don’t understand the way you earn, but is 6 times more than i have doing cr*ppy jobs. I whish i’d know how to earn online so i can get out of here, life is ticking.

    • Dean,
      Who said anything about cheap? I’ve said this in other posts, but it bears repeating: financially sustainable travel is not synonymous with cheap travel. Or at least it doesn’t have to be.

    • Dean,
      I’m sorry you don’t think you’re up to par. I know plenty of “average” people who are able to make their dreams a reality; but it takes some creativity, passion, dedication, and most often a lot of hard work. It really depends on what you want and how badly you want it.

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