After publishing my total expenses to live and travel full-time in 2011, as well as an immensely popular resource illustrating how to swing full-time travel for $17,000 per year (or less), many questions arose about how I earn the money necessary for my full-time travel lifestyle.
And since I regularly profess that my full-time travels are financially sustainable, I figured it’s time to come through with the the goods on the income side of things.
This post was originally published in 2012. It has since been updated for accuracy of links and content.
2011 Income Sources
Here are my income sources and amounts from 2011:
– note: although my income came through in three currencies (US Dollars, Canadian Dollars, and Great British Pounds), all have been converted to US Dollars for illustration purposes –
Freelance Writing: $11,189
As a freelance writer, I have a number of regular columns as well as some one-offs that altogether made up about half of my 2011 income. (You can see select articles and profiles on my Writing & Publicity page.
Affiliate Sales: $5,588
Some of the articles I write for my site and others include affiliate links, mostly to e-books and e-services that I’ve reviewed and endorse. This is a lovely ongoing form of passive income, since the articles remain online, and are often “rediscovered” by readers months or years after the initial date of publication.
Check out my Travel Gear Archives for a collection of amazing things I’ve reviewed over the years
Advertising income includes text links, banners, and Adsense ads. I don’t generally go looking for advertisers; instead I’m lucky enough to be approached regularly, and it’s just a matter of ensuring a good fit.
I was paid $100 for a photo to be used in an Australian National Gallery exhibition promotion.
I haven’t put a number to the sponsorships and media discounts I get, but they do offset my expenses, enabling some travel adventures that I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) otherwise afford. For example, the Ultimate Train Challenge had a number of sponsors, which all told subsidized thousands of dollars of travel expenses, from accommodation to transportation to tours and beyond.
Total 2011 Income: $21,873
So, you can see with 2011 expenses of $17,615 (click here for a detailed breakdown of my 2011 expenses), I more than made enough to sustain my full-time travels in 2011.
The Logistics of Getting Paid
Receiving my income and managing expenses on the road is largely as simple as writing words on my computer, sending them off as emails or posting them online, then watching numbers appear in my bank account! (You gotta love the location independent life!) I then use those bank account numbers to pay my expenses (which are largely charged to a credit card – with frequent flyer mile privileges of course), and rarely does a physical dollar pass through my hands.
It’s all a little surreal.
See also: How to Get Paid Online, including my new favourite way since writing this article: Wise
Paypal is the main way I am paid, since it is a recognized and secure payment system that requires little more than an email address to send somebody money. I can accept payments in multiple currencies, and transfer money to my bank account on demand.
Of course, there are fees (HUGE FEES!) associated with this service (in the form of a percentage of some payments received, as well as hidden currency conversion charges), but I view this as the cost of doing business. At least I don’t have an office space to pay for as well.
Note: since writing this article, I have switched all the payments I possibly can to Wise. With a Multi-Currency account, I can give clients/employers bank details in a huge variety of currencies, so they can pay me by ACH as if it is a local transfer for them. I can then transfer the money from Wise to my bank account, at the prevailing currency conversion rate (no hidden fees tacked on!). They charge a small, totally transparent fee to do the transfer, which is a fraction of what PayPal charges.
Click here to get started with Wise (I will get a small referral fee if you use this link).
I have a few payments that come through via bank wire transfer, mainly for regular columns that I write. This is great for large and/or regular income streams, since it reduces fees that would normally be charged by Paypal.
Unfortunately if the bank transfer is international, you will pay a hefty fee to receive the money. Again, see above re: Wise!
Although it’s rare, I still do get an occasional cheque in the mail. This goes to my “permanent address” in Canada (aka: my designated representative at home, aka: Mum), and gets deposited into my bank account by my loving “designated representative”. Thanks, Mum!
See also: Things to do to Prepare for Full-Time or Long-Term Travel
What about Taxes?
Because my income is as low as it is, and my expenses (many of which are tax-deductible) make up a substantial portion of my income, I don’t pay tax!
Regardless, I do file annually, and keep diligent records of expenses and receipts. I use an accountant in Canada (who actually understands the cryptic spreadsheets I email him), but if you don’t have an accountant and your tax situation isn’t too complicated then using free online tax software can be a location independent traveler’s best friend. Each year, I mail the previous year’s receipts to my “permanent address” in Canada (again, thanks Mum!) for filing in case I’m ever audited.
See also: Filing Taxes for Digital Nomads – Everything You Need to Know
Check out Part 2 of this series: about why I don’t make more money, and how I currently live better than when I made five times this amount.
(See also: Lifestyle Inflation – Why Earning More Money Sucks The Life Outta You)
Click here to see all of my Annual Income and Expense Summaries!
22 thoughts on “Financially Sustainable Travel Part 1: My 2011 Income”
I have a very random question that makes me think a lot when I consider your long-term lifestyle: Are you already saving for retirement? Do you find it easy to do while on the road?
A blog post about that would be brilliant 😉 🙂
@Maria – I think I address this in an upcoming Financial Travel Tip, but the short answer is that I was very lucky to have saved a goodly amount from a very young age, so now I have a nice little nest egg invested and growing for my retirement years.
However as you can see from my numbers above, I could be continuing to save for my retirement with almost $5000 in excess income. (I’m stashing it away for a “rainy travel day” instead!)
I posted my full finances in South Korea not too long ago too. Interesting… I understand how you can live off that, but do you feel pressure to search for work?
@Turner – Great question. As a freelancer, there’s always an undercurrent of pressure to find work, as often freelancing is a feast or famine sort of game.
And I also receive some pressure to make more money from people who don’t understand how I could be “successful” on such a small income.
In reality – and I’ll be addressing this in part 2 – I’ve very much chosen to make the amount I make, and to spend it as I do. I’ve even turned down lucrative work (which can be dangerous as a freelancer) to maintain the work-life balance I currently enjoy.
Some very interesting facts and figures.
What I found most interesting, is the fact that you can justify part of your expenses from abroad when you do your tax forms back home.
Where i’m from and despite the fact that i can work from virtually anywhere, no receipts can be used for tax purposes for expenses done outside the country; which is useless and insane, like so many other things, if you ask me…
keep up the good work, your articles are always helpful
This is a great resource! Thanks for giving us such details on how you actually make an income and its distribution. This is the type of information nobody ever wants to share – but is extremely useful for anybody trying to get into blogging and a independent lifestyle! Thanks for this! Cheers!
Great article Nora! Very helpful info. Thanks for being so open about your financials. It’s been some of the best advice/info I’ve read online.
And looking forward to the Financial Travel Tip concerning saving for retirement. I’m close to embarking on my travel plans and need to meet with a financial planner soon to figure out what to do with my retirement accounts. I’ve got a small nest egg as well and would like it to grow for retirement.
@despina – I’m thankful that worldwide expenses can be written off against worldwide income. I’m surprised that it’s not allowed everywhere!
@Chrystal – I’m glad you found this info useful. Money shouldn’t be a taboo topic, and yes most of the time, it is.
@Gabe – If you’re meeting with your financial planner, then they’ll help you set up your retirement portfolio so it fits within your time frame and risk tolerances.
Here’s some basic info about Asset Allocation that you might find useful in the meantime:
Thanks for all the awesome information as usual Nora. Any advice for someone who might want to try freelance writing. I have plenty of experience writing technical reports as I write engineering reports and legal reports for my clients in my soon to be ending “normal job.” I do environmental engineering, seems somewhat hard to relate to traveling, though I suppose I could do different infrastructure from around the world, but how do you find a market/publication for that?
I also do a lot of yoga and so far my most popular posts on my blog are my photos, and my Photobucket account is getting thousands of views but I certainly do not know a lot about photography.
I know it is different asking you since I think you wrote before you left, but how does one get started? Another site used my blog post reviewing a photography product so I suppose that is a start, but how do you get into paid gigs? How long did it take you to get a name in what you do? How did you find your niche, was it just two loves colliding (finance and travel)?
Sorry I am so inquisitive tonight but your posts always get me thinking. If you have answered these questions already or do not want to, I am sorry for invading!
I am hoping to travel and work but not have to work full time. Being an expat and having the same work life does not sound like what I want at the moment. I understand limiting your income/ time spent on purpose to live the life you want. Keep up the good work its an inspiration!
@Laura – Although I’ve always “written” in my life, I wasn’t always a “writer”. That developed as I started traveling, and in the way I did it, it took a couple of years to develop a portfolio, reputation, and credibility such that my writing could be sustainable (even lucrative).
For me it involved a lot of reading, looking for writers’ guidelines on publications that were within my niche, and sending out lots of carefully crafted queries.
For Environmental Engineering, check out the industry magazines; you might find an interesting angle to bring to them (like you say, dealing with infrastructure around the world).
As for photography (and writing), I initially found the tips on these free newsletters to be very helpful:
Great stuff Nora…excellent article …I wish I had your guts and looks
I’m sure you have addressed this very common question before – if you have apologies! How long was it until you started earning a reasonable income form your website? Love your postings by the way!
@Solo Female Nomad – From my website alone, decent money didn’t start rolling in until almost 3 years in. But I must admit it wasn’t my objective to monetize my site per se, so I didn’t apply myself in a way that could have sped up the process. (I was initially focusing more on establishing freelance writing gigs).
Thanks for posting this blog, I’ve always wondered how on earth travellers financed it all – except for those who save and save and then go for one year only!
Unfortunately though it seems you need to have a good readership base on your blog before you start earning affiliate money though, and you won’t get that readership if you’re not blogging about your travels, which seems like a bit of a catch 22!
How did you start? Did you have savings, or did you just jet off and hope it would all pan out?
@Hotelopia – I spent close to the first two years building up my writing and blogging portfolio and audience (on this site and others) – all for very little money. (I was able to live off the proceeds of selling my business). I still wasn’t sure I’d be able to make a go of it, but with a good dose of entrepreneurial knowledge and commitment, a lot is possible! 🙂
I suppose these things do take time, building up the audience and with it the revenue. Well, glad it all worked out for you in the end, your blog is fantastic and a pleasure to read! 🙂
My sun just came back from an 8 month journey in Asia. His trip cost him a little more than 10,000 dollar without any revenue. I am glad to see that with a bit a creativity, some money can be made, even on the road! Get tips for this page.
Hi Michel – Yes Asia is a great place to stretch your travel dollar, and also have a cultural adventure. I hope your son enjoyed his trip!
I would hate to ask a question you might have already answered somewhere else in your blog- but what do you tell people who didn’t have a lucrative job that they saved up money from before deciding to travel the world? Also you say that a fair amount of your airfare and transportation is paid for plus your accommodation is free, that is the biggest expense of traveling; that is the “how you get there” and “where you’ll stay.” So I appreciate your honesty in revealing your “annual income” but if you could calculate how much the airfare/transportation and accommodation are for people who aren’t sponsored that could give us a better idea of how to budget for world travel.
You make a great point – my sponsored activities (which would normally be expenses, but are counted more as income) have subsidized my travel and might not equate what others would pay to travel around the world.
In terms of free accommodation, I’ve gotten 99% of that in a way that any traveler can. (More info: https://www.theprofessionalhobo.com/travel-tips-resources/get-free-accommodation-around-world/)
And for transportation (other than the Ultimate Train Challenge), again that’s mostly been through my own frequent flyer mile hacking, as well as saving money by traveling slowly.
The reality is, every world travel budget is completely different, depending on where you go, what you do, how you live, how long you have for travel, and more.
Here’s a post I wrote about creating travel budgets that outlines some of these criteria so you can create your own customized travel budget:
Wow! So it’s possible! Thank you for being so transparent and sharing all this for anyone to see, and to show that it’s possible to piece it all together. What a great way to make a living! Beats sitting in a mall or store at a cash register making minimum wage, or even at a desk job in the corporate world making a bigger living, what a great resource for tracking what is possible. The affiliate sales is quite intriguing and I would love to learn more about this. Residual income is a great source.
Indeed, residual income is great, and since 2011 I’ve created even more frameworks (through my site and others I’ve written for) to keep the affiliate income coming in.