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: Transferwise
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 Transferwise. 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 Transferwise 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 Transferwise (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: Transferwise!
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!
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.
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!