Financially Sustainable Travel Part 2: Income and Expense Choices

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We all make income and expense choices. Inadvertently, this often ends up dictating our lifestyles, taking the power of lifestyle design out of our hands.

See also: Lifestyle Inflation – Why Earning More Money Sucks (the Life Outta You)

In 2006, I turned the tables, designed the lifestyle I wanted, and then found a way to earn the money required to make it sustainable. In this process, I discovered a huge range of possible lifestyles and options within the scope of financially sustainable travel. I also learned that financially sustainable travel has two distinct yet interrelated elements: income, and expenses. And both involve choice. (Here’s a recent interview I did on this topic).

In Part 1 of this two-part series, I outlined my exact income sources for 2011, along with some of the logistics of how I get paid and file taxes.

Today, I’ll discuss why I don’t make more money, and how I don’t actually suffer for it given my income and expense choices.

This post was originally published in 2012. It has since been updated for accuracy of links and content. 

Making More Income

I recently asked a colleague if they had any business suggestions for me this year, and his response was “Make more than $17,000!” (Since my full-time travels are financially sustainable, he assumed I was making only enough to cover my expenses).

And I could. I could make way more than what I made last year.

But I’d have to work more. And frankly, right now I’d rather not. In fact, I’ve recently turned down writing gigs that haven’t suited my agenda; it’s a counter-intuitive thing for a freelancer to do, but I refuse to become so entrenched in work that I lose my (often precarious) work-life balance, forgetting that I’m actually living somewhere different and cool – which is kind of the point of this whole exercise.

My income is a means to my lifestyle, not vice versa.

Over five years ago, I was making a lot of money, and I was working pretty hard for it. I was fully enmeshed in the “rat race”, and my decision to embrace a life of full-time travel was an exercise in getting out of that cycle, in favour of enjoying a slower pace of life and cultural immersions around the world.

As it stands, I still spend a lot of time on my computer; tapping away composing articles, answering up to 50 emails per day, uploading posts, maintaining my site, answering media interviews, and staying on top of social media and personal branding.

But I’m passionate about what I do and my work hours are both flexible and closer to part-time than full-time.

And I’d like to keep it that way.

Just Getting By”

A reader recently said he liked my “just getting by” travel lifestyle (suggesting that it might be more enriching or authentic than staying in luxurious hotels as he does while on vacation).

Although I’m not lapping it up at the Hilton every night, I’d never actually considered my life and spending choices as an exercise in “just getting by”.

I stay for months in beautiful exclusive Caribbean beach villas (that just happen to be free).

I enjoy epic world-class train rides in First Class (also for free).

And most of my long-haul flights are in business class (for less than the price of an economy ticket).

To me, this hardly feels like “just getting by”!

What’s more: because my main travel expenses (like accommodation and transportation, as above) are so low, I have disposable income to afford other luxuries that are important to me. Basically, when I want lobster – I eat lobster. At the same time, I’m not one for getting drunk at the bar, or blowing a wad of cash at the casino, so in my lifestyle choices there is a balance.

I am far from miserly in my full-time travel lifestyle; rather, I’m choosy about how I spend my money, and where I can save it.

For example, because I carry my “house” with me wherever I go (see also The Ultimate Packing List for Full-Time Travel), I save lots of money by not buying “stuff” since I have nowhere to put it! When I buy something, I have to either get rid of something I have, or find a way to incorporate it into my entourage. This means I don’t tend to buy much, and I’ve realized over the years that we don’t need half the things we think we need.

It’s All About Choice

This conscious approach to both my income and expenses is part of my personal lifestyle design plan. We all make similar choices in our lives – it’s just that for many of us, they’re largely unconscious or reactive.

Let’s open our eyes to the choices we have.

What financial choices do you make in life?

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

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20 thoughts on “Financially Sustainable Travel Part 2: Income and Expense Choices”

  1. Great article! It’s so true what you say about having “stuff”. I never realized it before I started travelling. 3 years ago I started with aupairing to learn English, so I can do acting and writing not only in Czech (my native language), but also in English, as there are way more opportunities in UK and USA. So far I lived in both of those mentioned countries and I always needed only as much stuff as I can carry from one hostfamily to another. Which was hard, in USA the clothes and cosmetics are ridiculously cheap (for me, compare to the Czech Rep.), so I kept stocking up on them. I learned from that when I went to UK afterwards, I have less stuff, yet still too much. I want to go travelling through Europe now for about 2-3 months (depends how long my savings, that are not great, will last). For me that’s going to be a great lesson on learning to live without stuff and only focusing on enjoying the travel and working on my craft (I’m aiming to create some writing portfolio and be connecting with artists of all kinds as I go from country to country – working on my networking skills).
    I think it all comes down to choices. The whole year I stripped myself from shopping, going to bars (except few networking events, so if out having a drink, then with a purpose), even travelling and all my investments went into studying and it worked. Yet it also worn me out. Being in London over a year now, for me, is the longest I’ve stayed in one place and I’ve such itching to get out, you know what I mean? It’s almost unbearable.

  2. @Lenka – You make so many great observations and points!

    – When something (like cosmetics) is cheap, I too have trouble resisting the urge to “stock up”. Also, when I am in a city after/while living rurally, I tend to want to spend more money than I should.

    – And you mention the unbearable feeling of wanting to go out while living in London….this deprivation factor when it gets too strong can be quite dangerous; I knew somebody who used to deny himself everything in the name of saving money, then one day he’d lose the plot and ruin all his progress by going on a spending spree in rebellion!

    I think it’s all about balance, and knowing ourselves and like you say – the choices we make.

  3. This is a good travel article, Nora, but why didn’t you expand on the subject of that choice? That’s really the most important point on there.

    For my part, I invest practically nothing on clothes, alcohol… but quite a bit on food and pampering (massages, traveling costs). And yes, it’s a trade off, one I wouldn’t have to deal with if I chose to get more income, but a choice I wouldn’t have the time to make if I made that income.

  4. You bring up a point many non travelers do not realize. It is always about choices.

    We live in an area where everyone it seems has 4 over priced toyotas (lexus) and cable tv and the newest cell phone each month. Yet they look at us who make a lot less than many of them traveling 4-6 times a year and they think we’re rich.

    If people sat back and thought about what cable tv costs them, and a second car per month or having a baby and you would be able to buy a ticket to CA every month from NY for 2. It is these little choices we make to allow us to travel more.

    I just wish more people would accept our choices instead of grilling us on them and “talking down their nose” at us for what we do.

  5. @Nora – So true, about the keeping yourself from something, that’s why I’m going for the trip now, I had deadline after drama school auditions – then I’m off. No point in not doing what you feel you need to do. Life is too short. I don’t wanna live in regret.

  6. @Turner – What a paradox of choice, huh? Every trade-off involves a consequence or benefit of sorts. This starts to make me think we’re not just talking about choice; we’re talking about priorities.

    Here’s an article about how half a dozen different travelers CHOSE to spend their money on an evening out:

    @Chris – I do find that as soon as I released myself from the entourage of (and never ending need for) “stuff”, travel opportunities opened up. But it’s tough not to “need” a multiple cars if your lifestyle and that of everybody around you dictates that need. That’s what makes so many of us REACTIVE in our lifestyle design rather than PROACTIVE.
    Setting out some clear life priorities is the way to break that cycle…..once those priorities are set and dreams defined, we start to make the tough decisions necessary to make those dreams happen – provided they’re enough of a priority.

  7. This is an excellent article and I appreciate your honesty about your income sources. Goes a long way to show people what exactly is possible! I hope to one day be able to sustain our full time travel from income on the move. Lets see how we can do that 😀

  8. Nora,

    Always inspiring to read your articles. I’m trying to put the pieces in place to make a similar leap in about a year.

    Quick question: in the last couple of posts on expenses and income, I haven’t seen any mention of investments. I want to try the location-independent slow-travel lifestyle by supporting myself with freelance writing (much like yourself!) — but I also want to make sure I’m putting money away for a later point in life when I’ll want to stop working (I hesitate to say “retire” because this lifestyle seems like a part-time early retirement already!).

    Are you building investments as well or is that just not a part of your financial plan? Thanks!

  9. I agree with you all the way. You have to live life freely. That is as long as I get good sound sleep (and luckily I have been) it is usually unimportant of the other luxuries of life. Yet, its not easy to give up certain things right away, until you either hit boot-camp style cold turkey like giving up the AC, or a heated room. Actually easier to give up the heat/heated room. The AC is tough.

    Any way, to shorten the blah, blah, blah. Its about enjoying fully, and thoroughly – and in my definition “The best things in life are free… so give me more, ah more…”- The Beatles 🙂

    Keep on walking, and keep on enjoying!

  10. @Christopher – I was lucky in my earlier years in life to have saved and invested large portions of my income (from the day I started working at age 17), so that when I sold my practice, I already had money set aside and invested for a future when I may not be willing or able to work. And with time for compound growth on my side, I’ve done well by it.
    So investing further for that future isn’t really necessary. Any excess money I make over and above my travel expenses usually gets stashed away in a “slush fund” high interest account for a time when my freelance income might not be enough to cover a specific travel adventure I’m keen on.

    @Saras – I’m big on getting a good night of sleep as well. When traveling, that can be a bit of a luxury at times…..but it’s nothing for me to enjoy 10 hours of sleep fairly regularly if the environment is right.

  11. A great read. I started my journey last July and haven’t looked back… Although I am still living off my savings and need to find some way to earn money at some point but I am in no rush and prefer to experience my life as and how I want to.

    Thanks for your inspiration and happy travelling.

  12. @Colleen – Sometimes it’s nice not to have to worry about where your next paycheque will come from. You can “see” much more of the world around you if you have no agenda but to experience it.
    Where are you now?

  13. I’ve just come back from Scotland and France and am off to Ireland end of April, then Canada and US for 2 months, then Thailand indefinitely, with a stop to Vietnam before the end of the year. I am just loving it 🙂 Where are you right now?

  14. @Colleen – Awesome travel plans! Sounds like you’re in for a heck of an adventure (or three).
    I’m in Grenada (house-sitting) until mid-June. Then I’m spending the summer in Switzerland, then…who knows! It’s all far too much forward planning for a Professional Hobo! 🙂

  15. Housesitting in Grenada! Wow, that sounds like a food deal. I was considering that until I got whipped up in my travel plans. Have a lovely, lovely time. It was great ‘meeting’ you and I shall continue to follow your adventures. Have fun 🙂

  16. @Colleen – Likewise! And enjoy your upcoming travels and adventures; I have no doubt you will!

  17. Having a lot of stuff is overrated. There is a really funny George Carlin skit on “stuff” and will have you in stitches laughing your butt off!

    • LOL! Very funny. “A house is just a place to keep your stuff, with a big cover on it! If we didn’t have all that stuff, we could just walk around all the time!”
      Kind of what I do…. 😉

  18. Hi Nora
    I am almost bankrupt and a single parent and can’t find a job ….on EI …do you know who I can consult for bankruptcy information ? Would a CFP be the right choice to help me with right info and guidance ?

    • Hi Zam,
      I’m so sorry you’re experiencing tough times. I’m not sure exactly who would be best for you to contact regarding bankruptcy; it depends on where you live. I believe there are bankruptcy specialists. You could start by asking at your bank; they should refer you to a reputable person.

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