Each year I publish my own full-time travel expenses, as well as my income for the year. I do this not to set the bar for what you should earn or what you should spend in order to travel full-time in a financially sustainable way; rather – as the years go by and my own income and expenses vary – to demonstrate that there is no bar. Here is my 2018 location independent income report, complete with an income breakdown, trends over the years, and plans for the coming year.
This post was originally published in 2019. It has since been updated for accuracy of links and content.
Click here to see all of my Annual Income and Expense Summaries!
The last few years have been rough for me across the board on a variety of levels, from health to business and beyond. Around mid-2017 I realized I had hit a new low business-wise, rounding out the year with my lowest income since 2011. And towards the end of 2017 my health also came into the fray, making matters very muddled indeed.
So 2018 was a year for picking up the pieces and getting on with it. On all fronts (from self-care to business acumen) I did well with this initiative, and created systems and infrastructure to keep improving the process in 2019 (more on that later).
Here is where I went and what I did in 2018.
2018 Location Independent Income Sources
NOTE: My income was earned in a few currencies, namely US and Canadian dollars – all of which I’ve converted to US dollars for the purposes of this report. Unfortunately, with currency fluctuations throughout the year, these numbers are approximate at best.
Freelance Writing: $13,089
This number is almost double my freelance writing income from 2017, though still not the highest it has ever been (which is close to $30k). It is comprised of three components: approx $2,500 in receivables from a one-off project that I completed the year prior, my ongoing Dear Nora” column at CreditWalk, and a new gig I took up part way through 2018 with GoBankingRates.
As you can see, freelance writing comprises over 40% of my total income so it is pretty integral to my online living. However I’m very choosy about the gigs I take, and eventually, I’d like for my own website and related sources of income to be substantial enough that I don’t need to write elsewhere in order to pay the bills.
Having said that, freelance writing is an excellent complement to a blogging career. An offsite article is a great way to create backlinks, and a blog is a fabulous way to showcase your freelance portfolio.
I write extensively about freelance writing as a career here: Ways to Make Money While Traveling.
Affiliate Sales: $8,735
This is pretty low. In fact, the only years where my affiliate income was lower were 2011 ($5,500) and 2013 ($8,200). Part of the challenge is that my Amazon affiliate income (which formerly comprised about 60% of all my affiliate income) tanked in 2017 and hasn’t properly recovered since.
But this is the world of earning money online. An algorithm or program structure changes, and income can soar or plummet. So I’ve been busy building alternate sources of affiliate income to make up the difference. It’s slow-going, but effective. In 2018, I earned affiliate income from 17 different sources, the beefiest of which were related to women’s travel clothing, travel insurance, virtual mailbox services, and travel blogging courses.
Advertising & Sponsored Posts: $6,631
This is more than double my advertising income from 2017 (woohoo!), and the highest since 2012 (when I earned $7,700). In 2012 it was high because back then it was cool to sell text links. Since then I stopped selling text links and took very few sponsored posts. And to this day, I do not accept guest posts, despite this being the current strategy for outreach campaigns (I receive multiple emails daily asking to submit guest posts to my site despite stating blatantly on my Contact page that I don’t accept them and automatically delete such requests. Sigh. End rant).
In 2018 I restructured everything. The big boon happened when I changed ad networks to Mediavine and my income from in-content and sidebar ads literally multiplied by 10! These ads accounted for 70% of my total advertising income for the year. For years, I resisted littering my site with ads. And I’m sorry, dear reader, that I’ve been drawn to “the dark side”. But seriously. Ads seem to be a fact of life when it comes to the browsing experience, and my income went from $80/month to $800/month. (!) What would you have done?
The remaining 30% of my income in this category came from a few select sponsored posts, and from some special sponsored features in my monthly newsletter.
Book Sales: $1,831
This is the lowest my income from book sales has been since 2014 (when I was brand new to writing and selling books but made a good show of it with $1,600). But considering the fact that I haven’t kicked out any new books since 2015, I’m still pleased with this passive form of income. A colleague of mine who has a small publishing empire says that any book sales after the first year are to be considered as “gravy” or bonus. I don’t quite agree with his analysis, since the books I’ve written are pretty evergreen, and I even republished one in 2017 with updated formats and links just to ensure it’s incredible value.
Didn’t know that I’m a published author? I am. I wrote How to Get Free Accommodation Around the World (now in its 2nd edition and recently released in Amazon Kindle format), Tales of Trains: Where the Journey is the Destination (available directly through my website as well as in Kindle and paperback formats on Amazon), and Working on the Road: The Unconventional Guide to Full-Time Freedom (since discontinued).
That’s right, folks. I earned a delicious $30 in 2018 as royalties from a Hollywood movie I was in a gazillion years ago.
TOTAL INCOME: $30,316
This is a vast improvement over my 2017 income, which was pretty disappointing. Still, this number is lower than what I earned in 2012-2015 inclusive.
But, things are moving in the right direction, and I have reason to believe I’m on a new track that will prove to be both lucrative and rewarding. (Read on).
And, it’s worth noting, as usual, that if you compare my 2018 income here with my 2018 expenses, you’ll see that I have continued to walk the talk of traveling full-time in a financially sustainable way….which is what really matters when we’re talking about income and expenses.
What I Did Right in 2018
Somewhere in 2018 I realized something that was key to my turning things around: I owned a job, not a business. I was working full-time just to stay in place and keep up with everything. I was an unwitting hamster in a wheel of my own creation.
Problem is, I knew that in order to turn things around I needed to invest in outsourcing the things I couldn’t/wouldn’t do. But in order to invest, I needed more income. I was trapped in a frustrating vicious circle that I couldn’t navigate my way out of.
Then, in February, a friend and colleague I was hanging out with (the same one who I immortalized in my “All Life is Suffering” essay) suggested I hire somebody on a profit-sharing basis.
Cue in angel song.
I did exactly that, and between April and December 2018 I worked with an SEO-tastic woman who not only helped me to optimize my content, but she reorganized my entire site by taking dozens upon dozens of small posts that weren’t getting views, and amalgamating them into gigantic useful Travel Lifestyle Guides that now showcase the wealth of information I have on all the logistics of travel and finance that formerly got lost in the shuffle. To quantify her value, here is an SEO Case Study she wrote about how she increased traffic to just one of my posts by 450% in one day.
I also hired a virtual assistant to take care of the tasks I really didn’t need to be doing, such as uploading posts and newsletters, researching articles, certain social media tasks, and more. I am absolutely horrible at delegating, and it has been an extra investment in time to create the instructional documents for each task, but now that the infrastructure is in place and my assistant is trained up, things are looking much better.
Both of these moves dramatically increased my business expenses (as evidenced in my 2018 Expense report). But, given that I was paying my SEO gal on a profit-sharing basis, I still had my established base income to live on.
My 2019 Business Plan
I will continue to pay my SEO gal a decreasing percentage of profits for the first five months of 2019 (since much of the work she did in 2018 will have delayed results in terms of traffic and income increases).
I also have one last card up my sleeve that I hope will increase my traffic (and income) even further: I have hired somebody to create and manage my Pinterest account. Pinterest is a huge source of traffic for many (if not most) of my colleagues, but since I didn’t have the energy or wherewithal over the years to create and build/manage yet another social account, I let it slide. While Pinterest algorithms have recently changed that have made traffic possibilities more questionable, I am hopeful that this investment (which will probably end up being $1,000-$1,500) will pay off.
But on the whole, the name of the game in 2019 is SHIFT. Having spent the last year setting up infrastructures to increase traffic, automate, and outsource, it’s time to step away from the laptop (at least a bit). I know I wrote something similar in last year’s income report, and only ended up investing more time and energy in the business, but this time I really mean it! I’ve now transformed my “job” into a “business”. I want to reap the rewards by affording myself some time to relax and continue healing from too many years of frenetic activity (travel-wise and business-wise). To read. To binge Netflix. And to spend more face time with people that I care about.
But as much as I fantasize about doing nothing, I also know myself well enough to know that it probably won’t happen (at least, not for long). In fact, here are a just few of the possibilities I’m entertaining:
I’m considering hiring a publicist. Now that I have a base in Toronto, I can “hit the tv circuit”. Years ago when my first book came out (one that I co-authored), I did a live guest appearance on Canada AM. They loved me so much that they asked me to return to do a regular series with them! Problem was, I couldn’t – I was on a plane back to Australia. So I had to let that opportunity slip. Well, folks – I’m back! And I want in. It’s also a great way for me to parlay all these years of travel experience into a different way of communicating about it, and to continue to build an audience (and income) for this website.
Along these lines, I’m going to start doing public speaking engagements. While the idea is generally still in its infancy, I already have a few gigs lined up, including TBEX (Travel Blog Exchange) and Toronto Travel Massive, where I’ll be speaking about how to use freelance writing to put your blog on the map. But my audience will eventually extend beyond travel bloggers, as I craft different messages to both aspiring travelers, armchair travelers, and people who want to make a big change in their lives.
I’ve been saying it for a while now, and I’ll say it again: I’m gunning to host an international network travel tv show. Various opportunities along these lines tend to come (and go); just last month I was asked to submit an application to be featured in a travel documentary. I’m not holding my breath…but it’s nice to be asked. In the meantime, I have a killer idea for a travel tv show; I just need a production company to back it and help me put it all together.
These are opportunities related to my existing business. But I’m also open to other gigs. I was actually offered a very interesting job that would have combined my travel and cultural expertise with my business experience and taken me around the world. Ironically I turned it down. Why? Because the offer wasn’t quite right; among other things, the timing was off, and it would have meant sacrificing my continued recovery from burnout, this website, or (most likely) both.
But again, it’s nice to be asked. The sheer invitation thereof helped me to maintain faith that there are opportunities out there, some of which I couldn’t possibly predict. All that is required is to remain open, and see what happens.