The Last Four Years of Full-Time Travel

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Four years of full-time travel: can you believe it?!

This post was originally published in 2011. It has since been updated for accuracy of links and content. I ended up traveling full-time for 12 years.

Just as time passes more and more quickly as we age, so too I’m finding that time passes increasingly quickly as my travel days accumulate.

It feels like eons ago that I sold my financial planning practice and everything I owned to travel the world. Back then I had no idea where my traveling would take me, how long it would last, or how I’d make it sustainable.

At the same time, it doesn’t seem all that long ago that I felt like a baby in the realm of discovering the world of travel, putting together a blog (heck: I barely even knew what a blog was!), developing a location independent career, and wondering how long I would need to spend on the road to get traction and establish some decent “street credibility”.

Now, with four years of full-time travel under my belt, I still feel like an infant in some respects, and like a sage prophet in others. People come to me for advice about travel, lifestyle design, and personal finance, and I realize that I actually have some good advice to give. I’ve written hundreds of articles about these topics, as well as posts about my own personal adventures.

One of the things I’ve truly realized about traveling is that it constantly evolves. Sometimes I have traveled quickly, sometimes slowly. Sometimes I stopped for a while to smell the flowers, sometimes I was on the move for months at a time.

My initial travel goal – four years ago – was to start in Costa Rica and get my Outward Bound instructor rating so I could begin my travel “career” leading groups in the outdoors. I never made it to Costa Rica (so far), but I did end up leading groups in the outdoors in Australia a few years later; something that came to me quite by accident, as did so many of my travel opportunities.

Please find below a recollection and celebration of my last four years on the road; highlights, lowlights, and all.

April-October 2007: Canada

Canadian flag against sunset and water

Instead of heading down to Costa Rica as planned, my boyfriend (at the time) Kelly got a call to return to his home town of Edmonton to participate in his brother’s wedding scheduled for July. So we took the train across Canada and enjoyed mussels the size of a dinner plate on Vancouver Island, before settling down in Edmonton for a few months.

Nora Dunn, The Professional Hobo, mountaineering in the Rocky Mountains of Canada

Being a few hours from the Rocky Mountains, I spent most of my time exploring the outdoors. I reclaimed the camping goddess within, got my mountaineering legs under me, and celebrated Canada Day on the summit of Mount Richardson near Lake Louise. After a few months of mountaineering training, I even delved underground and had a few ominous caving experiences.

November 2007-April 2008: Hawaii

The Professional Hobo in her Hawaiian convertible

Kelly and I settled into our first caretaking experience on the Big Island of Hawaii, learning the art of permaculture and sustainable living. In this intriguing part of Hawaii, I learned how to dance like no one is watching, experienced the eclectic Puna district, and felt the first pangs of racism I’d ever experienced.

After a few months of living off-the-grid, it was time to drive around the island and move to the sunny Kona side of the Big Island and volunteer at a hostel.

drinking kava

In Kona, I managed to get a black eye from a deaf guy, contract a neurological disease, learn to speak Hawaiian, and conquer my fear of the ocean (sort of). I also explored a little more of the Big Island before bidding Hawaii goodbye.

May-June 2008: Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore

Buddhist monastery in Chiang Mai Thailand

Asia was meant to be a 6-week interlude between Hawaii and Australia, with lots of touring through Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore. But as with so many travel ideas, things didn’t quite go according to the master plan.

Instead, after enduring a Muay Thai boxing fight and learning to cook in paradise, Cyclone Nargis obliterated the neighbouring country of Burma. Kelly and I stopped our backpacking trip in its tracks to do what we could to help; a small idea that blossomed into an international fundraising campaign to get shelter and essentials to the 2 million displaced Burmese people a few hundred kilometers from where we were. Two weeks later we had raised almost $15,000 and successfully got aid into this country with closed borders.

Rotary fundraising in Chiang Mai for Cyclone Nargis victims

But before we could resume what was left of our dwindling time in Asia, Kelly got dengue fever, and we spent another week in Chiang Mai in the hospital while he fought for his life.

Unfortunately our delays meant we had to give Malaysia a miss, and we had only a day to enjoy Singapore before moving on to our next big travel adventure.

July-December 2008: Australia

Kangaroo at Kingbilli estates in Victoria, Australia

Australia made our travel agenda by virtue of being sponsored as World Nomads Ambassadors, where Kelly and I traveled from Brisbane to Melbourne in a campervan over six weeks. We took a roundabout route, experiencing lots of national parks, eccentric towns like Nimbin and Lightning Ridge, and iconic scenic drives like Great Ocean Road, all the while learning some of the differences that make Australia unique.

Llama wrangling in Australia

Soon after we settled down at Kingbilli Country Estate, where we volunteered for almost six months. It was a time of getting to know Australian animals; I wrangled llamas, rescued koalas, screamed at giant huntsmen spiders, fed wild king parrots, played with Poppy the wombat, had a rosella on my head, and was followed around constantly by Bracken the affectionate kangaroo.

I also got into country living, learned the importance of the AFL Grand Final, and came to understand the true meaning of “she’ll be right, mate” in the context of Australian culture.

January-June 2009: Australia (still)

Rainbow over mountain background with black road in Rubicon Australia

After giving Australia a very special Christmas present, Kelly and I decided we weren’t done with this neck of the woods and wanted to stay a little longer. This elicited some rumblings and criticism in the online travel community about how long you can stay in one place and still be considered a traveler; something which cut deep as I felt I was just getting under the skin of Australia, only starting to understand what makes the place (and people) tick.

Regardless, we rented a house in the area and moved in during an epic heat wave. Two days after moving in, we found ourselves in the middle of Australia’s worst-ever natural disaster: the Victorian Bushfires. Whilst surrounded by fires and evacuated for over a month, we once again lent a humanitarian hand in the relief efforts. I also put my writing to work and kept a Victorian Bushfire Diary, which was eventually archived by the National Library of Australia as a little slice of history.

life after the Victorian Bush Fires in Australia 2009

After the fires, Kelly and I made a trip to the Snowy Mountains to conquer Mount Kosciuszko, before returning to discover how Easter is different in the southern hemisphere. Anthony Bourdain also paid our small town a visit but very rudely didn’t call. Hmph.

In May of 2009, I was married to my computer and the internet, celebrating a big writing success: my first book! I also realized I’d learned a few things about full-time travel when I produced an influential post about traveling the world for free (or almost free).

July-August 2009: USA, Canada, Mexico

Flying into Toronto

Australian winter set in, and although the fog was magical and I was continuing to enjoy learning Aussie lingo, I had to migrate to warmer climes. Kelly stayed back and tended the home fires (literally), while I had a few days in New York City before heading up to Toronto to visit family and friends after my first two years’ absence. I also made a quick side trip to Mexico (if you can call Toronto to Mexico a side trip!), to be maid of honour for a friend’s wedding.

Mexico iguana

While in Toronto, I made a live appearance on Canada’s national morning show Canada AM to promote my book, and had an intense philosophical conversation with a friend about whether or not full-time travel is an act of withdrawal.

Sept-December 2009: Australia (again)

Koala in Australia

I returned to Australia (and Kelly), which had become a theme (Australia, that is). However there was still a lot to discover: Australian birds to listen to, koalas to camp with, gold rushes to experience, and even a few living lawn mowers to acquire.

However by the time my second Australian Christmas rolled around, I was suffering for being in Australia as long as I had been. My itchy feet needed scratching, and I was losing inspiration. Little did I know just how much 2010 would be a year of change for me.

January-February 2010: Australia (yes, still) and New Zealand

Coming into 2010 I had faith that we get what we need when we need it, yet not knowing how the traveling I now needed would come to pass. But the universe provided, and by the end of January, I was doing some solo trips around Australia, checking out Canberra, having an unusual encounter with some Aboriginals, and getting devoured by spiders and missing buses in Sydney.

Hanging out with Sheralee at the Australian Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra Australia

In February I had an interesting invitation to appear on a television show as a “featured travel expert” in New Zealand, where in less than two weeks I did more adrenaline-packed stunts for the camera than you could muster in as three months.

The Professional Hobo, Skydiving in NZ

March-June 2010: (back to) Australia, then New Zealand

After filming the tv show and experiencing just a taste of New Zealand, it was time to broaden my horizons. I returned to Australia for a short stint, but only long enough to plan out the next year of travels and pack my bags, before retracing my steps back to New Zealand to begin a solo travel adventure that would take me to nine countries.

Mana Retreat, New Zealand

I spent April at Mana Retreat learning the art of meditation, and May exploring other parts of the north island (such as New Zealand’s best one-day hike and some volcanic crater walking) while basing myself with friends in Rotorua.

Nora Dunn, The Professional Hobo, at the base of 'Mount Doom' in New Zealand

June 2010: Spain

The Professional Hobo in Spain

It was time to pack my bags again and hop on a (very long, but luxurious) series of flights to the exact opposite side of the world: Spain! I volunteered at Vaughan Town, had a random encounter with an artist in Alcala, and toured with friends around Madrid, Toledo, and Segovia.

July 2010: Germany, France

Nora Dunn in France

After a very quick visit to Germany, it was up to Paris to meet up with my Mum and her partner for three weeks of traveling around France together, staying with friends and visiting places like Carcassonne, Pont du Gard, and the south coast.

August 2010: England, Scotland, Ireland

Mum and I jumped over the channel to England where we housesat in Hampshire and experienced English pub culture for a few weeks, before parting company so she could return to Canada and I could hop on a train and head north.

Hiking in the Highlands of Scotland

I eventually ended up in Edinburgh where I met a friend from Spain and we toured the Scottish highlands together for a week. Then it was off to Ireland to stay with a friend and ring in our birthdays together.

September 2010: Ireland, France, Nepal

The Professional Hobo in Nepal

After spending some time drinking, philosophizing, and touring around Ireland with my friend, I caught a flight back to Paris where a television crew was waiting. For the next three weeks, we filmed the pilot episode of a travel tv show in Paris and Nepal. This show is currently in development with a few broadcasters, and it’s unknown as to what my involvement will be going forward. Either way, it was an absolute blast.

October-December 2010: Australia (last time for a while)

While I was on my solo trip around the world, Kelly and I realized we were on very different paths and broke things off. But I had to return to Australia to get closure on the relationship and reconnect with my Aussie (short for Australian) friends.

Australian train travel

Even though I had returned to old stomping grounds, I was still very much on the move; with a free train pass, I hit the Australian rails and rode over 16,000kms in under a month (11,000kms of which I did in 11 days straight). Highlights include taking The Ghan from Darwin to Adelaide, and the epic Indian Pacific train from Sydney to Perth – and back again.

January 2011 – Now: New Zealand

cooking at Mana Retreat center in New Zealand

I returned to New Zealand just before Christmas. Aside from a few jaunts around the North Island, I’ve largely been based at Mana Retreat – a place very close to my heart. I’ve enjoyed lots of rejuvenating hikes, beach trips, cooked (and eaten, and eaten some more) amazing food, and been of voluntary service at a place that soothes my soul.

Since my last year of travel was so full-on, I’ve slowed down a bit and am simply taking some time to enjoy life here in New Zealand.

jumping for joy in New Zealand after four years of full-time travel

Whilst smelling the flowers, I’m slowly planning the next step in my full-time travel adventures. I’m not sure exactly where in the world they’ll take me, but with four years of full-time travel under my belt, I’ve come to trust the opportunities that present themselves. I believe that the years to come will be just as educational, inspirational, and exciting as the last four.

Thanks for following my journey so far, and I look forward to seeing you along the way – wherever the future takes us all.

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19 thoughts on “The Last Four Years of Full-Time Travel”

  1. What an amazing journey. You’ve done so much! I look forward to following the rest of your travels and searching through your old blogs, this could take a while!

  2. @Monica – Part of the reason I put together this recap post of the last four years is to help new readers navigate some of my more memorable previous adventures. So click away on a few of the links from this page….it’ll get you started! 🙂

    @Turner – When were you in Bombay? Indeed, just a hop/skip/jump.

    @Mike – You have no idea how long it took me to set up the jumpshot and get the timing right….it was a solo project with the camera timer…great fun though! 🙂

  3. Nora, your last 4 years were just amazing!! You have seen & done so much – we’re looking forward to follow your adventures to come 🙂 There is so much more for us to read on your site, thanks for including the links – esp Canada is interesting for us now, as we’ll spend 10 weeks there in the summer.

  4. I have faith that one day we can connect in a spot other than Toronto! Scotland should have happened! I would have loved to show you around the city I lived in for 4 years!

  5. @Globetrottergirls – Let me know if you have any questions about my beautiful home country….there’s lots I haven’t published here that could be of assistance for you. And who knows – maybe we’ll connect in Canada this summer!

    @Scott – I think I learned the mantra to “roll with the punches” and have faith in serendipity and opportunity before I even hit the road! And what a ride it has led to. Cheers!

    @Kate – I know, I know! Someday, somewhere, we’ll connect other than in Toronto. In the meantime, I still have your new (well, old to you now) house to check out, with promises of a backyard BBQ! I can smell the char-grilled veggies already… 😉

  6. @Matt – I’ve read about your recent milestones too….it’s fun to reflect on times past. Time flies when you’re having fun, huh? 😉

  7. What an inspiration. I am doing a world trip in January for a year and I am starting to get anxiety. Not really, but I am nervous to just get up and go. I have a great job right now but of course I am always thirsty for more. I am working on the savings plan now and then I am off. Whoo! Thank you for posting this. It keeps me inspired and motivated. I can’t wait to be able to share all my travels. You look like you had a lot of fun. Any must see places or must do adventures? I am going to keep browsing your blog but what did you do for $$ or shall I say what are you doing? I am getting my yoga cert so I am hoping to do a little of that while I am traveling, that won’t pay the bills though! ha! Thanks for the motivation!

  8. @Meg – Thanks for your comment! Enjoy the excitement and nervousness for your trip; it’s completely normal, and kind of fun once you surrender to it!

    As for favourite experiences or places, it’s a million dollar question that I answer here:

    And in order to financially sustain my travels, I am a writer, and I also keep my expenses low by often volunteering in trade for my accommodation (and sometimes food too).

    A yoga cert could be a good way to earn some cash on the road….it depends on where you go I’d guess. And whether or not it covers the bills depends on your personal cost of living on the road. Here was mine for 2010:

  9. All these posts are so helpful and I don’t have to search around for them now. 🙂

    Thank you! I am going to keep browsing and reading. I look forward to your upcoming posts.

    Thanks for all the helpful advice.

  10. your journey is what I have been longed for. It is a pleasure to read your blog.
    I am seriously considering taking my own leap of faith. I become aware that the first thing I will have to learn is budgetting, that was how I found your blog in first place, reading your travel budget gives me a big hint . You have mentioned ‘house sat ‘in your blog, would you please let me know if there is a website to sign up for house sitting? thanks 🙂

  11. Hi!

    This is irrelevant to the post but I really like your photo with a Canadian flag. Where was it taken? I just moved to Toronto from Europe:)
    Can I save it for personal use? (please!:)

    • Hi Yulianna,
      I took that photo on the ferry from Prince Rupert in BC to Vancouver Island. Glad you like it! Feel free to use it personally, but please don’t publish it. Thanks!

  12. Great article! I’ve been full time traveling for the last 6 years. A few things I would add: -It’s important to have a strong why for travel. Why do you want to travel? What are you running from? What are you looking for? Without a strong why, it’s easy to get lost on the road. -It’s also important to have a plan and a budget. Know where you’re going to sleep and how much it’s going to cost. Have a loose plan for each day, but be flexible. -Make sure you have a good travel insurance policy. I’ve used World Nomads for years and they’ve been great. -Finally, slow down. It’s easy to get caught up in the travel lifestyle and burn out. Slow down, take your time, and enjoy the journey.


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