Along with “What do you do about school?” probably the second most common question I get asked about our lives is “How do you earn enough money to travel?”
I hate the term “location independent”, but that’s one way of describing what we are, because I can work and earn from most places in the world as I travel with my son.
That’s provided, of course, our travels are going to plan and I’m not stuck somewhere with no internet or handling third world bureaucracy for a week.
I’m going to do a post on how I, personally, earn enough money to travel in a couple of weeks (this post is a good, bubble-bursting introduction to what can be a difficult and precarious living), but here I’ll explore how some people make the location independent thing work — even if they have families to keep.
The basic principle is: cut your expenses and work as little as you can for as good an hourly rate as you can get.
Rule 1: Travel Cheap
The first rule of world travel is, if you come from an expensive country (see this post for the other side of the coin), most countries are going to be cheaper than your own.
Our 20 day trek to Everest Base Camp, for example, including food, accommodation — everything — cost us roughly my share of the mortgage for a month in our old place in London. (See How Much Does the Everest Base Camp Trek Cost? for more.)
You can rent a three bedroom house with a guest cottage and a pool outside Ubud in Bali for a month for the price of a week’s rental of a two-bedroom flat in my old part of London, or a simple three-bedroom house in Dahab for a month for £150 (more here).
WWOOFing is an option for some, where you live on a farm in exchange for your labour. House-sitting gigs are another way to remove accommodation costs, and, if you’re part of the couchsurfing community, you can find families prepared to host you for free.
So you don’t need to earn a lot of money to travel. We live on a lot less than we did in London, and, because of vast global inequities that I do feel guilty about, we live much better than we did.
Rule 2: Travel Slowly
The second rule is to travel relatively slowly. This is the only way that longterm travel is sustainable for most – there’s only so long you can sleep two nights in one place, wake for a 5am bus ride, then sleep one night in a new place and move on again, before you start to go stir-crazy.
And it’s also cheaper. Longterm rentals are cheaper than short-term rentals, and having the leisure to get on the ground and look around, rather than being limited to what’s available online, means that you can find the good deals. You can travel overland, which I prefer to plane travel, and is both greener and cheaper.
In much of Asia, Latin America, Africa and Eastern Europe, it’s possible for two people to live well AND travel on $1000 a month or less, while even in places like Spain and Greece you can find longterm rentals for 300 euros a month.
Travelling slowly is key, though. If you’re taking planes every week, and staying in posh hotels, your costs will skyrocket. By contrast, if you take a rental for a month or more, you can go diving every day on the change you’re getting from staying in a hotel.
Personally, I like to mix things up. Have a base somewhere for a month or two, exploring largely locally, then go on adventures for a few months, covering a lot of ground, then get a base again.
But… What about MONEY?
If you’re lucky enough to have married rich, won the lottery, retired on a pension, or own a house with no mortgage that you can rent out, or a house with a tiny mortgage that you can rent out, that’s your revenue stream sorted, so you need read no further.
If you’re not, then here’s a basic principle for you.
Rule 3: If You Can Telecommute, You Can Travel the World
Any job you can do online or via telecommuting, you can do while travelling the world.
But — and this is an important but — you can’t do a fulltime job while travelling, because travel in itself takes time.
If you commit to a fulltime job, you’ll spend your time stuck in one place, grappling with bad internet, running to stand still: and even if you’re on the world’s most perfect beach — especially if you’re on the world’s most perfect beach — you will be living quite the reverse of the dream.
Some portable jobs? Freelance writing. Graphic design. Web design. Computer programming. Day trading. Marketing. Online businesses from Etsy stores upwards, though shipping can take some juggling. Medical transcription. Virtual assistant-ing. Translating. Teaching via Skype. Photography. Legal research. Business research. Search Engine Optimisation. And, of course, voodoo stuff like life coaching, social media consultancy and travel blogging.
Many skilled jobs can increasingly transfer over to an online role – here’s an example of how a qualified nurse might be able to translate those skills and training into working remotely.
Let me say that one more time. Anything you can do online from home, you can do online from anywhere in the world with an internet connection. And, most likely, you’ll need to do less of it, though you may need to choose your time zone carefully.
Further, anything that can be done on well-paid short contracts can be done with gaps between those contracts spent travelling.
But what about if you’re not currently in one of those jobs?
Rule 4: Unless You’re an Expat Working for a Big Company, Travel Doesn’t Mean Big Bucks
Jobs that require a physical presence can be portable, though you’d be looking at stints of months in one place getting together money, followed by a stretch of travel, followed by a pause to replenish your finances. There are fairly few flexible jobs available overseas, and most don’t pay particularly well.
If you’re a qualified, experienced teacher, teaching at international schools overseas can provide a living that’s good enough to keep a family well, and enable you to travel the region you’ve chosen during your holidays. (Most Brits and Americans will enjoy a better standard of living teaching overseas than they do at home, and the home base will typically be good enough to allow a high level of home exchange.)
TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language)? Less so. These are great jobs for a single person, or a couple, but unless you’re a really strong career TEFL teacher with a stack of qualifications and experience prepared to make longterm commitments you’re not going to earn enough to even keep a family, let alone to travel with them.
Hospitality? If you’re an elite bartender working in high end bars, you’ll be able to make a good living overseas, though again you’ll be looking at longterm contracts. Bar gigs in traveller spots will typically keep a roof over a single person’s head, with some money left for beer, drugs and cigarettes, but very little more – this is also the case with working in hostels or guesthouses, or in promotions roles. There is no money in cooking or waiting.
Other options? Gigs like teaching yoga, or teaching scuba diving, are portable but tend not to pay well (scuba instruction, like many dream jobs, involves long hours for not much money: see this post for more). Offering hair cuts, tattoos, massage or crafts on the beach can keep a single person in beer, weed and fried rice but is unlikely to do more.
Incidentally, anyone who tells you you can make big bucks online easily is lying to you. (You can see how many travel bloggers spend their time here, and it isn’t travelling.)
Rule 5: If You’re Freelance, Diversify
It is absolutely critical if you’re freelancing anywhere, but especially when you’re travelling the world, to have multiple clients and, for many, multiple income streams as well.
You’re likely to be picking up most of your work online, rather than through face to face networking as you might at home.
So a writer might do some writing, some editing, some blogging and some English teaching. A marketer might do some social media consultancy, some marketing, some blogging and happen to be a yoga teacher on the side. Some graphic designers also do photography and/or branding work; translators might also teach languages, work correcting translation errors in advertising and menus, and even land up copywriting.
This blogger was at one point combining medical transcription, diving instruction and paid writing work.
Flexibility, initiative and regular gigs are key to making the location independent work thing, well, work.
What if I Don’t Have a Job?
Rule 6: Just TRAVEL!
Some of the toughest questions I get on Facebook, normally as messages, and on my About page, are from other single parents who would love to travel like we do but can’t currently see a way forward: often unemployed young mums feeling incredibly trapped and terrified that life is passing them by.
Because, here’s the thing, if you’re not part of the digital economy, where you can live somewhere cheap while earning Western wages online, it IS hard to earn enough to travel by working in many countries, because wages in non-digital jobs tend to be much, much lower than at home.
Working while travelling as a single parent is especially difficult because you need to also care for and educate your child, or children: you’re the sole earner, sole carer and you’re keeping at least two people on your income.
I tend to recommend two things to single parents who want to travel with their kids and aren’t currently working — in the UK childcare costs can be so prohibitive that single parents are often better off not working.
The first is, if you have a supportive family who can help with childcare, move in with them, lose your rental costs and childcare costs, then bust a gut doing some job – any job! – for a year until you have the money to travel for a few months or a year: £5000 should be enough to get you and your kids at least six months overseas, far longer if you really shoestring and stay for long periods in cheap places.
The second is to get a qualification and some marketable skills, be that teaching, nursing or coding (media and writing degrees turn out about as many pro writers as arts degrees turn out pro artists, AKA close to zero). You can then use these to work as you travel, and to work on your return, or wherever you end up.
Rule 7: Not Everyone Can Earn Money While They Travel
But here’s the rub. Brutal honesty? Not everyone can earn while they travel. Not everyone has those skills. And, you know what? That’s OK!
Some people can find a path that leads the way they think they will. Some people will find a very different path from the one they expected. Some will find this path is not for them.
But travel is a good thing in itself. It opens your mind, and your children’s minds, it transforms all of you, and it’s something that will stay with you for the rest of your lives.
So I would always, always recommend you take the leap and go, be it for a few months, a year, or as long as you can last before the money runs out – you might find, for example, that there are ways of making a living you hadn’t anticipated.
Because the quality time you get with your children while travelling, the experiences you have, the adventures you go on, will stay with you, all of you, for the rest of your lives.
So go. Even if it means moving in with mum – if she’ll have you. Just go. And, if you’ve got the money to go now, quit planning and go NOW.
Photo credits: Mindsay Mohan, Rob Pearce, Judit K, Hampton Roads Partnership and Victoria Graffiti.