I think it’s safe to say we’re all pretty fed up with the rally cry to quit our 9-to-5’s and travel full-time. Those posts are sort of a big middle finger to anyone silly enough to desire financial security, three square meals a day, and trivialities like medical care. Hey, I love travel as much as the next guy, but I’m not naive enough to believe all the promises full-time travel bloggers make — especially because they’re all starting to sound the same.
Instead of jumping on the bandwagon, obviously you need to seriously consider whether quitting your job to travel full-time is sustainable. It can be! There are successful digital nomads who don’t have trust funds. I know quite a few of them, and since this summer, I am one. The cold, hard truth is that it takes time to plan both your personal and professional life on the road.
There was no shortcut to becoming a Manic Pixie Dream Girl for me. In fact, that’s a fantasy.
[slogan]I didn’t close my eyes, let my finger land anywhere on the globe, and hit the road.[/slogan]
Just because you pack a leather journal and a fedora does not mean you will be a successful blogger, or even a happy traveler for that matter. I’ve been traveling internationally for a solid seven years and blogging for five. I started out by moving abroad, putting down roots, and growing my online businesses (my first travel blog was The Guam Guide). I’ve started and ended several blogs along the way. I’ve spent months at a time traveling and working.
Now that I’ve doused your hopes and dreams with cold water, don’t fear — this post is meant to be both cautionary and inspirational. This isn’t meant to discourage anyone with less experience traveling or blogging, but merely to inform you of the realities that are common to this career path.
1. Count the cost
Duh, right? You need money to travel. Though I hear bloggers argue otherwise, I have never found travel to be cheaper than living in an apartment in a single location. And I don’t find it easier to make money on the road. In fact, it’s harder. You’re constantly in search of fast, affordable WIFI, a quiet place to work, finding the right time zone to connect with clients, credit cards, banks, and so on. Then there’s the challenge of finding affordable accommodations and/or getting sponsors along the way. This is never quick or easy for new travel bloggers. In the beginning, much of your time will be spent convincing hotels, tour companies, etc. to work with you.
Put all your expenses in a spread sheet and compare all your sources of income. If your income doesn’t exceed your expenses on paper, trust me, you will run out of money on the road. There are always more expenses than you budget for. Always. Visas, airport taxes, exit fees, entrance fees, transportation, food, tours, equipment, currency exchange fees, ATM fees, SIM cards, hotel taxes, etc. — it all adds up. Pad your budget by at least a couple hundred dollars a month to be sure you won’t go broke, or worse, get into debt.
2. Get out of debt
It should go without saying that getting out of debt should be priority number one if you are considering quitting your job. Debt makes you a slave and the whole point of quitting your job is to be free, right? Be your own master and be truly financially independent before you cut the safety cord on a stationary home and job security.
3. Save enough to live on for one year
This includes having enough money for medical emergencies and a return ticket back home. Figure in other expenses like travel insurance, baggage fees, and of course, the basics like food, lodging, and transportation. If you’re going to be blogging as a business, factor in all related expenses like domain hosting, web maintenance, and advertising. Before I moved to Guam, I saved for one year of modest living. This turned out to be very smart because Guam was much more expensive than I imagined. Instead of having to go to work full-time right away, I took my time the first year to explore the island, make friends, and figure out what to do for work. I also had enough money to travel a bit and see my friends and family back home. Running out of money is the fastest way to kill the fun of traveling. If you can’t afford to travel for a year, make it three to six months instead.
4. Do a practice trip
Test your road-worthiness by traveling non-stop for at least 1 month (longer is better). Do you actually like being rootless that long? Does it make you happy or anxious? The fantasy of travel is just that; the reality is that actual travel is stressful and exhausting. No matter how much money you have, trains are late, flights get canceled, hotel rooms are dirty, people are rude, and sometimes you just get ripped off. If despite the mundanity of getting from point A to point B, you come away feeling inspired, then do a longer trip. Working up to a permanent state of nomadism can lead to a more sustainable lifestyle.
5. Write a business plan
Travel is one thing; business is another. If you’re planning to make money as a travel blogger, you need a clear objective and path to your goals. That’s where a business plan is helpful, even if it’s a single page. Get your ideas on paper, then consult with someone who’s done it.
For example, do you have a niche? The travel blogging market has been oversaturated for years now. Don’t naively assume you’ll make money without spending time and money to establish your brand. Simply being an online personality isn’t enough to be profitable. You’ll need quite a few things to get started…
6. Establish your brand
Working on the road is hard. It’s not like sitting at home with your cat and your coffee. It’s more like running the gauntlet, especially if you travel to developing countries. You’ll sometimes be dealing with power outages, slow/expensive internet, and the interruption of booking upcoming travel and/or changing locations.
It’s best to start your travel blogging business both before you quit your job and before you hit the road. That’s what I did and it took years to be road-ready, that is to have enough clients and know-how to work on the move. I’ve only been location-independent since May 2016 and I’ve been blogging as a business since 2011! This is the minimum you’ll need:
- Hosting plan
- Social media profiles
- Prosumer DSLR
Optionally, having the following will just make your life easier and your business run smoother:
- Virtual assistant to help with clients, banking, posting, editing, writing, scheduling, whatever you need
- Social media dashboard for scheduling posts
- High-quality server/host with 24/7 customer service (in case you get hacked or something breaks)
- Website programmer/troubleshooter you can call on 24/7 (in case you get hacked or something breaks)
- Video editing software like Final Cut Pro X or Adobe Premiere
- Photo editing software like Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom
- Extra RAM in your laptop for processing RAW photos and video
- Extra lenses (prime, zoom, wide angle, etc.) for a variety of photography
- Quality luggage that is comfortable to carry and won’t break
7. Have a Plan B
Even the best laid plans fail, so have a back-up. If you can’t hack it doing the digital nomad thing, can you live with a friend or family member for a few months while you get back on your feet? Can you sublet your apartment or put it on Airbnb so you have a place to return to? There’s no shame in having a Plan B and it doesn’t mean you’re doomed to fail. In fact, what is failure? It’s all part of getting out of your comfort zone and experiencing life to the fullest, right? Even if you return home, you’ll be wiser both about the world and yourself.
8. Don’t take no for an answer
You’ll need to be clever to make a life of digital nomadism sustainable. Ask anyone who’s done it and they’ll tell you there have been tons of disappointments along the way. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying. Traveling and working is exactly like everything else in life — it takes time to learn how to do it. There are plenty of discomforts, even tears, along the way. Don’t let the first s0-called failure discourage you from continuing if at all possible. You’ll need to be a troubleshooter almost every step of the way, but that’s part of the excitement. It certainly adds to your credibility as a travel blogger if you’ve been through some hardships and come out the wiser. It also makes for great storytelling.
9. No man is an island
Solo travel is great. I’ve done quite a bit of it. I like it, but in some ways it is harder than traveling with a partner. If you plan to go it alone, you’ll benefit from making friends along the way. If you’re comfortable going to Instameetups, do that. Staying in hostels can expose you to like-minded travelers. I’ve learned to make friends with my hosts at Airbnbs. Get advice from locals as you travel. Their knowledge is often priceless in regards to transportation, local customs, saving money, overcoming obstacles, etc. Also, keep in touch with friends and family back home. No man is an island. Isolating yourself for too long can make you weird, so keep a channel open with people who know and love you. Don’t pull an Into the Wild and end up dead. There’s no glory in that.
10. Analyze your motives
Why do you want to be nomadic? What do you like about blogging? If the answer is to impress your Facebook friends or prove your parents wrong, don’t do it. It takes a true love of adventure, other cultures, and challenges to sustain a life of travel blogging. Analyze yourself right now, in this moment. Do you like foreign foods, language, and people? Do you like trying new things? Do you like hard work? Are you afraid of being alone? Can you rough it in uncomfortable situations? Can you think on your feet? Can you defend yourself?
No one is perfectly suited for digital nomadism. Humans haven’t been truly nomadic in centuries. It’s a learning experience for any newbie, but it’s also a lifestyle that will expose who you are at the core and that can be unsettling. If your motive is to know yourself better, great. Traveling full-time will do help you. If your motive is to get out of your comfort zone, become an adult, or learn to be more independent, traveling can accomplish that. However, you may find that you’re more impatient and intolerant than you thought. If you’ve been raised in an affluent western country, your entitledness might rear its ugly head when customer service is slow or non-existent, when you face racism, discrimination, or get ripped off simply for being a foreigner. Or maybe you’ll find that you aren’t the best communicator. That’s all okay, just know that travel can expose negative qualities. It’s also an opportunity to refine your personality and round out rough edges. I am a different person because of traveling. I am a better person. It’s a lifestyle that’s in my blood now. I can’t imagine a life without travel because nothing else fully engages my mind and my senses. Nothing else is as fulfilling intellectually and creatively. Nothing else satisfies my adventurous spirit.