If you're interested in more on this topic, watch our 3-part video series: How to Fund Travel
2015 update: Over the years, the source of our income source has changed. Currently, our earnings come from my husband's position as a teacher for an online academy, and from his personal mentoring with homeschooled youth. I also earn some from my web design work, although most of my time is spent working as a mom and 'world-school' teacher (which I don't get paid for 😉 )
"How do you pay for it?" is the thing most people want to know when they discover we've been wandering long-term with our five kids since 2007.
"You must be loaded!" is what many people think.
The truth is, we're not (not yet anyway.) And it really takes less money to travel than you think (probably less than you currently spend living 'at home'.)
Yet since we first started exploring in 2007, we've taken our kids to 12 countries on two continents (as of Nov. 2013 - we're still going!)
Many don't see how it's possible to travel full time, with 5 children (almost six), especially when 'traveling is so expensive.'
But I'm here to tell you that funding travel is really quite simple... and possible! It just takes a little creative thinking.
The first 'secret' to funding travel is learning how to afford it (even with a family). To do this, you need to learn the difference between travel and vacationing (yes, there is a BIG difference).
If you learn how to actually travel than you realize how inexpensive (and affordable) it is. That makes funding it on a long-term basis that much more of a possibility.
The next step is discovering how to earn money. And not just how to earn money, but how to earn money in a way that gives you freedom to travel.
Many people like to ask us what we do, perhaps thinking that they could do it too, and then be able to travel like we do. (That's what I used to think. I was always looking for 'the answer' that would provide the money we needed to travel full time.)
In reality, there is no single way to fund a travel lifestyle. The modus operandi are as varied as the individuals pursing them.
The real key to funding your travel lifestyle is to be creative, to think unconventionally about income sources, and/or find a way to do what you do, but in a more mobile way.
And the critical factor that many people dreaming of travel ignore?
Most of us (people who are traveling) did not have the skills we currently have that are creating the income that gives us the freedom to travel. What we did have was a dream and the determination to learn, discover and do whatever was necessary to make our travel dreams a reality. That is more important than anything else. You can learn whatever you need to learn, you just need to want it bad enough..
If you can discover a way to work remotely, find a position abroad that uses your skills, or uncover a system for taking periodical 'sabbaticals' throughout the year, then you'll have discovered the freedom to explore this big, beautiful world.
But, below I'm going to share the very specific income sources that we have had or currently have, in an effort to spark some ideas that might help you discover your own mobile financing.
We believe in the principle of 'multiple streams of income', (or 'patchwork income'). Instead of having one source of money, you create many - thus reducing your financial risks, and increasing your financial possibilities.
Below is how we fund (or funded) travel:
#1- Real Estate Investments
This was one of the tools that made travel a possibility for us in the first place. Back in 2006, we were doing really well, and decided to move to Costa Rica, because our income was not dependent on location. That worked great... until the U.S. economic collapse of 2008.
BUT, investing in real estate is how Nancy Vogel (from FamilyonBikes.org) paid for their three-year biking adventure from Alaska to Argentina. (Watch her interview to learn more about how she did it.)
#2- Trading Stock Options
This was another thing my husband did back in 2006 - 2008. He made LOTS of money (he once made $6k one morning on a beach in Mexico... ahh, those were the days.)
Day trading, swing trading, options trading and all of those stock market things give you lots of freedom (we recently interviewed a traveler who is living in Thailand who trades foreign currencies). All you need is a laptop. You can make money when the market goes up, and when it goes down. And you can trade in other markets too. But beware, it's easy to lose your shorts (and a whole lot more), so be well educated before you try this. (I found this guy who might have some good advice on where to get started.)
#3- Seasonal/Temp Work (and Savings)
Once the market crashed in 2008, we returned to the U.S. and my husband got contract jobs here and there. We lived frugally (traded rent for home improvements) and saved, saved, saved (a key ingredient if you want to travel). He was offered a career position with a great company earning over $100k a year... but he would be chained to a cubicle. We decided instead to stick with the temp work, and subsequently took off for the Dominican Republic in 2009.
In an interview with a traveling couple, he told us that he works during the summer doing sales, giving him the rest of the year to do other things... like travel. (We interviewed him in Panajachel, Guatemala as he was passing through. He and his wife were exploring Central America for several months. His wife also worked remotely for her job while they traveled -- see #16.)
This is a strategy that many people use -- working part of the year to save up, and then taking short sabbaticals to explore. (It's how Nancy Vogel got started too, see above, before doing #1).
#4- Sell Your Stuff
Before taking off for the Dominican Republic, we bulked up our savings by selling anything of value that we had left (we'd already sold a lot of things when we took off for Costa Rica in '07). Gone was our expensive treadmill, couches, bookshelves and even my wedding ring... I valued the experiences of travel as a family much more than any possessions. (Our friend Adam Baker has great advice on how to 'Sell Your Crap')
Our good friends the Jensens used this approach, along with cutting back expenses, to save up enough money to move their family of six to Guatemala where they've been living since 2011 (and are currently running our non-profit organization that teaches self reliance to the indigenous people in the highlands of Guatemala.) Greg Jensen recently commented how much closer their family is since moving abroad. He says, " I now understand better the idea of "It doesn't matter where you live, or what your house looks like, or what neighborhood you are in, or school district, etc., as much as how you live."
#5- Freelance Work
When we moved to the Dominican Republic my husband was contracted to do options trading for some investors, and I worked on freelance writing. Eventually the investors backed out, and my husband went back to the states (after six months, this time to Georgia) for more temp work. My writing skills weren't exceptional enough to make very much, but for awhile these two income streams helped pay the bills.
Since then, I have been able to make more as a freelance writer (and it's something I still do.) I've written for travel magazines and online travel sites that pay anywhere from $50 to $150 an article. (You can find freelance work on Elance.com and Odesk.com. If you want to become a paid travel writer, here's a list of sites that pay.
Chris Guillebeau has a great book available that I recommend on getting paid to write.
#6- International Employment
After a stint of temp work in Georgia, my husband was offered a job with a non-profit organization in Southern India. The company covered all of our expenses -- including visas, immunizations, airfare, housing, utilities, etc. PLUS paid him a salary.
Many people have used international employers to help them see the world. During our travels we've met people who've worked for Caterpillar, Fuji, Walmart, Bank of America and more. Before biking from Alaska to Argentina, Nancy Vogel and her husband worked as school teachers in Ethiopia. It's a great gig to be an international teacher, because they cover all your expenses, and you can often earn a tax free salary.
My own sister taught English in Thailand, before landing employment with a T.V. production company in Bangkok handling their social media. (This site has great resources for finding international employment. You can also find some adventurous jobs at ExplorersConnect. If you're interested in teaching jobs, check out TeachAnywhere.com)
After living in India, we moved to Alaska where we added child #5 to our family. Once we decided we wanted to drive from Alaska to Argentina, I realized we needed a long-term, mobile solution for funding our adventures.
I chose to focus on blogging as a 'career', something I had been studying for years through sites like Copyblogger.com and Problogger.com. I started treating my blog as a business instead of a hobby, and even though it didn't happen overnight, eventually I began earning income -- through affiliate sales, advertising and text links, and selling our own information products. (If you want to try blogging as a business, I recommend starting with something from Darren Rowse at ProBlogger or Christine Gilbert of AlmostFearless -- you can get 25% off with this link.)
#8- Website Design and Other Online Work
Techy or not, it's easier and easier nowadays to have a real career and earn a great income online. Michelle Dale earns $30k a month as a virtual assistant (and lives on the island of Crete with her family of five.) My Aussie friend Danielle Greason started earning online in just four weeks after moving to Costa Rica with her husband and children... that was in 2011. These are jobs that require just a a little bit of skills training before you can get started. I share what those skills are and how to learn them here.
If you are a techy person, than it's easy to make money as a web or graphic designer and travel. All you need is your computer. I've done website designs on three continents, and it's really helped to pay the bills. (I still do website design, you can view my portfolio here.)
Anything such as graphic design, website design, or social media can be turned into an online, location independent career.
#9- Windfall $$
Anytime we've come across any 'windfalls' of extra cash, it's always gone to pay for our adventures. Whether tax refunds, insurance settlements or inheritances (that hasn't happened yet), we invest the money into unforgettable experiences that will treasure forever as a family. Are you getting a tax refund this year??
#10- Start Your Own Business Abroad
In Costa Rica, you can't work as an employee, but you can start your own business. This is true in many places around the world. So why not? Take your skills and use them to create an income. Teach scuba diving or surfing, open a photography studio, or a trail running company.
Or get involved in local commerce. My kids recently ran a booth at the local expat Farmer's Market where we've been living in Costa Rica. Sell homemade chocolates or soaps, or even meat chickens (an income adventure in Guatemala we tried). The options are truly endless, if you get a little creative.
My husband is one of those people who motivates and inspires others. Over the years, he's had the chance to coach and mentor many individuals -- from teens to adults. This is currently the main source of our income. (Check out our websites, GregDenning.com and WorldSchoolAcademy.com)
If you have the ability to help others reach goals or gain a proper perspective on life, or even just skills that others would like to learn, then why not turn them into an income, and mentor others you meet in person, or via today's online technology.
Above are a few of the ways we've been able to fund our family travels.
But we've also met dozens of couples and families who have found their own unique strategies. Here's a few of them:
#12- Foreign Services
Many people have found work with the U.S. Embassy, taking jobs in exotic locations like Costa Rica, Dubai and Afghanistan (all over the world really). They are paid good salaries, housing is often covered, and they receive new assignments on an average of every 3 years. You can find out more about joining the foreign services here.
#13- Online Employment
There are companies emerging who offer paid positions online that can be worked from anywhere in the world. Some of the most common involve teaching English (and other languages) via the internet.
Along with working for an employer you can also create your own job like my Aussie friend Danielle did (see #8).
#14- Network Marketing
Despite the negative connotation some people attach to network marketing, it's actually a really great business model for funding travel. It gives you the option to control your income, to create residual income, to work from anywhere (especially if you master online marketing). On top of that, you don't have to do everything yourself (product development, payroll, etc.) and you can start for very little.
I know of at least two families (personally) that fund their travels (very comfortably) with network marketing. Don't be close-minded, at least consider it. 😉
Yes, people do it! While spending seven splendid weeks on the shores of Laguna Bacalar, Mexico, we met several traveling performers, including our 'pirate' friends (from Europe) who would put on a pirate show at the local historical fort and at restaurants (they eventually opened their own pirate themed restaurant.) If you've got a theatrical bent, why not give it a try?
#16- Working Remotely
As Tim Ferriss talks about in his book, some people have been able to negotiate with their employers to work from 'home' via their laptop -- wherever home might be, we'll never tell. 😉
We've met a couple of families/couples who have done this. We recently interviewed Michael who convinced his employer to let him work from Costa Rica so he could move his family down for an 'international experience'. The company was hesitant, but finally. His advice? It doesn't hurt to ask.
To gain the freedom to travel, discovering flexible income streams is critical. It's not always easy, but it IS possible.
Take the responsibility into your own hands, instead of looking to an employer to provide the money to pay the bills, and you'll be half way to living the life you want to live.
And for still more information, READ THESE BOOKS:
- Four Hour Work Week
- Cash Machine
- Cash in a Flash
- One Minute Millionaire
- Multiple Streams of Income (and Multiple Streams of Internet Income)
How will YOU fund your travel? Or how have you? We'd love to know!
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