How I Afford to Travel 80% of the Year
How do you afford to travel so often?
That’s the most common question I get asked from friends, family, and social media followers. It’s a fair question, and one I would probably be asking my friends too. I do travel a lot. In 2015 I was gone about 80% of the year. This year I’ve been in Chicago a bit more, but have still been away for weeks at a time, taken shorter trips, checked off some new exciting international destinations, and traveled a lot around the US.
No, I don’t have some never-ending inheritance or wealthy parents funding my trips. And no my blog does not fund my adventures (at least not fully, and at least not yet!).
Before I tell you how you can afford to travel the world for a living, I have to give you a word of warning. It’s not for everyone. I know it seems amazing and for me and many others it is, but it really is not for everyone. I spend months a year living out of a suitcase. I lug my laptop everywhere I go. I never have a day off (sounds strange, but true and I’ll explain below). When I’m home, I feel a rushed need to see everyone and appreciate my own city before I leave again, but also to catch up on insane amounts of work, which means I often spend days holed up in my tiny studio apartment. Sometimes I sleep in airports. Or get stranded in my own city.
I am in love with my lifestyle, and plan to keep it up for a few more years. It’s not forever, but for now it’s a lot of fun. You’re sure you want to make it your life too? It’s not as hard as you think! Here’s how I afford to travel (almost) full-time.
My Day Job
You have a day job? Yes!
I work as a freelance writer, and that’s my main source of income. From my Instagram, it looks like I live a luxe life of travel and eating and exciting experiences only paused for relaxation in some of the most beautiful places in the world. That’s partly true, but the behind the scenes is less glamorous. I run a small copywriting company with two employees, and we handle all web and sales copy for various brands. Some travel related, some not. I write everything from rail itineraries to finance blogs, realtor bios, health insurance Q&As, law firm web copy, landscaping brochures, and more. Looking for a copywriter? Hire us!
It took me about a year to build up a strong enough client base to feel comfortable, and there are still months where it’s not so comfortable. There will be times where I’m so busy with work travel is not enjoyable, then weeks where I have lots of time to travel but no incoming paychecks. It’s a balance, and one that is getting better with time.
Separate from that business, I write for publications. Mainly for a group of magazines in the Chicagoland area, where I write about local businesses, profile chefs, and cover events. I also write for USA Today, the Huffington Post, and a few others. Writing for publications pays far less than copywriting, but for me it’s so much more fun! So in my spare time I’m constantly pitching story ideas to new magazines and newspapers.
The takeaway: My Instagram life is fairly accurate. I go amazing places and eat amazing food and do a lot of fun things. Then behind the scenes I wake up at 4am to work, stay up late to work, answer work emails when I get wifi, and am constantly telling whoever I’m traveling with “hold on just have to finish one more thing then we can go!” I spend about 3o hours a week at my computer actually working, then there are lots of hours interviewing people, taking photos, etc. So it is less working hours than many professions, and in many ways a lot more fun, but still more work than many people think.
People are always surprised that I maintain an apartment in downtown Chicago. It’s not a cheap city! I’ve done the living out of a storage unit thing, and in the past have stored things at my parents’ house, but at a certain point I got tired of it. I like having my own place, decorated with paintings and knick knacks I’ve found around the world.
When I’m in Chicago, even if it’s only for a few days, I like the feeling of being at home, and making my own coffee, and sleeping in my own bed, and getting my mail, and refreshing my suitcase with new items from my closet.
It wouldn’t be possible without Airbnb. I rent my apartment when I’m gone, and because I’m gone so often the amount I make covers my rent. I get an apartment in a city I love for the price of letting other people stay in it. Some people (usually my parents’ friends or a slightly older crowd), are shocked that this doesn’t bother me. I’ve never had any issues though. People have been respectful of my things, just as I am respectful of theirs when I use Airbnb around the world. Most younger people aren’t concerned at all, and lots of my friends have started renting out their apartments too.
Blogging is low on the list of how I afford to travel, but hopefully that changes some day. There are people who make a living off blogging alone. That is so impressive. It’s hard work! To get a large enough audience to have a blog be self-sufficient takes an immense amount of time and effort. I make enough from my blog to cover food expenses at home and on the road. While it’s not much, the amount I make through my blog has doubled in the last six months, so hopefully that trend continues!
Wondering how to make money blogging? Stay tuned! That post is coming next month. Want to get started on a travel blog of your own? Click here.
Because of blogging and writing for travel magazines, every day of travel is a day of work. I don’t ever feel like I’m not working, whether it’s taking notes, thinking of new story ideas, or keeping up with social media. For me it’s worth it.
Press Trips & Partnerships
This used to be a secret way travelers made money, but with the rise of Instagram I think it’s more well known.
Lots of bloggers and travel writers go on hosted trips through a state or country’s tourism board in exchange for coverage. I’ve been invited on and go on many of these, and in those cases food, lodging, and airfare are covered. About 30% of my travel is through press trips, while the rest is self-funded.
There are pros and cons to press trips. The pros are that it’s free; you learn a lot about a place because you’re put in front of experts on each museum, restaurant, sight, etc; you meet other writers, and I’ve met a few really good friends through these trips; and you visit places you might not have thought to go otherwise, but end up being really cool (here’s looking at you, Fredericksburg, Texas). My first press trip was to Door County, Wisconsin, in February. I’d been often in summer months, but never would have visited in the winter. Because I was invited on the trip, I ended up having one of the most interesting experiences of my life.
The main con is that you often feel obligated to say positive things after a trip, and can become biased. So far this hasn’t been an issue for me, because I’ve genuinely enjoyed the places I’ve visited on press trips. Usually they cover a few days and involve so much that it’s easy to find something to write about. Maybe I won’t talk about the hotel if I didn’t think it was anything special, or won’t mention a few restaurants or museums if they’re not something I think my readers would enjoy. I usually pick the things that were highlights to me, and focus on those. Remember that even though the trip is hosted, you’re not obligated to write about every single thing, and you definitely don’t need to lie and say an experience was positive if it wasn’t.
You can also organize your own press trips without a group by reaching out to hotels and tourism boards in advance of visiting a new destination. They’ll usually want an idea of what you’re hoping to write about and your media kit or readership statistics. If you plan to write about the trip for a large travel publication (Condé Nast Traveler, New York Times Travel, etc.), note that they won’t accept articles that have anything to do with a hosted trip. It keeps their credibility, and it’s why often I travel on my own dime.
When it comes to partnerships, many bloggers work with brands. This is especially true for fashion bloggers, but it happens in travel too. Sometimes hotels, outdoor gear companies, or other brands will reach out to me to partner on a blog or Instagram post. They’ll either send me a free product or pay me.
I always make a note that these posts are sponsored (even if I didn’t want to, it’s the law!), so you’ll know. I only work with brands I actually use or am interested in using in my normal life. I would never partner with a brand that I hated or didn’t think was a good fit for my blog just to make money. When it comes to my packing lists, these are all things I genuinely use or pack or buy, and if one happens to include a sponsored product I tell you.
I spend a lot of money on travel, food, and new experiences. Those are the things that bring me joy. I love dining out with friends and trying new restaurants, and because I write about food and local chefs so often it’s important for me to stay on top of it. And travel is an obvious expense.
Aside from that though, I don’t spend a lot of money. I rarely go shopping, and when I do I buy a few quality things I can mix and match on the road, that will last year to year. I don’t buy trendy pieces. I don’t spend money on a gym membership, and instead I run (running is free around the world!) and sign up for free trial memberships at yoga studios when I’m home for a week.
I use loyalty points with everything from airlines to CVS. Those points add up!
While I do have an apartment, I don’t have a car. I take public transport or Uber Pool sometimes, but mostly I walk everywhere.
Once a week I’ll work from a coffee shop, but usually I work from home, where I make my own coffee and breakfast. This saves a lot of money!
So that’s it! That’s how I afford to travel around the world most of the year. Nothing magical or secretive, just working on the road and renting my apartment when I’m gone. You can do it too! Do you have any questions? Let me know. I’m happy to answer anything. Comment here, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or reach out on Instagram or Facebook. I love hearing from you!
And just for fun, some of my favorite destinations from the last year or so: