Say hello to our Tripper of the Week Nora Dunn: The Professional Hobo; a Canadian who sold everything she owned (including a busy financial planning practice) in 2006 to travel full-time. Since then she’s perfected the art of traveling full-time in a financially sustainable way, and she helps others to achieve their own travel dreams.
1) After taking the plunge in 2006 and embracing a life on the road, how long did it take you to become financially self-sufficient by your travel writing?
Excellent question! To answer technically, I would say two years. But it’s complicated.
I’m a travel writer (freelancing internationally for print and online publications), as well as a travel blogger (managing my site and business: The Professional Hobo). So concurrent to spending time developing a freelance writing portfolio, I was learning about blogging – in an industry that was in its infancy.
And concurrent to all that, I was also learning the art of traveling full-time in a financially sustainable way; a long rocky road with a steep learning curve, since there weren’t nearly the resources available there are today to make it easier.
So it was a lot of hard work – on all fronts – for little to no pay. But I was prepared; the sale of my financial planning practice in Toronto yielded a modest income for two years – which sustained my full-time travels.
If I were starting on the same path today, I’d be facing a more evolved industry, littered with tools to make it easier. With the knowledge I have now (something that can fairly easily be researched), I believe I could get the process done in about a year.
2) Do you have a favorite tip or strategy for keeping your travel costs down?
Too many to choose from! (Making travel financially sustainable is a multi-faceted strategy)!
The best way to keep your travel costs down is to get free accommodation. I do this in a number of ways, from volunteering, to house-sitting, to hospitality exchanges, to even staying/traveling on sailboats.
As an example, in 2011, for the entire year of traveling, I paid $173 for accommodation. That’s the entire year: 365 days! And it was for two nights at the Hilton in Stockholm as a treat; the rest of the time, I had free accommodation. (I’ll be publishing a book shortly on How to Get Free Accommodation Around the World; stay tuned)!
Another technique to save money is to collect frequent flyer miles; most of my long-haul flights are in business class; for less than the price of flying in economy.
My last crucial tip to the trilogy of inexpensive travel, is to travel slowly. Instead of burning through a country or continent at a reckless pace (and budget), you’ll save money – and likely have a more culturally immersive and rewarding experience – by traveling slowly and focusing on a smaller area. It’s a big world out there, and you can never see it all. You can say you saw a lot of it (quickly), or some of it (really well). The latter choice will ultimately save you money.
3) What was your most memorable experience while traveling by train?
So you picked up that I’m a bit of a train fiend, huh? Again, I’m not sure I can choose.
I inaugurated my full-time travels with a train trip across Canada, from Toronto westward, over a few weeks. Not only was the scenery stunning and the train lovely, but as my big launch into the world of full-time travel, it will always be special.
Then I got funky with my train travel – and obsession thereof.
A few years later, I traveled over 16,000kms of Australia by rail – 11,000 kms of it in 11 days, straight. My mission? To see if it’s possible to become bored on a train. (I wrote this instead).
By now with an international branding as a train evangelist, I was invited to participate in the Ultimate Train Challenge in 2011, where I and a couple of other travel bloggers competed to rack up the most miles on trains between Lisbon and Saigon, in 30 days. (It’s about 25,000kms).
That voyage included 29 trains, including the world’s longest (Trans-Siberian), followed by the world’s fastest (Beijing to Shanghai), followed later by the very special two-day train from Hanoi to Saigon.
4) Grenada has become like a central hub for you, what makes it such a special place?
I knew Grenada was special before I even landed; I was excited and enthralled with this little Caribbean island for reasons unknown – more excited than normal.
And although my initial hazing to the island included having my heart broken followed a day later with dengue fever, I managed to regroup and venture out to discover an island country that is full of variety and complexity, and a group of eclectic friends to go with it.
So after three months of house-sitting there, I was invited to return three months later for another stint of house-sitting. I spent the months in between sailing the Caribbean (living on five boats spanning three countries). When I returned the second time, my love of Grenada was further solidified, along with my love of a particular guy there (he’s UK/Grenadian).
I keep popping away to travel (for up to three months), and often my partner meets me abroad for part of it. But I also keep returning to Grenada, which has become a home base for me now. After six years of full-time travel, it’s nice to have a place to come back to. Not only that, but I can pack lighter now, not having to carry everything I own everywhere I go!
5) Where do you plan to go next? (or what are you up to now?)
I’m Europe-bound! For three weeks starting at the end of September, I’ll be whisked through eight countries over three weeks, courtesy of a soon-to-be-announced program that I’m pretty sure people will be interested to know more about. (Check out my site for updates).
After that, I’ll probably hang around Europe for a while, before heading back to Grenada in time for winter.
That’s enough forward planning for me; life has a funny habit of happening while we’re busy making plans; and if I’ve learned anything, it’s to be flexible to both life’s punches, and life’s opportunities.
Nora Dunn is an international freelance writer on the topics of travel, personal finance, and lifestyle design.
All photos provided by Nora Dunn