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This Overlanding Life: The Financial Question

Bruno and I aren’t on the road at the moment.  We’re taking the month of September to hang out in France with Bruno’s family and friends and fiddle around with our camper van a bit. As such, I figured this would be a good time for me to deal with a few blog subjects that don’t recount our travels, but instead describe some of the practical aspects of our traveling lifestyle. This Overlanding Life* is a series of blog posts that responds to questions we often get about the nuts and bolts of life on the road. Perhaps these posts will give some insight to those curious about our lifestyle and some practical tips for those looking to create for themselves a full-travel nomadic existence.

*If you’re confused on what overlanding actually is, click here.

We travel eleven months of the year. I’ve only earned money seven months out of the last thirty-eight. Bruno hasn’t had a job since last century.

We get a variety of questions about our full-time nomadism, but the first and most frequent one is this: How do you afford to travel long-term?

The short answer is that Bruno has property and business in France that he rents for a small but stable monthly income.

Eating lunch at Bruno

The view from Bruno’s house on the Mediterranean.

The short, answer, however, isn’t very helpful for those dreaming of full-time travel or those actively trying to make long-term travel a reality. So, today I’m going to give the long answer to this question – and in the meantime, share all our knowledge and tips about money – in an attempt to illuminate the financial question with regards to travel as best I can.

Different Ways to Financially Support Full-Time Long-Term Travel

We’ve seen it all over the years. I know people who are making money from their travel blogs (though I’m not one of them!). I’ve seen people create location-independent businesses (consulting and virtual jobs work particularly well). I know people making money through freelance travel writing or photography (making it easier to allow yourself to take that two-month trip to Nepal or Bali!).

In our overlanding sub-sect of travel, though, we don’t meet these types of travelers very often. All the jobs I mentioned above require consistent and good Wifi connections, which isn’t something that comes naturally with the four-wheel-drive, off-road road-trip, in-the-bush-of-Africa style of travel we’re into. Instead, we mostly meet people who owned assets back home and did one of two things with them: sell everything or rent what they have.

Of those that have sold everything, most end up with a relatively large lump-sum of money that they can travel with for a certain number of years. The problem with this strategy is that, once the money is gone, you have to redefine the role travel will play in your life. At this point, most travelers return to their countries, re-enter the workforce, and have to dream, plan, and save for future travel for a number of years. We know one overlanding family that returned to Switzerland to publish books, build their brand, and begin giving inspirational conferences to allow them to travel as a family part of the year, but this type of scenario takes a lot of work and is therefore rare to see.

Good friends of ours who sold everything were able to invest their money because they’d taken advantage of economic mood-swings, and now they can live mostly on the return of their investments. But this, too, is rare.

Josu and Ana have been on the road for a decade, thanks to a solid investment after the sale of their home.

Josu and Ana have been on the road for a decade, thanks to a solid investment after the sale of their home.

This is why we personally find it wiser to rent, if at all possible. If you are lucky enough to have a home, we feel that this is the most sustainable way to travel. Renting presents its own set of challenges, of course, from wear and tear to tenants that just won’t leave (Bruno had this problem for six years because of a set of very strange rental laws in France). But we feel that the peace of mind that comes with knowing you’re not slowly eating away at your life-savings and that you can continue to sustain this lifestyle as long as you want more than makes up for the small worries that come with renting.

How Wandering Footsteps Supports Long-Term Travel

Before Bruno and I met three years ago in Mozambique, I had been living and traveling abroad for the better part of seven years. During that time, I supported myself financially through a variety of ways.

To live and volunteer in Nepal for fourteen months, I worked hard for six months in Canada, and saved saved saved. This might be the most tradition and obvious method for funding travel, but it was also the fastest and easiest way to get on the road, so it did the job.

Later, I taught English as a Foreign Language (ESL/EFL) in Thailand for almost two years, taking advantage of plentiful holidays to travel around South and Southeast Asia. The money I made working in Thailand was good enough to support an excellent lifestyle and to fund loads of awesome travel experiences.

Teaching ESL to a bunch of kindergarteners in Thailand.

Teaching ESL to a bunch of kindergarteners in Thailand.

After Thailand, I earned a teaching degree, which allowed me to work as a teacher at international schools and private governess roles. A teaching degree is a very travel-friendly degree to earn, and if you already have a Bachelor’s Degree in anything at all, you can find 8-month teaching certification programs to help you get working on the road fast!

Before Bruno hit the road full-time in 1998, he purchased a bakery in a tourist area of France and worked the six-month tourist season, traveling the other six months. In his working season, he worked seven days a week, fifteen-hour days, but the tough gig paid off during his six-month stints of freedom around the world.

During this fifteen-year period of six-months-on six-months-off, Bruno purchased a property on the Mediterranean. Once the bank loans for his business and property were almost paid off, he rented the walls of his business (which means that the success of the particular business inside his walls doesn’t affect him and he earns a steady income regardless) and rented out his home to give him just enough cash to buy a vehicle (our lovely Totoyaya) and hit the road.

Bruno and some lions on one pretty cool six-month off-season trip!

Bruno and some lions on one pretty cool six-month off-season trip!

When the Going Gets Tight on the Road

Of course, there were times during each of our travels when money was tight. When Bruno went to Australia for a six-month off-season, he had only enough money to buy a plane ticket and a vehicle upon arrival. Afterwards, he took backpackers from one city to the next and they’d give him the price of bus fare. This essentially paid all of Bruno’s gas and food. When he left Australia, he sold the vehicle, thereby getting a six-month trip down under for the price of a plane ticket!

I’ve used some strategies to help lower the cost of my own travel, too. When I wanted to do a boat tour of Mozambique’s Bazaruto Archipelago but didn’t have the cash, I convinced the tour guides to let me on the boat for free if I found three other people who would join the tour. I managed it twice, and got to see two different islands off Mozambique’s coast!

If it hadn

If it hadn’t been for some creative cost-cutting, I would never have sailed to these gorgeous islands off the coast of Mozambique!

When I’ve needed to find deals on accommodation, I’ve offered my services (whatever they need – advertising, hospitality, reception work, restaurant help) to a hostel or guesthouse in exchange for a free room (and sometimes board!).

I just saw an article online about a South African traveling couple funding their adventures by scrubbing toilets, among other things.  It may not be glamorous, but the point is they’re finding a way to make their travel dreams a reality.  We’ve always done the same.

In fact, the strategies Bruno and I used weren’t necessarily ones we’d planned to use before leaving on our trips. We simply found on-the-ground ways to work around cash-flow problems. Knowing inside of ourselves that we would always find a way to make our trips work, we were able to take the leap into travel before having a full bank account (what number constitutes a full bank account, anyway?). This was probably the key to our ability to travel the way we have: if we hadn’t had this faith in ourselves, we’d probably still be in our respective countries working up the funds we thought we needed to travel.

Don’t be a Tourist: Wandering Footsteps’ Cheap-Travel Tips

  1. Travel Slowly. It uses less gas and it allows you to make deals with hotels and guesthouses, like I did.
  2. Cut down on alcohol intake. It’s amazing how much money you blow on alcohol without even realizing it.
  3. Shop in local markets. It’s cheaper than restaurants, it creates amazing experiences with local people, and it’s a valuable way to support the local economy.  Triple whammy!
  4. Don’t visit as many sites. Major tourist attractions often cost a ton of money, and don’t always end up being the most memorable parts of a trip. Choose the sites that really mean something to you, and then focus the rest of your travel on wandering through towns, sitting in parks, and shopping in markets – the types of places where real travel memories are created.
  5. Don’t buy so many souvenirs. You might think you love it now, but chances are your souvenir will end up on a dusty shelf or at the bottom of a drawer. (Traveling in a camping car is a great way to avoid souvenir shopping since there’s no space for stuff!)
Shopping for spices and dried pulses in Khartoum

Shopping for spices and dried pulses in Khartoum’s giant market made for a cheap meal and an unbeatable cultural experience.

I guess our tips all come down to this: if you want to travel long-term, get out of holiday-mode. What do you do when you’re on holiday? Well, you probably travel at breakneck speeds, pack in the days with more tourist sites than you can remember, buy more souvenirs than you can pack into your luggage, and consume more alcohol than you normally would at home.

By shifting into regular-life mode while traveling your pace and consumption naturally slow. It is this pace that is sustainable. Holiday-pace is not.

The Long and Short of Finances and Travel

In 2015, it is easier (and cheaper) to travel than it has ever been before. The internet is full of resources to help plan trips. Travel agents are always advertising one special deal or another. There are more and more opportunities out there for meaningful yet inexpensive ways to travel – volunteering abroad (like I did in Nepal), housesitting or HelpX-ing (like our overlanding friends, Phil and Angie, often do), WWOOFing (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms). With all these resources, any budget – no matter how small – can allow for long-term travel.

Phil and Angie break up their overland stints with housesitting and HelpX-ing.

Phil and Angie break up their overland stints with housesitting and HelpX-ing.

It’s all in how you spend your money. And whether you’re willing to take the leap.

  • Dee - Really useful info for anyone thinking about overlanding and how to budget, we’re always asked how we manage to travel for extended periods!

    We wrote a short post about the challenges of actually living in a vehicle for a long amount of time and the things we’ve (occasionally) missed along the way http://www.followthehound.com/the-challenges-of-overlanding/

    Thanks!

    DeeReplyCancel

  • Louise Jones-Takata - Well done! And I love the photo of Bruno with the two lionesses.ReplyCancel

    • Brittany - Thank you Louise! Bruno looks like Tarzan, doesn’t he?ReplyCancel

  • Elizabeth (Mom) - I agree with Lisa; this is a great post. I frequently am questioned about how you are managing your full-time travel lifestyle so this clarifies points and offers suggestions. Thank you!ReplyCancel

  • Lisa Sharples - This was a great post to help people understand how you finance your travels. I would love to know approximately the cost of life on the road. Do you have a budget? Will you need to teach at some point to make more if you want to stay in more expensive countries?
    Keep up the great work….I’m living the dream through you….lol

    Love you,

    Lisa xoxoxoReplyCancel

    • Brittany - That’s a great question Lisa, so thanks for asking! We do have an approximate budget to make sure that we’re spending less that what we bring in from our rentals, but it’s flexible in the sense that we may spend more on diesel in some countries (like Turkey) or more on accommodation (like in Europe). Things always tend to even out, however, so if we spend more on some stuff, we will likely spend less on food and entertainment. Most “overlanding” couples can get by with anywhere between $1000-2000 USD per month, and we definitely fall into that category!ReplyCancel

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