How I fund our family travel

I often get asked how we fund our family travel, especially with indefinite family travel.

There are so many ways to fund one’s travel, so please don’t look at our examples and think just because your answer is “Well, I can’t do any of those!” that long-term family travel is out of your league.  To be honest, you are only limited by your imagination.  If you’d like some other ideas, there are numerous great resources, although I recommend this one by WanderingEarl.com (and not just because I get a small kickback if you purchase it).

family travel, essaouira, morocco

The Beginning

Some people save up thousands of dollars before they begin; however, we weren’t one of them.  After purchasing our airfare ($430 USD), we had $900 in savings.  Considering that we spent at least $240 a month just on eating out, well, it wasn’t a major sacrifice to get that $900.

Transcription

I started work as an acute care medical transcriptionist (MT) in 1989.  Over subsequent decades, I continued working in that field at least part time with only a few short breaks.  Because of that, it was relatively easy for me to start with a company before we left for our nomadic life.  It did mean a couple of months of working a lot of hours because I was also working full time as a hospice chaplain, but it meant that I was up to full production by the time we left.

MT can be a tough field to get into. There are, however, several schools online, and some of them have decent job placement.  MTs are usually paid by production meaning that you get paid a certain amount per lines transcribed.  Some companies offer production businesses, too, which is nice.

One of the downsides with doing it on the road is you are very dependent on a live Internet connection.  Every system is different, but most are designed so that when you finish a report, it is sent back to the company and another job is downloaded to your computer requiring you to be connected the whole time you are working.

People often find it is more helpful to be an independent contractor.  It gives you more flexibility but also means you have to pay your own social security taxes, and you get no sick or holiday time.  No work = no pay.  Also, when a company has low availability of work, they may funnel that work to employees first.  There are a couple of times a year when work is common to slow down, and you are not usually reimbursed extra for working on a holiday.

Work time may not be as flexible as other opportunities. They usually want you to work on specific days and also produce a minimum number of lines.  If you work as an employee, that window will generally be even more fixed.  Some days you can achieve your minimum line count more easily than others depending on the type of reports, the quality of the dictation, the complexity of the report, and so on.

It can pay very well depending on your experience and productivity, but the job requires a lot of skill beyond simple keyboarding and basic grammar.  You have to know anatomy; physiology; medications, their dosages, and their uses; lab work and their normal values; medical terminology; names of surgical equipment, dressings, suture material; the various diseases and what their names mean (what are the common issues for someone who has Sjogren’s?), etc. It’s a lot more involved than most people realize, and there are many MTs that are earning less than minimum wage.

Philippines, ornament

Writing and Photography

I secured a paid gig before we left the States.  Pay varies greatly depending on the client.  Some pay offers are insulting and others are quite respectable.  Obviously, not everyone is going to make it long term as a writer.  You have to have a passion for it beyond just the skillset.  To make really good money, you’re probably going to be writing a LOT of different types of articles.  Magazine writers typically earn more, but freelancing also involves pitching to even get an assignment, invoicing, and waiting to get paid, so you can go through a lot of periods of feast or famine income-wise.

If you have a passion for writing, though, it’s a very enjoyable career, and it can really keep you on your toes.

It can be very rough making a living just with photography alone. There is stiff competition and a plethora of images available online for free.  Some of the best photographers I have seen make very little money with their images, especially those dedicated to travel photography.  I submit articles with my own photography generally, otherwise I make no income from any photos currently.

moray, scuba, family travel, cozumel, mexico

Scuba

Divemaster is the entry level of the professional diving world.  To be a divemaster, you have to be certified as an open water diver, advanced open water diver, rescue diver, and be certified in CPR and first aid.  To begin the training program, you also have to have logged 40 open water dives.  The training program (DMT) is typically completed in 3 weeks. It IS possible to go from nondiver to divemaster quite rapidly, though.  Annual dues are around $80.

Becoming an instructor is a bit more expensive. You have to be a divemaster, have been a certified diver for at least 6 months, and have 100 open water dives before you can be certified.  The instructor course can be done in about 2 weeks, following which you have 2 days of exams.  The most inexpensive course is going to run around $2100, including material and becoming an EFR instructor (CPR/first aid instructor).  You’ll have to pay PADI another $600 or so to pay for the instructor exam and your membership dues.  There are other certifying organizations, but I am unfamiliar with what they charge.  PADI has about 70% of the market, so. . . Every year you’ll pay about $200 to renew your instructor certification.

Unless you are working in a resort environment, you most likely will not make very much working as a scuba instructor.  For example, on Utila you are generally paid $50 per student for an open water course (about $4 per hour for a really good student who doesn’t need much extra assistance).

Instructors have a lot of responsibility, especially when you are taking people underwater, so you have to be someone who is very patient, good in a crisis, and very proactive. I am constantly watching my students, gauging body language and facial expressions (hard with a mask and equipment on), etc., to try to anticipate potential problems and intervene before a problem arises.  When one student is having issues, I not only have to work them through it but also maintain control of the safety of the rest of my group.  While it is really fun, it can also be quite stressful and can be very physically demanding.  Standards permit me to have up to 8 students at one time with no assistant.  Imagine what that can be like!

An instructor can also work as a divemaster, but generally that pay can be even less.  In many places, a divemaster is paid around $3 per tank (a customer doing 2 dives during a trip would equate to $6 for about 4 hours worth of work).  It can be great pay if you have a lot of divers and don’t have a long interval between departure and return, but it’s also hard, physical work.

If you’re single or don’t have children, you can sometimes get a job that provides room and board which allows you to save a pretty decent amount of money.  For family travelers like me, though, that isn’t often an option.

Blogging

Again, not for everyone. Blogs can require a lot of work, and you can’t just be a good writer.  It’s a multiskill type of endeavor.  Some blogs make money with affiliate sales (you click on a link, purchase a product, and they get paid a commission) and others make money off of advertising.  To be attractive for either of those, a blogger also has to engage in social media, networking, etc., in order to have enough traffic to be of value to a potential client.  I know bloggers who are working almost full-time hours doing the various tasks involved with running a blog.

I don’t pursue a lot of press trips, comped lodging, etc., so I don’t invest a lot of time in email and other communication trying to sell myself to tour agencies, tourism bureaus, etc., but some bloggers do, and that can take a lot of time.

I do try to build a lot of sense of community with our readers, so I spend more time on social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, than some.

Editing photos and selecting images to go with a blog post can also take a lot of time, not to mention the time it takes to research, write, and proof a post. A video is even more time intensive.

If you aren’t a gimmicky blogger, it may be tough to make a healthy amount of money on a blog.  It also takes time.  I’d say on the average a blog is generally in existence for about 2 years before it’s pulling in a regular income stream. Obviously, there are exceptions in both directions, and people who have more of a marketing background or who are aggressively hunting potential revenue sources may have better luck.

Our blog was over a year old before we started making any amount from advertising, but I also was only posting about once a week or so, and now I post at least three times a week.

When blogging professionally, you also have to consider what you will do to get a break from it.  If you’re going somewhere without Internet, you’ll still want to keep your visitors engaged, so that requires advance preparation of posts so that people will keep visiting and sharing your blog while you’re “off.”

family travel, housesitting

Housesitting

This is a newer one for us.  We don’t get paid to housesit; however, we do get free accommodation.  Our 2-month housesit in Morocco has saved us at least $1200 just for lodging.  Our first month we were spending less than $72 a week on food and transportation.  Recently that amount has gone up since we are now buying more “imported” items like frozen foods, chips, cheese, pasta, and “real” butter (the local butter tastes like low-grade bleu cheese and has an awful aftertaste).

There are some paid housesitting opportunities, but they are much more rare and usually require more work, such as farming, a large number of animals to care for, and clean up after, etc.  For most situations you aren’t just making sure the house looks lived in.  We have a dog to walk twice daily, chickens and rabbits that are fed twice daily, lots of landscaping and a garden to kept watered, especially since we’re in a desert, as well as general upkeep on a house.  It isn’t necessarily back-breaking work, but it’s more time intensive than just sitting back and enjoying someone else’s couch.

So…

There you have it. One of the big keys is diversity.  It’s tough and risky to put all your eggs in one basket, per se.

Obviously, I’m not working as a scuba professional in the middle of an oasis in rural southern Morocco, but I keep my certification active so I can do that when we’re in areas where it’s feasible and there are opportunities.

Also, I recently stopped doing medical transcription since I just was enjoying it less and less, and I need to be able to practice what I preach about focusing on things one is passionate about rather than just doing a job because it pays well.

If long-term family travel is something you want to do bad enough, trust me: There are MANY ways of making it work.

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61 Comments

  1. Love it! We are planning and researching all possible avenues for funding while we travel indefinitely and strongly considering teaching English for a year when we need to re-pad or accounts. I love when other travelers share how they make it work financially! Thanks for sharing!

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    • Talon, this is a great post! I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s not often people are so forthcoming in the options for funding on the road.

      Jenni, we recently ran across a couple on the island of Langkawi in Malaysia who were very interesting. They both write for asiarooms.com and that gives them free accommodation. They also write for Travelfish, who apparently pay about $1500 USD for a hefty article. They said it took about 6 weeks to write that article, exploring a place in depth, and paying for your own expenses while doing it, but if you’re keen on seeing a place in depth anyway, it’s something to consider.

      We’re now 12 months on the road and I’ve been funding my trip in a completely accidental way that might be worth knowing about. I own a house in London and started renting it out as a holiday let before we left. The income is not only paying the bills, but also paying almost all of my bills on the road. That means that all the money I saved for this trip is still in the bank.

      I don’t know if you have a house, or have the money for a deposit on a house, but if you are in the position to acquire a small property in a well touristed location, you have the potential to have no worries about your travel income. If it’s a possibility for you and you want more info, feel free to get in touch and I’ll help you if I can: krista@wodara.org

      All the best to you both,
      Krista

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    • Yes it does. LOL I also like the question: So how long are you here for? Where do you go next? Usually my responses to both are “I have no idea.”

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  2. This was really interesting. For us, another big part of it was learning how to spend money. It shocks me how much we learned as we traveled and how much we paid for things at the beginning, compared to what we know now and how we do things so completely differently. I guess house sitting would fall into that category for you. Thanks for this.
    Rhonda recently posted..Worst Pick Up Lines Ever – for the Past Life Blog HopMy Profile

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    • Yes indeed! And when you discover that getting somewhere and asking locals to find a rental property is WAY cheaper than online, even better!

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  3. Good information, thanks for sharing your tips! Your segment on blogging was a good validation for me as I’ve given myself 18 – 24 months to get my blog to where I need it to be in order to really “start” the business of blogging. As a retired teacher I am also collecting articles on best practices for teaching abroad. We are not there yet, but when the day comes for us to sell our inn and hit the road, teaching abroad is something I hope to pursue.
    Patti recently posted..When Harry Met Sally & Auld Lang Syne ~My Profile

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    • Yep, there are SO many ways of doing things and earning an income to accommodate whatever type of life it is you want to lead.

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  4. Really good honest post. Many people are secretive about the sources of their income but I believe it’s incredibly important for people to understand that nomadic people have to come up with creative ideas to earn a bit of cash. And it’s usually just enough to live a basic lifestyle. Thumbs up!

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    • Thank you. I’m about helping others live their dreams, so I usually end up on the side of being open and honest. :) I do know some people who are making office-type incomes while being able to be location independent, but they are also putting in a lot more hours than I care to. Part of my desire to be a digital nomad was to get more living into my life, as well as to have more time to spend doing things with my son. So, I’ve chosen to make it work on a little bit of money so I can have more time enjoying life and my child. We lose out on some things, but I think in the end we win out big time. :)

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  5. I’m always really interested to learn how people earn on the road – sounds like you have an interesting mix of things going on. I set myself as a writer last year (in most senses of the word), and I’m writing on the road now. Getting myself into a routine of doing stuff in the morning, working in the afternoon, and going out in the evening – and I’m kinda exhausted already!
    David @ That Gay Backpacker recently posted..My first night out in Bangkok – the gay bars of Silom.My Profile

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  6. Could you recommend any of the MT schools or job placement sites? You are living my dream life and am trying to get there as well. Thanks for all of the information and good luck !

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    • Andrews probably has the best reputation for schools. For job sites, I’d recommend MTJobs.com. They seem to have the highest number of offerings. Some of the larger companies will provide training, too. Bonne chance!

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  7. I’ve always worked hard for a period in a well-paying professional job, saved all my money, and travelled full-time for 6 or months. I actually don’t like being a full-time nomad – I prefer a home base, well my partner does, which is about the same thing. Working 2 jobs, and not spending anything above the real necessities, can do wonders for saving !
    Lissie recently posted..Train Travel in Burma: Should A Tourist Take the Train in Myanmar?My Profile

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    • Everyone is different. Definitely not wasting money on things you don’t really need, though, is a GREAT way to save money.

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    • Thanks! I like to be open with people so they can see that yes this can be done and some of the ways they can do it. :)

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  8. Awesome post! I find long term travel tiring, so it works for me to take temp work for 3 – 6 months, and then travel the rest of the time. It lets me have a home base and unpack as well. I guess house sitting would have the same effect, but my blog doesn’t make enough money to support my family of three just yet!
    Jade – OurOyster.com recently posted..Indonesia – Three Reasons To Love BaliMy Profile

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    • Yes, it IS rather nice to be able to unpack once in a while. We prefer slow travel anyway, but sometimes it takes a bit of moving around before we find a place we really want to stay in for a while.

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  9. Hi, we are an American Family of 4 now living in Southern Spain. We started out with the intention of a “career break”, but love travel too much! We are now looking at ways to extend what was going to be 12-18months into something more long-term. This is helpful reading the variety of income sources and helps to get the mind spinning…. we are here to get that 2nd language strong for the kids and then hopefully be more mobile. We do plan to explore Europe over the summer and are looking at many house sitting sites to make that happen. Hopefully someone would love to accept a family of 4 to house sit. Thanks for sharing and keep writing! :-) have a good one.
    Heidi Wagoner recently posted..Wagoner TV, Episode 03 – Almuñécar, SpainMy Profile

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    • Wonderful! Love to hear of other families doing this. I hope the housesit works out.

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  10. Thank you so much for sharing! I have been searching everywhere online for some sort of answer on how to make it financially while traveling.

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    • I’d really encourage you to check out Wandering Earl’s book. It really is quite good.

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  11. I admire your way of life and think you are giving your son an upbringing that is not only different, but will give him an open mindedness and confidence that is hard to find from being raised in the same town your whole life.

    The article you posted before about wanting your son to do what HE wants and not to live out of fear of what others will think coincides exactly with the views I have on life.

    Kudos, Talon!
    Olivia – young on the road recently posted..How to Combat the Fears that are Stopping You from TravellingMy Profile

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    • Thanks, Olivia. It will be really interesting to see how this whole experience affects him as an adult.

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  12. That is such a great, honest article! I’m intrigued by MT, I spent 20 years in Pathology so it’s something I could possibly look into, thanks for the idea! My husband was toying with getting his dive instructor registration, we live on the Great Barrier Reef, it would be easy enough to do here, but would cost a fair bit. Do you think it’s worth it? I know instructors in Thailand get paid practically nothing. He’s a chef, but I can’t see him making much money doing that in Asia. We are currently in the save-up-as-much-as-possible before-we-go category ( aiming for $30000 to last us approx 2 years), plus top ups from renting out the house. One day the blog may make some money, too!
    Alyson recently posted..Free Food in Cairns! Rusty’s MarketMy Profile

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    • It really depends on how much he loves diving. Generally, he won’t make a ton of money, and it can be really long hours during busy season. On the other hand, it’s extremely portable and easy to maintain your credentials. If he chooses to pursue it, I would recommend going elsewhere for the training. The instructor course in Australia is about 3 times what it cost in most other areas.

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    • I left off the book sales because they are very minimal. My last 3 royalty checks were: $36, $36, $18. So. . . :D

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  13. Just to let you know I did drop in and read some of your blog. This piece, detailing how you earned your money while doing serial house sitting, was very interesting.

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  14. Hey Talon,
    I set off from my secure job in Australia to continue traveling and have managed to pick up quite a bit of work as a freelance writer for now. I focused my college degree on Bar management and before was a chef as I figured I could get a job anywhere in the world with these..

    Diving is a great option if you can afford it but my ear drums blew when I went in the Great Barrier so not sure if I should be diving!?

    All the best and keep up the good work
    Adam – Tropical Nomad recently posted..Bamboo Tattoo ThailandMy Profile

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  15. Awesome post Talon. We are now 4 months into our travels where we have no end date in site and we’ve started to discuss and research ways to make some cash on the road. Thanks for going into more detail than most on the writer and scuba instructor sections! We love Scuba and that could be a fun one for a while. Cheers, Ross.
    Ross recently posted..A Love Affair with Hoi An, VietnamMy Profile

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  16. I love how you fund your travel with a variety of income avenues. I think this is great because if one isn’t working than another is. My only question is how do you keep it all straight and being a single dad. I have a hard time keeping up with a couple things. Would love to hear your secrets. :)
    Paz recently posted..Caterpillars in my Bra – Living in a tropical climateMy Profile

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    • Lists and followup flags in Outlook. LOL Also, I’ve worked hard to raise an independent child. Tigger is extremely easy to work with and does well at keeping himself entertained while I’m working, etc.

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  17. Thanks Talon and Tigger for such an inspiring and honest article. You have such an interesting and imaginative variety of income sources and the house-sitting is a great one that I’ve been looking at too. Stopping in one place to live like a local gives a whole new dimension to visiting a new place. It’s a shame your book sales are so minimal. I would like to think that would provide a healthier income.
    Thanks again – stay safe and happy,
    Jane
    Jane St Catherine recently posted..Working in an outback Australian pubMy Profile

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    • Yeah, blogging won’t be putting me in a luxury lifestyle any time soon, but my life is far richer now than it ever was so I’ll take it.

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  18. i am an avid diver and would love to break into the underwater video market (taping other divers) do you have any idea how they chrge and split with resorts? places we dive have some impressive people doing this but they are not open to sharing inf. we pay $100 per video so the moey is there…. thanks and keep up your great blogs I love them Bonnie Boo

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  19. Good post, Talon! Without revealing actual amounts, what would you rank as your top 3?

    I can add a few more for consideration:

    BOOKS – yep, these take a long time, but can bring money in month after month.

    ITINERARIES – I have several of these on Unanchor.com. Tripoto, Outtripping, and Guidora are all newer companies worth exploring.

    On a tangent, personalized itineraries might also work (I’ve started to offer these for Korea and Thailand) if you have enough experience in an area.
    Chris @ One Weird Globe recently posted..Taste-tasting American craft beersMy Profile

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    • Thanks, Chris. I didn’t list books because the amount I make from book sales currently is quite low.

      Current, my #1 source is through the blog. #2 would be freelance writing, but I haven’t done any of that in months. I’m going to be doing that again, though since we’re heading to some expensive places, and I want a month in Paris so will need extra income. LOL

      I have considered offering trip planning services. I was contacted by Outtripping, but I’m just not convinced that would be worth the effort. If I’m going to write a guide like that, I would think it would be better to offer it through my own site. Have you seen a significant income generated through the itineraries?

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  20. Awesome post. Thanks for your honesty. So great that you have stepped out there to travel, giving hope to others.
    My husband and I are both in the medical field and may consider some on the road jobs in the future when we travel more. Thanks!

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    • Glad to hear you’ll be traveling more. Are you considering doing any medical trips like with Doctors Without Borders, Uplift Internationale, etc?

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