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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.