I met Holger in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia a few months ago when I overheard his conversation about Southeast Asia and enthusiastically interrupted so I could chime in and say I love Thailand too. One of the first things I noticed about Holger was that 1.) he also had a MacBook and 2.) he takes really beautiful photographs.
Holger left behind his job a lawyer in Sydney, Australia and has been travelling around the world since 2007, funding his adventures through his photography.
His daily photo blog: veoelmundo.com (Highly recommended)
Travel photography portfolio: iStockPhoto.com
When did you leave your job to travel?
About 5 years ago, I left my regular job as an industrial relations lawyer in Sydney with the intention of traveling for 6 months followed by some time working in the UK or Europe. The travel part of the plan went well and I made my way slowly from Thailand to Europe on trains, busses and boats over 9 months. When it came to the working part, I didn’t end up staying in Europe, and instead took another job in Australia at the end of 2006.
Why did you leave your job a second time?
That job lasted just under 6 months, by which time I decided to start traveling again and see if I could subsidize my travels with photography income. The reason was a combination of not having properly scratched the travel itch previously and finding myself in a job that turned out not to be a good fit when I got back. To make matters worse, one of my new colleagues was planning a big trip through South America and would give me the update each morning at work. In the end I set a date to start traveling again, and did!
How much were you making from your photos when you started travelling?
When I left my job a second time, I was making $150 per month from a portfolio of 300 images from websites like iStockPhoto.com.
It wasn’t much compared to my travel expenses, but I had enough information to set earnings targets and was able to project a date when my income would match expenses. The timing was pretty good too – microstock photography was starting to take off so the returns from travel images were much better than they are for those starting off now (see Microstock Diaries for a detailed description of microstock.)
How did you transition from that amount to full-time income? Why were you convinced you could do it?
From my previous trip, I had enough information to put together a fairly accurate budget. I had a good idea of what my weekly travel expenses would be and also knew what sort of income I could expect from my stock travel images. Working as a lawyer without getting trapped into spending money on unnecessary items allowed me to save up a decent financial safety-net quite quickly.
Initially, when I left I was quite disciplined about regularly uploading content. Its never really been my aim to match my previous full-time income with my photography. My goal was to earn enough to be free to travel and be able to pursue things that interest me rather than switch to producing images full-time and maximizing my income.
My income was regularly meeting my expenses in about July 2009.
So, what’s next?
For the next few months I’ll be traveling by train through Europe. I’ll be sharing the journey through daily photos on my blog, Veo el Mundo – Spanish for “I see the world”.
In a more general sense I’m still always learning new things while I’m traveling. At the moment my focus areas are on web design and development, social media, and producing video. My aim with travel is to continue to grow and add to my skills, not to take an extended holiday and end up in a state of permanent lethargy. My next project is a travel website that’s been in the pipleine for quite some time that I’m getting ready to launch properly in the near future.
What are your top 5 finance tips for people who want to travel long term?
- Save before setting off. Get in the habit of budgeting and tracking finances while still at home and looking at ways of cutting off ongoing expenses before you leave – eg. making sure you don’t have ongoing mobile phone plans, car repayments, credit cards or similar expenses. Cutting down on social expenses like drinking can make a huge difference.
- Plan to do activities where they fit your budget. For example – if you want to recover with long massages at a spa, a massage in Thailand can cost as little as $3 per hour. Big nights out cost less in Bulgaria where alcohol is 1/5 the price of neighbouring Turkey.
- Find out how much it actually costs to meet your style of travel. In many cases this is much less than you think. One way of doing this is to take a shorter trip and track expenses. Remember that if you travel for a long period your big expenses like flights may become smaller compared to the overall.
- Eat Local. Food is one of the big expenses – eating how and where the locals do will save lots of money. Be aware that McDonalds and other western fast foods are often a fashionable food in many parts of the world and can cost about 3 times as much as a local meal!
- Prepare to share. Dorms, ride-sharing, communal expenses are part of the travel experience. They’re also a great money saver along the way. If you do everything solo, prepare to pay extra. Even if you set off alone, there are plenty of other travelers in the same boat and who are more than happy to share time, experiences and costs with you.
One of the things I hear most often is “you’re lucky, you have my dream job”.
Nobody is going to hand you a job traveling the world.
If that’s what you want, you have to be prepared to give up things within your comfort zone and make your own way. In my case, it meant leaving a safe, well-paying job, selling my car, giving up my phone, moving out of my apartment and getting rid of furniture. I didn’t have a safe option to go to, but became open to a lot of new opportunities by cutting off some of what was holding me back. At the moment I’m mainly earning money with a portfolio of images on iStock – I’m doing things that I love doing: travel & photography. If that hadn’t worked, I’d have found another way – blogging, writing, teaching or a combination of other things.
Its fear that’s stopping many people from pursuing their dreams, whether travel-related or otherwise. Giving up the familiar and safe options are often the essential step to doing what you actually want.
>> Have you ever entertained the idea of turning a hobby into a permanent source of income? If you’re a permanent traveller, how do you fund your travels? Leave your comment below!
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