Aussie lawyer turned photographer: Interview with Holger Mette

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Holger Mette - Lawyer turned photographer

Holger Mette, in Bulgaria. Photo by Lily Leung.

Holger Mette is an Australian lawyer turned professional travel photographer.

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.

Follow Holger:
His daily photo blog: veoelmundo.com (Highly recommended)
Travel photography portfolio: iStockPhoto.com
Twitter: @veoelmundo
Facebook: facebook.com/veoelmundo


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.

Final thoughts?

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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  • Sue,Henrietta

    Hey Holger!
    You are very handsome! You have Facebook?

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  • Nomadic Chick

    I just discovered Holgs photos. He’s brilliant.  Great interview and full of good advice! Nice one, Lily :)

    • http://exploreforayear.com Lily

      Hi Jeannie,

      His photos are awesome, aren’t they? He’s a pretty nice guy too :) I think this one is my favourite panorama from him: Sydney Harbour Bridge & Opera House at Night (click to enlarge).

      Thanks for stopping by!

      - Lily

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  • http://twitter.com/mobilelawyer Michael Hodson

    Great interview with one of my new favorite travelers… by one of my new favorite travelers :)

    • http://exploreforayear.com Lily

      Hi Michael,

      And, a great comment by one of my new favourite travellers, about one of my existing favourite travellers, who always has something sharp and witty to say :)

      - Lily

  • http://nomadicsamuel.com Nomadic Samuel

    This is a fantastic interview.  I’m inspired by those who pursue their passions over societal norms.  I don’t know why it is – & it shouldn’t be – but I must admit it does sound more impressive for a say a lawyer or doctor to walk away from what they are doing to pursue travel/photography as a career.

    • http://exploreforayear.com Lily

      Hi Samuel,

      That’s an interesting point you make, as I also find myself thinking the same thing. I think it sounds impressive for a professional to leave their career because they are (seemingly) walking away from more prestige/material wealth/standard of living. Regardless, I think anyone who changes their course to pursue their passions is admirable.

      Thanks for stopping by! :)
      - Lily

  • Luis Santos

    Hi! Met Holger in my second hometown, Lisbon in July 10! He dropped me an email and I appreciated it a lot, learned tons with him, it was really nice having such a talented, friendly and relaxed  person, and of course a great photographer hanging around with me! Have a few pics that I took of him, that will perhaps make a blog post one of these days, will let you know :)

    • http://exploreforayear.com Lily

      Hi Luis,

      Holger is great isn’t he? I had the privilege of travelling with him for a few months in Europe and during that time learned a lot about taking photos from just being around him and watching how he approaches shots. And yes, if you have photos of him, feel free to share them! :) 

      Warmest regards,
      - Lily

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  • Shank12345

    Met Holger in London.Good memories from a very cival and cool guy !

    • http://exploreforayear.com Lily

      Agreed, Holger is a cool guy and… a very good photographer!

      - Lily

      • Shank_ali

        If he is a very good photographer i must be very very good =)

      • http://www.veoelmundo.com holgs

        Great to meet one of iStock’s celebrity photographers in London! 

  • http://www.globotreks.com Norbert

    Really good interview Lily and Holger.  It’s very inspirational to read interview like this because they prove it is possible to have a location independent lifestyle.  We just have to work hard and have enough determination to get it.

    • http://exploreforayear.com Lily

      Hi Norbert,

      This interview was inspiring for me as well. I used to think people with location independent jobs were “lucky”, but after having the privilege of meeting several permanent long-term travellers during this trip, I’ve realized hard work has more to do with it than chance!

      - Lily

  • http://alotofwind.com Robin

    Absolutely fantastic interview – should be both inspiring and useful to a lot of people.

  • http://www.onmywayrtw.com Megan

    Such a great interview. Holger is an inspiration! And he’s right – no one is going to hand you your dreams on a platter but if you’re committed and want it badly enough, you can make it happen. Perseverance is difficult, but always worth it in the end! 

  • http://vagabond3.com Jade

    Really great interview and I understand the sacrifice line so much. But… would you rather work a job you hate or one you are passionate about?!

  • http://www.sophiesworld.net Sophie’s World

    Interesting interview!

  • http://www.europeantravelista.com Debbie Beardsley

    I really enjoyed this interview.  I think there are a lot of people out there that would rather follow there dream than their current reality.  This fits perfect with anyone.  Hard work is necessary and NO LUCK involved!

  • http://www.kimberlygauthier.com/blog Kimberly

    I would love to quit my job to become a full time photography blogger – in fact, that’s what my goal is and I have a 3 year plan and a 5 year plan.  This is so inspiring – reading this has renewed my excitement for my dream!

  • http://twitter.com/eileenludwig eileenludwig

    Great Interview and lots of good advice about planning to make it happen
    Eileen

  • http://www.budgettraveladventures.com/ Jeremy Branham

    Great interview.  I think he makes a really good point – to do what you want will require sacrifice.  Even for a lawyer!

    Lily, you should check out legalnomads.com.  Every week Jodi does a feature called Thrillable Hours in which she interviews former lawyers who travel.

    Holger, I will share this with Jodi to see if she would be interested in interviewing you as well.

    • http://www.veoelmundo.com Holgs

      Thanks Jeremy – have had Jodi’s blog on my RSS for a while – always a good read! 

      • Branch Secretary

        Hello Holger
        Very good interview. Interesting perspective on setting your mind on what you want. I was wondering if you remember telling me I could be the branch secretary of the ASU WA. Well, now I am. Remember me? You guess it. Woody of course. I must say reading interview made me feel good. I think I am the first indigenous branch of any union in Australia. You have played a part
        Influencing me to step up that back in 2004.