Tim’s website TheNextChallenge.org is one of the UK adventure blogging scene’s long-runners. The sheer volume of practical resources for expedition planning he’s made available online is staggering and frankly puts my own efforts to shame.
The book itself is a short-ish primer, rather than an encyclopaedic manual on the topic, and because of this it’s as much about providing inspiration and motivation that this thing is possible as telling you how to do it.
And while the title of the book implies a circumnavigation, the advice inside is relevant to the planning of any long-distance ride, regardless of whether it involves actually circling the globe.
Tim has thoughtfully included Q&As with and tips from a wide spread of other world cyclists, including Mark Beaumont, Alastair Humphreys, Julian Sayarer, and many others, which results in a diverse spread of advice, rather than a dogmatic approach based on one person’s experience.
If you’re keen to get to grips quickly with exactly what it takes to pull off such a trip, and don’t want to get bogged down in the details, I’d highly recommend giving How To Cycle Around The World a read.
Today’s article includes a Q&A with Nora Dunn, a Canadian who sold everything (including a busy financial planning practice) in 2006 to embrace her dreams of long-term immersive travel. She runs TheProfessionalHobo.com, a blog dedicated to the art of making travel financially self-sustaining, and has written several books on various aspects of the lifestyle – in short, she’s a real expert on combining work and travel.
Her expertise is particularly relevant right now. I no longer rent a property. I possess only one bicycle (yeah, I know!). And everything I need to live fits into either a 75-litre backpack or a pair of bicycle panniers, depending on what’s more appropriate at the time.
I’ve designed my work so it doesn’t matter whether I’m in in Argentina, Australia or Austria. Today I’m in Angel (Islington), next will be Armenia – and after that, America. (All alliteration accidental!)
I really believe combining work and travel has never been a more achievable aim for a great many people. But it does require a fair bit of groundwork and a knowledge of what’s possible and realistic. This post aims to introduce some of these ideas.
So, without further ado, over to Nora, who’s much more of an authority on the subject than I am…
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Firstly, thank you, Nora, for agreeing to do a Q&A for the blog. Why don’t you tell us a bit about yourself and your experience combining work with full-time travel?
Thanks, Tom! It all started in 2006, when I sold everything I owned (including a busy financial planning practice) to embrace my dreams of long-term immersive travel. Annual 1–2 week vacations weren’t cutting it for me any more; I realized that in order to do the things I wanted to do in life and around the world, I couldn’t afford to wait another 30 years for a conventional retirement, at which point I might be unwilling or unable to travel like I really wanted. I had to do it now.
As for the process of combining work with full-time travel, that was an evolution. Initially I had no idea how I’d make ends meet; I had a loose plan to take a course with Outward Bound in Costa Rica to become a qualified outdoor education instructor. It never happened though, since my travels took me in another direction (and then another, and then another…).
But shortly after hitting the road, I realized that my lifelong penchant for the written word plus my laptop and an internet connection could equal a living as a freelance writer. The sale of my business provided a (small) 2‑year stream of income that I used to float my expenses and travel lifestyle while I built my new career as a writer on the topics of travel, personal finance, and lifestyle design.
Developing my niche happened naturally (although not without lots of hard work); I wrote about finance for travel publications, I wrote about travel for finance publications, and I wove lifestyle design throughout. Once I realized my own website could be more useful than just as a glorified travel journal, I combined these three topics on my site to teach people how to travel full-time in a financially sustainable way.
Yours seems an increasingly common ambition – to remodel a jobs and career to incorporate travel. But for a lot of aspiring bicycle adventurers, the journey comes first, with work often seen as something that needs to be put on hold – hence, we save up, do the big trip, and reluctantly return to work at that end. How would you suggest we reframe the two things to exist together? What are some of the options for combining them?
Where there’s a will, there’s a way! But sometimes, that way involves a little compromise.
One of the compromises an aspiring bicycle adventurer might concede to in order to incorporate their careers into a full-time/long-term travel lifestyle would be to travel more slowly. Instead of conquering a continent/country/whatever in a specific period of time and riding hard each day, consider setting shorter goals so you’re not on the road constantly, and take some more time off along the way so you can allow time to work.
Slow travel has an added benefit of being more culturally immersive and rewarding, as well as ultimately cheaper (for example you can get access to cheaper – even free – medium/long-term accommodation options).
Many of us who are planning long bicycle journeys spend months or years saving up money, reorganising our lives, and preparing to leave. In terms of creating opportunities to make a living while travelling, how would you suggest we approach things during this preparation time?
If you are planning on making travel a lifestyle (with income opportunities) instead of a fixed-duration trip (as in a vacation), the entire scope of your preparation and reorganization changes.
First off, you’ll need to decide what to do with your stuff, such as selling or storing it. There are also logistical things to address such as cancelling services and organizing your affairs and finances to travel long-term/full-time.
Then of course, you’ll need to develop a strategy for earning money while you’re on the road. Despite the fact that I figured my income stream out along the way, I wouldn’t recommend following my footsteps; I always advise people to have a strategy in place, and if they’re starting a new business or career I advise them to have that foundation established before they start travelling.
As for saving money, that doesn’t change; you need to save money! However the amount you need to save might be less if you have an income stream. Here’s some food for thought with regards to what you should save up for long-term travel: How Much Money do you Need to Travel Long-Term?.
Long-term bicycle travel attracts people at all stages of life, from school-leavers and graduates to those in later life who are looking for a change. How might our former work experience (or lack thereof) affect how feasible working on the road would be? In other words, do you think age and experience matters?
Age and experience matter, but not in a make-it-or-break-it kind of way; instead age and experience (or lack thereof) simply provide different opportunities.
Young travellers (under the age of 30) can take advantage of working holiday visas to stay 1–2 years in each of a variety of countries with the ability to get a job doing whatever they’re qualified for. This is a great way to develop work experience and still enjoy a travel lifestyle.
On the other hand, I started travelling full-time after 30, and I was grateful for my time and experience in the traditional work-force in Canada. I was able to put money away for (my eventual) retirement and get some general financial footing (as well as life experience) that helped me in my travels.
As for getting work on the road as an “older” traveller, that’s not difficult either. In Working on the Road, I interviewed a woman “of a certain age” (she’ll admit to six or so decades) who teaches English abroad, as well as a couple in their 40s who has no troubles getting jobs along the way as they travel full-time. They are just two random examples of a myriad of income-earning possibilities for people of any age.
Cycling often involves long periods of overland travel in remote areas where mobile working would be impractical and undesirable. How might income generation work in this case in the long term? Is it feasible, for example, to run an internet-based ‘microbusiness’ in spite of such protracted downtime? Or would another approach be more appropriate?
If you’ve got a long ride to make that will involve being offline and out-of-touch for a while, there are a few solutions you could develop:
Create a business that doesn’t require you to be constantly online (not always easy to do as a location independent entrepreneur but certainly not impossible)
Develop the business to a point where you can hire somebody to take care of things while you’re offline
Instead of internet-based jobs or businesses, focus on getting jobs “on the ground” between long bicycle trips
The beauty of lifestyle design is that it’s yours to design. It’s up to you to decide what kinds of bicycle trips you want to do the most, and where you want to do them, and then find the right work opportunities to complement that lifestyle. There’s always a bit of compromise here and there, but ultimately you get to call the shots.
Conversely, after weeks or months of pedalling, a lot of us feel the need to decompress and digest, which often involves staying in one place for a while. Might we use this time to find temporary work? Do you think it matters precisely where this happens to be?
I can imagine you’d want some downtime after a long bicycle journey! I certainly do after a long stint of active travel.
Indeed, these rest stops are a good opportunity to find temporary work, for example with a working holiday visa in hand, or some transferrable skills and good networking abilities, or with online telecommuting or entrepreneurial work.
Location dictates working opportunities to an extent; for example in Asia working holiday visas aren’t generally available, but you can get a job teaching English. In most developing countries you are less likely to find a decent-paying temporary job, but the cost of living is cheap if you have an online business and are earning money in a stronger currency.
As bicycle travellers with a large degree of self-sufficiency, we can often stretch our budgets out to enviable proportions – 5 to 10 dollars a day is totally realistic. But setting up to live and work somewhere must carry overheads. How might we handle this and ensure we can actually save our earnings to further our travels?
Actually, setting up to live and work somewhere doesn’t have to be expensive – at all. For example, when you’re planning your “decompression” stops, these can be opportunities to get free accommodation.
For the first six years of my full-time travels, I travelled from one free accommodation opportunity to another, utilizing techniques like volunteering, house-sitting, living on boats, hospitality exchanges, and more. Free accommodation gigs can last from a few days to a few months, and they exist around the world.
Finally, many of us are concerned about how we might return to a more settled existence once our wanderlust is (at least temporarily!) satiated. How might the skills and experience gained while working on the road translate to a more conventional style of living?
I don’t know anybody who has had an easy time reintegrating to a conventional style of living after an extended period of travel, but it’s certainly possible (and sometimes even enjoyable).
If your work on the road is of a location independent nature, not much will change for you in terms of incorporating your career into a conventional lifestyle. For job-searching employees, although you might think you’re hurting your resume with time spent abroad, most employers I’ve spoken with view world travel and work-abroad experience very kindly when it comes to hiring. Travel experience demonstrates flexibility and adaptability, courage to face new situations, problem-solving skills, ability to cope with stressful situations, and willingness to get along and communicate with different kinds of people.
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Thanks Nora! Do check out her new guide and resource, Working On The Road: The Unconventional Guide To Full-Time Freedom*. Despite already being well on the way towards this kind of lifestyle, I bought the guide as soon as it was released, and found that it massively enhanced my understanding of what’s possible and how to achieve it.
Today, I’d like to take a break from Iran and Patagonia to talk again about Janapar, my previous adventure film and book project, with which which some of you may be (for me) uncomfortably familiar.
It’s been more than two years since James and I released the film to the world on DVD and as a download via iTunes, Amazon and elsewhere. This, unfortunately, is a long time in the film and book industry, and sales have been steadily declining since the release. Yet we still have not recouped our costs for the project, and our accountant is getting increasingly ratty about it.
Over the last few months, then, I’ve been dreaming up clever ways to stimulate renewed interest in the weird story of my unorthodox love-life.
And today, I’m really excited to be able to share with you a brand new range of merchandise from the film and book!
Let’s begin with the limited-edition men’s and women’s T‑shirts in a range of sizes and colours and shapes.
These unique T‑shirts are emblazoned with inspirational quotes from the film. Men’s tees sport Tom’s classic opener, “I really don’t know… what I’m doing”, whereas women’s tees proudly feature Tenny’s all-time show-stopper, “The public?!?”.
Made from 100% organic sun-bleached cotton, and pre-sweated-into by Tom and Tenny themselves for a truly authentic look, these T‑shirts are hand-stitched in real Armenian orphanages – so you’ll be supporting a corrupt former-Soviet republic with every purchase.
Next up is the all-new Tom Allen failed-round-the-world-cyclist action figure!
Constructed entirely from recycled 1.5‑litre mineral water bottles, the figure cycles round and round in circles, wearing a stupid hat and asking, “What the f*** am I doing here?” over and over again before face-planting into the concrete.
Suitable for kids of all ages. (It’s a wind-up; no batteries needed.)
The final item of merchandise is pretty special – a replica of the actual bicycle Tom rode in Janapar, with a free turbo-trainer thrown in so you can re-enact the entire movie from the comfort of your own home!
The bike is, in fact, entirely unsuited to touring. You too can spend four months slogging across Europe when it should only take you two. For the ultimate in authenticity we’ve arbitrarily spray-painted bits of it orange, pre-broken the frame at the rear dropout, and had it fixed by a Middle Eastern back-street welder who doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing.
Comes with a free Tom Allen waterproof face mask and a free inflatable globe!