Interview: The Professional Hobo (Nora Dunn)

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For many of us who love to travel, we have to fit our adventures into a finite period of time. That long weekend is precious and we might spend the entire year looking forward to that two-week holiday. There are even some of us who can grab four, five, or six weeks to enjoy an extended journey. For those who are looking for more and want to travel slowly, deeply and with no end in sight…meet Nora Dunn, The Professional Hobo. This location-independent writer has been traveling the world for seven years and sharing her adventures from the road. Focusing on traveling in a financially-sustainable way, here she shows how the gifts of travel have changed her life.

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1.When did you get started traveling? It was a dark and stormy night in late 2007 when the plan was hatched to sell everything and travel full-time. I’ve been on the road ever since early 2008.

2.What made you decide make the jump to a location independent/travel-based existence? It’s a long story (aren’t they all), which can be distilled down to an intense life-long desire to immerse myself in cultures around the world, and a realization that I couldn’t achieve the sort of immersion I wanted with traditional 2-week vacations, nor could I bear to maintain status quo in the rat race for another 30 or so years awaiting retirement. Here’s the more poetic version.

3.What benefits do you feel you get from this lifestyle? How do you handle the nay-sayers in your life? Traveling full-time in a financially sustainable way as I do is ultimate freedom. I can live and work from wherever in the world tickles my fancy (and I have). After 7+ years of it, I have a broader perspective on culture and how it affects the daily nuances of society. This translates into a greater sense of empathy for people, as well as a pretty diverse set of experiences to draw on while spinning a yarn. I’ve encountered surprisingly few naysayers; but not everybody has to understand my lifestyle or approve of it; to each their own, I say!

4.How did you save money to be able to afford living ‘on the road’? How long did it take you to make the jump to a location independent/travel-based life? When I sold everything in Canada, it included a busy financial planning practice. That kicked out a modest income for the first two years of my travel; barely enough for me to travel on (which is how I learned my budget travel hacks like getting free accommodation around the world), but it was enough that I didn’t have to dip into any savings. During that time, I developed my location independent career as a freelance writer and built my site. It (almost) replaced the income from my financial planning practice when it ran out. But by then I was off to the races and I haven’t looked back.

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5.How do you choose your destinations and for how long you’ll stay? What type of accommodations do you typically choose? Are there any specific resources you recommend? My destinations tend to choose me. And the deciding factor is usually an offer of free accommodation for a few months – such as house-sitting, living on boats, volunteering, and more. I use that as an opportunity to create a base, live a slice of local life, and discover a destination from the inside out. As for resources I’d have to recommend one close to my own heart (and written by my own hand): How to Get Free Accommodation Around the World!

6.How much money do you traditionally need annually to support this lifestyle? It’s such a difficult question to answer in even a general sense, since the cost of travel is very dependent on the traveler. Even in my own travels, my style (and cost) has changed. I started publishing my cost of full-time travel in 2010, and for both 2010 and 2011, my expenses were less than $18,000. In 2012 I (fell in love and) spent $28,000, and I haven’t published 2013’s figures yet, but they’re even higher due to a series of ridiculously bad circumstances that threw everything out of whack. If you’re wondering how all this dithering might translate to your own travel plans, start with this to help you define your budget.

7.How do you make money on the road and save for retirement? I make money as an international freelance writer on the topics of travel, personal finance, and lifestyle design. It has allowed me to become a niche writer for both travel and personal finance publications, and to marry the two on my own site which is about traveling full-time in a financially sustainable way. (I also publish my annual income and sources each year). With regards to retirement, I was able to save quite a nest egg while I was in business that should take care of most of my retirement needs. Having said that, most years that I’ve been traveling full-time, I’ve still earned enough to sock away extra money for a rainy day.

8.How do you handle visas, vaccinations, legal documents/passports, taxes and healthcare while living without a home base or an ever-changing one? I maintain a legal address in Canada, which serves as my home for most things that require an address. (There is also somebody at that address to alert me of important incoming mail). I also return to Canada regularly for visits; the longest I’ve ever been away was two years, but now I tend to visit once a year or more. During those visits I can attend to any necessary legal matters, drivers license renewals, taxes, etc. For healthcare, I have an international health insurance policy, which covers me anywhere in the world. And lastly, for visas, I travel on tourist visas. In some cases I’ve applied for longer visas than the standard, in other cases I’ve extended visas while in the country. In most cases, I simply leave before the visa expires (and sometimes return later).

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9.If you decide to settle somewhere – where and when do you think it will be? Great question – although I used to think “settle down” was a bad word. I spent a year and a half (on and off) living in Australia, and more recently two years (on and off) on the Caribbean island of Grenada. My home in Grenada in particular made me keen to the allure of having a home base from which I could travel. After seven years of world wandering, I crave some creature comforts and a place I can call “mine”. I won’t stop traveling, but I would like a place to come back to. On that vein, I’ve just spent three months in Peru (near Cusco), and I’m so smitten with the area that I plan to return for a while after a summer in Canada. How long I will stay remains to be seen, but I’m open to the possibility that I could “settle” in Peru.

10.What advice do you have for others trying to make the jump to a location independent/ travel-heavy lifestyle? Just. Do. It. You’ll never sort out the nuances of travel and location independent work from the sidelines; so get in, get your hands dirty, make a few mistakes, and take a leap of faith.

To find out more about Nora Dunn check out her website.

 

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4 responses »

  1. Pingback: Interview: The Professional Hobo (Nora Dunn) | mooogs's Blog

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