The names Dave and Deb, otherwise known as ThePlanetD, are synonymous with travel blogging. Whether you’re just starting out or have been in the game for years, people are familiar with this power couple. Canadians by birth, they are effectively, global citizens. Their feet have touched the terra firma of all seven continents, and they, like many travelers have left a piece of their hearts in many places. Having found and honed this new direction in their lives, they are role models and provide the gold standard for which many travel bloggers wish to attain. Now, in their seventh year on the road, their digital footprint is massive. As their bio states, “Dave and Deb are well-known travel personality in both online and mainstream media. Their highly acclaimed website, The Planet D, won the 2014 Gold Medal for Best Travel Blog by the Society of American Travel Writers. Dave and Deb founded ThePlanetD in 2008 after cycling the continent of Africa and have traveled to more than 100 countries on all 7 continents.” I am honoured that they’ve shared their story with me and only hope that my reach is one day as vast as theirs.
1.When did you get started traveling? We started traveling in 2000 after a 5-week trip to Thailand. After that we caught the bug and took off every year somewhere new. We worked as freelancers in the film business, so we had a lot of time off in the winter to go on an extended vacation. We split our time between work and travel for 7 years before we finally took the plunge.
2.What made you decide make the jump to a location independent/travel-based existence? It was in 2007 that we had enough of living two lives. We traveled nearly as much as we worked. As soon as we finished a movie or a contract, we booked a trip somewhere new. Over time we found that we were happier on the road than we were at home. Coming home was always difficult for us as we felt that we didn’t fit in anywhere anymore. Instead of pursuing success in our film careers, we were planning for our next travel. We knew that we had found our passion and wanted to figure out a way to make it happen.
It was on New Years Eve 2007 that we saw a documentary about ultra marathon runner Ray Zahab that finally made us take the plunge. We decided that we wanted to do something extraordinary, so we made a pact that by this time next year, we’d follow through with our dream of full time travel. A couple weeks later we signed up for The Tour d’Afrique (the world’s longest cycling race) and started training for one of the toughest and greatest adventures of our lives. A year later we were on a plane flying to Cairo and that is when our travel blog was born. We originally planned for a television show, but soon found out that online was the future of media. People started following our progress during our four-month trip through Africa and the media started paying attention. We changed our focus from television, and instead put all our efforts into the online world of blogging and social media. 6 years later we are still going strong.
3.What benefits do you feel you get from this lifestyle? How do you handle the nay-sayers in your life? We have freedom and flexibility. We love being in charge of our own destiny. If we pursued our television career, we wouldn’t be as happy as we are today. By running our own blog, we are our own boss. We pick and choose who we partner with and we pick and choose our itinerary. It’s a dream come true. More importantly, we get to work together as we travel. Travel is our passion and to be able to do it together is the icing on the cake. We were lucky we didn’t have a lot of nay-sayers in our lives. Because we had been traveling so much since 2000, it was a natural progression for us to turn it into a full-time career. It didn’t surprise our family or friends because we had booked a flight somewhere new every chance we got. I think everyone in our lives was expecting the time to come. I think it’s important to take things slowly and have a plan. We wanted to make travel a career for nearly a decade before we finally took the plunge. By the time we did, we were ready for it and so were our families and friends.
4.How did you save money to be able to afford living ‘on the road’/traveling often? How long did it take you to make the jump to a location independent/travel-based life? It took us 7 years before we decided to go completely location independent. Even after we came back from Africa, we had to go back to work for a year. We had spent all our money on the race and had to start over. Nothing happened overnight. As much as we hoped our story would have been picked up by a TV station or production company, it didn’t. So we had to go back to the drawing board. We had already downsized a few years ago, so we didn’t have a lot of expenses. We had a car that we had paid off, we didn’t have a mortgage and we didn’t have any debt. By downsizing while we still had our well-paying jobs in the film business, we could put away a lot of money for travel.
Instead of getting an apartment when we came back to Toronto after Africa, we borrowed my parents trailer and set up outside the city. We then commuted to work. To stay in a trailer park was only a couple thousand bucks for the season so that saved us a lot of money. If we got an apartment, it would have been thousands of dollars of bills each month. This way we focused on replenishing our bank account by going back to work. We worked full time for another 9 months during the day and then worked on our blog at night and on the weekends. A year later we were back on the road pursuing our dream. We managed to save about $20,000 and because we didn’t have a way of making money off our travel blog yet, we went to India – where we felt our dollar would stretch the farthest and longest. It was in India that we worked on growing our readership and fan-base and within 4 or 5 months we sold our first ad on our website. We weren’t making a lot of money then, but it was enough to travel through places like India and Sri Lanka. Because we didn’t have bills or debt – we managed to stretch our dollar farther.
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? We now choose our destinations on places we haven’t been to yet or on places that we really want to see. A lot of our travels now are based on contractual work. We get a lot of offers and we turn a lot down. If we don’t want to go, we don’t go. That’s the beauty of being location-independent and being our own boss – we get to pick and choose what we want to do. We’ve never been hostel goers, even in our backpacking days. We love luxury as much as the next person and if we can stay in something beautiful we will. Most of the time, we stay in B&Bs and boutique hotels but love staying in places like The Four Seasons, too.
6.How much money do you traditionally need annually to support this lifestyle? Honestly, I have no idea what people should plan on making these days. When we started, $20,000 – 30,00 would get us through a year no problem. When we originally started backpacking in 2000, we could stay for $3-$4 per night. We spent 7 months traveling on $15,000. It seems more difficult now. We often say, “I don’t know how people can backpack around the world these days. I’d say plan on at least $30,000 for a year depending on the destination. If you are staying in South East Asia, you can live on less money, if you are traveling around Europe or Australia for example, you need more.
7.How do you make money on the road and save for retirement? We make our money several different ways. Our travel blog has been around a long time now and there are plenty of ways to make money online. Our main source of income is through sponsorships and partnerships. A lot of our income comes from ‘ambassadorships’ with companies like American Express Canada and Expedia.com. We have several shorter partnerships throughout the year with tourism boards and brands who pay us to promote their destination or company. We make money through writing articles for other people like BBC and Yahoo Travel, we make money through other campaigns, social media and videos. It’s an exciting time for online media. As far as retirement, we are saving more money now than we ever did with our “safe jobs” we have less overhead so we can invest a lot of money, and after 6 years of working on our online careers, we are making more money that we did at our jobs in the film business.
8.How do you handle visas, vaccinations, legal documents/passports, taxes and healthcare while living without a home base or an ever-changing one? It’s really not that difficult if you are organized. You can get visas nearly everywhere in the world and we update our passports every 5-years. Canada has moved to the 10-year passport, so next year, we’ll get our new one and not have to worry about it for a decade. We come back to our country enough (we are still citizens), still pay our taxes here and still have health care. Each year we submit our taxes and pay them. We keep really good records. We have travel and medical insurance and many vaccines usually only need to be boosted every 10 years.
9.If you decide to settle somewhere – where and when do you think it will be? That’s our biggest problem right now, we can’t decide where to settle. We love Canada and all the benefits we have here. We just don’t love the weather. But the beauty of our lifestyle is, we can spend summers here and easily travel during the winter. We have considered Thailand and Mexico, but I think we’ll most certainly settle here in Canada. We have been longing to have a home base again rather than staying with friends and family when we are home – we just have to make a decision. We’re getting there – I’ll let you know once we decide.
10.What advice do you have for others trying to make the jump to a location independent/ travel-heavy lifestyle? Take your time. I wouldn’t jump into it until you decide if full time travel is right for you. It can be difficult being on the road 24/7 and if you haven’t given it a test drive, you may find that you’ve sold everything and quit your job only to find out you hate it and prefer to go on vacations instead. We always say, take baby steps. Our 5-weeks in Thailand were a great introduction to travel. After than, we went on a few more trips over the years. 7 months to South East Asia, 3 months in Central America, a month in Europe…you get the idea. Over time, we realized we loved it and preferred constantly moving to stability. By the time we were ready to take the plunge, we were willing to go without the luxuries in life, we were ready to be without a job, without a clear vision of our future and we were 100% committed to making our choices work. You can’t have any second thoughts.
To find out more of Dave and Deb’s adventures, check out their blog.