The best part of working on this site and doing so many interviews, by far, is the opportunity to meet and connect with people in person. I was fortunate enough to meet up with Dave Dean three times this year. His inspiring fundraising work with OneGirl is a perfect example of what all of us can do if we set our minds to making the world a better place. In this interview, Dave provides some details on his travel lifestyle and how he earns a living, He also gives some great advice on making money with a travel blog and how to get freebies and sponsorships. Enjoy the interview!
Please tell us about yourself?
I was born and grew up in New Zealand, graduated with a History/Political Science degree and fell into working in IT. At the age of 22 I left for the UK, living and working there for three years while developing a travel addiction every chance I got. For several years after that I tried to juggle my career with regular travel stints, failing miserably to achieve the balance I desired. Finally, a little over a year ago, I ditched the cubicle for the final time in favour of a life on the road.
How did your travel lifestyle begin?
As I mentioned, I started travelling just after graduation and am still doing it now, so I guess, on and off, I’ve been doing this for fifteen years. I’ve spent a lot of time in Europe, SE Asia and Australia, with shorter periods in North America and Africa. While I used to base myself in NZ and Australia between travel stints, I now don’t have a base anywhere. As I write this I am sitting in Don Muang airport in Bangkok, enroute to Vietnam.
After travelling for so long, what do you like and dislike about being on the road so much?
Constant movement is exhilarating for a while, and rapidly draining thereafter – I find it important to stop regularly, for weeks if not longer, to recharge and relax. Staying in touch with friends and family back ‘home’ is tough, as is saying goodbye whenever you leave somewhere, and inevitably you’ll lose some people from your life along the way. I miss being able to see my little nephew grow up, in particular. Having said all that, the upsides are amazing. I never have to be in a routine that I don’t want to be in, and I don’t know from one day to the next which direction life is going to take me. I see amazing things and meet incredible people as a matter of course, I love almost all of the work I do – and rapidly change things when I don’t – and overall, absolutely love this life.
How much does it cost to travel like you do?
As a general rule I budget an average of around $2000 per month, which includes a small buffer for unexpected costs. Note that this is averaged out over a long period of time, to cover the fact that I might spend six months in SE Asia where I’m not spending a thousand dollars each month, but then I’ll fly to Europe and spend a lot more there. I haven’t sat down and worked out my exact costs for the last year, but I’m pretty sure I’m within budget. It has helped that I am travelling with my girlfriend (who I met a few days after leaving Australia), so we can share certain costs, and also that we have been able to arrange a few sponsorships here and there to save money.
Have you had any major medical issues or other problems during your travels?
I’ve never had any major medical issues – just the odd infection or stomach problem that I could get anywhere. I try to keep interactions with police and border guards as infrequent and brief as possible, and have never got into real trouble during any of my dealings with them. Long may that last…
How do you earn an income?
I have my main travel blog, a travel technology site that I run with a business partner, and four other small, niche travel sites. I earn money with those through a combination of direct advertising (the bulk of the revenue), Adsense and affiliate sales. I will occasionally also do a bit of freelance writing or technical support, but that is not something I really seek out – it just lands in my lap now and then. I have a few ideas on how I am going to diversify the income sources in 2013, particularly on the travel tech site, but none of them are ‘live’ as yet. Basically, earning a living is always a hustle and takes up far too much time, and involves as many different income streams as I have time and ability to maintain. There is little certainty, but for now I’m fine with that.
What are your main websites?
What’s Dave Doing? – this is my primary travel blog, which is a mixture of narrative regarding my travel experiences over the last few years, and inspiration and information for those who are looking to hit the road themselves. Too Many Adapters– this is a site focused on travel technology – what to use, how to use it, news, opinions reviews and a bunch of other stuff. I run this in conjunction with a business partner, and after being live for close to a year, we’re happy with the success so far.
Do you get many sponsored trips, hotels or other promotional offers?
I’m offered sponsorships and promotional items reasonably often, from small things like books or business cards, through to train passes, hotel stays and longer-term arrangements with companies in the tourism industry. I am also offered various sorts of press trips, but turn most of them down – either because they don’t fit with the existing plans I have, or because they involve spending many hours a day for a week or two being shuttled around with a large group of other travel media folk, which is the antithesis of the way I like to experience a place. Instead I make my travel plans first, and then approach a few selected operators (or the tourism body) in that destination to see if they are interested in working together.
How can a new blogger find those promotional opportunities?
My recommendation is to focus on building both an audience and genuine industry relationships, while providing fantastic, unique content and value, for at least a year before getting too concerned about hitting up companies for promotional opportunities. Too many people seem to think that blogging (especially travel blogging) is a fast ticket to money and freebies, which it really isn’t. Once bloggers are approaching that 12 month mark, they should be in a position where they know – and are known by – some of the bigger players (companies, not just other bloggers) in their specific niche (and they do have a niche, right?). To start with, talk to them – gently and professionally – about opportunities. Good things will come, but they will take time.
Can you offer some advice on how aspiring travel bloggers can earn money online?
It’s a difficult question, because when I’m asked this question – and I’m asked it a lot – I usually suggest not travel blogging! Instead I recommend focussing on a skillset and experience that the person already has, and then finding a way to do that online from anywhere via (eg) freelancing websites or existing contacts, as a faster, less time-consuming and more lucrative way to fund their travels. That said, were I to start again, I would focus on a much more specific and monetisable niche than a general budget/backpacking blog. Everyone is doing that, and traffic, affiliate clicks and advertising revenue are all relatively small. It would be more resource-based than narrative-focused, with much more scope for high-value affiliate links and value-added services. Too Many Adapters takes a lot of the lessons that my business partner and I had learned over the previous two years and applies them in that way.
Please tell us about your One Girl Charity work?
For the last year or more I’ve been a part of the ‘Do it in a Dress‘ movement, an initiative from Australian-based, non-profit, One Girl to put girls in Sierra Leone through school. The idea is that people wear school dresses and raise money so that these young women in West Africa can wear school dresses too. In the past I’ve been to a bar, played basketball, run a half-marathon and jumped off a bridge (twice) in a school dress, so it was time to up the ante even further. As a result, I roped my friends who were on a sailing trip with me in September into wearing a dress as well, and we made sure to do as much to spread the word (and embarrass ourselves) as we could – sailing, mooring, lying in hammocks, even swimming in the ocean – all in school dresses. It was quite the experience, and I raised over $2,000. If any of your readers would like to help put a girl back in school, they can read more and donate here.
Do you have any plans on settling down in a single location?
No, not really – and certainly not permanently. While I can see myself spending longer in fewer places as time goes by, the open road will always call.