Financially sustainable, continuous travel is the ideal lifestyle design for so many of us, yet we “know” it must be just a fantasy. Kirsty Henderson, also known as the NerdyNomad is proof that perpetual travel is a viable life choice. Kirsty has been traveling or living abroad since 2001 and is now funding her adventures through earnings from several travel websites. In this interview, Kirsty shares some great lessons on how to travel long term and earn the money to pay for it.
Where do you currently live?
I’m not really living anywhere permanently at the moment, but I’m writing this from New York City where I’ve been for a couple of weeks now working on a website and visiting some friends. I will head home to Canada in a few days to hang out with my family for a month or two, attempt to do a lot of work on my web business and visit a few friends who live in the area. I don’t know what is next, but I can’t handle Canadian winters anymore, so I will be looking for somewhere warm to be after October.
What are some of your favorite countries so far?
I really loved China. I loved hardly ever knowing what the hell was going on but always being able to find someone to help me out at the perfect moment. It’s amazing how far miming and arm flailing can get you. The people I met in China were great, the food was sometimes excellent, sometimes frightening (I am a bit of a food coward) which keeps things interesting, and the Olympics were an amazing experience and the best party I have ever been to.
I also really loved the Philippines and I can’t understand why it’s not flooded with tourists the way Thailand is (although I’m not complaining). People in The Philippines were super friendly as well. The nicest people I’ve met so far during my travels have to be in Myanmar and they really made my short time there very memorable.
How long do you typically stay in one country?
I tend to travel pretty slowly although I don’t really have a set time I like to stay in a place. During this trip which has been going for about 20 months I have spent four months each in Nicaragua, Haiti and China, nearly two in Bangladesh and about six weeks in The Philippines. I’ve done a few working holiday type trips in the past that have seen me spend long periods of time in Australia, Ireland and New Zealand. I also lived in London for almost five years, sort of by accident.
I don’t really like how it makes me feel when I breeze through an entire country in a week or two, although I have done it on many occasions. So these days I try to find things to do that will keep me in one place and keep me busy like volunteering, working, studying something or even just working on my own web-related projects.
What have your volunteer experiences been like?
Amazing. My time spent volunteering in Haiti and Bangladesh have been two of my greatest travel experiences ever. In both cases I was doing disaster relief work with an organization called Hands On Disaster Response. In Haiti this involved shoveling mud from people’s homes and in Bangladesh it involved building houses and schools. Both experiences were great for many reasons. I loved getting to stay in communities that I would never have visited as a tourist, working with and getting to know some amazing people (locals and other international volunteers), learning new skills, really getting a feel for local cultures and customs and getting to help the community out in the process, even if just a little bit.
What does it cost to travel like you do?
I have written several posts on my blog about what it’s like in each of the countries I’ve been on this trip, including a few comments on cost. I think I have fully made the transition from backpacker to flashpacker so, while I travel cheaply, things could be done a lot cheaper still.
For example, while in Thailand I could have found places to stay for $3 per night but opted on several occasions to pay a bit more for some air conditioning and wireless Internet, which is something that is pretty essential for me. The cheapest place I have been so far is Myanmar where it is possible to slum it for $10 per day.
On this trip, I have also been pretty impulsive which has meant spur of the moment decisions to either fly to the other side of the world (Thailand to Haiti and then Haiti to Australia and back), give up deposits on courses or lose non-refundable plane tickets because I’ve chosen to change my plans at the last minute.
How do you earn an income?
I started my very first website, Travoholic.com back in 2001 as a hobby, added a bit of content, updated it from time to time, but mostly neglected it for years. In 2005 I discovered Google Adsense and put some ads on my site. I remember my first $1 day which motivated me to build more sites based on my interests. Since then, the ways to make money through my websites have grown to include affiliate sales (selling products) and direct advertising (among other things) and those, along with Adsense, are how I make money today.
Your website says you make about $1000 per month, Is that a comfortable amount to travel?
Yep, $1000 is plenty but of course it depends where you are and what sorts of things you like to get up to. You can live in Thailand easily on this amount but if you want to live in NYC or London, it’s obviously not going to happen. A grand a month unfortunately doesn’t fund my spur of the moment decisions to change plans and fly to the other side of the world, so I have had to dip into my savings for those sorts of things. I try to keep my savings at a set level and when I go below that amount I usually stay put somewhere cheap and live well below my means to bump my savings back up to a more healthy place.
Do you see your income sources becoming more passive and requiring less work over time?
My sources of income are passive right now but, because I haven’t put any serious work in over the past year and a half, I haven’t seen an increase in my earnings in that time. If I want to kick my earnings up to the next level I will need to put in several months or more of hard work building new sites and updating and optimizing the sites I currently have. I always have lots of ideas but sitting down and working on them is something that I won’t do unless I’m motivated. But I’m pretty motivated at the moment and plan to put in a lot of hard work in the coming months.
How many hours a month do you think you spend working on your websites?
I can go months without doing any work on my sites but when I decide it’s time to work, I can easily find myself putting in 12 to 16 hour days. Fortunately, I really love the work I do so spending ridiculous amounts of time working on my sites is something I enjoy.
What do you like and don’t like about your life now?
I’m generally pretty happy with my lot in life, even when I was working the 9-5 and more so now that I’ve got my own gig going pretty well. I love the freedom I have to spend my time however I want. I love being able to do work that is creative and I feel like I learn something new every day too which is pretty cool. It’s hard to find things to complain about, especially after having met people all over the world who are in pretty desperate situations.
What advice would you offer for others thinking of extensive travel and supporting themselves online?
For me working on the road has been a lot harder than I thought it would be for many reasons from bad Internet connections to too many distractions to outright laziness. The more you do before you go the better. I would also recommend people read up on Internet marketing as much as possible as there are lots of different ways of squeezing a buck out of the net. Find the best way for you, choose a niche you are passionate about, develop a portfolio of several sites, and above all, stick with it because it could be awhile before you earn your first dollar.
Do you have any plans to settle down and have a more traditional life?
I don’t even have any plans beyond the next two months! I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m just going with the flow, enjoying the moment and all that stuff. I like the idea of having a base to call home for a few months a year but I think travel will always be a huge part of my life. Whatever happens in the future, I doubt it will have been planned too far in advance.