How would you like to be self-employed, while having the income and freedom to travel the world? Jason Batansky, has created exactly that lifestyle for himself and he is only 22 years old. He gives a fantastic account into his life with detailed information on exactly how earns his income in this interview.
Please tell us about your travels.
I started traveling independently around 4 ½ years ago in the summer of 2007 to South America. I expected to work four days per week at a non-profit organization in Ecuador in advertising and marketing to attract new members to the organization. I arranged this internship directly with the entity rather than going through a third party company so that I could have full control of my trip. I lived out of a hostel for months and traveled on the weekends. I eventually decided to quit the internship a month early. With my extra time, I took a trip to the Galapagos and skipped over the border to Colombia. That month was my first real taste of what I wanted to do full-time in the future.
Since then, I’ve visited and lived in countries in South America, Western and Eastern Europe, and Asia. A week ago I returned from three months of living in Colombia and in a few days I am traveling to Israel.
What has been your favorite country so far?
Colombia. I’m just back from living in Medellin. I’ve made five separate trips to Colombia since 2007. It’s a country full of the kinds of people who greet each other on the elevator. I think people are outgoing and thoroughly enjoy themselves. As a foreigner, it’s an even greater place because the typical Colombian wants you to feel comfortable and enjoy yourself. So many have gone out of their way to help me — whether approaching me to help with directions or taxi drivers inviting me over for dinner.
This past Christmas Eve, I celebrated with a family in Medellin for ten hours. The entire extended family drank, ate, and danced with neighbors stopping by all night. While I left exhausted at 5AM, they called me at 11AM to ask if I would return since they hadn’t stopped celebrating.
If it were not for this one place, the number count of countries I have visited would be far higher.
What has been the least expensive country you have visited?
If my goal were to live as a local, the countries with the least expensive cost of living would be Bolivia or Bangladesh where you can live decently on less than $10-$15 per day. Of course in the less expensive countries I tend to find myself spending much more than that. In Bolivia, I joined many tours to natural sites like salt flats, mines, and the jungle, which meant my expenses were much higher. In Bangladesh, I stayed with a friend but our tastes were expensive eating in the city’s nicest restaurants.
Did you have a lot of savings to begin with?
I never needed much savings to begin with. I’ve always worked while traveling. At the beginning, if my savings were lower than I liked, it didn’t worry me. I would earn more while traveling.
On my first trip at age 19, I left with about $6,000 or so in a checking account after airfare, travel insurance, and any other items needed to complete my packing list. Four months later I returned to the United States with more money than I came with. Looking back at my bookkeeping I returned to the United States with $8,000 in savings after four months, rather than the $6,000 I came with.
How do you earn an income now?
I have been self-employed since age 16. You can find all the details about it here. I never received any formal training, so a lot of what I have done is just educated research mixed with trial and error. Along the way, I honed my internet research skills and drastically improved my writing ability. These skills together are useful when it comes to advertising and marketing. They’re also skills that I take advantage of daily, since they directly relate to the services I run.
My primary business is a career services company that specializes in writing resumes, curriculum vitae, cover letters, and coaching clients on interviews. After four years, I received around 45-60 new clients per month and in total have created and revised well over 1,000 resumes and curriculum vitae since 2007. At this point, one sale can bring in between $100 -$190. I also receive a lot of repeat business from clients needing to add new information. This business has practically doubled in income during the last three years and now provides a solid, American middle class income well above what my peers make.
My second business, a personal travel blog, has only started earning recently from advertisers in the past two months. But in its first month as a business, it earned four figures profit and midway through the second month it looks like the income will double. I sell sponsored articles, text links, and banner advertisements on the blog. While my blog is not nearly as well visited as many others, I was able to use a simple method to attract advertisers. It’s mostly effortless and so effective because I am able to negotiate with advertisers with great timing as they are looking to spend some of their budget for a specific advertising campaign. Since I’d like to keep my travel blog as a hobby, I outsource the sponsored articles to an individual who recently graduated from NYU. In just a month of monetizing the blog it has overtaken another business of mine.
The third business, an online gift store, provides 15 categories of over 400 products including printed T-shirts, cologne, watches, sunglasses, tactical gear, lighters, and other categories. Since 2005, the store has completed more than 3,000 orders and counting. I am able to manage this business online because I have arranged for manufacturers and wholesale distributors to ship products directly to each of my customers only after I make a sale. For years, this was my primary business but having grown uninterested in improving it, it has suffered as a result.
These days, most of my sales come from a Google product search feed I upload occasionally. Although I had no idea at the time, this form of advertising helped me rank high for a particular cologne which I end up selling a few of every day. Otherwise, I also sell a bundle of screen-printed T-shirts each month. I originally found a few interesting Photoshop designs and contacted the designers offering them a commission in order for them to allow me to put the designs on a T-shirt. One design has sold really well over the years even attracting a few wholesalers who buy in bulk.
How do you get customers?
I started the career services business on a highly trafficked internet forum after purchasing the same service from another company. I wasn’t too impressed with the company that helped and so I figured if they could earn money this way, so could I. I posted an advertisement on the forum offering my service for very little money – just $20 at the time. The business only worked because after finishing with a client, he or she would leave feedback from their own username directly in the forum.
Other forum users would see the success from past clients and try it out themselves. After a little success, I turned it into a real company with a nice looking eCommerce website. The success of the business will always rely on positive feedback from the forum. But now, I also use paid advertising to enhance the effect of the forum. For example, I purchase banner advertisements linking to the forum thread. I also pay the website to keep my thread at the top of the forum. In addition to paid advertising, I also receive a good portion of referrals from satisfied clients who shared my service with coworkers, family, and friends. Lastly, a lot of my clients come back months or even years later to purchase a revision to their existing resume so I can add new information to the resume, or even extras such as a cover letter they may have not purchased the first time around. At present I spend around $300 a month on advertising.
I think the referral part of the business has had a lot of success because the email process encourages this. All of my contact with each client is very personal and at different stages, from the welcome email to final email, encourages people to share their feedback and refer new clients. For example, one customer referred his mother who later became a second customer. The mother then closed down her dental practice and as part of the layoff package purchased a resume for five of her employees.
The online retail store works much differently. It also started on an internet forum selling individual items and evolved into a retail site. Today most customers come from Google Product search. But in the past I have sent out product samples for a blog to review, which I had some great success doing. I also resorted to banner advertisements placed on a few select websites. The important thing was I negotiated directly with the websites avoiding third party advertising programs like Google Adsense. Then of course word of mouth played an important part. For example, I placed a shirt on eBay each week. One sale a week through eBay was pretty small but because of that consistent listing a few museums spotted the shirt and bought from me in bulk to resell. At present I spend $0 on advertising but in the past have spent as much as $150 a month, which is very little.
The way I find advertisers for my travel blog is going to be kept a secret for the time being. But my customers are typically internet marketing/PR firms representing companies, rather than the companies themselves. I don’t do any paid advertising for the blog and never have.
Are retail internet sites like that a good business?
eCommerce stores selling physical products are a great business for someone with the goal of eventually automating the business. Unlike a service which requires expertise of some sort, all of the processes for selling a product can be automated and outsourced eventually. This is ideal for many of you reading JetSetCitizen interested in travel, business, and minimal work. As it stands now, I spend less than 5 minutes a day running the entire retail store business. On the other hand, it earns very little in comparison to my other businesses.
Like any business it can also be very profitable. If I could do this all over again I would have chosen a more specific type of product to sell rather than a bunch of unrelated gift items I sell now. The problem now is that it’s too difficult to market my brand because there really isn’t one. It lacks any focus and has suffered because of that.
Usually the most difficult aspect of setting one up is finding legitimate wholesale products. Often times you will find fake drop-shipping programs that require you to pay money for access. The best advice I can give is to search for specific wholesale products. For example, try searching “dealer application” in quotations plus any product term (i.e. “Dealer Application” Shirts). This method will find legitimate companies offering their products at a real wholesale cost.
What is your travel budget for a year?
I spent US$21,707.46 in 2010, not including my taxes. I spent 10 months abroad and the other 2 months staying with family in the U.S. where my expenses were pretty minimal. But this number does include everything from airfare and health insurance to electronics and nightlife.
During 2010 I traveled in less expensive countries like Ecuador and Bangladesh, mid level countries like Germany, and expensive countries like Hong Kong and Japan. I have never created or stuck to any budget whether for travel or personal life. But for example living in Colombia over three months, I spent around US$80 per day.
Generally I stay in hostels ranging from $5-$35 a night. More often I find myself staying in hotels which go for around $40-$100 a night. I mostly use taxis unless a metro is available. If I’m going to a new city I tend to fly rather than take a bus.
Are you getting tired of traveling?
If you asked me four months ago, I would have said that I am tiring of traveling. That’s because I took a four month trip from Ukraine to Japan, spanning 9 other countries in between. At the time I had a few personal problems going on and felt lonely. But the four years previous to that were mostly excellent experiences, though all in Latin America. I didn’t know quite what to make of my new opinion on travel.
I think at that point, I came to the realization that non-stop travel for months is not for me. The novelty of meeting new people from different countries has worn off. I need longer relationships with people, even if only being able to spend time with a group of friends for a few months. A few days is just too little time. Not being able to speak with people every day because of a lack of foreign language skills also sucks. I remember sometimes during parts of my trip that if I had a five minute conversation with someone I would be satisfied socially for the day. It was that bad at times.
After a month at home reuniting with family, I moved to Colombia, a country that I have always enjoyed in the past.
That was the best decision I could have made at the time. I lived a very social and healthy lifestyle over there, completely opposite the previous four months. Three months later I am back in the U.S. for a week in between my next set of travels abroad, feeling better than I have in a long time. My three months in Medellin restored my excitement for travel. Unlike my last set of travels through Europe and Asia I only want to travel for around a month at most this time. At that point I’ll choose to temporarily live in some city in a foreign country, with short vacations in between. I’m thinking of Medellin again, or quite possibly London.
How do you deal with banking, bills and health care and other administrative things?
The administrative aspects of this lifestyle are simple. Nobody should ever have to stress about any of those things, because there are options for any person to handle them. I tend to rely on family often but paid services do exist to manage the administrative aspects.
In 2010 I purchased my own health insurance for a little under $2,000 for the year. The health insurance covered me anywhere in the world. In 2011 the new U.S. healthcare bill allows anyone under 26 to go on their parent’s health insurance, so I’ll save $2,000 because of that for the next four years.
My bills are mostly non-existent. I have never owned a house or car. For any small bills, I have my Dad send a check and then transfer funds directly into his bank account. I’d guess this only needs to be done three to five times a year.
As for banking, I have accounts with PNC and ING. ING serves as my savings account. At PNC I set up five different checking accounts in case a card is stolen or lost. With a minimum balance of around $2,500 in a checking account, the bank waives any overseas withdrawal fees. Surprisingly enough I have never actually used the credit card I have with PNC. I think I’ll need to change that in 2011.
Taxes are also done pretty easily. I record a few thousand transactions in my QuickBooks accounting software each year and then pass them onto my accountant by email when the year is over. I pay taxes quarterly each year. I prepare checks in prepaid and addressed envelopes to send to the federal and state government in advance. It’s as simple as telling my Dad to put an envelope in the mailbox when the time comes.
Do you have any advice for people considering long-term traveling?
The first thing you should know is that long-term travel is definitely worth doing. But it is not a way of life for the long-term. Go for it, but when it starts becoming too tiresome, which it will, stop. At that point, you don’t need to return home to your old way of living but maybe compromise and try living abroad long-term. A lifestyle that doesn’t allow you to spend much time with family, start a family, or even maintain your friendships in person is not a kind of life to aspire to in the long-term.
Personally, I haven’t quite given up on long-term travel since I still have that travel bug, and seriously enjoy it at times. It’s been my passion to travel indefinitely for years now. I had to try it for myself or I could never be completely content living any other way. Now that I have experienced the positives and negatives I will feel more at ease eventually living another way. I don’t expect you to believe me that it’s really not cracked up to be all that it is. So my advice is to try long-term travel so that you can experience this way of living for yourself.