It might sound unbelievable but I’ve actually traveled the world for 18 years without doing anything special.
When I started my travels in 1999, I was about as much of an ultra-budget backpacker as one could possibly be. All of my simple belongings easily fit into my original 44 liter durable Kelty Redwing backpack, to begin with. Combine that with a travel style that involved nothing more than constant on the go planning, hostel dorm rooms and trying to do everything without spending any money at all, and that pretty much sums up my first couple of years on the road.
It was a glorious period of my travels.
With nothing to worry about and nothing to look up online before I moved on to the next destination, I was free to simply be present every minute of every day, wherever I happened to find myself and without being locked in to anything.
All I did during those initial years of travel was rely on conversations with other travelers and with locals. That was all it took to find accommodation, places to eat, the local bus station, things to do and so on. I also had very few, if any, responsibilities. So I was happily able to accept whatever happened to me each day and wherever I ended up without any worries at all.
Of course, I had very little money to spend too as I was earning almost nothing most of the time.
But that was a time before the internet boom, a time when we weren’t constantly bombarded with “Top 10 Things to Do in Guatemala” or “Where You MUST Travel Next” posts popping up everywhere. There were no checklists or bucket lists. It didn’t matter what you saw or what you ate as you traveled the world. Just ‘being’ there was enough. The rewards came on their own.
SUMMARY 1999 – 2002
Travel Style: Ultra-budget backpacker
Income: Teaching English, volunteering (no income but no expenses), short stint in the US as a substitute teacher
The Cruise Ship Years
About 2 years into my travels, life took an unexpected path.
I ended up working on board cruise ships as a Tour Manager. It all happened out of nowhere after a friend recommended I work on ships and I was put in touch with a contact at the head office of Carnival Cruise Lines.
Suddenly, I was earning and saving good money while working 4-6 month contracts, seeing dozens of new places, gaining some excellent managerial work experience, meeting tons of new people and then enjoying long vacations in between contracts where I was able to travel to lands far and wide. It seemed too good to be true – saving money while catching a glimpse of Caribbean islands, Hawaii, Norwegian fjords and Iceland, Italy, Spain and Greece, Central America, Canada and ports as far off as Auckland, New Zealand, American Samoa and Cochin, India.
It was an ideal set up. In fact, I ended up working on ships for about 4.5 years over an 8 year period. Eventually, I resigned from ‘ship life’ in 2008 simply because the set up was too good. If I didn’t get out then, I was going to be stuck on ships forever. And while I loved the lifestyle and the benefits, I also had other things I wanted to achieve in life that required me to be on land.
SUMMARY 2002 – 2008
Travel Style: Cruise ship crew member / budget backpacker during vacations
Income: Monthly salary during my contracts / able to save 90% of what I earned
The Online Years
After I finally decided to end my cruise ship career in 2008, it was right around the time when the initial whispers about ‘working online’ began to surface. So, I finished my last ship contract and took off for a 6-month visit to Melbourne, Australia, where I decided to rent a room in a shared house and give this working online thing a try.
I hunkered down and spent several months writing an eBook designed to help cruise ship passengers enhance their cruise vacations, using all of the knowledge I gained working in the industry.
A couple of hours after publishing the finished product online, I sold my first copy. I couldn’t believe it.
So, I sat down to write a second eBook with a friend. We completed it in two months but this one didn’t work. It never sold.
I then chose to experiment with the world of affiliate marketing after coming across Affilorama’s detailed course, and I soon found some success. There certainly wasn’t much competition back then so it was easier to make progress more quickly with this kind of work.
With these two (small) successes under my belt, I decided to travel around Thailand, India and Central America for a few months and then spend eight weeks living in Sayulita, Mexico to figure out the next step. This was in 2010.
And while in this small, quiet Mexican town, right in between surfing sessions that involved 94% painful crashes and 6% actual wave riding, that’s when I started WanderingEarl.com.
Over the next 1.5 years, I would then work nonstop on the blog, unsure of where it would lead but truly enjoying every minute I spent on the site and associated social media. My motivation grew to the point where, after receiving so many questions from readers of the blog interested in working on cruise ships as well, I sat down and wrote another eBook, naturally called, How to Work on Cruise Ships.
At the beginning of 2012, I completed my third eBook, How to Live a Life of Travel, which I released on the blog soon after.
And so my online work began to grow.
SUMMARY 2008 – 2012
Travel Style: Medium-budget backpacker
Income: Sales of three eBooks, affiliate marketing, blogging
The Recent Years
At the end of 2012, I offered my first Wandering Earl Tour. This tour to India sold out in less than 2 days. Then in 2013, I offered 3 trips, one to Mexico and two to India.
After seeing the interest in and success of these first few tours, I decided to put more energy into this aspect of my work. And now over the past couple of years I’ve been offering anywhere from 6-10 trips per year, to over a dozen destinations. I’ve also organized many private tours to various countries for families and groups of friends.
Given the continued positive feedback of all these trips, as well as the number of repeat customers I’ve had, I’ve decided to offer 15 small group trips in total for 2018. (More about these trips in a post next week!)
In addition to the tours, I still have some affiliate links on my blog as a way to earn some extra income. An example of this is my Travel Gear page. On occasion, I also work with various travel-related companies in a partnership format where I earn a certain amount of money in exchange for promoting their product or service. I don’t do this often though as I’m quite picky about what I promote. My goal is to promote something that is truly valuable and useful for those who follow the blog and social media, not to simply earn as much money as I can by promoting anything that comes my way. I actually turn down 95% of the offers that appear in my inbox.
The last way I earn some money right now is through consulting.
I’ve worked with over a dozen travel bloggers as well as a few dozen tourism-related businesses and organizations (guesthouses, tour operators, tourism boards, etc.) by providing them with a detailed strategy to help them achieve their goals based on my extensive knowledge of the industry. It’s a fun side gig as I really enjoy working with such diverse people and constantly learning what’s happening all over the world in terms of travel trends, blog ideas, business ideas and tourism campaigns.
SUMMARY 2012 – 2017
Travel Style: Medium-budget local travel / Mix of semi-organized travels, spontaneous trips and the tours I lead
Income: eBook sales, affiliate marketing, partnerships, Wandering Earl Tours, consulting
My Travels Today
These days, I no longer backpack around in the same way I used to when I first traveled the world 18 years ago. I could blame it on all the information online that makes me feel as if I need to be more informed or makes me feel that I need to book everything in advance and so on, but that would be silly since I play a role in that myself. Things just change, and I’m totally cool with that. I don’t mind doing some research now, looking for the best deals and booking various aspects of my travels ahead of time.
Actually, I think the change has more to do with the responsibilities I have at this point in life – work, bills, a wonderful relationship, etc. I need to be a little more organized and I need to make sure I am able to stay as focused as possible with my current life situation and work. So if I can have some things in order before I arrive somewhere, it certainly helps me adjust more quickly and to maintain the balance I need.
Don’t get me wrong. My girlfriend and I still do show up in certain destinations without much of a plan at all, such as with our recent visits to Albania, Montenegro, Croatia and Hungary. That won’t ever change as we do love that style of travel!
But overall, we do tend to have more of a plan, or at least some bookings made. We’re still medium-budget travelers, just in a different way.
Everything evolves, including one’s needs and goals and one’s travel style. If you stay true to yourself though, there’s no reason why this should be a negative thing.
And finally, here’s the real beauty of all the above…
Not a day goes by where I don’t feel fortunate to have somehow ended up in this crazy lifestyle that involves more travel than I know what to do with. At the same time, not a day goes by where I don’t realize that my story, such as the summary above, is nothing special at all. It’s a story that anyone could live.
Determination, a willingness to constantly learn and an inability to accept anything less than the achievement of my goals is really all that was required.
Are those not things that we can all summon from within? I hear more examples of it every single day so I know it’s fully possible!
How have you made travel possible? For those starting out, any questions or ideas to share?