(Just so you know, there may be some affiliate links in this post, but we only recommend items that we believe in and think will benefit you on your travels.)
1. Tell us about yourself and sum up your travels for us.
Hi I’m TJ! I’m 25, Taiwanese American, and I eat a lot. I’m a digital nomad (although an immigration officer at the UK border called me a drifter so that’s cool too). I have a travel and food Youtube channel!
In 2016 I quit my tech marketing job and have been nomadic ever since! 20+ countries and a good-looking belly later, I’m now a vlogger and remote social media manager.
2. How have you funded your travels?
Before I left I saved up around $14,000. My savings started in college. I was a full-time student working two jobs with three internships and extracurriculars. I spent most of my youth without my parents so I was always big on being independent and hustling through everything.
When I graduated I got a managerial job at a tech company in San Francisco. I became obsessed with automating my finances and saved 30% of my paycheck every two weeks. Automating your finances is basically the idea that when money is deposited into your bank account, small percentages are automatically pulled out. For example, 30% toward bills, 5% into retirement, 20% for guilt free spending, etc. You can do this by setting up your credit cards, retirement fund, etc. to automatically withdraw from your checking account each month. I wrote more about it all and how much to travel the world for a year in this blogpost.
When I quit in 2016 I decided I needed a way to make money. Around then I was also getting started in photography so I began taking professional portraits. I got better and better and my clientele built. While this was happening, I started making Youtube videos. I then expanded my services to video projects. Photography & video projects ranged from $70 - $3000.
But I want to be honest and say it took me a while to even start getting good projects with good pay. For the majority of 2016 I was a struggling digital nomad just grabbing whatever gigs came my way. I dealt with this mental battle of going back to my stable corporate job or sticking with this rocky creative life. While it’s incredible and legendary to hear people make $10K/month, it really takes time and journey can be SO frustrating. If you’re just starting or you’re somewhere in the middle and you’re struggling - just remember the struggle is good. That means you’re constantly looking for innovative ways to earn money and sustain your travels.
The end of 2016 was when I was making somewhat of a sustainable income as a freelance creative. I was jam packed, even went to film a retreat on an island in Thailand! But the editing workload from freelance projects was keeping me from focusing on Youtube. This is called creative burnout - when the work you get paid for takes up all your creative energy from doing work you love. Eventually I had to transition and figure out another source of income. The start of 2017 I became a social media manager for a remote creative agency in the states. This freed up an ample amount of time for me to work on my creative pursuits.
While I’m now slowly transitioning into Youtube full-time, it doesn’t exactly pay the bills. If you read Kara and Nate’s income report, you know Youtube ads aren’t much. It’s about 1,000 views for $1. So if you spend three days to make one video, and get only 5,000 views - how much did you make? A cup of coffee’s worth.
I have affiliate streams, a Patreon page, and brand sponsorships. These, along with my freelance work, add up to $1,000-$4,000/month. It’s such a huge range because some months I get more or less projects. Because of the recent Youtube demonetization frenzy, my earnings have been cut in half. It’s still and always will be a work in progress but I’m much better off now than a year ago. Honestly I’m making nowhere close to the same amount I made at my corporate job but you know that saying about rich in experiences? I’m definitely feeling that.
I’m now working on other income streams so stay tuned!
3. Tell us about your budget.
When I was traveling constantly, it was SO difficult to budget. A lot of advice columns say you have to track your budget, and while I agree - it just never worked for me. I guess my budgeting would be dependent of the country. The way I travelled was drop into a country for 1-2 months. I’d get a cheap place for the month and work, play, relax, work some more. Some countries cost way, WAY more. Those months I’d budget $2,000. Other countries just $1,000 a month. Luckily majority of my travels were in Asia.
If I do go over, I’ll pause the traveling and work more hours to cover the excess. You can tell by the pauses I have between video uploads. Those days I’m probably locked up in some cafe.
4. What have you learned about money since hitting the road?
Traveling has been expensive in some countries (London, Ireland, Norway) and affordable in others (Southeast Asia, India) so travel expenses really varies. What I found to be REAL expensive is this thing called travel vlogging! Hahah.
But real talk. I think when you’re traveling, it’s important to give yourself time to rest. Remember to cash out for some luxury experiences! Stick to your budget but give yourself room to play. It’s no fun to stay in hostels every single day and to keep munching on 7-eleven sandwiches (as good as they are...sigh now I’m craving).
5. What's your top tip for someone trying to figure out how to make long-term travel financially possible?
Develop passive income streams. Passive income is basically cash flow received on regular basis that requires little to no effort to maintain. They may take a bit to set up, but once they’re ready - the money comes in without you having to monitor it all the time. The book “The 4 Hour Workweek” by Tim Ferris outlines this idea pretty well.
Investments, online courses or products (ebooks, audio guides, video guides, templates), drop shipping, and affiliate marketing are all good ways to make passive income. The ultimate goal is to not not work at all but to work less, and having passive income is one of the best ways to achieve that.
If you’re first starting out and figuring out your income source, just remember any of your skills used at your previous job are transferrable. If you’re in the nontechnical field, you can become a freelance copywriter, virtual assistant, project manager, online business coach, etc. If you have just 3 clients each paying you $1000 a month for X deliverables - you’re making $3,000 each month. My advice for those starting out is to always, always use your network. While many had success using Upwork, the people who will pay you more are the ones connected through referrals. Immediately send an e-mail to your friends and family letting them what you do and that you’re looking for new clients. Kindly ask them to send you anyone that may need your service.
6. If someone wanted to follow in your footsteps, are there any online resources you’d recommend?
Must read books include I Will Teach You to Be Rich by Ramit Sethi for personal finance and Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon for creative inspiration. If you’re starting a Youtube channel, binge all of Video Creators videos or you know, most of them. Jodi from LegalNomads was a big inspiration for me when I first started my digital nomad journey.
7. What's some of your favorite travel gear that enables you to do what you do?
Sony RX V - I use this camera to vlog everything!
Gorilla Pod - the go-to tripod for vloggers.
iPhone phone holders - these weird little things have made using my phone so much more convenient. TRUST me, it’s a must.
You can see my full compact travel vlogging setup here!