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1. Tell us about yourself and sum up your travels for us.
Hi, we are Ethan and Karis, husband and wife who are wedding photographers from Washington DC. Ethan was a local wedding photographer primarily in DC/MD/VA area and Karis was a government worker in DC. A few years after we started doing wedding photography, we started getting inquiries for destination weddings. Ethan started to travel a lot and that’s when Karis joined the photography business. We’ve been doing wedding photography for over 10 years now and we travel a lot for weddings!
In 2015 alone, we were only home about 6 months out of the year. So, in 2016 we decided to ditch our permanent home and live from Airbnbs and hotels. We’ve been on the road for over 14 months now, living out of suitcases. We are currently in Hawaii for a few days and will stay in Asia for a few months before heading back to the States. Together, we have been to over 35 countries.
2. How have you funded your travels?
We are wedding photographers and we do at least 30 weddings per year. This is the minimum number of weddings we have to do for us to make living and also travel. We also do quite a few destination weddings per year and for these destination weddings, clients pay for airfare and lodging during the time we work.
For example, when we had a wedding in Paris, the client paid for the roundtrip ticket and 3 nights of lodging. We would then purposely make our trip in Europe longer so we could travel after completing the 3 days of work. This way, the airfare and minimum 2-3 nights would be covered.
We also let our other clients know we are going to be in Europe and some people sign up a photo session with us while we are on the road. Another way for us to make money while we travel!
Also, Ethan recently completed his first photo exhibit where he sold his fine art photography. We are thinking of doing this a few times a year now so we can make money when we are not doing weddings.
3. Tell us about your budget.
Going back to speaking about a permanent home, we realized the biggest thing hindering us from traveling more was the mortgage we had to pay. When you are traveling, you still have to pay mortgage. This was quite burdensome when we wanted to travel as much as we did. This was the biggest reason we decided to rent out our house and live out of the suitcases.
You will have your normal spending (grocery, eating out, shopping, entertainment) whether you live at your house or when you travel. So, for us it’s important to find a hotel/Airbnb that fits our regular budget with our monthly mortgage payment. I also keep an Excel spreadsheet to see how much money we are spending on lodging as we travel around . This past October, for example, we changed hotels/Airbnbs 13 times, but we still managed to stay under the budget of our monthly mortgage payment, and I keep this very strict. If we splurged on a hotel, then we would find something cheap to make up for it.
Oh another thing! We no longer have to pay for gas/electricity, cable/Internet service, security service etc. that comes along with owning a house. This allowed us to save more money and travel more!
4. What have you learned about money since hitting the road?
I know being a minimalist is a thing these days, but because we don’t have a permanent home, we have to force ourselves to live minimally. When we want to purchase anything, we question each other if we really need it. Most of the time, we end up not buying it. These were things we used to easily buy but even a pair of socks takes up a space now.
Another thing we keep in mind is the food. You tend to splurge on food when traveling, going to restaurants and trying local food. But since we travel a lot we have to be mindful of when we eat out. Of course, we pick one or two foods we have to try in that city/country, but other than that we usually buy groceries at local markets and cook. The most memorial food we had was the pasta in Lake Como, Italy in our Airbnb patio looking over the lake and the fruit and bread we bought at the famous Aix-En-Provence’s farmer’s market in France. This is where we saved most of our money.
5. What’s your top tip for someone trying to figure out how to make long-term travel financially possible?
For us, our work allows us to travel which makes long-term travel a little easier. Again, when we have destination weddings, our clients are responsible for our trip, but they pay for the work we do as well. Wedding photography is a high paying job so if you budget yourself well, you can travel well throughout the year.
The wedding business is also seasonal. We are usually super busy from March to early December. We do most of our work during these months and travel more often during the off season. In the beginning of our career as wedding photographers, we only did local weddings. But we purposely posted more photos of destination weddings on Instagram and Facebook to allow potential clients to know we are traveling. This led to booking more destination weddings which then allowed us to travel more often.
But we can’t just travel during the off season. During the off season when we travel, we also continue to look for other opportunities to make earning. We will be in Asia for about 3 months during this winter. Ethan is going to prepare for another fine art exhibit where he can sell his fine art prints and Karis is going to be teaching English.
6. If someone wanted to follow in your footsteps, are there any online resources you’d recommend?
If you really want to travel and if you strongly desire it, you can make it happen. For us, we did what worked for us. We worked really hard as wedding photographers for the past 10 years. In the beginning of our career, we worked between 80-100 hours a week. We attended a lot of workshops to become better photographers and worked hard to brand our business too. And because we really wanted to travel, we decided to ditch a permanent home and live out of the suitcase. This wasn’t an easy process but it was all worth it for us. We realized we couldn’t have it all and decided what’s most valuable to us.
7. What’s some of your favorite travel gear that enables you to do what you do?
Since we are professional photographers, we carry lots of professional camera gear. We have a Canon 5D Mark III camera with a macro lens, 35mm, 50mm, 85mm, 135mm prime lenses and 200mm zoom lens. But our favorite lightweight camera that we love to carry is the Fuji XT1 with 35mm, 50mm, 85mm lenses.
North Face Wheeled Luggage – Since we travel a lot, these sturdy bags get broken but with the lifetime warranty from North Face, you don’t have to worry about it. We’ve already exchanged our old, broken one for a brand new one without any cost. It’s also pretty light, and you can pack a lot!
Noise Canceling Headphones from Bose – We love these while we are on the plane.
iPad Pro – We watch movies when we are on the road, which makes our trips much more enjoyable.
Travel exercise rubber band – We love to work out when we are traveling. When staying at a hotel, sometimes you can find a fitness center, but when traveling though Airbnbs, these exercise bands come in handy.
Black clothes – Because we love to travel light and we figured out the best way to do this is wearing lots of black. But it is Ethan who does this often so Karis can carry more colorful clothes LOL
8. Where can people follow your travels?
Here is our wedding photography website: http://www.ethanyangphotography.com
Ethan’s fine art photography website: https://www.it-s-ok.com
Wedding photography Instagram: @ethanyangphotography
Personal Instagram: @ethanandkaris