Interview with the Professional Hobo

Nora Dunn talks about traveling the world, giving up six figures in exchange for happiness, and provides a little insight on how you can do it as well.

sepia toned photo of nora dunn, the professional hobo

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The following is our interview with Nora Dunn, the Professional Hobo. Read more about her in How to Make a Living on the Road article.

Wand’rly:
First, can you give us the basics – your name and age?
Nora:
Nora Dunn – aka The Professional Hobo – age 35
W:
Do you travel full or part time?
Nora:
I’ve been traveling full time since 2007.
W:
How do you make a living while traveling?
Nora:
I make a living as a travel blogger and freelance writer on the topics of travel, personal finance, and lifestyle design.
W:
Is that what you did before you began traveling, or did your career change when you began?
Nora:
Nope! Well, mostly not. Before I started traveling, I ran a financial planning practice in Canada. When I decided to sell everything to travel the world, I ended up parlaying my financial expertise into the travel realm, and my lifelong knack and passion for writing was a great medium for it all.
W:
Before you began traveling, what kind of preplanning did you do to get ready to make income on the road?
Nora:
Despite “planning” being an integral part of my personality, when I sold everything to travel I had no idea where I would go, what I would do, or how I would make money on the road. All I knew was that I had to travel (it was quite a leap of faith for me). It wasn’t until I was poking around the internet that it dawned on me that I could make a living as a writer with little more than a laptop and an internet connection from anywhere in the world.

This was back in 2006, when location independent careers weren’t the norm, and blogging wasn’t a recognized industry. I think it’s still very much evolving and developing, and it has been exciting to be on the leading edge of it all.

W:
With regards to your work, what can you tell us about the transition period, the first few months after you hit the road?
Nora:
It was in the first few months of hitting the road that I had the above epiphany(!), and it took (almost) two years of (almost) full-time work and (almost) no income to build a proper portfolio and a following for my website and generate enough income to truly financially sustain my travels. Luckily I had an income from the sale of my business in Canada that acted as a buffer during this time.
W:
Did you hit the road with a nest egg or a safety net of some type, or did you just trust you’d figure it out as you went?
Nora:
I had a nest egg from my previous years of saving while running my business, along with some retirement savings socked away for a day when I won’t be able or willing to work. But I haven’t had to dip into either. Here’s a post that explains all the logistics of how I became The Professional Hobo.
W:
How do your expenses while on the road compare to when you had a fixed address?
Nora:
I’ve maintained for a while now that full-time travel can easily be cheaper than living at a fixed address. And as you can see with my detailed posts of my cost of full-time travel in 2010 and in 2011, I even spend less than I earn! I wrote a huge article for Wise Bread about how to travel full-time for 17,000 or less, which shares my secrets to keeping full-time travel inexpensive.
W:
Has your career changed over the years you’ve been on the road? If so, what was behind those changes?
Nora:
My career has evolved over the years, as has my travel style, writing style, and frankly – my interests too. There wasn’t anything in particular instigating the changes; I believe it has simply been an evolution reflecting the personal growth and lessons I’ve learned along the way. This is a process that never stops, regardless of lifestyle choices I think.
W:
I know that the traveling lifestyle can mean there is no “typical” work week, but could you give us an estimate of about how many hours you work per week?
Nora:
I tend to work an average of 20-30 hours per week. Some days I don’t work at all (which usually means I still nab an hour at the computer if I can find an internet connection), and some days I’m at it for 10 hours. It varies dramatically depending on where I am and what I’m doing. Juggling travel, work-life balance, and time management is a constant struggle.
W:
Do you ever have difficulty staying focused on work when there’s always something new and exciting out your window?
Nora:
Yes and no. My biggest challenge that I constantly face is the feeling of guilt that I harbour for working (which usually means sequestering myself in a room somewhere) and not getting out there and discovering all those exciting things outside my window. But then again work is work regardless of where I am in the world. When work is done for the day I close my laptop, look up, and realize I’m in a completely different place in the world. That’s when the fun begins.

This is also why I’m a proponent of slow travel; it gives me a chance to discover a destination slowly and organically (while also staying on top of work), instead of tearing through as a tourist then collapsing somewhere from exhaustion and needing time to recover and catch up. I think it’s all about balance.

W:
How do you find new work?
Nora:
After a few years of blood, sweat, and tears in building up my writing portfolio, I’m pleased to say I don’t pound the pavement for new work any more; in fact new work tends to find me! The last few columns I landed came out of the blue (through referrals or simply reputation).