How do travel bloggers support themselves when they are old and gray?

money bagI came upon an interesting post today – one that made me think.

Okay, I get how full-time travellers support themselves. They get sponsorships, volunteer in exchange for accommodation, they teach English, work odd jobs, travel slowly, they sell photography and ebooks, make a bit of money freelancing or from their blog… but for those that have been doing it for years – I’m talking about at least 2 or 3 years, I’m wondering… how are they saving for the future?

And that is a good question. There is a part of me saying, “What difference does it make?” Or “Why should I bother telling you?” I mean – you wouldn’t ask your hair dresser or bank teller or the woman who issues your drivers license that question, right? So why travel bloggers?

And yet, on the other hand, I do get that it’s a question a lot of people have. The financial aspect of long-term travel is the one that leaves many potential travelers scratching their head. Even if they could figure out a way to meet their day-to-day expenses, what about later? What about when they are old and gray and sitting in their rocker? Will they even have a rocker?

There are many different angles that people take toward saving for “retirement” – both in travel blogging and in other professions as well. Some people choose not to think about it and figure they’ll cross that bridge when they get there. Others save diligently, oftentimes at the expense of enjoying today.

The important thing to remember here is that travel blogging is no different from running any other small business. The accountant running his own practice can choose to put part of his income aside or he can spend it all now. That woman running the boutique clothing shop down the road? She won’t have a pension to rely on, and makes the same choice. Each and every small business owner in America (and presumably elsewhere) is in the same boat.

So you’re wondering how we approach our retirement? Here’s what we do.

money treeBoth my husband and I were schoolteachers. I taught 21 years; he taught 20 years. Although we didn’t get paid the big bucks many people do, we lived beneath our means and squirreled away whatever we could. After many years of teaching, it added up. We started blogging in our late 40′s/early 50′s.

Now, our efforts are going to establish a passive income – money that comes in without us doing much at all. Most of our income is in the form of rental income – we invested the money we saved from teaching in real estate and now rent those houses. We hire a property manager to take care of the houses, so we don’t have to do anything.

We’ve also written some books. (I’ve got a new one coming out next month! Click here for a preview.) With any luck, those books will continue to sell for years to come – and bring in an income.

The key to passive income is that it’s an ENORMOUS amount of work up front. Writing a book is no small feat. Saving enough money to buy our rentals wasn’t easy. Whatever your passive income will be, plan on putting in many hours before you make even one single penny.

But really – isn’t that how any small business operates? Your local hairdresser bought all her equipment, stayed open long hours cutting hair, worked tirelessly on PR so people knew about her shop, and barely eked by.

She did all that with the hope that, when it came time for her to retire, she would either a) have enough money saved up to live on or b) be able to sell the shop for enough money to live on.

That’s exactly how travel bloggers do it. Travel bloggers, however, have the added knowledge that we don’t have to live in the USA, UK, or Australia. If our passive income isn’t enough to maintain a comfortable life in those expensive countries, we can move to Thailand or Argentina or Mexico. It’s great to have options.

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Here are some posts I’ve written about our specific finances while traveling full time:

Debt: The #1 Dream Killer

How to finance long term travel (with advice from many bloggers)

How we afford long term family travel

A traveling lifestyle: The result of wise choices or luck?

How Do We Pay for our Extended Family Trip?

Details on how much our extended family trip cost

 

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

About Nancy Sathre-Vogel

After 21 years as a classroom teacher, Nancy Sathre-Vogel finally woke up and realized that life was too short to spend it all with other people's kids. She and her husband quit their jobs and, together with their twin sons, climbed aboard bicycles to see the world. They enjoyed four years cycling as a family - three of them riding from Alaska to Argentina and one exploring the USA and Mexico. Now they are back in Idaho, putting down roots, enjoying life at home, and living a different type of adventure. It's a fairly sure bet that you'll find her either writing on her computer or creating fantastical pieces with the beads she's collected all over the world.

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22 Responses to How do travel bloggers support themselves when they are old and gray?

  1. Alyson February 26, 2013 at 1:49 am #

    That’s kind of where we are, too, Nancy, my husband is only 35 but I’m 46, so I worked for 20 years and paid into a pension for those years. Plus we bought, renovated and sold 2 flats in London, that gave us a tidy lump sum to invest in the property that we are about to rent out. It was A LOT of work, but we did it because we had this vision of kids and travel and a less ordinary life. Fingers crossed it will all work out, I never thought I’d be dipping my toe in the waters of blogging, that’s all happened by accident. But at the end of the day, we could all be dead next week, so I don’t worry about the distant future too much at all.

    [Reply]

    Nancy Sathre-Vogel Reply:

    @Alyson, Travel blogging is really like any other small business. You go into it not knowing if you’ll succeed, you work your rear off, and, if it doesn’t work, you move on to something else. All we have is today.

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    ben simpson Reply:

    Hi Nancy. My name is Ben Simpson. A few months ago you wrote a blog about health insurance or rather the challenges of obtaining adequate health insurance in the U.S. I wrote a nasty reply. I don’t know what made me think about it, but I was sitting at my computer tonight and the memory came to me. So I thought about my reply to your blog and I realize that I was wrong. I think a portion of your comments was geared toward the self-employed. And you’re right. It is difficult for the self-employed to obtain affordable health coverage. So, I’d like to acknowledge my rudeness and apologize. You have a right to your opinion and while a civilized debate is acceptable, rudeness is not. I hope you accept my apology. Thanks, Ben Simpson

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    Nancy Sathre-Vogel Reply:

    @ben simpson, Thank you Ben! I just went back and reread your comments and yeah – you were pretty rude :) (http://familyonbikes.org/blog/2012/03/debt-the-1-dream-killer/)

    Still, I think the belief that if people want health insurance they should just go get a job is pretty prevalent in the USA. I know I used to believe it was that easy. I mean – I’m a teacher with a couple of college degrees and can quite easily get a job with benefits. Why can’t “they?”

    My eyes have sure been opened since my husband and I decided to be self-employed rather than work for someone else. A LOT! Now, I see the issue isn’t so black and white. While *we* can go get jobs with benefits, there are many people in America who simply don’t have the education or skills to be able to do that.

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  2. Bobbi Lee Hitchon February 26, 2013 at 4:10 am #

    Great post. I’ve been a traveler for over three years now and at the moment, I don’t have anything set up like this to pay me in the long run, but I’m still working on it and young-so not too concerned. I know this probably isn’t the right way to thing, but whenever things like this come up I always say, “I’m not in it for a long time, I’m in it for a good time.”

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    Nancy Sathre-Vogel Reply:

    @Bobbi Lee Hitchon, I was teaching when I was young and didn’t save anything “for the future.” I think very few young people do seriously consider retirement. I think it’s great to be “in it for a good time” now. When the time comes to change, you’ll know it.

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  3. Yvette February 26, 2013 at 4:23 am #

    Reading over that post, I think the main issue the author had is the fact that the long term aspects are very rarely covered beyond the immediate “this is how much my last month cost” aspect. Certainly not much by the snake oil salesmen of the trade who keep saying “you too can quit your job to travel the world forever, buy my ebook to find out how!” and are always quite vocal but not realistic.

    I suppose there is also the distinction that there are lots of people in their 20s who aren’t really thinking about the future (but then that’s normal no matter what you do, right?), who I’ve met a decent number of but I am often struck by the loss of potential there. I’m not certain what I mean by this but I guess I have a philosophy whereby you should do SOMETHING with this life you’re given, and not every blogger is going to be successful at doing that, but there’s no escape route planned to do something meaningful if it doesn’t work out. Maybe I’m weird, but I figure if I’m going to scrimp in the 3rd world for years of my life I’d at least join the Peace Corps and help others or something. (Yeah, not sure if what I’m trying to articulate here is clear, but there we are.)

    [Reply]

    Nancy Sathre-Vogel Reply:

    @Yvette, I think it’s a very personal thing, and each person will approach it differently. Some people start up small businesses doing whatever with no intention of doing it for the long-haul, but if it will pay the expenses now then it’s good. If, as some point, that person feels the need to have more stability or whatever, he can close that business and do something else. Travel blogging is no different from any other small business.

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    Yvette Reply:

    @Nancy Sathre-Vogel, That’s certainly true, but as someone said downstream I think travel blogging is a little different because it’s not as established yet, so if it DOESN’T work out and you have no exit strategy you’re not in the same position to find your next line of work as someone who says “I tried my hand at a hairdressers business and it didn’t work out.” If you tell people “I spent years traveling and working on my blog in my 20s” you’re not going to have many of those skills transfer over to many income streams people want (ie ability to teach is a popular way to make expat abroad money I’ve noticed, but you don’t even have that to “bail” on).

    Of course exit strategies are something anyone who starts a small business should think about, but perhaps because the travel blogger field is so new a lot of people don’t seem to think about it whereas you would probably think harder about it if you had a “traditional” business. At least that’s my observation.

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  4. Greling February 26, 2013 at 10:23 am #

    Setup and contribute to an indepedent retirement account like a Roth IRA (if you work for others while traveling), a SIMPLE-IRA and or a SEP-IRA. Consult a financial advisor on how to do this the right way.

    [Reply]

    Nancy Sathre-Vogel Reply:

    @Greling, There are a lot of different ways to making it happen, for sure. Contacting a financial planner might make sense and can help someone know what the options are.

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  5. Robyn February 26, 2013 at 2:26 pm #

    I think the poster’s question is a good one since travel blogging – or blogging in general – is still a little “fringey” even though some have been doing it a long time. Not everyone is doing it whereas the bank teller or hair dresser occupations are familiar. I think some of the questions that might come up could be in relation to how people get paid for the advertising on their blogs, or how freelancing works, or how does a blog get and maintain the momentum to be successful, how does one keep it fresh over the long haul, etc.

    But however a blogger (or anyone) generates income, having savings established that is accruing interest, that doesn’t get touched until retirement seems like a good idea. Similar to you, I saved aggressively during my FT working years, and although I still work seasonally as an English teacher, I’m comfortable with the itinerant schedule and in love with the lifestyle.

    [Reply]

    Nancy Sathre-Vogel Reply:

    @Robyn, I think you’re right about the unfamiliar-ness of blogging as a career path or profession. Most people can wrap their heads around the idea of opening your own shop (of whatever kind), but it’s hard for them to comprehend running any type of online business. That said, times are a-changing, and it won’t be long before many people have jobs of this sort.

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  6. The Travel Blogger February 26, 2013 at 6:09 pm #

    The biggest mistake that some current content creators are making is that they don’t think about an exit path when they create their business / brand. Someday when you want out of the the business, how do you sell a brand that is centered around your name & face! They may have an asset that is worth a ton of money, but only if they maintain it. That is why my most recent brands are not personallity based; TravelBlogger.com CruiseTheNews.com WhatsNewInPhotography.com . Yes, it is OK to call me the Travel Blogger.com .
    But my personal portal, MurrayOnTravel.com has been online since 1996, and l plan on maintaining it till i go to that big luggage carousel in the sky….

    [Reply]

    Nancy Sathre-Vogel Reply:

    @The Travel Blogger, That’s true. There is a lot to be said for creating a brand that someone else could take over.

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  7. debbie February 26, 2013 at 8:26 pm #

    I love reading your stuff. and I bought your ebook awhile ago. keep on going! If I could just get my kid to ride without training wheels….
    I plan to earn a passive income sooner rather than later so I can partake in all the wonders our beautiful planet has to offer!

    [Reply]

    Nancy Sathre-Vogel Reply:

    @debbie, Thank you Debbie! I can’t encourage you enough to head out to see the world. It’s the best education there is!

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  8. Jim February 26, 2013 at 9:10 pm #

    “we lived beneath our means and squirreled away whatever we could. ” This sums it up Nancy no matter what career or ‘non’ career one chooses.
    We’ve balanced travel, raising 3 kids, mortgages (and I use the plural deliberately) self-employment, business ownership and now at a stage where we can travel the world luxuriously if we chose to. But the P’s we learn’t long ago still apply to our model- Prioritising, Prudence, Patience, Planning and Putting-aside.
    When lumbered with mortgage and raising kids we still managed to travel, not overseas but in a caravan we towed up and down NZ with kids in nappies.
    Those rainy weekends were a downer though.

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  9. Olivia April 28, 2013 at 4:08 pm #

    I read that other article – I couldn’t believe how insistent she was about travel bloggers letting everyone know that info!

    I’m beginning to think about passive income options, but being pretty young, I don’t have much experience/skills/assets built up like most people doing well online.

    But that is the good thing about being an Aussie – everyone gets a pension, no matter your occupation.

    [Reply]

    Nancy Sathre-Vogel Reply:

    @Olivia, I was also blown away by her persistence on that. That said, I have NEVER kept the kind of records she wanted, and I just can’t imagine that many people do. It was odd.

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  10. Deia @NomadWallet November 1, 2013 at 9:19 pm #

    I completely agree with you! Passive income is the best way to earn money, but you’re right, it’s a lot of work up front. My husband and I don’t earn much, but we’ve been living below our means and saving a big chunk of our income. We invest in real estate, too. And because we’re okay with it not being completely passive for now, we do rentals as well as flips (quicker return on investment that way). The passive income isn’t enough for us to live on yet, but in a few years it will be. We’re 27 and 29, so it’s still early in the game for us, after all. :)

    [Reply]

    Nancy Sathre-Vogel Reply:

    @Deia @NomadWallet, You’re doing GREAT if you are already working to develop that passive income at such a young age! At age 30, I took off and traveled for a year and spent every penny I had. It was a great experience and things turned out okay in the end. We’ve found real estate to be a great market to invest in and are happy with our decisions.

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