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Overlanding as a Digital Nomad: Combining Travel with Online Work

“We know an editor who is looking for stories,” a friend said.

“Oh, no, thanks. We’re traveling and happy to have quit our job,” we responded.

That was after nine months on the road. We had saved money and if we lived frugally, it would last awhile. It did, but two years later, we concluded that we wanted to continue our nomadic lifestyle and that therefore, money needed to be made. Our friend introduced us to the editor and we got our first article published. It was the start of our second adventure: working as a freelance duo, writing and photographing for car/4WD, food and travel magazines.

Over the years, we’ve met numerous overlanders who have found ways to fund their travels while on the road. In fact, there are so many that for this article we focused on digital nomads. Meet some of the writers, photographers, vloggers, graphic designers, journalists, developers, and other online workers we’ve come across.

1. Lorraine Chittock, LorraineChittock.com

After a short stint of working on the road during a road trip in Tanzania, Lorraine returned to the US, bought a low mileage, 25-year-old Chevy which was an ex-surveillance vehicle used by the police. With her two Kenyan street dogs, Dog and Bruiser, she drove in the US for two years, headed to Mexico, and took four years to drive to Chile. During her journey she wrote three books, countless articles for magazines in the US, England, and Australia, and recorded an audio book. She is now based in a cabin in Chile, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. She makes trips to East Africa to work on a film, first using first a 250 Suzuki, then a 150 Hartford motorcycle.

Required skills?

“I had been a magazine photographer for many years and had done the writing for a coffee-table book about my travels by camel from Sudan to Egypt. I wanted to be both a writer and photographer for magazines. The writing appealed to the introvert side of my nature, photography to the extrovert side.”

Has your work benefited your travels in other ways than earning money?

Working in the Jeep and van was possibly the most productive time of my creative life. Those six years on the road were certainly the happiest. After walking the dogs, I’d work straight through till 1:00 p.m., break, then resume work in the evenings. I would usually wild camp. Being in nature really fuels my creative soul. There is something very different that happens to the brain where you’re mobile. I recently was on a train in America and I felt the same mental focus. I now have a cabin in Chile and it takes a huge amount of focus to do just half the work I did on the road. There’s too many distractions, too many things that need attending to.

What has been your biggest challenge to make the combination of work and travel a success?

For the last years of my Kenyan dogs’ lives, it was important to be in one place. I now have four Chilean dogs; one was literally dumped over my fence. I find it very difficult. I’m on a constant search for dog sitters who can handle all the demands here. I have a system now, it’s just not ideal for me. If you’re on the road without a home to return to, that mobile vehicle IS your home. It is your center. For me, as an animal lover with a nomadic spirit who loves my work, it is the joining together of the core elements of life.

Regarding WiFi and other technology, what did you use and how good or bad was it?

For the first years on the road, the internet issues were horrendous. It was 2003 when I began traveling in the states. There were no internet cafes, no free WiFi anywhere. I bought a cell phone and used it as a tethering device. There were constant issues. Once in Latin America, it became much easier as there were internet cafes everywhere. I would do all my emails offline while camping, and then every four days go into a town, plug into their system if I could, send everything off, and collect new emails. A huge benefit was not being connected constantly. My brain was really in a very liberating and creative space without the constant interruptions we have now.

In 2008 I bought a dongle that made things a bit easier, but then I was always on the search for zones. That became distracting.

Skype calls are now easy in many places, though I usually keep the video turned off for a better connection and to use less bandwidth. It’s great to be in national parks and get a signal where you might not have gotten a signal a few years ago. But there’s a downside to that.

I’ve always used inverters hooked up to batteries that get charged while I’m driving. Inverters are for sale everywhere in the world, especially in Africa where villages might not have normal sources of power. I’ve used Mac laptops since 1999 because of their long-lasting batteries. In Africa, when I’m on my motorcycle working, I use a dongle too. I buy one new from each country. They’re cheap. Systems are always changing so it doesn’t make sense to buy something expensive. Sometimes I’ve passed them on to the next traveler, or vice versa.

How have you dealt with broken or stolen equipment?

I’ve had numerous things break on the road. Ironically, a few days ago,a quarter cup of tea was spilt on my laptop in my cabin. It’s painful no matter where you are, unless you’re in a big city! While traveling, I had point and shoot cameras fail. On the road, I always bring two of the same cameras, sometimes two of the same laptops as a back-up. I don’t want to be in a terrific location and have to drive for days to get to a big city so I can go to a dealer.

It’s very risky getting tech items fixed from local shops. You have no idea of their level of expertise. Even if the workers are great, the chance they’ve worked on what I have is pretty small. One way around this is to find expatriate groups in that country or region on Facebook and ask there. I did ship a laptop that was under warranty back to the States once and paid crazy money for postage.

If you have the correct tools, you might be able to fix it yourself. It takes calm thinking when things go wrong, as these are work tools and crucial for earning income.

Keeping things safe in the van was easy. The police had welded a compartment beneath the flooring to store four batteries that powered all their electronic equipment. The floor was carpeted and unless you knew exactly where to lift the floor up, you would never know. There was no lock. No lock was needed. Having two dogs looming out a partially opened window helped. I also had the logo for one of my books stenciled on the side of the van. Even if they couldn’t understand On a Mission from Dog, they saw the drawing of the dog. That was certainly a deterrent.

The motorcycle is more difficult. If I have to go into a shop, I just ask someone to watch the bike for me and give them a small tip. It’s a common system in Africa. I’ve never had anything stolen.

How do you get paid?

Paypal.

 

2. Stefanie Feichtner, web developer

Steffi (Austrian) and Daniel (German) are driving from Canada to Ushuaia in a Toyota Land Cruiser and have been on the road since May 2016. She continues working with a couple of customers from the job she had as a web developer in Germany.

Required Skills?

Experience in web development. Depending on project, you should have extensive knowledge of HTML, PHP, and CSS. But also knowledge of Javascript and the software you are working with (for example WordPress).

Did you plan to do this before your departure?

I left with the intention to work on the road. I really like the customers I’m still working with. Traveling without working is much easier, but I want to keep on working on these projects after the trip.

Has your work benefited your travels in other ways than earning money?

If you have big unexpected expenses, you can stay somewhere longer and work for a couple of weeks to be able to pay for them (rather than having to cut your trip short because the money is running out).

How much time do you spend on your laptop? Is that more or less than you expected?

Currently, I don’t spend much time on my laptop due to the heat in Central America. When we use the computers in the car it gets hot really fast and I don’t like working outside much. At night, there are bugs on the screen, and while I have a really good screen I prefer working inside on a sunny day. When camping at the ocean you have to worry about the salty ocean breeze and sand, and, of course, in poorer regions I just don’t like working on my computer openly when locals are passing by, although I’m sure they know most overlanders carry expensive gear.

In the hot and humid countries, where we are right now, I would guess I spend about 4 four hours a week working on the laptop, plus a few more hours backing up pictures and working on the blog. It is actually less time than I expected. On the basis of pictures from travel bloggers and “digital nomads,” I thought it would be nice working in a hammock at the beach. In reality, it’s not.

With the knowledge you have now, would you do this again on a future journey? 

If I had the choice, I would not work on a future trip.

What has been your biggest challenge to make the combination of work and travel a success?

Being in areas without reception for a longer period of time.

Regarding WiFi and other technology, what do you use and how good or bad has it been?

I mostly used those for checking emails and researching. But to actually work on projects, I looked for a campground/hostel/cafe with good and fast Internet, e.g., Starbucks in the US, which has power plugs. We do have Solar on our Camper, but it’s not enough for two persons working on the laptop a whole day.

WiFi and Internet access were difficult in Canada and the US. In both countries, I bought a SIM Card (in the US with unlimited data) but I spent a lot of the time in national parks, state parks, and rural areas with no telephone reception. When reception was available, the speed usually was OK. I could use the US SIM Card in Mexico as well and was surprised at how good the reception was compared to the US. In Central America, I bought several SIM Cards, but data plans are limited.

We equipped our car with a solar panel and two extra batteries. We have several USB Plugs and a power converter. I also bought a 12V power cable for my MacBook Pro, but didn’t like it and prefer using the original power cable and the converter. We also have a WiFi extension antenna, but I’m not 100 percent satisfied with it. We should have put more research time into it and maybe should have gotten a bigger or different antenna.

How have you dealt with broken or stolen equipment?

Every other week, I make an exact backup from my laptop on an external hard drive. I also have a backup at home in Austria with my parents, but that is now almost a year old. If someone were to break into our camper and find everything, we would have a big problem. Keeping everything in the Cloud is possible due to the limited Internet on the road.

How do you keep your equipment safe?

The laptops are hidden between our clothes. I make a regular copy of the entire contents of the laptop on an external hard drive, which is hidden somewhere else in the car. I like the idea of a secret compartment and got some ideas from other travelers, like a removable floor panel and a secure storage area behind a cabinet.

How do you get paid?

Work for clients is paid by invoice and bank transfer. Stock photography is paid via Paypal.

Tips for future location independent travelers?

If you plan to work on the road, it’s good to have all important files and documents available offline.

 

3. Paula Dear, journalist with a background in news, seventeenbysix.wordpress.com

Paula and her husband, Jeremy Dear, drove through Latin America from 2011-2016 in a 1997 VW Eurovan Camper. On the road, she worked as a freelancer, writing articles mainly related to travel, culture, and social issues. With Jeremy (also a journalist), she branched out from their usual journalism experience. They wrote a report for the NGO Jubilee Debt Campaign, did some research and writing for the UK-based campaign of Justice for Colombia, and did the marketing and website for a new campsite in Bolivia.

Required Skills?

We transferred our existing research, writing, and interviewing skills to our life on the road. I usually included photographs with my reports, so decent photography skills were helpful. Another very important skill is the ability to pitch and sell your ideas to editors, and to negotiate over pay when necessary.

Did you plan to do this before your departure?

We had no fixed work plan at the beginning as we weren’t sure how long we’d be traveling, but I always had it in my mind as a possibility, should I have an idea I wanted to pursue, or should we need more cash. I certainly wasn’t keen to work during the first year! But then things came up/evolved and I gradually started doing bits and pieces.

Did your work benefit your travels in other ways than earning money?

It was a combination of the money helping us to travel longer, being unable to resist following ideas or opportunities, [the enjoyment of] storytelling, and wanting to keep a “hand in” with my industry.

A lovely by-product of all of that, which is one of the great things about journalism, is that it gave me the opportunity to meet all sorts of interesting people. For example, feisty cholitas in Bolivia, former guerrillas in Guatemala and El Salvador, and many members of Argentina’s Welsh community.

How much time did you spend on your laptop? Was that more or less than you expected?

Hard to say, as work tended to come in waves, then calm down for a while. Overall, I probably spent more time on my laptop than expected, but much of that was also on unpaid tasks such as sorting, editing, and filing our photos, writing our blog, planning ahead, and keeping in contact with home. We had some intense weeks where we worked every day, but on average, it probably totaled a full day per week. However, I enjoyed the fact that, compared with home, we spent many many hours and days each week without the laptop!

With the knowledge you have now, would you do this again on a future journey? 

Yes, I would. I think we got the balance right. We worked enough to bring in extra money but were never tied to working to the extent that it dominated or spoiled our travels.

What was your biggest challenge to make the combination of work and travel a success?

Chasing down decent WiFi was probably the biggest pain.

Regarding WiFi and other technology, what did you use and how good or bad was it?

We didn’t carry phones. We just couldn’t be bothered with thinking about data and SIM cards every time we changed countries. More importantly, we didn’t want to create an expectation, within ourselves, or among others, that we would or should be online all the time. We had a MacBook Pro laptop for writing, photo editing, and blogging. We had an iPad for quick emails, messaging, surfing the Internet, listening to podcasts etc.

We depended wholly on free WiFi for emailing, researching stories online, uploading photos to Dropbox, and (limited) Skype. The quality and availability varied massively. During two three-month stints doing Workaway in Bolivia and rural Mendoza, Argentina, the WiFi was awful and unreliable. Other times, there was WiFi available, in theory, but it was slow, frequently broke down, or couldn’t be accessed, e.g., in petrol stations and cafes. Frequently, we would be surprised about how good it was—I remember making a perfect, uninterrupted Skype call to the UK from a town square on an island off the island of Chiloe—but the problem was it was never easy to predict when that would happen! From memory, I would say Bolivia was among the worst. I remember Ecuador being good.

If and when we do it again we’d want to be more self-sufficient, with solar power, extra auxiliary batteries, and possibly some kind of antenna.

How have you dealt with broken or stolen equipment?

Fortunately, this didn’t happen to any of our stuff. I was always anticipating a problem with a broken or stolen laptop and everything was backed up on an external hard drive.

How did you keep your equipment safe?

We had a little safe chained to the hidden underside of the back seats big enough for cash, passports, and an external hard drive. The laptop was hidden at the bottom of the wardrobe under the clothes; the camera was in a cupboard. When we thought of it, we had the possibility to chain the laptop under the seats at the back, with a special Mac lock. We were extremely vigilant about these things being put away and not left lying around, even if we were close to the van and also while we were sleeping. We were also careful, whenever possible, about where we left the van. If in doubt, we would prefer to pay for a parking space rather than risk leaving it on a dodgy street. We carried valuables like a camera and an iPad with us frequently. We did have a certain level of insurance for our belongings via World Nomads travel insurance, but it only covered things up to a value of around £400, so it didn’t include the laptop.

How did you get paid?

By bank transfer in most cases. I used Paypal a couple of times, but have since heard of a system called Transferwise which is apparently better for transactions in different currencies.

Tips for future location-independent travelers?

Plan ahead more than usual with deadlines. Assume something you hadn’t anticipated is going to happen just before you’re getting ready to hit send. And back everything up!

 

4) Jordan Kraft, project manager and research analyst, 42strong.com

In April 2016, a pair of Alaskan-born New Yorkers left their suburban lives for life on the road in a 2009 Subaru Forester to drive to Ushuaia and possibly back. She manages client relationships for a tech-based research firm, bids on new projects, coordinates execution of projects, and writes up final data analyses for completed projects.

Required Skills?

Project and client management skills, organizational skills, and marketing, research, and analytical skills.

Did you plan to do this before your departure?

The idea was to work from Mexico for four months and hand over my job. However, working remotely worked so well that the company asked me to stay on, which I did.

Has your work benefited your travels in other ways than earning money?

Being constantly inundated with new sights, tastes, smells, views, and experiences gets to be exhausting sometimes. It’s oddly calming to duck my head into my computer and bury myself in Excel spreadsheets for a while in order to be able to take a break from all the stimuli around me.

How much time do you spend on your laptop? Is that more or less than you expected?

When I am working on a report, it could be three to five days of full-time, eight-hour days.  However, most of the time I only need my computer for an hour or two a day, and the rest can be done with my iPhone.

With the knowledge you have now, would you do this again on a future journey? 

Absolutely. There are times I’d rather not be preoccupied with work but overall I’m happy to be grounded by work, which both necessitates and enables us to travel slower.

What has been your biggest challenge to make the combination of work and travel a success?

Balancing the need to be off the grid with the need to be available as projects and requests come in.

Regarding WiFi and other technology, what do you use and how good or bad has it been?

I depend on WiFi, cellular data, and a SkyRoam hotspot that I recently bought that supposedly works at 3G speeds in a number of countries for $8/day. The latter has allowed me to do everything I need from a few incredibly remote places.

For the most part, I need constant connectivity in order to check my email and respond to clients’ requests. My work doesn’t involve more than a handful of large PPT file uploads, and otherwise involves fairly manageable file transfers.

Getting decent cellular data had not been difficult until we hit Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Northern Argentina when driving outside the cities. WiFi, on the other hand, has been pretty decent in most places. I don’t often upload photos on my photo site until we hit really great speeds, but it tends to be fine in cities.

My husband and I joke that we constantly play the sound of a dial-up internet modem. It’s in our heads every time we try to do pretty much anything with the slow WiFi or cell connectivity on this trip.

How have you dealt with broken or stolen equipment?

Living next to the beach is a killer on any electronics. In just over 16 months, I’ve had two iPhones, two MacBooks, a bridge (router) and VoIP phone die on me—most of which happened near the beach. Friends brought the phones and the first computer. The second computer was under warranty so I took it to a Mac-authorized store in Lima, Peru, to have the logic board replaced. Most of my work and files are Cloud-based so it’s not a huge loss if the electronics break down—it’s just a pain to figure out how to replace or fix them.

How do you keep your equipment safe?

I rarely leave my valuables in the car when I’m away from it. We ensure that our car is always in a secure place, to the extent that we’re able to. I do have renter’s insurance that covers the loss or theft of the contents in our car in case anything gets stolen.

How do you get paid?

I’m currently employed as a consultant so I bill my company once a month and they wire the funds to my US bank account.

Tips for future location-independent travelers?

In some ways, it is more stressful and difficult to always be available while on the road, but by being hyper-organized, it’s possible to successfully manage to keep your boss and your clients happy. In terms of practical advice, keep everything as Cloud-based as possible because you never know when your devices will just stop working, get lost, or be stolen.

 

5) Emma Rogers, graphic designer, flightlesskiwis.com

Emma and Ben took three years to travel from Alaska to Argentina in a Toyota 4Runner. The New Zealand couple was prepared to work on the road once their savings would start to get low, which was after about 1.5 years on the road. She did illustration, animation, book layout, web design and eLearning. (Check out how she presented the statistics of their journey.)

Required Skills?

I had the qualifications, skills,and experience to do this when we hit the road. Ben is a quick learner and was able to help me with some of the work.

Did you plan to do this before your departure?

Sort of. We had considered it, but when our 12- to 18-month trip plan stretched to over three years once we hit the road, it became a necessity.

Did your work benefit your travels in other ways than earning money?

It allowed us to travel longer and the quest for WiFi or quiet places to work often took us to places that we wouldn’t have visited as tourists. E.g., we sometimes rented an apartment or cabin and got to know day-to-day life rather than hopping from one tourist destination to another.

How much time did you spend on your laptop? Was that more or less than you expected?

More than I expected or hoped; for work alone, it would have averaged about 20 hours per week. That is excluding any time spent writing blogs, editing photos and updating social media about our travels (which we did for fun, not money).

With the knowledge you have now, would you do this again on a future journey? 

Not exactly the same way. Traveling while doing freelance graphic design work can be frustrating. We often missed visiting places we wanted to go to because we had to carry on past a destination in order to get a good WiFi connection for a deadline. Next time we travel, I hope to have a base of passive income that pays for the bulk of our day-to-day living and to supplement this with client work that we would do for a month or so at a time in a fixed location. That way we’d get the best of both worlds: the freedom to travel far from WiFi, and the opportunity to settle down in different places and enjoy the local culture.

What was your biggest challenge to make the combination of work and travel a success?

To get regular, reliable WiFi, and a place where our dog was also allowed to stay, especially for projects that required consistent access to the Internet to work with online editors.

Regarding WiFi and other technology, what did you use and how good or bad was it?

We bought local SIM cards, and we often tracked down campgrounds, hotels, and hostels with WiFi when we needed to work for a few days in a row, or we visited cafes for faster internet when working with big files. I used WiFi mostly for uploading and downloading often large files and working in online editing software.

For the most part, WiFi or cell phone data are available everywhere and it was enough to meet my needs. I considered 5 Mbps to be a top-notch connection worthy of a happy dance. It did involve some searching, and the places with good WiFi weren’t always the best places to work or travel.

We already had a second battery set up. We used a T-Max’s dual battery system to keep our second battery charged when driving. We were going to get a Blue Sea system, but got a cheap T-Max D system instead and soon wished we had bought the Blue Sea. The cheaper system tended to overheat and may have been a bit harsh on the battery. We were also running a fridge the whole time. When we stopped, we had a flexible Windy-Nation solar panel and controller which were great. The flexible panel didn’t take up a lot of room to store. The panel was on a 20-meter extension lead, which allowed us to park in the shade but put the solar panel in the full sun. This setup, plus a PowerBright 1100-watt inverter meant we could keep our devices charged.

We bought a fancy RedPort WiFi extender too. It was designed for use on a boat and was pretty expensive. We found it to be OK but not great. We probably wouldn’t spend the money on that again; we have seen other cheaper ones that appear to be a lot more practical for overland travel.

How have you dealt with broken or stolen equipment?

We usually sent things to the nearest DHL office. You have to be careful how replacement parts or repaired items are valued on an invoice or you could end up with some customs duties owing for importing them. Replacement batteries for cameras etc. were harder to get from the US as couriers there refused to carry batteries. The only repair a computer needed was a replacement charger, which was easy as we were in a big city.

How did you keep your equipment safe?

We never had anything stolen, but if we had, it would have been uninsured. Most travel insurance policies that cover extended travel only cover items taken directly out of your possession, not out of a parked vehicle, particularly after dark. We found one policy in New Zealand that would cover gear in our locked vehicle if it was unattended at any time of day. However, this policy was only available for a maximum of 12 months and it was cheaper to buy a replacement laptop than to pay for the insurance. Some people manage to get business insurance or use coverage from their rental or home insurance to cover their gear, but this wasn’t available to us.

We had several hidden, locked compartments for documents, hard drives, computers, camera gear, and emergency cash. They were wooden compartments with hidden catches which was good enough to discourage opportunistic thieves. We also had a protective film on the windows to make it much harder to break one. No one ever tried so we don’t know how effective it would have been.

How did you get paid?

New Zealand companies paid directly into my local bank account. I received international payments through PayPal, but the fees can add up.

Tips for future location-independent travelers?

The main thing we did wrong was not really preparing for work on the road before we left. We would probably have chosen a vehicle with more internal space had we known how much work we’d do on the road. Next time, I intend to have a basic amount of passive income rolling in to cover the times we want to be traveling off the grid. Rather than trying to consistently do a bit of work, I would break up the trip into times when we would travel and go out adventuring, and then periods of time when we would stop at a rental apartment or cabin to work on a project. This would eliminate the constant WiFi chasing to meet other people’s deadlines which really cramps your traveling style.

 

6) Dan Grec, freelance writer and photographer, theroadchoseme.com

Dan drove the Pan-Am in a Jeep Wrangler and is now overlanding in Africa. He has contributed stories and photos to Expedition Portal and Overland Journal, among other magazines. Dan is also writing a book.

Required Skills?

Writing and photography take practice and patience, though I strongly believe anyone can succeed if they keep at it.

Did you plan to do this before your departure?

I did leave with the intention of working. I would like to find out if I can be successful enough to develop travel writing and photography into my full-time career.

Has your work benefited your travels in other ways than earning money?

No. Having to work detracts from my travels, as time spent on the laptop is time not spent talking to locals and exploring new places.

How much time do you spend on your laptop? Is that more or less than you expected?

On average, I would guess it’s something around 20-25 hours per week.

With the knowledge you have now, would you do this again on a future journey? Why yes/no?

I am enjoying the challenge right now, and I revel in learning new skills and improving my old ones. For those reasons, yes, absolutely.

What has been your biggest challenge to make the combination of work and travel a success?

Being able to put myself and my work out there. I do the absolute best job I can, then I must pitch it to multiple magazines and hope for the best. Rejections are tough, but hearing nothing at all is even worse. It makes me wonder if my work is not good enough and if I should just give up.

Regarding WiFi and other technology, what do you use and how good or bad has it been?

In the Americas, I had no problem finding free WiFi for the entire journey. Every two, three, or four days I would find WiFi that was plenty fast enough to upload photos and have Skype chats. In West Africa, WiFi is extremely hard to find, so I bought a $20 smartphone in Guinea and now I buy a SIM card and data in each country. The SIM costs about $1, and data is usually between $1-$7 per GB. Speeds are extremely fast, almost all countries have a lot of 3G coverage, and some even 4G. I have had no problem uploading hi-res photos and even HD video from whatever country in West Africa.

I always planned the Jeep to be a mobile house/photography office. I have dual batteries, solar panels, and multiple charging options so I can keep all my devices charged without relying on any external power. The Renogy Solar panel has been fantastic, 200 watts is more than enough to run my fridge, lights, and to charge everything.

How have you dealt with broken or stolen equipment?

I’ve had no major issues. Some non-electronic gear broke and I got things sent through the mail. Every country has FedEx and DHL so I would just replace anything that way.

How do you get paid?

Typically Paypal, sometimes by direct bank deposit. In 2017, this is a solved problem and I don’t think it’s something people need to worry about.

Tips for future location-independent travelers?

Think hard about the kind of trip you want to take, and the kind of work you plan to do on the road. Does the work require you to be online multiple times per day? Always on call? If yes, your options for getting remote in the underdeveloped world will be severely limited. Personally, I am only interested in work that I can complete on my own schedule. I can head out exploring for a couple of weeks without any connectivity or responsibilities, then when I get to a town, I will spend a day or two working solidly before I again head out to explore.

 

7) Gabriella Hummel, journalist and freelance writer, instagram.com/vanabundos/

The Swiss couple Gabriella and Sandro have been on the road for 15 months in an ’88 VW Vanagon, driving south from the US West Coast. Gabrielle  does freelance writing and content creation while on the road.

Required Skills?

It helps that we have connections from our former jobs that we can use to get us writing gigs, but other than that, anyone who’s good at writing could do this.

Did you plan to do this before your departure?

We had initially planned to stay on the road for one, maybe one and a half years and make it to Argentina. After nine months we were still in Mexico and had to decide: either we don’t do the whole trip, or we continue, but will have to work for it.

Has your work benefited your travels in other ways than earning money?

It began as a necessity and has become a real chance to start a freelance business.

How much time do you spend on your laptop? Is that more or less than you expected?

I usually work two to three hours a day during five days.

What has been your biggest challenge to make the combination of work  and travel a success?

Finding decent WiFi.

Regarding WiFi and other technology, what do you use and how good or bad has it been?

I usually have a local SIM that helps me to read my emails wherever I am. We find WiFi almost everywhere, but it’s usually slow. That’s okay since I mostly have to send texts. But as soon as I work with photos or videos it can be really tricky. Also WiFi usually doesn’t work exactly at the time you really need it. Flexibility is key.

We have a solar panel with which we charge phones and laptops, which has worked great.

How have you dealt with broken or stolen equipment?

My laptop broke in Mexico. Getting it fixed in Guatemala was horrendously expensive. Luckily, a friend happened to be traveling through Guatemala and he didn’t use his laptop and gave it to me for free. I have no idea what I would have done without him.

How do you keep your equipment safe?

We usually don’t leave important stuff in the van but take it with us.

How do you get paid?

Paypal or bank account.

Tips for future location-independent travelers?

The only thing that is important is scheduling. Don’t just hang over your laptop because you think you have to. Better to be productive in the morning, for example, and then put the laptop away for the rest of the day and go out to explore!

 

8) Clare Farah, owner of a design and marketing business, chasinghorizons.co.uk

On KTM 690 Enduro Rs, in 2012 Clare and Sam drove for two years from the UK through Africa, the US, and Canada. They already had their own business and continued to work to keep their clients and to boost their travel funds. In addition, they earned a bit more by blogging about and reviewing equipment (not so much in money as in free equipment and gear).

Required Skills?

Over 10 years of graphic design and illustration experience has helped me in this line of work and I have been a regular content writer for the same time.

Did you plan to do this before your departure?

We decided to keep on doing various projects for our clients such as brochure designs, graphics, and general marketing, but to pare down any daily work.

Did your work benefit your travels in other ways than earning money?

Working on the road, graphic-design wise was a good way to stay in contact with our regular clients. Blogging about our travels and reviewing equipment has enabled us to get people excited and inspired to travel.

How much time did you spend on your laptop? Was that more or less than you expected?

We both were on our laptops around 12 hours a week, although most of that was photo editing, reviewing, and blogging. As far as our work was concerned, it was more like four hours a week on average. I think this was probably more than we expected but not by much. Sometimes we would go weeks without work though.

With the knowledge you have now, would you do this again on a future journey? 

Yes and no. We will probably leave our graphic design agency in the hands of our freelance co-workers and only get involved in case of an emergency. Our future travels and business plans are pivoting around blogging, reviewing, videoing, and content writing. We have also started a new business which will be focused on getting people to travel, so it kind of all goes hand in hand.

What was your biggest challenge to make the combination of work  and travel a success?

Exhaustion, and finding space to work comfortably, especially as you’re limited by what you can carry on a motorcycle. For example, when in Sudan I had to learn to ride through sand and navigate over dunes in 50°C. After eight hours of driving, we had to set up camp due to an impending sandstorm before crawling into a small tent, aching and stinking, cracking open a laptop, and working with head torches as a storm beat around our tent.

Regarding WiFi and other technology, what did you use and how good or bad was it?

We uploaded large-file graphic work, medium-file photos, and huge video files, as well as maintained emails and social media accounts. Sometimes this was just impossible, particularly throughout Africa. The worst connection we encountered was in Libya and a good portion of Sudan until we hit Khartoum.

We tended to use free WiFi although we did buy local SIM cards, or exchange them with travelers in passing, to check emails when in Africa. We stayed at a cheap guesthouse for a night or two when we needed to upload a lot of work and communicate with clients. A few times in Africa we found posh hotels with great WiFi and ordered a drink between us just to use their Internet for an hour.

In the US, it was much easier to find WiFi and we used global roaming cards for brief Internet catch ups. Canada was more difficult.

On the motorcycles, we had no place for fancy electronics! We carried mobile telephones and a spot tracker for safety purposes. For our next travels, we’ll have a Unimog, so we will be using a Mimo 3/4G antenna and solar panels, which we will then pair with SIM cards suitable for the area we are traveling, but we’ll inevitably find places to hook up with free WiFi too.

How have you dealt with broken or stolen equipment?

No major issues.

How did you keep your equipment safe?

We had padded and waterproof casing for our MacBooks and put them in another waterproof bag before packing them away in the hard panniers. This protected them better from a knock or fall as well as deterring any light-fingered threats than the soft panniers. There are not many places to hide things on a motorcycle. As far as insurance is concerned, Apple is top dollar with warranties. We had travel insurance that cost about £20 per month. Two MacBooks was overkill, and in the future, we will probably set ourselves up with a MacBook and an iPad. In the Unimog, we’re planning to install a hidden safe to lock away our valuables.

How did you get paid?

We were paid BACS transfers into our business accounts which was relatively simple. Alternatively, we were paid with products which were sent out to us or given to us on the road. We now use Quickbooks online to organize our invoices and accounts. We have linked family members and an accountant to them who will help us out in emergencies.

Tips for future location-independent travelers?

Don’t overload yourself with too much work, and take time out to enjoy your once-in-a-lifetime trip! From talking with fellow travelers and from our own experience, planning your work seems to be a great option if viable. If you can find the time to stop where you can work on a project for a few days or even weeks without much stress or pressure, then that’s perfect. To then continue your travels for a week or two, without the worry of work, balances out the adventure and gives you a break from the daily grind.

 

9) Amie Leichtfuss, vlogger, thetravelingtogetherjournal.com

Amie and Matt are traveling in a 1995 Toyota T-100 bought in California. They have been on the road over 500 days, making money with videos detailing their journey for a YouTube channel.

Required Skills?

You have to know how to use a camera and video editing software. Once you start making movies, you learn what else you could film that would help tell the stories better, and you get better at it with time—like anything else.

Did you plan to do this before your departure?

We left with the goal that by the time we finished this trip, which has been funded from our savings, we would have enough viewers to keep traveling.

Has your work benefited your travels in other ways than earning money?

We often slow down to film a sunset or do something we may not otherwise have done to capture the moment for our viewers. This can lead to a positive experience we would otherwise have missed, but it can also lead to our being too focused on the filming and not on the experience. It’s all about balance.

How much time do you spend on your laptop? Is that more or less than you expected?

I think we both average 20 hours a week on our laptops. There is no way I could tally the hours I spend filming since I do that non-stop. Even while I’m on the computer I look for things that I may want to capture.

With the knowledge you have now, would you do this again on a future journey? 

We will probably film our next long-term overlanding trip and produce more content for our YouTube Channel. I like the filming. I have become more interested in the random bird, a sunset, and the mountains as we drive by. Driving a terrible road or getting stuck in a livestock traffic jam have become interesting experiences to capture and share with our viewers. Looking back at the footage reminds me of how much fun we had.

What has been your biggest challenge to make the combination of work and travel a success?

To produce as much as the YouTube experts say we need to produce to have our channel grow. If we try to edit more than we are doing now, the trip won’t be much fun; we would be bouncing from one RV park with WiFi to the next, and for us that’s not the point.

Regarding WiFi and other technology, what do you use and how good or bad has it been?

We mostly use free WiFi at campsites, and for small stuff, we have a local SIM card. WiFi in Mexico was the worst; it dropped all the time and was super slow. We need WiFi to make maps and download music for our videos so we can create and upload our content. We can’t upload our video files to a Cloud storage as fast as we create the files, so we have spent a lot of money on hard drives and backup hard drives.

We outfitted our rig with 300 watts of solar and 150 amps of batteries to run our fridge/freezer, charge batteries, and laptops. It is not enough when the sun is not shining. We plan to add one more panel, double the battery power, and when back in the US, we will get a WiFi booster for the rig so we can work while camping. They are not cheap but if you’re on the road long enough, it might work out as a wash, as most of the time the places with good WiFi cost more money.

How have you dealt with broken or stolen equipment?

We bought a new camera in Cancun, Mexico, when the old one broke. We couldn’t find the one we wanted in any store and bought it from an online camera store in Mexico City. This required a deposit of $750 USD in the online’s store bank account at a specific bank, and with that receipt we emailed the company with the deposit number, who then emailed the camera which we received a week later.

In Nicaragua, a wind gust knocked my brand new camera onto the sand and it broke. Cannon Central America and Mexico told me to send it to a repair facility in Panama. Great! However, DHL would charge 45 percent tax based on its retail value for sending it to Panama, and again when sending it back, plus shipping! I could just buy a new camera for that. So we spent a day looking for cameras but couldn’t find what we wanted. Fortunately, five weeks later, a friend came to visit and brought me new gear. I vlogged on our GoPro for five weeks—I’m not looking forward to editing that.

How do you get paid?

We get paid from YouTube via Google Adsense and via Paypal.

Tips for future location-independent travelers?

If you have an idea or skill that will work well from the road, try it! Give yourself the best chance of success by researching and preparing as much as possible before going nomadic, and by being realistic about how long it is likely to take before your online venture starts turning a profit.

 

10) Evi van Tiel, writer of online education materials for a Dutch company

The Dutch couple Evi and Bram van Leeuwen is driving from New York to Argentina in a T3/Vanagon Syncro and have been on the road for 1.5 years. When they quit their jobs, her boss asked her if they wanted to continue working online, which they accepted.

Required Skills?

We need to have knowledge about how people learn and if possible,some expertise in online learning. In our case, speaking Dutch is a requirement as well.

Did you plan to do this before your departure?

We didn’t plan on working on the road. But when I told my boss I wanted to quit my job to travel she asked us if we would like to continue to work online.

Has your work benefited your travels in other ways than earning money?

It has made traveling a lot more comfortable.

How much time do you spend on your laptop? Is that more or less than you expected?

We made an agreement that we would work about 40 hours a month each. Sometimes it’s more, and sometimes a little bit less. We are flexible so that works perfectly for us.

With the knowledge you have now, would you do this again on a future journey? 

Yes. Working online gives an extra dimension to traveling. I like the challenge in my work.

What has been your biggest challenge to make the combination of work  and travel a success?

To find proper Wi-Fi when we have to do work that requires a lot of data.

Regarding WiFi and other technology, what do you use and how good or bad has it been?

For e-mail and text messages we use our data card. Programs are different in every country. It can be challenging to find something that has good coverage and is cheap.

For big files we use free WiFi spots. Yes, we spend a lot of time at McDonald’s. WiFi and Internet is accessible in a lot of places, but good WiFi is a different story. Big files or working on big data projects can be challenging. We have a WiFi extender and that has helped us out a lot.

We have solar panels and special adapters for our laptops. We can charge in the car, which is a bit slower than via the power net. Our laptops have great batteries, which also helps.

How have you dealt with broken or stolen equipment?

Our MacBooks broke down twice which was partly our fault. In Europe, you have a two-year warranty, and in every official shop you can have your MacBook fixed, and you know they will do a good job.

How do you keep your equipment safe?

We have special spots to store our laptops. You can use a safe, but when someone breaks in and sees a safe, that will be the target. When we feel a situation is not safe, we’ll bring the laptops with us. We have an automatic backup system in the Netherlands, and we make backups on hard drives that we store in a different place in the car. We have travel insurance but haven’t used it yet.

How do you get paid?

We work for a Dutch company, so we are part of the regular payment and banking system in the Netherlands.

Tips for future location-independent travelers?

Think about every aspect that can be important like taxes, insurance, and retirement.

 

11.) Graeme Bell, freelance writer, a2aexpedition.com

After having overlanded in Southern and Eastern Africa, Graeme, his wife, Luisa, and their two kids left their home country South Africa five years ago. They shipped their Land Rover Defender 130 across the ocean where they circumnavigated South America and drove up to Central America and North America, visiting every country except El Salvador. They are currently in Europe and on their way to Asia. He writes for Expedition Portal and other prestigious travel magazines and is about to finish his third book, while Luisa has become a photographer and shoots 90 percent of their video. They are also brand ambassadors for a few excellent companies, and have begun a new series of travel documentaries.

Did you plan to do this before your departure?

I knew that I wanted a life less ordinary and left home all those years ago with the intention of becoming the me I believed I could be. I had always wanted to write professionally, and now I am living that dream while being a scrungy overlander. Luisa keeps the ball rolling, has become quite an amazing photographer, and shoots 90 percent of our video.

Has your work benefited your travels in other ways than earning money?

A bit of both. Without the income we earn, we could not continue to travel as a family, but we are forced to adapt, learn, and change. Reinvention and constant growth typifies our existence.

How much time do you spend on your laptop? Is that more or less than you expected?

It depends, of course, but it is almost a full-time job to grow our social media presence, fulfill our brand ambassador obligations, process images and video, and keep up with the writing. On average, I will spend about 12 hours a day working on the laptop when not driving or drinking beer next to a fire. We have dedicated work days while on the road and those are the days when we can be found in an organized campsite draining every ounce of WiFi.

With the knowledge you have now, would you do this again on a future journey? 

Yes. I do not have a choice. I am addicted to the overlander lifestyle.

What has been your biggest challenge to make the combination of work and travel a success?

Competition from other travelers who muddy the market with click-bait titles, [bogus] adventure stories and bikini-butt van-life Instagram images which dilute the market and distract our target market which should be absolutely blown away by our incredible, true story.

Regarding WiFi and other technology, what do you use and how good or bad has it been?

In Bolivia, we could not even load Facebook. The US has the best WiFi, followed by Europe and South Africa. When possible, we buy a data package which Luisa installs on her phone. In Brazil, we had to rely on a friend in order to purchase a pay-as-you-go data package, which was automatically replenished every month, which put us into debt and irritated our friend. I had to threaten to skin a fat man in a pink shirt before they canceled the contract.

When not using a data card we rely on campsite WiFi and try to free or wild camp five days of the week and spend two days in an organized, paid campsite, soaking up the WiFi.

We rebuilt the Defender to be a live-in/work-in hub with solar power, a WiFi extender and a fridge for sustenance. We might eventually invest in satellite WiFi, but probably not.

How have you dealt with broken or stolen equipment?

Warranties are never honored outside the country of purchase, but travel insurance certainly helps, should the wife drop your brand new Sony Vaio on the concrete in the first month on the road. Yes, it might take six months to find someone who can repair the tech, but by then you have already spent all the insurance money on Brahma beer and Picanha beef.

How do you keep your equipment safe?

I have two children who never leave the Land Rover, they are our security detail and it is their responsibility to guard our gear with their lives. When the children eventually age enough to liberate themselves, we will have to invest in a small slave, preferably Scandinavian. We are very careful to not leave our vehicle unattended for any significant amount of time, always remove memory cards from our various cameras, and do not keep all our tech in the same place.

How do you get paid?

We use PayPal, but it must be noted that international location-independent travellers may experience problems with tax authorities when having international accounts and transferring funds across borders. The Taxman wants his pound of flesh, and he will get it!

Tips for future location-independent travelers?

Organization is everything! Make sure that your tech is kept clean, updated, and charged. Have a system for the processing of images and save documents regularly while working, then save to a Cloud. Dropbox is excellent for sharing images with publishers. I like to send documents to myself on Gmail as an extra backup.

And, do not forget to be someone others can respect: do not muddy the waters, have integrity, do not write [bogus] adventure articles, do not steal material or ideas, don’t be a clickbait asshat, keep your pants on, and keep your gear and feet clean and dry.

And have fun!

With a bachelor degree in Hotel Management & Tourism, Karin-Marijke Vis worked in managerial jobs in the in-house catering business, a world she left ten years later to travel the globe and become a freelance writer. With her partner Coen Wubbels (photographer) she bought a vintage Land Cruiser and they have been overlanding in Asia and South America since 2003. Their stories have been published in magazines around the world. Follow their journey on landcruisingadventure.com

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