Travel the world for $14000 per year – an Interview with Nora Dunn

Just wait until you hear this interview with Nora Dunn, a burnt-out financial planner that decided enough was enough, packed up her things and hit the road.

Thining about travelling around the world?

Did you know it’s possible to travel FULL TIME for less than $14’000 per year?

Nora is living the dream every day.

She doesn’t have a fixed address, and almost all of her posessions are neatly tucked away in a box somewhere. She, however, is travelling to some of the most exotic places in the world and living life to the fullest. She makes great friends all around the world and today she shares with us her secrets to travelling cheap and living the life you’ve always wanted to live. banner 01 640w

In this 60 minute session I ask Nora about her history, her ‘past life’ and what made her finally leave the rat race to pursue her passions for travelling and writing. You’ll hear how she:

  • Ended her career as a successful financial planner (they didn’t want her to leave!)
  • Packed up and sold all her gear and got on a plane to somewhere
  • Organised aid for thousands of people in a flood-stricken nation – using a Hercules cargo aircraft
  • Fought bushfires on Black Saturday in Victoria, Australia, and got a personal thanks from the Prime Minister
  • Travelled New Zealand for a TV show (though someone she met whilst travelling) and did all the extreme attractions in two weeks
  • Works on organic farms for food and accomodation, and gets to see the most amazing sunsets in the world on a daily basis

If you’ve ever thought about seeing the world but felt that you were held back, either due to finances or fear, then do not miss this chat. Nora takes us through the psyhcological barriers she faced, the feelings she had to deal with and what she did to take the next step.

The best thing about it all is that she has figured out a way to do all this on a VERY tight budget – and she shares her secrets with you so that you can do it too.

Nora is a professional writer today. She writes for major blogs such as Wisebread, Transitions Abroad, Amex Openforum, and has been featured in a range of newspapers and TV shows around the world. She also co-authored a book titled “10001 ways to live large on a small budget“, a must-have guide for anyone aiming to take control of their finances.

Nora writes about her adventures at The Professional Hobo – make sure you add her to your RSS reader!

Other great organisations and resources mentioned during the call:

If you have any specific questions for Nora, then let me know and I will try to set up another chat with her.

To your success!



JURGEN: Hi, everyone. This is Jurgen, again, from, and today I’m very pleased to bring you a fascinating young lady called Nora Dunn.

Nora is a person that travels the world every year for $14,000 or less, which to me, sounds like almost an impossible task, but Nora’s going to tell us a little bit about that, and show us how that can be done.

She’s a former financial planner. She’s had her own practice and decided to give up the rat race a few years back. And as I said, she now travels the world.

She writes for blogs – very popular websites like Wise Bread, American Express Open Forum, Transitions Abroad, and a few more. And she’s also co-author of a book titled ‘10,001 Ways to Live Large on a Small Budget’.

Nora, are you there?

NORA: Yes, I am. Hello!

JURGEN: Hello! Thanks very much for taking the call today. I’m sure everyone will be very interested in hearing what you have to say, and telling us a little bit about yourself.

Where are you at the moment?

NORA: I am currently in New Zealand – couple of hours from Auckland, New Zealand in the north island, looking at a beautiful view of the sunset on the Coromandel Peninsula.

JURGEN: Oh, that’s unbelievable.

What are you doing there?

NORA: I __[01:08]. Actually, I’m flying out to Europe, and I’ll be in Europe for 4 months, and then I’ll be in Australia for 2 months, and then it’s actually back in New Zealand by December.

JURGEN: You’re traveling pretty far and wide. That’s a fair distance to travel.

NORA: It is indeed.

JURGEN: So all this travel obviously the reason we’re talking today is to get a bit of an idea of who you are, and what made you decide to, I guess, take the plunge, and travel.

For anyone out there that doesn’t know who Nora is yet, you will know a lot about her in the next 60 minutes. But also you can visit her website at the where she shares her ideas and thoughts when she’s traveling. There’s quite a good few photos up there. Very beautiful, scenic views that she experiences pretty much on a day to day basis. Unlike all of us who’s sitting in our offices looking at the window dredging the 9-5, Nora’s out there doing what every one of us wants to do.

Nora, tell me your history like your childhood. Where were you born? And just tell us a little bit about yourself.

NORA: I was born and raised in Toronto, Canada – a place that I’m still happy to say feels like home very much. Both my parents are musicians, so I’ve always had an artistic background. I’ve dabbled in careers. I obviously was a performer. I started off as a concert pianist, got into singing, and was a professional actor/singer/dancer for a while, worked in television for a fair while myself as well doing producing, and hosting a couple of different television shows. And then I got into property management for a while. I call that my ‘blue period’.

As careers have gone and as my upbringing has generally gone. I mean, I’ve had a lot of different experiences growing up. And I find I have this little voice in the back of my head that always says “Nora, it’s time to do something new. You’re not doing what you’re supposed to be doing.” It always typically led me to a career change after being in a career for a couple of years. For someone as young as I am, I have quite a laundry list of experiences I’ve had under my belt.

But I’d like to tell you about one defining moment I had when I was a child that pretty much explains why I’m here today in many ways. I was probably about 8 years old, and sitting in school, and the teacher’s put on a documentary about Europe. I gaped up at the screen, looking at this world that was completely different. I looked at all these cobblestone streets, and the old architecture, and these people who dressed differently, and they spoke a language I couldn’t understand, and they ate different food. And I thought “Geez, I wonder what life is like for these people.” I mean, I have no idea what their frame or reference is, and how they live, and just really and truly, what life is like for them.

It spurred what became a life-long dream of mine to travel the world, and to actually get to know some of these people around the world. And as life went on, I continued to – I was always big on vacations, and I always love taking vacations but we always come back from a vacation feeling like I had no better of a sense of what life was like for those people than before I left. I mean, just a couple of weeks is never really an opportunity to truly get to know a place, and the land, and the people, and the culture, and the food, and all that good stuff. It ultimately played a large part in my decision to start traveling full time.

JURGEN: Yeah, you’re right. I mean, every time I go on holiday, I kind of just go there to relax but it’s definitely not the ideal situation in order to get a full sense of the culture, and learn all the intricacies of the different people and so on. So yeah, definitely.

NORA: Well and relaxing holidays are definitely worth their __[04:38] especially when you work hard. I used to do that as well. I will be working 50-60 hours a week. I’d need a vacation just to recover, and that vacation really needed to be just going somewhere, and sitting on a beach for a while.

I mean, the vacations that you take where you’re actively traveling around, and trying to explore cultures, you usually need a vacation to recover from that experience.

JURGEN: So you mentioned your work history there. You worked in television producing things. You’re an actor, singer, dancer – all those kind of things, and that you have a definitely very artistic background. But you also mentioned property management and so on.

I know that you’re a former Certified Financial Planner or perhaps you’re still one, you’re just not practicing. Can you tell us a little more about that, and how you thought of that, and what happened?

NORA: Yeah, absolutely.

Well, I was __[05:27] my blue period in property management. I mean, it was okay. But again, that little voice in the back of my head that I told you about earlier, kicked in and started saying “Nora, you’re not doing what you’re supposed to be doing. There’s something else out there for you.” And I dabbled in a number of different businesses. I’d ran a couple of administrative practices. And both my parents being musicians, I guess, the entrepreneurial genes were firmly embedded in me from a young age.

I’ve also been very responsible with my finances. I don’t even know where I got it from in particular. But it’s something that from the time I started working at the age of 17 or 16, I saved a massive percentage of my income. I was always into investing it. So it’s something that came very naturally to me.

A friend of mine actually had just opened up his own financial planning practice under the umbrella of Investors Group which is Canada’s largest financial planning firm. I’ve always dismissed financial planning as something that I could do because I thought you needed a university degree for it, and that I don’t have. But I actually discovered, that no, actually with a number of post-secondary courses, and time in the __[06:33], I had the ability to become a financial planner myself.

That spewed the decision for me to get into financial planning and I found it incredibly rewarding. I mean, around my own practice for about 6 years and had become what I could say is a medium-size fish in a big pond, become fairly renowned for approaching personal finance much less as something that plugging numbers into programs, and spitting out graph, and much more a function of redefining people’s relationships with money, and helping them to achieve their dreams, and their goals, and what it is that they really want to do with their life by virtue of engineering their finances to get them there.

I found it incredibly rewarding on a personal level working with clients, of course, but then also professionally speaking, I got a little bit of notoriety. I’ve made regular television appearances, and was being quoted in newspapers, and feeling all that sort of stuff.

It always gave me a bit of a thrill to be able to do that. But a couple of years running into my financial planning practice, once again, that voice kicked in and said “Nora, you’re not doing what you’re supposed to be doing. There’s something else out there for you.” And I thought “Don’t start it. No. I’m not going to do it this time. I cannot throw. I’ve poured blood, sweat, and tears into this practice. I cannot throw this away for another career and making another career switch.

I decided to stick it in with the financial planning, and fill my life with other activities that I hoped would be a little more fulfilling. So I joined Toast Masters. I was doing humanitarian work with Rotary Clubs. I got back into theatre so I was doing musical theatre performances. I got back into film and television. I actually shot a couple of movies, and commercials, and did all this sort of stuff. And eventually found that I was busy 18 hours a day, and the ever increasing void wasn’t going away.

It wasn’t ultimately until my health came into the fray and I became quite ill. Not seriously ill, but ill enough that I had to really stop and think. I had 2 bouts of bronchitis that eventually devolved into walking pneumonia.

JURGEN: Oh my goodness!

NORA: So it was enough to stop me in my tracks, and it was the first time I was really forced to listen to myself and what I really wanted in life which was, again, to travel full time to seize this dream.

JURGEN: Great! That’s pretty fascinating rollercoaster ride, I guess, you just described there. I mean, growing your own practice of 2 years, getting that nagging voice that’s been with you since your early childhood, I guess, since that __[09:04] video up on screen.

I mean, Toast Masters, Rotary, musical theatre…movies and commercial work. I guess a lot of people out there are finding themselves feeling less fulfilled with their day-to-day living, I guess, than what they thought they were going to be when you’re all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed from school and university, and all that kind of stuff. And I see a lot of people actually joining these clubs or other networking clubs and so on to kind of fill that void. But you say to yourself, that wasn’t actually doing that, and you needed to just kind of get out of there in trouble. And when you got sick, it was pretty much the final nail in the coffin, I guess.

NORA: It was, indeed.

Now I will say in the sense of extracurricular activities and programs like those I was participating in, they really did help for quite a long time. Two years after I was into my practice, that voice kicked in again but I stuck in for 6 years. It was until drudgery either. I mean, I did some amazing things and learned a lot by virtue of just jumping into all sorts of different activities. So I certainly don’t trade any of the experiences I’ve had in for the world because I think they all helped contribute to where I am now.

JURGEN: Cool. And for anyone else out there, that might be a pretty good starting point to start doing those kind of things.

I mean, for Toast Masters, learning how to present yourself in front of a group of people, and how to motivate, and inspire. The Rotary to do some good for their community. And then for the other fun stuff like musical theatre with the movie, and commercial, and TV, and movies and that kind of stuff.

So it all kept you busy pretty heavily like 18 hours a day, it’s kind of long hard slope to go through.

NORA: It is, indeed.

JURGEN: I mean, 18 hours a day is pretty standard, I guess, for anyone working in professional services or any other professional environment we have clients and that kind of thing as well.

Which brings me to the next question is that’s a massive change that you made to go from that to traveling the world pretty much on a small budget and that kind of stuff with no real possessions, I guess, and no fixed address, and all that kind of stuff.

How did you prepare for the transition? We know now why you’ve done it, but what was the process, I guess, that you went through to kind of sever yourself from the previous part of your life and then moving into this amazing open opportunity of traveling?

NORA: It’s certainly an organic process in that it continuously evolves. I cannot say that there was a defining moment where I automatically knew exactly what it was I would do although it all started one day when I’ve been ill, and I didn’t know, I was at my wits end, and I was heading into the office, and I just didn’t know what to do with myself, and I was quite upset.

A friend of mine said “Well, Nora, what do you want to do?” I just have a joke. I said “I just want to retire.” __[11:46] I was 29 at the time. I thought I obviously can’t retire, but I did ask myself what retirement really meant to me.

To me, retirement was never going to be an exercise in gardening, and sitting in a rocking chair, and knitting my days away. It’s just not my style. Retirement, for me, is much more about, again, of course traveling the world (duh!) But also climbing the mountains of the world, doing humanitarian work around the world, having a longstanding experience. And again, like I said before, breaking bread at dinner tables around the world.

And I kind of sat back, and thought about it for a while, and thought ‘If I waited another 30 years before I conventionally retire to do that, I might not be able to do some of those things I really want to do.’ So I thought ‘If I want to try to live this dream now, how do I do it? Do I take a sabbatical? Can I achieve what I want to do in 4-6 months, or a year, or what have you? And how would I go about doing that? How would I take the time off my practice, and away from my apartment, and all those sort of things that I had going?

And I found out that it was very overwhelming for me. A lot of people who take a sabbatical actually are starting to discover that if you take a sabbatical, it’s quite good for business if you take regular sabbaticals or what Tim Ferriss calls ‘mini retirements’.

But I couldn’t wrap my head around is it wasn’t something that I could really figure out how to do – I don’t know – I’m a little bit push-nickety about how things go, and I thought if I am traveling, and I got belongings, and responsibilities that tie me to a place, I might not be able to release myself to the experience as well as I might like. I may be worrying too much about all this stuff, all the people or the business that I’d left behind and I’ll be returning to.

So I knew that moment that I had to make a clean cut, and that I was going to have to sell everything, and do it that way. So I sold the sports car, and got rid of the loft, and all the gear, the motorcycle. I walked into my Regional Director’s office, and said I was selling my financial planning practice. He knew that something was up. He knew that I hadn’t been happy over the last number of months, and said “Well I’ll tell you what I’m going to do.” He was great. He wanted to make this easy for me. He said “I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. I’ll manage your practice for you. We’ll take care of it, and you go, and do what you have to do, and then you can come back, and then you can step right back into your client base and your practice.” And I said “You know, I really appreciate that offer. But again, I don’t think that I’ll be able to release myself to the travel experience the way I need to if I know that there’s something that I need to return to.” I really wanted to open myself up to an open-ended itinerary for as long or a short a period of time as I wanted.

So that was ultimately the process that led me to how and why I traveled full time.

In terms of getting rid of all the belongings, it was emotionally difficult, and I realized I had to put everything I own had to fit into a bag. But you know? I did it. I sold it all. To this day, I have 4 or 6 boxes sitting in a friend’s garage, and those are the belongings that I consider priceless in that they are things that cannot be replaced or things I’ve accumulated from previous travels to that date or files, like, key administrative files that I have to have for posterity that I’ve got to keep track of. But other than that, everything went.

JURGEN: Nothing else? Wow! Yeah, that is a big change.

NORA: Oh indeed

JURGEN: I don’t know if I’m quite ready to do the same thing, but maybe one day.

I like my stuff too much, which is kind of fun in one way, but it’s also something that does keep you kind of tied down.

Perhaps let us talk a little bit about exactly what it is that you do today then. So we’ve talked about where this all inspiration come from. And I’m sure the people listening to this know that you travel the world and all that, but perhaps let’s delve a little bit deeper into that.

So you’ve sold your practice, you’ve packed up your stuff, you put the boxes in a friend’s garage, and you’re off. How does that work? Do you take it day-by-day? Do you plan ahead? What do you do on a daily basis?

NORA: I love using the expression ‘Life happens when you’re busy making plans.’ because it is very much applicable in the travel realm as well.

My initial goal – something inexplicable draws me very much to Central and South America. There’s something about the Latin American culture, and the music, and the people that really has been quite attractive to me.

So my first port of call was going to be Costa Rica, and I was going to work my way down into Central and South America.

But for some reason, I was looking at airfare and everything, and I just couldn’t bring myself to book the ticket. I couldn’t explain why. My boyfriend at the time (we traveled together), he got a call from his brother who was in Western Canada who said “Look, I’m getting married in a couple of months. Will you be in the wedding party?” And all of a sudden, we looked at each other and thought “Well, it’s a good thing we’re not going to be in Costa Rica.” or “It’s a good thing we haven’t booked the tickets to Costa Rica because it looks like we’re going West.”

So life happened while we were busy making plans to go to Costa Rica, and it took us to Western Canada instead. We traveled and lived there for a while, which was just brilliant and then we were going to go to Costa Rica. But then there was an opportunity to go to Hawaii, and help take care of a permaculture property came up. It was something that I hadn’t – Hawaii was never on my list of places to go particularly. It didn’t strike me as a cultural mecca, but it ended up being an amazing experience.

So once again, I had to go with my gut and say that “No, Hawaii is where I’m going to go.” Went there and lived in Hawaii for 6 months, worked at this permaculture property which is an incredible experience, and then moved to the other side of the island, and ended up living and working at a hostel as well doing some art work.

And a lot of this really just comes with serendipity and opportunity.

So after Hawaii, again, I wasn’t really sure anymore where I was going to head but Plan B has always been head to Central America.

While I was sitting in Hawaii, an opportunity for a sponsored trip in Australia came up. So all right, I guess we’re going to Australia next.

JURGEN: Down under

NORA: Yeah, exactly. And in between Hawaii and Australia, we had a couple of months to kill so went through Asia. There is a couple of adventures alone in Asia that I could get into, but…

JURGEN: Feel free. Say anything you want.

NORA: I guess under the theme of what predicates travels, serendipity and opportunity, keeping your eyes open, and seeing what’s out there.

One of the things I said earlier that I wanted to do when I was traveling around the world was I wanted to do humanitarian work. I was in remote Northern Thailand, and watched this massive storm blow by on the horizon, and didn’t know what it was but my boyfriend – eyes on the horizon, and said “Someone out there is having a really bad day.” We left it at that. Didn’t really think much more of it until we got back into Chiang Mai, and discovered that that storm we had seen was actually Cyclone Nargis which pretty much aborterated Burma.

We were a couple hundred kilometres away from 2 million people who had just become homeless, and were under water, had no fresh water, had no food, had no shelter. And all of a sudden, the idea of continuing on our little backpacking trip through Asia seemed pretty trivial.

We looked at each other and said “Well, we said we wanted to do humanitarian work. Let’s see if we can do something even just something very small, very grassroots.” So we hatched a plan. We decided we were going to rent a truck and fill it with water. We figured we could afford to do that fairly easily. And we would drive it to the Burmese border, and an aide working on the inside to pick it up, and we’d be done. It probably would take us about a week to organise it all, and we would have done something more than nothing, and then we could continue on, and meet our plane to get to Australia, and __[19:40] as they stood.

Twenty four hours later, with the help of Rotary, which is an amazing worldwide organisation, we had the help of The Royal Thai Airforce and a C130 Hercules cargo aircraft at our disposal.

JURGEN: Oh my goodness! How did that happen?

NORA: I don’t even know. The power of networking, and the power of saying – especially as a foreigner, we were talking to people saying we want to do some good. And people who lived there were inspired by the fact that we wanted to do something, so they rose to the occasion themselves, and we’re able to tap into their own networks, and make a couple of phone calls, and then all of a sudden, we have this cargo aircraft, and the Royal Thai Airforce.

JURGEN: What did you put in there?

NORA: Well, all of a sudden it became a matter of – we looked at each other and went “Oh my gosh! We can fill a truck on our own money.” and we cancel a plane. It turned into a massive international fundraising campaign that we spearheaded by ourselves pretty much, and again like I said, with the help of Rotary. I would certainly not want to take all the credit myself, but it was something that we were the organisers, if you will, of the entire initiative.

That was an experience, and of course, that held us up for, I guess, 3 weeks we were on that project. Didn’t end up filling the plane. There were all sorts of issues with economic sanctions and such, Burma being a closed country. But we were able to raise about $15,000.00, and we channeled it directly into the country so 100% of every donation was channeled directly into aide, and we could confirm that the aide was received by the people of Burma.

JURGEN: That’s awesome.

NORA: And there was just – keep your eyes and ears open. Look at serendipity and opportunity, and it’ll tell you where to go in the world.

JURGEN: Just kind of being aware of what’s going out there.

NORA: Very much

It was quite an experience, to say the least. And over and over again in the travels that I’ve had in the last 3 years, I’ve experienced the little signs here and there that has led me to my next travel destination or have led me to an activity that has been very fulfilling for me or that has, in turn, led me to another travel destination or an adventure that has changed the scope of how I see things.

So travel, in and of itself, is certainly an experience in remaining open to the opportunities. And plan, but be prepared for the plans to change as well.

JURGEN: So be flexible.

NORA: Very much

JURGEN: With this keeping eyes open and identifying all these little opportunities that — I guess they’re everywhere. It’s just a matter of if you can spot them or not — do you mostly find these opportunities through talking to the locals or – I mean, when you say ‘keep your eyes open’, what exactly do you mean?

NORA: Well, it can be anything. Absolutely it can be talking to locals.

I’ll give you an interesting example actually what brought me to New Zealand. I was sitting in Australia, and I’ve been in Australia for quite a long time. I was in Australia for almost 20 months and I knew that I needed to move on. I really fell head over heels in love with Australia, but it was time – as a full-time traveler – it was time to move on.

But before that even happened, I had been – through social media, I’ve made a connection with another traveler, and he was shooting a television show (an adventure show), and he shot in a different country. Every episode was a different country. And he was shooting in South Africa at the time. And I’ve been to South Africa before so I made a couple of suggestions. I said “You got to try the world’s highest bungee jump, and try diving with sharks, and this safari here and there, and the other.” And he took up my suggestions and absolutely loved them, sent me an email shortly thereafter and said “You know, I’m shooting the next episode in New Zealand and I know you’re in Australia. Any chance you could hack your way into New Zealand, I’ll have you on as a featured travel expert. You can join in on all the festivities.”

And initially, I said “I can’t possibly do that because I’m leaving Australia in a month and I don’t know where I’m going to go. I’ve got to figure that out.” And I thought “Hold on, wait a minute. Here’s an opportunity to go to New Zealand. This might help me figure out where I’m going to go.” and hack at a trip that was largely expensive paid. I think I would’ve been crazy not to.

So despite the fact that my Aussie visa expired in a month, and I didn’t know where I was going to go. I was feeling a little bit insecure about that, I hopped on the plane to New Zealand. Now while I was in New Zealand shooting this television show, of course fell in love with the place, but I also made some friends locally. We’ve had a Kiwi barbecue, experiencing some true Kiwi hospitality, and had some great connections with people, and they said “You know, if you’re ever back in New Zealand, don’t hesitate to give us a call. You can come stay with us.”

And sometimes we hear that, but we don’t really believe it. We feel too shy.

JURGEN: It’s kind of like one of those things people say.

NORA: Exactly. It’s like “Are you just saying that to be polite?” They don’t really expect you’re going to show up.

So I said to them right then and there. I said “You better be careful what you offer because I might take you up in it.” And so they said “Oh yes, we’re quite serious. Certainly, feel free to come by.”

So I went back to Australia, I packed my bags, and 2 weeks later I was in New Zealand.

JURGEN: “Hello! I’m back.”

NORA: Yeah, exactly. Right back on their doorstep “I’m back!”

That’s a matter of making a connection with somebody local. And then of course that connection, and being able to stay with them, I saw and learned so much about New Zealand through those friends.

Here’s also another New Zealand opportunity that came to me by virtue of keeping my eyes and ears open. When I was in Thailand, I met another Canadian who was traveling at the time. He had mentioned – I don’t know what the conversation was – but he had mentioned that one of his best travel experiences ever was a volunteer experience he did in New Zealand at this retreat called Mana Retreat in Coromandel. And he said it’s one of the best things he’d ever done.

So I filed that away in the back of my brain somewhere, and figured that that would become useful at some point. Of course once I knew I was coming back to New Zealand, the first people I called up are the Mana Retreat, and that’s where I’m sitting right now.

JURGEN: That’s where you have a beautiful sunset that you’re looking at.

NORA: Exactly. That’s where my sunset is.

JURGEN: Unbelievable.

So that covers off a lot of the, I guess, crazy places and definitely explains how you kind of keep your eyes open. It seems like you do strike up a good connection with the local folks, make a few friends, and then kind of just take it from there.

NORA: Absolutely

JURGEN: I mean, if someone presents you with an opportunity, it’s one way to just hear the opportunity and file it away, but you’re actually taking action on those, and capitalising on those opportunities, and just letting the one kind of flow to the next, and on, and on.

NORA: Very much

JURGEN: Have you ever been back home since you started doing this or has it just been working out quite well?

NORA: No, I have been back. I went back a year ago. I went back to Canada for 6 weeks for a visit. I figured it’s time, certainly, to reconnect with my family and my friends. And I also had a wedding to attend where I was the Maid of Honour. That was a great chance to reconnect. Now, it has been 2 years at that stage of the game. It was definitely high time.

Actually when I’m in Europe this summer, my mom is actually flying over to France, and we’re going to travel France together for 3 weeks, and then we’re going to house-sit in England together for another 2 weeks.

That will be another great connection, great ability to, you know, reconnect. It’s not all my family and friends, of course, but yeah, to be able to spend that time with my mom, and abroad no less, is something I’m really looking forward to.

JURGEN: Yeah. That sounds great.

NORA: I also wanted to just go back quickly to let you know that, I mean obviously, I find my travel opportunities by keeping my eyes and ears open, and speaking with locals but it hasn’t always been that way. And certainly, if listeners are feeling a little overwhelmed about the whole idea of just trying to get in with some locals, and wondering where the first travel opportunity can come from, there’s a lot of resources online to be able to find travel opportunities. If you want to work in trade for your accommodation, or if you want to house-sit, or if you want to do a home swap, or whatever it is that you want to do, there’s almost always a resource online that will point you to those opportunities. They have been instrumental for me in the planning of my own travels as well when I haven’t had __[28:03] to work with.

JURGEN: Great! Perhaps I’ll send you quick email or have a bit of a look around, and see if we can put together a list like that for anyone that’s listening, and we’ll check on the website. Anyone that’s interested – we’ll see if we can direct them to the right resources.

Now you mentioned there you work trade for accommodation, house-sitting, house-swapping, and all sorts of other things. Which kind of brings me to the next kind of nice segue into the next section here.

Obviously you need money to do all of these things. You need to eat and you need to live somewhere. You need to pay for your flights. You need to pay for traveling and all that kind of stuff.

How do you actually do finance yourself for these kind of trips or do you do lot of sponsoring things? Do people sponsor you with accommodation? What are some of the ways that you kind of maintain that side of your life?

NORA: Generally speaking, the way that I make my full time travels financially sustainable is a process that is twofold. The first part of the process is I keep my accommodation, and sometimes, my food expenses as low as possible, and zero as much as possible. And the way that I do that is I will volunteer in trade for my accommodation. That can take the form of anything from house-sitting for somebody to working on a property like Mana where I’m working in trade for my accommodation and food by working in the kitchen or gardening or housekeeping.

What else do I do? There’s just so many things you can do really. I’ve done quite a variety of things – tasks in trade for various forms of accommodation. There’s a lot of different ways to be able to volunteer in trade for your accommodation and keep those expenses next to thing, if not nothing.

The second part of how I manage to make my travels financially sustainable, I mean obviously, once accommodation is taken care of, and as long as you’re traveling slowly, you’re not actively backpacking, and going from hostel to hostel to hostel and eating out all the time, your expenses are already much lower if you’re staying in one place for a while.

But of course you do need money. You need money to get to and from the destinations. You need money for incidentals and all that sort of stuff.

And the way I do that is I have a location-independent business as a writer. So basically I’m able to make a modest living with an internet connection.

JURGEN: Okay, so you travel basically and all these websites like the Wise Bread, and Transitions Abroad, and those guys that you write for, they actually pay you for your articles, and then that gets sent to a PayPal address or something or a bank account that’s international, and then you just only live off that?


JURGEN: How are you doing that? You make it sound so easy. Wow!

Does it pay well? How much do you have to do in order to kind of make a decent – I mean, New Zealand’s not Asia you know. It’s a pretty expensive place…Australia is also pretty normal first world kind of rates and things that you pay for things. Do you find yourself writing a lot of articles?

NORA: It varies. I mean, in terms of the various sources of income that I have, it’s been a process that it has taken over the last 3 years has built up slowly. And certainly I’m finding that each month and each year I enter new levels and new echelons, I’m able to command higher prices for my writing. I’m no longer having to search and work as hard to get the commissioned articles as before. And in fact in some cases, editors are approaching me asking me to write for them so that’s nice. That saves some time and energy. My website, is continuing to get more and more popular so of course there’s various forms of publicity and income that can come in from that.

It does go up and down. And of course as you mentioned at the beginning of our conversation, there is an article that I wrote, and I wrote that a year ago, about how you can travel for $14,000.00 a year or less.

I also don’t have to make a lot of money with my writing in order to keep the travels going. It is simply a way, and I’d say I can quite easily make more than enough to be able to – more than $14,000.00 a year anyway through the articles and stuff that I have.

The balancing act is where the real challenge comes in because, of course, I love writing. I love what I do, but as we’re kind of programmed to work a lot, and I could quite easily bury my nose in my laptop for full time hours or even more than full time hours, which is not the idea of the lifestyle of traveling.

When I’m also balancing into the next working in trade for my accommodation I have to be very careful about not working too hard, and making sure that I take advantage of the places where I’m staying, and experiencing the world that is around me.

I try very hard to keep my working hours down to part time hours, ideally no more than 20 hours a week is what I work on my writing. And then I work up to 20 hours a week. It all depends how hard I work depending on the work-trade gig that I’ve got. House-sitting doesn’t usually involve much more than walking the dogs and watering the garden. So that’s obviously a lot less time than working in a hospitality scenario.

JURGEN: So there’s different types of work you can do.

Now this 20 hours a week that you’re talking about, that includes the article writing and it’s also everything that you do in terms of working and trading for accommodation, house-sitting, and all that kind of stuff?

NORA: The 20 hours a week is just the writing. I mean, I get upward to 50 emails a day from readers, from editors – 50 actionable emails a day that I need to do something with.

JURGEN: Well thank you very much for picking mine up.

NORA: No worries. I do respond to all emails.

That alone is quite a time-consumer. Now the 20 hours a week is simply on the writing and the location-independent work. The work-trading and such does get lumped on top of that. Depending on the gig that I’ve got, I can pretty much be working full time hours. The advantage is I’m doing it in a different place in the world with every gig that I’ve got.

JURGEN: Well that gives a very realistic expectation for anyone out there that’s thinking of doing a similar thing. It’s not going to be that you just write a single article every week, and then you’re going to go travel, and spend the whole 5 days walking around, and doing stuff. It is actually still important to focus on getting your finances sorted out – I mean, working is not necessarily a bad thing. That’s the first thing.

NORA: It is a full-on business. It is a career. I know that some people think that full-time travel it’s all about sitting on the beach with fancy drinks with umbrellas in them.

JURGEN: Drinking piñacolada

NORA: Yeah, exactly. It’s entirely not glamorous. There’s some hard work in there, but the rewards far, far, far outweigh any of the compromises you have to make.

JURGEN: That ties in nicely with the question. We’ve got a bit of a mailbag thing going here where I send out – also like you said, use social media to kind of get in touch with people. I use Facebook to kind of post questions. And so if I’m interviewing you or someone else, I’ll just post a few requests and see if anyone’s interested to ask you a few questions.

Now we’ve got one here from Kathleen and also from Australia. This is what we just talked about this 40-hour week ties in nicely to their question. For her benefit, I’ll just ask it again.

Kathleen wants to know – she says “One of the reasons that many people would see what you’re doing as attractive is substantial for less time spent in an office, and less time on household chores or routine tasks. But have you found that in your switch to become a Professional Hobo, it is actually achievable to spend more time in a week doing what you want or are you more likely to do more manual labour with a similar time commitment i.e. 40 hours a week, and whilst doing that, still have a lot more overheads to organise on a daily basis other than someone would be in a stable location, for instance?”

So I guess what she’s asking is your things that you need to organise maybe the next trip where you’re going to go – I mean, it might be a lot more difficult to kind of figure out these things that we take for granted if we’re staying in the same place.

Do you find much trouble organising in life, I guess, so to speak?

NORA: Well, that’s a process that __[36:02] flows to be sure. It’s one of those things that takes a lot of constant attention, and commitment, and it really is a personal decision as to how time-consuming or not various things can be.

As much as being I am a full-time traveler, I also don’t particularly like searching for airfare and figuring out some of those logistics. It’s not a lot of fun and it does take a lot of time if you want to do it in the most cost-effective manner. It’s a time-consuming process.

But it’s not onerous. It is exciting. It is a good reason to want to sit down, and do some of these logistics, and figure some of those out.

And I will also say that this usually gets worked into the same 20 hours a week I’ve talked about that is also my writing because, I mean, my career is to travel fulltime. Finding out the logistics of those travel is incorporated into that working schedule.

It does take a lot of – in terms of that balance, so it does take a lot of constant attention to make sure that I don’t overwork myself or work myself into corners because it’s quite easy to do that. It’s both a personality trait, I think, as well as a cultural one.

JURGEN: Okay, cool. So it’s up to you, basically. You’re the designer of your own destiny, I guess.

NORA: Yup, pretty much

JURGEN: So that you take care of it and look after yourself.


JURGEN: So tell me, Nora, how can someone else start making the transition into this? What are some of the challenges that they’ll face when they decide to kind of take the plunge and start traveling like this? Is there any particular place they should start? Do they have to be aware of any pitfalls like maybe visa requirements or anything like that? Just some general things to look after or some common pitfalls , I guess.

NORA: Well one of the most important things that you can do, one of the biggest favours you could do for yourself before you take off and travel fulltime in a similar fashion to how I’ve done it – two favours you can do for yourself that if you don’t do them, can be pitfalls. One of which is make sure your financial house is in order because if you have a whole lot of debt hanging over your head, and no real way to service that debt, you’re not going to get very far literally or figuratively before that debt is going to drive you back into a more conventional lifestyle.

It really is important to make sure that you have your financial house in order and that you have a certain amount of money saved. You always want a backup. You always want to have, no matter where you are in the world, enough money to get on a plane and get home in an emergency. There are some people who will fly by the seat of their pants more than that, but I, as ever the financial planner, cannot advise that in good conscience. Make sure you have that.

And also make sure you have travel insurance. Not once but twice on the road, my boyfriend ended up in hospital. If we didn’t have travel insurance policies, it would’ve cost a lot more than it ended up costing us by having the travel insurance. That’s something that could be a pitfall if you don’t do it or a favour if you do.

Another suggestion I would have is to have some idea for how you’re going to make money. This does boil down to visas as well as careers. Definitely in every country you’re going, research the visa requirements.

I’m actually off to Europe for 4 months, and I had all these countries that I wanted to visit, and people to stay with, and volunteer opportunities, and such until I realised that I am only allowed with something called the Schengen Agreement. The Schengen area is basically all of the European Union minus the UK. And the whole purpose of the treaty or the agreement is to reduce the number of border controls that are required between countries.

So you basically arrive in this zone, in this area, and travel at will in between all these countries. No problems. The only thing is you can only be there for 90 days, which is 3 months.

JURGEN: All of them?

NORA: Yup, out of any 6 months period. And of course I was planning on being there for 4 months.

Only because I was able to research and discover this did I realise that I actually have to end up going to the UK for a month if I want to satisfy the terms of this visa, which of course I do.

So research the visa, research the working rights that come – what sort of visa you can get. If you’re under the age of 30, there’s a lot of countries in the world will allow you to get what’s called a ‘working holiday visa’ which is usually a 1-year working visa, and the ability to stay, live, and work in that country legally for 1 year. So that’s a great way to be able to travel the world and make money while you’re traveling.

That boils down to, again, find a way to make money. Find a way to be able to keep those travels going if you want to try to make travel a full time lifestyle. Find a location-independent business that could make you happy. Get it up and going. Get something coming in before you celebrate and then buy that plane ticket because it will help you not only keep the travels going, but it will also reduce a lot of stress while you’re on the road wondering where your next mail is going to come from or how you’re possibly going to be able to travel and build a business at the same time.

JURGEN: So talking about that location-independent, that very familiar topic for anyone that’s read Timothy Ferriss’s ‘4-hour Work Week’ book, which in many respects, I think, has changed the lives of so many people around the world because it just put all the conventions on a __[41:26] basically.

Did you start off with that book or did you do this before that was written? I don’t actually know the year that it was written in.

NORA: I think the book was out when I started traveling or it came out shortly after I started traveling.

But I didn’t get clued into it until I was in Thailand, actually, and met someone who had the book, and I devoured it in the course of about 2 days. He lent it to me.

JURGEN: Yeah, good book, eh?

NORA: And just thought it was absolutely wonderful, and in many ways, was what I was already doing. And in many other ways, gave me inspiration to tweak what I was doing, and to further develop what I was doing into an even more effective lifestyle. And I could see immediately as soon as I read it how effective it could be in helping other people redefine their lives and the way they see work.

JURGEN:__[42:15] the independent business thing that you mentioned, though, I guess it’s for many people – myself included – that’s the kind of biggest hurdle is you’re almost too afraid to take that plunge without having that fallback or that source in place, but whilst you’re doing what you’re doing day to day, it’s very easy to let that kind of slip by the wayside, and not fully develop the capability such as that. You kind of just get sucked into the normal – nice life as normal kind of thing.

How did you start doing that kind of thing? I mean, I know that you were in production, and TV, and those kind of things before. Did that help to build yourself a profile in terms of getting writing gigs, and those kind of things? Just that you know maybe that someone else can use to think of what Tim Ferriss will call a ‘muse’, I guess, that could do that for you.

NORA: I don’t know that necessarily my performance and television experience helped me to develop my writing business per se, but it certainly has helped me with any publicity I have received in recent months and years.

The writing was just something that was a muse, if you will, that I’ve had all my life, and it was something that I always did, and always loved.

It started off fairly innocently as I started a blog because I just knew that it was going to be a way that I was going to stay in touch with my family and friends. And I thought it’d be a neat way – just on a very personal level – detail my experiences. It was shortly thereafter though as I was doing a little bit more research online and beyond that I started to connected the dots, if you will. I realised “Hold on, wait a minute. I could actually make money with my writing.” And couple that with my entrepreneurial skills that I already had fairly well developed, and it was a fairly easy and organic process for me to start to develop that business being freelance writing. I mean, I feel very blessed in many ways because it was an easy decision, and it was a very natural one for me.

But I must also say – I mean, not everyone has a location-independent business. Certainly I would suggest that reading the ‘4-hour Work Week’ is a great way to get your mind thinking about various ways you could make money in a location-independent manner, and restructure your lifestyle.

But travel doesn’t have to be about having a location-independent business so you can travel full time. Travel can be something much – like I said, between working holiday visas or simply between go home, live like a monk, work like a dog, save a whole bunch of money, and take off, and travel for 8 months, come home, do the same thing.

And I know a couple from Canada that they’ve done a couple of trips already, and they’ve had jobs that they’ve been able to take those periods of time off from and have a job to go back to so they’re lucky in that sense, I guess.

But whether they cycled from the top to bottom of Africa with the Tour d’Afrique, and they went back to Canada, and they worked for another – I’m not sure how long they worked. Probably about 8 months. And then they took off, and they’ve been on the road for the last year. I don’t know how much longer they’re going to stay on the road, but probably as long as they can before they go home, and they do the same thing again. They’re also in the process of developing an ongoing passive income that will extend their travels.

But you don’t have to try to make it a full time thing. That can be very daunting for a lot of people, and not really necessarily what everybody wants either. You don’t feel like you’ve got to go all or nothing. There’s definitely different degrees of moderation depending on what it is that you want to accomplish with your travels.

JURGEN: Okay, that’s great advice. Thank you very much.

Just a few last little things that I’d like to know.

So we know we’ve talked about some of the different types of work that you can do, and some of the different things and what to consider, I guess, the common pitfalls that people should look out for in terms of researching your visa properly and making sure you’re in good financial health before you start just in case something does happen. And then very important, making sure that you’ve got travel insurance.

But as far as the different places that you’ve visited, you didn’t really talk about that too much yet.

So I would like to pose a question to you to list for me, perhaps, some of the craziest places that you’ve been, some of the most dangerous places that you’ve visited. For instance, when that cyclone went through, was it Burma?


JURGEN: That could have been pretty dangerous. Maybe some of the places where you found the friendliest people, and then the most remote locations that you’ve been at, and spent a bit of time at.

NORA: Brilliant!

I consider myself to be one of the world’s slowest travelers. By virtue of my desire to truly experience a culture and a place for a while, I generally tend to try to stay somewhere for at least a couple of months.

Having said that, in the last 3 years, I’ve not seen a huge number of places – not as many as you might think. But I do certainly have a variety of interesting experiences under my belt: anything from – one of the most remote places I’ve been was on the east coast of the big island of Hawaii. I was living in a permaculture property. I was right on the ocean and I was on a permaculture property with only solar power. It was all and everything – and I mean everything – got recycled. It was an extremely remote property – I think I was 13 miles from the nearest street light, much less town, much less anything. To get into town, I had to hike 4 miles, and then hitchhike the other 11 miles. It was pretty full-on. That was definitely remote. I mean, it’s on a remote part of a remote island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, so I think that qualifies me for remote.

JURGEN: I think you passed.

NORA: For dangerous, absolutely the cyclone that hit Burma. I mean, I was not in immediate danger to be there because I was a couple of hundred kilometres away from the storm.

For immediate danger, in February of 2009, I was surrounded by the Victorian bushfires in Australia, and found myself quite literally surrounded by fires, and I was evacuated from my home for a month, and ended up turning – it was the second time in 10 months that I had actually been affected by a natural disaster, and this time, I was quite closely affected. I knew people who lost everything that they owned including family members and friends.

It was, once again, of course I was evacuated sitting on my hands. So what do I do? I volunteer. So once again, volunteered full time for about a month, and that actually was an experience that led to a longer stay in Australia because as a bit of a thank you, the Canadian High Commission in Australia and Immigration extended my visa and the visa of my boyfriend, and gave us working rights as well.

Again, you’ll never know what life is going to throw you when you travel.

But for crazy and dangerous, that was probably right up there.

For adventurous, New Zealand has been tops. It’s been amazing. I came to New Zealand to shoot this television show that was an adventure television show. In 11 days, we did more high adrenalin adventure activities than the average traveler could probably pull off in 3 months. It was full-on.

JURGEN: That’s crazy!

NORA: It’s great. I did the world’s highest skydive, rafted the world’s highest commercially rafted waterfall. I did the world’s highest – I’ve sailed into a cave that I explored for 7 hours. It was just brilliant. The sledging, the zorbing, the helicopter ride out to New Zealand’s most active volcano… The list went on and on.

So,I mean for adventure, New Zealand has certainly been tops on my list of amazing experiences.

JURGEN: I’ve always wanted to go to New Zealand for that.

NORA: It’s incredible. It’s a concentrated country. It’s a country that’s concentrated with different landscapes, and different types of experiences, and different types of ecosystems. It’s a brilliant place.

And the people, you talk about the kindness of people, the kindness – that’s a tough one because people all over the world are amazing.

I found when I was in Thailand doing the fundraising project that was I really saw the kindness of a couple of people, but one fellow in particular, he was amazing. He ran the internet cafe that I had spent some time at, and as soon as he found out that we were doing this project, he gave us unmitigated free access to his cafe at any time of day or night. He drove us all around the city. He acted as our interpreter. He became our cultural buffer; make sure we weren’t stepping on any cultural toes at any stage of the game. The kindness, he didn’t have to do any of that but he was inspired by a traveler who is inspired to help. I mean, the kindness from that is brilliant.

The hospitality of Kiwis in New Zealand is incredible. I mean, the number of people who have said “Oh, please come and stay with me.” be they a reader emailing me, and knowing that I was coming into their area, and asking me to stay with them or be they someone that I’d met, and sometimes a very quick meeting. Just kind of a chance meeting where they said “Please, feel free to come stay with us.”

Reminds me very much of people in Western Canada as well. Vancouver Island is a huge island that’s off the west coast of Canada, and a place that I traveled through for a while, and I experienced a similar hospitality there as well so I have to say that I’m proud that Canadians can be very hospitable, very kind.

JURGEN: Your home country, eh?

NORA: Yeah, exactly.


NORA: It’s beautiful. There’s so many redeeming qualities in so many places and people in the world. Sometimes I’ve had my share of eye-opening and gut-wrenching experiences, but for the most part, I’m really happy to realise that the people of the world are just really beautiful everywhere you go.

JURGEN: That’s really great to hear that. The world is not as bad out there as they say.

NORA: Exactly

JURGEN: Cool! For that internet cafe, I thought maybe if you wouldn’t mind letting us know who that was so anyone else traveling to Thailand can go pay him a visit, and support his business, I guess, for being such a nice guy, and helping you guys navigate the…

NORA: Well he was in Chiang Mai. I remember the place to look at it, and I remember his name was TJ but I couldn’t – for the life of me – remember the name. The name of his cafe was actually just Internet Cafe.

But I think if you go to my website, there’s on the Writing & Publicity page, I wrote an article about that experience for a magazine called ASU Travel Guide, and it gives a little bit more information about TJ, and the sort of person he was, and you can see the cafe there as well.

JURGEN: Awesome! I’ll make sure we direct everyone there.

Great! Is there anything else that you think guys out there should know before traveling or that you’d like to share with us?

NORA: Pretty much, I think, we’ve covered off an amazing array of stuff. I feel empty now. I think I poured all my experiences out now for the most part.

JURGEN: Thank you very much for sharing all that with us.

NORA: It’s been a real pleasure.

JURGEN: Certainly been very exciting talking to you.

Thought I might give your book a quick plug here ‘10,001 Ways to Live Large on a Small Budget’.

NORA: That’s right.

JURGEN: What’s that about?

NORA: It’s a collaborative effort through Wise Bread, and Wise Bread is one of the top personal finance blogs on the Internet. We are a team…

Categories: Interviews
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2 Responses to Travel the world for $14000 per year – an Interview with Nora Dunn

  1. Martin says:

    This is my favourite – Nora is both informative and engaging. Now, to put her tips to good use this year… Mongolia here I come.

  2. Natrisha Barnett says:

    Very interesting interview 🙂

    Just wondering if the websites mentioned are listed somewhere on the website?


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Nora Dunn

World traveling blogger. The "professional hobo".