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How this money expert saved $10,000 a year for 12 years while traveling the world

Emily Glover
Nora Dunn has traveled full time for the last 12 years.
Courtesy Nora Dunn

By the time she was 30, Nora Dunn was earning a six-figure salary as a certified financial planner. But while she was helping her clients finance their ideal lifestyles, her desire to explore the world was on hold.

"I realized this dream had to be a lifestyle rather than a side venture," says Dunn. In 2006, she sold her possessions for $40,000 and began to travel full time. Along the way, she developed an approach that she calls "financially sustainable travel," balancing her earnings and expenses to allow for indefinite travel.

Dunn says she did this by minimizing expenses through free accommodations, which she estimates saved her $10,000 per year. She also leveraged remote work opportunities, like affiliate revenue from her blog, The Professional Hobo.

During her 12 years of full-time travel, Dunn worked only as much as she felt she needed to earn an average $30,000 per year, with average annual expenses of $26,000. She says this allowed her to regularly set aside small surpluses into high-interest savings accounts.

Dunn talked to Grow about why traveling the world and saving money aren't mutually exclusive.

How did you prepare for the financial hit of quitting your job to travel?

Dunn: I saved a good amount of money for retirement during my early working years. When left to compound for 30 or so years, this promises to be a decent nest egg for me. My initial travel savings came from selling my financial planning practice, which ensured a two-year income of about $2,000/month.

How did you insulate your finances for unexpected and future expenses?

Dunn: When I sold everything I owned for roughly $40,000, I put that money aside in a low-risk account that could protect it against market fluctuations and remain accessible for when I wanted to set up a home again. Then I put aside any small surpluses while traveling into a high-interest savings account that was a buffer for low-income periods or unanticipated expenses.

When I settled back down in Toronto, Canada, I only used a fraction of the money I set aside because I learned from my years on the road how to live comfortably with way less stuff.

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How did you get free accommodations?

Dunn: I was able to stay at places like a beach side villa in the Caribbean, a Swiss alpine cottage and more for free through volunteering, house sitting, living on boats, hospitality exchanges and home exchanges. Initially, somebody told me about WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms), but my thumbs aren't green. On further research, I came across other work-exchange websites that had a huge variety of opportunities around the world.

Each modality is unique, and it's important to understand what it entails so you can find the right gig for you. There's a lot of competition in the housesitting arena, for example, and finding a good fit, and then qualifying for it, is an art that requires making the right impression and ensuring the situation benefits all parties.

How do you balance work and travel?

Dunn: I work full time, year-round, just like anybody else. When I'm abroad, the difference is that when I close my laptop for the day, I have a new destination to explore in my downtime.

This has required adaptability. When I started traveling full-time in 2006, terms like "digital nomad" and "location independent" didn't exist, but I knew it was possible. My initial online career efforts were aimed at freelance writing about travel, personal finance and lifestyle design, which led to my own website.

How can people apply the 'financially sustainable' approach to vacations?

Dunn: Don't spend more than you earn — plain and simple. It requires each person to design a lifestyle commensurate with their income so you don't go into debt. Make sure you've saved up or are earning the money needed to pay for whatever you do, wherever you do it.

Emily Glover is a freelance writer and copywriter. As a founding team member at Motherly, she established the news vertical and earned praise for her reporting on the unique challenges young families may face today. She lives in Colorado with her husband and three children.

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