Girls That Go! An Interview with Nora Dunn

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This week we got to chat with Nora Dunn, a location independent writer who sold everything to travel around the world full-time. She is awesome woman behind The Professional Hobo and has a series  How to Travel Full-Time in a Financially Sustainable Way, which helps people plan out their journeys and learn great tips to actually put their dreams into motion.

Read on for some tips and information about Nora’s life on the road (over seven years now) for this week’s Girls That Go!

GGG: So Nora, where are you right now? And how did you get to your present location?

I’m currently on the Caribbean island of Grenada, and I got here – literally – on a plane, and –figuratively – through the pattern of serendipity and opportunity that tends to guide my full-time traveling lifestyle.

GGG: You are a Location Independent Writer, is that a title you created or do other traveling professionals use that moniker as well?

When I decided to try to make a living as a freelance writer via the internet seven years ago, I don’t believe the term “Location Independent” existed (nor can I lay claim to creating it).

But as a concept it was certainly the impetus behind my chosen lifestyle; to be able to travel around the world full-time in a financially sustainable way, with little more than a laptop and internet connection.

There are many location independent professionals out there, many of whom are writers. So I’m certainly not the only one!

GGG: Being a person with a finance background and understanding budgets, estimates, numbers, data and analysis would you say you have somewhat of an advantage over someone looking to travel solo and on a budget who is not familiar in this field?

Being adept at managing your money is an incredibly useful skill – whether or not you’re traveling. I don’t have a budget per se for my traveling lifestyle – but I do monitor my incoming cash flow, I track all my expenses religiously, and thus I always know what is affordable and what isn’t – and I make my choices accordingly.
Budgeting for travel is actually a bit easier when you’re going solo; I’ve had problems traveling with partners who weren’t on the same financial page as I (either with unrealistic lifestyle desires, differences in income and savings, or simple money management issues), and it creates extra challenges. As a solo female traveler, your budget is yours and yours alone to control – roar, woman!

GGG: What sort of budget would you recommend to a rookie traveler looking to get her feet wet and travel for 1-2 months in say South America or South East Asia? (These destinations seem to be popular for budget travelers nowadays)

South America and Southeast Asia are hubs for budget travelers, largely because the cost of living is very inexpensive, especially when you account for the currency exchange – since most backpackers come from countries with stronger currencies.

But even in the realm of backpacking these countries, your budget could vary dramatically. What sort of accommodation are you willing/able to afford or accept? Will you share a dorm room with girls and guys? Or do you want a private room? Or hotel? Or resort? Or will you volunteer to get your accommodation for free?

Do you plan on doing lots of tours and excursions? Will you walk or take taxis everywhere? And how good at bargaining are you?
And are you brave enough to eat all your meals at the plentiful street-food stalls and tiny local restaurants, or will you insist on larger restaurants – or even the pervasive (and comparatively expensive) McDonalds?

Your individual travel style will fully determine your budget. Here’s a cool little tool that gives you a budget/mid-range/luxury general daily budget for locations around the world: Travel Cost Calculator.

GGG: Can we talk about travel hacking? What are your best tips? 

How far down the rabbit hole do you want to go? Frequent flyer mile strategies run from passive collecting at stores and/or with a reward credit card, to spending thousands through online portals during special bonus promotions, and making “mileage runs” on flights with the sole motivation of collecting bonus miles. Then there are hotel programs, universal miles, dining programs, and more.

There are three main elements to the frequent flyer mile game: accumulating, managing, and redeeming them. There’s a lot to know, depending on how committed you are to collecting. And unless you have loads of time and energy to research everything from scratch, no – it’s not a simple task.

Thus, books and services such as the Travel Hacking Cartel which you mention above are great tools for helping to navigate the game, in some cases saving time with real-time deal alerts – which hand-feed you all the deals out there. Travel Hacking Cartel isn’t the only program out there; depending on what you want from your frequent flyer mile stardom, you can take your pick from these five frequent flyer mile tools.

GGG: What have been your top three favorite destinations?

Favourite destinations are purely subjective. The most beautiful sunset in the world could be a tragic sight if your heart has just been broken; conversely, an entirely ordinary night around a nondescript campfire with some interesting new friends can embed itself as one of the best things you’ve ever done. (I had an experience like this in Ukraine).

Favourite destinations are ultimately all about context.
Bearing this in mind, there are a few places that I keep returning (or wanting to return) to:

  • New Zealand
  • Grenada (where I’m developing a home base after seven years of having no fixed address)
  • Switzerland.

    Each place means something different to me, and represents different phases and times in my life. Going back is always different – nothing ever remains the same – but I do fundamentally love these places.

GGG: Which countries or cities have you found to be the most difficult and the easiest to navigate in terms of finances and being a solo female traveler?

I’ve stayed away from the countries where being a solo female traveler is just too much of an uphill battle (or unsafe) for me to wish to tackle – such as much of the Middle East and parts of Africa.

So knowing that I pick my battles, I can’t say I’ve had outrageously easy or difficult experiences.

In some countries, accessing or exchanging money can be a pain – ATM machines might not play nicely with debit cards, and credit cards might not be widely accepted. Managing finances abroad is all about diversification and backups; always have a few ways to get at cash, and always stash the cash you have in a few places (on your self and in your bags).

In terms of easy/difficult experiences as a solo female traveler: I often find it easier to travel solo. It’s empowering, my senses are heightened, and I interact with the environment more. It’s easier to make new friends, and if you meet locals (through couch surfing websites or otherwise), they’re more likely to be able to host solo travelers (rather than couples and friends, which require more space).

GGG: You have been traveling for about six years now, any plans to stop or take a break from constantly being on the road?

Throughout my (almost seven) years of full-time travel, the pace and nature of my lifestyle and travels have changed a few times over, as the needs in my life have evolved and changed.

I’m now a fan of slow travel (staying a few months in a place, if not longer), because it’s a more immersive experience, it allows me the time to work on my writing career, experience a slice of local life, and save big money on transportation (and often accommodation, since I usually enjoy free digs in return for house-sitting or volunteering).

But a year ago, with my love of Grenada, and a romance with a fellow here, in addition to my cumulative fatigue of being rootless for so long, I decided to switch gears a bit and develop a home base in Grenada. This was far from a reflection of a desire to travel less; rather a desire to have a familiar (yet exotic) place to return “home” to in between.

The last year has been thrown off-course because of the accident, but even with a home base in Grenada I still expect to travel about half of every year.

Funnily enough, a friend/reader emailed me the other day and said my experiences had aged me and that it was time to “return home to an ordinary life”. You can only imagine how my response turned into quite the blog post.

GGG: How easy or difficult do you think finding a job (and in this job market) would be for someone who has been traveling to stop and want to get back into something more stable?

The answer to that is entirely dependent on the industry, your skills, your age, the economic climate in your country, and supply and demand. This differs by country, and also within countries.

Then you need to consider the x-factor of your personality; how entrepreneurial are you?  Can you sell yourself?  Are your skills transferrable? And to finish melting your brain with this response, what is “stable”?

People get laid off by companies they’ve worked with for years. Job security is a misnomer. However, a regular paycheck along with a regular set of working hours is probably considered a form of stability.  But it’s not concrete.

This question inspired me to write a whole post on how to keep long-term travel from ruining your career, instead parlaying travel experiences into career positives.

Thanks, Nora! To read more from Nora Dunn, check out her site, The Professional Hobo follow her on Facebook or tweet with her!

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About Author

Alex (AQ) Quint has been traveling the world since she was 18, often times with her favorite traveling companion: herself. From the Masada, an ancient mountain fortress in Israel, to riding on the back of a motor bike up the coast of a remote island in Thailand; crossing Ecuador’s Pastaza River via an open-air cable car, or staying in a cave in Granada, AQ excels in seeking out adventures and enjoying the sites, smells and camaraderie of foreign cities. This past winter she spent seven weeks in Central America staying in tree houses, scuba diving, and going on jungle expeditions including pitch-black bat cave.

2 Comments

  1. Great interview! I love Nora, and as I’m transitioning into a ‘location independent’ lifestyle, I find her content not only applicable but extremely helpful! Thanks for all the awesome tips in the interview-I’m especially interested in learning more about sky miles now 🙂

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