Nora Dunn has been traveling full-time since 2007. Since then, she has travelled through 55 countries. In her blog, she shares the adventures, trips and tricks from the road. Find out how it all got started.
Revenue of $2,500/mo
Email list size of 8,000
Founded in 2008
Hello! What’s your background, and what is your blog about?
Hi, I’m Nora. I sold everything I owned in Canada in 2006 (including a busy financial planning practice) to embrace my dreams of traveling the world long-term. Much to my own surprise as much as anybody else’s, I’m still on the road today, having traveled through and/or lived in 55+ countries.
My blog The Professional Hobo chronicles my adventures living around the world (in both writing and video), features financial case studies of other nomads and how they earn their livings while traveling full-time, and provides tools and tricks to teach people how to travel full-time in a financially sustainable way.
Because of my financial background and a desire to prove that full-time travel can be financially sustainable on a wide range of budgets, I publish my expenses and income every year. Financially sustainable travel isn’t synonymous with budget travel, and my own income (which has ranged from $20k-45k/year) is a testament.
What motivated you to get started with the blog?
When I started my blog, blogging wasn’t even “a thing”, and terms like “digital nomad” and “location independent” were yet to be invented. Heck – I could barely define what a blog was when I started mine; it was merely an online travel journal to keep my family and friends in the loop while I gallivanted.
In the early days, rather than try to monetize my blog (since there wasn’t even an industry to do such things), I developed a freelance writing career. I parlayed my financial expertise to write for travel publications about finance, and to write for financial publications about travel.
They’re complimentary topics, given that you need money to travel! As I created this niche, and as my own blog started to develop a following, my site married these topics in teaching people how to travel full-time in a financially sustainable way.
What is the revenue model for the blog?
From my website, I earn money through affiliate sales, advertising, and the sales of my books (including How to Get Free Accommodation Around the World, and Working on the Road: The Unconventional Guide to Full-Time Freedom). This year, that will all total about $17,000US. That’s in addition to my freelance writing income, which will be about $9,000US.
I’m in the process of developing an online course that will be an additional form of passive income.
What are some strategies you have used for building up the traffic?
My own path to traffic and recognition involved quite a bit of luck and serendipity. 10 years ago I accidentally started an International NGO to help out the victims of Cyclone Nargis which obliterated Burma.'Don't reinvent the wheel. You can learn everything you need to know from people who have done it.'Click To Tweet
I was using my fledgling blog as a platform to collect donations, which garnered international media attention. At the time it was still hosted on the free “Blogger” platform; shortly thereafter I switched to a self-hosted site and started taking it a bit more seriously once people who weren’t just family and friends were reading.
The same applied to my niche of financially sustainable travel, which developed naturally with my combined expertise in personal finance, travel, and lifestyle design.
In 2012 I started a newsletter without really understanding how it could be monetized but understanding that it’s “the thing to do”; sheer time in the saddle has earned me over 8,000 followers, which I trim every month to keep only engaged readers on the list.
Today, I don’t think it’s possible to “fall into” blogging like I did. My success is due in part to the fact that an industry built up around me and my blog and carried me with it. Some would call me the “grandmother of travel blogging”!
How have you grown the email list?
I grew (and continue to grow) my email list by offering a 2-week email course that is a primer on the basics of financially-sustainable travel. It’s also a great way to introduce new readers to the last decade of content on my site.
I also send my newsletter readers a monthly broadcast with a personal note, a specially curated discount or giveaway, and links to the last month of posts on my site.
How do you write great content that performs well?
What sets me apart from most other travel bloggers is two-fold:
- I publish my finances – income and expenses. Although it’s becoming more of a trend to do this (especially with bloggers who write about how to make money), it was very uncommon when I started doing it about 7 years ago.
- I write about intensely personal things – like my sordid attempts at finding love on the road, my recent business crisis, and how India was a bust for me – not because of the place, but because of my own inner landscape and challenges.
As a freelance writer, it’s also important to note that writing style needs to change according to medium. Internet writing involves easily digestible content that can be scanned, and then read. But even that rule of thumb should be taken lightly – some publications appreciate more prose and essay-style pieces, and some print publications like internet-style listicles.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced and obstacles you’ve overcome with your blog? If you had to start over, what would you do differently?
My path to earning money was a long and winding one, largely because there wasn’t much of an industry or “proven method” for earning money online. So I hit every bump on the learning curve! There are three key pieces of advice I would give to aspiring entrepreneurs:
- Don’t reinvent the wheel. You can learn everything you need to know from people who have done it. You’ll have to spend money to do it, but it’s money well-invested (as long as you’re serious about doing the work). I recently audited a course on travel blogging; if it had been around when I started out, I’d have saved thousands of dollars (and the equivalent number of hours) from fumbling around making mistakes along the way.
- Don’t glorify the location independent lifestyle. You have to work for it, and you’ll realize pretty quickly that working from your laptop on a beach is totally impractical. Work-life balance has been (and continues to be) one of my biggest challenges.
- Be prepared to treat it like a business if you want results. I stumbled my way around and it took a long time to get something going. Now, I’m facing another kind of business crisis, and it’s because I have ignored the analytical side of managing things (like google analytics, SEO, split testing, and the finer aspects of monetization) and I’m paying the price with a site that isn’t nearly as trafficked and profitable as it should be given its foundations and authority.
Where can we go to learn more?