In 2 Months We Became Full-Time Traveling Freelancers with only $5000
Brenden and I were born and raised in Southern California. We attended college at UC Santa Barbara and earned degrees in biology and business writing. We were on paths to work in the health field. I was determined to become a physical therapist and Brenden a physician’s assistant.
After college we worked for 3 years to build our work experience, volunteer, and take prerequisite courses for our masters programs. Everything was falling into place.
Except for one thing - our happiness.
Every day while driving to work in bumper to bumper traffic I dreaded going to the clinic. I watched the planes fly by and envisioned myself on one destined for exotic locations.
After an especially long day working with patients, Brenden and I both sat down and asked each other, “If we could have one job the rest of our lives and money did not matter, what would we do?”
The answer was simple and quick, “Travel. Start a blog. Write. Learn how to code. Photography.” Why bother working for boring jobs we dreaded? We were too young to become jaded and hate our lives. We needed a change.
We immediately decided to leave our health field job path’s behind and start a new path of globetrotting and online working.
On August 3rd, 2018 we bought one way tickets to Bangkok, Thailand for $736. Our departure date September 27th, 2018.
We had 2 months to get raise funds, get our gear, and start our online business. I am going to share how we did it all in under two months and started our new lives with only $5,000.
1. Raising Funds
I always told myself I would travel when I had more money, that I needed at least $5,000 to go on a backpacking trip.
Man was I so wrong.
First of all, you can always earn more money, but you can not earn more time. We spend so much time making money and not enough time enjoying our youth, following our dreams, or traveling. We tell ourselves that we will travel when we have a vacation or worse when we retire to usually find that when we are older, life takes a toll on our bodies - traveling is much harder when your body can not keep up.
So why wait? Travel when you are young! Convince yourself you do not need a fortune to travel the world, because with a budget and travel savvy you can spread your dollar far.
We did and we are so happy that we took the leap of faith and went for our dream jobs.
However, we did need some initial funds to get us off the ground. We decided that each of us needed at least $2,500 for our trip to South East Asia as a cushion to carry us while we were finding clients.
We worked for the following month full- time, each raising $1,400. However, we left our jobs at the end of August so we would have all of September to start our blog, which means no source of income for our trip for a whole month.
Our solution: Yard sales. We wanted to down size considerably since we would be back packing through Asia. We needed to let go of stuff we were carrying around in Long Beach.
Our parents considerably helped us. As my mom succinctly put it, “Brenden and Demeris are in the yard sale business and we are in the donation business.” Both parents generously cleaned out their garages, cupboards, and closets. Between both families we had a lot to sell. We attribute our yard sale success primarily to our loving families who gave us their belongings.
We had a total of 4 yard sales. Here is a break down of how much we made:
Yard Sale 1: $662
Yard Sale 2: $774
Yard Sale 3: $782
Yard Sale 4: $204
Brenden and I made of total of $2,422 in yard sales!
Yard sales were a huge success for us partly because between both families we had a TON to sell. From tools, to outdoor equipment, furniture, home goods, art, clothes, and electronics, we had it all.
Besides the amount of items to sell, we realized a successful yard sale is also dependent on your traffic and bargaining skills. Here are some tips to drive more traffic, sell more junk, and make more money at your yard sale:
Gather Up as Much As You Can: The larger the sale the more people will come and the longer they will shop.
Offer a Variety: Diversify to appeal to various people. We found that men love tools, shoes, and instruments. Women like clothes, shoes, and toys.
Sell in A High Traffic Area: If you know friends or family that live on a busy street or next to an intersection, consider asking them to host your yard sale.
Offer Bargain Prices: People go to yard sales to by cheap. Give customers great deals on everything and make your prices as low as you can.
Don’t Be Afraid to Haggle: People will ask for lower prices than you ask. Its ok to say no but you can use haggling to your advantage.
Market your Sale: Spread the word a few days before on Facebook Marketplace and with signs around your neighborhood.
Have Your Sale on a Saturday: Saturdays are yard sale hopping days. Most people have the day off and are looking to spend some hard earned money.
Start Early: You want your yard sale to start at 7 am. Most yard sale hoppers come early while its cool. You’ll have the most traffic in the morning.
Offer Free Coffee, Lemonade, or Donuts: People love free food and drinks. The little items encourage them to stay around and shop for longer.
Have Fun: Smile when you talk to customers and enjoy their presence. A yard sale is a fun way to let go of clutter and make some side cash.
After your yard sale, you could save your stuff and keep collecting junk for another yard sale. Or you can post items online. We found Facebook Marketplace to be very rewarding, but we also made sales on apps like Letgo and Nextdoor. Often you can actually make more money selling items online if you have the time to wait to make a sale. We made around $1,000 selling items that didn’t sell in our yard.
Not all items are made equal for selling online. Small items that are worth $5 and less do not sell as well. Why? Because people do not want to drive or make the effort to pick up an item for $5 or less. We are not saying that its impossible - if someone really wants the item and it is priced cheap people will pick it up. We are saying we found that these items did not sell as fast or as much.
Items that did sell well online were what Brenden and I termed, Big Ticket Items or BTIs. BTIs are large items with a higher price such as TVs, furniture, and expensive brand name accessories or clothing. These items sell well on Facebook, but there are some general guidelines to help you sell more faster:
Take High Quality Photos: Find a nice spot with diffused light and a clean background. Make sure all of your images are clear and visually appealing.
Take Multiple Images: Be transparent. Shoot everything, including any damage you to the item. Show different angles and perspectives.
Give Dimensions: Especially for furniture and TVs. Measure the items and put the dimensions in the description.
Communicate Quickly: Try to respond to inquires in less than an hour. Enable push notifications on your phone and respond as soon as you can.
Haggle Wisely: Just like during a yard sale, be open to haggling for items. Price items a little higher for space to bargain with people.
If you have the time to sell your items, we highly recommend trying to sell items online. You can usually get more for your items online than a yard sale, which means if your willing to wait, the more money you can earn.
Brenden and I raised $6,222 from working, yard sales, and online sales. We made it over our goal, but we had some gear and tickets to buy which dropped our final amount we took to Thailand to $5,000.
2. Getting Ready
Overall, we had the majority of what we needed for our trip, like our backpacks, computers, cameras, clothes, passports, and tickets. But there was quite a lot that we still needed to purchase to make sure we were safe on our trip. Essential items you need for a backpacking trip that you may not know of are:
US residents can travel to over 160 countries without a visa. Global Allianz puts together a nice list of countries including the maximum number of days or months you can travel without a visa. Anything over the maximum you will need to apply for a tourist visa.
US citizens are allotted 30 days to Thailand without a visa if they have a ticket showing arrival and departure. Since we wanted to stay for two months we knew we needed to apply for the visa.
For information on how to apply for a tourist visa visit your local Thai consulate’s website. Just search “your city + Thai consulate.” Our nearest consulate was in LA, the website is here. Regardless of the consulate’s location or destinations the steps and paperwork to apply are all the same. You need:
Your passport which must not expire within 6 months.
A copy of your passport
The application form
2 passport photos
Copy of airline ticket showing arrival and departure
Your bank statement showing at least $700 in the account
Cashier’s check for $40
Visa turn around is typically a few hours but varies from consulate to consulate. If you do not live near a consulate then you can also mail your documents to the nearest embassy and have them mailed back.
2. Travel Insurance
Its always a smart idea to have insurance while you are abroad. Life happens and its better to be safe than sorry. You want to protect your health and gear while you travel so you can enjoy your trip with peace of mind. There are tons of different agencies that offer travel insurance, but we noticed that World Nomads have the best bang for your buck.
Its easy to get a quote on your trip, just head over to World Nomads Travel Quotes and enter in your destinations, residence, length of trip, and your age. Just like I did here:
With travel nomads you have two options, a standard or explorer plan. The standard plan is comparable to a basic plan and does not cover as much as an explorer plan. The difference in benefits are listed below in the image:
We opted for the explorer plan because of the baggage and personal effects coverage. Since we planned on working online while abroad we were taking our computers and cameras. We wanted to make sure all of our devices were covered. The basic plan only covers $1,000 worth of items, which didn’t even cover the whole cost of one Mac Book Air.
Sit down and figure out how much you are taking and the value of your devices so you can pick an appropriate plan for you. For our trip our insurance cost us $717. We spent most of the extra money we earned from yard sales just on our insurance. A big but worth it expense.
3. Shots & Medications
Call your travel nurse and tell them your itinerary. Not only will they advise you on how to stay healthy on your travels, but also recommend needed vaccinations to protect you from bacteria in developing countries.
The most common ailment travelers experience is, "traveler’s diarrhea.” If your traveling to Mexico you might hear it as “Montezuma’s revenge.” Eating new food and drinking contaminated water is the common cause for traveler’s diarrhea. The common cure is Imodium, a plain diet, and fluids with electrolytes. We were also prescribed a strong antibacterial if we had an emergency case of really bad runs.
If your traveling to a developing country where the water is unfiltered, your nurse may prescribe you a typhoid vaccination, the bacteria that commonly causes upset stomachs and runny stool in travelers. The vaccination can be taken in pill or shot and depending on your insurance can cost you anywhere from $5-$20.
In addition, we were prescribed malaria pills, for the instances we were traveling to rural areas of South East Asia. The pills cost us $5. However, the best course of action to prevent mosquito bites at all costs. Wear strong bug repellent, (we like Off! with DEET and Sawyer Picaridin), use a bug net, and wear mosquito repelling bracelets.
Your health during a stay can make or break your trip. Nobody enjoys traveling while inside a bathroom or worse a Porta Potty! Make sure you get all the necessary vaccinations for your destinations, eat and drink wisely, and protect yourself from bugs!
4. Travel Rewards Credit Cards
One of the ways we continue to travel is through travel reward points. We use a Chase Sapphire Preferred Card for our travels because we receive 2x the points on all travel expenses (food, hotels, flights, train & bus tickets, and rental cars. In addition there are no foreign transaction fees, travel insurance, and 24/7 international customer service.
For new members there is a sign up bonus as well - spend $4,000 in the first 3 months and receive $500 cash back or $625 when spent on travel through Chase Rewards. We used the card to purchase all our flights and hotels before our trip. We used it for every purchase and even my parents used it for a few large purchases. We earned the $500 reward in two months, which purchased our tickets from Bali to Australia.
But there are a lot of different travel cards available for you to pick. Check out this quick comparison of the top 5 most popular credit cards in 2018 from Nerd Wallet.
A VPN stands for, “Virtual Private Network” and if you plan on freelancing abroad you will definitely need one. A VPN allows you to connect to public networks while keeping your data and information encoded. The network protects you from online threats like viruses and hackers while you are connected to coffee shops, hotel wifi, and airport wifi. A VPN grants your access to an essentially private network via a public network. In addition it will allow you to connect to servers back home, necessary if your clients are based back in your home country.
Signing up for a VPN is easy and there are lots of different carriers. According to TechRadar the top 10 VPNS are:
KeepSolid VPN Unlimited
We chose Nord VPN because we felt that they offered services that were the best bang for our buck. You can use up to 6 devices (including phones and computers) and accesses world wide internet services with a click of a button. Nord also offered various payment plans from 1 to six months and a year.
The Nord Payment Plans are:
$11.95/ One Month
$9.00/ Six Months
$6.00/ One Year
$3.99/ Two Years
The downside to Nord is you have to pay bundles upfront, meaning a six month plan is not billed $9 every month but rather a one time payment of $54. If you are on a budget this expense can seem pricey, but just like travel insurance, its an expense worth the safety of your online information and computer.
3. Starting our online business
When I first came up with this dream of travel blogging, I told myself, “I’ll just move abroad, start a blog, work online, no problem. People do it all the time.”
I was so WRONG.
Building a website and starting a blog by no means is easy! We took the whole month of September to design our website and create our first few pieces of content before we moved abroad. Even when we got to Thailand we were still ironing out details of our website. Here is why creating our blog was much harder than originally planned:
1. We Taught Ourselves SEO
Why was starting a website much harder than we originally anticipated? Because of SEO, Search Engine Optimization.
We knew nothing about search engine optimization, how it worked, or how to apply it to our website. All we knew was search engine optimization was a collection of strategies to get your website on the first 10 Google search results. If your page landed on the top 10 then organic traffic would increase immensely thanks to Google’s help.
While we were in the process of coding our website, we were also learning how to design and write Google friendly content. Not easy because there are SO MANY SEO strategies you can apply to your site. The main strategy we targeted was key word research. We spent the majority of our time learning various key word research tools, like Moz, Ubersuggest, Goodle Adwords, and Google Trends to find golden keywords with high search volumes and low competition.
Then we spent hours studying how and where to inject our keywords for the best optimized website. Our SEO process took hours of learning and research. There were multiple times I felt like my brain was going to explode with all the new terms and strategies I was learning.
There were times I became completely overwhelmed with the task of creating an optimized website. Designed and creating a blog was not as easy as I anticipated, in fact it was very challenging and required me to learn new skills and terminology I originally did not anticipate. However, looking back these skills have carried over into my full-time traveling freelancer career and many gigs I land are because I taught myself SEO.
In addition, we are glad we spend the extra time creating a stronger foundation for our website for us to build on the future. We feel we made the better choice to initially learn SEO and design a site rather than design a site then have to redesign for SEO.
2. We Spent A Lot of Time Writing Our First Content
After we created our website, the next step was to create content. We wrote and edited our first three blog posts in one month.
We do not regret taking the extra time to learn how to write and design engaging content because we planned on using these first three pieces to pitch to clients. The majority of the time we dedicated to editing to make sure we did not have any glaring typos or grammar mistakes. We also wanted to make sure that our pieces fell in line with our mantra, “Clarity and Brevity.” We took a hatchet to each post and cut out any extra fluff and filler words because we like to get straight to the point.
We re-read our posts multiple times to make sure our train of thoughts and ideas were clear. Readers can easily follow, digest, and understand our content when we take the time to ditch the fluff. A clear and brief style is an art form and challenging to develop. Today we spend 30% writing and 80% editing.
In addition, all the graphics included in our posts are original pieces created by Brenden. He used some basic photoshop skills he learned in an online course and expanded them to create original cartoon infographics for every blog post. Our first graphics took more time to make because he taught himself new skills with every new design.
We would recommend that you do the same with your first three blog posts. Take extra time to refine and really understand how to create an interesting and compelling piece that stays true to your voice. You will develop a work flow for writing and learn how to streamline your content creating process.
3. We Developed A Social Media and Content Marketing Strategy
Most bloggers believe that success lies in how many blog posts you can crank out per week. Though having a wide selection of content is important, its only one brick in the foundation. After reading and researching, we knew a blog is only as strong as its marketing strategy. Our downside? We knew nothing about marketing.
Our concept of marketing was posting our content and images to Instagram and maybe Facebook but thats it!
We have come far since then. Though social media is key to getting your content out there, its not a surefire way to bring more traffic to your blog unless you have a few thousand followers already. A better marketing strategy consists of:
Posting new content 2-3 types of week. Focus on editing your work!
Uploading content to Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Google Plus, and Linkedin
Comment on blogs and social media posts you like
Reach out to bloggers to see if they will feature your account
Network on all social media platforms
Write influential bloggers and introduce yourself
Guest post on other blogs
Write content geared to solving consumer issues
Create an editorial calendar
Keyword research and strategies
We utilized all of these marketing strategies on a day to basis to help our blog expand, grow our fan base, increase our social media following, and land more clients.
To make sure B and I stayed on marketing tasks we created an editorial calendar. An editorial calendar organizes all the content you want to develop and post in a week, month, or year. You can organize your editorial calendar however you like, but we like to use Elna Cain’s calendar because it allows you to flesh out ideas in depth. We added a social media tab to our calendar so we could create social media content that falls in line with our blog content. Our strategy allows us to cross promote our content on various social media platforms while creating different content media for the same topic.
Not only does an editorial keep up on task but it also helps us design marketing campaigns geared to our readers. With the campaigns in mind we know what kind of content we want to create on our blog and social media. When we travel and explore we have in mind the shots and videos we want to produce, instead of making random content that kind of fits together.
Developing our marketing strategy did not take too long, but following through on our strategy does. We easily spend up to 6 hours a day creating content, posting, interacting with followers, and networking with other influencers in our industry. We realize that our time is better allocated to marketing our content rather than always creating new content.
4. Taking the leap of faith
There was never a moment where I felt 100% ready to move abroad. The entire process was very uprooting and emotional. I cried a lot when I made the initial decision to start my business and move, especially in the beginning. The responsibility of earning money remotely, living in a strange and developing country, the pressure to grow both personally and financially was overbearing. I was afraid.
The leap of faith was difficult and terrifying because I never felt I had all my ducks in line. I was taking a huge risk in my life and I realized that I am not a huge risk taker. I am a planner and I like things organized and my ducks to be in clean neat rows.
What inspired me to keep going was a mantra I created for myself, “nothing will ever be perfect.” Our ducks will never be 100% in line and if we continue to fret over the details we will hold ourselves back from achieving our biggest dreams.
Sometimes we need to step out of our own way, relinquish a little control over our lives, and let our faith in ourselves help. Hold the idea that our risk may or may not work and its ok! I think living life on the edge will give us internal pressure and flame we need to push ourselves to be better, to make things work for ourselves despite the odds against us.
When it was time to move, we both decided to let go of the fear and embrace the challenge we designed for ourselves. Our faith in our capabilities as young professional content creators and our love for traveling kept us moving forward everyday. The day of our flight to Thailand we were both so excited, I cried tears of happiness on the plane.
Now we are here in this beautiful country, working on our dreams and ourselves. We are in love with our lives. What more could we ask for?
The decision to become full-time traveling freelancers was not an easy one, but one we knew deep down in our hearts it was the right one.
Traveling and seeing the world with young minds and able bodies is our dream. We made the choice to turn that dream into our realities and quickly learned being in love is to be in love with life - your work, your body, your esteem, your decisions, your partners.
There is never the perfect moment to change. Sometimes you just need to pull the plug on your unhappy life and make a 360 degree turn in direction towards your dream life.
Its never easy. But its always worth it.
I leave you with this final thought from athlete Gail Devers,
Keep your dreams alive. Understand to achieve anything requires faith and belief in yourself, vision, hard work, determination, and dedication. Remember all things are possible for those who believe.
If we can do it, you can do it too! Whats holding you back from untethering yourself from your 9-5 job and seeing the world?