So you want to be a travel writer… oh, and you want to get paid? It’s the dilemma I’m facing as I look at travel writing and photography as a viable long-term career. Dreaming about tropical islands and six figure advances won’t feed the dog. But making a business plan and realistically assessing my income will go a long way to making me financially solvent. A budget is the first step to making money as a travel writer. I’m going to use my situation as an example.
I live in South Korea and have a monthly income, but I will eventually move back to Australia with my husband. Living and working in South Korea has its perks, like not paying rent. Back in Sydney I was paying $300 per week in rent for my house. In South Korea I have not one but two apartments for free. Eventually I will be moving back to Sydney, but to a more affordable area in the Blue Mountains. Rentals in this area are available for $200 per week, and it will suit my bohemian mountain girl lifestyle more than the CBD.
In South Korea the electricity bills are relatively cheap (around $100 per month). In Sydney bills added up to a considerable part of our expenses; one month we had over $1000 in bills, due to gas, electricity and car repairs. A reasonable month of bills in Australia would be around $200. We really struggled keeping on top of our payments before we left Australia, which is why I set up a bill paying account, an untouchable bank account where we would put in money every week for the utilities.
Just before we left Australia our car broke down, which in hindsight has saved us a lot of money. We will look at replacing our car with bikes in the future, and choosing a house close to public transport. Better for us, better for the environment.
After our past experiences with Optus, I can safely say I will not be going back to a phone and internet contract. But there are great solutions for not having a land line; using Skype from an iPod practically turns it into an iPhone. All you need is wi-fi. You can get your own personal internet phone number from Skype for $60 a year, rather than paying monthly line rental. I always use a prepay cap on my mobile phone, around $29 per month.
The one huge difference between Korea and Australia is their unlimited internet plans. $27 a month gets you unlimited super fast wi-fi here. That package is at least twice the price in Australia.
I don’t drink much, which saves a lot in expenses. We spend around $100 per week on food for two people, here and in Australia. We eat a lot of fresh vegetables and rice, instead of junk food. Going out for dinner once or twice a week is much cheaper in South Korea, but it’s something we always do anywhere we go.
Health insurance is a big one. Even when travelling this costs around $2000 a year. You can’t travel without it, although if I was based in Australia I would get a multi-trip policy rather than a 12 month policy. Then there’s the local medical insurance. It’s around the same cost as a 12 month travel insurance policy, so either way, $2000 a year.
I used to work in a camping shop and I’m pretty set up with travel gear. In fact I sold some of it before I left Australia because I had too much. I don’t buy a lot of clothes and in Asia it’s almost impossible to buy clothing in my size (a horrendously enormous size 12 Australian!). After saving for our world trip, I got in the habit of buying clothes from op shops; I’m a vintage fiend when I’m not wearing my gore-tex jacket and zip off pants.
Travelling has taught me how to value experiences over material objects; I’d rather save my money for fun activities than spend it on clothing and souvenirs. Onebag.com gave me a great tip; don’t buy souvenirs, only postcards. I’ve bought a lot of postcards, but I don’t think I’ve bought a single souvenir for the past nine months. Not even a cheesy Dracula t-shirt from Romania, though I was sorely tempted.
Entertainment is still important, even if I’m trying to make ends meet. I usually buy a book a week and go to the movies once a week, which easily adds up to $30. The other is charitable donations. Even when I’m a poor and frugal travel writer I think it’s important to continue to give. A friend once told me that if you’re generous with a little, then you’ll be generous with a lot. And vice versa. I give around $35 a week to charity and that’s not going to change.
Here’s a general budget of how much money I would need to earn if I was to work full-time as a travel writer/photographer:
|Travel Costs||$10 (taking the bus)||$200 (buy a bike at one-off cost)|
|Total||$250||$500 + $200 for bike|
If a standard rate for entry-level publications is $25 per article, then I would need to write 20 articles per week to cover expenses, about three per day. Combined with income from my photography sales and websites, I would try to cut this amount to between 12-14. And that’s just to cover the bills. If I actually want to go to another country, I’ll have to start another row for savings.
While expenses are smaller in Korea, I don’t get enough flexibility here with time off to be a travel writer. It’s about saving money for the next big trip, and not being able to travel and work at the same time. Thankfully a number of budget airlines have opened up routes from Sydney in the past year (Air Asia, Scoot, Jetstar), so I’ll be able to travel to most of Asia on a limited budget. From there, the rest of the world.
Thankfully I do have one extra asset: a supportive husband. While I may need to work part-time to generate enough revenue to cover our expenses, he wants me to work as a photographer and writer full-time. We pool our income for bills and expenses. If he’s working full-time, it will give me some leeway to start my business.