Dianne Minardi has always had the urge to travel.
She credits her parents for inspiring her wanderlust — when she was really young, her parents uprooted her and their five other children on a whim to an American Air Force base on a Pacific island called Kwajelein for three years.
The spirit for travel stayed with her as she grew older, eventually helping her move 800 miles away from her home in Ohio to go to college in Boston.
It was at Boston College that Minardi made a decision that would change the lives of her and her future-husband, Daniel, who she had been seeing long distance for years: They each took teaching positions at the International School of Choueifat in Abu Dhabi, UAE.
Teaching in Abu Dhabi: Fueling the Fire
“I found [the job] by browsing through the career portal for students at Boston College,” says Minardi, who graduated with a degree in political science and a minor in international studies. “The listing was on like page 15, and I applied on a whim. My husband and I were sick of doing long distance in our relationship, and he has a teaching degree, so he decided to apply as well.”
And, spoiler alert, they both got the job.
At first glance, the job didn’t sound too financially rewarding. They each made $25,000 a year, which isn’t what a college grad with student loans from Boston College wants to start out at.
But the job offered so much more than just the base salary. Minardi says the position also afforded her and her husband each a free apartment (they were not married at the time so they legally could not stay together) with free utilities, health care and flights to and from the country. Their income was tax-free, they got 14 weeks of paid vacation every year, and they each received bonuses for staying a second year, totaling $10,000 each.
Minardi broke down her spending: “Each month, we put half of our paycheck toward our student loans (we graduated with around $58,000 between us). We kept one fourth of it for spending, and like every other teacher in the UAE, we also both regularly tutored kids after school for about $50/hour, which we used to pad our fun money. The last fourth of each paycheck went to our vacation budget. We used the money and vacation time to travel to Oman, Thailand, Germany, Portugal, Spain, Sri Lanka and Nepal during our two years.”
After two years of an amazing experience in the UAE (read about it here), Minardi and her husband were able to pay off the rest of their student loans, create a savings account and start an emergency fund. With no debt and some “safe money” set aside, they both knew they could transition to a new phase in their lives, like buying a house and settling down.
Or, of course, starting their own freelance businesses so they could continue to travel the world.
How to Get Paid to Travel the World
“We both knew we wanted to keep traveling after the contracts ended,” Minardi told me. “Originally, the plan was to use our savings to spend six months backpacking through South America.”
But the couple knew they couldn’t spend all their money on one vacation and create a huge gap on their resumes.
So while they spent the summer and fall back with Minardi’s parents in Ohio planning their wedding, the two put together a plan. Minardi’s husband leapt into freelancing first, and when Minardi saw how successful he was, she joined him.
“Daniel began as a freelance writer, and after applying to every remote work job under the sun for a year, he finally landed a full-time remote work position as an associate content manager with Lurn,” Minardi explains.
She, on the other hand, began with digital marketing—by starting her own company. (Yes, really. Here’s how.)
“I originally wanted to grow it into an agency, but realized my heart wasn’t in it,” Minardi explains. “After a year of freelancing as a social media manager, I switched exclusively to writing.”
With freelance income, the couple decided to ditch the six-month backpacking trip.
They decided to replace it with a life of full-time travel, starting with 10 months in Colombia and Peru.
Minardi admits that embarking on this new journey with just their unpredictable freelance income was a gamble. For several months, they just broke even financially. But after her husband landed his full-time gig and she landed a massive client, things began to turn around.
With steady income, the pair was able to turn this dream of full-time travel into a comfortable lifestyle that has now lasted for over a year and a half.
In fact, Minardi and her husband are making their way through Romania at the time of this publication, and Minardi is planning soon to transition into a full-time travel blogging career.
The Upside of Traveling the World
Minardi shared with me a number of unforgettable experiences she and her husband have had during their travels together.
“I really love Thailand. After three years of being in a long-distance relationship and dreaming of traveling together, our trip to Thailand over Christmas was the first real vacation my husband and I ever went on together. Experiencing the lush jungles, hectic night markets, exotic temples and pristine beaches together with him was even better than I thought it would be. Our experience in Thailand was the start of so many fun adventures together.”
Minardi also reflected on her Christmas in Germany: “We visited Berlin at Christmas and spent days exploring (aka eating our way through) the festive Christmas markets in the city. Actually, maybe I just like traveling at Christmas.”
Minardi remembers highlights like climbing to the summit of an active volcano in Peru, seeing Mount Everest in Nepal and getting passed by barefoot grandmas as she and her husband struggled up the 5,000 steps of Adam’s Peak in Sri Lanka.
Even with steady income while traveling the world, budgeting is crucial. But Minardi says her budgeting isn’t much different from what the typical American must do.
“We have rent (the Airbnb cost), transport (flights and taxis), food bills from groceries and fun money to go out and explore the country we’re in. We don’t have a homebase in the U.S., so we’re not paying rent at home or storage fees. Our budget and expenses are honestly just like anyone else’s.”
And the Downsides…
Minardi admits that, as a travel blogger, she likes to keep things positive, but there are downsides to traveling 24/7 — and she eventually shared some of these negatives in a tell-all blog post called “The Truth About Traveling Full Time.”
“It’s definitely not as easy and carefree as people like to make it seem,” Minardi says. “Our apartments are usually very sparsely furnished and uncomfortable (we spent months living with a suicide shower and chose to take bucket showers instead). It’s also much harder to make friends (aka we don’t), so my husband and I see a lot of each other.”
Minardi also adds that she and her husband long to adopt a dog, miss hobbies like cooking and gardening, have been robbed, have run out of money at times and often feel homesick for their family and friends.
So would they ever give it up?
During rough patches, it has been tempting.
“During these times, we would fantasize together about buying a house with a giant bed and a giant couch and never leaving,” Minardi says. “However, as soon as we would leave the apartment and see something amazing like Machu Picchu or the Rainbow Mountains, we would turn to each other and agree that we could never stop or settle down.”
In a few years, the couple might buy a house in the States (if they can ever agree on a state to do so), but they still plan to travel for much of the year and rent out the house regularly. Having a “comfortable home base” for part of the year would be a nice way to fill some of the holes traveling has left.
How to Start Making Money While Traveling
I asked Minardi how someone gets started doing something that sounds, well, impossible. While her teaching gig in Abu Dhabi certainly helped her to see much of Asia and Europe and pay down student loans, diligent planners and savers can get started with any background.
“You don’t have to sell your house, have a profitable travel blog or wait for retirement,” Minardi says. “If travel is your dream, it’s a very possible reality. The biggest roadblock is taking the leap from your steady 9 to 5 into the freelance world, but freelance work is easier to find than you think.”
Minardi recommends spending several months (or as long as it takes) building up a client base after hours — and building up your savings, just in case.
Sure, it means long weeks for you now, but the payoff will be worth it long-term.
“When you feel comfortable, you can quit your job and move into full-time freelancing with less risk.”
Hot markets for freelancers currently include social media management, web development and writing. Minardi uses sites like Upwork.com, Freelancer.com and Cloudpeeps.com to find work and, eventually, steady clients.
In fact, The Penny Hoarder offers a number of unique ways to get paid while traveling the world.
Minardi’s final advice to those of us who are restless and itching to fund our world travels: “You’ll never be fully prepared, so just take the leap and learn as you go. Remote work takes a while to get the hang of, but the freedom it allows is so worth it.”