An Interview with Nora Dunn from The Professional Hobo
Tell us a bit about yourself:
Hi there! I’m Nora Dunn, aka The Professional Hobo. Waaaaay back in 2006, I sold everything I owned in Canada (including a busy financial planning practice) to embrace my life-long dream of long-term immersive world travel. My full-time travel adventures lasted way longer than I (or anybody else!) thought they would….over 12 years and counting! In that time, I lived in and/or traveled through over 50 countries. Along the way, I built up a business as a travel blogger and freelance writer. On my website – I teach people how to travel full-time in a financially sustainable way. Lifestyle travel is much more achievable than many people think.
What’s your biggest achievement as a Travel Blogger?
When I started my travel blog, travel blogs weren’t even “a thing”. Blogs in general were little more than glorified online journals, and the idea of monetizing a blog was unheard of. Also unheard of were the terms “digital nomad” and “location independent”. So, in some ways, I guess one of my biggest achievements as a Travel Blogger is that I’m one of the first. I’ve even been called a “pioneer” in the travel blogging industry! And while I do like to puff up my chest at the idea, the truth is, I got swept up with the wave of travel bloggers and the industry that cropped up around me. I was just in the right place at the right time, as it were.
You have an unlimited travel budget for 24 hours. Give me your itinerary.
Two choices. I would fly into somewhere in Iceland or northern Scandinavia during the winter (where I would immediately be bundled up in the thickest warmest layers of clothing available on the planet), and taken somewhere where I can view the northern lights. I would spend the night in a (well-heated) glass igloo of sorts that allows me to gawk at the northern lights from bed all night (and morning, because, it’s winter so daylight is sparse). Then, I’d be whisked away immediately so as to avoid freezing to death, back to whatever tropical place I happened to have flown in from.
And since my budget is unlimited, I guess I’ll opt to have somebody at my beck and call, peeling me grapes and singing softly in my ear to lull me to sleep.
How do you fund your travel?
I pride myself on being a full-time traveler in a financially sustainable way. This means I’m not a trust-fund kid, nor do I have a large savings to live off of. (Actually, I do have savings from my former life in financial planning, but I never touched that savings to travel; instead, it is invested and earmarked for my retirement).
So, I fund my travel lifestyle completely through freelance writing and travel blogging. Annually, I publish detailed income and expense reports, proving that this lifestyle is possible.
What is the single most effective strategy that a blogger can use to bring traffic to a blog?
That would be SEO. Three terrible letters I’ve done my very best to avoid over the years, but finally realized that if I want to stay in this game, I must be willing to play it. SEO for those who don’t know stands for search engine optimization, and is about getting your site noticed by search engines by applying strategy and science to what you publish (and how and when and stuff like that).
Sadly, although I like to think my throngs of loyal followers make up the majority of my traffic, it doesn’t work that way. Success these days is about playing nicely with Google.
What tools do you use to monetize your blog? Which works best for you?
My two main income sources for my website are affiliate links and advertising. Both work well, and both took a lot of time to build up. Initially I railed against putting ads all over my site, but the truth is we all face ads on just about every website we visit. And when I realized I was leaving over a thousand dollars per month on the table by not having these ads, I realized it was time.
What is the first trip you remember taking and how old were you?
I am Canadian, though my mother is American and growing up, I spent my summers with her parents (my grandparents) in their countryside home near Albany NY. I remember taking the train for the 400 mile journey every year; it inspired my (slightly obsessive) love of trains later in life.
Have you been anywhere which turned out to be totally different to how you imagined? If so, how?
Yes, and no. I learned pretty early on that expectations are evil. So I try to visit each place with as open a mind as I can manage.
That said, India threw me for a loop. I was a very accomplished traveler when I finally visited India, and I knew that it would be one of those places that, despite my experience, would likely be confronting. And it was confronting – in every way! I experienced the very height of luxury, and also the bottomless pit of despair. But like so many travel experiences, it’s not so much about the destination as it is about what’s going on inside. And inside of me at the time, I was pretty messy!
Have you had any bad experiences whilst travelling?
Ha! I’ve survived three natural disasters, and caught three diseases. I’ve suffered a bunch of breakups, and a near-fatal accident. That’s just the tip of the iceberg! Yeah. I’ve had some bad experiences. But these too, make for great stories and learning experiences, if we allow them to. Here’s a post I wrote that is kind of a roundup of all the crap that has happened to me along the way: https://www.theprofessionalhobo.com/brace-yourself-travel-isnt-all-roses-and-lollipops/
Where is your favourite place in the world?
Travel is contextual. Our favourite – and least favourite – places have very little to do with the place itself, and everything to do with who we’re with, what we’re doing, and how we’re feeling at the time. So the very idea of a favourite place is mired in bias and experiences that can rarely be replicated. That said, if I must name a place, I’ll say….New Zealand.
Do you have a bucket list? If so what is on it?
My bucket list changes all the time. But for travel experiences that I’d like to have, I still want to visit Iceland (without a budget, as it’s an expensive place and I don’t want to scrimp). I’d also like to do a big long (also budget-free) road trip through eastern Canada, spending lots of time in both Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.
Oh yeah. And I want to host an international network travel tv show. I have a killer premise for the show; I’m just waiting for the production house and crew to come knocking. Any day now.
If you were not travelling what would you be doing instead?
That’s a great question. In the last couple of years I suffered a catastrophic level of burnout – for a variety of reasons I won’t delve into, but primarily because I traveled too far, too fast, for too long. I’ve had a few home bases along the way, and these have been lifesavers. But I went a bit too long without a base and I suffered for it. So, my latest home base is in my home town of Toronto Canada. And while I’m currently writing this interview from Guatemala (since I’ve no interest in experiencing Canadian winters again), I am actually really excited to return to my little apartment in Toronto and to do nothing. To just hang out, and spend time with my family and friends, and relax, eat sushi, and watch Netflix.
But truth be told, travel is in my blood, so these bouts of “nothingness” don’t tend to last long. Toronto is a base, and a welcome one at that, to allow me to continue traveling the world.
What has travel taught you?
Honestly, I don’t even know where to begin in answering that question! I could go with the whole concept that fundamentally, we are all the same, despite outward appearances and wildly different cultures. I could talk about how fast travel is unsustainable in the long run (it almost killed me – a few times). I could discuss how travel destroys prejudice, and if you travel long enough, you may just start to feel that you don’t belong anywhere because you’ve got a bit of everywhere inside of you.
Travel is an incredible teacher, because it strips us of our comfort zones and forces us to not only examine our environments, but ourselves.
Who, in your opinion, is the most successful travel blogger? Why do you think that is?
There are a few wildly successful travel bloggers out there. Close to home for me (literally) are Dave and Deb of ThePlanetD. They contacted me after I’d already been traveling for a few years; they wanted to advertise on my website because they were bicycling from the top to the bottom of Africa with the Tour D’Afrique. This adventure-loving power-couple have become known as Canada’s Adventure Couple, and they are not only awesome people in person, but also an online inspiration for both experienced and armchair travelers.
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