Nora has been traveling since 2006 and has learned a lot — from scoring accommodation for free to choosing which destination to visit next. Today, Nora aims to utilize her experience to help people who want to embrace full-time travel lifestyles.
More about Nora Dunn
Nora Dunn, aka The Professional Hobo on Facebook and Instagram, sold everything she owned (including a busy financial planning practice) to travel the world in 2006. She has enjoyed a travel lifestyle ever since and is considered one of the original digital nomads and lifestyle travel bloggers.
Specializing in slow travel, she has lived in and traveled through over 75 countries while working remotely. She combines her expertise as a former certified financial planner with her lifestyle traveling experience to teach people how to travel long-term in a financially sustainable way.
Nora’s travel experiences range from sublime to absurd to downright terrifying. She survived three natural disasters, got three tropical diseases, was robbed twice, and had one near-fatal accident.
On the brighter side, she accidentally started an international nonprofit organization, had a kangaroo fall in love with her and followed her around for six months, apprenticed with a shaman in Peru for two years, rode 25,000 km of trains in 30 days straight from Lisbon to Saigon, and saved over $100,000 getting free accommodation around the world in five different ways.
Now, Nora Dunn is paying it forward. She gives people the confidence to travel long-term by helping them set everything up in the best possible way – from finances to career to logistics and beyond.
Were you prepared? Do you know what to do or what to visit first?
Nora Dunn started to travel in 2006 — a time referred to as a prehistoric era in lifestyle travel as nobody was doing what she was doing. In fact, digital nomad was a phrase that didn’t exist back then. And although Nora was certain she wasn’t the only or first person to live that kind of lifestyle, she certainly felt alone during that time.
She says, “There were no websites, courses, books, or any other material to help me do this. So, I was really left to my own devices to figure this all out. It was intimidating and overwhelming; I also made every mistake in the book.”
But despite her hardships, Nora admits that that experience allowed her to learn. She stumbled her way up the learning curve but is proud of how informed she has become and that allowed her to fuel her current mission. She explains, “My mission now is to help other people design their lifestyle and arrange their affairs, so they can travel long-term while working remotely because there’s a lot of logistics involved.”
People who want to travel today don’t need to sell everything, just like Nora did when she started. Going back, Nora Dunn decided to sell most of her valuables, including her businesses, but there were certain things she had to keep, so she had to decide what to keep and how and where to keep them.
“For other people, it’s different. There are certain ways to arrange your mail and banking so that they work at home and abroad. There are a lot of logistics to trudge through in order to make this lifestyle easy, stress-free, possible,” Nora states.
Do you remember how you became interested in long-term travel in the first place?
When talking about her motivations for travel, Nora always had this lifelong dream to travel the world. But if there was a very specific moment in life that created this dream, it was when she was nine years old.
Nora Dunn recollects, “I was in school. We were watching a documentary about Europe, and I was looking at the screen, looking at the architecture. I didn’t recognize their clothes, language, and food — everything was foreign. My nine-year-old self had one question, ‘How do the children play?’ I really wanted to know.”
Nora’s curiosity about how the children played, what they played with, and how they were doing became a seed that grew up with her. And as she grew up, she became more curious about how the adults played. In her mind, she asked, “Where do you shop? What do you eat? How do you cook? What do you talk about at the dinner table?”
For Nora Dunn, the real motivation for her to travel was to gain that understanding; that was the moment that sparked her curiosity. She was nine years old, and it all went from there.
How did your approach to travel change over the years?
Nora Dunn has traveled since 2006 and has experienced every incantation of the travel lifestyle. She traveled fast and slow — she traveled fast for one year when the longest she stayed in one place was two and a half weeks and traveled so slow and stayed in one place for two years.
Besides the length of travel, Nora also learned a lot in terms of accommodation. She shares, “In my first ten years of full-time travel, I saved over a hundred thousand dollars from getting my accommodation for free.”
According to Nora, there are five different ways to get accommodation for free: volunteering, house sitting, couch surfing or hospitality exchanges, home exchanging, and living on boats. She had the chance to experience all these different accommodations.
And not only did the experience save her lots of money, but it allowed her to stay in places that the common tourists would never have a chance to stay in. “That, again, satisfied this dream I had of experiencing the world in an unconventional and immersive way,” Nora states.
What are your biggest challenges as a full-time traveler, and how did you overcome them?
Even with years of experience in traveling, Nora still struggles to balance her remote work career with her travel lifestyle. She explains, “The reality is when you have a travel lifestyle, the lines between work and life are usually blurred, especially when you’re in a career like mine, where I travel to work, and I work to travel.”
Attempting to balance the tasks of remote work with the tasks of a travel lifestyle isn’t easy — even Nora experienced burnout several times. But every time Nora does experience burnout, she learns something interesting about herself or the lifestyle she lives.
“And probably the golden rule of the travel lifestyle that I think solves many of these problems is to go slowly; slower than you think you need to go,” Nora advises.
Nora Dunn vouches for the importance of going slow because it gives you the opportunity to settle into your location to learn to live there. It also reduces the work involved with the travel lifestyle, from researching locations to booking tickets. Nora says, “Even just learning the daily tasks of life, learning how to survive at your destination is work. It’s fun, it’s part of the reason why we do it, but it’s also mentally taxing.”
Nora wants to visit different locations long enough that she can get all of her work done without feeling guilty about not being able to experience enough of the destination. For Nora, lifestyle travel isn’t a vacation, and it’s important to get out of that vacation mindset if you want to travel long-term while working remotely.
Nora Dunn adds, “Going slow becomes a necessity if you want to actually experience your destination. Three months seem to be a sweet spot for many lifestyle travelers. Some people like to stay longer. There’s even this term now called Slow-Mad. It’s something people now like to call themselves if they stay for maybe six months in a place before moving on.”
What advice would you give to someone considering quitting their full-time job to travel?
For anyone who’s at the stage of considering the full-time travel lifestyle, Nora advises taking a test trip first and going away for a few months. She adds, “Sometimes, people will go away, and they’ll take a six-month sabbatical leave or take their jobs on the road for a certain while, and they’ll go, ‘Oh, that was fun. But you know what? I really miss my place; I miss the comforts of my home.’ And it’s cool if you don’t want to sell your place. Then you can go back to it, and you can redesign your lifestyle or your ideas of your lifestyle.”
Aside from taking a test trip, Nora suggests paying attention to ergonomics, assuming aspiring full-time travelers already hit the road and started working remotely. If possible, work from the accommodation by creating a dedicated workspace inside that accommodation.
Nora Dunn shares one of her experiences, saying, “I spent too many years sitting on the bed with my laptop on my lap. I got cricks in my neck and problems with my back, and my productivity was negatively affected because I never had a proper workspace.”
Nora encourages to utilize co-living spaces that provide workspaces inside accommodations. There are also co-working spaces around the world where you can access a dedicated workspace. This setup works really well for many people because it allows them to focus and be more productive.
What factors do you consider to determine your next destination?
Over the years, destinations have chosen Nora Dunn rather than the other way around. They’ll often choose her in the form of an interesting opportunity. Back then, when she was enjoying free accommodation, it was actually due to a house-sitting gig or a volunteer gig. Sometimes, it was an opportunity to stay with someone she met.
This year, Nora is on a mission to experience a lot of co-living and co-working programs, like Remote Year. She says, “They’re one of the original programs out there. I think they’ve been around since 2014. Their initial product was a one-year program where you visit 12 destinations in 12 months. And you travel with a group of other people who are also working remotely and traveling.”
“So, you pay a one-time fee, and they take care of everything, like transportation, accommodation, and co-working spaces. There are local community managers who will hook you up with stuff to do at your destinations,” Nora continues.
Joining these programs takes out the work necessary when living a full-time travel lifestyle. Under these programs, the work is done for you as you don’t have to choose your destination, figure out how to survive there or find an area to stay.
What are the common misconceptions about full-time travel?
“The whole idea of working on the beach is a definite misconception. The reality is most people are cooped up inside their room and looking out the window, feeling guilty because they’re not out exploring but working,” Nora Dunn says.
The other misconception people have about the travel lifestyle is that it’s a vacation or you can live it the same way you would on vacation. Nora explains this idea further by sharing with us the experience she had online.
“I’ve had people on my social channels criticize some of the things I’ve said about finance relating to full-time travel, like I coined the term financially sustainable travel. And it’s not budget travel, and it’s not about environmental sustainability, but it’s travel as a lifestyle, which is based on three pillars: earning money remotely, making creative conscious choices about how you spend that money, and then balancing the money in with the money out,” Nora explains.
Nora received a lot of negative comments online about her lifestyle, with people saying she lives on the streets or inside her car as living in hotels for months is expensive.
But because it’s not a vacation, Nora isn’t staying in hotels; she’s finding short- or long-term rentals and staying there for weeks or months. She discovered during the first few years of her travel that staying in one place for long periods is way cheaper than spending days or weeks in different destinations.
She proceeds, “A little bit later this year, I’m going to Bulgaria. I rented a beautiful apartment with all the amenities for 400 euros a month. It would cost me more to stay in a hotel for a week in the same destination.”
What are your favorite resources for travel, planning, and research?
Nora Dunn encourages everyone to check out her site, theprofessionalhobo.com. She has over 17 years’ worth of content dedicated to helping people live a full-time travel lifestyle effectively.
“I have a whole section of travel lifestyle guides that are really full of resources to help people do that. And I also have a YouTube channel where I give people tips on traveling smart and in style. For some other resources, you can get all the resources from my channels, but it really depends on how you want to live your lifestyle,” Nora shares.
She recommends checking nomadlist.com as it’s a common website for starting the research process in terms of finding the best places around the world to travel. It’ll also show you stats on the cost of living of a particular place, whether it’s safe, and the good neighborhoods to stay in.
What’s your favorite destination and why?
“I always preface the answer to this question with the observation that travel is contextual. So, your experience and my experience at the exact same place will be very different. Our favorite destinations only have a little bit to do with the actual place; it’s mostly about how we’re feeling, who we’re with, and what we’re doing,” Nora says.
But Nora answers that question by stating her favorites are definitely Peru and New Zealand. She lived in Peru for almost two years and plans to return there someday because its climate is diverse, and the food and culture are amazing. Nora loves New Zealand because the people there are incredible, the sceneries are epic, and it’s a place you can’t just pass by.
Tell us about your journey in building your personal brand and growing your social media following.
Nora Dunn started her travel blog because she didn’t want to send emails to her family and friends about what she was doing. Since she liked writing, she decided to write about her travel.
Over the years, blogging developed into an industry and a monetizable entity. She says, “I became recognized as one of the first travel lovers, so that served me well.”
Initially, Nora’s career ambitions were centered around freelance writing. She loved the idea of hitting the road and writing content that required her financial expertise and travel experience whenever she had an internet connection.
Interestingly enough, she got hired by financial publications to write about travel and got hired by travel publications to write about finances. Somewhere in the middle, she developed her personal brand focused on the finances of travel, and that’s why her website, theprofessionalhobo.com came to fruition.
Nora Dunn continues, “As I mentioned, I coined the term financially sustainable travel because I was able to track my expenses and realized the cost to travel full-time is actually less than I ever spent to live in one place. And I want to prove to people that this [traveling full-time] could be financially sustainable.”
As for developing her personal brand, Nora understands the importance of turning oneself into a pretzel, basically knowing how to adapt. Google’s algorithms are constantly changing, and being unable to keep up with the times can actually “bite you.”
The same thing goes for social media platforms. Nora explains, “You need to be aware of how to utilize algorithms to reach the people you want to reach. But the more important thing is to determine who are the people you want to reach and how you can serve them.”
” if that’s the ball that you keep your eye on, then regardless of the platform or the algorithm or the latest trend, you’ll be able to develop a business that will sustain you over time,” Nora states.
What advice can you give someone getting started as an influencer in the travel industry?
Nora Dunn advises neophyte influencers to be patient. It’s pretty much the same thing she said about building a personal brand — you can’t know who you’re serving until you take the time to develop your following. The idea that fame and money come overnight isn’t accurate.
She also advises that new influencers should find the right balance between making sure they like what they do and knowing how to approach what they’re doing as a business. Because sometimes, things you’re passionate about aren’t always viable businesses.
How did the pandemic impact your work as a travel influencer?
When the pandemic hit, Nora’s businesses suffered extraordinarily. She cites an example, “Half of my website traffic disappeared in March of 2020, and then another Half of my website traffic disappeared in May of 2020 with an algorithm update. So, by June, I was burned out.”
Nora Dunn’s experience with the pandemic was horrendous, but it also opened an opportunity for her to take a hard look at how her business was structured, which at that time was dependent on her web traffic. She had multiple income streams, but all were dependent on her website traffic.
Additionally, the pandemic allowed her to see a major flaw in her existing strategy and allowed her to rethink how she was working and living. But that’s not all — the pandemic also provided her with a tremendous opportunity for her career as a travel influencer.
Nora says, “Before the pandemic, I was helping people design their lifestyles and arrange their affairs, so they could travel long-term while working remotely. The pandemic blew the doors wide open on the number of people who would like to do this. Now, the pandemic necessitated companies around the world to go remote or become obsolete.”
What that means for Nora is that because of the pandemic, there are now billions of people who can and want to work remotely. Some of them even want to try doing it outside of their home countries.
“Once I emerged from my cloud of despair, I realized I had an opportunity to serve a gigantic market with content and expertise that I had been accumulating for, by that point, 14 years already,” Nora continues.
What’s next for you in your travels and your career as a writer?
Nora’s latest endeavor would be to focus and expand on her YouTube channel. She has had the channel since 2007 but admits she has an on-and-off relationship with video production as it requires a lot of work. But since the pandemic, she realized she wanted to get a little more serious about business, which means she has to work on her YouTube channel alongside making content on her website.
She shares, “My YouTube channel started taking off last month. So, I’m doing pretty well with a series called How to Travel Smart, in Style, and it helps people to do exactly that. I also have another series that reviews travel gear and remote work tools to help people travel effectively and stress-free.”
Nora Dunn will also release a group cohort program soon where she’s going to coach people in a group setting. She has experience in personal consulting but just “became too much.” to do on a one-to-one basis. She admits there were too many people but not enough hours, which is why she’s creating group programs to help people design their lives, so they can travel long-term.
She’s also going to come out with some online curriculum and will speak at the Creator Economy Expo next month.