Chanel, 32, and Stevo, 30
Blog: How Far From Home
Home base: South Africa
When they started traveling: March 2015
Where they went: Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Kenya, Malawi, Mauritius, Namibia, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Tanzania, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Zambia
Where have you been since September 2015?
Chanel: I think we've seen another 15 countries since then.
Wow. How much had each of you saved before you left?
Chanel: About $15,000. Steve was saving for about four years. I saved for about two years. We saved anywhere between 10 to 20 percent of our salaries. We cashed in our retirement annuities. We also sold our cars, all our furniture, and some belongings. We always make sure to have an emergency amount for a flight home, but other than that, all our savings went into this.
What did you do for work once you started traveling?
Stevo: We set up to do volunteer work through a website called Workaway. You get a place to stay, you get food. The first job we did was in Norway working at a husky lodge looking after 70 dogs and puppies, training them for mushing and racing, scooping their poop, and chopping wood. We moved on to Sweden after that. There, the Workaway work was described as "helping with tourists," so it's not like we applied for a job to scrub toilets, but that's what we did. We embraced the challenge. It was only an hour of work a day, and the rest of the time, we could take their car and explore beautiful Sweden. It was absolutely worth it! We only started making income after nine months on the road, and our savings lasted us 15 months.
Are you still scooping poop?
Chanel: The plan was to take a year and then go back to the jobs we had, but the more we got into the journey, the more opportunities availed themselves. One couple we had never met happened to come across our Instagram, loved our photos, and invited us to come video their wedding. We had never filmed a wedding before, and you only get one take. But they flew us up to London (and then to New York as that was our next destination).
Now we do videography and photography for brands, logo design for small businesses, and teach online courses on how to travel on a budget. (We have a new course launching in April, sign up now!) We were able to spend a few nights at the gorgeous Hotel Alfonso XIII in Seville, Spain, as part of a photography assignment. We're trying to look at business models that allow us to get paid even when we're sleeping, so that worrying about "retirement" and "our future" is not something that we need to think about.
What is your disposable income situation like?
Chanel: If we decide to share a meal and then walk to our Airbnb instead of catching a bus, that cash would've been disposable for us. I've been logging every single expense we've made since March 2015. On average in 2015, we were spending 84 euros ($88) a month on entertainment — anything like beer or wine, chocolates, going into a museum. Then I look to this year and I kind of worked out since March 2016 up to date, we're spending an average of 172 euros ($179) a month on entertainment. The stuff that we're allowing ourselves to spend money on is little treats. We're like, "OK, well, we're in Iceland, so let's go to the Blue Lagoon. It's expensive, but we're going to do it because we're here."
How much is a day at the Blue Lagoon?
Stevo: Fifty euros ($53) per person. And we did that for your birthday.
Chanel: I could've had a piece of cake for my birthday. So we just splurge a little bit.
Was there anything you didn't splurge on but wish you had?
Chanel: The Acropolis keeps coming to mind, which drives me crazy. It really wasn't that expensive. I think it was 12 euros ($13) per person. But that month, it was somewhere around August, September last year, we'd spent a lot already. We went all the way to Athens and we didn't go there! It was OK from the outside, but ah.
Eliana, 28, and Travis, 28
Blog: When in Roaming
Home base: Washington, D.C.
When they started traveling: January 2016
Where they went: Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Singapore, Malaysia
How much did you save up before you quit everything to travel?
Travis: Our goal was to save about $10,000, and when we left, we had just under that. We bought one-way plane tickets, but we'd originally planned to go for maybe eight or nine months.
What kind of jobs did you pick up?
Eliana: To work in southeast Asia, you need a working visa and we only had tourist visas. So we didn't have any income.
Where did you most often sleep?
Travis: We originally were going to stay in hostels, but a bed in a hostel would be about $7 or $8, and we found we could get a double room in a cheap hotel for, like, $10 or $11.
Eliana: We used [the discount hotel booking site] Agoda and sometimes Airbnb. In Chiang Rai, Thailand, we took a chance on a place we saw on a flyer to stay with the Akha Hill Tribe, [an indigenous group that often hosts travelers] up in the mountains. Our bungalow hung off the side of a hill, above a valley, across from a forested mountain face. It was magical. But one hotel room in Bangkok was covered in tiny roaches — the walls, the floor, the bathroom. We couldn't get our room switched until the next day, so we had to stay there overnight. Mosquitoes are expected everywhere. Rude hosts are the norm. Random monkeys, lizards, and birds are part of the experience. But roaches and bedbugs caused a mental anguish I just wasn't up for.
What did you splurge on?
Travis: When we decided to splurge on something, it [was] an experience, because with backpacking, everything you accumulate you have to carry with you. I still wish I'd gotten a custom suit made in Hoi An, Vietnam, but it seemed like a waste of money. We did a tour of these really dark underground caves in Vietnam and that was slightly outside of our budget — $30 each, which was our daily food budget — but we spent two days not going out and drinking beer to do it.
When did you run out of money?
Travis: I think five months into it, we knew we only had another 60 or 70 days on the road. That was kind of depressing. It was down to $2,500. Then realizing that our accounts were getting close to the double digits was a scary moment.
How did you get home?!
Eliana: One thing we planned out before we left was leaving $1,200 with Travis's parents for flights back. There were just so many people making YouTube videos like, "Hey, I'm stuck in Malaysia," or, "I'm stuck in Vietnam, you gotta send me money." We knew we could leave without really stressing about it.
So you're back in D.C. saving money for more travel?
Travis: Yeah, I think $5,000 would be the comfortable amount. I stayed in touch with my photography clients and got my job back at a coffee shop.
Eliana: It took me two months and eight days to find a job. I worried about explaining the gap in my résumé. But I found a great [job] as a manager at a private social club here that pays more than I made before we left.
Travis: We're trying to figure out what the next trip is going to be and also how to make the next trip a lot more permanent now that we see that you can do these things. We plan to get the necessary visas to find work and make it last at least a year. Nothing is as fun as bouncing around the world as you please, but being in a place long enough to truly absorb the culture has its value as well.
Taylor, 26, and Stephanie, 26
Home base: Originally Texas; now Madrid, Spain
When they started traveling: Fall 2014
Where they went: New Zealand, Thailand, Mexico, Jamaica, Portugal, Ireland, Italy, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, the U.K., Slovenia, Spain
You'd only been dating 10 months before you started traveling together. How had you prepared?
Taylor: I am, like, a hardcore gold-star lesbian and Stephanie was with some creepy heterosexual at the time, so we were just really good friends, and then it just kind of turned into something else. We both had graduated about a year and a half before we took off traveling. I was making $12 an hour and Stephanie was making, like, $11 an hour. Fortunately for us, we don't have debt. By the time we left on our first trip, we only had $3,400 each. But we still were able to go to New Zealand for two months and go to Thailand for a month.
Did you pick up jobs to make money?
Taylor: We didn't make any money while traveling, but we did help exchange programs. There's one called WWOOF
[World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms] and another called [link href="https://www.helpx.net/" target="_blank" link_updater_label="external"]HelpX. We've dabbled in Workaway since we got to Europe. Those are all programs where people who need labor but can't afford to pay people register. They have travelers like us come, work for them for no more than five hours a day, and we get to stay and eat for free with them in the coolest places on earth. We worked with a woman who ran a motel in Fiordland National Park [in New Zealand] just folding sheets and towels for four hours a day. We stayed for three weeks in Wellington with a lesbian couple just helping them DIY their whole house.
There were good and bad experiences with that. We did WWOOF with a guy in New Zealand who lived in a hippie community. We had to clean up the garden and pick fruit off the trees before it went bad. After work, he drew us a map of his land and we found ourselves hiking two hours up a mountain to a magical waterfall. Then we did HelpX with a weird woman in France cleaning up her 20-room house that was in great need of repair, but we also had to stay in the house. The whole floor was pitch black at night because there was no electricity, and there were random tools (saw, ax) that we would walk by, and piles of trash that had been hoarded throughout the years. But these programs cut our accommodation costs to zero and our food costs to zero unless we wanted to go out. All you have to pay for is transportation.
Steph: We hitchhiked a lot, which cut costs even further. It was nerve-racking the very first time because you hear all of these horror stories back at home. But we have hitchhiked a few times and it was great.
So what did you spend money on?
Taylor: Bungee jumping in New Zealand for $270.
Steph: But we didn't really have to spend a lot of money on activities because our hosts [via Workaway and WWOOFing] took us sea-fishing, we got to pet eels, we got to learn how to use dirt bikes.
After your New Zealand trip, you came back to the U.S. for a year to work and save money for more travel. How much money did you have left in your accounts? And how did you make money for more travel?
Steph: I did social work, earning $16 an hour.
Taylor: I was a nanny for Care.com for a special needs child for $20 an hour. So May of this year rolls around and I got about $9,000 saved up; Stephanie's got about $8,000.
Then where did you go?
Taylor: We backpacked around Europe for seven weeks. We actually only spent, like, $3,000 total between the both of us because we did WWOOFing, Airbnb, Booking.com, and Trivago — the only place we paid over $60 a night for accommodation was in Venice. In Paris, we spent $30 a night.
Steph: Then we applied to this Spanish government agency called Auxiliares de Conversación. You go abroad to Spain and teach English to kids.
Taylor: It's free. The only thing you pay for is your visa, which is less than $150.
How are you making money this time?
Taylor: We make $1,000 a month each teaching, which doesn't sound like a lot, but in Madrid, everything's so cheap. Beer's, like, 50 cents a can here.
Steph: We only work 16 hours a week.
Taylor: And we have three-day weekends every week. We're also Airbnbing out our apartment. It's a one-bedroom with a futon couch. So we rent out this futon couch for $40 a night every weekend, and we tutor on the side.
What has been your biggest challenge with living a nomadic lifestyle?
Steph: The only issue is that we are minorities, so coming to Europe has been very eye-opening in the way we've had to think about where we travel because of racism.
Taylor: Going to New Zealand and Thailand, the people are some of the most kind, open-minded, and gay-friendly people in the world. Then I got here and it's like, "Oh wait, bitch, you're gay, and you're black, and you wear men's clothes. Pump your brakes.'" When we got to northern Italy, people would like tap their friends and stare at me. If I'm walking down the street and I say, "Good morning," in Italian, I would get just nothing in return.
One of the reasons we chose to travel to Portugal is because Portugal has a lot of brown people. I can deal with people being a little weird because we're gay. We're from Texas so that doesn't really bother us. But when we're sitting here planning a trip, I'm like, "Oh, I want to go to Croatia," and then I have it in the back in my mind, "Oh, we shouldn't go to Croatia because Croatia's really racist," and I didn't have that fear before I got to Europe.
We started Lesbinomadic because we were like, "Look, we want to show people that it doesn't matter if you're black, it doesn't matter if you're gay, it doesn't matter if you're an interracial couple, you can still travel the world. You don't have to have fear, you don't have to have apprehension, and you can afford it." We weren't making money. We're not ballers.