An Interview with Nora Dunn
Home Base: Toronto, Ontario
Blog: The Professional Hobo
Connect With Nora Dunn
In 2006, I sold everything I owned (including a busy financial planning practice) to embrace my dreams of travelling the world full-time. I've been on the road ever since, having lived in and travelled through over 50 countries. During my travels, I developed a career as a freelance writer on the topics of travel, personal finance, and lifestyle design. On my own site The Professional Hobo, I teach people how to travel full-time in a financially sustainable way. I also have a monthly “Dear Nora” column on CreditWalk.ca. I've currently “settled” in Peru, which is my home base for further travels.
When and how did you discover your passion for travel?
My passion for travel has been a life-long one. It started at the tender age of 9 years old when I was shown a documentary in school about Europe, and I was fascinated with this place that was very different from my Canadian frame of reference. The architecture, the clothes, the language, the food – was all fascinating to me. I remember wanting to know what games the children played there.
Over the years, it fostered a desire to understand how different people and cultures function. I wanted to break bread at dinner tables the world round and get a glimpse into daily life and values.
After years of taking traditional vacations and returning home with more questions than answers, I realized that the sort of travel I wanted to do required a lifestyle change to allow me to actually live around the world and immerse.
How has travel changed your life?
Simply the act of selling everything to travel full-time was a huge leap of faith that paid off in spades. I gained a new passion for living life itself, and embracing the act of discovery and learning, which is constant on the road.
I've also expanded my horizons and released any judgements I have about how other people live their lives. Oftentimes, different cultures have lifestyle practices and values that I don't understand or necessarily agree with. But these differences are worth celebrating, not criticizing!
What is your biggest pet peeve while travelling?
Despite my travel expertise, I abhor the act of actually booking travel arrangements. Searching for flights is soul-destroying, with too many choices, and dodgy airline search engine algorithms. It takes me forever to sort through my options, and I'm always afraid that as soon as I book my flight, I'll find something better.
I complicate matters further for myself (in some ways) by being a frequent flyer mile junkie. Wherever possible, I fly long haul in business class for less than the equivalent economy ticket. But this too takes a fair bit of work and research, and a monumental amount of patience. (It pays off when I'm relaxing in my business class seat though).
What is the one thing you absolutely never travel without?
My laptop. It's my career, and my lifeline to family and friends back home. Earlier this year I spent a month in the jungles of Peru without any internet (and without my laptop), and it was a terrifying and yet cathartic experience – though painful when I returned to over 1,000 emails and a laundry list of online tasks.
What is the most unique experience you've ever "accidentally stumbled upon" while travelling?
I've had a few. In Australia I stumbled on the “Aboriginal Tent Embassy” and spent the afternoon with an aboriginal woman who, the more we chatted, defied all judgements I had of her appearance and lifestyle. It was a reminder that when travelling, making snap judgements based on appearance and your own cultural background is a dangerous thing.
I also accidentally stumbled on the world of living on boats after a few months of house-sitting in the Caribbean. After making some inroads in the yachting community, I ended up spending three months living on five different boats spanning three countries, without a night on land.
If you were going on a one-week rest and relaxation vacation somewhere you've previously been, where would you go and why?
Probably the Caribbean. I lived in Grenada on and off for almost two years, and the pace of life, beautiful weather, and epic scenery just screams “vacation”. It's also a very different landscape to where I'm currently living in the high Andes of Peru.
With the Canadian Dollar being a little weaker than it once was, what is something unique you do to stretch your dollars while travelling?
With my location independent business, I'm a bit sheltered from Canadian currency fluctuations since I earn money in multiple currencies. But aside from that, one of my specialties in travelling in a financially sustainable way has been to get free accommodation around the world. The more I delved into this way of travel (and the many ways of doing it), the more I loved it for the cultural immersion it offered, in addition to saving big money! In my first five years of full-time travel alone, I saved over $63,000 in accommodation expenses. In 2011, I spent $173 on accommodation – for the entire year.
I wrote a book to teach other people how to travel in this unique way: How to Get Free Accommodation Around the World.
If you could pack only a carry on sized backpack for an extended trip, what would you pack?
There's another specialty of mine: for years I travelled full-time with nothing but carry-on luggage! It's an art unto itself requiring everything to be multi-functional, and for souvenirs to be immensely practical. Here's an article I wrote with some tips on how to do it: How to Travel Ultralight With Carry-On Luggage Only.
What kind of mistakes did you make when you first started travelling?
I discovered pretty quickly that there's a learning curve to lifestyle travel that's unique to every person, as they carve out their own preferred style of travel.
A few mistakes I've made: I started travelling with a partner who wasn't financially stable. It got ugly when we got to Australia a couple of years in and he confided in me that he had no money left. He eventually got a job, but then he got so committed to that job that travel took a back seat. After 18 months of this, I decided to travel on, and left him in Australia (with his Australian girlfriend – ha ha). So I advise aspiring travellers to make sure their financial house is in order before hitting the road.
I also made the mistake, when volunteering in trade for accommodation, of not properly establishing lines of communication and setting expectations with volunteer hosts. I found myself in a tricky spot in Hawaii, living with and volunteering for a very difficult man. I lasted less than four months of my six month commitment.
What is your most embarrassing travel story?
Now why would I spill that for the world to gawk at? Ha ha. Actually, I don't have any (er...many) moments of pure embarrassment, but I'm a bit ashamed of some of the things that happened to me while living in the Caribbean. It's going to form part of my next book: This Ain't a Travel Blog: Stories From 8 Years of Living Abroad That No Travel Blogger Would Ever Publish. Stay tuned.
What's the craziest thing you've ever eaten while away?
As a foodie, I'm not too fazed by “crazy” foods – rather I'm fascinated with trying new things. But I'll never forget eating what I can only assume was the ass of a pig while chasing down an “authentic” restaurant experience in Thailand. Blech.
What is the most exciting thing/craziest story that has ever happened to you when travelling?
Tough to choose. I've filmed two tv shows in three countries, including one in New Zealand where I did every world's-highest/deepest/fastest/craziest activity you can imagine.
Another exciting time for me was when I had my passport and thousands of dollars stolen by a house guest in Grenada, three days before I was supposed to travel to Panama for a house-sitting gig. That was a pretty crazy three days, let me tell you. You can read about it at The Saga of my $10,000 Passport.
Of all the places you've been, what was your favourite destination and why?
I always preface this answer with the idea that travel is very contextual. My favourite places have much more to do with who I'm with, what I'm doing, and where I'm at in my life, than with the actual place itself. The most beautiful sunset in the world could be a tragic sight if your heart was just broken.
Having said that, some favourites for me include New Zealand (where I lived on and off for 9 months and made great friends), and of course, Peru – where I currently live and have established a home base and new direction in my life of apprenticing with a shaman. I love Peru because I'm nestled high in the mountains in the Sacred Valley, it feels like home with a huge international community of expats and travellers, and there's also so much to discover and learn from the colourful local culture and people.
Want to learn more about Noras's adventures?