If there's one thing I get asked more than anything else it's, “How are you able to live this life of adventure? Where does the money come from?” Well, curious reader, here is your answer.
When I first tried to write this post it turned into an explanation of how I started Halfway Anywhere – which I think is worth a read if you're really interested in how it is I made and have come to make money. Where I am today is not the product of me setting a goal and achieving it; instead, it's the result of me following an uncertain path full of turns and surprises I could never have predicted.
For this post, we're going to start back in 2012 when I got my first “real job” in beautiful Berkeley, California.
PART I: Office Space
After finishing up my last year of formal education in Brazil, I got a job at a small Berkeley-based startup via a referral from a friend who was already working there.
Living in a two-bedroom apartment on Berkeley's North Side with the friend who got me the job, things were going well – except that I wasn't able to save anything on my salary. Despite having a full-time job with benefits, I was losing money every month after rent, bills, and food (and maybe beer). I may have just entered “the real world”, but I was pretty sure that this was not how things were supposed to be working.
I neglected the blog at this point in my life (which was at this time “Fryer Brazil”), but I did continue to occasionally post about my time in Brazil.
So after nearly five months of watching my account balances drop, when a friend called me from New York and asked me to work at his bar on Fire Island for the summer I happily accepted.
PART II: The Revelation
When my summer of bartending on Fire Island came to a close I had more money than I had ever had in my life (turns out living in a house with ten other people on an island where there's nothing to do but hang out at the beach is a great way to save money).
I worked roughly the same amount of time on Fire Island as I had back in Berkeley, but with vastly different outcomes (and I enjoyed my work in New York far more than I did my desk job in California). During my days serving drinks to drunk Long Islanders, I kept up my writing on the second iteration of my blog, Fryer Island, but more on that in Halfway Anywhere's origin story.
My time on Fire Island proved to me that it was possible to make a living doing something other than climbing a corporate ladder (and that you could have fun while doing it).
When I left Fire Island I did some traveling around New England (that's what American's call the northeastern region of the United States) and it was during this time when I met a man in the small town of Londonderry, New Hampshire who would set me down a path to hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).
PART III: The Vacation
What money I had leftover, I took back to California to start my PCT planning. However, since I had less money left over than I had already spent, I opened up a credit card with an introductory 0% APR for 18-months (aka I don't pay interest so long as I make minimum payments and pay off my balance within 18 months of opening the card) to finance my PCT hike (because I figured that post-PCT I would be able to find a job with enough time to pay back whatever I ended up spending).
It was during this time I rebranded my blog Halfway Anywhere.
I had always thought it would be incredible to earn an income from my blog, but my attempts at monetization with display advertising (basic square or rectangular ads you see plastered about the internet), never managed to reach the mythical $100 limit Google requires before you can have your earnings deposited.
My monthly accruals were holding strong at around $1.
As encouraging as it was to have friends and family tell me that they enjoyed reading my posts, there weren't enough of them to make my endeavors in blogging profitable. A domain name – that's a .com address – costs around $12/year; that's literally my entire income.
PART IV: The Pacific Crest Trail
Leading up to, during, and after my Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike, I concentrated on writing articles that focused on answering the questions I had about the PCT (as well as whatever I happened to find interesting or entertaining about the trail).
I noticed a considerable increase in my readership during this time, but bear in mind that a 1,000% increase in readership doesn't translate to a livable income if my base readership was ten people. Still, it was encouraging to see that I was getting traffic, comments, and the occasional email from people whom I did not know personally.
By the end of my hike I was swimming in credit card debt, but, again, I was confident that I would get some work and make it all go away.
PART V: Post-PCT
Following the PCT, I made my first trip to Japan where I continued to regularly update the blog.
But isn't it expensive to fly to Japan? Sure. However, I used airline miles I had accrued via a second credit card's sign-up bonus to pay for my flight. I know, if you're in touch with the dangers of credit cards, you may be worried at this point. I probably should have been too, but I was confident I could game the system.
I had a free place to stay while in Japan and my diet consisted mostly of instant noodles, making my daily expenses manageable. That being said, I still wasn't earning anything. In the hopes of turning my financial situation around, in November of 2013, I applied for an English teaching position (in Japan) via the JET Programme. The only problem? If accepted, I would not start until July of 2014.
When I left Japan, I was getting a little worried about the clock on my 18 months of 0% APR. Month 12 was coming up, and even if I got the job (which I would not find out until April), I didn't think I would be able to make enough to pay off my entire balance before month 18 rolled around.
So I did the only logical thing I could think of – I opened another credit card that had an 18-month 0% introductory APR and a fee-free balance transfer. In case you're unsure what that means, it meant I could transfer (without fee or penalty) my existing credit card balance to this new card (effectively paying off the first card), buying me another 18 months of interest-free payments.
Yes, I know, again not the best decision, but I was sure that I would be able to find work in the next 18 months. Surely.
PART VI: Hired
After Japan, I flew to Hawaii where I stayed on Maui with my mom. I did odd jobs around the island – fixing computers, babysitting, manual labor – to support myself during my time here, but after a couple of months I decided to start traveling again (after all, I had a new credit card to use).
With my new lease on spending (because hey, hopefully employed me in 18 months can worry about what I do now), I decided to go to Europe (because Norwegian Air had just begun its long-haul flights and Los Angeles to Stockholm was only $180 one-way) where I mostly visited and stayed with friends (not paying for accommodation is an excellent way to travel cheaply).
While in France visiting a friend from the PCT, I got the good news, I got the Japan job.
Well, now it was really party time since I now knew that I was going to have a steady income in just a few months (and I would be allowed to stay in Japan working for as many as five years if I liked the job and the job liked me).
During this time I had been maintaining the blog and writing about my hikes in Hawaii and adventures around Europe. I also continued writing about the PCT since I saw that this was what many blog visitors were interested in.
PART VII: マック先生 (Mac-sensei)
So now it's July of 2014 and two exciting things have happened:
- I have moved to Japan and am now employed in a public Japanese middle school
- I have made my first $100 from Halfway Anywhere
Yes, I should have been excited about my new employment, home, and surroundings, but getting that first payment from Google (after literally years of blogging) felt like confirmation there was Halfway Anywhere viable. That said, I was never going to be able to support myself on a $100-every-three-years payment schedule.
And so I worked in Japan, taking the weekends to explore the country's mountains, the school holidays to travel to abroad to places like Taiwan and Nepal, and, perhaps most importantly, slowly paying off my credit card balance before the dreaded 18-month promotional period came to an end.
I continued posting on the blog, documenting my hikes, travels, and life in Japan, as I saw the site's traffic steadily (albeit very slowly) increase.
It was also during my first couple of months in Japan that I discovered something else: affiliate marketing.
PART VIII: Affiliate Marketing
In case the term affiliate marketing is new to you, here's what it is in a nutshell: companies pay publishers, usually in the form of a sales commission, for customers directed to said companies by said publishers.
I was already linking out to a lot of companies' websites when talking about what gear I used, so I decided to see if any of these companies had affiliate programs. Some of them did and so I integrated these programs into the blog.
It was also around this time that I saw a spike in website traffic. My guess is that this was largely thanks to my Pacific Crest Trail video hitting it big on the internet.
Suddenly, I was making around twenty dollars a month in display advertising revenue. I was really raking it in. This, plus my newly incorporated affiliate links, translated into earnings of around thirty or forty dollars a month. Beers on me, everyone!
At the end of 2014 I had made something like $400 from Halfway Anywhere. Certainly not enough to live off, but enough to be cautiously optimistic about what the future may hold.
PART IX: Bye Bye Debt (and Japan)
In February of 2016, after nearly eighteen months of working in Japan, I had saved up enough money (after having paid off my credit cards) that it was time to move on.
I sold my car (a 2004 Toyota Wish), exchanged the last of my yen (at probably its weakest to the dollar in years), and went to Australia where I used my savings to buy and ride a bicycle across the Outback from Melbourne to Darwin.
My visa for Australia allowed me to stay (and to work) for up to one year, but after my bicycle ride, I was getting ready to head down to Brazil for a reunion with my amigos and to check out the Olympics. But before leaving the country, I met a lovely couple from Ballarat, Victoria while I was up in Cairns and they offered to let me stay with them if I decided to come back and work after Brazil.
I had every intention of working soon since my Japan money was running thin and a trip to Brazil wasn't going to help (although I would be staying with friends which would make things easier).
It was also around this time I started seriously considering hiking the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) and I would definitely need some money in the bank if I was going to make that happen (since I was not going to get involved with that credit card business again).
PART X: The Hop Temple
After a couple of months in Brazil, I was broke again and it was time to find work.
The couple from Ballarat made good on their offer to take me in, and I returned to Australia to look for employment. In addition to offering up his home, my new friend also took me on as a laborer for his synthetic grass installation business. Yes, there is a tennis court somewhere in Australia that I built.
I also found employment at a craft beer bar called the Hop Temple and could not have asked for a better working environment. Once again, I was working behind a bar with an awesome group of people and having an amazing time (although this time making Australian dollars per hour and not living on my US-dollar tips).
My free time was devoted to Halfway Anywhere and I slowly began earning more from the blog (mostly affiliate links) – still not enough for me to live on, but enough to encourage me not to give up on making the blog my primary source of income (one day). I had shifted my focus to thru-hiking since the idea of having a “travel blog” turned out to be way too broad a mission. Still, I enjoy writing about the occasional experience in Japan. And thanks to the unforeseen popularity of my thru-hiker surveys and my PCT video, my traffic continued to increase.
I saw staying with this family (there were two kids in the home as well) as temporary accommodation while I got my bearings, but I ended up staying with them for the entire time I was in Victoria (that's an Australian state).
And now I think it appropriate to point out that I would not be able to do much of what I do if it was not for the support from my friends, family, and strangers I meet along the way. So if you're one of these royal examples of a human being who has taken me into your house or shown me kindness over the years, then you have my sincerest thanks; I would not be who or where I am today without you all (and thanks for reading).
When my bank account again reflected a positive balance with more than three digits, I left the Hop Temple to spend the last month of my Australian visa exploring Tasmania.
PART XI: The Continental Divide Trail
When my Australia visa expired and I was forced to flee the country, I returned to California where I prepared for my Continental Divide Trail thru-hike.
One of my motivations for hiking the CDT was the fact that two of my hiker friends from the PCT had done either all or most of it in 2015 (while I was working off my debt in Japan). I couldn't let them be more badass than me, and so I had no choice but to hike the CDT myself.
With my savings from Australia and the amount of revenue Halfway Anywhere was generating via display advertising and affiliate links (but mostly affiliate links), I thought I would be able to sustain life on the trail for a summer – and I was right. However, the thru-hiking life and the not thru-hiking life are two very different things and so my plan post-CDT was to head to New Zealand on a working holiday visa.
The plan was to hike and travel around New Zealand until I ran out of money again. Then I would get a job somewhere to save up for the next leg of my life.
In case you haven't noticed, I don't have much in the way of long-term plans or goals.
PART XII: New Zealand
Post-CDT I arrived in New Zealand on a working holiday visa which allows for working and/or traveling within the country for up to one year.
This is the same visa I had when I entered Australia and I planned to do something similar – travel until my money ran out and then get a job somewhere (probably at a bar).
However, while I was in New Zealand I began earning more from the blog and was able to keep my monthly spending at or below the money coming in via Halfway Anywhere. I was mostly able to do this because I was camping 90% of the time and generally avoiding anything that cost money.
As I write this, I am closing out my fifth month in New Zealand, and instead of spending the next seven months working, I'm cutting my time here short in favor of less expensive destinations – namely, Nepal (where I can eat meals for $2 US instead of $20 US).
PART XII: The Future
Honestly, I don't know what the future holds.
Now, as always, I am continuing to write in and update the blog as regularly as possible. The money coming in via Halfway Anywhere has been steadily increasing with the increased number of people visiting the site, but it's by no means guaranteed. Some weeks I can pay for my food and accommodation, some weeks I make nothing and have to rely on what I've saved.
A huge reason I've been able to do what I'm doing is that I travel very cheaply. I use airline miles for flights, I hitchhike, I camp, and I don't eat at restaurants. Make no mistake, I am not on vacation. It takes work to travel this way and it can be incredibly inconvenient and/or undesirable at times.
As I write this, for example, I am pulling an all-nighter in the common room at the hostel I stayed at last night so I don't have to pay for tonight's accommodation (since I have a 5:00 AM flight in the morning – leaving in three hours). Would I prefer to be in my hotel room with a 3:00 PM departure time tomorrow? Yes. But then my flight from Christchurch, New Zealand to Melbourne, Australia wouldn't have cost me $100 and I would be paying $100+ for a place to stay.
Despite all of my pictures on Instagram telling you my life is nonstop awesome adventure, this is not the case (I know, it's heartbreaking, sometimes the internet lies to us).
So if you want to support the site, click on those links before you make your purchases. If you don't want to support the site, then it's strange you made it this far into the post.
If there's a lot of interest, I'll write another, more detailed post about how exactly it is I earn money from Halfway Anywhere.
Let me know in the comments if that's something you would be interested in.