Gary considered doing his PhD. Then he changed his mind. Instead, he sold his house in 2007 to travel the world. He started out knowing nothing about cameras and is now an award-winning travel blogger and photographer. His newfound skills garner him sponsored travel deals that keep him travelling at little cost to himself.
How was life before becoming a digital nomad?
I never had a normal job, so there was never really a normal day for me. Before I began traveling I was a high school debate coach, owned a consulting firm, ran a network of video game blogs, and returned to school to study Geology and Geophysics.
How did you realize you wanted long-term travel?
I decided against getting a PhD because of my age. I was 35 when I made the decision I wasn’t going to go that route and 37 when I started traveling. It is an age where most people are getting tenure, not starting from scratch. I realized the enjoyment I got from science could be met by just reading and learning.
I went on a brief around-the-world trip for business in 1999 and I loved it. I really wanted to do something more. I assumed I would be gone for a year or two. I had no idea that I’d still be doing it over 6 years later or that it would become a career for me.
How long did your life transition take?
I mark the start of my travels on March 13, 2007. That was the day I signed the papers selling my house. From the moment I made the decision – to handing over the keys of my house – was approximately 18 months. Most of that was the time spent on the house sale.
What transition steps did you take?
It all started with the idea of traveling. Once I was committed to it, everything else was a matter of details. The biggest thing was selling my house. Until I could do that, there wasn’t much to do – and wasn’t much I could do.
What are your annual costs on the road?
Totally depends where I am and what I do. $15,000 – $30,000 a year is possible ($1,250 – $2,500 a month). You can spend a lot more in Europe / Japan / Australia. Nowadays, because of my blog, I get many of my trips sponsored so my costs are greatly reduced over my early days of travel.
The absolute biggest thing that affects what you spend is where you choose to travel. You can get a great room in Thailand for $50/night, where that will not even get you a bed in a hostel in Zurich.
Have you monetized your blog?
I rely solely on sponsorships and endorsements. This is a strategy which works very well for me, but it is something which most bloggers can’t do. To do that you need a sizable audience and a solid track record. My primary sponsor is G Adventures, which is the world’s largest adventure travel company.
How do you orchestrate your sponsored travel?
I have an assistant who manages most of my scheduling. She contacts tourism boards and works out all the arrangements. I am usually not involved in most of the discussions other than indicating what I want to do and where I’d like to go.
How heavy is your pack?
My primary bag is not a backpack. I stopped using a backpack in 2010 as my back and shoulders hurt too much and I realized that almost everywhere I go I can use a bag with wheels. That bag is usually around 17kg. My smaller backpack, which I use for camera and computer gear, usually is around 12kg.
What camera kit do you use?
I started traveling with a Nikon D200 and now use a Nikon D300s, which is basically an upgraded model of what I started with. My photography has improved over time, not because of the camera or lenses (those are pretty much the same) but in my technique and talent.
What best and worst about long-term travel?
The freedom and experiences are the biggest benefits. I get to do and see more than most humans ever will in their lifetimes. The downside is the exhaustion I sometimes suffer from being on the road so much.
Have you found any place you’d like to call home?
None. There are many places I like, but I have no desire to just be in one city for an extended period of time.
How do you deal with health issues?
So far I’ve been very lucky and haven’t had any serious health problems.
How has nomadic life changed you?
I’ve learned to get by with less stuff. Not only do I need less stuff, but I don’t want as much stuff. There is a cost to having things that I am far more aware of now. Anything more than what I can carry is a burden.
Other advice about being a nomadic photographer?
The biggest thing is attitude. Many people dream of doing what I do, but I honestly think most people couldn’t hack it beyond a few months, maybe a year. Attitude and the will to do it trumps everything else. The details can all be figured out.