In early 2012, Justin Carmack was on his own in Mozambique, with only $US400 in his pocket.
The now 29-year-old had come to Africa from Colorado on a winter trip with his college class, and elected to stay behind when his classmates returned to the States.
“I’ve never had more of a rush than that day when all my classmates left me in Mozambique alone, without enough money to even fly back,” he remembers. “Hardly anyone knew English. I had $US400 to my name with no return flight and no help from family or anyone back home. I was in the bottom of Africa with one small backpack that held a few shirts and some shorts. I basically had nothing.”
Carmack had been working in the oil fields of Colorado, making about $US60,000 a year for only 6-7 months of work. In 2009, he had an accident where his hands were severely burned, putting him in the hospital and then rehab for months. As he recuperated, he decided to get the college degree that would allow him to return to the oilfields more highly qualified for a higher-paying, safer position.
Only four semesters in, he took that fateful trip to Africa, and he hasn’t returned to Colorado since.
“Working in the oil field I had everything I wanted,” he says. “Big, nice truck, huge TV, you name it. Even when I took time off to heal and go to school, I had it all covered with grants and scholarships and had no bills and could do anything. But I was never satisfied.”
After choosing to stay in Africa, he took a job at a hostel and dive center in Mozambique, managing its internet cafe.
“I kept reading about people who had blogs and made enough to travel forever, and that interested me more than anything in the world,” he says. “So I started a free blog on Blogspot.com and started writing about my adventures through Africa. Around then is when I also got certified for SCUBA, and my second passion was discovered. Within weeks I had discovered my two true passions in life. Life was good, even without money.”
With some cash in his pocket, Carmack set off through Zambia, South Africa, Malawi, and Tanzania, working on his blog and making a living working in hostels and bars. He found a cheap flight to Thailand and took it, finding work painting hotel rooms. For nearly three years, he travelled through Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia, nearly all of South America, and Central America.
“Then I landed in Europe for the first time, and decided I had finally become an authority in budget travel, and could take my blog to the next level,” he says. “In Estonia I got a job at a hostel and worked nights. I bought a real domain for my new blog, and True Nomads was born. For nearly six months I sat in freezing Estonia and worked 10 hours a day building the blog, hoping it would one day sustain my travels. I was tired of hoping from odd job to odd job in each country I wanted to visit. I wanted to be able to go wherever, whenever, because even after three long and sometimes hard years on the road, the passion was still there.”
Only six months into running True Nomads, Carmack got a break in the form of a Google rank update, in which his site ranked highly. “Overnight, advertisers started popping up in my emails,” he remembers. “One ad would equal about two weeks work in Estonia.”
As he travelled through Europe, hotel and tour companies started offering him free nights in exchange for coverage on his site, and he made enough to buy a one-way ticket to the Red Sea in Egypt. For 10 months, he dove nearly every day, and became a certified PADI divemaster.
Today, his blog makes about $US40,000 a year through advertising, affiliates, and social media promotion for relevant brands. He has 99,000 Twitter followers and 21,000 Facebook fans, and many of his travel costs are covered by tourism boards, hotels, and dive centres who cover his visits.
“I have now been on the road for four and a half years and have visited 71 countries. The blog continues to grow, but to me it is a way to live my dream,” says Carmack. “I had to create my own career, so that I wasn’t held down by a boss or salary cap or expectations by society. Yes, I would be making double in the oil field, but now I work five hours a day and literally get paid to live my dream. You can’t put a price on that.”
Currently, Carmack is working his way through the 100 best diving sites in the world.
“I’ll not remember how cool my truck was in 2004, but I will always remember hitchhiking through Malawi, becoming a divemaster in Egypt, standing on Machu Picchu in Peru, Angkor Wat in Cambodia, protesting in Turkey and Romania, and the list goes on and on. People work their whole life so they can retire and have a few months similar to my life. That’s living. I’m just lucky now that it has more than been able to sustain itself, and become an actual career.”
“I don’t want anyone to have any illusions about blogging,” Carmack warns. “It is a really saturated market, because it’s a dream job, and you will have to work hard to ever make money at it. I worked many hours a day for a year before I made any money, and this is after two years of hard travel and writing a lot of my stories and advice down. The blogs that fail are the ones that give up too soon.”
Have you taken a nontraditional career path to start earning more on your own? Or have you given up a steady income to simplify your life and live on less? Reach out to yourmoney[at]businessinsider[dot]com.
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.