Sofie has quit her job to travel and blog full time. Sofie’s case is a little different from other travelers I’ve interviewed because she still lives in the same city as before, but she has freed up her schedule so she could take off to travel any time she wants. In this interview, find out how Sofie prepared herself before quitting her 9-to-5 and becoming her own boss.
A while back, we talked about how being a traveler doesn’t mean you have to quit your job and sell everything. I’m not gonna get into your thought process too much because you wrote a whole post about it and I don’t want you to have to repeat yourself. Let’s talk about the practical stuff instead.
Firstly, did you do the whole sell-everything-you-have thing or are you still living in your old house?
Although quitting my job was a big decision and has definitely entailed some practical changes, I actually don’t feel like my life has changed that much. I still live in the same apartment with my boyfriend in Leuven and during the week I still get up around 6.30 – 7 a.m. because that’s when his alarm goes off. Now, I do have to say that when he’s on one of his snowboarding trips, my rhythm changes quickly and I’ll stay up later to work, but also sleep in a bit.
The biggest practical change has been that I can now travel whenever I please and that I do most of my work from home when I’m in the country. I know that doesn’t sound as exciting as “I sold everything and left”, but I do feel like being able to quit my job while keeping much of my “outside-work” life the same has helped me a lot with the transition. The only thing I needed to worry about that I didn’t before, was how I’d bring in the money.
Is there anything you miss about your old lifestyle that you didn’t expect to?
It’s almost been a year now since I quit my job and there’s really not a thing that I miss. Yes, working alone from home does get a bit lonely sometimes, but I felt more lonely at an office where people couldn’t really relate to what I wanted to do with my life and where I was stuck working on things I didn’t really stand behind. When I need a chat now, I just open Facebook (way too often, by the way) or see if there’s someone who’s in the mood for a Skype call. Plus, living with my boyfriend means that I do still have daily human contact even when I’m not on the road ;-)
You didn’t go into financial details in when you announced that you quit your job, except for mentioning that you calculated what you’d need to survive for a year. How did you come up with this number? Did you have enough savings? Or did you think you’d figure out a way to come up with extra income?
Let me start by saying that I’m not a big risk taker. Quitting my job was, as mentioned, a calculated choice and I don’t know if I would have done it or would have done it at that same moment if I hadn’t had any savings. That being said, I’m Belgian and we’re hoarders, so I didn’t really feel like touching those savings either. :D
I used to earn around €1,500/month at my old job, which is a low to average pay in Belgium. I also received €140/month in what is here called “meal cheques”, which are basically coupons that you can use to pay when you do groceries. On top of that I received a very small expense fee for driving to/from work each day and I had hospital insurance through my job as well. I knew I could get that same insurance through my boyfriend’s job for a very small monthly fee, so that wasn’t a worry. The transportation expense I got was next to nothing, so I didn’t take that into account either. What I really looked at was the €1,500 + €140.
I retraced my spendings several months back to see what I spent on average each month and what I spent that money on. I also looked at how much I’d managed to save on average each month. Turned out that my biggest costs were food, rent and gas for my car. I knew the costs for gas would drop as I wouldn’t have to drive to work anymore, plus, if I started traveling more I’d also go to dance class a bit less. I dance in Brussels and always use up a lot of gas driving there.
My household costs (food, rent and other stuff) came to about €600/month (I’m splitting everything with my boyfriend). We live in one of the most expensive cities for housing in Belgium, but we don’t spend that much money on food. I knew that €600 was an amount I’d have to be able to cough up every month no matter what, as I wanted to be able to keep contributing just as much as I was before. I also knew that to live comfortably and cover the extra costs full-time blogging would bring (more marketing expenses), I’d need at least €1,200/month.
Now, I’d already done these calculations a couple of times before I actually quit my job and I don’t remember exactly when, but somewhere during my last year as an employee I remember deciding that by the end of the year, I wanted to have €30,000 in savings. At the moment I decided that, I think I had about €24,000 or €26,000. I knew that if I had that amount and freelancing completely failed, I could still survive for at least a year.
So my plan was to fully go for it and fall back on my savings if things didn’t work out. At the moment that’s still the plan, although I think I’m more likely to expand into other freelance writing niches before I’ll really start paying rent with my savings.
How do your actual expenses compare to your estimates?
I have a lot more little expenses that pile up than I thought I would. There are several marketing tools that I pay for, there’s the occasional book that I buy, there’s a freelancer who helps me out from time to time… These are all fairly small expenses, but they really add up in a month.
As expected, I’m using my car much less and so my gas expenses have dropped. I do travel around a lot here in Belgium as I’ve made that the focus of my blog, but I often take the train to visit the bigger cities.
Because I travel more, I unfortunately have less time to go dancing, so besides spending less money on gass, I’m also spending less money on classes.
Lastly, I’ve needed to step away from being frugal a bit. It’s still a learning process for me. This might seem contradictory, but I know that I sometimes don’t have experiences that I could write about on the blog because I’m worried about the money it costs to have them. But it’s like a friend of mine said: if a bus hits me tomorrow, then what good will all of those savings do me?
You planned to get some freelance work before you quit, but you ended up quitting earlier than you originally planned. Did you end up finding enough freelance work? How difficult was it to get enough work to support yourself?
I was already doing some freelance travel writing before I quit, but didn’t have a steady income from that. By the time I quit I was also already charging for the promotional work I did with brands, so yes, I definitely already had an income aside from my regular job, but it was by no means enough to get by. Getting enough work to support myself was and sometimes still is very hard. There are thousands of travel bloggers and new blogs are launched every day.
Besides that I’m still figuring out in what direction I want to go by trying out things besides blogging. At the moment I don’t do a lot of freelance writing anymore, although I’m a regular contributor for Expedia Netherlands and am looking to start pitching more again (did you read that, editors out there?:)). I do work as a ghostwriter as well.
What are some ways that you generate income from your blog? How much of your income is from your blog?
To be honest, I can’t put a percentage on how much of my income comes from the blog as it’s different every month, but also because while some of the freelance writing work I do has nothing to do with travel, I still got it because someone found me through the blog, for example. Through the blog I generate income by partnering up with travel brands and destinations to create exposure that is at the same time interesting and useful for my audience. I allow advertising on the blog, but very little and I accept the occasional sponsored post, although I’ve become very strict in what I accept there as well. I do a bit of affiliate marketing but the income I get from that isn’t really note worthy.
How useful has the blog been in helping you travel more?
The blog has helped me to travel more in that it has allowed me to go to places I might not have immediately thought of myself. It also helped me financially as being able to do this as a job means I don’t need to spend all of my savings on my travels. However, I do still travel just as much, or maybe even more, on my own dime than I do for partnerships and I find that really important. Travel is a passion and I want it to stay that, although it’s also work now as well.
Sofie is a full-time travel blogger and freelance writer. On her blog WonderfulWanderings.com she takes her readers with her on her trips in Belgium and beyond. She runs on tea and is crazy about dancing. Connect with Sofie on her Facebook page.