How Much Money Can a Business Backpacker Earn?

May 10, 2014

I have been asked a few times, “How can you afford to travel so much?” and “How much money can you earn as a ‘business backpacker’?” “100 countries – are you serious?” First of all – I don’t buy luxuries and I’m a cheapskate and a tight assed person. Yeah, I’ll buy my mates a round down the pub sometimes and treat my girlfriend and family every now and then, but that’s it. Aside from travel, my luxury gifts to myself are pints of Guinness, takeaway pizzas and tickets for football matches. I can travel cheaply without a problem. I spend LESS MONEY travelling than people who stay in the same place. I don’t pay bills, I don’t pay regular rent for flats, I don’t have a mortgage, I don’t have a car etc. I don’t own a TV. My most expensive item is my laptop and my largest item is my backpack. For me, money is spent on living my life to the full while I can – I spend the money I earn on football, travel, pubs, food and intertwine that with my girlfriend, my friends and my family. I owe my friends and family big time (where have I been the last 11 years?) and I know that – but for the last 2 years I’ve been building up to the freedom to live the life I want and ensure I see my mates and family more. To do that I need three things – time, mobility and money.

Jonny Blair - Business Backpacker crossing the border from Georgia into Armenia in 2013

Jonny Blair – Business Backpacker crossing the border from Georgia into Armenia in 2013

I never really touch on how much I earn before, as it’s just not the done thing – it screams of business men discussing how much money they made on the stock exchange and I’m a football shirt and shorts guy with a pint of Guinness in my hand. I don’t do posh unless it’s a wedding or a big event.

As posh as it gets - glammed up for a wedding in Afula in 2013

As posh as it gets – glammed up for a wedding in Afula in 2013

When I go down the pub with my mates, only some of the conversation will be work and money related, the thing is, my online work – the travel stuff doesn’t actually feel like “work” for me – I enjoy it and I want to help others travel so it always just feels like what I should be doing with a beer or a tea in hand from any given hostel or hotel around the world. None of this stuff I promote or talk about is fake – I’m really out there travelling the world, earning money on the way and proving there is more to life than just work.

Does it really feel like working when I'm in a cool hostel having a beer?

Does it really feel like working when I’m in a cool hostel having a beer?

But how much can a business backpacker earn? The answer – as much as you WANT to earn. Earning doesn’t mean money though – I have to stress this – EARNING can mean the following to me:

– earning food
– earning beers
– earning time
– earning mobility
– earning beds for the night
– earning tours
– earning transport
– earning money
– earning time (the HARDEST nut to crack, but I’m working on it)

But don’t take advantage of freebies – it’s not good for you, me, or the world. If I get a guided tour, a free transfer or free food or drink, I work hard to promote these guys and I respect and thank them at all times. I’m not a travel writer who just wants “freebies” (as you’ll see from my lists below I turned down a load of trips).

I won’t date back 15 odd years here as to how much I have earned in my various jobs on my working career, you can get an idea here: Jonny Blair’s Working Career. But I’ll give you a rundown of my earnings in the past 12 months, my first full year as a proper “business backpacker”. This is not an extensive or full list as I am sure I have left a few things off this list, but dream big my friends, we can all do it.


1. Actual Money I have earned (April 2013 – April 2014):

This has taken hard work by the way, but it shows what is possible:

– Teaching English in Hong Kong (kindergartens and primary schools) – $19, 350 USD
– Advertising, sponsorship and affiliate marketing on my flagship travel site Don’t Stop Living – $10,978 USD
– Working on Travel Itineraries and Travel Guides – $850 USD
– Advertising, sponsorship and affiliate marketing on my network of travel, adventure and lifestyle sites – $1,260 USD
– Travel writing for other sites and doing online reviews – $150 USD
– Miscellaneous Travel Earnings (selling photos, charging for copyright issues, online travel expert) – $120 USD
Total money earned in 12 months April 2013 – April 2014 – $32, 708 USD

2. Complimentary and Discounted trips I have earned (up to the end of April 2014):

This has been done in the best interests of the tour companies and myself – we have worked together on these projects and I don’t feel rude asking for complimentary tours – I work hard to ensure these companies are promoted, I personally recommend them all.

– Complimentary 5 day Safari in Tanzania with Shadows of Africa
– Complimentary 2 day hike and camping experience in Wadi Rum, Jordan with Rumstars
– Complimentary 5 day tours of Israel and Palestine with Tourist Israel and Abraham Tours
– Discounted tour of North Korea with Young Pioneer Tours
– Discounted tour to Atauro Island in East Timor courtesy of Compass Divers
– Discounted tour to Khor Virap, Noravank and Tatev in Armenia courtesy of Penthouse Hostel
– Discounted tour of Amsterdam Arena courtesy of Durty Nelly’s Irish Pub

* this list is not complete – there are definitely a few tours I have missed out/left out
** a number of these included food and drink as well

3. Complimentary and Discounted Hotels and Hostels I have earned (up until the end of April 2014):

These are just a few examples:

– Discounted night in a 5 star hotel in China
– Discounted nights in a hostel in the Netherlands
– Discounted nights in a hostel in Istanbul, Turkey
– Discounted nights in a hostel in Tbilisi, Georgia
– Discounted nights in a hostel in Yerevan, Armenia
– Discounted nights in a hostel in Dili, East Timor
– Discounted homestay in Stepanakert, Nagorno Karabakh
– Complimentary stay at Abraham Hostel in Jerusalem, Israel
– Complimentary stay at hotels in Ankara and Adana, Turkey
– Complimentary stay in tents in Wadi Rum desert, Jordan

– Early (8am) check ins and late check outs (4pm) at no extra charge for hotels in Bangkok, Thailand
– Late check out in a hostel in Chongqing, China
– Late check out in a hostel in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

* this list is not complete – there are a lot more places I have missed out/left out
** a number of these included food and drink as well

4. Complimentary and discounted travel I have earned (up until the end of April 2014):

– Complimentary airport transfer in Kinabalu, Malaysia
– Complimentary transport during my entire time in Tanzania
– Complimentary transfer from Mesr to Khoor in Iran
– Discounted transfer in Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh
– Complimentary transport within most parts of Israel and Palestine

* this list is not complete – there are a few trips I have missed out/left out
** a number of these included food and drink as well

5. Offers I turned down due to being too busy, wrong geographical location or not being as interested:
– Complimentary 2 week tour of Kerala, India
– Complimentary tour of Paris, France (for 2 people)
– Complimentary tour of Berlin, Germany
– Discounted nights at a hotel in Wadi Musa, Jordan
– Complimentary nights in a hotel in Portugal

* this list is not complete – there are definitely a few offers I have missed out/left out


Just because I have earned $32, 708 USD as a Business Backpacker in one year doesn’t mean I’m suddenly rich and could buy a house. I’m not – I’m a cheap backpacker who budgets every single day. I’ve spent almost all of that money on travel as I’m constantly on the move! But I also have staff working for me now, and I have to pay some money to get these projects off the ground, so here are some of my outgoings (I don’t have exact figures but this is a rough guide)

1. Money I have spent

Travel (Flights, buses, trains, tours, general travel, hotels, hostels, campsites, food, drink, souvenirs etc.) – $22,000 USD
Paying my staff that I outsource my jobs to – $1,100 USD
Paying companies for things (i.e. web domains, hosting servers, graphics, apps etc.) – $400 USD

2. Time I have spent

Your guess is as good as mine. I work every day in some capacity – it is rare for me to go a day without at least checking my websites, my emails, my Twitter and my Facebook. Ask my girlfriend – as we backpacked incessantly through Iran last year, we’re on the back of a camel and I’m thinking – need to check my emails. Through my girlfriend’s passion, I hope to take more time off in future.

I should enjoy the moment and forget about emails and business.

I should enjoy the moment and forget about emails and business.

During the past 12 months, I have also travelled extensively

While i have earned and spent money on the move and worked hard along the way, I have also managed to travel to these places in the last 14 months, yes it’s all real, no fakes here:

ARMENIA – Garni, Geghard, Goght, Goris, Haghpat, Khor Virap, Nora Vank, Sanahin, Tatev, Yerevan
AZERBAIJAN – Balaken, Baku, James Bond Oil Fields, Lake Masazir, Mud Volcanoes, Qobustan, Quba, Seki, Xinaliq, Zaqatala
BRUNEI DARUSSALAM – Bandar Seri Begawan, Muara, Serasa
CHINA – Baisha, Beijing, Changsha, Chongqing, Dandong, Dansha, Guilin, Hangzhou, Jianlong Waterfalls, Jiangling, Jianshui, Jin Ji Cun, Jingdezhen, Kunming, Little Likeng, Luoping, Nanchang, Sanqingshan, Shanghai, Shangrao, Shenzhen, Shilin, Suzhou, Wangkou, Wuyuan, Yuanyang, Yushan, Xiaoqi, Xingjie, Yangshuo, Zhuhai
EAST TIMOR – Atauro Island, Cape Fatucama, Dili
ENGLAND – Birmingham, Bournemouth, Dartford, Liverpool, London, Portsmouth
ETHIOPIA – Addis Ababa, Dire Dawa, Harar
GEORGIA – Batumi, Davit Gareja, Gergeti, Gori, Kazbegi, Lagodekhi, (Sadaklo), Sighnaghi, Tbilisi, Uplistsikhe
HONG KONG – Aberdeen, Central, Kowloon Tong, Kwun Tong, Lam Tin, Lantau Island, Lo Wu, Ma Wan, Mong Kok, Shek Kip Mei, Sheung Shui, Stanley, Tai Po, Tsing Yi, Tsuen Wan, Yuen Long, Wan Chai, Yau Ma Tei, Yao Tong
IRAN – Alamut Valley, Bandar e Golmankhaneh, Bayaziye, Bazargan, Chak Chak, Esfahan, Gazor Khan, Kaluts, Kandovan, Kerman, Khalate Talkh, Kharanaq, Khoor, Lake Orumiye, Maku, Marvdasht, Mashhad, Mahan, Mesr, Nasqh-e Rostam, Orumiye, Persepolis, Qazvin, Rayen, Shahr-e Kord, Shiraz, Tabriz, Tehran, Yaseh Chah, Yazd, Zarad Band
IRAQ – Ainkawa, Amadiya, Dohuk, Erbil, (Kirkuk), (Mosul), Qadash, Sulav, Sulimaniyeh
ISRAEL – Afula, Akko, Caesarea, Dead Sea, Eilat, Ein Gedi, Haifa, Isyfia, Jaffa, Jerusalem, Masada, Mizra, Tel Aviv, Tiger Caves
JORDAN – Amman, Aqaba, Irbid, Petra, Wadi Musa, Wadi Rum
(KENYA – Mombasa Airport)
MALAYSIA – Kota Kinabalu, Labuan, Mount Kinabalu, Sapi Island
MYANMAR – Amarapura, Bagan, Inwa, Mandalay, Sagaing, Yangon
NAGORNO KARABAKH – Agdam, Askeran, Gandzasar, Stepanakert, Vank
NORTHERN IRELAND – Bangor, Belfast, Newtownards
NORTH KOREA – DMZ, Kaesong, Panmunjom, Pyongyang
PALESTINE – Bethlehem, Hebron, Jericho, Ramallah
PHILIPPINES – Balicasag Island, Bohol Island, Cebu City, Panglao Island, Virgin Island
QATAR – Doha
SINGAPORE – Changi Airport (Stopover)
SRI LANKA – Adam’s Peak, Colombo, Dambulla, Dellhousie, Galle, Haputale, Kandy, Kurenegala, Mirissa, Negombo, Pinnewela, Sigiriya, Tissamaharama, Yala National Park
TANZANIA – Arusha, Tarangire National Park, Ngorongoro Crater, Rabat Maasai Village, Serengeti National Park
THAILAND – Bangkok
TURKEY – Adana, Ankara, Cappadocia, Dogubayazit, Goreme, Gurbulak, Istanbul, Kayseri, Sumela, Trabzon, Urgup

So how much can a Business Backpacker earn?

As much as you want to earn as long as you WORK HARD.

A good resource is Tim Ferriss’s book the 4 Hour Work Week – why work for 40 years and then do all the things you want? When you can do them NOW when you’re fit and able. I recommend his book highly!

I say it again, work hard please – my travel stories on my main travel site Don’t Stop Living take time, effort, research, commitment and real life experience. I am not a fake and I am not a wannabe. My travel blog is in the top 10 in the world in my opinion, I believe in it and I’m confident in it – this doesn’t come from arrogance – it comes from reading the other travel blogs out there and knowing mine is up there with them.

I live my dreams and I hope you can all live yours.

Don’t Stop Living,

Jonny Blair
Business Backpacker, Travel Writer, Global Nomad, Travel Expert, Barman.
Travel Writer at Don’t Stop Living
Editor in Chief of Backpacking in China
Travel Writer and Owner of several other niche websites


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  1. mark THE ROCK dineley says: May 11, 2014

    interesting reading always. A quick question how do you charge for compiling itineries and whats the rate.

    Mark 91555756

    • Jonny Blair says: May 11, 2014

      Thanks for the comment Mark. It depends on the company – I’ve worked for 4 or 5 and that’s not the main income source, I won’t disclose the individual details as each company has their own way of doing it. I’ve worked for Vadovia, Buggl and Tripoto mainly. It’s basically travel guides to city – I specialise in places like Paramaribo, Sighnaghi, Erbil etc. which don’t attract many travellers. Jonny


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