For McCool Travel’s 183rd travel interview, I am pleased to present Nora Dunn. As Nora said to me in her e-mailed response for this interview, it is mind boggling that we both have been in this business for so long and have not yet met.
I have known about and followed The Professional Hobo and Nora Dunn for at least a dozen years, through her website, social media, and books. I am so thrilled to gather these insights from her and share them with you. While digital nomads are becoming more prevalent and mainstream, Nora Dunn, to me, is the first one!
Nora Dunn’s bio:
Nora Dunn (aka The Professional Hobo) is one of the original Digital Nomads and Lifestyle Travel Bloggers, having started her full-time travel lifestyle in 2006.
Specializing in slow travel, she has lived in and traveled through over 70 countries while working remotely. She combines her expertise as a former Certified Financial Planner with her lifestyle travel experience, to teach people how to travel long-term in a financially sustainable way.
Nora accidentally started an international NGO, had a kangaroo fall in love with her and follow her around for six months, apprenticed with a shaman in Peru for two years, rode 25,000 km of trains in 30 days straight from Lisbon to Saigon, and saved over $100k by getting free accommodation around the world.
Toronto Canada. Though I disappeared for 12 years when I traveled full-time, I do once again have a base in Toronto….but frankly I’m almost never there. I prefer life on the road!
ON EVERY TRIP I MUST BRING …
There are a few things, but I’m going to mention something I doubt anybody else in this series has mentioned: an all-in-one travel extension cord/power strip/surge protector. It solves so many problems.
– Problems of badly-placed outlets in your accommodation.
– Problems of not enough outlets.
– Problems of needing to plug in devices with different plug configurations.
– Problems of not enough USB charging ports.
– Problems of power surges frying everything.
I never (never ever!) travel without this handy device. Here’s a review I did of it on YouTube. I’ve had it for years.
3 FAVORITE HOME-AWAY-FROM-HOME PLACES …
Gee, that’s a bit of a moving target.
Though tops on my list is Hollywood Florida; not so much because it’s a destination I’m in love with, but more because my bestie lives there and I like to visit with her regularly. Since it’s smack-dab between Miami and Fort Lauderdale, it’s also a great place for me to stop over between other destinations.
The other two home-away-from-home places vary.
I was recently in Bansko Bulgaria to speak at Bansko Nomad Fest. Bansko is a hot digital nomad destination, and a place that ticks a lot of boxes for me, so I’d like to return to spend more time.
And honestly I can’t come up with a third. There are many places I have called “home” for up to a couple of years in my 17 years of being a digital nomad, but nowhere in particular I’m drawn to return to at the moment.
Well, maybe New Zealand. That place is just plain amazing.
A FAVORITE TRAVEL MEMORY …
I’ve had some fantastical experiences on the road. I apprenticed with a shaman for two years in Peru. I had a kangaroo fall in love with me in Australia and literally follow me everywhere I went for months. I’ve filmed multiple travel TV shows and documentaries across Europe and Asia.
But perhaps a theme for some of my best travel memories is riding trains. I have a (slightly obsessive) love of long-distance train travel, and I’ve done a massive number of epic train trips all over the world. Like riding 11,000 km of trains in Australia in 8 days straight, to see if it’s possible to get bored on a train. Instead of professing boredom I levelled up the following year by riding the longest possible overland route by train from Lisbon to Saigon – 25,000 km in total – in 30 days straight.
More recently I circumnavigated the United States by train (with a stranger no less), and in the ensuing months I covered off pretty much every other major long-distance train route that Amtrak offers.
And that’s not even all. I rode the most luxurious train in the world (in India), took the train across Canada, and more.
Can you tell? I like trains.
3 FAVORITE TRAVEL BRANDS …
I want to give a big shout out to Pacsafe. They make anti-theft bags, backpacks, luggage, slings, and more. I’ve been using various Pacsafe items for over a decade; I started with their rolling carry-on, which I travel all the time with – including 2 years of full-time travel with just this bag! – and it still looks like new. They also make all their new stuff with recycled ocean plastic, and by 2025 they’ll have eliminated virgin plastic from their entire supply chain.
Another company I’ve been using a ton for over a dozen years is Anatomie luxury travel clothing. Their signature stretch material that they make a lot of their clothes from is ultra-light, anti-wrinkle, quick-dry, and all their styles are super duper fashionable. Three pairs of their pants take up less space and weight than a pair of jeans – and they come with a lifetime guarantee. I get almost all my travel clothes from Anatomie.
And my latest love affair has been with Vivaia shoes; a sustainable footwear company that not only makes their shoes from recycled plastic, but they also strike the perfect balance between comfort and style. They’re super chic and elevate any outfit, and are as comfy as runners. Oh, and most of their styles are machine washable too!
3 MONEY-SAVING TRAVEL TACTICS I USE …
I’m most known for getting free accommodation. In fact, I saved over $100,000 USD in accommodation expenses in my first 10 years on the road, by getting it for free! (I literally wrote the book on it). There are five different ways to get free accommodation while traveling; some are better-suited to the digital nomad lifestyle than others.
Secondly, almost all my long-haul flights are in business class, for less than the price of equivalent economy tickets. (I may be a “hobo”, but I’ve earned the addition of the word “professional” before it!) I do this through the strategic use of frequent flyer miles. While there’s a learning curve in getting into this game, and it can take some time to find the right rewards bookings, once you’ve had a taste of business class it’s hard to go back.
Last, because travel is a lifestyle for me, a key to saving money – and ultimately to making this lifestyle sustainable (financially and otherwise) – is to travel slowly. Slow travel comes with innumerable benefits, including a deeper cultural immersion and better work-life balance.
3 WAYS THAT I HAVE FUN WHILE TRAVELING …
- I have recently embraced dancing, specifically salsa and bachata. I try to find places to dance in any destination I’m visiting.
- I also love hiking, but if nature isn’t abounding at my destination, just plain walking will do. My fav way to experience a destination is on foot.
- And eating. I love to experience a destination through its food culture, so I’m always on a mission to try the foods that make a place unique (and where possible, I learn to cook them as well).
8 WORD (OR LESS) TRAVEL MANTRA …
“The heavier your luggage, the greater your misery.”
FAVORITE NON-TRAVEL WEBSITE …
I didn’t realize such things exist. What do people talk about if not travel?
I do have a few favorite email newsletters I read (that have accompanying websites) if that counts: specifically Morning Brew (so I can stay relatively informed and get a few giggles in the process) and The Tilt (for content creator entrepreneurs), and This Week in Blogging (for pre-digested blogging-industry updates).
MOST MEMORABLE SOUVENIR …
One of the amazing things about full-time or ultralight travel is that when everything you own fits into a bag, there’s no room for consumerism without a specific purpose, so buying something usually means replacing something else. As things have worn out over the years, my replacements have been souvenirs of a unconventional sort; the kind of souvenir that I can use and appreciate all the time. You might say I’m a walking showcase of my souvenirs from my last 17 years of travel.
FAVORITE CHEAP EAT …
When I was in Hong Kong I discovered a dessert shop that was Michelin rated. They had this ginger soup with sweet black sesame dumplings of joy that I immediately became addicted to. I returned every day for the rest of my trip, despite the 30 minute walk each way. A Michelin delight for under $5? Yes please!
RECENT DISCOVERY …
When I started traveling full-time in 2006, digital nomads didn’t exist so there was no infrastructure for people like me. Thus I lived and traveled very locally and immersively – which was great! But it also meant that I was always a fish out of water in terms of my lifestyle. When things like conferences and coliving and coworking became a thing, they were’t in my lexicon so I didn’t take advantage of them, and it ultimately became my downfall when lifestyle burnout took me off the road for a while after about 12 years of full-time travel.
Since then, my “discovery” of digital nomad groups, conferences, coliving and coworking initiatives and more, is informing a new way for me to travel and live around the world while forging connections with other people who share and understand the nuances of this lifestyle and thirst for cultural exploration.
I’m currently developing a ton of resources and content about opportunities for digital nomads, so that people who are getting started in this lifestyle don’t make all the same mistakes I did. Here’s one example: Best Coliving and Coworking Programs for Digital Nomads and Remote Workers.
Thank you so much, Nora, for sharing your travel advice and inspiration.
McCool Travel presents tips from travel experts in our 5 Minutes travel interview series—featuring travel industry giants, super frequent travelers, and adventurous persons.
Previous 5 Minutes travel interview: Angela DiLoreto.