In this edition of Celebrity Travel Addicts, we speak with Nora Dunn, the financial-planner-turned-world-traveler behind The Professional Hobo. We chat with Nora about her favorite travel destinations, the country that threw her for the biggest loop, the time she spent as a shaman’s apprentice in Peru, and much more! Learn more about her and find out where she’s going next!
How did your passion for travel get started?
I guess it depends on how far back you want to go. At the tender age of 9, a life-long dream to “crack the code” of cultures around the world was hatched. Concurrently, my love of long-distance train travel was born with annual 400-mile train journeys to visit my grandparents each summer. At the age of 16, touring China with a ballet sealed the deal; I was irrevocably in love with travel.
How many days/weeks are you traveling in any given year? What are the types of places you like to visit?
I traveled full-time for 12 years. While I currently have a home base in Toronto Canada, I continue to travel for about half of each year.
The places I visit and have visited vary wildly. I tend not to choose my destinations, but rather to let them choose me, in the form of a unique opportunity. Such opportunities in the past have included things like filming tv shows (New Zealand, France, Nepal), leading eco-treks on llamas (Australia), house-sitting (a dozen countries), living on boats (the Caribbean), apprenticing with a shaman (Peru), and much, much more.
You worked as a financial planner before you sold your practice and became a full-time traveler. What was that time in your life like? Is there anything you wish you had known beforehand?
I loved my career as a financial planner. I helped people engineer their finances so they could create the lives and lifestyles of their dreams. But somewhere in there I realized I’d neglected my own dream – one of travel.
While I took vacations, I couldn’t achieve what it is I really wanted to do in such short stints. My last traditional vacation was the longest I’d taken to date: a month in South Africa. I figured it would be long enough to “crack the code” on the country, but of course it wasn’t; I returned home with more questions than answers.
So, unwilling to await a traditional retirement 30 years later (when I might be unwilling or unable to do the things I really wanted to do on the road), I sold everything I owned and hit the road.
Before you sold your practice, you lived in Toronto, Canada. What makes Toronto, or Canada in general, such a great travel destination? What do you suggest travelers do when they visit?
I didn’t realize until I returned to Toronto after 12 years of full-time world travel how amazing a city it really is! Toronto is the most multi-cultural city in the world, and as such it’s incredibly inclusive and diverse. The sheer variety of cuisine alone is heavenly. Also, as a former professional actor/singer/dancer, I adore how much there is to enjoy from an arts and cultural perspective.
Visitors have their pick of museums, galleries, restaurants, nature, shopping, and much more – all in a fairly close proximity. What I suggest for travelers depends on what people like to do. There’s a lot!
You worked as an apprentice to a shaman in Peru for two years. Can you tell us a little more about that and how that opportunity came about?
Like many aspects of my travel lifestyle, my apprenticeship was an opportunity I couldn’t possibly have predicted or planned for. It was 2014, and through a serendipitous course of events, I was invited to stay at a retreat centre in the Sacred Valley of Peru, near a town called Pisac. While there, I ended up doing some plant medicine ceremonies (ayahuasca and san pedro) with a shaman who eventually became a teacher and friend.
My two years of learning about and working with plant medicine was life-changing in many regards. While my time in Peru came to an abrupt end, I continued my studies in Ecuador while working as a shaman’s assistant. But that too had a shelf life, and while I’m not sure what the future holds, at the moment I’m not called to work with plant medicine for a variety of reasons.
Check out this post for the full story of these three mind-blowing years.
What do you want audiences to gain and learn from your work?
The branding of my website and writing has changed over the years. When I started blogging, blogging wasn’t “a thing”, and as such it was a glorified journal of my travel adventures. The tagline was “the adventures of a girl with no fixed address” for many years.
But somewhere around 2012, the travel blogging industry was bonafide, and by that point I also had a fortuitous career as a freelance writer, combining my expertise in personal finance and experience in travel.
So I married these two forms of expertise to rebrand my website; now I teach people how to travel full-time in a financially sustainable way. While I still share my personal travel musings and videos, the meat of my site is in the form of Travel Lifestyle Guides, which are very comprehensive articles teaching people about all the logistics of creating a travel lifestyle that you can’t find elsewhere online.
What are the top three destinations you’ve visited?
Travel is contextual. My enjoyment of a destination has much less to do with the destination itself, and much more to do with what I’m doing, who I’m with, and how I’m feeling.
That said, I adore New Zealand, continue to be fascinated by Peru, and would like to see more of Switzerland.
Give us your ‘Top 5’ list for one of your top 3 destinations. Like a mini-guide or a to-do list of sorts. It can be anything from your favorite hotel, best place to have lunch, best sightseeing, etc.
Top 5 things to do in Peru include visiting the Sacred Valley, Colca Canyon, the jungle, hiking in the mountains, and eating ceviche.
How many countries have you visited so far?
I keep losing count. Somewhere around 55!
What are your top 3 favorite cuisines?
Vietnamese, Thai, and Peruvian. Chinese, Ethiopian, and Indian are runners up.
What is your favorite travel movie?
Bagdad Cafe. I’m not sure how much it relates to travel itself, but there’s a bit of a cultural exploration going on. Also, The Darjeeling Limited is awesome.
What is your favorite international airport?
Probably Singapore. The last time I had a layover there I ate three meals in three hours.
Which city had the friendliest people?
The people of New Zealand in general are pretty friendly!
Who is your favorite travel companion?
My little stuffed bunny. He sleeps with me, brings me comfort, is so cute he makes everybody smile, and he never argues with my crazy ideas.
What is the best way to kill time while traveling?
It’s a toss up between working on my computer (I’m writing this at the airport while waiting out a flight delay), reading a book, and listening to music (my fav thing to do while riding on long-distance trains).
What is the most exotic place your career has taken you?
It depends on your definition of exotic. India is probably the place that threw me for the biggest loop. I experienced the absolute heights of luxury and also plummeted into the depths of despair, all in one month. It was a slice. (More on that here).
What is your best bit of travel advice for someone who wants to, or is about to, embark on a life of travel?
Define what you want your travels to look like. That will help you create your budget and to attract the sorts of experiences you want to have.
Also, the weight of your bag is equally proportionate to your level of misery on the road. While I often travel with checked luggage, the contents thereof are very carefully curated.
What are 4 things you could never travel without?
My laptop (because I need it to work), my reusable foldable shopping bag (useful in so many scenarios and saver of gazillions of plastic bags), my collapsible water bottle (I haven’t bought a bottle of water in 15+ years), and my phone (which is also my camera).
What is your ultimate dream destination?
Can’t say there’s an ultimate oh-my-god-my-life-will-be-complete-once-I’ve-visited destination. However, Newfoundland in Canada has been on my list for a variety of reasons, and I’m delighted to say I’ll be circumnavigating it this October with Adventure Canada! Very excited.
Where are you headed next?
After spending most of the summer in and around Toronto, I’ll be speaking at a conference in Montana (and checking out the area) in September.
Nora Dunn is also known as The Professional Hobo. She’s one of the original lifestyle travel bloggers, having started her full-time travel lifestyle in 2006 and traveled full-time for 12 years. (She has a home base in Toronto now, and continues to travel for half of each year).
Specializing in slow travel, she has lived in and traveled through over 55 countries. She combines her expertise as a former Certified Financial Planner with her lifestyle travel experience, to teach people how to travel full-time in a financially sustainable way.
Nora’s travel experiences range from the outlandish to the absurd to downright terrifying. She survived three natural disasters, three tropical diseases (apparently these things come in three’s), a near-fatal accident, passport theft, and more breakups than she’d care to admit to. She saved over $100,000 getting free accommodation around the world. She even apprenticed with a shaman for two years in Peru, and worked as a shaman’s assistant in Ecuador.
Through her immersive travel experiences, Nora has gained a unique insight into various locations and people, thus living out her lifelong dream of “hacking” into local cultures around the world. Her writing and speaking provides equal doses of entertainment, inspiration, and instruction.