Stephen F. Dennstedt
Photographer, Writer, World Traveller
Do you love to take pictures? Do you like to travel? Why not combine both loves and create a DIY ménage à trois. It can certainly be done. It takes a little planning, but it is absolutely doable. I started my global adventure at the venerable age of 64, and I am now 69. Age is no barrier to pursuing and fulfilling your dreams. If I could impart just one message to my readers, that message would be it’s never too late.
Thoreau is famous for saying: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” That described my life to a tee (what does “to a tee” mean anyway). I had been working hard for 50-years, 30-years of which were spent in the high-pressure banking world. I was in a 24-year less-than-satisfactory marriage and I was miserable. I saw my life slipping through my fingers like sand through an hourglass.
I had dreams. We all have dreams. I wanted to be a successful professional photographer, a published writer, and a world traveller. I couldn’t do that if I was stuck in a dead-end job and loveless marriage. The American economy was in a shambles, the banking system was a disgrace and I decided to quit. So I did. It was an act of rebellion born out of sheer frustration. Giving up my profession and source of income put the final nail into the coffin that was my marriage.
Like a house-of-cards my life came down all of sudden. Divorce, personal bankruptcy and foreclosure all took a big chunk out of my hide. Within a year I was dead broke, but I was free of all attachments. I divested myself of any remaining “stuff” and what couldn’t be passed onto my kids was either sold or dumpsterized. I packed what few remaining possessions I had into a backpack and small duffel bag and boarded a plane to Yucatan, Mexico. When I disembarked the plane I said goodbye to my old life and hello to my new life.
I quickly made a name for myself in Mexico’s photography world, and was invited to become the staff photographer for The Yucatan Times newspaper, a position I held for about a year (I resigned after it finally became too job-like). By this time I was the unofficial “Official” photographer for Kaxil Kiuic Biocultural Reserve and Puuc Jaguar Conservation, and I was selling my prints in SoHo Galleries, Cafe La Boheme and worldwide from my online eCommerce store.
I was amazed how quickly I was getting tied down again. Two years slipped by in a heartbeat, and I was still in Yucatan listening to the siren’s call to adventure and exploration. I had resigned my position with the paper, I left the two non-profits I had been working for, and I stopped exhibiting at the gallery and cafe. My eCommerce store and writing were now my only revenue streams in addition to my retirement income.
I made a one month sojourn to Cuba clandestinely in 2014 (relations had not been normalized for Americans at that point), packed my bags on my return, picked up stakes, and headed south. I’ve been on the road ever since. I am what is referred to as location-independent, meaning I’m technically homeless, but the world is my home and every new person I meet is a potential friend. I’m a slo-traveller, visiting fewer places for longer periods of time, seeing less but experiencing more.
Here’s a list of ways I live my life—pick and choose those things that look doable to you. Do them full-time like I do, or do them part time, or don’t do them at all. It’s your life so live it your way. My lifestyle isn’t for everyone, but it does represent a dream for many, to live simple, to live cheap and to live free.Whatever your dream is pursue it with a vengeance and with gusto.
Money. I live really cheap. I’ll share some of the ways I do that. My current revenue streams include Social Security, some retirement income, my photography and my writing. How cheap is really cheap? Typically my monthly budget is $300 to $650 USD per month depending on which country I’m visiting (lets call it $475 USD on average). I’m living on about 10% to 15% of my total income, that means 85% to 90% of my total monthly income goes into the bank (for savings, emergencies, and travel).
Lodging. I stay exclusively at hostels and inexpensive local hotels. My daily budget is $10 USD, but I often pay only $5 USD. Hostels and local hotels almost always include a simple breakfast in the price. I’m a backpacker, I don’t need all-inclusive tourist resorts (in fact I shun them like the plague). Hints: find a roommate to share a private room and bath, work part-time at the hostel to defray costs or to get a discount, barter your photography for free accommodations.
Food. Eat the street food or frequent the local eateries (it won’t make you sick). Tap water can make you sick, but local food rarely does. Remember that breakfast is usually included in the price of your room, but if you choose to eat out a typical breakfast can be had for only $1 to $2 USD. Lunch or dinner can usually be had for $4 to $6 USD. Beer will cost you a buck or two. Avoid the tourist hangouts, they will charge you five times as much and the food is not as good. I only eat two meals a day.
Transportation. Local transportation is abundant, simple, and cheap. Buses, collectivos (vans holding 10 to 15 people), motor scooters, and Tuk-tuks usually cost less than a dollar. Taxis are a little more, but bicycles and your own two feet are free. I’ve travelled on chicken buses (yes there are chickens onboard), river boats, pangas and canoes and even the occasional train. It’s all out there waiting to be discovered and experienced. It’s a great way to meet and interact with the locals.
I left the States penniless less than five years ago. I now have a successful photography business at Indochine Photography, I write an international blog at Expat Journal, I freelance articles (and get paid for it) and I travel full-time. I have enough money in the bank to last me five years if all of my revenue streams dried up overnight (not likely) and I am happy. Can I travel forever? Probably not. But while I’m taking my pictures, writing my articles, and travelling the world I am also looking for my final destination—will that be in Latin America, Asia or somewhere else? I don’t know at this point, but I’m having fun looking.