Living the Dream with Nora Dunn

February 28, 2011

Over the last few weeks, I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing people about living simply, breaking through barriers, and living their Dream Life. Every Monday, you’ll find a new interview posted. If you missed it, last week I interviewed  Joshua Becker of Becoming Minimalist.

This week I’m excited to introduce Nora Dunn of The Professional Hobo.  In 2007, after selling her belongings, Nora headed out to fulfill her dreams of traveling the world.  She is still traveling and so far has visited 20 countries and 5 continents.


This interview series is about people who live their dream life – which looks different for everyone and is always evolving – can you describe your current Dream Life?

Although my Dream Life has evolved over time, for the last four years there has been a general theme to it all: to travel the world slowly, learning what life is like for individuals throughout different cultures and lifestyles. And since 2007, that dream has been a reality.

My dream since childhood has been to understand how people live around the world; to break bread at dinner tables, to shop at markets, to hike the mountains, and to lend a helping hand to those in need. I was never able to achieve that dream with standard vacations, since I inevitably returned home after a few short weeks with more questions about where I’d been than answers.

By 2006, I was in the throes of running a successful financial planning practice in Toronto Canada, and getting further and further from my childhood dream whilst enmeshing myself in the rigors of business and “keeping up with the Joneses”. It was finally when I became quite ill that I had to listen to what my body – and soul – wanted: to travel the world. So, I took the plunge: I sold everything I owned and hit the road! I’ve been traveling the world ever since.

How do you keep fear in check, so that you can follow your passions?

I thrive on fear. It’s usually a sign of moving beyond your comfort zone, and the alertness and immersion in the present moment that fear brings about can lead to incredible growth. Prior to traveling, I was an avid fan of high-adrenaline activities like skydiving, motorcycle riding, and rock climbing. Even my stage and screen experience as an actor/singer/dancer elicits a degree of fear each time I’m about to perform. And let me tell you, when you’re in that airplane getting ready to jump, or on the side of a mountain with thousands of feet of exposure, you’re rarely worrying about the “little things” that can consume us in our daily lives! Fear can, in its own way, give you perspective, and relieve stress.

In a travel context, fear works in a similar way. If you go into that fear, you become fully present, and you challenge yourself to grow and learn what you’re capable of. I’ve been considering a few travel moves for my near future that I’m a little scared about, but it’s actually that fear that is driving me closer to taking the leap, since I know that facing – and conquering – the fear will be an amazing eye-opener for me.

You are absolutely right about the minutiae of life falling to the wayside when you’re in the midst of adventure.  When I’m scuba diving or rafting those worries are the last thing on my mind.  Now I’m just trying to expand that to everything I do:)

What are some unexpected joys and difficulties of traveling full-time?

Joys and difficulties…ah, the pleasure, the pain! There are so many of both, as there are with life in general. In many ways I find the joys and difficulties of travel are quite similar to those we experience in our day-to-day lives, but are just exaggerated by virtue of circumstance. My experience breaking up while traveling is a perfect example of this.

Some of the joy I experience is the freedom of going anywhere in the world I want, at any time. I don’t have a “regular job” at a “regular office” that I have to be at for 40 hours per week. Instead, my office travels with me (in the form of my laptop), and my other “job” of volunteering in trade for accommodation is so varied I don’t have a chance to become bored.

Conversely, the difficulties of full-time travel are actually along the same lines. Balancing work and travel is a perpetual challenge for any wandering location independent entrepreneur. On top of that, balancing the volunteer requirements with my work can mean I don’t always experience the world as a “traveler” in the conventional way that many people see travel. This can in turn elicit judgment from others. For example, after a year of being in Australia, I remember answering an interview question that went along the lines of “You’ve been in Australia for a while now. You’re not a traveler any more. Do you realize you’ve settled down”? And although I don’t want to live my life according to how others think I should live it, it’s tough to face such pre-conceived notions of what travel is supposed to be amidst the challenges of balancing my own work-life-volunteer-travel ambitions and needs.

Can you share some knowledge gain recommendations (blogs, books, documentaries, etc.)?

I’m not even sure where to begin! Depending on what you want to do, where to go, and the lifestyle you want to live, there are countless recommendations I can give. My website is a great place to start, and readers can always shoot me an email with specific questions. I also feature a number of useful e-books on the left-hand sidebar that I endorse and can recommend. Here’s a review of a few of them that can help you make more money, change your career, travel, etc.
And here are 16 of my most useful travel applications and websites.

What are some tips for packing light?

Packing light is an ongoing challenge for me. After selling everything I owned, I reduced my belongings to the contents of one bag (well, two really; one that gets checked on airlines and one carry-on – but both zip together to become one if I wish). But even what to pack has been an evolution over time, as I’ve figured out what I do and don’t need with experience. The general rule for packing light if you’re new to travel is this:
1) Spread everything you want to take out so you can see it all.
2) Take away half.
3) Take away half again.
4) Now you’re ready to pack.

And as extreme as this may seem, it’s pretty accurate. (I didn’t do it myself of course; instead despite receiving this advice before I left, I learned the hard way – on the road)!

Where is the most memorable spot you’ve visited?

I can’t fathom narrowing down the last four years of travel to one memorable spot or experience. It’s like answering the most commonly asked question of any traveler: What’s Your Favourite Place in the World?” It’s impossible. But some travel highlights include falling off the grid in Hawaii, launching an international fundraising campaign in Asia (and cooking some amazing food in northern Thailand), wandering through Europe staying with friends and strangers alike, volunteering in Spain, getting to know the flora and fauna in Australia (as well as surviving the Victorian Bushfires – which was memorable, but not favourable), riding over 11,000kms on a train in 11 days to see if I could get bored, and enjoying peaceful retreat life in New Zealand after some high-adrenaline adventures.

Any last words of inspiration for people looking to live their dream?

Every night before I go to sleep, I pretend this was my last day on earth and ask myself if there is anything I wish. Is there anything in my life I wish I had done differently or could change? Is there anything I want to experience that I haven’t done yet? If anything comes up – if I have any unfinished business in life or things I want to change – then I promise to take a step towards making those wishes come true as soon as I awake in the morning. That way I’ll never get caught out with unfinished business, never having made an effort to make those dreams come true.

Very few of us end our lives wishing we had spent more time in the office. The time for living our dreams – or at least taking active steps towards them – is now. Don’t get caught up in the “stuff” that we tend to keep busy with in the meantime. Make every moment count!

I love that!  Thanks so much Nora!


If you haven’t been over to The Professional Hobo here are a couple of my favorites to get you started:

Breaking Up While Traveling
How I Planned a Year of Travel in Less Than 2 Weeks


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Leave a Comment

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Nora March 1, 2011 at 4:02 pm

Thanks so much for the great interview. Keep living the dream! :-)


Mallory March 1, 2011 at 8:58 pm

Thank you! I’m so looking forward to following you where all your adventures take you:)


Anthony March 17, 2011 at 5:44 pm

Great interview and I LOVED the final answer, what a great perspective!


Mallory March 18, 2011 at 10:34 am

Me too! I totally love that idea of reevaluating every single night – so powerful.


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