From Broke Backpacker to Online Entrepreneur

When I first hit the road, I was scared, shy and frankly had no god-damn-idea what I was doing. I was a very different person to the person I am today.

Today, I feel confident. I feel like my life is moving in the right direction. I feel like I am doing something that matters. I am passionate about my work, passionate about my life.

I will live a life of incredible adventure, funded through an online income. As of writing this I am 28. I will be a millionaire by the time I am 32.

Wo, wo, wo, hold up, I hear you say – I thought you were the broke backpacker? Well my friends, let me tell you the story of how I went from Broke Backpacker to online entrepreneur.

Reinventing Myself on the Road

Twenty year old me at the Taj. Let’s all just ignore the hat.

The reason behind why I became The Broke Backpacker may not be what you expect.

Following a life changing leg injury in the Costa Rican jungle, my aspirations of joining the marines were dashed and I was left struggling with physical and emotional injuries that refused to budge.

I found myself stuck in a downward spiral of depression, I was drinking too much and going out on the town with the express aim of getting into a fight. I hated my circumstances and I hated my body for letting me down.

My girlfriend left me and, like the loss of all first loves, I took it hard. My leg was swollen, angry and painful. Even today, it has not healed. I kept thinking about killing myself.

After nearly a year of psychological mayhem, I packed my bag, emptied my bank account into my shoe, and hit the road.

I stuck out my thumb, and my journey began. I hitchhiked across Europe and found myself in India. I spent nearly two years living and travelling around India on a budget of $10 a day. During that time, I challenged myself to rebuild my confidence.

Every day, I would make myself talk to one more person than the day before. Slowly but surely, I became more confident, more assertive and more capable. I developed better social skills. I learned to adapt, I learned to problem solve, I changed my outlook on many things.

I fell in love with backpacking because, for me, it represented the opportunity to be truly free and to be the best version of myself.

I came to terms with the changes in my life, and I discovered my passion was to travel. I made a new life plan…

Getting out of my comfort zone

A very young me with a generous, beer-tower-enthusiast, Couchsurfing host in India

My plan was pretty simple. I wanted to continue to challenge myself, I wanted to continue to learn new skills, I wanted to continue travelling.

I had a burning desire to see and experience everything. I wanted to climb peaks, conquer jungles, navigate deserts and traverse rivers. I wanted to be a real explorer.

I became more and more fascinated with truly off the beaten path destinations – Nepal, Myanmar, Bhutan, Venezuela, Iran, Pakistan, North Korea, Papua New Guinea, The Congo – these were the places I longed to see.

I expected to die gloriously upon the road. This was something that I held onto for years; I would die doing what I loved, I would die on one of my adventures. I never expected to make it to my thirties.

I know that sounds really weird, but it was really quite liberating, it made me live for the moment and not worry about the future.

Becoming a Master Traveler

I became a master at travelling on a budget of almost nothing. I was often uncomfortable, sleeping rough or standing by the road for hours waiting for a lift but it didn’t matter – the discomfort was nothing compared to the incredible freedom that I was experiencing every day.

I got good at spotting opportunities to make money, I bought scarves and leather satchels in India and brought them back to the UK to sell at festivals. Whenever I did return to the UK, I always packed my bag with as much hippy shit as possible because I knew I could make 1000% selling it on eBay.

I picked up work along the way, I worked one hundred crappy and crazy jobs all around the world; herding goats in the Holy Lands, selling weed in Goa, handing out flyers in Vietnam, renting inflatable tubes in Laos and unloading trucks for ten hours at a time into a walk in freezer (worst job ever).

Working to clear a pond of weeds on a moshav in Israel when I was 21

Starting my travel blog

I wrote my first blog post in September 2013. It took me four months to make my first hundred bucks online and I did have an early advantage – I had been making notes and writing stories, mostly for myself, for years and had a large library of content to build on.

Starting a travel blog was a life changing moment for me, it was my first proper foray into making money online and it changed my life forever.

Once I realised I could make money online, I totally lost interest in picking up work on the road; I wanted to work exclusively for myself – even if I didn’t make much money.

Working on a blog post in the early days in Colombia

Very early on, I could see that the only thing that was really stopping me from making serious money online was myself. I knew that if I was willing to put in the hours, to grind it out, that I could build something truly massive.

The thing was, I was perfectly happy gallivanting around the world and earning enough money from my blog to be able to afford beer! Starting a travel blog changed my life, find out how you can start your own travel blog here. 

My most ambitious adventure

The proposed route for my adventure

I wanted to do something that was totally game changing. Something that would push me further than I had ever gone before. Looking at a map on my wall, I chose one of the furthest countries from the UK. I chose Papua New Guinea.

My plan was to travel overland from the UK to PNG without catching a single flight. I aimed to hitchhike most of the way and to build a boat to tackle the ocean from Vietnam to PNG via Indonesia. This was my plan, and I thought nothing would stop me.

But plans on the road have a tendency to change and sometimes life intervenes to put you on another path.

Meeting Nina

Couple enjoying epic views of Bhutan

Me and Nina in Bhutan

Over four months, I hitched across Europe, up through Turkey and into Iran where everything was to change.

I met Nina, a Persian Princess, and we fell in love – getting a temporary marriage so that the police would leave us alone and we could travel together.

We hitchhiked all over Iran and I then left her to travel onwards to Pakistan. A couple of months later, we reunited in India.

We continued to adventure together in India, Nepal and Pakistan. Eventually, we returned to Iran where we had a much larger, more official, Persian wedding and I got a funky new Persian name.

Meeting Nina totally changed everything. I had a new drive and a new purpose. I had a challenge of epic proportions on my hands, and I was ready for it.

My motivations changed

Nina and I celebrating Independence Day in Pakistan

At this point, my travel blog was making about $1000 a month. This had been more than enough money to sustain my own travels but was not enough to keep two people going, especially given Nina’s nationality means visas are crazy expensive.

Nina and I got some amazing travels in before we totally blew through our money, and then it was crunch time. My driving purpose had changed, I no longer expected to die on my adventures, I wanted to build an online empire that could sustain an amazing lifestyle.

I spent the rest of 2016 working on saving up money to expand my business. I wrote up to 50,000 words a week as a freelance copywriter (paid at 2 cents a word) and I sold advertising on my site. I wasn’t necessarily thrilled to do either, but I needed to save up cash.

I had a plan.

Investing in online ventures and facing bankruptcy

I launched an adventure gear company – our first product was hammocks.

In 2017, I launched several new online ventures to test out different ways to make money online.

I started a backpacking gear company, Active Roots, and I hope to eventually develop the ultimate travel backpack for nomads on the road.

I started an SEO agency with a business partner so that I can upsell to the advertising clients who reach out to me at The Broke Backpacker.

I bought an already successful Amazon niche site, at a cost of nearly $6000, which I plan on flipping for $30,000 once I’ve made some changes to it.

I built three more niche sites from the ground up.

I worked my ass off to learn as much as possible about SEO and how to drive traffic.

I invested in Bitcoin.

I hired a team of six writers and two editors to help me improve and expand the content on The Broke Backpacker. The thing is, expanding this rapidly is not without its challenges…

Back in November 2016, I had invested significantly more money than I had available and had drastically overstretched my means.

Oscar Wilde once said that “a man who lives within his means lacks imagination” and this is a quote that has always stuck with me.

We were extremely close to being bankrupt. I racked up a massive credit card debt, borrowed money from my parents and even from my younger brother – which, I have to say, did not feel good.

But I knew I could pay it back and I knew I would find a way.

This is very much the abridged version of this chapter in the adventure and it’s impossible to sum up the frankly pretty dark and challenging months I had to push through. Nothing worthwhile is ever easy.

Being this close to bankruptcy was extremely stressful. If I failed, Nina would have to return to Iran since we would not be able to afford her expensive visas.

Really though, failure was never an option. I was destined to succeed because I would do anything to make it happen – kitten murder, drug smuggling, bank robbery – I would do whatever it took.

In need of a quick and hefty cash injection, I launched another venture – Broke Backpacker Adventure Tours to Pakistan.

In September 2017, I took eleven backpackers on an adventure into the Pakistani Himalayas and this gave me the capital I needed to keep building my online businesses.

What am I doing now?

Strategising with my new business partner Aaron in Pai, Thailand.

I left the UK over 25 months ago on my big adventure.

Along the way, I had many incredible moments but the highlight was, of course, meeting Nina.

Meeting Nina forced me to take a proper look at myself and figure out my priorities. It encouraged me to work my ass off and in the process, I discovered a burning passion for online entrepreneurship.

I fucking love this shit.

This is freedom. It is real and it is there for the taking.

I never had any problem with being The Broke Backpacker, it was an amazing learning curve and a very important part of my life which I will cherish forever. But the time has come to level up.

I want to make a million bucks by the time I am 32 – this gives me roughly three years.

How am I going to do this?

I have half a dozen strong ideas for online ventures and I will be experimenting with all of them over the next two years. I’ll let you know what does and doesn’t work.

But this isn’t just about me. This is about you as well – this is about proving to myself and everybody else that a broke backpacker, somebody with no online skills or background, somebody with no financial backing, can build an online empire.

If you are willing to work your nuts off, if you are willing to go all in, you can succeed online.

I have just launched Ditch Your Desk, the ultimate resource for aspiring digital nomads.

On Ditch Your Desk, I focus my passion on teaching others how to ditch their desks, hit the road and live a life of adventure fuelled by an online income.

I share in-depth case studies on what does and doesn’t work online. Nothing held back and no strings attached. Love it or leave it, the choice is yours.

I have proved to myself that I can travel the world with no money, I have proved to myself that I can conquer pretty much anything that is thrown at me, next up I want to prove to myself that I can make a million bucks online and teach others how to live a life of freedom along the way.

This blog has been an incredible source of support for me over the last couple of years. To my regular readers, thank you so much for taking the time to stay up to date with my adventures and your kind words of support. You are all heroes.

Keep following along, shit is about to get wild…

Inspired? PIN ME!!

31 Comments

  • Patricia says:

    Your journey has been incredible and amazing. 🙂 Visited the Active Roots site. Love the idea of a World Scratch Map! Can’t wait to check out Ditch Your Desk next year!

  • Renuka says:

    Your story is interesting and inspiring. Since I’m also a travel blogger without a job, I can relate to most of the stuff that you mentioned in your post. I really appreciate your intrepid spirit. Keep going!

  • Yentl says:

    Love your story! What is your ultimate goal? Say, after you’ve reached your millionaire status?
    We’re just starting out our travel blog and for us that goal is creating a blog that pays for our travels as a passive income. What kind of monetizing would you recommend?

    Thanks!

    • Will Hatton says:

      My ultimate goal – heck, to keep myself entertained until I crash out of this life in a hail of gunfire? Really, I just want to make a difference. And for that – you gotta have resources. I would love to set up a string of educational communes but that’s a story for another day… As to how you should monetise – my advice is to build your monetisation in to your business model as early as possible; focus on providing content that offers real value, answers queries and points people towards services or products where you can earn a kick back. Focus on SEO or FB advertising (although I hate those greedy motherfuckers and this isn’t something I personally do much of) as without traffic you haven’t got anything. Best of luck!

  • Mate, this sounds awesome. I followed along for a while and enjoy the stories and advises. Good luck and buckets of energy for your goal!

  • Leanne says:

    I too have personal goals of making money working online ($100,000 a year would be great!). I’m glad someone else shared their goals too, makes me feel less alone. Everywhere I read talks about investing in bitcoin. I’m really starting to think about it myself now, is it really that good?

  • Anna says:

    Thanks for sharing your story, it was really interesting and inspirational. Full Power! 😉

  • Richard Andrew Field says:

    A wonderfully captivating story of determination and enlightenment. It was really interesting to recognize and relate to many of your travels and situations in my earlier years. I really look forward to hearing and learning more business online stuff.

  • Cara says:

    What an amazing journey you’re on! Thanks for sharing, Will. It’s definitely inspiring to see others with no background in online business or travel make it in this industry. Keep up the hustle! Can’t wait to read about all the amazing adventures you’ll have in the future 🙂

  • Yentl says:

    Love your story! What is your ultimate goal? Say, after you’ve reached your millionaire status?
    We’re just starting out our travel blog and for us that goal is creating a blog that pays for our travels as a passive income. What kind of monetizing would you recommend?
    Thanks!

    • Will Hatton says:

      I would recommend affiliate marketing to start off with; the barrier to entry is low and you can start straight away – really though, if you haven’t got traffic, you haven’t got anything so focus on building your traffic and have your monetisation methods already in place so that as your traffic grows so too does your income. When I reach millionaire status, I’ll be starting a commune in the woods…

  • Alan says:

    Hey man. I’ve followed your blog and your adventures for years, often living vicariously through you. You’ve shown us all time and time again that it IS possible to manage this lifestyle, even on a very low income/budget.

    I think what worries me most would be starting with a one way flight somewhere, and then getting stuck there because I don’t have a plan haha. I’m resolving that now though.

    Thanks for all the amazing posts and pictures, keep them coming – I know I’ll be watching!

  • Ray says:

    Been following you for a few years now ever since you stayed at my friend’s hostel in Colombia (Casa Elemento). Really great to see how much has changed for you in a positive way since then! All the best to hitting your Millionaire status goal by 32. Will be quite the adventure to follow!

  • Kathryn says:

    Your journey from a broke backpacker to online entrepreneur is remarkable.

  • Louis says:

    Man, that’s really inspirational. I know that getting traffic and boost is the most difficult, but this kind of article give the will to go on ! Thanks 🙂

  • Joyce Blass says:

    Starting up is the hardest. I’m on that journey now. Reading your story inspired me a lot. It gave me more reason to keep going!

  • Mark says:

    You can do it will !!
    Awesome blog and great post 🙂
    PS. your review on amazon is coming soon!

  • Nando says:

    Interesting that its History .. I also began my trips around the world to my 18 years of age and even though it was not something that my parents wanted very much followed my adventurous heart and I have already passed through more than 60 countries. Traveling is something that to me is addictive and incredible. But I only find it interesting when you have a cash income that does not depend on physical means to win. And I also really prefer to travel by car on the roads than by plane. You miss a lot of incredible things like amazing landscapes and places. Very good article and keep up the great work 🙂

  • Thanks for the tips!

    I just created my travel blog (http://mcfollowsthesun.com) and your tips reassure me!

    Thanks

  • Neil Fahey says:

    Inspiring story, Will! What a rollercoaster. I have little doubt you’ll be a millionaire by 32.

    Cheers
    Neil

  • Wow amazing story. I am in the same situation you were I am traveling for 8 months and I try the keep the dream alive.

    I really hope all your plans will work out!

  • Will, Thanks for sharing this inspiring article… Your story really inspired me.

  • How can I convey my feelings after reading your amazing story? No way. It’s out of my imagination. Really Amazing and Inspiring!!!!!

  • Your process has taken some time, but I feel it has been well worth it. I’m working on an online business and your passions has given me courage to continue. My goal is to ditch the desk.
    Thanks

  • Wow! What an amazing and inspirational post!!! I myself thinking of leaving my job and becoming like you

  • Josh Barrett says:

    This inspired me, even though I had already sold everything and left. I am on month 3 of Ecuador with my pup Teemo and never want to stop traveling, thanks for showing us all that it can be done 🙂 Check me out: https://www.tumblr.com/blog/puptraveler

  • Niclas says:

    Great read man, I love you blog and I can’t wait to follow this journey to see how far it can take you! Its posts like these that make me so excited to get my own blog up and running! You are really an inspiration man!

  • Medicomart says:

    Your story is interesting and inspiring. Since I’m also a travel blogger without a job, I can relate to most of the stuff that you mentioned in your post. I really appreciate your intrepid spirit. Keep going!

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