I first met Garrett Galvan almost three years ago, before he had started any part of this journey. He was brand new to the blogging/vlogging world and was looking for a bit of advice—so he sent me an email.
For whatever reason, I felt compelled to spend a bit more time talking with him. I respond to every reader email as best I can, but something about Garrett struck me—he was different, and I felt a weird connection to him. Like he had the drive and determination to make anything happen. Frankly, he reminded me a whole lot of myself.
Garrett and I stayed in touch ever since then, and what he accomplished in the past year-and-a-half is amazing and inspiring. This is his story.
What would you do with $34,000 saved in the bank? Buy a house? A car? Take a vacation and put the rest into a retirement fund?
In the past 15 years, I’ve done everything under the sun, from serving drinks behind a bar to recording neurons in a research laboratory. The salt and peppering of creative freedom these occupations offered me simply weren't enough, and there was always this itch I couldn’t scratch, an itch to discover the world.
It wasn’t until I was 28 years old, however, that I decided to actually do something about it.
What I Decided to Do About It
I didn’t always know I wanted to be a travel videographer. I actually had no idea at all. But I did know that, whatever my pursuit, I was going to need money to do it.
As we all know, money isn’t always the easiest thing to come by. And if I wanted to follow my passions, no one was going to pay me to do it. I was going to have to fund it myself.
So my journey to the top started with a job in construction, followed by a night job managing a bar. Then, on my half-days off, I helped a friend with his landscaping business and I worked a few hours every week as a personal trainer.
I knew I needed a nest egg, and I worked day-in, day-out to build one. It had nothing to do with a college degree, how many books I read, or how much I knew—it was how dedicated I was to my cause, and how much I persevered.
I made the decision that I would succeed, and I gave myself no other option.
As time went on, my bank balance grew. And as my bank balance grew, the travel bug came lurking. I was dating a girl at the time and, even though I invited her to come with me, she had no interest in seeing the world.
And in that moment, I realized I had no interest in seeing her.
A Major Shift in Direction…and Life
So I left for two months to go backpacking around Southeast Asia. My jaunt to the Eastern continent was accompanied by a single GoPro and a small point-and-shoot camera. It was during these two months that my passion for videography was sparked.
Inspired by the wonders of the rest of the world, I captured every moment of that trip, and coming home, I relived it all through my videos.
What’s more, I wanted to share this excitement with others. So I used GoPro Studio, a free editor, to turn my spattering of video clips into an exciting story of my adventures.
I edited for a day. Then two, then THREE, with next to nothing for sleep as I sliced and diced my masterpiece. Where did this energy come from?
Not only did I feel like I was exploring the world again, it opened up this creative fire within me that I never knew I had. All of a sudden, I felt like I had a purpose. Like I knew exactly what I wanted to do.
I explored what it would take to become a freelance travel videographer (P.S. it’s not easy, and there's hardly one way to go about it) but all my research pointed back to one thing—I was going to need a whole lot more money to invest on equipment and even more to afford the time to travel and shoot.
Surprise! You need money! Yeeeeaah…about that.
The Root of All Evil, or the Route to My Best Life?
As it turned out, travel and videography are two really expensive things. I had a thousand dollars in the bank. What could that get me?
ANSWER: Kicked out of my apartment if I spent it on anything but rent.
Then it hit me, I needed to talk to people who were actually out there—the people who were actually doing it. I sent out a few emails. Jeremy (you know, the dude behind this website called travelFREAK), was the recipient of one of them and he told me about his experience with the Working/Holiday Visa in Australia.
Then I found out that another friend had saved money in Australia years earlier and followed his dream to Guatemala where he started up a charity for an art center. It couldn’t have been a coincidence. It was a sign, and a plan was beginning to materialize…
I was going to move to Australia for a year and save a boatload of cash.
But saving up money for travel isn’t really as easy as it sounds, is it? You know this as well as I do.
Plus, Australia is EXPENSIVE. A 6-pack of beer is about $15 bucks (USD) and that’s for the cheap stuff! I needed a plan.
Three years ago I never thought I would come to Copenhagen. Heck, even a few month ago I had no idea. But you know what, as long as I have a roof over my head, food(or 🍺) in my belly, and the lovely @whereintheworldisnina, I will continue living life with no borders. Thanks to my past scared nervous self for purchasing my first one-way ticket to everywhere. Oh and I finished a cool vid on how we got some cheap flights using the skyscanner everywhere feature. Link in Bio 😜#onewaytoeverywhere #livetheadventure #vloglife #travelvlogger @skyscanner
A Drunk Man’s Guide to Getting Rich. Kind Of.
A drunk (wise) man once told me, “it’s not about how much you make, it is about how much you get to keep.”
Sweet. Motivation: sorted. Now I just needed something to keep me on track.
I designed a daily financial Excel spreadsheet. I created a template, with categories indicating where my money was going and a separate box to tally up how much money was coming in.
This was one of the single most important things I did in preparation for my trip to Australia. It trained me to spend less so that I could save more. I thank you, Mr. Drunky Pants, and I thank you, Computer Science 101.
Armed with my financial bazooka and a few words of advice from the experts, I set off to find the capital to invest in my future.
No Battle Plan Survives Contact With the Enemy
When I arrived in Melbourne, Australia, I hit the ground running looking for work, handing out my resume to both night and day jobs. After 3 weeks and 3 failed trial shifts at bars and restaurants, I landed two jobs—working behind the bar making cocktails ($16 USD per hour) and as a waiter at a local cafe ($15 USD per hour).
Working 70 hours a week on average brought in $3,500 – $4,500 USD a month. By this time, I had met another girl (surprise!), and we shared an apartment that cost us $226 per week. Between us, we spent $76 per week on food, and my clothes all came from thrift shops—nothing retail.
But at 70 hours a week on average (that’s almost 300 hours a month!), by the 5th month, my body started to break, my smile started to fade and my dream became something that would put me in the hospital before I was able to achieve it.
What I thought was the answer to all my problems turned out to be a bigger problem in and of itself.
In Search of Greener Pastures
I heard from a friend that the North of Australia had a more competitive job market but offered better pay. With the ounces of energy I had left, and $13,700 that I had saved so far, I repatched my resume and started the search all over again.
From Melbourne, I applied for jobs in Darwin. I used Australia’s version of craigslist, Gumtree, but came back empty handed. Self doubt filled my head. Maybe my dream was just a pipe dream after all.
I made phone calls to some people I met who gave me tips on finding seasonal work up north. Luckily for me, the hiring season was coming up soon, but I was still just a tad bit early.
So I waited, working 70 hours a week, with my finger on the trigger. I was going to get a better job and silence this self doubt once and for all.
Alas, the time for seasonal hiring came, and I sent my resume out to even more venues, with more follow up calls and emails. Finally, I struck gold. I landed an interview which lead to a position at a casino in Darwin. It paid well. Actually, too well.
For $23 USD an hour (plus tips and holiday pay), I went from Mr. Cocktail Designer to Joe the Draught pourer—but I wasn’t complaining. I put in my two weeks notice in Melbourne and left for greener (drier) pastures. Now with just one job, working 50 hours a week, I was earning more than $4,600 USD per month, and still had 20 more hours to make videos!
Whenever I had free time I was out filming, editing, or obsessing over numbers on my Excel spreadsheet. I wrote my plan over and over again in my notebook, on bar napkins, and even in random books I was reading. Anytime I had doubt, I would write it out again.
Something about placing my goals on paper gave me more confidence that they were actually going to happen. And they did.
This was it for me…the beginning of the end. I put myself out there, I worked hard, I proved my worth and in return, my dreams manifested into reality.
Math and Taxes
During my first five months working in Melbourne, making $15-16 per hour, working 70 hours per week, I managed to save $13,700, spending only $750 per month.
In my last five months working in Darwin, I spent, on average, $850 USD a month for food, shelter, a few cheeky beers, and everything in between. I saved another $13,800 USD.
Over the course of 10 months working in Australia, my average monthly income was $4,500 USD before tax. This did not include tips which helped pay for my weekly groceries.
One of the great things about expats working in Australia is that, at the end of the year, when you file your tax returns, you get most of it back, largely through clever tax deductions and a superannuation payout.
For example, if you work in the north of Australia for more than 183 days, you get a rural tax credit for working in the bush. Plus, there is a deduction for using a tax agent, and it will save you time and it will save you money. Win/win!
I also claimed myself as a resident for tax purposes. At the time, the fine print stated that, If you stayed in one area for six months and displayed behaviors of a resident not a tourist, you could claim yourself as a tax resident. This would allow you to make up to $18,200 with no tax deducted from your wages. After that, you’re taxed 19 cents for every dollar earned up to $37,000.
Unfortunately, things have changed since I left, and Working/Holiday Visa holders are now treated as non-residents for tax purposes, and they’re taxed 15 cents on every dollar made, period.
But ultimately, a superannuation kickback and a medicare exemption returned $6,500 USD in total. BAM!
All-in-all, $34k in the bank. That’s more than I made in an entire year back home!
My girlfriend, Nina, also saved with me throughout this process and managed to save $17,000 in the same time. Here is her story of how she did it. That’s 51 grand between us.
Trust the Process
Can my story be replicated? Absolutely. Easily? Maybe, maybe not. It all comes down to one thing—how much you want it.
In your mind, think of positive ways you can encourage yourself. Self doubt is the bully—the kid in the playground keeping you from playing on the monkey bars. Remember to trust the process. If you want to play on those monkey bars, my god you’re going to figure out a way to get on those flippin’ monkey bars.
It will require patience, failed attempts, possibly some swirlies, wet willies or wedgies (I hate bullies), but most importantly, it’s going to require grit—lots and lots of grit.
With nothing weighing us down other than our suitcases, Nina and I traveled back to the USA to purchase new equipment and attend a few media conferences. I had to get my foot in the door and let the industry know I was available.
I had about 36 videos under my belt and started pushing to build networks in the field. Most of these efforts were futile since most companies don’t want to work with someone that only has 36 videos.
But in an age where digital content is in high demand, I was well received at these media conferences.
Becoming a Travel Videographer
I joined every Facebook group that had anything to do with travel, joined an online community through Travel Blog Success, and booked myself spots at a few media conferences. I also knew that I had to learn how to speak the lingo, so I found free online resources from a local library to help me learn about Social Media Marketing, filming theory, how to build a media kit and trends in the travel industry.
Armed with this knowledge, and by busting my ass to put myself out there, I landed a partnership working with an online flight search engine. That project took me to New York City, Copenhagen, Budapest, Beijing, Seoul, and Jeju, South Korea.
Then, through my networks, I connected with another videographer who needed an extra cameraman for a job producing travel content while cycling across the Czech Republic. That starts next month.
And to think, it’s been just five months since I became a full-time, freelance Travel Videographer.
There is much more work to do, but I feel renewed and inspired to keep pushing and building momentum. This is my best life. I worked hard for it, and it’s finally paying off.
The question to ask yourself is, do you have something that you’re truly passionate about? Something that you’d be willing to drop everything for? If you were standing at your local departure terminal with $34,000 in the bank, what would you do?
Garrett recently started vlogging, so for a behind-the-scenes look at his adventures as an aspiring travel videographer, subscribe to his YouTube channel. He posts the best of his travel photography on Instagram, and if you want to see some silly antics and behind the scenes stuff, check him out on Snapchat @thetravelhuman.