Brian Trautman quit his job as a software analyst to buy a $400,000 sailboat and travel the world.
That was in 2009. And he’s been at it ever since.
Along the way, he met his wife, started a family, and (thanks to Patreon, YouTube and Facebook) garnered a “six figure” salary. All by making nearly 300 videos of his travels, on the SV Delos channel, from the sea.
Trautman describes Delos as a place for “adventure seeking souls” to “follow the wind and sun to explore this amazing planet.” And during a pandemic, being in isolation on a boat with his wife and young daughter means little worries about catching the coronavirus.
What makes someone become a nomad?
“I lived on the east side of Seattle and my commute was about 45 minutes each way to work every day,” Trautman, 44, recalled. “I came to realize that my favorite part of the day was the bus ride, because that’s when I had no emails, no meetings, nobody trying to get me to do anything. So I decided to quit, go out and explore the world by sailboat, because that’s my passion, and thought maybe it would work out.”
With over 600,000 subscribers to his weekly sailing videos on YouTube, 100,000 likes on his Facebook page, and 2,168 people who pay to support Trautman on his Patreon site, he may be onto something.
On Patreon, people pay from $5 to $25 weekly to see his latest videos and get discounts on Delos merchandise. Many of his videos on YouTube, which feature trips to various islands, local bars, the big city (he and his family recently stopped in New York), scuba dives and the basic gist of raising a family have attracted upward of 5 million views.
USA TODAY spoke to Trautman via Skype, from his Delos boat (named after a Greek island) docked near Baltimore. If you’re wondering how he was able to connect, electrical power for the computer and other devices comes from a solar and wind generator, and internet is via a satellite company named Viasat that has lent him the system to test out.
“If you consider that we do it all from a sailboat quite often in the middle of nowhere just adds another level of complexity to the whole thing,” he said. To be out in the seas, between some remote islands, “and be able to stream Netflix and watch ‘Stranger Things’ or chat with the family over Facebook is just amazing.”
Starting a travel channel
The channel started as a lark, a way for Trautman to show his parents his adventures, but then it began reaping views. He didn’t plan on the channel becoming a money-making operation and, in fact, he was living on savings and credit cards for the first three years.
Running a boat is anything but cheap. So now that it’s sustaining itself, inquiring minds want to know how it all works. Most channels look to YouTube, because it rewards creators with a cut of the ad revenues, but he says YouTube income isn’t that lucrative. It’s Patreon that provides the lion’s share of the income. “We depend upon donations from people who watch the videos,” Trautman said. “Where people can directly support us.”
Patreon is Trautman’s biggest income generator, followed by merchandise sales, and then YouTube.
His tips for those who want to ditch the rat race and make a living this way: Do it because you’re passionate about the subject, not that you want to make a business out of it, otherwise you’ll burn out.
And once you get going, be consistent with video uploads and have a good story.
Trautman posted videos occasionally, switched to bi-monthly, and then weekly, and each time saw an increase in viewership when he became consistent.
The work behind the channel
It’s not easy. Producing videos, and editing them can take as much as 40 hours a week, all while also running the boat. He shoots on GoPro and DJI Action cameras for footage of the boat, and when there’s dialogue, he switches to the Panasonic GH5.
What about food? Inside the boat is a big freezer, which they stock up every few weeks when they dock, and then, of course, there’s free stuff roaming the ocean as well. “I’ve eaten so much fish over the years,” he said. “I don’t want to sound jaded, but sometimes I wish I could catch a cheeseburger instead.”
The birth of his daughter Sierra (now 14 months old) was documented, and now many episodes feature him and his wife, Karin, raising her on the boat. What about when she gets older? Will she go to school or be home-schooled on the boat? He doesn’t know yet.
“For right now, we’re going to continue sailing as a family and exploring the world because we love it, and take it as it comes,” Trautman said. “We try not to let plans ruin our spontaneous adventure.”
At this stage, Trautman shows no signs of wanting to return to dry land.
“I love the freedom,” of being on the sea, he said. “I love that we can go anywhere, of course, based on the weather.” Or a pandemic.
“COVID has made it so tough,” he said. “It (has) completely changed our plans.” Trautman’s initial idea was to go and explore Canada, but the border is now closed, so he had to turn around. “Now I’m dreaming of heading to Central America, if we can.”
He would love to visit Costa Rica and Belize, instead. But as of this interview, he wasn’t sure where he would land. “We’re vagabonds of the sea. We’re never sure where we’re going tomorrow.”