We Left Our U.S. Jobs for South America…

I squeeze the brakes of my handlebars and skid to a stop at the edge of the plateau overlooking Peru’s Sacred Valley. More than 2,000 feet below us is the Urubamba River. A small town nestled on its banks was our destination for the evening.

Behind us, colorfully dressed men and women tend fields of maize and potatoes in a manner similar to their predecessors more than five centuries ago.

My wife and I were at the start of six weeks of unpaid leave from our jobs to travel in South America. That brief moment in time epitomized what we were seeking—beauty, history, adventure…and the excitement of new experiences.

Check out the photo above–this is how it looked on our way down.

To compensate for lost income on the trip, I planned to take photos along the way that I would later sell as stock (if you’re not familiar with how open-to-anyone stock photography works, see here). This strategy fit our style perfectly because it meant we could go at our own pace with only a bare plan of what would be next.

I continually kept my eye out for situations that would make good stock photos. These were usually iconic landmarks and scenes that gave a sense of place which would be useful for designers needing images from that region of South America.

Photos from that trip have since sold thousands of times. They have appeared in Fodor’s and Footprint guidebooks, on NationalGeographic.com, in Outside Magazine and on countless travel websites.

Later that week, we visited Machu Picchu and Cusco. We racked up quite a bill from train rides, park admissions, lodging expenses, and the prerequisite alpaca earflap hats. But with every dollar I handed over, I knew this trip would end up making us money.

Upon getting back to our hotel in Urubamba, we returned our bikes and swapped stories with their owner; a database administrator and tour guide originally from Australia. Just like us, he had traveled through the area years ago. He fell in love with the place and decided to relocate his business and stay for good.

Surrounded by the tranquility of the verdant courtyard and stunning setting of the Sacred Valley, I couldn’t help but think he was onto something.

We finally retired to our room and I reviewed the images I took that day, making mental notes of ones that would sell well online through photo stock websites. When my eyelids started to feel heavy, I went to sleep fully content with a hard day’s “work” and eager for the next day’s possibilities.

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