In 2016 I decided that 2017 was going to be the year that I made my dreams come true. I was going to do whatever it took to become a digital nomad so that I could be wherever in the world I wanted to be, to make my full-time income online and to be able to explore as much as I wanted to.
I was going to be totally free to do as I pleased anytime I wanted to.
Spoiler alert: I did it.
But it didn’t come without many surprises, hard work and tough realizations that were completely unexpected and forced me into a sometimes harsh reality that I was not ready to deal with.
How I Became a Digital Nomad
In June 2017 I made a promise to myself that I would never apply for a job that would tie me to one location ever again and thus started my first month of full-time freelancing. July was the first month that I made my full-time income 100% online.
My first sacrifice was leaving Australia after 5 months where I had planned on staying for a year to move home. The reality was that I couldn’t afford to keep myself from not going in debt while trying to build my client base and blog.
I had my travel blog already going but making so little money that I didn’t even count it as an income. I had to rely fully on freelancing until I could grow my blog to the point that it did make me a full-time income.
It took me a full 7 months to figure out how the hell I was going to make a full-time income online. Months of reading how-to articles, weeks of wanting to pull my hair out because I didn’t know what step to take next, hours of applying for jobs that I thought would help me.
There’s no guide on how to be a digital nomad, though many bloggers will publish articles on how to be one, they’re not true guides. The truth is that there are so many ways to make money online, so many different paths that lead to financial freedom in this online world that these guides merely act as stepping stones that make you feel as if your life is on the right path. That is until you find another guide that will convince you that you were in fact on the wrong path.
They’ll tell you that you anyone can be a digital nomad. Sorry not sorry for the reality check but if you’re an aspiring digital nomad you might not make it. If you are not self-disciplined, if you can’t sit still at your computer for hours every day and if you aren’t self-motivated then you will fail miserably.
And that is what happened to me for the first 6 months of 2017. I was lazy, I didn’t work as hard as I should have been and I should have taken advantage of all the free time I had in Melbourne while I couldn’t find a job.
The reality is that being a digital nomad is often times more difficult than most jobs in the “real world.” You do not become a digital nomad overnight and could quite possibly go into debt while working the lowest paying jobs you’ve ever seen to get a good portfolio going. You will probably work more hours than your friends with desk jobs and you will be a slave to your computer.
Sounds tough right? It is. But there are many good aspects as well.
Within my first 6 months of freelancing I had multiple jobs. I was a:
- Freelance writer
- Pinterest Manager
- Social Media Virtual Assistant
- Editor for another bloggers posts
I wrote hourly for the travel section of an Australian website (and still do!), a few articles for World Nomads, content for a makeup mirror website, I managed 3 different Pinterest accounts on top of my own, I engaged on Instagram for 2 hours a day for a client and I wrote 1-2 posts a week for my website, emailed companies to work with, managed all of my own social media and managed to grow my blog from 12,000 monthly pageviews to over 30,000.
What I Make as a Digital Nomad
All of that hard work got me my first cheque from Google Adsense and multiple affiliate programs that I’m a part of. (Don’t be too impressed, my first cheque was like $100). But the real income came from freelancing. When I say I made a “full-time income” I mean whatever income that will get me through the month. In my first 6 months of freelancing I never made more USD$2500 in a month.
But guess what I was able to do with that $2500 or less? In just 4 months I was able to save enough to fund my travels through comfortable yet affordable travel through Europe for 2 and a half months, put away 10% of all of my income into savings, put additional money away for taxes (because as a freelancer taxes aren’t automatically deducted!) and buy a ticket to Singapore in the new year.
I had less than $400 before I started saving.
You bet I was proud of myself for finally reaching my biggest goal for 2017, becoming a digital nomad and being able to finance my travelling lifestyle through it. I’m pretty sure there was a time I cried because I was so happy to be doing what I had dreamed of.
The Pros to Being a Digital Nomad
As I was travelling through Europe, my first time travelling while working full-time, I felt that I was missing out on experiencing the places I was visiting. With a quick email to my editor for one of my main writing gig I told her I was cutting down my hours from 10 hours of writing a week to 5.
I took a hit to my income but then sat back and thought how lucky am I to be able to choose how much I want to work?
I then lost two of my Pinterest clients.
Being a digital nomad is full of so many highs and lows and I’ve learned to be happy for myself when I succeeded and that I quickly need to move on when something doesn’t work out. There’s no time to hang on to negativity in this online world because feeling sorry for yourself is time wasted.
Luckily losing those two Pinterest clients meant I had even more time for travel. It was a blessing in disguise.
I never have to be up at a certain time, I never have anywhere I have to be, I can do literally whatever I want when I want. I have complete and total freedom. How could anything be bad about this?
The Cons to Living the Dream
Almost everyday of travelling I meet someone new. We have small talk, asking where each other are from, where we’ve been, where we’re going, what did we like best, how long we’re travelling for….and so on.
Truthfully, it gets repetitive very quickly and is oftentimes exhausting. I don’t want it to seem like I am complaining, I will gladly take this small talk over working my previous retail jobs or being chained to a desk.
Then start the questions about my job.
What do you do?
I’m a freelance travel writer and blogger.
*Expression on their faces change as they realize they’ve met a real-life digital nomad and they process how it’s possible that I make money online* Wow, so you’re living the dream.
How do you make money?
I then dive into how I make money because I’m open to talking about it people. Some people ask more questions but generally they are all the same.
All of this becomes mundane and I get tired of answering the same questions over and over just as other long-term travellers get sick of answering the travel questions too.
These questions are a great way to start conversations and I am 100% guilty of using them to start almost every conversation with a stranger while travelling. But once you get past those questions you either stop talking to the person or end up hanging out with them for a bit, often a day or two and then one of you move on.
I meet incredible people while travelling and have some very interesting conversations but travelling solo as a digital nomad is not easy.
In fact during my last trip through Europe and my first time travelling as a digital I faced a harsh reality that I wasn’t ready for: loneliness.
I expected travel to be just as fun as it always is, that I would be with people all the time, develop friendships and see tons of cool places with new friends.
Sure, I did meet plenty of people to hang out with but I what really lacked was any sort of connection. Even when I was with people I knew that they would leave in a few hours or days and then I’d be back to square one, asking and answering the same questions and once again trying to develop some sort of connection.
As a new digital nomad I started panicking. Was this what the rest of my life was going to be like?
Was my newfound lifestyle just a revolving door of people coming and going? Was I ever going to be able to make long-term friends or was I eventually going to have to let everyone go?
I’m not going to lie, it makes me extremely nervous as online in Facebook groups dedicated to digital nomads there is a reoccurring question that gets asks: What do you do to fight the loneliness?
Realizing I was not alone did make me feel slightly better.
While I’ve made a ton of friends abroad and met numerous other digital nomads online there is no way that a conversation via text or a conversation across a screen will ever replace the need of being with people.
On top of the loneliness, there’s also the work. While I may look totally calm on the inside I’m silently stressing over when I’m going to get articles done, trying to remember if I sent that email I was supposed to respond to, engaging on social media and trying to fit enough sleep in so that I can get up early and then explore the current place I’m in with people that I met in my hostel room or at breakfast.
That is if I meet people at breakfast because this is often when I get a huge chunk of my work done. And believe me sitting with a laptop in front of your face is not a magnet for people. It scares away most people from starting a conversation with me.
But what about your friends from home?
The friends that have stuck around from home are amazing, but there aren’t a lot of them. Friendship is a two-way street and some friendships have fallen apart because neither of us chose to keep in contact. It’s tough when I’m away so much. Many people don’t want to just keep in contact via a screen, they want to see me in person too. And I completely understand that.
Luckily I do have some good friends who I still talk to regularly but not all of them, in fact most of them, don’t understand my lifestyle, my need to always leave or the struggles that I go through.
Most don’t understand how there are even struggles in this “perfect” lifestyle. And if I’m being honest I don’t understand how they can be in one spot for so long. Our lack of understanding each other eventually leads to friendships failing.
But I Don’t Plan on Changing my Digital Nomad Lifestyle
The loneliness and self-motivation are by far the biggest things that I struggle with daily as a digital nomad. But I wouldn’t give up this lifestyle for anything.
Like any job there are good days and bad days and there are ways to help everything.
The fact that I can choose how many hours I work in a week, that I can choose to leave a destination at any point and that I absolutely adore what I do makes this insane, different, completely unusual lifestyle so fricking amazing.
Yes, the loneliness is tough but I have plans in 2018 to help fight that. I’ll be setting up a base somewhere in Southeast Asia where I can meet other digital nomads who understand this lifestyle, the struggles and love what they do too.
I’ve met some amazing people who do understand what I do and we complain about blogging drama and tech problems with our blogs or clients not paying us. Or I’m a part of so many blogging and digital nomad groups that if I have a question or am struggling there is someone who will respond usually within minutes.
In the end every lifestyle choice, every job and every situation has its drawbacks and pros and as tough as this life can be at times the reward, to me, is worth every second of struggle as I figure out where exactly my winding path will lead me next to in life.
To all of the aspiring digital nomads out there, don’t leave this page thinking that you can’t live like this. If you’re ready to put in the time and work and are ready to face obstacles that you can’t imagine now then this lifestyle is ready for you and you’re about to join an amazing community of some of the most incredible individuals you will ever meet.
This post doesn’t even touch on many of the other pros and cons to being a digital nomad but where’s the fun in me telling you exactly what to expect? That’s half of the fun of figuring out this insanely epic lifestyle.
So am I living the dream? It certainly looks like it on Instagram but some days it doesn’t feel like it. In the end, I really am and I know it will only get better from here as my story is just beginning.