Life as a Digital Nomad: My Advice and Truths

In October 2011 I changed careers from a full-time job in the City of London (working in a very corporate industry) to a freelance career as a copywriter, blogger and author of fiction. For over two years, I was nomadic, working as I travelled with my partner who is also location-independent. I lived and worked in countries like Morocco, Thailand, Malaysia, Portugal and France, and we stayed in places for as short a time as a few days, to more than three months.

Now (in 2016) I still do the same work (blogging/writing) and I am still location independent, in that I can work anywhere with an Internet connection, however, during our travels we found a place we liked so much that we didn't want to leave, Amsterdam.

Below you will find answers to the questions I am most commonly asked regarding becoming and being a "digital nomad", most of which I answered while I was still travelling so that's why they may seem a bit outdated if you're a regular reader. You can also find advice for beginner freelancers here, as well as some productivity advice here. You may also like these posts about how to become location independent, and deciding between a job that pays the bills and something new that you're more passionate about.

Digital Nomad:  "A digital nomad is someone who leverages technology and the internet to work remotely and more generally conduct their lifestyle in a nomadic manner. * 

In response to an increasing number of reader emails I hope the following answers to questions I'm regularly asked, will help offer an insight on how I became a digital nomad, how I maintain this lifestyle and furthermore, offer advice to those who may be considering life as a location independent freelancer. It's fair to say that there are many other ways that you can make money while travelling or leading a nomadic lifestyle, but freelancing is what I do so that's what I can comment on. 

The more I am asked questions about my lifestyle, the more I think they can ultimately be addressed in my answers to the following;

  • What job do you do as a digital nomad?

I earn money as a copywriter, a travel writer, a ghost blogger and an author of fiction. I also earn a (very) small amount of money from collaborations on this blog. I consider myself very lucky to have so many strings to my bow, however, they are all necessary in order to ensure an income I can live off and save with. Saving is very important to me as there is a lot of risk with freelancing. 

Some months I earn lots of money. Some months I don't. I earn a lot less than I did as a full-time employee but my outgoings are considerably less too. I'm also a member of a team. My boyfriend runs a number of online businesses so as long as our combined income exceeds our combined outgoings we're happy. It's funny how these fundamentals remain the same even when you live an unconventional lifestyle.

I have created a presentation and workshop all about how to get started as a freelancer and how to do this while travelling full-time . You can find out more about Going Freelance and how I can help you with this here.

  • How do you keep working when you're travelling so much?

Balance and priorities. Other digital nomads fit work around travel. Work is their necessary evil in order to travel. That's not the case for us. More often than not my partner and I plan our travels around our work schedule. If we have big projects that need a lot of attention we'll find somewhere quiet to do this in. If we have a bit more flexibility we will pursue travel goals - like snowboarding in Finnish Lapland - but we always take work into consideration when picking a new destination.

  • What tips or advice would you give to people planning on becoming nomadic or location independent?

I hope the following advice is taken as both helpful information abd a little inspiration to those considering this lifestyle.

Here are my truths about life as a digital nomad:

On freelancing...

  • You can do almost any job online now. And nearly all skills are transferable to any number of jobs or projects. It's just up to you to find those jobs and/or transfer the skills.
  • Don't limit yourself to just one career or providing one service to one type of client. There are thousands of potential clients out there needing help that they are willing to pay for. Tell yourself that every day when you're starting out.
  • If you can't love what you do to pay the bills and travel, it's important to at least like it or you'll begrudge having to do it.
  • You have more skills than you think you do. Try writing a list of all the skills and experience you've gained until now; all the apps and types of software you're familiar with, the languages you speak, the topics you know a lot about, the skills you've gained from part-time and full-time jobs, work experience or a former career path. If you're uncertain what to do as a freelancer that list you create is the foundation for figuring this out.
  • Have savings. And a Plan B. And maybe a Plan C.
  • Determining what you don't want to do is just as important as knowing what you do want to do.
  • The internet is your best friend. Ask her any question you like and you may find the answer you're looking for. But use her wisely... Be productive and learn. And install SelfControl . Like, now.
  • Open a Dropbox account. Get some Moo cards. Buy Skype credit. Think about using Evernote  (and if you don't know where to start I recommend this guide - it's pricey but worth it). Did you install SelfControl already? (Or Freedom for Windows )
  • Play nice online. There are no referees on most websites, but there is no delete forever mechanism either.
  • Prepare for quiet months like August, December and January when clients are on holiday or work is not their priority.
  • If you can, start freelancing while still in full-time work. 
  • Be prepared to work for free in the beginning. It's the best way to build a portfolio and gain testimonials quickly. Though be very selective about who you work for and limit the time you give them with mutually agreed, achievable goals and ensure they pay with a reference, a testimonial and maybe some link juice. And always ensure the work (and the client) is interesting, relevant and something you can be proud to refer to.
  • You are not alone. I have sighed through doubt, suffered an onslaught of set backs, dealt with rejection, felt paralysed with confusion and questioned what I'm doing ritually in the last year. Very little brings me comfort during those moments (though cake and a walk in the sunshine do help) but I find a strange reassurance in this saying:  I can't do this but I'm doing it anyway .

On working as you travel...

  • If travel is your ultimate goal and much more important than work or mapping out a career then don't fight it, but be prepared to work for it. Stay put, work your socks off in two or three jobs you're not fussed about leaving, save money and then travel like the wind, far and wide. Or look into working or volunteering abroad.
  • Don't go until you are 99% ready. You'll never be 100% ready.
  • Be prepared to never, ever again stay somewhere where there's no internet.
  • It's okay to "go home" and touch base with those you love while being a digital nomad. In fact, I'd say it's imperative.
  • Enjoy the journeys. The one that takes you to new countries and cities and cultures and corners of the world, and the one that offers you new opportunities and challenges. They are both as rewarding as each other.
  • Do you have any other advice for digital nomads?

    I have also talked about my life as a digital nomad and offered some small pieces of advice here and here for Travelettes. I absolutely stand by the five questions every potential digital nomad should ask themselves before they embark on this lifestyle:
  • Can I remote work in my current job? Because if yes, you may save yourself a lot of hassle.
  • To freelance or not to freelance? You can now freelance in almost any profession and everyone has transferable skills to bring to a new freelance career. However, not everyone was made for freelancing and its rollercoaster of emotions and risks so this is a very worthy consideration.
  • Warning! This is not a holiday! Do you really want to work and travel? You cannot do one without the other so be prepared for work being a constant in your life as well as travel.
  • What are you prepared to give up? Yes, my life is rich with travel but I go without a lot too - seeing friends and family being top of the list. Are you prepared to do the same?
  • What do you want to achieve? My lifestyle is a special, happy, lucky one and as long as I'm able to live this way I'm going to use the time and opportunities I have to chase my dreams. Spending more time writing my books is the big one for me at the moment and every day I do something to actively pursue this dream. Be clear in your own mind what you want to achieve while living like a digital nomad.

I also did an interview with my good friend Peter Parkorr where I talked about how the balance between work and travel isn't always easy to maintain. (He also took this photo of me in Porto last year)
Re-reading this article I think the following advice is worth sharing here...

"... not everyone fully understands why we do what we do, because it’s a lifestyle that isn’t for everyone, especially at this time in my life when so many of my peers are “settling down”.  The ironic thing about it is that I’ve never been more settled ; after being single for many years I’ve now got a great fella, a great job that I’m in control of and I’m actually saving money because I’m not living in one of the world’s most expensive cities anymore. We’re certainly not on one long holiday like some people think we are. So while I understand why people don’t “get” what we do, I would be silly to even think about this stopping us from doing what we are doing. We’ll stop when it stops working for us.

If you have any specific questions you'd like answering then please find me on Facebook or Twitter - I love hearing from new (and old!) readers! Thank you for reading and sharing in my journey.

* Definition from Wikipedia. Images by Frances M. Thompson or Unsplash