Our mental calendar is chock-a-block with lovey-dovey anniversaries: the first time we kissed, the day we moved in together, the day Rob proposed, our wedding, the first time I popped his blister… I say “our” mental calendar, but obviously I mean “my”: gender stereotypes are alive and well in the Mish ‘n’ Rob household.
Now though, we have a brand new type of anniversary to celebrate – and this is one that Rob’s been looking forward to as much as me: one full year as digital nomads. On this day (14 March) last year, we flew off to NYC, having left behind our jobs, our home, our favourite Indian takeaway and our Oyster cards.
Since then, we’ve lived in 19 different “homes” – sometimes for just a week, sometimes for whole months. We’ve set up a web design and copywriting business, written five books, started two blogs, invested in a buy-to-let property, and had the best year of our lives.
Yet almost every day we come across misconceptions about digital nomads that might put people off from doing it themselves – so I thought I’d use our one-year anniversary to set the record straight from our point of view…
Daddy isn’t paying
You don’t need a trust fund or a recently deceased millionaire relative to quit your job and start out on your own.
For the past year, lots of people have assumed we’re receiving banker’s-bonus-level pocket money so that we can afford flights, accommodation and an obscene amount of coffee – otherwise, the thinking goes, we wouldn’t have the guts to do all this.
Not true – and not true for most digital nomads.
It just comes down to planning and being sensible. For example, we’d planned to quit our jobs a full year before we actually handed in our notice, and although we had absolutely no clue what we wanted to do after quitting, we knew we’d need some savings to tide us over.
I’d been saving up half my salary ever since I started a proper job after uni, and Rob had done the same. So we upped our savings ratio slightly in the final year, just to have as much as we could. (Admittedly we had a honeymoon that year, which ended up wrecking the budget slightly.)
We’d also been doing some Elance work on the side – to get into the mindset of being freelancers and earn a bit of extra cash.
We took a risk, but it was a calculated one. We had backup funds to support us while we figured out our best skills and our favourite kinds of work.
This is sustainable forever
Lots of digital nomads make the most of “geographic arbitrage”: as freelancers, they get paid Western money to live like royalty in the far-cheaper Asian/South American countries. Which is awesome,and we’re having a week of that lifestyle in a swanky Bangkok hotel right now.
But many of them know they’d struggle financially if they had to move back to their home country at some point.
Plenty of other nomads, however, use geographic arbitrage in a different way. By earning Western money and living in cheaper countries, they only have to do a small amount of client work to meet their living expenses. The rest of their time can be used to set up businesses that don’t rely on trading time for money – and once this “passive” income builds up enough, they can go and live anywhere.
We’re in the middle of doing that. When we lived in Chiang Mai, an apartment cost £180 a month and a restaurant dinner was £3 for two people. Our money went much further, which meant we could take on far less client work and devote the rest of our time to setting up two new soon-to-be-launched businesses.
The intention is that these businesses will soon allow us to live anywhere without gasping in fear at the price of something.
…Even if you have a family
We’re pretty honest about how petrified we are about having kids: we’re just convinced they’ll be overloaded with a double whammy of all our combined issues and hang-ups.
Funnily enough though, one thing we’re no longer scared of is giving up this lifestyle for nappies, Teletubbies and inane chatter about teething – because we won’t have to. We’ve come across and read about so many amazing digitally nomadic families, and it really does seem like having kids in this sort of environment gives them a better education, and can make them more stable, happy and sociable.
If you want proof of how amazing it can be to travel with your kids, check out these blogs:
- Escape Artistes: Theodora travels around the world with her ridiculously intelligent 12-year-old son, Zac.
- A King’s Life: Two parents and two toddlers travel the world and aim to “live like a king”: richly, broadly and without the baggage of too much stuff.
- Pearce on Earth: Brandon Pearce needs to work just a few hours a week so that he and his family can travel the world together.
- Laptops, Nappies and Paradise: Carrie and Dave gave up their corporate lives in London, moved to Argentina, had a baby, and set up their own location independent business.
…Although it’s bloody tough if you have a dog
Just ask Leanne and Leah, who run Start Somewhere and travel everywhere with their two miniature dachsunds. Taking animals around is a tough one, because they need a whole heap of injections and paperwork, and then you’re limited to accommodation, places to eat and trips/excursions that allow them.
It’s not necessary to always be travelling
The point about being a digital nomad is that you can travel around if you want to.
As Mike Elgan says in his excellent piece “I’m a digital nomad (and so are you)“:
“It’s not about traveling. It’s about choice. So if you can work from another town or another country but choose not to, you’re as much of a digital nomad as someone who does make that choice.”
Just knowing that you can move somewhere whenever you like gives you a great feeling of freedom and control over your life.
Everyone travels at very different speeds. Most of the time, we’re utter slowcoaches: we like to spend at least a few months in each place because it takes us forever to feel settled, and because we want a place to really feel like “home” rather than a travel destination.
Our buddies Ryan and Ang are also pretty tortoise-like:
“We’re advocates of slow travel, plain and simple… We originally thought we’d like to stay in places for three months, but we’re finding that six months seems to fit us quite nicely if we like our location.”
It’s very different from being a professional traveller
“Professional travellers”, as we call them, are very different from digital nomads. These are people who travel almost non-stop and find ways to fund it/make money while they do so – usually by blogging and getting paid through sponsorship or advertisements. They also often stay in hotels or hostels for free, in return for positive “they paid for it, but my words are honest” reviews.
They love travelling, but they have to keep travelling (perhaps at a faster pace than they’d like) because that’s the only way they can make money: if they bore their readers by writing about the same Bulgarian town for 20 posts in a row, the advertisers and sponsors will stop paying up.
You don’t need to be a techie
No, you probably can’t be a digital nomad if you’re a GP working in a specific surgery. Nor if you’re an estate agent operating in West London. If you want to own a shop, it’s possible to get someone else to project manage the day-to-day stuff, but it’s probably quite tricky.
But you don’t have to be a web designer, or a programmer, or a writer, either. Soon we’ll write a massive blog post about all the different business models that work wherever you are in the world, but for now, here are some ideas:
1: Webcam-to-webcam instead of face-to-face (e.g. online teaching, tutoring, counselling and professional development training)
Digital nomads who do this:
- Tobin Hunt, a cognitive behavioural psychology who treats his patients online.
- Jack, who offers personal/executive coaching through a website called BuddySchool.
2: Provide a service without being in the same country as your clients (e.g. HR consultants, marketing professionals, copywriters and accountants)
Digital nomads who do this:
- Kent and Caanan run an HR consultancy business from wherever they are in the world.
3: Sell products without actually being there (we’re talking online retail here)
Digital nomads who do this:
- Us! www.totomerch.com.
- Dan Andrews, who sells cat furniture and portable bars. His podcast: www.lifestylebusinesspodcast.com.
4: Make passive income by selling your knowledge, experience or ideas without selling your time (ANYONE can do this by sharing their expertise via e-books, online courses and membership sites)
Digital nomads who do this:
- Lau Hanly, who sells a course that helps women get fit and healthy.
- Corbett Barr, who (among other things) runs a membership site offering video training to online businesses.
You won’t feel alone
We get lots of comments from people back home like “Oh you must be so lonely. And it must be so hard to make friends in a foreign country.” Or, “When you find friends, it must be so hard when one of you leaves. And it’s so sad you’re not making any real friends.”
We don’t feel that way. At all.
Firstly it’s easy to meet other digital nomads. And secondly, when we find ones who we like and they like us, it’s awesome to have a bond with them wherever they are in the world, and meet up when we happen to be in the same country. We keep up-to-date with each other’s lives through Skype and email, but we also have the opportunity to meet even more people whenever we’re travelling somewhere else.
When we go back to England, we always see our “original” friends, and that’s equally fantastic. We adore catching up with them, but we feel far from alone when we’re travelling.
Nowwww… over to you
So what do you think? Are you a digital nomad, and do you agree or disagree with my attempts to iron out the misconceptions? Do you even come across these misconceptions?
Are you thinking about becoming a digital nomad, and if so, what’s putting you off?
Have I made any incorrect assumptions myself?
Let me know in the comments!