This year a lot has changed for us. After our attempt to live and teach in Madrid collapsed, Spain felt like an epic fail. Everything was a confusing, unhappy blur for me and I had to confront a lot of negative feelings; dissatisfaction with our financial situation, dread about teaching again and uncertainty for the future. We were forced to re-examine what we want from life and figure out how to live happily – this eventually led us to the realisation that we want to become digital nomads.
Why we Want to Become Digital Nomads
We left the UK in 2013 with a plump travel fund which we’d nurtured for years while working in London. Over the first year and a half of our travels this money disappeared fast so we stopped to teach English in Vietnam and replenish our savings; nine months later we set off to explore again. One expensive US road-trip and UK Christmas later we needed to make money again, cue the move to Spain. We’ve basically been living a cycle of splurge and save, with periods of intense work followed by non-stop travel. Rinse and repeat.
While there’s nothing wrong with this strategy and it served us well in the past, things changed when we got to Spain. Struggling to find affordable apartments and accepting low-paid jobs at an English immersion camp led me to realise that:
1) I don’t want to teach anymore. My background is in writing, that’s my passion and it makes me happy. I’m grateful for the teaching experiences I’ve had but to be honest, I don’t enjoy being a teacher. The anxiety and dread I felt in Spain at the prospect of having to teach again made me miserable, so for the sake of my mental health I need to do work that I really enjoy.
2) We need a sustainable source of income. Financial instability gets really tiring and I’m sick of spending so much time worrying about money. One year we’re working full-time to bring the cash in, the next we’re watching it all leak straight back out again. To combat the feast/famine cycle we’ve gotten into we need to establish regular monthly income streams.
3) I don’t want to be tied to one place. Having to take on ‘traditional’ jobs like teaching usually means sticking around in one place for a block of time. My wanderlust is way too insistent for that; nine months in Hanoi had me itching to get back out and travel again. We want to be able to work from anywhere so we have the freedom to move around whenever we like.
4) Conversely, we want to have a home base. We’d like to have an apartment to call our own for at least part of each year so that we can cook, work and live in comfort while really getting to know a particular area. In the future we’d eventually like to buy rather than rent a home somewhere in the world, but that’s a long way off.
When you add all of that up, it’s pretty obvious that we need to become digital nomads, people who work remotely and can make money anywhere in the world with just a laptop and an internet connection. So how do we make this dream a reality?
Our Plan to Become Digital Nomads
Lately we’ve been super-inspired by other digital nomads living a sustainable life of freedom and independence. In particular we’ve been following 8 Miles from Home, a British couple who’ve lived in Thailand for years making money from video and photography work; we’ve been binging on their daily Vlogs about life in Thailand and how they make a living doing what they love. I’ve also been reading endless blog posts from other travellers who make a living online and taking serious notes. The most important thing I’ve learned is this:
The only thing stopping us from becoming digital nomads is having the courage to get out there and do it.
So let’s get started.
Moving to Chiang Mai
I feel like we’ve already taken the first, most important step towards realising our goals: we’ve booked plane tickets to Chiang Mai in Thailand, a city we absolutely love. When we arrive in August, our only plan is to lease an apartment for six months and focus on making a sustainable income while living cheaply. If you didn’t already know, Chiang Mai is the original digital nomad hub; the city is full of people who work remotely while enjoying the city’s cheap living costs, stellar WiFi connections, awesome food and laid-back living.
Digital Income Streams
The key to making a solid online income seems to lie in diversity, so we’re planning to develop multiple passive and active income streams which utilise our existing skills and experience. These include:
Writing – I worked as an online writer back in London and left the UK in 2013 with three freelance writing jobs. When these ended, I continued to write a few travel articles for magazines and websites but I didn’t seriously try to make money from freelance writing because our travels were so fast-paced, I didn’t know how to go about finding new work and I’m not the most confident or business-minded person on the planet. Now, I’m trying to change that.
So far I’ve landed some writing contracts through Upwork, they’re pretty low-paid but once I have some reviews I’ll be able to charge more for my services. I’m also writing and pitching travel articles to websites and magazines; this month I had a piece published by In the Know Traveler about ethical volunteering in Asia. I was also contacted out of the blue through this blog by a company that wanted to hire me as an ongoing travel writer for their website, which I was thrilled about. My most exciting news is that I’ve also landed a job as a freelance writer for a magazine in Thailand! When I arrive in August I’ll be writing several travel features a month about destinations in Asia.
Online teaching – Andrew is a fully-qualified teacher in the UK and he worked for four years as a secondary school French and Spanish teacher in London. He’s now TEFL qualified, has taught in both Vietnam and Spain and considers teaching to be his vocation. Teaching is traditionally a static job in terms of location, but Andrew is going to experiment with making money through online teaching to fit our digital nomad lifestyle.
Andrew has accepted a lucrative job with a French company teaching business English to adults online, which could bring in around £1,000 a month. He’ll be starting this job when we get to Chiang Mai in August and we’ll be adding some useful content about this income stream to the blog, as it seems to be a more unusual form of online work.
Blogging – this blog is a real labour of love for me; it would have to be considering the countless number of hours I’ve put into it over the last four years, with barely any financial gain to show for it. Apart from a few adverts here and there, I’ve never really tried to monetise this blog because I want it to remain an independent space to share stories and advice about travel. Recently though I’ve decided that as long as I don’t compromise my principles, there’s no reason why I shouldn’t make some money from this site, especially since many readers have told me how useful they’ve found our content.
That doesn’t mean I’m going to start splashing ads everywhere, but we have joined some affiliate schemes and started accepting more advertising in the form of side-bar and text adverts. It won’t form one of our key income streams, but we hope to make a small amount of cash through the blog to supplement our travel fund. We also want to grow the blog and make it even more useful for readers; we’re hoping to produce e-books, improve the site design, become more active on our social media channels (we’re pretty rubbish at that right now) and produce regular Vlogs for our YouTube channel.
Online translation – Andrew also has good foreign language skills and can speak both French and Spanish, so he’s looking into finding online translation jobs via websites like Upwork.
Selling stock photos –to be honest, our photos probably aren’t good enough to make a lot of money from this, but we’re going to give it a go. Andrew is selling photos on stock picture websites where they can be bought multiple times and form a passive income stream. So far we’ve made $0.25!
Breakdown of Earnings for June 2016
Settling here in Split for a month has allowed us to get started with our digital nomad goals. We’ve mainly been laying the foundations, so this month we didn’t earn much online at all. However, we did line up some jobs which will start producing regular income over the next few months; a couple of writing contracts and Andrew’s online teaching gig. Luckily we also received our final payment from working at an English immersion camp in Spain, which helped us cover our living costs this month:
Teaching – £670
Freelance writing – £95
Direct blog advertising – £98
Affiliate blog advertising – £25
Total Earnings for June 2016 = £888
To put this in perspective, we spent £860 this month while living in Croatia so we covered our living costs. Based on how much we spent travelling in Asia and living in Vietnam, we expect our monthly living costs in Chiang Mai to be around £700 – £800 a month.
Monthly Updates and our Progress on the Journey
We aren’t expecting to make much during July as we have some fast-travel followed by family holidays in Europe planned. Once we’ve made the move to Thailand in August though we hope to build on these initial baby steps and establish a sustainable online income. We’ll be posting regular updates detailing our journey to becoming digital nomads here on the blog. At the moment we’re taking this on as a year-long experiment to see what happens. I’m sure it won’t be easy, but is anything worth doing ever easy?
What do you think about our plan to become digital nomads? Do you have any advice for us?