30 Jun Our Journey to Becoming Digital Nomads
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?
StevenPosted at 21:50h, 30 June
What you describe truly is the dream! At least for me 🙂 I’ve just finished my teacher training year in the UK, and will be doing my NQT year next year. I also have ELT experience. When you mention the French company teaching business English to adults online, would you be able to share the name of the company? I’d be really interested to know.
A couple of passive income streams I use – TES (Times Education Supplement) – you can sell lesson resources, which can bring in around £50-100 a month (not much but every little helps).
Also Offset, a Premium Stock Photography Agency. I’ve made around $2000 over the past two years from them. http://www.offset.com/artist/Steven+James+Martin
Best of luck with everything!
AmyPosted at 08:37h, 01 July
Hi Steven, congrats on completing your teaching training! The company Andrew is working with is Woospeak, he has also been in contact with DaDa ABC, a Chinese company. Thanks for the tip offs about the TES and Offset, we will definitely look into them 🙂 Hopefully we can get a sustainable income rolling in over the next six months 🙂
PattiPosted at 15:24h, 01 July
I think what happened in Spain was exactly what you needed – it gave you permission to figure out just what it is you really want and it forced you to face it head on. Good for you! Having been with you from practically day 1, I’m super proud of you both and your accomplishments. You found your path and now you’re making it work! Fantastic!
And, I truly understand the connection of loving your blog. I have had success with monetizing without pushing ads at my readers and I know you can do it too. I’m always thinking two steps ahead of myself trying to figure out how to make the blog work for us as a source of passive income for our newly retired life. Between the blog and our social media network, it is definitely the equivalent of a part-time job. I’m just now polishing 3 pages of “Work With Us” on our blog… maybe that’s something to consider for your blog?
One day at a time, right?! 🙂
AmyPosted at 19:23h, 01 July
Hi Patti, thanks so much for the support, as always 🙂 You’re right, blogging really does take up a lot of time, lucky we both love it! Yes, I definitely think I need to add a ‘work with us’ page to the site and make a press pack, I’m going to crack on with that when we settle in Chiang Mai.
AllisonPosted at 17:51h, 01 July
Hi! My boyfriend and I love your blog! We’ll be in Thailand in late November and would love to take you out to dinner and talk about travel and options for working on the road. My email is allison.ferrini.821 @ gmail.com (remove spaces). Hope to talk to you soon! Allison
AmyPosted at 19:24h, 01 July
Hi Allison, thanks so much for reading and commenting. I’m glad you’ve found our blog useful and we’d love to meet up, thanks for the kind offer! I will email you from my personal email address 🙂
Gilda BaxterPosted at 08:08h, 02 July
It is a long road to self discovery but eventually we get there. i spent years in jobs I did not enjoy and eventually found a job I love. Life is too short to spend doing things that don’t feel right. You are both very clever, young and resourceful people and you will succeed, I am sure of it. So jealous of you going to live in Chiang Mai, It is such an exciting city ?
AmyPosted at 09:54h, 03 July
Thanks so much Gilda, I’m glad that you’ve found happiness doing a job you love. You’re right, t is a long road to self discovery, hopefully we are now at least heading in the right direction! Perhaps we’ll see you in Chiang Mai one day 🙂
RhondaPosted at 18:34h, 02 July
Very exciting post! Obviously, we are working towards that as well and would love to get in email contact with you for some tips on how you have gotten your freelance writing work. I’ve had zero luck on Upwork but was contacted in March by a company to write 2-3 articles a week for their clients. Still not great pay but better than Upwork and it seems steady. However, recently I have started pitching to other sources and was interested in the comment on your facebook regarding copywriting for companies blogs, etc. So much to learn! Good luck, excited to hear more about life in Chiang Mai soon.
AmyPosted at 09:58h, 03 July
Hi Rhonda, it’s great to hear that you’re on a similar journey. Yes, I was interested about that copy writing comment too, when we settle in Chiang Mai in August I’ll look into that. I will email you regarding how I’ve found freelance work so far; Upwork does seem to be a tough nut to crack and I’ve had some difficult clients so far! I’ll be in contact soon 🙂
RhondaPosted at 16:44h, 03 July
Sounds great.. happy travels until then 😉
AmyPosted at 09:02h, 04 July
Thanks Rhonda 🙂
DLRPosted at 19:10h, 02 July
I love your blog, your writing and your pictures. Good luck monetizing it, because I want it to continue.
I’ve never been interested in visiting SE Asia because I’ve always thought it to be hot and humid (is that true?) and I love cool and dry. So, I look forward to your pics of Thailand, because, from the pics I have seen, it is a beautiful place.
AmyPosted at 10:00h, 03 July
Hi Donna, thanks so much for reading and following along on our journey. Yes, it is pretty hot and humid in Asia although we did have some pretty cool temperatures in Hanoi during the winter months. We look forward to sharing our journey with you 🙂
MattPosted at 23:44h, 03 July
Very cool to see all the things you’re going to try. I think you’re bang on with the diversity of income being key. We’re going through a similar brainstorming process on how we could make money online in different ways but haven’t got as far along as you guys yet (a baby on the way has delayed plans & complicated things!). I hope you guys have the best luck with it all over the next year!
AmyPosted at 09:06h, 04 July
Thanks Matt and congrats on the baby news! Yes, we’re really trying to keep an open mind about other income streams and hopefully being in one place for a while will help with all this. Good luck to you guys as well, I’m looking forward to seeing how your travel style evolves with a baby 🙂
Victoria @The British BerlinerPosted at 15:46h, 04 July
I think it’s an excellent idea. You’ll both love the lifestyle of Chiang Mai as it’s so laidback!
I took my family there two years ago, and our tween son is already talking about going back for his GAP year – when he’s 18! I won’t hold him back either as Thailand is such a great place to meet friends, grow up, and experience a bit of life lol!
I absolutely love the guys from 8 Miles from Home – and I follow them too. Their videos are fantastic and they’ve got such a lovely dog and a wonderful home.
Absolutely go for it. Whoop! Whoop!
AmyPosted at 21:33h, 04 July
Thanks Victoria, we’re so excited about Chiang Mai and can’t believe that next month we’ll be there! Sounds like your son has a great GAP year experience lined up! We love the videos from 8 Miles From Home too – we want our very own Eden one day 🙂
Toby GingerPosted at 16:24h, 05 July
It is my first time commenting, although I have been following your blog since the end of last year!
My girlfriend and I are currently saving up to begin our adventure around the world! we have been reading up and watching as many travel videos as possible. We find your blog our favorite and most informative read whilst Christien Le Blanc’s Travel Vlog keeps us excited and motivated no matter how hopeless and tiring the “strict” saving may feel!!!
One thing I decided to do in preparation for traveling was to invest in a small but growing company. The investment has put my savings back somewhat but the return is guaranteed (and trustworthy) ensuring I have a small but regular income while we are traveling. I thought it was worth mentioning as I haven’t seen anyone else suggest it.
We hope your Digital Nomad lifestyle pays off as it is a huge inspiration to the both of us 🙂
Wish you all the success in the world and we look forward to your future posts!
Toby & Ronnie
AmyPosted at 08:13h, 06 July
Hi Toby and Ronnie, thanks so much for reading and commenting. I’m so glad that you have enjoyed our blog and thanks for following our journey. It sounds like you have an exciting adventure ahead, where are you planning on heading to and when’s your departure set for? Thanks for the tip about the investment, that is a very interesting idea, one we could certainly look into in the future. We’ve heard a lot about Dropshipping lately too which might be worth exploring. It sounds like you have a great basis to begin a digital nomad life, good luck! If you’re ever in Chiang Mai drop us a line 🙂
EsmePosted at 17:18h, 26 August
Hi Amy, I’ve always loved writing and have really enjoyed writing about our travels since I started my blog. How easy do you think it is to get into online writing if you’ve not got a portfolio like you must have from your previous work? Thanks 🙂
AmyPosted at 05:47h, 27 August
Hi Esme, I think anyone who loves writing and has enough determination can find writing work. I’m still at the very beginning of trying to make a freelance living from writing and a few things have fallen through, but I’m learning that the key skill you need is persistence; I’m sure you can make it too! Good luck 🙂
EsmePosted at 22:22h, 12 September
Thanks Amy! I look forward to hearing about the writing work you get! Be sure to post it as I can’t wait to read it 🙂 Hope all is good in Chiang Mai!
AmyPosted at 03:52h, 13 September
Will do Esme, I’m having some success with UpWork at the moment and I’ll post a digital nomad update at the end of October.
Alyson World Travel FamilyPosted at 09:37h, 31 August
Hi Andrew/Amy. I didn’t know you’d published this, I just spotted it while I was looking for something of yours from Malaysia ( I linked to it, you should get the pingback). Anyway…yes, same. But my income is 100% from the blog plus I do some coaching and mentoring ( travel, homeschooling and blogging, $50/hour at the moment). I see nothing wrong with ads and I’ve NEVER been offered banner ads so, Adsense it is. Agoda is rising steeply, as is Amazon, not by luck, by hard work, determination and experimentation. But it’s there now, I make a living. I’m working hard on the other 3 main sites now too, to bring them up. And I’m totally with you, writing and working online is the best job in the world, I find it endlessly fascinating and challenging.
God I could never teach…ugg!!!
AmyPosted at 03:03h, 01 September
Hi Alyson, you’ve done amazingly well to make your site your main source of income. Now we’re finally in Chiang Mai and settled in an apartment with decent internet our next priority is getting our income up over the next six months. I don’t think it’ll be easy but we have the perfect set up now to try and make it work.