15 Feb Update on digital nomad life, earnings, challenges and future plans
It’s been over a year since we set ourselves up in Thailand to become digital nomads. Since then we’ve moved around Asia, Europe and South America and have somehow managed to stay solvent along the way. So, how did we make digital nomad life work for us, despite the challenges? Is it possible to earn a decent income remotely, and what are our future plans?
How we’ve been making money remotely
Since we moved to Chiang Mai in September 2016, we’ve been supporting ourselves through a range of income streams:
- Freelance writing
- Online teaching
- Teacher recruitment
Developing four different income streams has been vital for us because when one isn’t doing so well, the others pick up the slack. During the summer, for instance, both our online teaching and freelance writing work dipped significantly, but Andrew’s recruitment payout in October covered the shortfall. With that in mind, if you’re starting out as a remote worker/digital nomad, I’d definitely recommend diversifying your income streams.
How much money do we make from those income streams?
Freelance writing – when I started freelancing, I made £124 during my first month and gradually grew my income by taking on new clients and upping my rates. The most I’ve made in a month is £1,806 and at the moment, whilst travelling in South America, I’m averaging between £1,000 and £1,500 per month. When we’re intensively travelling, such as in Nepal last May, my income takes a hit.
Consistency is a key issue with freelancing and I frequently have weeks when I’m ridiculously busy followed by others when I have very little to do. I’ve found that working for content agencies really helps with this because they typically offer large volumes of work. Making my own freelance portfolio website and optimising my LinkedIn profile have also helped me land clients.
Online teaching – Andrew’s online teaching produced a consistent income while we were living in Chiang Mai, where he worked on average 15 hours a week, earning about £500 per month. He had some flexibility to rearrange lessons when we travelled for short periods but would have to cancel classes for longer trips when it was impossible to stick to a rigid schedule or guarantee a solid internet connection.
Teaching recruitment – Andrew still works with our former language centre in Hanoi, recruiting and interviewing teachers for them during June, July and August. He gets a commission for each teacher he recruits and has brought in lump sum payments of £2,430 and £2,100 in 2016 and 2017. This gives our savings a good boost and the work isn’t too time intensive, it involves posting job ads, interviewing candidates via Skype and liaising with the language centre.
Blogging – we still haven’t made any significant effort to monetise this blog and after some serious tech troubles over the autumn, I was even considering throwing in the towel completely. Now that things are fixed I’m continuing to blog for the love of it, and any money we make from the site is an unintentional bonus. We typically make a few hundred pounds a month through advertising and affiliate schemes, the most we made in one month was £700 but by contrast, for the last two years we’ve earnt zilch in July.
Digital nomad life: monthly earnings over the year
Our overall monthly earnings have varied throughout the year but typically average between £1,500 – 2,500 per month. During the months when Andrew’s recruitment payments come in we’ve made nearly £4,000, but in August when all our income streams dipped, we made our lowest amount of just over £700. This really illustrates the ups and downs of digital nomad life and how useful it is to have various income streams. When we do have big months, we put money straight into our savings, knowing that there will be less lucrative periods in the future.
What we’ve learned from being digital nomads
Digital nomad life is possible. We started this experiment over a year ago now and after previously travelling on our savings and earnings from teaching English in Vietnam and Spain, we were really unsure about whether we could make a decent online income. We’ve now proven to ourselves that it is possible. Yes, it’s incredibly hard work and certainly more stressful (in my opinion) than having a 9-5 job with a guaranteed monthly salary. However, as a couple with no children or mortgage and a minimalist mind-set, we have been able to cover our living costs and even save money while working as digital nomads.
Living abroad gets you more for your money. We earn significantly less than we did when we lived and worked in London five years ago, yet our lives are infinitely more satisfying now. Simply by living in cheaper parts of the world such as Chiang Mai, Portugal and Prague, we’ve enjoyed a good quality of life and travelled a great deal. It’s staggering to think that last year we took a month off to trek in Nepal, embarked on a three-month European road trip and lived a luxury lifestyle in Chiang Mai. Yet, had we been living in the UK and earning the same amount, we would have barely made ends meet.
It can all change in a moment. One week you can have a full roster of client work, the next you have nothing. When you freelance, your fortunes can change in an instant. This means that you have to be resilient and constantly put yourself out there. Build a website, tout your services around and most importantly, do great work for clients and they’ll keep hiring you. I’m hoping to get to the point where I have a handful of regular clients and can pick and choose the projects I want to take on.
Being a digital nomad isn’t always conducive to travel. Working remotely is supposed to give you the ultimate freedom to live where you like and travel continuously, right? That’s the theory, but we haven’t found it works that way in practice. Yes, in the past year we’ve lived in Chiang Mai, Portugal and Prague, travelled for six weeks straight in Nepal and Sri Lanka and road-tripped through Europe. However, our bouts of travel have been sandwiched between intense periods of work and we’re frequently battling to find bases with good wifi and comfortable work spaces. The reality is that we do have to plan our travels and life around work, we just have a lot more flexibility than we used to.
We’re lucky to have support. It’s important to note that we do go back to the UK each year for at least two months and during these periods, our families generously put us up. Without that support and our London housesits, we wouldn’t be able to afford these extended trips in the UK.
Our plans for the future
So, are we planning to continue our digital nomad life? The answer is yes and no. Writing is what I love to do and although I hate the rate-setting, chasing payments, administration and promotional side of things, the actual work feels natural to me. I intend to freelance long-term and keep building to the point where I have a range of clients and can choose the projects that interest me and cut out some of the duller bread-and-butter stuff. I have absolutely no desire to sell my soul again and return to the kind of 40-hour-a-week content management/journalism office job I used to have in London.
When it comes to this blog, we’ve pretty much accepted that it’s never going to be a massive money-maker for us. I know people who are absolutely killing it in the travel blogging world and making decent livings, but I don’t think we’ll ever get there. Firstly, because we’ve put most of our energy into freelancing and secondly, because I prefer to write journal-style posts rather than super-informative SEO guides and hate all the social media, sharing, link-swapping and promotional side of the blogging industry. At best, we find it frustrating and tedious and at worst, it can get damn ugly.
Saying that, we recently did a complete audit of all the articles on this site (over 400!) and are slowly looking at monetising the content we already have, trying to improve our existing SEO and eventually update the theme and make the site easier to navigate. This will always be my online journal first and foremost, a record of our travels where I can write whatever the hell I like, but I’m going to try creating more useful cost and guide posts in the future too. I also have plans to take everything I’ve learned from this site and the blogging industry to start a niche website later this year that will hopefully be more useful and profitable.
For Andrew, things are different. Although he’s continuing the recruitment work, due to time zone clashes between Europe and South America, he’s now given up online teaching. It’s no great loss because Andrew isn’t keen on sitting behind a computer screen anyway, that’s why he’s planning to head back to the classroom later this year. We’re hoping he’ll land a teaching job in Portugal, which will allow us to establish a more permanent European base, continue travelling in the holidays and be closer to loved ones in the UK.
Although we’re having a great time in South America and have many adventures in store over the next six months, these days we constantly crave having a base. I dream of having my own room with a comfy writing desk, Andrew would love his own kitchen to cook in and a bike and we both long for a sunny base where we can enjoy year-round blue skies and be outdoors more. We’re hoping that Portugal will fit the bill. Temporarily settling there will allow us to save properly with the aim of one day affording our own home somewhere in the world.
What will that make us? Expats, semi-nomadic, part-time travellers? Who knows, but hopefully it will make us happy.
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Are you a digital nomad, would you like to be? If you have any questions about digital nomad life, let us know in the comments below.
DanPosted at 09:28h, 16 February
A typically honest entry which is why I love your blog. It seems all the digital nomads eventually reach the same conclusion re. having a base and interesting to see how Portugal is often their choice. We are heading there in May, looking forward to discovering it for ourselves.
AmyPosted at 15:59h, 16 February
Hi Dan, thanks so much for reading and commenting. I’m sure you will like Portugal, it has the perfect mix of great weather, cheaper living costs, beautiful scenery and interesting history and culture. We definitely do need a base and Andrew is very keen to get back to doing the work he loves. That said, as a teacher he will get long holidays which will be perfect for taking trips, we’re also thinking in the future that we could move to new destinations for him to teach. It’s exciting. Happy travels 🙂
Gilda BaxterPosted at 15:54h, 16 February
I have loved following your adventurous blog and unconventional lifestyle choices. I am grateful for people like you that think outside the box and live life on your own terms. Even with all the ups and downs and income insecurities, it is a very exciting lifestyle, isn’t it? But I can understand your need for a home base, a place to call your own…Portugal is a great choice. I can also relate to your dislike of turning the blog into a money-making machine, all the social media expectations of post sharing, links and promoting the site are just so boring, I know that it is definitely not for me. In any case, whatever you choose to do in the future I am sure you will make a success of it 🙂
AmyPosted at 16:03h, 16 February
Hi Gilda, thanks for reading and for your support, as always. You’re right, it is an incredibly exciting lifestyle and we still have lots of options, especially with Andrew teaching we can still take long trips in the holidays, he can potentially work in other locations around the world and we could always take another sabbatical in the future if we wanted to travel full-time again. We really love the idea of having a base and some security though since we’re getting older! The blog is a very hard one, a whole industry has sprung up since I started the blog five years ago and it’s so different now. Now I’ve taken the pressure off myself by making money through other avenues, I’m happy to just blog mainly for the love of it 🙂
Alyson LongPosted at 12:12h, 17 February
Well, as you know, we make a really good living just from the websites. It’s actually easy if you know what you’re doing. These link swappers and so on will crash and burn soon, I’ve never done it, Google is way too smart to let people get an advantage through fake links from other bloggers and we’re seeing the effects of Rank Brain on demoting those with crap content and artificially inflated link profiles..I LOVE this industry and love being a travel expert. Our travels these days are often built around my need to get good information in an area that’s been absent on our site so far, love the research, love the SEO, love the stats and analytics, but the actual creating posts is really tedious! I’ve hardly written anything in the last month, just been updating old stuff and still traffic and income grows daily. Writing is a teeny tiny part of blogging, the tiny tip of the iceberg and it’s the bit I like least. We’re back in Romania soon, no more long term travel for us, short trips only from base hopefully. Longterming in Vietnam these last 2 months has been way too boring and I really regret our choice. It was based on other people, and those other people changed their plans after we’d committed. We won’t be considering travel based on others again.. Fast travel or nothing for me. But at least I now have the knowledge, photos and insight to have the best Hoi An content on the web and the extra income that will come with that will be nice.
AmyPosted at 16:42h, 17 February
Hi Alyson, yes, you were one of the people I was referring to who makes a good living from blogging 🙂 It’s great that you love the SEO stuff and analytics and I’m glad it’s working so well for you. For me, I just prefer writing and get way more satisfaction from freelancing so that’s become my main focus. I still love writing blog posts though and will continue with that and trying to revamp the SEO of old posts when we’re not busy with other work and travel. As mentioned, I am hoping to take what I’ve learned and start afresh with a new niche blog that I’m not so emotionally invested in and make it more information/SEO based when we move to Portugal, so we’ll see how that goes. Interesting to hear that you’re moving back to Romania; we’re also thinking bouts of fast-paced travel during school holidays (and not working while we do it) will be good for us. Since we don’t have any ‘assets/property’ I also feel like it’s important for us to save for the future, which we can’t really do until we have Andrew’s income as well.
PattiPosted at 16:48h, 17 February
Well… I’m cheering for you to land in Portugal and I’m sure I don’t have to explain why! 🙂
I’m interested to learn more about your thinking of the new niche blog. I have a similar goal for my old content. I look back at my old posts (4+ years ago) and I can’t believe how much I did not understand, but now do. You know that old saying if I knew then what I know now?! Now that I’ve got our site completely revamped, my next goal is to clean up old content. Once we get settled in the new house and I set up a desk, that’s where you’ll find me! 🙂
AmyPosted at 16:56h, 17 February
Thanks Patti 🙂 Yes, we’re thinking of starting a new niche site for people who also want to move to Portugal and making it more static and filled with guides and information about the process. Basically recording everything we learn along the way and then adding travel guides, etc. We’ll definitely try to make that more useful and SEO focused. I feel the same as you about our old content, doing that audit of our old posts was so illuminating! Once you’re set up in your new place we should chat about that, at the moment we’re just trying to figure out how to revamp the old posts, not really sure what we’re doing yet!
Louisa KlimentosPosted at 12:20h, 25 February
Best of luck in Portugal I am sure that everything is going to work out well for you and Andrew To me ,Amie you are the best Free Lance writer in the worldEnloy the rest of Columbia I hope to see you back in New Zealand and Australia some day love Louisa
AmyPosted at 15:44h, 01 March
Thanks so much Louisa, that’s really sweet 🙂 We’re hoping that Portugal will be a great base for us, but we’ll never stop exploring. Hopefully we’ll be back in New Zealand and Australia one day!
FarenexusPosted at 09:19h, 07 March
Great post get to know so many things about your traveling experience and even how to make money online while we are traveling. you are right while we do work online we have to work very hard and consistently it takes a lot of efforts. Great work. keep it up, guys.
AmyPosted at 17:38h, 07 March
Thanks for reading and commenting, this lifestyle takes a lot work and risks but is totally worth it!
Robyn ArchardPosted at 22:36h, 20 March
Thanks for this super honest and informative blog. A great read for me whilst I’m considering being a digital nomad! On the practical side of things, do you normally work through an agency like people per hour and how do taxes work? Thanks again – Robyn 🙂
AmyPosted at 15:01h, 22 March
Hi Robyn, glad you find the article useful. I actually work for several content agencies in the UK and have some independent clients such as travel apps, adventure sports companies and tour companies. I’d really recommend checking out creativerevolt.com for tips on how to get started with freelance writing (if writing is what you’re interested in). I did use Upwork for a while to get started, but found the rates weren’t the best. Depending on what kind of work you do, I’d recommend setting up your own website/portfolio and pitching to relevant clients. For tax, I’m registered as a sole trader in the UK and submit a tax return every year.
Ynah ClairePosted at 07:39h, 21 March
I’ve always found digital nomads utterly fascinating. I can’t bring myself to imagine myself working and traveling at the same time. It seems like an interesting idea though, I just don’t know if it is for me.
I work freelance too and I can’t help but worry what if I lose an online gig and get stuck in a faraway place. That’s scary! It definitely takes guts and a risk-taking calmness to pull this lifestyle off, so hats off to you Ma’am!
The closest I got to being a digital nomad is when I work in parks or coffee shops across Sydney. Sometimes though, I miss the buzzing busybodies in an office setting so I visit coworking spaces in Sydney like BlackDoorStudios. If you’re into photography too, this is DEFINITELY the place to go.
I wish you safety and happiness in all your travels. Will bookmark your blog so that I can get a glimpse of the exciting life you live! As for me, I’m fine for now staying put in the city. Hopefully, there will come a time that I can be confident enough in my ability to juggle, sustain, and attract clients so I can give this a try.
Your blog post is so helpful though, it sheds a light to the reality that financial stability is a must for the digital nomad life. The way you handle it all is very impressive and I admire you for that.
Thanks for the good read!
AmyPosted at 15:04h, 22 March
Thanks for reading, glad you found it interesting and good luck with your own freelance/nomadic journey 🙂