How my part-time passion became a full-time digital nomad lifestyle
Want to live the digital nomad lifestyle? Learn how I used my passion for writing to gain location-independence, plus all you need to know about living your best nomadic life.
I wrote my first short story when I was seven years old.
I remember very clearly sitting at the gigantic desktop computer in my second grade classroom, typing the story of "The Boy Who Lost His Hat" (give me a break, I was only seven) while my classmates all played outside at recess.
I was lucky to have people like my second grade teacher, Mrs. Tillman, in my life. She believed in my ability to become a best-selling author one day, and not just in that obligatory way that every kid's mom believes in their ability to become rich and famous.
Mrs. Tillman advocated for me. She printed out my crappy story about the boy who lost his hat, made copies and distributed them around the school. She even stapled the copies on the edges to make them feel more like a proper novel, which was basically the nicest thing anyone had ever done for me.
I still have a copy of "The Boy Who Lost His Hat", complete with the hand-illustrated cover depicting a hat flying in the wind and a note on the back from Mrs. Tillman reminding me to always follow my dreams, telling me that I was extraordinary.
These days I write more non-fiction than anything and my bank account will be the first to confirm that I haven't yet made the bestseller list, but I am still encouraged by Mrs. Tillman's kind words.
In the years since I was a little girl in Mrs. Tillman's class my passion for writing has remained and I've discovered another passion: travel.
That's why when the phrase "digital nomad" began popping up everywhere, I was, to say the least, intrigued.
So, what exactly is a digital nomad?
At its most basic, a digital nomad is someone who travels frequently, with no set home base, and works remotely to support their lifestyle.
There are a whole slew of jobs available to digital nomads, from freelance writer to graphic designer to virtual assistant, but the job itself is not so important as the fact that there is no office where the digital nomad is expected to show up on a daily basis, giving them the freedom to work from anywhere with a WiFi connection.
The prospect of combining my two passions to create an entirely new lifestyle for myself was incredibly enticing, but it was also terrifying.
My friends, my family, my coworkers, they were all quick to point out everything that could possibly go wrong with my plan. But they weren't telling me anything that I hadn't already argued with myself about a million times. I had a renewed belief in my ability to turn my part-time passion of writing into a full-time career and my boring 9 to 5 life into the glamorous existence of a lifestyle blogger and digital nomad.
I was confident. I was determined. I was more excited about life than ever before. That is, until I quit my job and set out for my first destination and everything that could possibly go wrong did go wrong for the first three months. Spoiler alert: I'm still writing so I made it out alive, guys. No need to worry.
Let's just say that plan A didn't pan out, and neither did plans B, C, D, or E. I failed, a lot. For a while, I lived off ramen noodles and the free pancakes at the hostel where I was doing work exchange with Worldpackers. Just when things seemed to be looking up, there would be another setback.
At one point I took a food delivery job just to have some form of steady income, however meager, in addition to the sporadic paid writing gigs I could find. During my second day of delivering I ended up with a hole in one my tires which cost about two weeks' worth of deliveries to be replaced. I cried until I laughed and then I laughed until I cried, all the while raging at myself for being silly enough to believe that I could make it as a writer.
But you know what I didn't do?
I didn't let myself give up. Instead, I learned from my mistakes.
I pitched and blogged and promoted and researched until things began to turn around for me. And today I'm here to share with you how I did it so that hopefully you can avoid making the same mistakes.
So, without further ado, here are my best tips for turning your part-time passion into a full-time digital nomad lifestyle.
Before you set out to live your best life as a digital nomad, there are some things you can do to save yourself a whole lot of stress and worry later.
The 5 pros and 5 cons of the digital nomad lifestyle
First, you really need to take the time to carefully consider the pros and cons of being a digital nomad and be prepared to navigate the not-so-great aspects of the lifestyle.
After all, no one's life is perfect, regardless of what their Instagram feed suggests.
The pros of living the digital nomad lifestyle are pretty obvious, but let's review them for fun.
The culture, the history, the food, the sights, the sheer beauty of our Earth, being a digital nomad means being able to travel to your little heart's content and experience it all.
Yes, being a digital nomad means that you'll rarely have two days in a row that are exactly alike. No one wants to do the same thing every day, right?
3. Decreased cost of living
This one may be a surprise, but let's consider it. Depending on where you are currently based, one of your largest expenses is most likely rent and utilities, which you can say goodbye to as a digital nomad.
Yes, you will still need to find a place to lay your head at night, but through resources such as Worldpackers and bartering your skills for a place to stay, you can easily reduce your cost of living.
Especially if you set up shop in a country with a weaker currency than your home country's, you can live as a digital nomad for cheap AND spread the financial love to the local people.
You never know who you're going to meet on a plane or at a train station or in a hostel, and there is value in this alone. So many of the opportunities that have come my way since I started this journey have come from striking up a conversation with a random stranger.
5. Personal growth
This lifestyle has brought me irreplaceable life lessons and adventures as well as a broadened world view and a better understanding of my fellow mankind. For me, this has been the greatest reward.
Gosh, I just convinced myself to quit my job and become a digital nomad all over again. But before you dust off your passport and begin the heart-wrenching process of deciding which shoes you can realistically lug around the world and which ones are fated to end up at your local Goodwill, you need to hear the other side, too.
Here are some cons of the digital nomad lifestyle:
1. Lack of security
The lifestyle brings with it an inherent set of risks. What if you struggle to find enough work to pay for your expenses? What if your laptop (and your entire work life) is stolen? What if there's a problem with your bank?
These concerns come with traveling of any kind, but as a digital nomad, they will likely be at the forefront of your mind. Make sure that you have enough money saved to handle any emergencies before you leave and never allow yourself to become lax about all the normal precautions against theft and safety.
2. Lack of benefits
While some companies offer opportunities to work remotely, most digital nomads work for themselves in a freelance setup, meaning it is completely up to you to plan for retirement, health insurance, and tax season.
3. Productivity will likely suffer
It's hard to pull yourself away from the beach to finish up that project with the approaching deadline or decline the invitation to go out with your new friends so that you can stay in and work, but sometimes you will have to. Not having set work hours or a set workspace can be a challenge to your productivity levels, and you will need to exercise a great amount of self-discipline to make this lifestyle work.
Sure, hopping from country to country can be incredible, but with no familiar home base to return to, the reality is that it can be really exhausting after a while. Making time to unwind and keeping self-care a priority is super important, especially without the built-in comforts of home.
Speaking of not having a familiar home base, you will also be missing your friends, family, pets, and every other thing you likely took comfort in in your old life.
You'll make new friends and you'll call your family once a week and you may even Skype your dog, but sometimes the loneliness will creep up on you and it can be really difficult to deal with.
Ask yourself what you hope to gain from the digital nomad lifestyle.
More simply put, what are your goals? Are you doing this for the money or is it the experience you value most? What are your financial goals as far as weekly, monthly, or yearly pay?
Having a clear vision of your goals, both personal and financial, will not only help you maintain motivation and focus professionally, but it will also help remind you why you took this chance in the first place should you ever begin questioning yourself in the future.
How to turn your part-time passion into a full-time digital nomad lifestyle
Develop your plan for finding work as a digital nomad/freelancer.
Beginning your freelance business is no easier than starting any other business. It's going to require time and a whole lot of hustle if you want to be successful as a freelancing digital nomad.
There are two primary ways you can find jobs as a freelancer, regardless of which industry you're looking to break into.
First, there are active ways to find jobs as a digital nomad. Especially in the beginning, you're sometimes going to have to actively seek out work. There are tons of online job boards for freelancers, including many that cater to a specific field. Here are just a few resources for general job boards:
The second type of active job seeking is the dreaded cold pitching. That is, finding a company, individual, or publication that you'd like to work with and pitching yourself and your work to them.
Admittedly, it can be tedious and discouraging at times, but it can also be a good source of your workload once you've mastered the technique.
Keep these tips in mind when cold pitching:
1. Avoid sending out mass emails
Most people will be able to tell that you've done so and it's not a good look for you.
2. Research the company or individual that you are pitching
Show them you've done your research, explain why you want to work with them, and demonstrate to them what you have to offer, whether that's a story idea, a design theme, etc.
If you are pitching to a company, do your homework and figure out the most relevant person to email with your pitch as opposed to a generic submissions form.
3. Direct them to your portfolio
Let your best work speak for you.
4. Keep it brief
The person you are contacting is likely busy. Keep it brief but intriguing to elicit more responses.
In your spare time, you should be working on passive job seeking.
Passive job seeking is all about marketing yourself and building your industry presence. If no one knows who you are then they can't hire you.
Effective networking takes a lot of time and thought, but it is crucial to your success as a freelancer. Here are some examples of things you can do to build your professional network:
- Join professional organizations
- Attend industry events
- Volunteer to judge competitions or trade shows
- Guest blog for other professionals in your field
- Teach workshops at local high schools or community colleges
- Be active in industry-related social media groups
- Have business cards and pass those things out like confetti
- Take courses on and spend time researching topics and trends related to your field
When I first set out on my digital nomad journey, I didn't have a clear view of my goals. All I wanted was to travel and to write. Those are perfectly respectable and reasonable desires, but without clear, specific goals and a concrete plan on how to achieve them, I was left feeling overwhelmed and aimless and my productivity suffered.
Now that I have a clearer picture of where I want to end up and what I need to do to get there, minor setbacks are just that minor setbacks — nothing more than bumps in the road along my way.
Despite the many struggles I experienced in the beginning, I have no regrets. I've learned so much about myself since I started this journey, and I wholeheartedly believe that I'm a better person for the experiences I've had as a digital nomad.
I could gush all day about how much I love this lifestyle, but I know you've got a lot of work to do so I'll just say this instead: those pros we talked about earlier? They're completely real and make all the cons worth it.
When I was struggling, I often found inspiration in the great Maya Angelou's words,
"You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated."
I know it seems daunting when you're first getting started, but once your efforts begin to pay off (and they will), I promise it will all be worth it!
As long as you believe in yourself, stay focused, put in the work, and never allow yourself to be defeated, then you, too, can turn your part-time passion into a full-time career and live the wonderfully rewarding lifestyle of a digital nomad!