There are plenty of resources out there from people who consider themselves to be successful ‘digital nomads’ and will happily retrospectively tell you how they achieved their success. What there are a lot less of, are people blogging about their journey to become digital nomads as it happens, documenting the false-starts and failures along the way. That is what we are doing.
For those who are interested, read on. For those who just want to see some pretty photos and read about our adventures, try this post about the start of our travels in mainland Mexico.
If you have heard the term ‘digital nomads’ before, you already have a fair idea of the direction this post will be heading. If you haven’t, you are probably marvelling over what a creative headline we have come up with. After such gems as ‘Four days on a beach’ or ‘No sleep ’til Brooklyn‘ you may even think we are finally getting on track with our blog post titles.
In short, for those who haven’t heard the term before, ‘digital nomad’ describes someone who uses the magic of modern technology to allow them to work from wherever they happen/want to be that particular week. It sounds like a pretty sweet lifestyle.
When we first started planning this trip, it was going to be a very long holiday, we would save for three years, then travel for 18 months. (This also falls into the category of a pretty sweet lifestyle).
Then when Emma discussed this trip with her bosses, they mentioned maybe doing some work on the road.
Cool, beer money.
As we started to read about other people who were taking extended trips like the one we were planning, we read more and more about this ‘digital nomad’ lifestyle. It sounded dangerously like something we had started to consider when Emma realised that graphic design was something she could do from pretty much anywhere in the world—well, anywhere with a power outlet and maybe a little Wi-Fi.
But we couldn’t get away from the initial idea of a break. A break from the 9 to 5. Time to reset our lives, to enjoy just doing what we wanted to do. To explore for the sake of exploring, to wake up in the morning with no idea what we were going to do that day. No idea where we were going to sleep. Days without jobs, tasks, schedules, appointments, calendars or often even a clock.
So that is how our adventure started, we drove around the USA and much of Mexico and did just that. We saw amazing things, met amazing people, had amazing experiences… it was, well… amazing.
However, we were travelling slowly, much more slowly that we had initially planned and budgeted for. We had estimated 18 months to get from Alaska to Argentina, hoping to stretch to 24 months if Emma picked up a little work on the side.
But here we find ourselves eleven months in to our travels. Still in Mexico. Not Panama. Not Colombia, but Mexico. It’s not like we’ve been doing nothing, we’ve already driven over 32,000 miles—that’s longer than the actual length of the PanAmerican Highway. It is just that everywhere has been much bigger, much grander and much more interesting than we had ever imagined. The measly two months we had expected to spend in Mexico was entirely used up on the Baja Peninsula. There is so much more to see than time will ever allow.
We have reached a point in our travels where our options are: earn some money on the road, or go home and get a job for a year to allow us to complete our journey to Argentina at the pace we enjoy. We are trying the first, but preparing for the second as a distinct possibility.
We’re not offering some ‘5 step guide to succeeding as a digital nomad‘ here because we don’t even know if we will succeed. In fact, where aren’t even 100% sure what success will look like. Realistically, this could well be the first step down the road towards miserable failure. But what we do know is that we might as well give it a go.
When you read online about other people’s success stories, they gleefully list the ways they have made money to sustain their travels. So here, let us list the ways we have not really made any money as yet:
We have a tiny wee Google ad down the bottom of our blog’s side bar. Nobody clicks it. It has never made any money. I’m not even sure why we have it there. It is pretty pointless. I think hundreds of people actually have to click it for us to even make a few cents. Not sure why we are bothering with that one.
Buy us a beer
We added a ‘fuel us or fuel our ride’ button to the side bar of our blog. Nobody has had the benevolent urge to donate to our travels. Fair enough too, everyone has their own trips to save for and we aren’t even up to date with our blog. We aren’t really expecting this to be a big money earner, but it is there. So that’s cool.
We have recently added Amazon affiliate links to our blog. These links mean that if someone follows the link and then buys any product off Amazon we get a small percentage of Amazon’s profit from their sale.
In all fairness, we have theoretically made some money off this. Not really, because we are still a long way from the payment threshold that we need to reach before Amazon will cut us a check. So we haven’t actually received any money yet. We are $6 of the way towards our first hundred. That could buy some tacos. Some kind souls who read our gear review about some top-notch water purifying drink bottles have followed the links. Mostly followed by purchasing other products. (Their loss, they are actually pretty good drink bottles). (So if anyone wants to improve our success in this particular avenue, just click this Amazon link before you go browsing on Amazon.com and we might just make a few cents off any orders you place.
Digital nomadsEventually. If we ever reach the payment threshold.
Either way, we have plenty of gear to review, it has all been put through its paces in the last eleven months. Gear reviews are not only a good community service for other travellers, but who knows, could lead to another $6 or $7 on Amazon.com.
We did some research into other affiliate marketing earlier in the trip, but decided it all sounded pretty scammy. Working with Amazon and being upfront about the affiliate links on your site feels much less creepy.
Speaking of affiliate links, we just added one in the side bar of the blog to our new web hosts. No one has clicked that yet, but we do genuinely recommend SiteGround if you are looking for a good quality and affordable web hosting solution. (That is an affiliate link, but they have actually been great, their customer service has been spot on and everything has gone very smoothly.)
Doing the same thing as before
Emma has picked up a bit of work for her old job. This has actually earned us real money. Which we have spent on frivolous things like going to Cuba (more on that as we catch up on our blog posts).
This isn’t necessarily a sustainable step towards becoming a digital nomad, but it is certainly the easiest—doing something familiar, working with familiar people. This is the least challenging option on the list that has produced the best results so far. Thanks MZEE!
This hasn’t been a roaring success so far. There are a lot of good photographers out there, many are more talented than us and far better at promoting themselves as well. It is very time-consuming uploading images to online stock libraries and art websites. We’re still a long way from reaching the payment threshold on any of these with only very small portfolios online.
We aren’t sure this one is going to go anywhere, but we’ll keep giving it a go as time and Wi-Fi upload speeds allow. We did get paid for the online use of one photo, so at $60 this is our second biggest earner after Emma working for her old job.
We’ll update you on this one in the future and see if we have made it any further.
Emma recently signed up for an account at Elance. This is an online network to match freelancers to potential employers around the world. We haven’t actually applied for any jobs yet, so we can’t really complain that we haven’t made any money of this one yet.
Emma has also signed up for an account with 99Designs a website where businesses upload their projects and graphic designers compete to win the project by submitting their designs. Signing up for an account doesn’t really constituted enough effort to win any of their online design challenges, so no money has been made here either. We aren’t convinced about this as an option as essentially, unless you win the competition, you are just working for free.
This is the big one. This is why we are writing this blog post now, this is the point when we are really trying to generate a bit of income. Emma has been working as a graphic/interactive designer for quite a few years now, Ben has been quietly teaching himself to create web pages in this time. With our powers combined, the first step was getting together a portfolio and website to market our skills. Finally having a graphic and web design portfolio online feels like the first big, genuine step towards taking this idea of becoming digital nomads seriously.
We’re putting ourselves out there, we’ve put a lot of time and enthusiasm into getting this site off the ground. Now we need to begin the process of advertising, promoting, searching for clients. All the important ‘business-y’ things that we’d rather not think about. When we are not adventuring, we’d both rather just sit in front of the computer and create beautiful things. We’re hoping this is the project that we’ll be able to write more on in future blog posts. However at this point. Earnings are exactly zero dollars.
Anyone who wants to check it out, you can do so at www.roofdogmedia.com
Most blog posts about becoming digital nomads seem to be written by people who have it sorted. The posts are accompanied by photos of trendy-looking people working in nice air-conditioned rooms with spectacular views over lush tropical locations.
Just so you know, we’re not starting out like that. It isn’t that glamorous. Sure there have been one or two places where we have found somewhere nice to set up our computers. The rooftop of a hostel, a tidy campground. But the fact of the matter is, we live in a tent on the roof of a car. When we work in tropical heat. It is well, tropically hot. When we are up in the mountains, it can be freezing cold—even in Mexico. It wasn’t that long ago that the tent iced up on the inside.
Aside from sitting in the front seats of the car with it running, we have no heating, we have no air-con. The mosquitoes are biting. Bugs are crawling into our keyboard—the real ones, with six plus legs, not the virtual ones. Not sure that AppleCare will cover that one…
Sometimes we are sick, tired, hungry, lost and desperately missing running water. But when we are done chipping away at our projects for the day, we are somewhere new, somewhere we haven’t explored. There are vast, empty beaches, ancient ruins, rugged mountains and bustling markets to explore, so it isn’t all doom and gloom.
We aren’t starting with a nice office and a solid business plan, we have a tent and some ideas. Some ideas aren’t to make money, some are just projects we’ve been wanting to do and now seems like the right time to make a start on them.
So stay tuned for future updates—and the rest of our story in Mexico. If this blog post wasn’t to your taste, don’t worry, there are plenty more photos and misadventures to come from our time in Mexico!
Congrats Emma! Your work is awesome. We’ll help get get the word out.
This is awesome. A business adventure! You guys have the goods, inside and online, the rest will follow.
I LOVE this because we feel the same (you’re just ahead of us in miles and projects started on) and because at one time, even those well-established digital nomads were all in the same place…. struggling to find a work/life balance that is sustainable in more way than one. Best luck to you and know, at the very least, you ARE out there exploring the world and having a marvelous time at it. I think once you put it out there, the universe will provide opportunities you didn’t even know existed.
Yep, we can already tell that finding a balance is the next biggest challenge! Thanks Rhonda 🙂
Looking forward to your journey! I’m planning to head off to Chiang Mai next year after I save up some money and finish University (I’m a kiwi, too).
Here’s an idea regarding the money issue:
Check out yellow.co.nz. There are thousands of small businesses that still don’t have websites. A little bit of html knowledge on top of your web design skills could have simple, 3 page websites (home, about, services, etc) created in a day.
Start off cheap, then increase the price as you get a few sites under your belts.
Even the ‘cheap’ rates would surely help a lot.
As you probably know, the agencies don’t even bat an eye to those small businesses who’s budgets are.. well.. low.
Thanks for the suggestion, we’ve been working away, so need to add a Digital Nomads update post soon, but like your suggestion so we’ll be checking that out as an idea too! Safe travels for next year and enjoy Thailand, it’s an amazing place full of great food and friendly people!
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Still trying to figure this one out as well and a very timely read for me.
Now that we’ve had to return to the US for a second time, we considered settling down for a year to make money, then get back on the road: I was in tears (I know, boohoo poor Jacqui). So, we’re doing the “stick to what you know” plan.
Cameron’s wrenching at a mechanic shop as I write this and that means I have several dedicated weeks to work towards getting something up and running in earnest. Thanks for sharing your process; your site is beautiful btw, love your illustrations!
Thanks 🙂 Glad to hear we aren’t the only ones with no idea what we’re doing, but glad you’re giving it a go too, I suspect you’ll have no trouble getting something together! So far we’re still bumbling our way through staying on the road, so we hope to see you guys again when you make it back south.
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