A year ago I wrote this article about the lessons I’ve learned in the first twelve months of being a “digital nomad“. It’s become one of our most popular articles on Travelettes, it served as the basis for a number of talks I’ve given on the subject and it was recently featured in an article in Germany’s national newspaper Der Spiegel (here in German). It’s now been two years since I changed careers, left my life in London behind and embarked on a life of permanent travel.
I still regularly receive emails from people asking me for more details about how I make it work as a digital nomad, but the question I am asked most often, unfortunately, is not one I can answer because, of course, people want me to tell them “How can I have your lifestyle?”
I honestly thought I’d painted a very honest picture of how digital nomading is not a holiday; I still work more hours and more weekends than I did as a full-time employee. I am always restricted where I can travel because of needing an internet connection and I was brutally frank about how my partner and I make work our priority, not travel. This couldn’t sound less like a holiday, right? Yet people were still keen to find out more and people still want to experience it for themselves. Not that I can blame them, the benefits are amazing. In the last twelve months I’ve snowboarded in Finnish Lapland, ate home-made tagine every night for five weeks in Morocco, lived by the sea in Brighton, UK, climbed up volcanoes in Iceland and I’m now back riding my bike in my beloved Amsterdam.
It hasn’t been a bad year for work either; my freelance work is still growing and I also recently published my first collection of short stories inspired by travel.
So, I’m having my cake and eating it, right? Yes and no. Yes, I’ve had a great year but no, there’s not been enough cake. Let’s face it, there’s never enough cake! But there have been many more lessons learned and so I thought it was worth sharing a few more of them with you.
* Do lots of things… a lot. (And stay open-minded)
I’ve touched on this in last year’s post perhaps it wasn’t clear enough. Travelling AND building a location independent lifestyle is hard work. I have multiple income streams; freelance travel writing and copywriting, unrelated freelance work as a corporate researcher and in the last twelve months I have made money as a self-published author, blogger and consultant, offering people bespoke advice on how to improve their freelance careers. This doesn’t include the other “random” jobs I do like proofreading, copy-editing and social media management. I hope this paints a more realistic picture of how to make ends meet, I don’t just do one job or offer one service to clients. I do a lot of different things and this takes a lot of time.
In the future I hope that this will change, but when you’re first starting out as a freelancer, particularly one who hopes to be location-independent, you may need to be open to doing a number of different jobs in order to earn the amounts of money you’d like.
* Take it slow
At the beginning of this year we covered six countries in five weeks. It was brilliant, fascinating and exciting. But it was also exhausting, rushed and draining. My work suffered, my travel experience was diluted and we spent a lot of money to feel tired and grouchy on planes, trains and buses. We then spent five weeks in one place – a remote villa on the outskirts of Marrakech.
We realised in those ten weeks that we prefer to be in one place for at least a few weeks, if only to keep our work on track, to keep our energy levels up and to feel like we’re enjoying the travel too. Don’t be too ambitious with your expectations of how much travel you can do.
* Profit isn’t all about money
Leading on from this is my new understanding that the profitability of a location independent lifestyle should never be measured in money. Of course, it’s a big factor but the success of this lifestyle is not measured in how much money you spend and save but how happy and healthy you are. In fact, perhaps that should be everyone’s way to measure a good life?
* Think like an entrepreneur
What I’ve learned in the last year as I embarked on a new venture, that of writing and self-publishing fiction, I’ve realised that any freelancer – travelling or otherwise – has to think like an entrepreneur. After all, if you’re going to work for yourself wouldn’t you want your boss to be a smart, forward-thinking innovative business leader? That’s you by the way. You have to make shrewd opinions and you have to take leaps of faith into unknown territories where rejection is always just around the corner. You are one woman (or man) business and you should be proud of this. And don’t be afraid of failure. As Winston Churchill said, “Success is walking from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”
* It’s okay to go home…
In the same way that travellers forget their own country is a place to be explored and adored, I also forgot the benefits of living in my home country, the UK. Aside from the regular cuddles with my friends, family and baby nephew, I got to eat foods I’d missed for a year and see familiar places with fresh eyes.
* It doesn’t have to be this hard
My boyfriend and I are nerds. I’m a writer and he’s a web developer. If we have babies they will be doomed to have long-thing typing fingers and will learn to write before they can walk. But that’s not the point I want to make. The point I’m trying to make is that we want to work this hard because we both have professional goals we want to meet… and we enjoy working! It follows, therefore that you don’t have to work this many hours, you don’t have to try and make a career as a digital nomad. You can easily just make a living and make enough money to fulfil your travel goals. You can take full advantage of your freedom to live in the cheapest corners of the world and you don’t need to make thousands in order to live a good life and you can easily reduce your stress by doing quick and easy jobs rather than trying to build a business with returning clients. You really can keep it as simple as you want.
* Nothing lasts forever
So if this is really want you want to do, start doing it. Now.
I am not ashamed to say that when this lifestyle stops working for us, we’ll stop and settle down in one place to have our nerdy, book-loving kids.
I look forward to updating you next year!
I’d now like to open this topic up to you. Do you live a location-independent lifestyle? Would you call yourself a “digital nomad”? Would you like to live this lifestyle? What advice would you give or what would you like to know. I’ll do my best to answer your questions as quickly as I can.
This post was written by Frankie Thompson who was a Travelette from 2012 – 2015. Originally from London, UK, Frankie was nomadic for several years before settling in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, where she lives with her Australian partner and baby boy. She spends her time buying vintage dresses, riding a rusty old bike around the canals and writing books inspired by her travels. Frankie blogs about travel, writing and motherhood at As the Bird flies blog.Tweet