I wrote this post about 6 weeks ago, shortly after l had attended my
first conference. It has been taken me this long to decide to publish it
because l know it will ruffle some feathers. You know what though?
C’est la vie! I have been blogging for about a year and a half now. In
this time, l have seen numerous travel blogs start up, then flounder. It
seems everywhere l look, there are bloggers and other digital nomads
trying to sell the dream. “Ditch your boring lifestyle and 9-5 job, join
the rest of your tribe in exotic far flung places like Thailand, Spain
and South Africa”. Images of sun tanned bodies lying on beaches,
cocktail at the ready confronts you at every turn, making you feel so
incompetent and constantly questioning yourself. What are you doing
wrong? After all, these are people your age who have figured things out.
It all sounds so lovely. Yes! you say to yourself, l can do it too. I
am giving my two week notice. Hello World, here l come!!!!
Not so fast! Before you pull the plug and do something you might regret, you need to consider a few things. Check out the sources of all these wonderful articles. Reading through a lot of these blogs, a familiar pattern starts to evolve. Read between the lines, and it gets even more telling. I will list some of the ways you are encouraged to make your living online.
While l have no doubt that is indeed possible, it is important to remember that only a chosen few actually make it to the point of seriously monetizing their blog and making enough to live entirely off its proceeds. Sure, you can do the Adsense, Amazon and other affiliate links, but are your commissions enough to live on? Enough to rent an apartment, pay for your utilities, food and other expenses that accrue? More than likely, the answer will be a resounding NO! You know how a lot of the top-tier bloggers make money? By selling the “make money online” dream. In other words, it’s a fancy name for pyramid scheme. A typical example:
Jane is a top blogger, with great social media numbers. She writes awe-inspiring articles about how she can afford to travel based solely on the money derived from her blog. She talks about all the paid press trips that she gets. Complimentary hotel stays, meals included! Intriguing right? Of course it is, who wouldn’t want to know her secret? To find out that secret, all you have to do is pay $400 for her course, and before you know it, you are on your way to the good life. $400 seems like a reasonable price to pay for such wonderful knowledge, so you buy it. At the end of it all, you discover the secret is to start a blog, and…wait for it….get others to buy your “make money online” package. Sell a few of those monthly, and you too can make a good living. It doesn’t take a genius to have a blog nowadays, everybody and their mother has one. How do you stand out from the pack? Sounds familiar doesn’t it? It’s like when your friends try to rope you into buying whatever crap they are shilling, electricity, candles etc. You only make money by pulling in others. It doesn’t sound like a great plan to me.
This is another one you see with regular frequency. Make money with your awesome photography they say. As someone married to a professional photographer, l can tell you right now. Forget about it :-). It’s difficult enough to make money as a photographer. My husband diversified into wedding photography having started out in fashion photography. These days, everyone with an iPhone or point and shoot camera considers themselves expert photographers. Few people want to pay for photography anymore, not even for weddings. I can’t tell you how many times he’s been asked to shoot for free in exchange for exposure! If only exposure could pay the bills, we would be golden. The only exposure you would get would be other bums looking for free photography as well. They might tell you that stock photography is where it’s at. That may be true, but you would definitely need a gazillion great pictures in your library to make money enough to live on. You usually make just a few cents for each image. Figure out how many you’d need to live on..yep..forget it. More than likely you would be told to invest a few dollars in a photography course that will soon have you making a living as a travel photographer. So you plunk down your $300 for the course. Guess what? most of the time, the ultimate secret is to sell your own photography course..same old, same old..
I do agree that this is possible. What l don’t agree about is the fact that it is touted as an easy thing to accomplish. Writing is hard, even for journalists. Getting paid for your writing is even harder. A lot of the established news outlets like Huffington Post do not pay bloggers, or pay very little. You are expected to provide content in exchange for..yep..dear old standby “exposure’. While l have no doubt that you will get lots of exposure, what does it really amount to? Think about how many times you read a great story on a news outlet. How many times do you then click on the author’s name (assuming it’s an embedded link) to check out more of their stuff?, then go on to buy what they were selling or consider hiring them if you could?. That’s what l thought. It looks great on the blogger’s resume, and it might be helpful when you pitch for an actual paying job. It certainly lends an air of credibility to the portfolio. Let’s face facts though. A lot of people are atrocious at writing. The cream eventually rises to the top. You need to figure out if you can hang in there long enough to make a good living at it. A lot of companies will offer you anywhere from $10-200 for an article (definitely more on the lower end though). How much do you have to hustle to make enough to live on? A lot of companies do not hesitate to hire from fiverr. Yes, they usually get what they pay for, but they are mostly looking for link juice, so l don’t think they dwell on the content too much. Holly is an example of someone who makes a great living working from home and traveling as often as she can.
The point of this article is not to discourage you from pursuing your dreams of living a nomadic lifestyle. It is to caution you from making decisions that you might regret later on in life. Life is short, yes..but it can also be long. Before you set off into the wild blue yonder, get your ducks in a row. It can still be done with careful planning. Here are some helpful tips:
Save, save, save, then save some more. Have enough to live on for at least 6 months, preferably a year. Things are going to be rough at first. You will be in foreign lands, having to learn a different language maybe. You need enough to exist on before your find your footing in your new home. It’s important that you have enough to fly or get yourself back home in case things do not work out. You might decide the grass is not greener after all. The way l think, grass is grass, water and feed yours, and it will be just as green as the one on the other side :-). The standard of living in the new country may be sub-par to what you are accustomed to. Moving to Chiang Mai from Boston for instance might cause a big culture shock, and no matter how many people tell you that you can live on $500 a month, it may not be fun living like a local. Maybe that $500 gets you a room in a house, and you have to share a bathroom with 10 other people in the building. If you have to severely compromise your standard of living just to exist, your life is more than likely going to suck big time! Check out Chris and Angela and see how to do things right..(just noticed the their tagline 🙂 ).
Use your vacation time to test out new places, new countries that you have considered living in. It may not give you a clear picture of what life would be like there, but it helps. Try and book a local apartment instead of a hotel and try cooking instead of eating out to get an idea of costs. Ask questions, try to make friends. Sometimes, just that is enough to help you decide. You might miss home and your loved ones so much, it might diminish your desire. On the other hand, it just might make you lust more for the digital nomad life, which is a good thing.
Look into the kinds of exchange programs that are accessible to you. Perhaps it’s a language exchange program from your University. This would make it possible to live in a different country as part of your education, and whilst there, you can secure a position that would enable you to return. This can be the start of your new life, and as you adjust, you can look for more opportunities, including a full digital nomad life.
Another popular way to ease into the life of the digital nomad is to get certified as an English teacher. You could then apply to teach English as a Foreign Language with your certificate in hand. This is a very popular way to eventually become a digital nomad. You would work during the school terms, leaving you with over 3 months of holiday a year. You might just decide that life is for you, or you can look for other ways to make money. Oneika is a perfect example of someone who combines teaching with her love for travel.
It is not unusual for bloggers to lead tours as a way to make money. What better way to see the world and you get to hang around a lot of cool people too . Claus does this very well !. You could also consider jobs like airline steward or stewardess or maybe work on a cruise ship. You get to go places and be paid for it as well. These are all doable things that can free you up to see the world at your own pace without all the stress that comes with being a digital nomad. Joining the military service is another way to serve your country and travel. That is how Erick started out, and is now well on his way to being the first African American to travel to every country.
I see so many younger people getting seduced by this glorified dream. One thing that everybody kind of forgets is the security that comes with a regular paycheck. The health coverage, and most importantly… working enough to earn full Social Security points. In order to qualify for full social security benefits, anyone born after 1929 needs a total of at least 10 years of work to qualify. You can earn up to 4 points a year if you work full time. Obviously working less hours will take more years. Call me crazy, but l think anyone who considers a digital nomadic lifestyle should seriously consider working full time for 10 years. This will give you a great foundation. You will also have the 40 points necessary to qualify for full benefits. Forget all that if you have rich parents or have a hefty inheritance (don’t we all wish!).
– You would have money saved.
– You would have a better idea what you can offer as a freelancer with your experience.
– You would have hopefully contributed to your 401k retirement plan during your working years, then let it simmer till retirement.
Let’s assume at 28, you get a job that pays $40,000 a year. Along with your company match, your total contribution is 10%, so
$4,000 x 10 years is $40,000 total saved in the 401k plan.
Assuming you leave it untouched, and do not contribute another penny towards it, you would have a projected balance of $192,893.84 at the age of 65! Combine that with your fully accrued Social Security benefits (roughly $1700.00 monthly), and l think you would be in a much better situation that most of the country with a total payout of just over $3,000 per month total between the two. Sure, people say Social Security might not be around then, but l choose to be optimistic!
Just think, in the above scenario, working the ten years after college would put you at the ripe old age of about 35! It’s almost a perfect age to be a digital nomad. There is a calmness about you, knowing that at least part of your future is secured. At that age, you also know yourself much better. You would still be in the prime of your life, not the traditional picture of a 65 year old looking to travel the world after retirement, and in poor health.
This is where you have revenue coming in monthly. For instance, you might live off dividends from a stock portfolio, or perhaps rental property income that covers your monthly expenses and then some. We fall into this category. Of course, this requires prior planning and a lot of hard work. There is a whole community that is geared towards reaching financial independence at an early age so as to be able to do what you please, including travel. Jed and his family bucked the trend, and are now living in Spain, waking up daily to the view of the Alhambra with this strategy. Frank and Lissette do a wonderful combination lifestyle.
In conclusion, l would like you to know that there is absolutely nothing wrong with working 9-5 and loving the life that you live. The important part is to be happy and fulfilled. A lot of people love their jobs. A lot of people like us have done, and lived to tell the tale.. :-). Most importantly, there is a peace of mind knowing that, more often than not, when you leave work, you are done for the day. You can go home, relax and know that the time is yours until the next work day. A digital nomad usually has to hustle, sometimes seven days a week. More than likely, no hustle, no money. You are basically a one man/woman operation. Emails, social media, pitching, writing, and a whole host of other things. It all begins and ends with you. That is usually a recipe for a burnout. It is a rare kind of person that can do that..day in, day out. For years, because, lets face it, only a few will make it that far. Think carefully before you quit your job, your good job for a life of uncertainty.
So, the next time you see the martini on the beach, the selfie in paradise and are encouraged to quit your job, take a hard look between the lines. It’s not all sun and fun, there is usually the scramble to find a bed for the night, the stress, the tears, the frustration, the dollar menu lunches, not to mention the loneliness. Remember, misery loves company :-). Get your ducks in a row and the world can be your oyster :-). Do not quit your job till you’re good and ready. Start off digital nomad life as a passion project, not to make money in 2 months. Perseverance, a lot of hard work, and time..those are the secrets.
What do you think of this advice? Am l being too harsh? Should l encourage people to follow their dreams as soon as they can, and throw caution to the wind? Have you quit your job to become a digital nomad? If you did, has it been as exciting and fulfilling as you thought? Would you encourage others to do the same? Perhaps l am just an old fuddy duddy :-).
Originally published at nextbiteoflife.com