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The freelance digital nomad lifestyle is a bit of a mystery to almost everyone. Most people haven’t even heard of digital nomads. Those who have heard of the people who live this unique work and travel lifestyle may not completely understand how they do what they do.
Digital nomad is a term used for someone who works online while traveling. Some digital nomads travel as much as they can to see as much of the world as possible, paying for their travels with online work they do along the way. Other digital nomads travel more slowly, choosing to stay for weeks or months in one location in order to get to know that place and focus on their online work.
Some people who choose the digital nomad lifestyle are self-employed freelancers while others are employees of a company.
This type of lifestyle gives you all sorts of insights and perspectives that you can’t get any other way. I asked 11 digital nomads – most of whom are freelancers – how they live their work and travel lifestyle.
Some shared specific advice about topics like time management and productivity, while others shared insight into what their digital nomad life is like in specific cities. Here is what they have to say.
How to Live the Freelance
Digital Nomad Lifestyle
Persistence over Perfection
By: Chantae Reden from Tropical Go
I’m a full-time travel writer, and balancing work and play is an ever-present challenge.
As a digital nomad, you’re often caught watching people on holiday enjoying themselves as you search for a café with reliable wifi and an outlet. At the same time, you’ll often see friends and family at home rise in the ranks of their careers, marking off traditional milestones.
For me, this creates an insecurity of wondering if I’m making the most of a destination while simultaneously wondering if I should be working harder. This was especially true when writing my guidebook to Bali and Lombok.
To stay motivated, I’ve learned to value persistence above all other traits when it comes to living this lifestyle. While I once used to feel gutted at getting a rejection in response to a story idea, I now see it as a task to tick off the to-do list before moving forward.
If I pitch a story enough times, fine-tuning the idea after each rejection, it will eventually be accepted. Perfection is no longer my goal–persisting through all circumstances is.
This persistence mindset works for any form of business and is especially important for digital nomads who might not have coworkers or a large team to lean on. Very few people will start a career without experiencing failures or mass rejection. If you can persist through these failures and rejections, you will be able to fine-tune your technique, making you stronger than your competitors.
Set a Budget
And Stick To It!
By Emma Healey from Mum’s Money
Covering your costs as a freelancer or contractor can be a struggle, as income fluctuates and it’s often feast or famine when it comes to work. Combined with travel, managing your money as a digital nomad can be next-level stressful.
For this reason I always set a minimum income budget. This means I have a minimum amount I know I can earn, and I base my budget around this amount.
Whilst this can be a challenge if you are travelling fast – and therefore spending more – budgeting in this manner does give you the flexibility to travel slow or relocate to a less-expensive area to reduce your monthly costs.
It also means if you’re able to keep your costs down and earn above what you need, you can splurge on travel experiences.
Having enough in savings to cover your first few months as a digital nomad will allow you to test out this budgeting strategy and find your feet as you learn to budget with a variable income.
Make sure you review your budget at least monthly to see how you’re tracking. It might seem like hard work, but it’s so worth investing the time into setting up a budget system for your digital nomad lifestyle so you stay on the road as long as you want.
Digital Nomad Lifestyle in Greece
By Melissa Douglas of High Heels and a Backpack
Greece is a particularly good choice if you are just starting out as a digital nomad. Moving to Greece enables you to enjoy living costs that are much cheaper than the majority of European cities.
It’s estimated that the cost of living in Athens is as much as 30% lower than that that is found elsewhere. If you venture out to places like Thessaloniki, Ioannina, or “off the beaten path” Greek islands, the costs reduce even further.
It’s possible to find studio apartments in Athens and Thessaloniki for as little as €250 a month, and one-bedroom apartments in Athens from €500 a month with bills included.
There is obviously more to living in Greece than the prices. However, the wonderful thing about the lower cost of living is that even if you’re still growing your client base or your income isn’t quite where you’d like it to be, you can easily live off an income of €1000 a month or lower.
Greeks are known for being friendly and hospitable. There are many “Expats in Greece” Meetup Events, Facebook Groups, and InterNations events that are held regularly so it is very easy to meet other like-minded people.
By Ashley Winder from Impact Winder
As digital nomads, one of our best pieces of advice is to simply travel slowly.
Don’t try and fit five big cities into a two-week trip. Travel time can sneak up on you without you realizing it. Everything from ticket lines and boarding processes to train delays and language barriers, all of these factors can eat up the limited time you have at your newest destination.
Instead, stay weeks or even months at your destination of choice. You can work your regular hours while leaving your afternoons and evenings free to explore your new town.
Slow travel is an incredible way to really get to know your new “home.” It also gives you the opportunity to immerse yourself in the local culture by meeting locals and attending events like festivals or concerts.
Slow travel means exactly that: your travel will be slowed down.
For example, a 3 day trip to Auckland might need to be spread over 7+ days so you can use your mornings or afternoons to see all the sites – a little at a time.
Don’t forget that your travel time between destinations can take time out of your working day, so it can be helpful to travel shorter distances or be prepared to work while en route.
Consistency + Good Internet
By Sam Fury of Survival Fitness Plan
I have found that one of the biggest keys to success (in almost everything in life) is consistency. That is, to do something towards your goal on a regular (preferably daily) basis. For me, the easiest way to apply this to my online business while traveling is to reserve set times every day to work.
Also, never rely on your accommodation’s internet, especially in less developed countries.
It is often too slow or just doesn’t work. Since you are only spending a few hours a day working, you need that time to be as productive as possible. To combat this, I always buy a local sim with data so I can use my phone as a hot spot if I need to. Also, be careful not to download any large files – save them for when you get good WiFi.
By Vicky Sosa of Buddy The Traveling Monkey
Striking a balance between work and travel can be tricky, but it’s not impossible. I signed up on a house sitting website, and for almost three years now I have been traveling all over the United States, and even internationally, without having to pay for accommodation.
I don’t get paid, but there are many benefits to house sitting. I save money because I have a kitchen and don’t have to eat out constantly. I also get to travel slow and like a local, which really allows me to get to know a place. I’ve also met a lot of great people and have made lifelong friends.
I do, however, still need money to pay for food, gas, car insurance, and my phone bill. For this I rely on my remote job with an insurance company and the occasional freelance writing gig. So by day I work remotely, but in the evenings and on the weekends I’m free to explore whatever city I’m currently in!
The Digital Nomad Lifestyle in Beijing
By Cee from Itz a Family Thing
Being a digital nomad doesn’t always mean you are your own boss. I work full-time in Human Resources Systems and Analytics for a hospital in San Diego, California while my family and I travel full time. It can be difficult to balance work and travel, so to make work/life balance more manageable, we decided to head to Asia (China, Thailand and Philippines).
We chose countries in Asia because the time difference allows me to work at night so I can spend the day exploring with my family. It is a lot easier than trying to work on the go during the day. Who wants to stop exploring to answer work calls or reply to emails?
What makes it even better is that our one-year-old is asleep, so I do not have to worry about background noise during phone calls or meetings. Schedules like this require good time management if you want to sleep. Making sure you get enough sleep before and after work is essential to work nights.
Create a Morning Routine
By Samantha Burmeister from 9 to 5 Nomad
When I first started freelancing, I had no boundaries with my time. I’d stay up until midnight working on a project, and loved the freedom of not having to set an alarm. However, I got worn out really quickly because I had no routines.
My goal when I became a freelancer was to have time freedom, but this wasn’t it!
I found that creating a morning routine gave me control over my schedule. To get started with a morning routine, introduce simple steps at first. For example, set an alarm, and promise yourself that you’ll drink a full glass of water before a specific time. Then, you can stack your habits and add things to your morning routine. You can add meditation, affirmations, dream journaling, or other activities to help you feel like you get your days started on the right foot!
Connect with Coffee Shop Culture
By Tayler Gill of Traveling Tayler
No matter where I’m visiting, I always enjoy working from a coffee shop. I typically try to stay four or more weeks in each destination, which gives me plenty of time to explore the local coffee culture.
To make sure I don’t waste time searching for a cafe to work from, I do plenty of online research ahead of time. I try to look for areas with a cluster of options so in case my first choice doesn’t work out, there is a backup nearby. Upon arrival, I’ll do a quick sweep of the location to search for any potential problems like the WiFi being down or there being no place to sit.
I like to set up my space to avoid distractions such as putting my phone away and putting in my headphones. On days I really struggle to focus, I may use a Pomodoro session or re-prioritize my task list to better suit my new environment.
Overall, I really enjoy making a point to work in different coffee shops as it’s a valuable way to learn about the culture, meeting interesting people, and it gives me a reason to see different areas of my temporary home.
Make Travel a Part of
By Manpreet Kaur from Hello Manpreet
I’m a freelance supply teacher and am fortunate enough to be able to choose which days I go in to schools and which days I use for personal projects. Though it sounds great, there can be times when it gets overwhelming.
I would usually be happy to accept work from schools Monday through Thursday and leave Friday free for myself to travel to areas within a short travel period. When I was based in London, I could typically do a weekend in Paris or even a longer weekend in New York.
My key advice to those moving into freelance work is definitely creating a schedule which you will find easy to follow. Try hard to not alter that schedule to a point where your travels or personal projects take a hit.
Digital Nomad Lifestyle
in Seoul, South Korea
By Marie from Be Marie Korea
I live in Seoul, and I consider myself a digital nomad as I’m not bound to this city. I just use it as a base to travel from.
It’s pretty easy to be a digital nomad in Seoul as there are so many free or affordable workspaces you can use if you don’t want to work from home. I run my own digital marketing agency. Working from a coffee shop is super convenient as many people do it and it is perfectly normal to stay in one cafe for a couple of hours without feeling like you have to leave. I can also work on my Seoul blog while there.
As many houses in Korea are rather small, many people study or work in cafes. If you find regular cafes too noisy, you can also decide to go to a study cafe or a coworking space. Coworking spaces in Seoul are super popular these days. Most spaces cost around $75 to $150 a month but give you use of all the equipment and facilities like meeting rooms and printers. Plus you get unlimited coffee, snacks and even beer!
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