I got an unusual email the other day, and no, it wasn’t from a Nigerian prince seeking help to reclaim his rightful fortune or a medical company promising me a longer… life. A young man Carmen and I had met while staying at an Airbnb in Ho Chi Mihn City, Vietnam had gotten in touch to say hello – and ask how in the heck it is that we do what we do, picking our brains for digital nomad tips.
An email from out of the blue…
Lê Nguyễn Trần Huỳnh is the son of a lady who was our Airbnb host and we were able to share a soupy, crunchy traditional Vietnamese meal with him while he was in town to visit. He peppered us with questions, asking all about our strange travel/working lifestyle, pressing us for some digital nomad tips.
And no wonder.
Digital entrepreneurship is new to Vietnam and is taking off all over the country – a phenomenon Carmen and I covered in our article for The Australian newspaper – Switched On In Saigon.
It seems that Huynh is now thinking of following in our footsteps, or at least treading on part of the same path as we are. He shared our story with many of his friends, and now they want in on the action too! So they all got together and sent a list of questions to us, seeking advice.
It was very flattering and quite an honour, and I gave as good an answer to each question as I could – which he then translated to Vietnamese and shared with his mates! And judging by all of the comments he got, there was a very good response.
Well, I’m happy to share the original response now. Who knows – maybe these digital nomad tips will light a fire for someone else!
Email response of digital nomad tips to Huynh
Why, how and when did you decide to quit your job and start your trips around the world?
Carmen and I both worked as professional journalists in Australia and then in the UK. Despite success we weren’t happy – in the sense that though we enjoyed the jobs and the challenges, we both felt doubtful about where it was leading. Promotions, more salary etc. – the normal and usual routes ahead didn’t seem appealing. Being honest with ourselves, we wanted to be our own bosses – to pursue our own goals, not those of a person higher than us in the hierarchy.
How do you earn money by sharing experiences of travelling? What are your products that you can sell for others? What are the results?
Feeling that we needed to make a change, travel blogging and travel writing and copywriting was the answer – our blog Double-Barrelled Travel for the fun, creative expression and our copywriting business Red Platypus to keep the bills paid. Nose to the grindstone, head to the stars. Do what you want. We make money through using our professional skills as journalists – copywriting and travel writing – and have fun with the rest.
When we quit our jobs we did it with a lot of experience behind us, contacts and relationships in our favour and money in the bank saved from several years of graft. This is key – we left with a sizeable amount in the account that allowed us the initial freedom of travelling and experimenting. We found our feet on the road as digital nomads without feeling financial pressure. Then, when work started to come in, we built on that nest egg, saving what we could and spending the rest on life. We need US$3,000 a month to live on between two people. That’s quite doable, and truth be told we could cut that down much further!
That said, we live long term in places that are good value for money and watch our spending carefully. We used budget apps, always look for cheap tickets and use our blog to get contra deals for travel experiences and accommodations – a review or write up in exchange for entry, etc.
That’s why we use Airbnb as well – it’s cheaper and also brilliant as a travel experience. Staying with your Mum showed us a local side of HCMC that we would never had had in a hotel in the centre. Travelling slowly and purposefully allows us to meet people and eat local food – that’s the best!
What are the difficulties and challenges you face and how do you deal with them?
Challenge wise it can be hard to make the money sometimes. As freelancers, there are always fat times and skinny times. But as long as you always hustle and pitch ideas and try, things will develop in your favour. Of all the digital nomad tips I could give, that one is key – be persistent and never give up.
For work, there are several streams – it’s important to have multiple income sources. We have regular clients who we do writing work for, we pitch for jobs through websites like Copify and Upwork and then get approaches from clients through our website. In addition, we pitch travel stories such as the yarn we did on Saigon to The Australian, which pay quite well. Finally, we work on producing e-books and paid articles through the travel blog. To the side of this, we are also working on creative projects and other long term projects.
As writers, we have a skill set that’s in demand and we use our contacts and portfolio of work to attract paid work. That’s key – identify why you can do and get paid for. Computer programming? Photography? Excel spreadsheeting? Location independent work requires a bit of creativity and ingenuity, but you can do it!
Any other notes and digital nomad tips for creating a business while traveling?
If you’re thinking of doing this our best advice amongst all these digital nomad tips is pretty straightforward. Save up as much cash as you possibly can to create a safety buffer that you can build upon when your work starts to flow. Head to cheap places where people like you are working – we have been to Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand and Ubud, Bali where there is a huge start up/digital nomad scene (it’s also why we came to HCMC). Being with likeminded people will fire your imagination and may even open up collaborative opportunities. There are always cool people who want to help or whom you can help – there’s power in connections.
Finally, if you or any of your friends want to get on this path, it’s not only extremely possible; it’s your duty! We live in extraordinary times where the power of the Internet is only just starting to stir. Connecting people, providing services, and benefits – all of this is really taking off all over the world, and though it may seem to be extremely new (especially to older people who just want us all to have a safe job!) I actually think this new wave is older than we think.
Ever since people lived in caves there have been times like this – rapid acceleration through technology or opportunity. Think of the settlers who sailed across the seas to create the USA and Australia – your own ancestors in Vietnam who settled the south and built your city. They all did something new, something risky, and created something wonderful.
As a young person, the opportunity to do big things is in your hands in a way that’s barely believable to someone even ten years ago! So go for it – there’s no failure if you give it a red hot go. As Theodore Roosevelt once said:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.