I really debated about publishing this post. It made me nervous! Putting yourself out there is asking to be judged, but then again, you really shouldn’t care what other people think. So to hell with it – I’m proud of how far Dave and I have come.
Every morning I wake up and I am in complete control of the day that lies ahead.
Some mornings, I have one of the below conversations with Dave.
“Let’s hike into the Grand Canyon today.”
“Let’s work on that idea for a novel I’ve had for two years.”
“Okay!” (Dave has written two novels since we’ve been on the road.)
“Let’s get a hamburger and eat it in bed as we watch Breaking Bad.”
“Okay!” (Sometimes we feel lazy, we’re only normal!)
Sometimes I just have to pinch myself.
I mean, how did my life become one where I can choose to do as I please, while travelling the world and making money at the same time?
How we became digital nomads
The story begins a little over two years ago, in a tiny two-bedroomed flat in London. Dave and I packed our bags, said goodbye to our British friends – whom we’d made during our near five year stint of living in the UK – and travelled to North America.
What’d we have planned? A six month road trip through the US and Canada, before heading back to our home of Western Australia.
Two years and two months later, we’re still travelling. And we have also saved $40,000.
So how’d we do it?
Quitting our day jobs to travel the world
When we first left London, we had some savings that we estimated could last us for about eight months. We stashed our stuff in a storage unit, then the rough plan was to journey back to Australia, get 9 to 5 journalism jobs again and ‘settle down’.
Happily, life didn’t go to plan.
Six months in, we realised we relished the freedom of being able to get up each morning and do exactly as we pleased.
One thing we loved working on while we travelled was this blog. We could let our creativity out, while it also gave us an avenue to work on our writing. It made us realise that we couldn’t live a lifestyle of travel without having some sort of purpose behind it.
Around this time, half a year in to our travels, a former school friend of Dave’s contacted us. He knew we hadn’t been working for the past six months, but were we interested in doing some writing work for him?
And that’s how our freelancing business got started.
Shortly after, we stayed with a woman at her Airbnb in San Francisco. She ran a marketing company, and when we told her that we were former journalists, she asked if we’d like to do some writing work for her.
And bingo – we had our second client!
Saving money while we work as digital nomads
Over time, we have steadily built up our client base and now we make at least $6,000 a month, and in our more profitable months we’ve made up to $11,000.
We try and keep our spending to $3,000 a month, no matter where in the world we are, which means that we can put away at least $3,000 each month into our savings account.
This means we live off about $100 a day between the two of us. This includes our accommodation, transport, food and entertainment expenses like scuba diving and hiking trips.
It does exclude our flights though, which can get costly, and is why we try and stay in each place we visit for at least a month.
A hundred dollars a day to live off is by no means a fortune, but if anything, this life of travel has taught me that you don’t need a lot of money to live a fulfilling life.
In fact, some of the happiest people I’ve ever met have had seemingly little possessions, and yet they embrace each day with a huge smile on their face and no complaints.
Work harder, spend more
It seems that the more you earn, the more you spend, and interestingly the standard eight hour work day was actually designed to make you spend more. Think of it this way – the less time we have for leisure, the more we believe we have to spend during our time off to truly make the most of these moments.
So if you work less and have more leisure time, you end up spending less. You don’t get a dissatisfying feeling of fear that you’re ‘wasting’ time sitting in bed and reading a book rather than out in a bar drinking your weight in cocktails.
It makes me laugh when people criticise places like Cuba and Vietnam about its communist propaganda. We think it’s sad that they’re ‘brainwashed’.
But in the West we are continuously bombared with the message, ‘BUY MORE’. The only way we can possibly be sexy / successful / popular / get the man we want is to buy the newest dress / car / TV / lipstick. Is advertising not the most apt form of propaganda? We don’t even recognise it as such – that’s how effective it has been easing its way into our brains and everyday psyche.
The biggest ploy of all is that by purchasing things we are led to believe that we’re rich. When actually hoarding all of these unessential possessions is just making us poorer.
The things we really need – shelter (owning a home) and health insurance (I’m looking at you, USA) are so expensive now many can’t even afford the basics. But we still buy three items from H&M each week because we need to satisfy that instant gratification we believe comes from accumulating stuff.
Spending money on experiences is rewarding
For me, travel is the only thing I can buy that will make me richer, which is why most of our income goes on exploring the world.
Over time, we’ve seen our bank account balance grow to something that we’re proud of, and have worked hard for. But more important than that money is our newly found freedom.
You can’t put a price on freedom
Last night we Skyped one of our friends who recently moved to Sydney with her husband. “You should TOTALLY move to Sydney guys, you would love it here,” she gushed over the video cam.
“We do love Sydney,” Dave replied.
“We could go to a new cocktail bar every week!” she exclaimed. Tempting, very tempting…
But for some reason, this no longer excited me as it would’ve done a few years back. I want to go to a new city every month, forget the cocktail bars!
“And you could make SO much money, much more than you’re making now, like a hundred grand each,” she continued.
Again, very tempting. But then I thought…
Money is just not a motivator for me any more. I’m sure we could earn more money if we settled down into the regular grind. But it would mean giving up the freedom we relish in each day and I’m not ready for that.
I like that we work for two hours a day on our paid work, then six hours more a day on our creative writing, business projects and life goals. We love it. It makes us happy.
We’ve never been happier.
Sure, we could be making $200 grand a year (minus the tax, don’t forget!) but we’d be slogging our guts out working 40+ hour weeks and not being able to travel nor spend as much time with each other.
We would be at someone else’s beck and call five days a week and we’d be working on someone else’s projects.
Our goal is to do what we want, how we want it, and find ways through the business we’ve created to make that way of life a reality, now and into the future, for however our lives change.
Money doesn’t by happiness.
But the freedom to be able to do exactly what you want each day certainly does.
People don’t get it. And that’s okay.
It has taken me a long time to try and get my head around why people sometimes make misguided comments about our lives. And now I realise it’s just because they don’t understand.
I used to get grumpy when people would speak about our ‘work’ in inverted commas like it was something we didn’t really do. We take our work seriously – why don’t they?
And it used to hurt when people would ask when we were going to come home and ‘get proper jobs’. We have proper jobs, thank you very much.
It would make me mad when people would say, “You’re SOOOO lucky!” Well, no. We have the same things you do – and we believe you make your own luck.
Last month a friend was surprised when we told him we’d saved money since we’ve been travelling – he thought we were living off our savings. Ouch.
Three friends sent us this post about two travellers who scrub toilets to pay for their travels. First, I was offended. Are they insinuating that’s what we do? We ain’t no broke ass travellers who scrub toilets! But now, I realise they weren’t meaning to cause offence.
I’ve come to realise that yes, people just don’t get our lifestyle. And that’s okay.
As Dave says, “If you live as a sheep you’ll be bored, if you live as a wolf you’ll be lonely.”
The challenges of being digital nomads
It’s not super easy to make money while on the road. It certainly has its challenges. Recently we lost one of our biggest clients because they wanted full-time staff to work for them in their office.
They asked us if we’d move to Melbourne and become full time staff members.
Nope, we’re not ready for that yet. (See above note about Sydney).
And so we lost them as a client, and along with them, a substantial part of our monthly income. More than half!
We have thankfully been able to get more writing gigs and perhaps losing this client was actually a blessing in disguise, as our new gigs are more travel writing focused. More about that to come in another post.
But losing this main client has taught us a good lesson – always have a backup plan! Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
When I was telling my mum about the loss of the client she simply said, “Suck it up. You lost one client and you’ll lose many more. That’s life when you own your own business.” And she would know, having run her own business for many years.
Travel needn’t be expensive
I think that one of the biggest reasons stopping people from travelling is the belief they don’t have enough money. But travel needn’t be expensive. And the slower you move from place to place, the cheaper it gets.
I mean, we spend $3,000 a month! Do you spend less than that without travelling? I bet you don’t.
It’s easier to travel cheaply today than it has ever been before. There are budget airlines to book flights with, and alternative accommodation options to hotels, like Airbnb. (Click here for a voucher for Airbnb.) Doing your own research on the internet also means you can travel independently without a tour.
Not rich enough to move home
The ironic thing about our life now is that it’s actually much cheaper for us to keep travelling than it is for us to move back to Australia. Rent in our home town of Perth would blow most of our monthly budget alone.
And we’d have bills to pay – electricity and water, car repayments, council rates – bills that we have avoided for years.
We miss Australia and we miss our families. But we love getting out of bed each day and being 100% in control of our lives, without having someone tell us what to do.
We also love travelling and exploring the world. It’s the reason why we’ve chosen this lifestyle.
People ask us when we’re coming home. But why go back to the 9 to 5 when we can keep discovering new things all over the world, while continuing to steadily grow our bank account?
Anything’s possible in this world and who knows how we’ll end up. But to us all that matters is making each day count. Life isn’t a dress rehearsal.
Are you a digital nomad? How do you make your money on the road?
Check out our Love Mondays series to see how more digital nomads make their money while they travel!