The term digital nomad has been a bit of a buzz word lately, and I’m sure some of you are thinking “what the heck is that?” Well contrary to what my friends and family sometimes think it is not someone who is on a permanent vacation. I do work… a lot and I use a multitude of skills to keep things interesting and make a living from it. As glamorous as my life may appear online, it’s actually cheaper for me to travel than it is for me to pay rent in my hometown of Toronto. That however was not the only factor in my decision to become a full time digital nomad. For as long as I could remember I’ve wanted to live my life in a different way. I am passionately curious and often a little anxious that I won’t have enough time to accomplish everything I want to accomplish in this short amount of time that we are given on this planet. I am hungry for change and I feel most inspired when I am in situations and places that are new to me and slightly uncomfortable. Travel is amazing because I get to learn about new cultures, meet new people, and discover something new every single day. My sense are currently heightened and I am having all of these amazing experiences that I am extremely fortunate to be having but it did take a lot of hard work to get here and I gave up other things in the process. I can’t give you a step by step guide on how to become a digital nomad and travel the world because everyone’s path is going to look a little different and honestly this lifestyle isn’t for everyone and that’s okay too. It comes with a lot of sacrifice and a lot of instability and not everyone will be comfortable with that. This is your life and you have to live it the way YOU want to, so don’t feel bad if perpetual travel is not your thing. There are other ways to constantly learn, feel alive and discover the world. This is just MY way.
Alright, so first things first. You will need to find a way to make money in a location independent way. What does this mean? It can be different for everyone. Maybe your current boss will let you work remotely? Maybe you are a software developer, or a travel writer or you teach english online. Whatever it is that you do if you can do this digitally that would be step number one. I worked in international development for a number of years, working low paid jobs and bartending on the weekends to make rent and decided that I needed to do something that would allow me to live my passions but still make a living at the same time so I went back to school to learn to code. I have been freelancing ever since and I build websites for clients using mostly wordpress. I also write the travel and lifestyle blog you are currently reading which has allowed me to work with tourism boards, tour companies and hotels which has given me the opportunity to participate in sponsored trips and accommodations. I teach coding as well and have had the opportunity to teach in some of the cities I’ve travelled to as well. This is how I earn and income. Some days I work for 12 or 13 hours, other days I work 3 or 4 hours. It depends what projects I have on the go but I love the flexibility and the change to work on a range of projects I am passionate about.
Next, lower your monthly expenses. Freelancing is hard and uncertain and I sometimes go a month or two without a new project, especially when I first started out. If you are paying an enormous amount of rent, car insurance, car payments etc. each month you won’t have any freedom because you will need to make X amount of dollars each month just to keep your head above water. My monthly expenses currently consist of my student loan and that is it. Everything else that I earn is a budget for travel, my own projects and the things I want to do.
Travel is now more accessible than ever. These are some of the tools and tips I use to save money on travel and make the dollars I do earn go a lot further.
I really love Cheapoair I’ve used them to book almost every flight I’ve flown on and they always seem to have the best deals.
Ryanair – I don’t understand why they have such a bad rep? Ryanair is actually an incredible airline. Sure, you don’t get anything extra like food or drinks on your flight but who really needs a glass of wine on a 40 minute flight? Ryanair is great for short haul flights, they are safe, reliable and frankly you get exactly what you pay for.
Airbnb – I know there are controversies surrounding Airbnb but from a long term travelers perspective this is a really nice tool to use. First of all their customer service is unbelievable. They answer inquiries almost immediately and deal with any problems that may arise quickly and with the utmost professionalism. For me, this is the most important thing. Airbnb also gives me the chance to live as a local would in most of the cities that I visit. I book an apartment in an area I want to stay in, I have my own kitchen and a place to call home for a few days or weeks.
Worldpackers -Friend of the blog Amy aka Globetrotter guru first introduced me to Worldpackers and I cannot express how impressed I’ve been with my experience with them. Basically this is a site that allows you to exchange your skills for free accommodation. Each hostel is different but most of them require you to work around 20 hours a week in exchange for room and board. I volunteered with Destination Hostels in Lisbon as a photography volunteer for their tours. I got to attend all of their tours and take pictures that they could then use for promotional purposes. I have absolutely no complaints about this role as this is something I would have done for free. The team at Destination hostels are all pretty young and well travelled, they understand travellers needs and they were amazing to work with. In return I got free accommodation and free breakfast every morning as well as a significant discount and dinner and drinks. Eliminating my accommodation costs and cutting down on food costs, what would normally be my biggest expense has helped me save over 800 euros in the last month and a half. Plus volunteering allows you to meet local staff and gives you the chance to explore a city as a local, learning about all of the best spots and making friends who are actually from the place you are visiting. I have two more trips booked with worldpackers in the coming months and I cannot express how grateful I am that I site like this exists.
Booking.com – I’ve used Booking.com for shorter stays as well. It allows me to view and compare hostels/hotels and prices quickly. If you are looking to book and pay for a hostel or hotel for a few nights I would recommend starting your search with booking.com.
Tours and Experiences
Groupon is great for discounts on tours and experiences and you can search by city
Eventbrite – Eventbrite is awesome because you can search all of the events going on that week or month in a particular location. Often these events are free and you can register on eventbrite and attend. I attended a really innovative conference about entrepreneurship in Europe when I was in Lisbon, it was free. Lunch, coffee and snacks were provided and I just happened to stumble upon it on eventbrite.
Meetup.com is a great site to help you find your tribe. There are meetups about just about anything you are interested in. I go to a lot of entrepreneurial and tech meetups in the cities I visit and often meet amazing people and make really useful contacts.
Go grocery shopping and cook for yourself. It’s that simple. Restaurants are often expensive and if you stay at a hostel you will usually have access to their kitchen. Buy some ingredients and make your own food. It’s healthier and cheaper than eating out.
Travel slow… often my biggest expense while traveling is the cost of getting from one place to the next, weather that is flights, train, bus, etc. If you can stay in one place for longer not only do you get to know a place and culture much better but you really do end up saving money.
Finally you will need to give up some of the comforts of home. Everything I currently own is packed into a 10kg backpack. I do not go shopping or buy a lot of new things. I prefer to spend my money on experiences. You can’t have the big house, fancy car, all of the new things and still travel the world unless you are very rich. But if you are just a normal person like me then change your definition of what it means to “have it all.” You can travel full time or you can have everything else but you probably can’t have both. You will need to be independent. Some days I miss my friends and family but they have been awesome and supportive and I keep in touch with them regularly. I am very lucky to have amazing friends who encourage me to live my dreams, support my decisions and are always there for me when I need them. But I have to admit that some days I really miss them and I hate missing out on celebrating the big things like engagements and promotions. I try my best to stay in touch, and be there for the important things.