“I’m a writer”.
The words still sound false every time I introduce myself to someone, but even if I don’t feel like one yet, I guess that’s what I am now. It was so much easier when I could answer “teacher” – simple, straightforward; almost every foreigner in Asia is an English teacher. But answering “writer” when someone asks what I do for a living triggers a whole set of follow-up questions that I don’t know how to clearly answer. What do I write about? Travel, mostly, but sometimes other things…all kinds of things. Who do I write for? Anyone – sometimes the same people, but sometimes it changes from month to month, or even day to day. And not for Lonely Planet or Frommer’s or any particular brand or company anyone would know (unless perhaps they happen to have a particular obsession with online travel media). People are inevitably either confused or admiring – neither of which I quite know how to handle.
I don’t even like the term “digital nomad”. It’s a catch-all word that really does best describe my life right now: I earn my income online and I don’t have a permanent home. But the title “digital nomad” sounds too flashy, too poised, too much like so many other lofty characteristics I don’t feel I embody yet.
So, you ask, how is it going being a freelancer/writer/digital nomad/online entrepreneur/whatever it is I am exactly?
I Work All the Time
I get up, I endure an incredibly humid run around Chiang Mai University campus, I shower, and then I’m at a coffee shop or co-working space with my laptop at about 9am. And I stay there all day, usually eating lunch hunched over my laptop, and finally calling it a day around 8 or 9pm. There are definitely no off-days mixed in there either.
There are two main reasons for this:
1) I’ve (obviously) never written full-time before, and it’s taking me some time to figure out how many projects I can reasonably say “yes” to, and how long it actually takes me to write something. I’m finally getting a little closer to being about to provide a semi-accurate answer when someone asks much time I need to research and write a 1000-word article.
2) Brent’s working to establish some steadier, long-term sources of online income for us, which means, for now, most of our income is coming from my writing alone.
It’s also just difficult for me to turn down projects. As I find my confidence as a freelancer, I’m still so thrilled every time someone actually wants to hire me –ME- that I’ve been knowingly taking on more than I can comfortably manage.
There Are a Lot of Highs and Lows
There have been days this month when I finally shut my laptop at 9pm, realizing that pretty much all I’ve seen of Chiang Mai in the past month is the inside of different coffee shops, and I wonder if this lifestyle is going to work for me over the long-term. A lot of the time I feel like I’m treading water, constantly fighting not to let my head dip below the surface, yet also never getting anywhere at all.
But there are also a lot of other moments like this one now, writing on a bus headed to Pai, when I feel invincible. We have the flexibility to make a spontaneous mid-week trip, and we didn’t even need to book return tickets. There’s no vacation time, no work schedule – we can stay in Pai for 3 days, a week, a month – as long as we feel like. I’ll still be spending most of my time there writing, of course, but that doesn’t take away the intoxicating sense of freedom that comes from knowing that everything is on my own terms. It’s what keeps me going during those long days when I’m writing so much that my mind feels completely sucked dry of punchy adjectives and evocative verbs.
How Did We Do?
We ended up dipping into our savings this month, but that wasn’t entirely unexpected. There were a few extra expenses associated with getting settled in Chiang Mai, including the deposit on our apartment (apparently in Thailand you pay 2 month’s rent as a deposit, which although we’ll get the money back when we leave, is a huge expense upfront), and getting our double entry visas (which allows us to stay in Thailand for up to 6 months).
On the plus side, we haven’t been holding ourselves back very much in our day-to-day spending: We go to the movies, buy Western food when we feel like it, and spend most nights sipping Singha Beers at the patios scattered along Nimman Rd. When we compare our income this month to our everyday spending, we’re pretty much breaking even. If we can just earn a little more each month (a concept that doesn’t seem all that far-fetched), we’ll start having enough income to actually take those days off that we’re aching for, and have enough not just to live on, but to save as well. It’s definitely not a perfect situation yet, but it feels like we’re on the cusp of making it really work.
Has traveling ever triggered a major transition in your life? How did you handle it?