Month 1 As Digital Nomads: How It’s Going

“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

digital nomad work all day

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

sunset in chiang mai

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?

chiang mai food

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?

35 Responses to Month 1 As Digital Nomads: How It’s Going

  1. @ShawnCookson May 8, 2014 at 1:28 am #

    Unfortunately, That is usually the components of small talk "where you from?" "what do you do?" "have any children?" "blah, blah, blah" So coming up with same' o standard answers (especially if you don't like them) can be really suck. I usually interject humor as a hint to skip on the small talk…."I'm a rodeo clown" "I'm from Hobbiton" , etc. but I say it with a smile so I don't appear to being a jerk. I mean why bother being on a personal level If they don't dig your sense of humor, no? I'm going from being a cop to a travel blogger, so I get the "why the change?" often. Yeah, you're thinkin' too! lol I'll come up with something cheesy like "I'd rather be chasing my dream than bad guys" or "I'd rather be packin' a passport than a gun". Thanks for sharing Jessica

    • waysofwanderers May 8, 2014 at 1:33 am #

      Pretty much. I guess I just need to perfect my standard answer :).

      • charmaineyip June 23, 2014 at 12:58 pm #

        I hate this question so much. It's my ultimate identity crisis question that I get stomped on each time. It really makes me confused. But overtime, I'm starting to clearly define who I am. It gets refined each time I meet people, and that's kinda exciting.

  2. Joella J May 8, 2014 at 7:00 am #

    Well done Jess- it looks like you guys are really making it work and I'm sure your working hours will settle down a bit once you're used to it. Seems like you are well on the way to getting it all figured out. Also- 2 month deposits are the worst. We are moving to a new place in Beijing soon and it sucks having to give someone all that money. I'd much rather it was sitting in my bank account!
    My recent post What’s Beijing Like? Everything You Wanted To Know About Moving To Or Visiting Beijing

    • waysofwanderers May 8, 2014 at 7:03 am #

      Are 2-month deposits required in Beijing too? It's so weird – 2 months deposit plus first month's rent all at once…ouch.

  3. Steph May 8, 2014 at 9:21 am #

    Oh god, the "what do you do" question just kills me. I used to say Travel Blogger, which was always a mistake that lead to ten million questions. Now I usually go with writer too (not perfect, but more accurate) but sometimes when I'm feeling less chatty I'll come out with "web content creator" or something else that sounds boring and lacking in follow up.

    • waysofwanderers May 8, 2014 at 11:15 pm #

      "Web content creator" – I might have to try that out and see what kind of reaction I get, haha.

  4. Ryan May 8, 2014 at 12:52 pm #

    Welcome to the club! Haha. The cafe dweller club. I'm pretty much the same way at the moment, trying to be consistent and press forth into the fray of travel writing. It's hard, especially trying to make freelance money while trying to run a blog. And I'm currently struggling to find income doing it. But keep on keepin' on!!!

    • waysofwanderers May 8, 2014 at 11:17 pm #

      Agreed! I've had a lot less time for blogging lately, and that kind of sucks. Also, all the people who feel like it's reasonable to offer me something like $15 for 700 words – uh…no.

  5. rebecca May 8, 2014 at 2:44 pm #

    congratulations! Im sure all this hard work will pay off eventually! For the record, I love your writing

    • waysofwanderers May 8, 2014 at 11:17 pm #

      Thanks so much. That's my favourite kind of compliment :).

  6. Jessica Wray May 8, 2014 at 2:53 pm #

    Good for you guys!! I'm sure it is a ton of hard work but it is an amazing accomplishment. Congrats!

    I've found myself in a bit of pickle and no spot teaching at my school for another year. I can either teach AGAIN but find a new school (ugh) or take this as an opportunity to try out the "location independence" myself. I sure hope I can make it work!!
    My recent post Down on One Knee: Where in the World to Pop the Question

    • waysofwanderers May 8, 2014 at 11:18 pm #

      It's worth a try, right? You can always go back to teaching if it doesn't work out – that's what we told ourselves anyway.

  7. Mishfish13 May 8, 2014 at 6:56 pm #

    Congrats ! I love hearing about how people are trying to branch out and freelance more and I'm happy that you're at least breaking even. Keep pushing through and it'll all work out :)
    My recent post Punched in the face in Dublin

    • waysofwanderers May 8, 2014 at 11:19 pm #

      It's a start, right? When we first arrived, I was worried we'd just be constantly depleting our savings, and so far that's not the case. It's a good base to build on, anyway.

  8. Agness May 8, 2014 at 8:35 pm #

    Congratulations on your new apartment. I always wanted to visit Chang Mai, it's a wonderful place to settle down and I'm glad you're happy. I see you've been working a lot, but you are an excellent writer and I love your writing style so I know other people will love it too. The food looks so good OMOMOMO! I really miss Thai cuisine. Take it easy and enjoy yourself!
    My recent post Postcards from Indonesia

    • waysofwanderers May 8, 2014 at 11:22 pm #

      Thanks! And yes, all the delicious food helps. Chiang Mai is definitely cementing my status as a food tourist.

  9. cvail May 9, 2014 at 2:32 am #

    Wow, Jessica…It sounds like things are coming along nicely for you. It's always hard until you get into a rhythm…Good for you! Congrats!
    My recent post Santiago de Compostela and its Tetilla Cheese (and a recipe!)

    • waysofwanderers May 9, 2014 at 8:00 am #

      Very true. And there's also the challenge of finding a balance between having a routine and not letting things get too boring. There's something comforting and organized about going to the same place to write everyday, yet I sometimes find more creativity working somewhere new entirely.

  10. francaangloitalian May 9, 2014 at 4:24 am #

    Congratulations for your first digital nomad month! It looks like you settled well and doing pretty good :)
    I understand you have to work a lot, this is part of the life we chose to live and I wish people would understand that more instead of thinking we spend our days going from the pool to the bar and nothing else. I'm jealous you are in Chiang Mai which was a paradise for vegan and vegetarian food, so many delicious options there. Enjoy! :)

    • waysofwanderers May 9, 2014 at 4:28 am #

      So true! I found I've been eating far less meat here, since there are so many incredible vegetarian options.

  11. CatherineMcHugh May 9, 2014 at 8:54 pm #

    Sounds like quite an intense month, but glad it's paying off and you're feeling good about the whole situation and the freedom you now have!
    My recent post Cheesecake: A Random Story

    • waysofwanderers May 12, 2014 at 1:33 am #

      It has been intense! I'm hoping we'll manage to carve out a little more time to relax this month.

  12. ferretingoutthefun May 11, 2014 at 12:10 pm #

    Congrats on making this work! I really admire your courage and dedication. I'm not sure I would have enough of either to make this kind of leap :-)
    My recent post Snapshot: Miami Beach, Florida

    • waysofwanderers May 12, 2014 at 1:34 am #

      It feels like a fine line between courageous and crazy some days, haha.

  13. Jade May 12, 2014 at 3:20 am #

    Wow, that is a long day! But amazing for you that you are getting the work :) I love the thought of being a self-employed, location independent, uh, person, but it's the fear of losing out on travel that stops me really pushing for it. Do you take the weekends off?

    • waysofwanderers May 12, 2014 at 5:03 am #

      It's true – our free time (and thus travel time) has been pretty low this month – we definitely haven't been taking weekends off. I guess our traveling might be reduced in the short-term, but over the long-term it (hopefully) means the ability to live/travel anywhere.

  14. itstartedinasia May 13, 2014 at 3:56 pm #

    Cheers to you Jess! Congrats on your first official month of full time writing and still managing to get up and get your legs moving – best way to start the day. You must be chuffed :)

    • waysofwanderers May 13, 2014 at 11:36 pm #

      Haha, I feel like I have to! Otherwise I would literally just sit at my laptop all day like a big lump.

  15. Sam May 14, 2014 at 5:32 am #

    Wow, you've described exactly my life right now too…except I'm not in Chiang Mai but Berlin! Transitioning from being a teacher to whatever this job is is a weird and slow process. I still often tell people I teach English, just because it's easier (and I am still dipping back into doing that now and then). Good luck to both of us!
    My recent post What I Think Eurovision 2014 Says About Europe

    • waysofwanderers May 15, 2014 at 5:19 am #

      We're actually thinking about Berlin after we move on from Chiang Mai – it seems like it's another good hub for digital nomads, plus we visited a few years ago and really loved the city. I'll be interested to read how it goes for you :).

  16. Beth May 16, 2014 at 10:16 am #

    Glad things are going well and that you're figuring everything out! I've been slowly making that transition and just have one week of teaching left until I'm officially full-time freelance. Let's both keep working hard! :)
    My recent post Scenes of the Philippines, As Viewed From Above

  17. eemusings May 21, 2014 at 7:15 am #

    Sounds like you're doing amazingly well for month 1! It may take awhile to find your flow but you'll get into a routine and figure out your balance with practice.

  18. justinpluslauren May 25, 2014 at 2:02 am #

    Very cool lifestyle! I'm glad that it is working out for you! Hopefully you can keep up a good balance of travel/sightseeing and working without getting too overwhelmed with work. It sounds like a really nice routine to get into – one that I would quite enjoy myself!
    My recent post Tourist In Our Town: The Waterfront in Port Credit

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