Traveling Couples Share Their Tips for Digital Success

It sounds like a dream job, but for every success story there are those who have tried and failed. We ask four digital nomad duos to share their tips and advice.

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YOUNG COUPLE ON BOAT WITH LAPTOPS Photo © Two Monkeys Travel

Living a nomadic lifestyle and making money along the way is reality for these traveling couples, but their success has not come without hard work and plenty of trial and error. These four digital duos explain how they grew their audiences, the challenges they’ve faced along the way, and their tips for other aspiring blogging, instagramming, filmmaking couples eager to hit the road together – when travel bounces back.

We talk to: Alesha Bradford and Jarred Salem at NOMADasaurus; PJ Madam and Tim Noonan, creators of Netflix series Extreme EngagementRenée and JB Macatulad from Will Fly For Food; and Kach and Jonathan Howe of Two Monkeys Travel Group.

What are your tips for others aspiring to do what you do?

Alesha and Jarryd: Mentally prepare for this lifestyle before diving in. There will be stress in traveling as a couple and working simultaneously. Hobbies, date nights and even spending time apart helps.

PJ and Tim: It’s an enormous risk to overcome your fears – we all know that safety is ‘within the box’. Give it time and dedication, commit to following your dream.

Ren and JB: You’re probably not going to make serious money in those first few years, but you have to keep plugging away. I read somewhere that 95 percent of bloggers quit within the first year after realizing how difficult it is, so I recommend you blog as a side hustle first.

Kach and Jonathan: Resonate with your audience but be yourself. Take beautiful photos along the way. The price of all of this freedom is a lot of hard work, so find that balance between the work and still traveling the way you want to.

What have been your major challenges along the way?

Ren and JB: Google updates! You could be enjoying your best month ever and then completely crash the next. It’s discouraging and frustrating, and also completely out of your control. Diversify traffic sources to handle such setbacks.

PJ and Tim: Thriving in harsh environments with no experience was difficult – in Mongolia, it was -22F (-30C.) We regularly went without bathing and lacked access to phones and email. We even ate rat. Our challenges became the best part of the adventure though – the distance and lack of technology created very ‘in-the-moment’ experiences, and a great detox into simplicity. It made me realize how much I miss the world.

Kach and Jonathan: In the beginning, it was mostly financial. We had to find ways of earning money and saving it on the road so that we could continue traveling without having to return home. Now, it’s more an issue of traveling how we want to – it can be easy for the website and social media to take over the experiences and let the cart start driving the horse, so to speak.

Alesha and Jarryd: People think that being a digital nomad is just one big holiday, but it really is quite different. Having proper days off from work or traveling is almost non-existent, so creating harmony between professional obligations and pleasure is extremely important. We try.

COUPLE WITH VIDEO CAMERA
Filmmaker-producers Tim Noonan and PJ Madam. Photo credit: Wildman Films

What do you like least, and best, about what you’re doing?

Kach and Jonathan: We find that if we dislike something enough, it’s a sign to stop doing it and find other ways to make things happen. We love the freedom, the control and the choices we make in our lives every day. We’re doing what we want to do.

Alesha and Jarryd: The best part of this is exploring the world with the love of my life; it’s impossible to beat that. Truly, there is nothing we dislike about this lifestyle, but if there were one thing we could change, it would be having a community outside of our own relationship.

Ren and JB: We love being able to work from wherever we please. There are certainly challenges and uncertainties, but we love that we are fulfilled from what we do – and that we have no commute! Keeping up with the minutiae of Google’s updates and how they affect our follower base is not our favorite.

PJ and Tim: Setting off into the unknown and being able to understand something completely new to us, and the privilege of engaging with others’ lives, well, it gives a new perspective to our tiny window in this history. The universal language of welcome and respect is a great connector.

In terms of growing your audience, what has worked well – and not so well?

JB: Facebook ads have worked well for us, though not as well as they used to. We’re putting more effort into growing our YouTube channel. We plan to release two videos per week – starring Ren, she’s quite the ham.

Alesha and Jarryd: It’s a constant battle with trends changing and market saturation. What worked for us was traveling to off-beat destinations like Central Asia and improving our photography. What hasn’t worked? Venturing too far from the typical landscapes and travel shots we usually share. We love portrait and street photography, but when we post these, our engagement is extremely low. Our audience knows what they like.

Kach and Jonathan: There’s an audience for everything on the internet. When we stopped backpacking and moved onto a sailboat, we saw a decline in our audience, because our original audience could no longer relate to our travels. We kept at it, being true to ourselves, and with time our audience evolved to our new lifestyle.

PJ and Tim: In the places we go, phone reception isn’t usually available, which makes it difficult to post. We also don’t travel with a crew, we enlist locals to help with filming and lighting at the locations. We post when we can, and we know that can be a powerful tool when used for good.

COUPLE SELFIE
Traveleaters JB and Renée Macatulad. Photo credit: Will Fly For Food

What have you learned about one another on the journey?

JB: I can be pretty controlling when pressed to gather content, and I want to efficiently maximize every minute of a trip so I rush. It’s led to arguments over the years. Blogging has changed the way we travel, so I have to remind myself to slow down, breathe and just enjoy the moment.

Alesha and Jarryd: We know each other better than we know ourselves, and that comes from spending nearly 24 hours a day with one another for 12 years. We recognize and celebrate our individual strengths and support the weaknesses.

PJ: It is surprising how quickly anyone can adapt to anything. All the perceptions of ‘this is going to be too hard’, it really does disappear. Courage and bravery pay off. I would never have thought that I was someone who gave things a go, but once I did, I thought, “oh wow, I’ve just surprised myself!”

Kach and Jonathan: We work well as a team, with the caveat that we have to recognize when we should do things solo. The key is doing it before tensions arise, since we don’t always want things at the same time. Who does? There are even occasions that we travel separately, and it works for us.

Have social media algorithms affected how you do things?

Kach and Jonathan: We must pander to social media to a certain extent, but we believe that by doing what we love and sharing it in a way that suits us, the right people will find it. That’s what the algorithms are designed to do; they observe what we are interested in and what we engage with the most and then show us more of that.

PJ and Tim: We are still true to who we are and we find it a real privilege to engage with different people. Outside of any algorithm, there is a real power in digital connection, and even some of the tribes in Cameroon knew about Facebook! Imagine that, one of the most secluded populations in the world. Through social media, they can see our work, they can see the show and we can stay connected.

Alesha and Jarryd: Absolutely. In the early days, we focused on Facebook, and then over the years made a shift toward Instagram, though it took us a while. With the difficulty in organic reach, we’re reassessing how to tackle this. Fortunately, social media only plays a small part in how we’ve structured our business.

Ren and JB: Yes, definitely. Pinterest has made some big changes lately, so we’ll have to adjust. Instagram has always been a mystery to us!

COUPLE TAKING SELFIE
Travel bloggers Alesha Bradford and Jarred Salem. Photo credit: Nomadasaurus

Do you have specific roles? How do you divide the work between you?

PJ and Tim: We don’t split our roles very well, to be honest. We’re together 24-7, and we’re each other’s boss, employee and crew. There’s nothing that one of us is doing that the other wouldn’t be aware of, or willing to do themselves. It’s all in the same pot, really – the time we work together and the time we’re together but not working.

Ren and JB: The blog is pretty much all me. Ren is working on her skills for being in front of the camera as we diversify into video.

Kach and Jonathan: Kach is in charge of all things social media and is the organizer. (I don’t even have any social media apps on my phone and I like it that way!) We’re fortunate to have a small team for various things, especially the technical aspects of running an online business. What I do depends on what we have going on in our lives. Currently, it’s a ground-up renovation of our 200-year-old house in Montenegro.

Alesha: We share photography, but everything else is split. Jazza does admin, business management and writing, and I do social media and videography, as well as creative strategy. We also have a small team working for us.

What were you doing before you were a digital nomad?

Tim: PJ has always been the curious sort with a background in politics, reporting, producing, writing and creating. She was a news anchor for several years. I work on both sides of the camera as well. I’m a filmmaker, explorer, documentarian and the former co-host of an Australian children’s show.

Jarryd: So many things! Lesh was a waitress, cleaner, cook, massage therapist and certified swimming teacher. I worked in civil, residential and mining construction, bartended, coordinated activities at a hostel, worked in skydiving, operated lifts at a ski resort and led tours.

JB: Ren worked as a travel agent for many years in Beverly Hills with a client list that included Kelly Rutherford, Jason Hervey and Leif Garrett. I have degrees in English Literature, and Fine Art and Illustration and worked as a web designer for Oprah Winfrey’s website, oxygen.com.

Jonathan: I used to work as an architectural technologist dealing primarily with new-build healthcare facilities, while Kach worked in the Middle East for a security contractor in the oil industry. Both are a far cry from our lives now! But my architectural background is a boon to the remodeling of the house.

What has been your favorite destination so far? Why?

Alesha and Jarryd: Antarctica! There’s no place on the planet as pristine, humbling, beautiful and quiet as the seventh continent. It’s one of the last true adventures on the planet.

PJ and Tim: Oh gosh, this is like choosing a favorite child! China blew us away, Mongolia was breathtaking and Indonesia [sighs]… Every place has its own magic. It would have to be Yanaba though. It’s the place we were married in Papua New Guinea. It was a tiny island, incredibly remote. It was a privilege in so many ways.

Ren and JB: Oh, easily Japan. It’s endlessly fascinating and the food is phenomenal. Many travelers want to visit every country in the world. We just want to visit every prefecture in Japan to try every regional specialty.

Kach and Jonathan: Chilean Patagonia is pristine wilderness at its best, with only one road, the Carretera Austral, running north to south. We hitchhiked all 900km [560 miles] of it, until it literally disappeared into the water at the end.

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