The Realities and Expectations of Being a Digital Nomad

There’s a buzz going around social media, blogs, and the internet these days. Instagrammers are posting photos of themselves on beautiful beaches, bloggers are writing about staying in luxury resorts, and YouTubers are flying drones over dream-vacation destinations.

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For many, the idea of getting paid to travel the world sounds like a hoax. It’s too good to be true. There’s no way you can actually earn money from a travel blog, YouTube channel, or Instagram account.

As a professional digital nomad myself, and one who has grown a thriving online business from sharing my travels, I am here to say that the dream is real – but there’s more to it than meets the eye.

In this article, I’m going to dispel some of the myths about being a digital nomad, show you what it takes to grow a sustainable online business, and touch on some of the pros and cons of the job.

Expectations vs Reality

The luxurious photos of travel influencers being flown around the world, taking photos, and share their adventures paint a pretty utopian picture. Many onlookers make the mistake of thinking that a) the job is easy, or b) there’s no truth to the life those images portray.

The truth is that there’s a lot of work that goes into growing an online business – be it a travel blog, a YouTube channel, an Instagram account, or a Facebook page. The photos and videos are just the tip of the iceberg, and the majority of the hard work lies beneath the surface.

Unfortunately, for many of the online personalities, there isn’t as much truth behind the imagery. Many online influencers have come out saying they work 80 hours per week, feel exhausted from travel, and aren’t as happy as they show in their photos.

But that’s not the way the job has to be! I know many travel bloggers and social media influencers who truly are the people that their online profiles portray.

My wife and I built Goats On The Road as a passive income model. This means that we worked hard at first to set up affiliate articles, products and freelance networks, and now that they’re set up, we can earn money in our sleep.

Affiliate marketing has been around since the beginning of the internet, and it’s brilliant. We recommend products and services we’ve used and love (like World Nomads Travel Insurance), and if our readers click on those links and purchase through them, we receive a commission.

This means we literally earn money while we’re sleeping. On average, affiliate commissions amount to about $4,000 on the Goats On The Road blog.

We truly are as happy as the pictures and videos we portray – and we’re not working ourselves to the bone doing what we love. We work around 15 hours per week, and the best part is, even if the business wasn’t as successful, we’d still be sharing our photos, blog posts, and videos because we love to connect with other travel lovers online. That’s just one of the perks of this amazing job.

If you’re thinking of becoming a digital nomad, do it with the idea that your life comes first. No matter how much faster you may grow by working 12 hours a day, don’t do it! Enjoy your life as much as possible. Your travel lifestyle should be a byproduct of your business, not the other way around.

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How Digital Nomads Earn Money

The term “digital nomad” applies to anyone who earns money from electronic devices while traveling around the world and working remotely. So whether you’re a travel blogger or a business consultant, you can call yourself the title of a digital nomad.

Because there are so many different jobs available online, the variety of available income streams and opportunities are endless. Here, I’ll touch on a few that I know from my business, many of which can be transferable to other digital nomad jobs and mediums.

Direct Advertising

This is when you have advertisers contact you via email or social media and ask you to promote their product or service. On blogs, this type of advertising can range from $50 - $750 per link, banner, or article – while in social media it is about the same (of course big blogs and the Kardashians charge a thousand times that, it’s within reason for the travel industry).

Press Trips

This is when a tourism board, hotel, or tour operator flies you to their destination to promote their hotel or service. These trips are often paid on top of receiving free travel.

Product Sales & Affiliate Marketing

I’ve already touched briefly on Affiliate Marketing, but product sales are another great form of passive or deferred income. You basically create a product (like an eBook or a course) and sell it to your audience.

Freelance

Your blog can work as a great portfolio as you reach out to larger publications to try to land paid writing gigs. Most blogs online pay between $50–$500/article, often on a per-word basis.

Finding Opportunities

Now that we’ve touched on a very small percentage of the ways that digital nomads can earn money, it’s time to find opportunities.

If you’re a new blogger or you’re considering starting a travel blog, then this will be one of your first challenges when it comes to monetizing your site. Show me the money!

At first, before you’ve grown an audience, the truth is, you won’t be getting many opportunities – and that’s okay. You should be spending the first few months of your digital nomad career on growing a following, and sharing the best content you possibly can.

Then, down the road, when your blog starts to see 10,000+ unique visitors per month or you’ve grown to more than 10,000 followers on a single social media platform (there is no real cut and dry number so these figures can vary depending on your niche), then you should start looking for opportunities.

By that point, the opportunities should be coming to you, but if not, you can start reaching out by email to try to find people to work with you.

For direct advertising, try to join Facebook groups with lots of other bloggers and ask some of the bloggers who you already have a relationship with if they know of any advertisers looking to advertise on blogs.

To find opportunities in affiliate marketing and product sales, it’s all about producing epic content. Write great articles, build up credibility, and people will purchase things from your website. Always be honest and only recommend products and services that you have used or that you would definitely use.

And lastly, to find opportunities for freelance writing, check out this list and start sending off emails with detailed article pitches. Try to ask for a continued staff writing position so that you can have a set number of paid articles per month.

Working with a food tour company in Mexico. Photo credit: Goats on the Road

Knowing Your Worth

A few years ago, when I started helping bloggers to grow their businesses, I would always have to tell them not to be afraid to expect payment, and to know that their blog is worth a lot for the advertisement of large companies.

These days, it seems that online influencers are all too aware of their worth, so now my responses have changed. Instead of trying to explain to people why they're worth more than they think, I now find myself doing the opposite.

When you first start your blog, don’t expect free travel. You need to build an audience first. It’s important that you still travel on your own dime from time-to-time, and that you create a business that’s ethical, and your partnerships are in line with the brand you’ve built.

Once you have an audience, you can then start earning advertising money, and you’ll start to get paid to travel. It’s as simple as that. But don’t expect a hotel to give you a free room just because you have a travel blog – and don’t give up on traveling independently just because you know that someone else might pay for it if you pitch them.

Your readers will start to lose faith in your writing and photography, and you’ll be far less relatable to the average traveler.

Working Around The World

One of the great joys of being a digital nomad is that your office can be anywhere. I’m writing this article from a beautiful yoga retreat in Koh Samui. My office today is a healthy restaurant, overlooking the waters of the Gulf of Thailand.

There are also co-working spaces all around the world, where digital nomads meet, chat, and get some work done on fast Wi-Fi. These spaces are typically in an office-like setting, but with a funky twist – like beanbag chairs, lounge tables, an onsite bar, and cool music.

We personally don’t like the idea of co-working spaces. We didn’t spend all of this time and energy to live a location-independent life, only to have to be in a specific location to get work done! We prefer to work in our pajamas or in a swimsuit at the beach.

Best Digital Nomad Places Around the World

There are plenty of amazing places to work when you’re a digital nomad, but keep in mind that the best digital nomad hot spots in the world also have to have great WiFi, good accommodation options, good restaurants and cafes, and well-stocked supermarkets.

Some of our favorites include Split in Croatia, Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, the Caribbean island of Grenada, Koh Samui in Thailand, and Bali in Indonesia.

Working from the treetop deck of our accommodation in Grenada. Photo credit: Goats on the Road

Being a digital nomad isn’t for everyone. If you don’t enjoy traveling from place to place, being away from home or sacrificing some of the amenities you’re used to at home, maybe this job isn’t for you.

But if you’re tired of getting stuck in traffic driving to work to pay for the car you’re stuck in. If you want to explore the world and have new experiences every day. If you love trying new foods, meeting new people and you want to work from wherever you choose – then maybe it’s time to become a digital nomad!

Use our step-by-step guide to starting a blog, get our free eBook and get started today! By this time next year, you could be writing your own article for World Nomads from a beach in Thailand!

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2 Comments

  • Noelle Bertram said

    I love this article!! I didn't even know what a digital nomad or a blog was until about a year ago, & now I AM a digital nomad with a blog! The learning curve is constantly high, b/c social media & platforms are ALways changing. It's challenging, exciting, & great for people who love change. Thanks for this well-written article & for bringing clarity to an often misunderstood niche!

  • Stephanie Jane Capper said

    As a journalist with permanently itchy feet, I've wanted to become a digital nomad for years now. I always felt like I didn't really know where to start, but this blog post has been really helpful. Sharing with us the link to that website that lists freelance gigs was incredibly helpful. I'm about to take off for 6 months to Central America, and these tips will come in handy! Thank you!

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