26 Apr How We Make A Living As Working Nomads
How We Make Money and Travel as Digital Nomads
Every digital nomad has their own way of making money online and traveling the world. The possibilities are endless when it comes to digital nomad jobs (more about that in our What is a Digital Nomad post).
Jedd and I have our own very unique combination of income streams that we’ve cobbled together.
Our freelance clients
We landed our first client straight out of Peace Corps, thanks to a relationship we had built with a non-profit while we were living in Jamaica. To this day, we handle the social media accounts for their organization as well as their hotel.
Gathering social media content for ACE in Jamaica. Photo credit: Ben Schaefer.
We had also built a relationship with a couple who runs a Swiss restaurant and salad dressing business in Portland. They needed a new logo, signage, menus, and website so that was our next big project. We built out their new site and coordinated with our graphic design friends for everything else. All this was going on while we were staying for free at a French chateau, which had its challenges but we made it work. The restaurant liked working with us and Jedd still does a little bit of monthly work for them on Facebook – and the occasional website update.
After a year or so, I (Michelle) was contracted to write blog posts for a Portland laptop bag company. They gave me a free leather laptop bag and when we traveled, I would take pictures of it in new places and write about it. Eventually, they wanted more blog articles on other topics as well, and they also hired me to do their Facebook and Pinterest promotions. (P.S. I also get a commission and you get 15% off if you use the discount code: ITRAVL on clarkandmayfield.com.)
Other web services
In addition to our social media clients, who provide us with a relatively stable income foundation, we sometimes take on basic website projects. We’re not coders and can’t do anything too fancy, but we’re a good fit for small businesses who need to improve their web presence.
We keep a separate website for our freelance web services business, but (thankfully for us) it’s pretty rare that we’re looking for new clients.
Jedd celebrating with the very first cohort of Wayfinding Academy college students
Another big chunk of our income comes from side projects like the Wayfinding Academy and World Domination Summit. These are both based in Portland, so that’s why we’ve been spending a good portion of the year in Oregon. Thankfully, the people in both of these projects “get it” when it comes to location independence. We do our best to balance being face-to-face with our fellow team members in Portland and still spend a good amount of time abroad.
Last year, Jedd was actually a part-time employee with Wayfinding Academy but has since stepped away from that role. Although we love the alternative, hand-crafted college, it thrives on in-person community. We were super grateful that the staff was willing to accommodate our nomadism, but we weren’t ready to make a long-term commitment. So we decided that once the school was officially launched in 2016, we would step back. (And we’re staying involved in other ways.)
World Domination Summit and Pioneer Nation are both unconventional events founded by author and world-traveler, Chris Guillebeau. We volunteered at WDS right after Peace Corps in 2014 and started assisting the core planning team the following year. Each year, our roles have expanded. This year, I (Michelle) am coordinating a series of half-day workshops throughout the week of the event. Jedd is the primary customer service and communication person. And we both attend planning meetings whenever we’re in town (or sometimes on video chat).
When we started, WDS core team members were on a volunteer/stipend model. We’re super grateful that there is now more of a salary-stipend in place. It’s a project we love to be a part of regardless of the money, but it does take more and more time as the event gets closer each summer.
Welcoming attendees to WDS weekend
A big difference from 2016 (displayed in the pie chart below) and 2017 is that we no longer have Wayfinding Academy income. However, our WDS income has increased. We’ll probably fill in the gaps with a few extra projects here and there.
Finally, there’s house-sitting. Although it appears small on our income chart (below), there’s more to it than meets the eye. House-sitting means we’re not paying rent, and that’s huge for making ends meet. On top of that, if there’s a dog or two involved, we’re bringing in $30-$75 a night in cash.
2016 Income Sources
Our work life and next steps
How much do we work? In terms of hours, we both only work part-time (until WDS, when it’s full steam ahead for several weeks). We don’t make a ton of money, but right now, we’re more than happy to have time and flexibility in exchange. We’re able to save for retirement – though we’d like to do more.
So far in our digital nomad journey, our focus has been on keeping life simple and expenses extremely low. That’s primarily what gives us the ability to live off a modest income. And travel hacking helps us explore the world at the same time.
Our goal – and the dream of pretty much every online entrepreneur – is to grow our “passive income.” As you can see in the chart above, there’s just a small sliver of income coming from affiliate sales and e-products, money we make from our blogs. We’re slowly working toward more ways to monetize our sites.
Another option we’re looking at that’s not digital but can be managed remotely, is real estate. (We learned a lot about how other digital nomads are using real estate and rental properties to their advantage at last year’s 7in7 digital nomad conference.) Eventually, we’d like to run our own Bed & Breakfast but in the meantime, maybe we’ll rent out an Airbnb with the help of a property manager.
We’re also open to doing more seasonal jobs or special projects as long as we’re free to travel the rest of the year (and we can avoid winters).
Taking an afternoon off while working from Cuenca, Ecuador for six weeks
We hope this post unravels some of the mystery behind what we do. Every digital nomad is different, but hopefully this snapshot of our income streams as working nomads can be an example of what’s possible. If you have questions, we’d love to hear from you. Feel free to leave a comment below or visit our contact page.
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