The Democratisation of Digital Nomadism

Next month I’ll have an important first anniversary.

The 5th of May, 2014 will put me at 12 months travelling throughout Asia. But if it weren’t for one fact, I wouldn’t consider this date particularly special: many people save up and take long periods of time off to travel.

The one fact that makes it interesting for me is my bank account balance. After 12 months of travelling, I’ll have more money in my savings account than when I originally left Australia.

I’m not saying this to boast. I’m saying this because it confirms something I’ve suspected for a long time. It confirms my belief that anyone can quit their job, make a living remotely and travel the world indefinitely. In other words, anyone can become a digital nomad.

I’ll say that again.

Anyone.

Digital nomads are individuals that leverage wireless digital technologies to perform their work duties, and more generally conduct their lifestyle in a nomadic manner.

Democratising Longterm Travel

It’s irrefutable: we all have access to the means to make a living remotely. Regardless of socioeconomic background, age or gender, we all have access to:

  • Fast and free communication tools: Skype, HipChat, other IM tools
  • International payment processing and invoicing: PayPal, Freshbooks, BitCoin
  • Freelance contract marketplaces: oDesk, Freelancer, PeoplePerHour
  • Cheap travel options: budget airlines, Couchsurfing, AirBNB, Hostelbookers, Agoda
  • And most importantly: ubiquitous, fast Internet; even in developing countries.

The barrier to entry these days is a laptop, an Internet connection, and the persistence to push through and make it work.

… And the Secret Weapon: Arbitrage

All these things lead to one conclusion: we don’t need to live where we work. And if you want to work for yourself and travel the world, your best bet is to take advantage of arbitrage. Simply put: earn in a higher value currency, spend in a lower value currency.

For example, one of my friends says it’s very realistic to live in Ho Chi Minh (Vietnam) for around $1200 (US) per month all inclusive; while in Sydney (Australia) that might cover my rent for the month… and nothing else.

So let’s run some napkin-math on that number.

Suppose you want to have some breathing room, and want to factor some extra money for travel in there. Let’s jack it up to a healthy $2000 a month.

That’s $24,000 a year, or $500 a week (supposing 4 weeks vacation in the year). If you can bill an average of 30 hours a week, you only need to be charging around $17 an hour to make it work (that’s a relaxing 6 hours a day, 5 days a week).

For a person with a marketable skill such as writing, marketing, development or design, that’s laughably attainable. Even if you don’t have a marketable skill at the moment, we’re talking months and not years to learn and develop a skill to the point where you can charge around $20 an hour.

Ok… But where to start?

So you’re sold on idea of travelling the world indefinitely and believe it’s attainable. But where should you start?

I’ll give you a hint: you need to do something that people will pay you for, and you need to do something that’s marketable. And that’s what I’ll talk about in my next post.

7 Comments

  1. Till Carlos April 8, 2014 at 8:25 pm #

    Hey Corey,

    great post, very encouraging. May I ask: how did you plan the location independence?

    What were the biggest obstacles in terms of administration?

    For me, I had to design processes to get my post scanned, archived and mailed: That’s still a struggle but it works quite well and lets me travel freely.

    Best,

    Till

    • Corey McMahon April 9, 2014 at 12:17 pm #

      Thanks for the kind words Till :)

      In terms of planning, there were a few key points:

      1) I delegated everything I could to “the cloud” (e.g.: Dropbox for storage, Gmail for email, GitHub for code hosting, Freshbooks for accounting, etc…) This was slightly painful to start out with, but it means a “worst case” technology failure (i.e.: my MacBook dying) results in a few lost days of work, not the collapse of my business.

      2) I talked to an accountant. I needed some advice on the best way to handle my tax situation and I didn’t want to screw it up, so I paid for an expert to solve the problem for me.

      3) I made sure I had enough money in the bank to last me at least 12 months while I worked things out. I’m pretty risk averse when it comes to savings, so I actually planned for more than that, but I think 12 months is the minimum.

      4) I took care of general admin: redirected all my mail to family members’ houses, bought travel insurance, cancelled gym memberships / health insurance, got shiny new credit cards and notified all my service providers (particularly banks) that I would be travelling abroad.

  2. Jeremy Ginsburg April 9, 2014 at 7:43 pm #

    Well written, mate! When will you start blogging in Vietnamese!?!?

    • Corey McMahon April 11, 2014 at 2:16 am #

      jeremy ơi! how’s it going brother?

      excellent question… tiếng việt của anh vẵn không giởi!

      when does em return to VN?

  3. Tonic April 12, 2014 at 3:44 pm #

    Great post. Those living expenses are amazing!

  4. Little Kids April 24, 2014 at 6:12 pm #

    I wish I can be like you, very encouraging post.

  5. Chris Sapp May 29, 2014 at 8:03 pm #

    Hello, i own a barbershop in the USA, but I’ll be selling it once my dropshipping cash flow exceeds my brick and mortar business. I’ll be headed to SE Asia myself. Ask yourself, how bad do you want it ?

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