Three years ago, Guillermo and Rosana Errea took their seven-year old twins to Italy. The Argentine couple didn’t stay at a resort or rent a hotel room. Instead, they drove east in a Fiat motorhome that they bought in Italy. They went further than Greece. They went even further than Turkey. The family took a circuitous 18-month journey all the way to Malaysia.
They eventually shipped their RV from Malaysia, back to their home in Argentina. They wanted to keep traveling. But they faced one obvious hurdle. Traveling costs money.
In a pre-Internet world, their dreams might have withered like their bank account balance. But Guillermo had an idea. If he could earn money online, the family could continue to travel. He struck a deal with two Argentine media networks: La Reforma and Maracódigital. Every week, Guillermo sends a short video clip of their travels. The media networks publish them online and pay Guillermo and Rosana monthly. The couple also has eight other sponsors plastered on their motorhome. Each helps to cover costs.
I met Guillermo and Rosana in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Mexico. They have a zest for life that would be tough to find in an office setting. Speaking through an interpreter Rosana said, “Our children study every morning. Every two months, they take online tests prescribed by their school district in Argentina.”
The Internet has spawned plenty of location-independent workers, sometimes known as Digital Nomads. Larissa Bodniowycz is one of them. She owns a small law firm. “I help freelancers and small companies utilize the law to grow and protect their businesses,” says the 33-year old American attorney. “I also do select work for other attorneys, helping them with complex research and important motions.” She rents a studio apartment in Encinitas, California. But she spends much of the year traveling as she works online.
This year, she plans to visit Mexico, Canada, Japan, and some friends in various regions of the United States. “Traveling abroad can actually help you save money,” says Larissa. “In many countries, food, excursion, and lodging costs are quite low and you can spend a lot less than you would on an average day in the United States without even thinking about it.”
Rosana Errea agrees. “Our family spends far less money traveling than we do when we’re in Argentina,” she says. But Rosana and Larissa admit that some countries can be expensive, so it’s best to do your homework.
Erin McNeaney and her partner, Simon Fairbairn, aren’t strangers to such research. They left their native England in 2010 and are currently renting a home in southern Italy, using Airbnb. “We’ll be here for four weeks,” says Erin. After that, they’ll find somewhere else to stay or roam. “Italy and Japan are our favorite countries,” says Erin. “But for longer stays we like Bali, Thailand, and Mexico.”
Southeast Asia is a favorite location for many Digital Nomads. It’s cheap, safe, and there are strong Internet connections. That’s where James Clark resides. He’s currently based in Saigon, Vietnam. James was a Digital Nomad before anyone coined the term. “I wouldn’t say I decided to become a digital nomad,” says the 46 year-old Australian. “ It was just something that organically evolved. I first started by learning web design as a hobby in 2001. I soon learned that I could make money by selling products online, so I spent all my after-work hours working on my business.” By 2003, James had moved overseas fulltime, using Internet cafes to work.
But this lifestyle isn’t for everyone. “It can sometimes be lonely,” says Nick Avola. “It can also take a while to get settled from one place to the next.” The 27 year-old former Boston resident used to work for Electronic Arts, the world’s largest video game publisher. But six months ago, he quit and decided to freelance. “Instead of working 45-50 hours a week, I can work just 20-25 hours a week and travel,” he says. I met Nick and his friend, Whitney Stewart, swimming in the turquoise waters of Hierve el Agua, in Mexico.
Nick plans to travel south to Argentina. And like James Clark, he believes he has found the perfect lifestyle. Whitney Stewart, however, has kept a foot in two worlds. She lived in Washington, D.C. where she worked for Context Partners as an Associate Design Strategist. But she became location-independent without quitting her stateside job. “I asked my team if I could work remotely,” she says, “because I already did so much of my work online. After some thoughtful deliberation, they agreed.”
Not every aspiring Digital Nomad, however, will have an employer like Whitney Stewart’s. Many will need to start something fresh. But they shouldn’t be rash; it’s best to start slowly. Build a secondary online business from home. If your income is encouraging, consider taking the leap. Sure, it takes guts. But it reminds me of what author John A. Shedd once wrote: “A ship is safe in harbor, but that's not what ships are for.”
Andrew Hallam is a Digital Nomad. He’s the author of the bestseller, Millionaire Teacher and Millionaire Expat: How To Build Wealth Living Overseas