scorecardI quit my job to work and travel, and I can tell you it's doable even without a trust fund
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I quit my job to work and travel, and I can tell you it's doable even without a trust fund

digital nomad

Elizabeth Aldrich

The author near Hue, Vietnam.

In 2015, I joined the ranks of my generation's biggest cliché: I quit my job to travel the world, built a career online, and never came home. Yes, I'm a "digital nomad."

I'm not here to peddle vague platitudes about how "anyone can do it" or show you photos of my lavish lifestyle while failing to mention that I mostly live off savings from the six-figure job I quit. I'm definitely not here to sell you my latest e-course.

I want to talk about the financial reality of being self-employed and location independent. Contrary to what you might assume, it's actually more stable than traditional, full-time employment.

When I say that, I mean that it's more stable once you're established. The first few months - or sometimes years, depending on your connections and level of experience - are rocky, at best. I had the privilege of being able to move back in with my parents during my first year of self-employment to save money.

Now that I've been doing this for a few years, I feel better about my finances and career than I ever did in my previous job. Here's why.

I control my income

Most people like taking home a salary because you earn the same amount of money every month, even if you take some sick days or go on vacation. However, the inverse of that is also true - at my old job, I was constantly staying late and working weekends for no extra pay. 

Now, I rarely work more than 40 hours each week. But if something comes up and I need extra money, I can increase my income by 50% almost immediately by simply working an extra 20 hours that week.

digital nomad traveling

Elizabeth Aldrich

The author visiting temples in Angkor Wat, Cambodia.

When you're self-employed, the money you make is directly tied to the work you do. Some people hate that, but I find it empowering and motivating. My paychecks feel that much more rewarding when I know they're 100% the result of my own work. 

The best part of it all is that I get to choose my own hourly rate. Imagine landing a job offer and having them ask you what you charge - that's what self-employment looks like. Granted, if I price myself too high it becomes harder to find work, but I've increased my rates beyond what I thought I could get on multiple occasions and demand for my work has only gone up.

I have multiple streams of income

If you get laid off by your boss in traditional employment, you lose 100% of your income. If I get laid off by one of my clients, I only lose 5-10% of my income at most. Having money coming in from multiple sources is key to financial stability, and I make sure not to keep all of my eggs in one basket by never letting any one client make up the majority of my income.

I also "diversify" in the same way you might with your investment portfolio. I work in multiple niches so that I'm never reliant on any one industry, and I use my flexible schedule to arm myself with a wide range of in-demand skills. Apart from freelancing in multiple fields, I also do some consulting, sell a line of products, and am in the process of starting my own business.

I live in low-cost areas without sacrificing my income level

Everything I've mentioned so far can be done without the "location independent" aspect of being a digital nomad. That comes into play when I consider my expenses.

I work with clients that are headquartered in major cities around the world, and they pay me the same rates they'd pay someone who works from their New York City or San Francisco headquarters. But because I work virtually, I can live in very low-cost areas without having to lower my income standards. 

I also have the immense privilege of being able to make US dollars, one of the most valuable currencies in the world, while living in countries with a relatively lower cost of living (which is almost everywhere). This means that I save up to 70% of my income each month.

digital nomad traveling

Elizabeth Aldrich

Taking a dip in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua.

This lifestyle isn't for everyone. A trust fund helps, but it certainly isn't necessary - I didn't have one. What you do need is a lot of persistence, patience for failure, the ability to market yourself, and maybe a couch to crash on for the first few months. But once you make it, know that you'll likely be more financially stable than ever.

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