***As always, the posts are written by the two of us, Szilvi’s thoughts are in Italic, mine are in normal.***
Oh, yes. What’s better than working from a beach in the sand, under a lush palm tree, while crystal clear waves calm your mind? No difficult challenges, but freedom to travel, to explore new places every day, and to sit around the campfire on the shore sipping cocktail with like-minded friends at nights.
Oh, what a life! Like a never-ending holiday. The life of a successful digital nomad. Or at least that’s how most people imagine it and how it can be seen on Instagram. Portion of it can be true. Don’t get me wrong, we wanted something like this, of course, that’s why we are here, that’s why we started this.
We had an eventful and busy life before this, too. We travelled at least 5 times a year, even ran and then helped organizing a marathon in Uganda and fell for Africa. Our London in numbers is impressive. It still wasn’t enough. The promise of freedom and the digital nomad lifestyle was way too tempting to find an excuse against it.
Even the “rational” voices couldn’t echo the same thing enough, about settling and starting a family to make us do what we “should” at this stage.
So, we decided to create a life we really want and moved to Thailand. Then to Bali. I still wouldn’t say we were fooled by our idealistic dreams. We knew what we’re going for. Yet here we are, experiencing and now sharing the first few difficulties we’re facing. Don’t worry, you’ll still get the good stuff on Instagram and on Youtube (and here), but here some real sh*t stuff, the 6 most difficult challenges for becoming a successful digital nomad.
At first, it is definitely weird. Especially for us. We are really active on holidays, always trying to make the most out of our time in a new place. We don’t mind waking up early and going to bed late or hiking a lot. Don’t even mind skipping restaurants, for us that is just time and money consuming. It’s ok to be totally exhausted by the time we go back to work because our souls are lifted and well fed for a while.
It’s not the case now. It’s not a holiday. It’s our life now. We have to wake up early and it feels we’re constantly busy with work. Unfortunately it’s not even always paid work. We have to put a lot in to establishing new professional online profiles, searching remote jobs, reading a lot about skills we learn, writing the blog and learning all the backgrounds of its marketing, etc. It’s a lot of hard work, especially if you have a lot to figure out how to change your career, too.
Many of our friends/readers think of this as a long holiday, we are having fun all the time, getting tanned, and enjoying our lives. Well, our days are so busy sometimes, that we can’t get off from our laptops and we work more than 8 hours on most days. That's not much fun guys. No, we can’t work on the beach, as the laptop would die in an hour in that heat and you can’t see the screen anyway. The best case to be close to the nature is to work in the shade on the balcony, so don't believe anyone who says otherwise. We are spending hours and hours writing our blog, learning a new skill or editing a video, which we are not even paid for. But we would like to see it as an investment, and hopefully it will return soon. Annoyingly the co-working spaces in Bali are so expensive that you have to be a well paid entrepreneur already to afford it regularly. Not to mention the internet, which is sometimes not much better there than at your guesthouse.
So it’s very slow here. We still find a day or two in a week to explore simply because all of these things are now right here on our doorstep. Even on a normal day when we work or we have to do the shopping, cleaning the house, training or doing everyday stuff, we’re still here. The calmness, the smiles from the locals, the sunshine and the special food are all part of our life now and sometimes we don’t even feel the need to go and explore. Other times we’re just tired.
No or low income
If you're a good planner you make sure that you have enough money on your account to cover the first few months. If you have a passive income or an already „working” side hustle that can help rolling the ball straight from the beginning that’s a huge favour for yourself already, success is guaranteed.
You need savings before you start your digital nomad life, that’s for sure. Planning is one thing, but we didn’t plan a broken collarbone, so plans change. (If you’re a beginner muay thai boxer, don’t fight with the “big dogs”.) If you have time and capacity start your online work while you still have your full time job, to make sure it will be going well by the time you leave that job.
So even if you start making money you still need to wait for the first paycheck, which in a longer project’s case can be months. There are still costs to cover.
The other thing you have to bear in mind is consistency. Sometimes you’re busy, sometimes there is nothing. Last week I had a lot of paid translation jobs and a few online Hungarian classes, this week is really quiet. Not happy.
Focusing on too many things or too little - the niche challenge
This whole lifestyle requires extra focus and a lot of hard work to get paid. It’s common to rely on different income sources, therefore you need to have different ongoing projects at the same time. Not following these golden rules can end your dreams and you can find yourself working in a job with the only upside being it pays the bills.
On the other hand, if you try to sit too many horses with one ass, you’re not gonna be ace at anything really, which makes you less marketable. So, the answer for how to overcome this is to find your niche. That is the hardest for us. We did so many things and changed so much for finding what we’re really good at. Just have a look at the list here.
Among the two of us we share interests and skills (most of them with continuous work on) like writing blogs in 2 languages, filming (so far with an iphone), social media management, virtual assistant, travelling (is it a skill?), translating, teaching languages online, marketing and a lot more. It’s just hard to narrow down to the ones we really love and are willing to put the extra energy in to.
It’s good to do more things at the time, but then do them properly. We are interested in so many things and we jumped into learning new skills, to make sure we do them right. I don’t want to forget my assistant skills, although I’m so eager to learn filming. I don’t want to limit myself to one thing, and I have no idea which one would that be if I did. Being free, location independent and able to do whatever I want made me confused. When we decided to start this digital nomad life, I was sure about being a virtual assistant is the work I’m good at. And now I realized I could be good at so many other things - probably more interesting ones too- , I just need to invest time in practising.
Lack of community support
Right now in Bali it is just not worth the money (or is it?) to go to co-working spaces as we don’t make enough. Back in the UK the Yestribe and the Say Yes More community welcomed us in the family and without them we wouldn’t have taken off. Though we chose a different path, they’re still there for us and we’re there for them, too, (and we’re going back to the Camp Yestival in June, yesss!)
Here, it’s just us now and all of the “mentors” on youtube and behind blogs or books. Actually it is time to get social. My broken shoulder is getting ok now, next week I can even ride a scooter, so let’s go! I know that it is key to network and find new friends. Or maybe a little inspiration.
Luckily we are not only a married couple, but very good friends too, so we can “tolerate” each other in 24/7. We laugh a lot, we argue sometimes, but I think both of us missing more interaction with people. As we can’t really afford to work in co-working places yet, that’s out. We are friendly to everyone around us, neighbours, hosts, another random couple sitting next to us at lunch, but it’s not enough to create new friendships. If you’re in the beginning of your digital nomad career and on a budget, it’s really limiting your opportunities to meet others.
Finding the first few gigs
Again, without support and the right network it’s going to be a struggle. You set up new online profiles on Italki, on Upwork, on Fiverr, on PeoplePerHour and on a tons of different freelancer and job portals but it takes so much to get your first job. Remember, ideally you have more than one source of income, so you want to work on different projects maybe as a freelancer.
Even if you have the right skills, you need a few gigs done with good reviews and references with recommendations and most likely you have to start selling yourself for cheap. Serious buyers don’t start with beginners with no reviews.
Yes, I had to pick up some sh*tty projects to start with, which believe it or not are also not too easy to find. At the bottom there are lot of scams and just simply stupid things to do for stupidly little money.
We constantly learn new skills, but we have to admit that we gave ourselves the biggest challenge to make money online with something we’ve never done in a way we’re also just getting familiar with.
Productivity and motivation
Motivating myself every day is one of the hardest things for me. To wake up every morning, knowing that you will work through the day again, looking for work, learning and probably won’t make much money. It takes time to get to that point when your work is finally appreciated and paid well. Many people quit at this point, just before it’s getting started properly. I don’t want us to be the ones who quit. I know that our hard work will pay off soon. Until then we get paid with the sunshine, the cooling water in the waterfalls, and with the happiness we feel at the end of the day that we are on the right path.
You’re your own boss here. If you don’t kick your ass out of the bed early in the morning, if you let yourself constantly distracted by Facebook or you just enjoy the sunshine in Thailand or in Bali and just keep travelling, you’re going to fail. Period.
Productivity and motivation. Keys. We wake up at 7 (at the latest) in the morning, we have breakfast, we meditate and plan our tasks and targets for the day. We even plan the times when we need to write, to work on the blog, to read (to learn) or to watch YouTube (tutorials mainly). There are times for sightseeing, exploring, filming and editing and times, you know, for ourselves.
After all this sh*t you could ask why the hell are we even doing this? For many reasons. We want to succeed. The feeling of being our own bosses, the freedom of being anywhere in the world, the feeling of the sunshine, the love and the smiles every single day and this laid-back culture are just being the best food for our souls.
What’s personally even better motivation for me is always to keep in mind how I don’t want to end up. I don’t want to fail and go back to a life I’m trying to escape from: working 9-5, praising the weekends and all the so called rational lifestyle features with all of its materialistic bullsh*t. I don’t want to rely on politics to solve my life, I don’t want to be led by the TV and I want more than just binge watching series. Mediocrity can be a safe choice, but it is just not for me.
It’s not only business for us, we want to be useful and to be part of the world playing our script in it. To enjoy and to give back, to do good.