Want to know the cheapest way to live as a digital nomad?
Let me first start out by saying, I am one of those people who never thought a digital nomad lifestyle is realistic. I mean, who can just run away from all their responsibilities? I found excuse after excuse as to why I couldn’t do it. The biggest and best lie I ever told to myself, is that I didn’t want to be a nomad. I wanted the nine to five, corporate slave, binge drinking lifestyle.
Crazy right? I know, I was insane. It’s debatable whether I’m more or less sane now. But one thing is for sure, I’m definitely a lot happier. I actually didn’t mean to become a digital nomad when I started out. One day I just quit my job and got myself a one-way ticket when my mental health got the better of me. But you can read more about that in Becoming a Nomad. I had actually planned out how I could travel for the next 14 years around the world on working holiday visas before I got too old and restrictions came into place. For me, working holiday visas were so much more of a realistic goal than becoming a digital nomad.
I’m having a little chuckle to myself about that now. I’m sitting here, in India in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, unable to travel. If I had gone with my initial plan, I would have been totally screwed by now! To be fair, I wouldn’t have made it this long. But, I have accidentally found the key! And I want to share it with all your digital nomad aspirers!
Making the decision
So to get me to the point where I was ready to throw all my responsibilities out the window, I had a little breakdown. I use the term ‘little’ quite loosely, but let’s not go into that. I felt like my life had absolutely no meaning, other than slaving away, working for the man, being undervalued and underappreciated. Even though my job was really great, it was insanely stressful and some clients just pushed me over the edge.
One day enough was enough. I handed in my resignation and told my boss I was going to travel. I really hadn’t put a lot of thought into it at this stage, the resignation was a knee-jerk reaction to something. But has likely been the best decision I have ever made in my life. I decided that my life had no meaning, and I felt like I needed to give it some.
Helping people is something that has always made me happy and I have always been a strong advocate of equal rights. Whether it be gay, women’s, racial, anything injust really. So I wanted to find a way that I could help people, giving them a leg up in life that they really deserved. I know that I am exceptionally privileged, and I am of no illusion that my race doesn’t play a part in what I have been able to achieve in life. So I decided that a third world country is where I needed to be.
Looking for volunteer positions
I felt like volunteering somewhere would be the best way for me to make some kind of purpose in my life. To give value to others, rather than just focusing on myself all the time. Women’s equality centers is what had my heart at the time, so I started searching for those. I read some horror stories about how women were treated in India, and I also wanted to learn yoga. So I decided that would be the natural place to start. When I was looking for different volunteer opportunities, I had no idea there were platforms that offered different types of volunteer-ships all over the world.
I’m a visual person, so naturally, I selected the platform that was the most aesthetically appealing, Worldpackers. And wow has that paid off in spades!! Even today as I sit here on my bed, day 39810532 of Covid lockdown, I constantly open the Worldpackers app and scroll through the different things I could do in all the countries I want to visit. It really does keep me sane in times like this. I got myself a 12-month membership long before I even left Australia. Because I was already addicted to scrolling through and seeing all the amazing experiences I would be able to have through Worldpackers.
I had a series of health issues, and that was burning through my money quicker than I was making it at my exceptionally well-paying job. I was hoping to have $10,000 to go away with, to last me however long until I got a job. So seeing that I could volunteer and get free food and accommodation in return was an absolute no-brainer.
My first volunteer position
When I came to India, I decided I needed some significant wind-down time before I got into volunteering. So I had booked in to do my yoga teacher training and had no plans after that. I would just wing it from there. I flew into Delhi and planned to stay there a couple of weeks before my course started. That was a terrible idea. Delhi sucks, do not spend time there. Get out as quickly as you can! I realized that after 3 days, unable to leave the hostel without valium.
So, I went to Rishikesh, the place I would soon be starting my yoga school. I found a cute little place called Art Bliss, and the name sold me. I had loved art as a child, and it was a part of myself I wanted to reconnect with. There I spent my time before yoga school just reading 21 Lessons of the 21st Century, and started to draw again. To my surprise, the owner of Art Bliss offered me to paint one of the walls. I jumped at the opportunity and completed it while I was doing yoga school.
I’d never painted a wall before. I had no idea what I was doing. But I really enjoyed it! So after I finished my yoga school, I opened up my Worldpackers app and saw that there was a place in the same town to volunteer as an artist! It wouldn’t hurt to apply I thought. And to my surprise, I got accepted. I stayed there for a month and a half and painted two huge murals. My accommodation and each of my meals are paid for!
Starting with the ‘digital’ part
So I had already successfully become a nomad. Well, at this point it seemed like I was rather just on a holiday, it had only been maybe two months. But at my first volunteer place, I met a girl who worked online. We became friends and started chatting about things. I told her I really had no plans. I was just painting and trying to finish a novel I was writing. (Still not finished by the way, but in the first round of editing… without being looked at for the last four months.) She told me that she had just left her job, but that she was able to take it with her and do it remotely. Being German but also speaking fluent English, she was a translator. She was worried that I had no plan to make money, so she told me to get on platforms like Freelancer and Upwork.
I didn’t think I had any skills to offer. I wasn’t bilingual and technology hates me! But she reminded me of my privilege. I am a native English speaker and had a tablet. As a bonus, I was already trying my hand at writing. So I gave it a shot. And after about two weeks of applying for every job, I got one! I actually still have it to this day and it’s been my most reliable source of income. I write content for business websites. It doesn’t pay much, only $50 USD per project, which takes me about 4 hours, but it’s been constant and helps me cover all my expenses. That combined with volunteering, I actually started to save money while traveling!
Combining volunteering with working
All the volunteer positions I have worked at, haven’t required more than 5 hours a day out of me. And giving up 5 hours to either do something I love or to help people, and then, in turn, get free food and accommodation… well it sounds too good to be true when I write it down.
Generally, I split up my days. Volunteering is maybe 5-6 days a week. So on most days, I’ll volunteer in the mornings, and every second day I will work. On the other days, I would work on my novel. I would probably do work for maybe 10 hours a week if that. And that was bringing me enough money to cover all my other expenses that weren’t accommodation and food. Like transport, visas, items I wanted to buy, whatever. I felt like I had finally found a true balance in my life, and money started to lose its value. I had no need to accumulate money. What for? If I could work 10 hours a week and cover my expenses, that was the perfect life for me.
So that’s what I’ve been doing the past 12 months. And I’ve got to tell you, it’s great. Some months I don’t volunteer at all. I actually haven’t for almost the entire lockdown, even though it seems like I should have. I actually ended up getting locked down in the same place I had my first volunteer experience through Worldpackers. And I could see the place was losing a lot of planned revenue. So I stopped volunteering and started paying to help them out. I’m pretty lucky that I’m in India and things are so cheap here. I generally survive on $500 USD per month so it’s pretty cheap. Now that I’m not volunteering, I found time to set up a new digital marketing company, which definitely takes up more time than volunteering!
Picking up additional work
One of the most exciting things about the way I live in the opportunities I get. I have been able to create an insane network that provides me crazy opportunities. Sometimes I have to pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming. I’ve been lucky enough to actually team up with Worldpackers, and get paid for content I provide them, new hosts I find, creating video courses, and offering guidance to new travelers.
Getting paid for travel is probably the best thing. It’s literally a dream and life goal for so many people. But that’s not all. I’ve been able to paint in the most insane places, work with children, and work with some pretty big companies. The networking is what gave me the idea and made it possible to start up my own digital marketing company! Don’s ask me why I haven’t done this website yet, I’ll get to it one day! Hahaha
And there we have it
Even taking into account the fact that I don’t volunteer all the time, my average yearly expense would be so much lower than the average digital nomad. But it does bring more value and joy to my life. With the added benefits of it being the cheapest and most realistic way for most people to start their digital nomad journey, it really is possible for everyone. I’m not telling you to run out and quit your job, actually its COVID time, so definitely do not do that. But, if you’re looking for a viable way to do it, then here it is.
I’m not telling you to go out and quit your job. It’s corona time, definitely do not do that. But if you’ve been stressed about finding an online job that pays thousands each week to be able to keep up your lifestyle, I’m here to tell you that you don’t. Volunteering is so rewarding, gives you life experiences, allows you to contribute to something bigger than yourself, and put your life into perspective. And you also get the added benefits of free food and accommodation!
If you’re looking to add more meaning to your life and make it far more exciting than your daily grind, get out there, start volunteering and make your paid work your side hustle.