To fund our travels, both of us worked remotely. While this kept us afloat and definitely had perks, it certainly isn’t always stress free. Figuring out how to maintain a stable professional life while also navigating all of the uncertainty and stimulation associated with life on the road can be challenging and often requires persistence and effort.
If you’re considering a mobile lifestyle, Ryan and I have put together some insights from our own experience that we hope are helpful. Full disclosure, we went the digital nomad route, but this certainly isn’t the only way to earn an income while traveling.
How We earned Remote Incomes
During our time traveling with our bus, Ryan worked remotely (and still does) as a computer programmer. I took some time off after leaving my full-time job in Austin and eventually found another position as a freelance copywriter for a digital marketing company. I also earned a small income from digital photography, but this was too variable and sporadic to be my primary livelihood. Between these occupations and predeparture savings, we were able to afford extended full-time travel.
Some Thoughts on Working Remotely
The Oh Sh*t Fund
We recognize that everyone’s financial situation is different, so we don’t want to make a blanket statement about what you should or shouldn’t do. However, we recommend that you have some savings in the bank before hitting the road. Whether that is a few hundred dollars or several thousand depends on what makes sense for your situation. We can’t always anticipate the future and having a bit of money that you can draw upon in the event of an emergency can make handing the unexpected a little less stressful. I like to think of this as an “Oh Sh*t” fund – money you can use if you ever find yourself uttering those choice words. Maintaining an emergency fund is especially useful if you’re living out of a vehicle. Even with the most diligent maintenance engine issues, breakdowns, and/ or flat tires are likely to happen at some point.
Have Internet, Will Travel
If you’re planning to go the digital nomad route – whether as a freelancer, contractor, or remote employee – you’ll be reliant on wifi and cell-phone signal for your livelihood. If you currently live in a city or larger town, you may be accustomed to having cell service and wifi access just about everywhere you go. Once you get outside of metropolitan areas, however, there are large stretches of the country without a drop of cell phone service present. The character of the landscape and population density can greatly affect whether there is a signal available, and you won’t always be able to rely on a readily available network. If your income depends on having access to the internet – you’ll need to consider how to stay connected during your travels.
The availability of cell phone coverage largely dictated our travel plans, and we used Verizon’s interactive coverage map to check the quality of service at specific locations. Campendium, our favorite online camping reference, includes information about cell phone coverage in its location reviews – making it a great resource to find places to stay. When we first got started, we also used The Mobile Internet Handbook by Cherie Ve Ard and Chris Dunphy, the two full-time traveling legends behind Technomadia, as a helpful reference.
Be Focused but Flexible
Having a constantly changing office view can be exciting and look charming in photographs on social media, but the truth is that even if you’re working in a beautiful location you still need to produce results to get paid. For us, successfully working remotely required a lot of organization, time-management, and self-discipline. Each new place brought fresh distractions and unique conditions, and remaining productive meants staying flexible and focused despite a changing work environment. With that in mind, we thought it was important to figure out how to balance working with the fun parts of traveling (after all, that’s the point, right?). For us this meant maintaining certain daily/weekly routines despite a changing back-drop.
Time is Fleeting
Learning to manage our time well was another important aspect of working remotely and we often had to make travel plans around deadlines and clients’ work schedule. For us, this sometimes meant literally working from the road. When driving on weekdays, if one of us was behind the wheel, the other was often working on a laptop while buckled into the passenger seat. Typing and/or photo editing while bouncing down wash-boarded national forest service roads is an acquired talent that I’m pleased to say we both eventually mastered.
The Tax Man Cometh
Working as a freelancers and independent contractors provided us with the freedom to largely be where we wanted when we wanted. However, transitioning from being an employee of a company to an independent worker meant reorganizing how we thought about taxes. If you’re working for yourself, you’ll no longer have regular deductions taken out of your monthly paycheck and will need to save a portion of your income for quarterly or yearly self-employment taxes. Before you make the decision to go freelance or become a contractor, we recommend learning more about how it’ll impact your state and federal income tax requirements.
There’s a lot to like about being a full-time remote worker, and if this is something you’re interested in trying, by all means take the steps necessary to make it happen for yourself. Just be aware that learning to do it successfully isn’t easy and there is a lot of romanticizing that happens in the portrayal of remote workers. If you’re considering this option, some resources you might find helpful are:
- Legal Nomads: Resources for Digital Nomads and Freelance Writers
- Side Hustle School
- Technomadia: Non-Retired Younger Full-time RVers
- The Freelancers Bible
- The Money Book for Freelancers, Part-Timers, & the Self Employed: The Only Personal Finance System for People with Not So Regular Jobs
- The Mobile Internet Handbook: For US-Based RVers, Cruisers and Nomads