About this post: Nearly 5 years ago, I gave up my home and most possessions to embrace a digital nomad lifestyle – making money to travel through travel blogging. In this digital nomad blog post, I candidly share how I make money travel blogging and what the digital nomad lifestyle entails. If you have questions about my digital nomad life or how being a digital nomad girl is different, ask away in the comments!
[Update 2018: After 7 years of travelling the world – 5 of those without a home or permanent address – I’ve written a book about my journey! “The Shooting Star” charts my journey from the cubicle to the road and from small-town India to remote corners of the globe. Published by Penguin, the book is now available on Amazon and Flipkart.]
I’m writing this post from what is probably my favorite “office” in the world. The lake that stretches out below me looks exceptionally blue today; fluffy clouds have engulfed parts of the three volcanoes that dramatically rise up from the lake’s shores. There’s a nip in the air after the intense rain last night; a hummingbird is fluttering about the jacaranda tree outside the window. I don’t need to plug in my headphones because the gentle waves of the water and the sweet chirping of birds are more calming than any music.
For nearly two months, this spot, by the shores of Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, has been my home, office and the extent of my world.
Every morning, I rub my eyes in disbelief at the surreal vista before me. And as I analyse how I’ve been making money to travel over the years, I feel disbelief at my digital nomad lifestyle too.
What does it mean to be a digital nomad?
The term “digital nomad” wasn’t as much in use back in 2013, when I gave up having a permanent address, sold most of my possessions and decided to travel indefinitely. Of late, as more people embrace a location independent lifestyle, the phrase digital nomad is used to describe anyone who works remotely, earns most of their money online (digitally), doesn’t have a home base to go back to and probably doesn’t own much except what’s in their luggage.
Besides travel blogging, digital nomads often run online businesses, have a remote work agreement with their workplace and freelance as writers, coders, photographers and anything else that can be done online, from anywhere in the world.
Also read: How to Earn Money While Travelling
What is my digital nomad lifestyle like?
Personally, my lifestyle entails spending a couple of weeks to a month in one place, then moving on – working as a travel blogger wherever in the world I am. This includes travel assignments once in 2-3 months, and my own slower explorations while working on the go the rest of the time. I try to visit my parents for a week or so every few months or whenever I’m in India for a while. I also try to mix up new places with going back to places I love and feel familiar with – like Goa in the rains, Ladakh and Sarmoli to see friends, Thailand to wind down, and here, Guatemala, to find endless inspiration.
Deciding to commit to two months in Guatemala – the longest I’ve stayed in one place since 2013, when I stopped renting an apartment in Delhi – was an experiment to see if I was ready to transit out of my nomadic life. Turns out, even though I’ve loved my time here to bits, my feet are getting itchy again. At the end of the month, I’ll be off to Cuba and later, California!
How I’ve been making money to travel (and live)
I know that’s a question on everyone’s mind – irrespective of whether you’ve been following me for a while or you’re a new reader (welcome!). Truth us, sometimes I can’t help asking myself too.
Since I last wrote about how I’m funding my adventures around the world through travel blogging in 2015, four things have changed:
- Travel blogging has become my primary source of income.
- Instagram is directly or indirectly helping fund my travels.
- I’m being approached for lucrative freelance work!
- I’ve paid off my massive student loan of 26,000$ so I can be more picky about what I work on.
My main sources of income as a digital nomad
You probably know that I started this blog merely as a space to write. At first, I wanted to rant about life. When I began travelling, I wanted to share stories of kindness and adventure from my travels with anyone who would read them – but mostly because I didn’t want to forget them myself.
Over the years, the opportunities have changed tremendously. As more people travel and more people invest in the tourism industry, travel blogs have emerged as a powerful way to influence decisions. While I continue to write for largely the same reasons, I’m now also able to make a decent living off this blog.
Here’s what has worked for me as a digital nomad in the last couple of years:
Travel blogging: In 2017, I made 65% of my total income through this travel blog. As my blog readership and reach has grown over the past years, I’ve received more paid projects and been able to negotiate better deals. As mentioned in my 2015 post, this has been a mix of long term / repeat partnerships with brands I love, destination-based travel campaigns and branded content.
Some projects I’ve loved working on recently include Say Yes To The World with Lufthansa, My First Ski Experience with Swiss Airlines, Undiscovered Japan with Japan Tourism and Offbeat Copenhagen with Wonderful Copenhagen. Besides the fact that I thoroughly enjoyed blogging about these, I also appreciate collaborating with professional industry folk who understand how to work with bloggers.
Social media, especially Instagram: As a digital nomad, with always a ton of stories to share from the road, it’s easy to get consumed by social media. So when I analysed my 2017 earnings, I was a bit shocked to see that I had earned only 4% of my total income through Twitter and Facebook. That made me decide to cut down my Twitter time massively – and invest it in writing more blog posts instead.
On the other hand, I earned a hearty 20% through Instagram – a channel I love for other reasons too. Despite being a visual platform, Instagram is where I’m having meaningful conversations with my followers as compared to other social media. I often use Instagram as a travel journal to refer back to in the future, and end up practicing my writing on it almost daily! My Instagram gallery also acts as a portfolio of sorts and I’ve received substantial blogging and freelancing projects through it.
Travel writing and other freelance work: In my 2015 post, I wrote that I’ve cut down my freelance work to a minimum. This means I seldom send out pitches to travel publications – and in 2017, I only earned 6% of my total income through freelance work. But in 2018, I’ve been receiving well-paying projects or those I’m passionate about – without pitching. I reckon the freelance percentage and range of work will climb up again this year.
Speaking at travel conferences and events: Last year, I fought my public speaking demons to speak on several occasions – as a keynote speaker at the SoDelhi Confluence in Delhi, as a panelist at the World Travel Writers Conference in the Maldives and as a moderator at a Responsible Travel Forum in Mumbai. Some of my speaking gigs were paid, others were not, but they gave me the confidence to get out of my shell and speak more – especially about topics close to my heart like sustainable tourism and storytelling. I ended up earning 4% of my total income through speaking gigs.
Affiliate marketing: This part sucks. I didn’t pay any real attention towards affiliate marketing, and ended up with a measly 1% in direct revenue. I didn’t even keep track of money earned in referral credit. One of my goals this year is to up this percentage.
Is my digital nomad lifestyle financially sustainable?
Yes and no.
My income was more or less stable in 2016 and 2017, in that through a widely different range of projects, I was able to earn about the same amount annually. 2018 promises to be different, considering I’ve already crossed what I earned last year. Although things are looking up, I can’t help but get the nagging feeling that my current lifestyle isn’t yet financially sustainable. Maybe it’s to do with turning 30 earlier this year!
The thing that I’m lacking as a digital nomad is a source of passive income – income that keeps pouring in even if I don’t pour in the work. For many bloggers, this means affiliate marketing, selling e-books or offering blogging courses. I have none of these things going for me; truth is, I haven’t worked towards any of them. Passive income is a big topic of discussion among other bloggers too. We all need something to sustain us if we get sick and are unable to work, for instance.
Also read: Four Years of Travelling Without a Home
Saving money and thinking about the future
A lot of people ask me if I think or worry about the future.
For the past few years, my biggest financial burden was my humungous student debt of 26,000$ – which I thankfully managed to pay off in end 2017! With that out of the way, I’ve started saving more money with each project I score – I’m quite satisfied with the idea of growing my savings bit by bit, but have no intention of letting it consume me. That’s not how I want to live.
If you’ve read my blog for a while, you probably also know that I never intend to have kids, so that’s not something I need to save for. I don’t dream of buying a house either.
In life so far, I’ve found that little good comes from dwelling on the future. It’s going to come anyway and it’s going to be nothing like what we imagine, so what’s the point?
So to everyone who asks, I think about the future sometimes, yes, but worry, rarely.
Also read: 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Me
Earning money to travel vs. Passion projects
The reason I quit my corporate job, back in 2011, was because I didn’t want to chase money or promotions. I wanted to chase dreams, experiences, meaningful professional challenges and fulfilment of some sort. Of course I need money to chase all those things, but what I don’t want to do again, through this travel blogging career, is chase money as a goal in itself.
So these days, with the dark cloud of the student loan lifted from my head, I’m happy to earn enough to sustain my digital nomad lifestyle and save a bit – and direct the rest of my energy to passion projects. Currently these include promoting veganism and “I Love Spiti” – a campaign to fight plastic bottled water waste, for which we *almost* have a sponsor!
Goals as a digital nomad
One reason I really wanted to pen this post is to commit myself to some goals for the coming months:
- Passive income: I’m seriously looking to build affiliate marketing on my blog, slowly, in a way that remains true to the way I explore places.
- Guest posts: There’s so much I want to write about, but one me is just not enough. I’m looking at inviting guest contributors on the blog, especially to write about sustainable travel and vegan-friendly destinations. I’ll have a process in place soon, but if that’s you, feel free to send a pitch.
- Another degree? Sounds crazy, I know. When I was done with my bachelor’s degree, I swore I’d never go to college again. But I’ve developed a keen interest in sustainability, and I wonder if besides soft skills like writing, a dedicated master’s degree or diploma could help. This is not a goal yet, just an idea floating in my head. If you have thoughts for and against, please share.
Understanding my readers better
In order to shape my vision for this blog, I want to hear more about what YOU want from it. What you love, what inspires you, what will add more value to your travels (or life). I invite you to answer my 2018 READER SURVEY. As a thank you, I’m giving away Amazon vouchers worth USD 30 (INR 2,000) each to two lucky respondents.
At the end of the survey, you’ll see details on how to enter the giveaway!
Update (September 2018): Thanks to everyone who took the time to answer my reader survey; your feedback has been very helpful! The survey is now closed, and the two lucky winners are Gayatri and Shruti Sunderraman; congrats!
A note of gratitude
As I plunged into the cool depths of Lake Atitlan this morning, I felt immense gratitude wash over me for being able to call this, “my life”. I’m grateful to the 23-year-old me who decided to stop chasing money and seek a different path in life. To the 25-year-old me who risked giving up her apartment and selling everything she owned, for an unpredictable life on the road. To everyone out there who believed in my work. But most of all, to you guys, my readers, for without you there’d be no blog and no digital nomad lifestyle! Thank you for being part of this roller coaster life that makes me spin around the world, sometimes broke, sometimes rolling in wealth, but always ready to embrace the next adventure.