Reflections, Travel Blogging
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How I’m Financially Sustaining My Digital Nomad Lifestyle.

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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 is 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.

Also read: Why Long Term Travel is More Like Real Life and Less Like Instagram

What does it mean to be a digital nomad?

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Inspired to write under the cherry blossom in Japan!

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?

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Life of a digital nomad: Lots of goodbyes. This one in Georgia.

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!

Also read: Unexpected Ways Long Term Travel Has Changed Me

How I’ve been making money to travel (and live)

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Instagram – a growing source of income. Follow me @shivya

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.

Also read: Things I Wish I Knew Before I Quit My Job to Travel

My main sources of income as a digital nomad

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No connectivity, no electricity, but inspiration to write – in rural Uttarakhand.

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.

Also read: Practical Tips to Break Into Freelance Travel Writing

Is my digital nomad lifestyle financially sustainable?

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Practicing Spanish at my abode in Guatemala!

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

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Thinking about the future, with hope 😉 Photo thanks to Siddhartha Joshi.

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

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Passion Projects – promoting veganism. I mean, look at that vegan sushi in Japan!

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!

Also read: This World Environment Day, 5 Steps to Reduce Single Use Plastic – on Our Travels and Everyday Life

Goals as a digital nomad

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Primary goal as a digital nomad – always be working in my PJs 😉

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.

Also read: Why You Shouldn’t Put Off Your Travel Dreams in 2018

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

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Plunging into the cool waters of Lake Atitlan <3

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.

Got questions about my digital nomad life? Ask me in the comments. I would love to hear your own experiences with long term travel and travel blogging too.

Join my digital nomad journey on InstagramTwitter and Facebook!

54 Comments

  1. Purnima Anup Singh says

    Such an inspiring post Shivya- I’ve always loved travel and my husband and I have had many experiences on our numerous travels but I never really thought of jotting down my experiences but lately it’s been making me very restless so I’ve started writing and I find you guys- the newer generation so inspiring- love you and thank you 👍😄

    • Shivya Nath says

      Glad you thought it was inspiring, Purnima! And that’s amazing – I think writing is a great way to remember, but it can also be quite therapeutic. All the best with you writing journey. I’d love to read about your adventures sometime.

  2. Hey Shivya! I’m an avid reader of your blog. Who knew when I met you in 2011 this is where life would take you!! Sending much much power your way:) Did want to ask though, what about other responsibilities?

    • Shivya Nath says

      Hey Zoya, I’m so glad we’re still connected after all these years! I guess you mean familial responsibilities? My parents are still very independent, but if ever that changes, I’ll be there for them. I’m lucky to have a flexible lifestyle that allow that. Did you mean any other responsibilities?

  3. Great post. Congratulations on paying off your student loans. Getting out of debt is a key step to financial independence – there’s nothing like the feeling of not owing money to a person or bank!

    The next step would be the oft-quoted tenet “Save for a rainy day”. While affiliate marketing would supply passive income, a portion of your earnings should go into a safe financial instrument.

    With regards to studying further, these days there are a number of options even if you don’t want to lock yourself down in a classroom for a “formal” degree. Coursera and other MOOC platforms have opened up options for people who want to study at their own pace, perhaps in their PJ’s 🙂

    • Shivya Nath says

      You make some great points, Arvind. It’s indeed relieving to not owe a thing, and I hope never to have to take a loan again. My current instrument of choice are fixed deposits; I can’t figure out other instruments though it’s something I should look into one of these days.

      Haha, PJ learning sounds like my kind of thing. The challenge is I enroll in a ton of courses on Coursera etc, but lack the discipline to follow through.

      • Vajrasar says

        Hi Shivya. I’m one of your silent follower. Its great to hear that you are now at a point where you can write on how you are tackling the financials, starting from the point where you were figuring all this out. Kudos.

        This maybe too technical for a comment but I read your primary financial instrument as FD and can’t resist to comment.

        You MUST opt for other instruments, now that you owe nothing anywhere. Monthly SIP, Lump sum SIP and Mutual Funds should be in your profile.

        With these new age instruments you can take advantage of compound interest logic and god forbid if you need a huge amount after few years, you’ll get a great help from them.

        That being said, you can keep investing in FD (although I’d suggest breaking Amount you want to save in FD to 50-50 and saving one part in FD and one in Govt. debt mutual fund).

        You can divide your savings and decide percentage of amount for different instruments.

        Sorry if I rambled a lot.

        GodSpeed!

  4. bInita says

    Hi Shivya…love your post… Would love you to pen down a post for people who have a base… Have financial commitments but still want to travel as much as possible. ..any luck if you can share some trips and tricks… Thanks..

  5. You are amazing! I love the fact that you are chasing what you believe in and your dreams. No one else’s. I blog but I don’t make any penny. Assignments used to come but since the time I started valuing my work, I have had none. I have stopped writing and clicking though. Cos what’s life without pursuing what we love. Isn’t it? I don’t make money by writing but I have a job.
    Keep going, Shivya! You inspire.

      • Shivya Nath says

        Thanks for sharing, Parul. Good that you haven’t stopped writing and clicking. When you say “valuing my work”, I assume you mean charging what you feel is a fair rate for it, yes? So while I don’t know how exactly you go about it, a couple of thoughts from personal experience:

        1) Sometimes we overestimate ourselves. Since there are no standard industry rates, I keep varying mine. When I feel like my rates are constantly being rejected, I lower them to find a balance and vice versa. It’s all trial and error but helps me arrive at a rate at which I can still make a living and balance quality vs quantity.

        2) Sometimes we’re not present in the right places to score paid work. I think it’s really important to stand out of the clutter. Maybe it’s worth going back to the drawing board to see where most of your target audience is. It can be a mix of social media, SEO, publications etc.

        Hope that helps 🙂

        • Thanks Shivya! Yes, that helps. On the first point, yes asking what’s a fair price. The deal that I had to face was write for free or someone else will and I passed. I understand that a bit of being flexible is important.

          I think I should go back to drawing board like you said. I would love to know how you manage instagram as a source of income. Maybe a post? 🙂 thanks again. I appreciate you taking the time to respond.

  6. Awesome post! It’s so inspiring. I’m currently trying to figure out how to actually do this. I can do it part time each year, but I still have in person jobs, just in various places across the globe.

    (ps, I accidentally didn’t copy the code and I typed it in from memory for the survey ha I hope I got it close but oh well if not!)

    Best,
    Amy

  7. Shivya, have you thought abt taking few ppl with you on your travel adventures? May be the places you like to revisit, hike. That will be another good income.

  8. Arjun Ray says

    Amazing post Shivya. Very inspiring and detailed. You had mentioned in an earlier post or Twitter feed that you have paid off your student loan, kudos to that👍 nothing better than not oweing anyone any money. Personally I’ve never taken a loan myself, snd tried to live within means. Sometimes lack of funds does hinder in travel plans and the ever dropping INR adds to the misery further. Do keep in mind (I’m sure you have it already figured out), keep an emergency fund, like a one year expense fund, invested. You never know when or why you might need it. Also, affiliate marketing might bring in more earning if focussed on and monitored.
    Keep going, stay healthy and happy.✌

  9. If I can add a little word of wisdom about passive income, it’s not to worry about it as much as other bloggers lead you to believe.

    Yes, it’s true 99.9% of the world would love passive income, yet 99.9% of the world doesn’t even think about it. As online people, we have it as an option, but just like most people in the world, we are compensated for the work we do.

    You’re doing an awesome job and I hope you continue to do an awesome job! It is sustainable! You just have to keep building those lucrative deals and learn where to say no! Building an ebook or stock photos or affiliate sales would be great, but there is nothing more lucrative than building a sustainable loyal readership that actually is influenced by your work. It will outlast anything else you can build.

  10. Sanket D. says

    Shivya, I am so happy to read that your blog has become your main source of income. Mainly because I see that you are one of the few blogs (of the thousands I know now) that still focuses so much of its content on personal, experiential content and not the more SEO friendly ‘things-to-do’, ‘destination guide’ kind of stuff. You offer hope 🙂

    Thanks and good luck! Kabhi EU aao ab 🙂

  11. शानदार पोस्ट शिव्या..बहुत प्रेरणादायक पोस्ट 😊

  12. The life you’ve built for yourself is nothing short of amazing. I’ve one question though- how “blogging full time” reflects on anyone’s CV?

    I mean, in case I blog full-time for 2 years and then decide to go back to a 9-5 job, would it be counted as work experience? You’ve experienced both lives-hence asking. 🙂 TIA

  13. Hi, Shivya. Rarely do we find such an honest post. I am relatively new to the field of blogging, so it was reassuring to hear from someone who has traveled farther and to greater heights in this field. I have been following your writing for few months now. I find your style personal, connectable and its like talking to a friend. Keep up the good work. Only the best to you!

  14. Thank you for this post, I love reading your blog and seeing your breathtaking pictures of your travels. You are so inspiring! I sincerely wish you the very best for the next steps in 2018 and beyond.

  15. Thank you for this post! I am living a similar life, though my income comes from my software job rather than my blog, so I relate to the content very strongly. Hope your blog and your income keep growing!

  16. It’s always nice to read your post and get enlightened. Although I’m not really a travel bloggers since I only write about one place, my posts are “fashioned” as travel blog. I feel travel blogs as earning opportunity in India needs to go a long way. Bloggers are still being “tricked” into free work or barters which doesn’t justify their time and efforts. I happily refuse such opportunity upfront without wasting anyone’s time. It is only recently that many companies have started paying well to bloggers but that’s a very select ones that can be counted on fingers. I’m happy to know that things are working well for you, Shivya. Being able to manage life by pursuing what you love without a steady flow of income is not easy. Great going.

  17. Neha says

    Hi shivya! I started following you after suddenly comming across magical photographs of your travel destinations on Google plus. The images themselves were so mesmerizing that i decided to follow you on twitter so that i could read and keep a track of your blogs. Hats off to your guts and apt. Decision making skills. All we can do is keep reading your blogs and see the world from your eyes! 🙂

  18. Great article! You touch on all the things one needs to know! I haven’t been there yet! Many thanks for keeping people like me informed. 🙂

  19. Being a digital nomad is an exceptional thing to do, Shivya! This post was an excellent read and you’ve brought to light the life of nomads!

  20. hi shivya.. thanks for sharing this experience.
    i always had a big question about how to help ourselves financialy while travelling.. you know what i used to think that what would i do if i start traveling without job?
    i don’t want to do job of 9 to 5.
    but then how i supposed to do travel, my only desire..
    but now after reading all these experiences i think i can…
    thanks for inspiring us..

  21. Srashti Agarwal says

    The most inspiring thing I feel in your article is – “but what I don’t want to do again, through this travel blogging career, is chase money as a goal in itself “. It takes lot of determination and discipline not to distract yourself from your goal. Afterall money can make people go blind in a fraction of second. Wish you all the courage and strength to follow your dreams till the end of your life. All the best !

  22. Varsha rani says

    Shivya !! The way you live your dream everyday is reallyy very inspiring. You are my role model , even i want travelling as my life. Through your blog , i realised actually i can live my dream. And by reading your each and every blog, i always get a new hope. I want u to write like this and make believe people like me that that life is possible.
    From
    A Dreamer(who believes i can make traelling as my life.)

  23. You are truly incredible..You are fulfilling your dreams without any fear…Hats of to you.You are an inspiration for millions of people..

  24. Soumya H says

    Hi Shivya! You are amazing! You are truly an inspiration. Just wanted to say thank you for making me realise that it’s possible to achieve whatever you want.

  25. Pingback: Top 5 Inspiring Female Travellers from India

  26. Varsha says

    Your journey is truly amazing! I’ve been following you for a few years now, you are one tenacious and resilient lady who never strayed away from that sense of wonder😊 good going!

  27. Congratulations! Your story is very inspiring. This proves that you don’t need a 9-to-5 job to be financially independent and go after your dreams.

  28. I am relatively new to the field of blogging, so it was reassuring to hear from someone who has traveled farther and to greater heights in this field. I have been following your writing for few months now

  29. I’m inspired by your work as a 30-something who’s lived in France for about a month, teaching English and blogging about that…I’d loved to actually teach more readers and as a plus get paid to travel blog. Do you have a post on how to travel blog and get paid? How do I find publications? Thanks!

  30. Pingback: My Journey From the Cubicle to a Nomadic Life – Now in a Book! | The Shooting Star

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