Be a Digital Nomad: It’s a Job, Too

Vanessa Leigh - Pyragraph

I was yelling out some questions about setting up a Udemy account to my friend Darcy, who posted this photo to Instagram with the caption: This is how we talk about work. #nomadlife Photo by Darcy Holdorf.

I’ve always wanted to be free. Yeah that’s vague as hell, but you know what I mean. It’s an ill-formed desire that develops whenever I’m in a situation that feels constraining, that could be anything at all—a job or a romantic relationship or a stinky cab. I want out. OK, call me immature, fine, I’m just telling you the truth. I like doing what I like doing. Don’t misunderstand! In theory I really want to be mature and work a stable normal gig with retirement. But there’s that whole art problem going on; in reality I just want to make my own work and that’s almost impossible when I’m sequestered in a regular job.

Right now I have so many email addresses and websites rolling around it’s become a big joke.

The money issue, the craving for stability and the loudass need to be free equals endless struggle. So I finally realized it would probably be best if I worked for myself. And if I wanted to achieve my deepest dreams of creating films (traveling a lot covering various spiritual healing practices all over the world) I had to find a way to survive in an independent way while establishing my art-realm business.

Well, this is where digital nomadness arrives. When I first heard the expression I laughed ’cause it sounded so dorky. Name aside, it seemed like a dream come true. It’s not, but it sure seemed like a glitterball of hope.

Being a “digital nomad” means that you are making a living online, and aren’t locked into going to “an office” or whereever. You can find a million ways to generate income through the web—that could be content writing, copyediting, blogging, IT stuff, selling products on various platforms, advising about social media on any of these new money generating platforms. You can Google this and will find endless methods to pull it off.

The main perk to making a living online is that you can be anywhere—and actually it’s better to work in a country with a lower cost of living ’cause it’s challenging to generate online income just like anything else, particularly when you are starting out. So, you just grab your trusty laptop, scrape up some cash for a plane ticket and go somewhere cheap as hell to get it launched.

Thailand is a big nomad spot, that’s where I am now. It’s gorgeous and shockingly inexpensive. My rent is 150 bucks. If you read nomad blogs you will hear all about the glory of this lifestyle: $1 fresh juice smoothies, make your own hours, tubing in the river, etc. A lot of these blogging nomads are young. Us older folks aren’t so much prioritizing parties at the river, but the cheap organic juices are great and yeah it’s glorious to be in Thailand, for a while. After a year or so it’s just as hard as everything else in life.

For example, my grandmother became suddenly ill and is so very far away. Last-minute flights are expensive and the one I bought requires 27 hours of travel time. And my niece just turned 10—the years fly. It becomes a matter of deciding what works and what doesn’t and what you want and what you don’t—location and method of income doesn’t change these issues.

Vanessa Leigh - Pyragraph

This is what my nomad workspace looks like, sometimes. I was working at a place called Coffee Monster in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Photo by Vanessa Leigh.

I’m copyediting, blogging and designing Udemy courses. Yes, the hours are flexible, but it’s tons of work to forge these structures. Yes, in the eight months I’ve been doing this I’ve managed to create some of my own work. But not much yet. In order to have a sustainable income, you have to constantly drum up business or sell your products or do whatever you’re doing. Updating social media alone is full-time work!

My own work also requires a huge amount of web presence in order to actualize an audience and funding. Making and then updating websites takes forever. Right now I have so many email addresses and websites rolling around it’s become a big joke because I can’t remember what is what. Hopefully once these structures are in place I will be able to redirect my energies onto my own work. That’s the idea, and I can actually see it happening. I’m excited to get there.

Making art is hard work—it’s deep and time-consuming—that doesn’t change. And, working online is also hard work, and time-consuming. The balance and commitment issues continue. But for now I am, in fact, unencumbered from the weight of working for The Man. For me, this is preferable at the moment. But maybe I’ll be beckoned back. Dunno. I’m still really enthralled by my ill-formed freedom dream, so ya know, here I am drinking the fresh Thai juice, and surviving and trying to figure it all out.

About Vanessa Leigh

Vanessa is a writer, documentary filmmaker, theater teacher and part-time digital nomad. At the moment she is based in Thailand, but that will change soon. She’s also lived in China, Ecuador, New Orleans, Brooklyn, San Francisco, Seattle and Pittsburgh. Her Kindle is filled with books about goddesses, Taoism and rock ‘n roll bios.

And. Vanessa has intense Radiolab love—blissful true love.

3 Comments

  1. Elene Gusch on March 21, 2015 at 4:42 pm

    Well, pretty soon there probably won’t be stable normal gigs with retirement anyway, so you might as well do what you want!

    If you are going to sell yourself as a copyeditor, though, you’d better watch errors such as “illformed” (should be hyphenated), “do whatever your doing” (I sure hope you know what’s wrong with that one), and “unemcumbered.” But you can learn that aspect more easily than those of us who are good at proofing can learn stuff like filmmaking, I bet.

    Thanks for pointing out that creating this kind of job for yourself takes tons of work and attention. A lot of times people are selling information about how to do it and they make it sound soooo easy! Wishing you success.

    • Peri Pakroo on March 22, 2015 at 5:41 pm

      The copyediting is Pyragraph’s fault, FWIW. It’s one of the weak links in our chain. Hopefully this year we can afford a dedicated position.

  2. Mark Ryerson on March 30, 2015 at 9:25 pm

    Thanks for your honesty. Wish you all the best finding the balance you are seeking

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