What “Get-Rich-Quick” Digital Nomads Never Tell You

If there was ever a valid excuse for being behind on writing a travel blog, I'd say trying to earn a living while on the move is one of them.

I’ve written this in response to recent struggles, as a riposte to anyone who scrolls through their Facebook and Instagram feeds and sneers enviously at how perfect and wonderful life as a global gallivanter seems. In this surface-value century, we tend to unconsciously swallow all the positive images and stories with no regard to the peripheral narrative.

People invariably only see the happy, carefree, positive side.

Another reason for this post is to comment on the 'digital nomad' craze that seems to have been sweeping social media since Instagram's invention. I need to vent my resentment towards this proliferation of posts showing travellers who are ‘living the dream’ and earning thousands as they fly around the globe, for the simple reason that I’m struggling to believe these people exist.

'Digital nomad' is a term for anyone who uses the internet to work while travelling. These people may be constantly in transit, moving from country to country like laptop-wielding gypsies or simply living and working a long way from home, setting up a base in cities with high-speed internet and a cheaper cost of living, then eventually moving on with a decent amount in their bank account. Wherever they are while working like this, they are often the envy of many who still live in their home country at a permanent address.

What rattles my cage with the digital nomad movement is its misleading visual presence on the internet. At this point, I hold up my hands and admit that I’m guilty of contributing to the very accumulation of images I tend to detest: Free-spirited people taking selfies from the top of a mountain while hash-tagging along the lines of #livetoexplore and #freedomliving (slight shudder of self-conscious embarrassment here).

But it’s not the blatant show of “Look where I am today, everyone! Enjoying that grim, grey commute as you scroll through my blindingly beautiful pictures from paradise?” that irritate me; it’s the fake accounts of those who claim to be rolling in money from living like this which are the true source of my annoyance.

My personal digital-nomad Instagram account, (@markjnewtonart #like4like #seewhatImean #shootmenow) regularly receives spam-comments of “Great shot! Follow my blog to learn how to travel while earning £££s!”. I’m genuinely baffled as to who these people really are and how they’re achieving this dubious dream.

My partner Nate doesn’t use Instagram quite as much as me, but when he does, he frequently experiences the same types of comments on his posts. His most recent was a random stranger posting “Great shot! Don’t ever change!” on his newly-uploaded photograph. Nate had no idea who this person was, and it was pretty telling that they didn’t know him either. What were they supposing he’d change? What was their computer-generated opinion supposed to achieve? Like me, Nate has an intuitive reaction of distrust towards these posting imposters and smells a strong whiff of bullshit with each of these comments. It’s not just infuriatingly superficial; it’s just plain weird.

There’s something almost cultish about the whole thing, as though there is a group of con-artists living in the Bahamas somewhere and making millions from people who mistakenly think they can realistically earn a living by writing blog posts and creating clickbait. We’d be interested to know if our readers have experienced the same thing with their social media, and what their thoughts are on this, so please feel free to add a comment to this post (as long as it’s not “Nice one! Follow me here…”)

I mention these examples because for the last year or so, my partner and I have been eking out an income using online-based employment (our most profitable source being the online teaching platform www.italki.com, as well as the freelancing site www.upwork.com) and while our methods been successful in generating enough to get by on, its unpredictable nature and low rate of pay is nothing like the luxurious lifestyle presented by the digital nomad community on social media.

We’ve had the constant worry of whether we'll earn enough that week to cover all our expenses, even when our outgoings don't involve rent or a mortgage or even a hotel bill. Then there’s the chasing of payments from businesses we’ve freelanced for. Or the sickening experience of companies who’ve employed our services, then failed to pay anything for the material we’ve sent them, while disappearing entirely with all our hard work.

Enough of the sob-story. In our pursuit of a freer lifestyle, we’ve accepted that certain sacrifices must be made and while we’re scratching a living in the digital dirt, we are having a bloody good time experiencing a life on the move too.

There are certainly ways to create a genuinely successful income online, but I’m not convinced it’s being achieved by people who exist on Instagram as smugly smiling travellers on a palm-lined coast in the Maldives.

I’m writing this blog post from a co-working space in downtown Chiang Mai, a city in Thailand that has become a mecca for remote workers. While there are piercings and sleeve tattoos aplenty as well as the slight whiff of hipster-favoured vegan mocha-frappacinos with a gluten free biscuit (yah), I’d say that most folks around me are young, entrepreneurial types who simply want to get some serious work done. There’s no pomp or pretentiousness. No-one is flashing any bling or strutting into the workspace wearing merino wool chinos and Gucci shades. I’m also doubtful that any of them are going to head into the nearby mountains with a selfie-stick this afternoon, intending to post a “Freedom Living Makes Thousands!” image on Instagram.

Here in this inspirational co-working area, there’s only drive, focus and dedication to their projects while living far away from home.

Which perfectly illustrates my point about nomadic living and working. Real digital nomads work hard to maintain their freer lifestyle. Every day, they face challenges and worries concerning their employment and income, just as someone with a fixed address would. Added to this is the confusion and hilarity that comes with daily life in a foreign environment, where they often deal with completely different lingual and cultural codes.

Becoming a digital nomad suggests to us a path of consciousness, of being awake and desiring a freer, more independent life. If this lifestyle isn’t presented transparently, where people are honest about the way they make an income while maintaining this joyous, carefree, experience-rich life, it seems to go against the ethos of the whole idea. It’s not my intention to criticize any digital nomad who seeks to help others find their way onto this path, even if that help is offered at a price. However, something in my moral compass instantly distrusts the ‘get rich quick’ theme that’s often presented by these bloggers and Instagrammers. The next time you see a post on social media that features shiny happy nomads who appear to be living the dream in some exotic location, take a moment to consider the backstory. Who are these people and how did they get to that place? Moreover, why are they posting their images and comments? [if !supportLineBreakNewLine] [endif]

If it’s an authentic story of someone's inspirational journey across the globe as they realise that life doesn’t have to follow certain rules and conventions, then you’d have every reason to be intrigued. But if it’s anything along the lines of “Make Pounds in Paradise” followed by dozens of stock photos of sky diving and poolside cocktails, you can be assured the dodgy stench of bullshit will shortly follow.

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