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How I Lowered my Debt and Reduced Spending to “Afford” Traveling the World

Luisa and I are trying something new. We are going to work together at least three-times a week to share our knowledge and we are stepping out of our comfort zones to create content in different formats.

This week, we are focusing on the basis of our ability to travel and work remotely, managing our finances. Listen to our story in this podcast!

What is a Fair Wage for Digital Nomad?

I want to talk about two things: Privilege and the Support of the Internet

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Let’s talk about the first one.

First, I am the definition of a digital nomad, a popular term that came about as a result of people being able to make money online. It’s cool, but it’s hard.

In the last year and a half, I have transitioned from having a full-time job to finding freelance work, to structuring my business around what I want to do–travel. Do I make a TON of money? No. I actually make a lot less than before. But I spend my time doing the things I want to do. I’ve seen 12 countries, and I’ve learned two languages.

Why don’t I make more money? One cool thing about being American is that I have the PRIVILEGE of being a citizen of a country with a strong economy. Economies are so cool for us because we can make 50 dollars, and it spends like 100 dollars parts in South America or like 150 dollars in parts of Asia. But when you travel, you learn to see your privilege, and you shouldn’t flaunt it. You appreciate what you are given and humbly accept it. A South American would have to work twice as hard to make money and travel. In parts of Asia, it’s nearly impossible.

True digital nomads know how to use economies, and they play their money that way. But when you work online, your job–no matter what you do– is oversaturated with competition.

When I began my life digital nomad, I immediately took to writing. Why? All you need is a computer and some writing skill, right? After all, I have a degree in writing. That automatically makes me qualified. In fact, I taught writing for nine years. Who wouldn’t want to hire me?

Logistics:

It takes me about 1.5-2.0 hours to write a 500-word blog. From inspiration to SEO optimized. It comes out with a specialized tone, a custom call-to-action, proofreading, and unlimited revisions. I am a fast writer by most standards. If I were working for minimum wage, that article would be $14.50. However, in the age of the internet, the average article of 500 words from a website like Freelancer or Fiverr is $5.00. Mind you, the quality of writing is nowhere near mine. Never the less, who is going to pay 15 dollars when they THINK they could pay $5.00?

This works because of economies. The native language in most parts of India, Singapore, and Kenya is English. In Kenya, an average meal is less than 5 dollars. They can work for less money, because the US dollar has more value.

The reality is, I can only afford to Freelance online and travel if I stay in countries with emerging economies.

Does this mean social class should limit the freedom of being a nomad?

Thankfully, my business has grown. Now, I do more than writing content for the internet. I’ve been blessed with some amazing opportunities to showcase my skills, and I am now a communication consultant. But I still get asked to write from time to time.

Shocker, I have to outsource my writing.

I recently made a post in a digital nomad community:

“MAKE MONEY WHILE TRAVELING!

I am looking for a contract writer. The writer would work remotely and make $10-35 USD weekly. Great opportunity for digital nomads. Prefer US Citizen of legal age to work.

The company specializes in communication strategies, making sure businesses project the right message to grow.

The writer I am looking for would provide white-label blog articles for companies. This means his/her name will not be associated with the article, and the article and ideas belong to the client.

We have a profile of all of our companies, including their website, an overview of the company, their target audience, and the tone they would like to use. Sometimes the client will provide references, but this is not always the case. We also keep sample articles on file for each company.

Articles are 500-1000 words long and relatively error-free. They must be 100% plagiarism free. I edit every article before submitting it to the client, and I may provide feedback on your writing. A good opportunity to become more professional in your writing skills.

If you are still interested or know someone who is, we can run a test on his/her writing. It is a test not only of writing skill, but his/her communication, problem-solving, ability to complete tasks quickly, and whether or not he/she LIKES my process.

If both agree it is a good fit I will pay $10 for any article after the sample. What do you think? Do you want to give it a try? Message me.”

In a community that supposedly understands the economics of travel, I was laughed at. Not a single comment was positive.

“Should I think of this as an opportunity?”
“Guys, what am I going to do with all that cash?”
“Wow! It looks like I can quit my 9-5.”

Is it a fair wage?

Let’s say no. Let’s say that by breaking it down by the hour, it is less than minimum wage (and it is less than $7.25 per hour). As one person put it, anything less than 10 cents per word is ridiculous. After all, he works in translation and never has charged less than 13 cents per word.

How many of you would pay 65 dollars for one page of writing? Let’s imagine is takes him 30 minutes to translate one page. Are you willing to pay in 130 dollars per hour to translate a page? Yes, you would if that document were worth 3000 dollars in new clients. But the reality is, someone in Bangladesh would do the translation for 5 dollars and be thrilled. Someone in college would to the translation for 5 dollars in be thrilled.

When I offer to pay 10 dollars for 500 words, it’s not a fair wage by privileged American standard. But let’s be honest, $10-35 is never meant to be a 9-5 job. But it is DOUBLE the average on freelancer websites. Mind you, I still have to manage the writers, edit their work, and forward it to the client.

 

The reality:

You can’t pay an amateur writer “fair” wages. No one is willing to pay “fair” wages. But you can offer work for its market value. I lived off of its market value. Maybe that’s why it upset me so much.

I call it a “great opportunity” because when I was first starting out my life as a digital nomad, 10 dollars would put a roof over my head for a day.

For the jackasses who want to laugh at 10 dollars, the job clearly is not for you. Being a digital nomad provides you with the privilege to see to the world. Why don’t you take that opportunity and use it to realize that 10-35 dollars weekly is nothing to laugh at. People are struggling for money all over the world. Some someone traveling around the world could, at times, live off of $10-35/weekly.

I can take that work and use it to buy three articles and pay even less “fair” wages by spending it on Fiverr or buy I can offer to buy one article from a person in a group that I share common interests and values with.

Now I want to talk about the support of the internet. You think that because you are hiding behind your computer you are free to say what you want and act how you want. If you were standing in a room full of people and someone said: “Hey, I have to an opportunity for someone to make a little extra money, who is interested?” How appropriate is it to laugh and make fun? To openly criticize? Statistics say that 38% of Americans are financially unstable. In a room full of 4000 (about the size of the group), 1520 are financially unstable or worse. Statistics show that 532 of those people are actively looking for opportunities to make more money.

In a real room full of people, you’d keep your laughs among your privileged groups of friends.

Give me Energy

Yesterday I stood in line with Luisa waiting to have her schedule approved at the University. I stood in this same spot with her last year in August, and we hopped line to line, laughing in frustration at the inefficiency of the system.

I recall it taking a full day to register for classes, have them approved, and pay for them. With no data attached to my phone, and with the looming danger having nice electronics stolen, last year I sat in line bored, unable to talk, and hungry. I entertained myself by talking to Luisa and wondering what the people around us thought of my presence: a strange girl at the local university who couldn’t speak Spanish.

I was parallelized by the fear of walking 12 steps away to a shop selling sandwiches. Despite my hunger, Luisa was prodding me to ask for sandwich: “me vendes un sándwich por fiz.” She stuffed bills in my pockets, repeating the phrase over and over, nudging me. Be Brave. But I couldn’t do it. I handed the money back to her and asked her to step out of line to do it for me. When she came back, I was disappointed in her for not thinking to buy water. And I was disappointed in myself for not stepping up to ask for my own food. Is not that the basic skill of survival?

Yesterday, After staying up late, and standing at a street corner for 45 minutes waiting for a bus with standing space, we were tired. Luisa mentioned how maybe a Gatorade would provide her with the energy to enduring the stupidity of the waiting process. I was just bored.

I scanned the area looking for anything to relieve us, and I saw a store across the street. “Wait here,” I told Luisa. “I am going to go get us something to drink.”

When I approached the old woman running the 40 square-foot storefront, she greeted me the way it is customary in Colombia. When they say hello, they do it three times. When they say goodbye, they say it 5 times: “Buenos dias! Bienvenido. A la orden.” Her skin a lovely golden brown, and her voice both soft and harsh. Good morning! Welcome. I’m at your service if you need anything.

I asked her if she had drinks, and she pointed me to glass shelf which displayed the 6-8 options–not like the 50 choices in a US convenience store. Of the few options, half of them were juice. Not high-fructose corn syrup juice, real juice with sugar and water. For me, an apple juice box sounded good, and I got an energy drink for Luisa. I asked the woman how much I owed her and was surprised to hear only 1200 COP, the equivalent of about $1.40. I tucked my change in my pocket and wandered back to Luisa, who had advanced one place in the line since I left.

While I knew I did not want the energy drink, I offered her both drink options out of courtesy, and she left me with the apple juice. She offered me a sip, and I obliged, even knowing I hate energy drinks. They are syrupy and overly sweet. Their intense carbonation burns my nose, and they leave a sugary coating on my teeth. I took a sip anyway, and was surprised to find that it was quite different from what I expected. Yes, sweet, but not like drinking kids candy. Slightly effervescent, and citrusy. Certainly, nothing to make me cheat on my apple juice, but better than I’d thought.

I plunged my straw into the box and sipped away carelessly reflecting on the ease of my purchase. Just a year ago in nearly this same location, I was too paralyzed to buy a sandwich. Now, the act seemed natural: When you want something, go buy it. I not only learned the minimum vocabulary to make a purchase, I learned courtesy of saying hello and goodbye, how to tuck my cash away in the store before I stepped foot into the street to be safer, and how to entertain myself in line by talking to people I never could before.

When we got all the paperwork finished, we took a bus back to the house. Buses are so full in Bogota, that you are considered lucky to get a seat. We made due by sharing a seat on the way back. As we did, I realized how much I have truly changed in the last six months. Not just my accent nor my experience, but I am a braver person than I ever thought I would be. Of course, it does not require much bravery to order a sandwich or ask for some drinks. But those little braveries led to big ones, like traveling to Peru by myself and climbing Machu Picchu. Boarding buses to unknown cities for the sake of adventure.

It’s been a hell of and adventure, and I am proud of how far I have come.

15 European Cities in 25 days

Tourist Scams

Ashes, Ashes

Brother Underwood

Sick of Being Sick

How to Survive Peru: Cusco

Letters to Myself