I want to share with you the story of how I became a “location independent” “digital nomad”, why I prefer this lifestyle, and share some practical thoughts with you on how you too can become a digital nomad.
I didn’t intend on becoming a digital nomad
Okay to start off, I never knew it would be possible for me to make a living from my passion (street photography). I picked up photography when I was 18 years old, and when I was around 20, I discovered photography was my passion. Around age 21, I discovered that the genre I was most passionate about was indeed “street photography”.
In 2009, I didn’t think it was possible to be a “full-time” street photographer/I didn’t know it would be possible for me to successfully monetize my passion for street photography and pay my rent and bills.
But fast forward to 2018 (nearly 9 years later), and I’m making a good living from my passion in photography, via teaching workshops, selling products, selling books, and by empowering others with my passion.
For me, traveling was one of my dreams in life. I thought Los Angeles was boring, I wanted more adventure abroad in foreign cities and countries. I dreamed of going to exotic cities in Europe, where I imagined I would become infinitely “inspired” in my photography, and that I would be able to make the most beautiful photographs abroad. Essentially I dreamed of traveling as a photographer in order to make better photos. It wasn’t actually my ambition to live abroad.
Why are we living nomadically?
Currently my partner Cindy and I are “homeless”, or better said, we don’t pay “double rent.” As I’m currently typing these words I’m in the kitchen of our apartment in Kyoto, where we are paying around $800 USD for 20 days of living here. Cindy is currently writing her dissertation for her Ph.D in Vietnamese History (specifically on the French Colonial History of the Libraries in Vietnam), and I’m making money by promoting and selling our products in our shop or on Amazon and by selling seats to my future workshops later this year. Before that we spent around a month in Osaka, at an Airbnb we rented with money from our checking/savings account.
And we have all of our stuff at Cindy’s moms house in Orange County, Southern California.
What is a “digital nomad”?
The buzzword “digital nomad” means the following:
- You live a nomadic lifestyle, meaning, you’re not tied down to a certain city or country. You’re always living “on the road”, and you’re not 100% sure where you’re going to travel to or move to next.
- Being a “nomad” means that you’re technically not “traveling.” For example, Genghis Khan and the Mongols created temporary communities and housing in different regions in Asia. But they never permanently “settled” in a certain area for the rest of their lives. They would setup camp, and keep moving. I think of “traveling” more like being a tourist; visiting a foreign city or place for a certain period of time, then going back to your settled home.
- Digital: You’re able to continue making your living by using digital tools and technology.
I think technically, people think that in order to be a “digital nomad”, you must constantly make an income stream selling digital products via the internet. I disagree. I think the basic concept of “digital nomad” should be this:
You live a lifestyle where you’re not settled down in one location, and you can continue to live the same lifestyle via digital technology.
Why live a digital nomadic life?
For myself personally, I prefer having this “digital nomadic lifestyle” for the following reasons:
- I get bored easily of one location, therefore to live nomadically allows for more fun, variety, and challenge in my life. In fact, I do genuinely believe that if more people lived a more nomadic lifestyle, we would be happier. I think it is within our human DNA to be nomads. I think a lot of modern-day suffering comes from the fact that once we “settle down” in one location, we just get bored.
- I like discomfort: A digital nomadic lifestyle is not “comfortable”, nor do I believe it should be (it’s not a bug, it’s a feature!) The discomfort of living a nomadic lifestyle is what challenges us to grow, evolve, and become stronger. When I spend too much time in the suburbs of Orange County, sunny southern California, I feel myself degenerating, getting fatter, flabbier, less sharp, and less ambitious. I love to be constantly challenged, and living in a “state of flux” and constant change is what keeps me sharp and mentally/physically fit.
- I like having flexibility and freedom in my life. The cynic/stoic philosopher Diogenes said that the greatest human good was freedom. Freedom to take a nap when you want to, the freedom to work (or not work) when you want to, the freedom to travel and move around, and not to be a slave to someone else. Essentially, owning yourself. So for me, having a digital nomadic lifestyle allows maximum personal freedom and flexibility in my life. If I no longer desire to live in a certain neighborhood, home, or environment, I can pack my bags and move on.
- For myself, I prefer freedom over money. If I became an investment banker I would obviously be making more money than I do now, but for myself, I prefer to trade money for more time, flexibility, and freedom. If I got offered a job where I was paid $10 million dollars a year but had no personal freedom, I would flat-out say “no”.
Paying your rent
To “make a living” simply means to pay your rent, food, coffee, and wifi. And if you desire to have a digital nomadic lifestyle, “making a living”/paying your rent should be your first priority, not making a bunch of money to buy stuff you don’t need, or buying expensive food at restaurants.
Therefore the easiest way to make a living as a digital entrepreneur is to reduce your living expenses to the absolute bare minimum. The less your expenses, the less money you need to earn. Or the less your expenses, the longer you can live off of your savings, and continue to life a digital nomadic lifestyle.
I’ll give you practical examples from my life. This is how I keep my living expenses low:
- Don’t eat until you’re “full” at restaurants: Probably the best life hack I learned is to NOT eat until you’re full at a restaurant. What I do instead is to enjoy eating dinner with Cindy, friends, or family at a restaurant for the fun in novelty of trying out new foods, exploring a new neighborhood, or enjoying a change of scenery/admiring the architecture or interior decor of a restaurant. I’ll usually share 1-2 dishes with Cindy at a restaurant, and then when we get home, I’ll cook an “egg snack” of around 6-10 eggs at night before I sleep, in order to fill myself up with protein (without putting on fat).
- Not owning a car: Of course as digital nomads, it makes no sense to own a car. The benefit is also that I don’t waste money on car payments, paying insurance, gas, maintenance for the car, and also not making the purpose of my life to own an expensive car. I still like fast cars and admire the design of sports cars (like McLaren, Porsche, Lamborghini). But I have no desire to own it; rather I like to look at the design and simply admire the cars like they were sculptures in a museum. And if I wanted the thrill of driving one, I could just rent it for a day, or drive it at a race track. Because no matter how cool your car, camera, phone, or anything; you’re always gonna get bored of it. Therefore better rent than own.
- Don’t own more than one of anything: I don’t desire owning more than one outfit. That means I save money by wearing the same all black outfit, everyday. Pro-tip: wear everything merino wool, including t-shirt, leggings, socks, to avoid owning a lot of clothes. Therefore I won’t waste money buying superfluous clothes beyond my one outfit.
The myth of passive income
Something I would like to clarify is the myth of “passive income”. There is no such thing as “passive” income. ALL INCOME IS ACTIVE!
Consider, even though Cindy and I sell digital products via our shop or on Amazon, we still must use brainpower, intellectual labor, and spend time managing our products, taking time to respond to customers, dealing with shipping or delivery issues, or spending the time to manage someone else who does the work for you.
Also to actually sell products, you must ACTIVELY market and advertise them. You must market your products via advertising on Google Adwords or Facebook ads, you must market your products via “content marketing” (what I do), and you must maintain a relationship and continue to build trust with your audience, customers, and clients.
Therefore realize even if you’re a “location independent digital nomad”, you still must work. Perhaps you’re not tied down to a certain office space back home, but you’re going to need to work from a coffee shop or your own apartment with a wifi connection.
There is no such thing as a product or service that miraculously sells itself without your effort, labor, time, attention, or work.
Therefore it you want to be digital nomad, making money while either living abroad, living on the road, etc, you must find ACTIVE ways to make money, using digital tools and technology to make that living. That means, accepting payments via PayPal, selling products via your own Woocommerce and WordPress shop, by selling products via Amazon fulfillment services, or by selling your services (like online consulting, courses, or workshops).
Free PSF Visual Guide: How to Monetize Your Photography
A digital nomadic life isn’t sufficient to become “happy”
For myself, happiness is doing fun, challenging, and meaningful creative work. For myself I’m happiest when writing, making photos, teaching, giving lectures, making courses, learning something new, making videos, going on long walks and philosophizing, or having intellectually stimulating conversations and debates.
For myself, having a digital nomadic lifestyle helps me do these activities which bring me joy.
Therefore, realize that you can live a happy and meaningful life NOT being a digital nomad. You can have a happy and meaningful life by being “settled” in one location. You can live a happy and meaningful life being location DEPENDENT, and by living an “analog settled” lifestyle (the exact opposite of this “digital nomadic” terminology).
You don’t know what you’re capable of, if you never try!
If you want to learn more how you can successfully monetize your passion for a living, read my “Photography Entrepreneurship 101” series for more wisdom or insights, or join me at one of my upcoming Entrepreneurship Workshops.
I hope to do more of these articles in the future, so to keep updated and empower, join ERIC KIM NEWSLETTER.
Ultimately the takeaway point I want to leave with you is this: Your lifestyle isn’t what will bring you happiness, joy, and meaning in your life. Rather, it us what you do, and your active work which will bring you joy, happiness and meaning in your life.
The digital nomadic lifestyle works for me, but may or may not work for you.
But if you’re curious and crazy enough to try, I encourage you to try!