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How to Become a Digital Nomad

Dear friend,

If you’ve ever dreamed of living on the road and making a living from your passion, this essay and guide is for you.

First of all, I want to let you know that all the information here is based on my personal experiences being a ‘digital nomad’ from 2011-2018, and what worked/works for me won’t necessarily work for you. However based on my experiences, I hope to give you some practical information I wish I knew before I started this uncomfortable and unpredictable lifestyle, lessons I’ve learned along the way, and practical ideas that can (if you desire) help you achieve your personal dream of becoming a digital nomad.


The (less) romantic view of being a digital nomad

Eric kim feet selfie, laptop, Osaka
Everything I need for my digital nomadic lifestyle. Osaka, 2018

To start, what is a ‘digital nomad’? To me, a digital nomad is an individual who makes his/her living from their laptop, with a wifi connection (anywhere in the world), drinks a lot of coffee, and makes a living (not necessarily a killing) from their passion. I think the misconception of being a digital nomad is that you have to make a bunch of money selling digital products (like selling ebooks, stuff online). Instead, I think you can also make a living as a digital nomad by selling your services (while living on the road), charging money for your labor, or you can be a digital nomad by just living off your savings.

To me, the point isn’t to be able to brag that you somehow are able to make a living from your passion. Even if you don’t monetize your passion (but can still afford to live cheaply on the road), you are technically a digital nomad.


Why become a digital nomad?

OK, let us consider that anyone can become a digital nomad.

The first “digital” part applies to all of us. If you have an email address, own a laptop, own a phone, tablet, and interact with the internet/social media on a daily basis, you are integrated into the digital ecosystem.

The second “nomad” part means to not settle down in one place for the rest of your life. It is of my belief that it is in our human DNA to NOT “settle down.” As humans, we are explorers, adventurers, risk-takers, and we thrive the most when we are living a life of randomness, chance, uncertainty, danger, and fun!

Kyoto older woman, street portrait. 2018. Looking at this photograph puts a huge smile on my face!

I think we are the happiest when we live a non-settled, non-predictable ‘nomadic’ lifestyle. But of course, I don’t want to force this lifestyle upon you. There are a lot of people who can live happy and fulfilling lives settled in one place (consider that Odyssey’s journey in the Illiad was to return to his home in Ithaca, where he could die in happiness/peace with his loved ones). But anyways, let us continue.


Step 1: Ask yourself, WHY do I want to become a digital nomad?

Flight. Paris, 2011

Primo, don’t romanticize the lifestyle of being a digital nomad. To be frank, it is awesome but not romantic. Cindy and I work everyday, 12-14 hours a day, and live in constant uncertainty, instability, and (still) worry about finances.

Being a digital nomad means that you’re not going to be able to have a ‘standard’ job. It means you will be away from your family, friends, and loved ones back home. However, the upside is that on a day-to-day-basis, you will probably have more fun, live a more exciting life; precisely because the nomadic life IS unpredictable.

"The Spotlight" // Photograph of Cindy in Downtown LA, 2009. Canon 5D, 35mm

So first question,

“Do you desire/like unpredictability/instability in life?”

Also, do you like being uncomfortable?

I think a lot of us in modern-day living are spoiled by comfort, and desire comfort. We desire ‘comfortable’ luxury cars, we want soft/comfortable beds, we want a “comfortable” income, and a “comfortable” lifestyle.

It is of my belief that comfort is the road to waste (old Roman saying). I think we start to degenerate, grow soft and flabby when we have too much comfort in our lives. My focus in life is to keep growing, to keep learning, and to keep augmenting my strength, intellect, and talents– in order to share these gifts with the rest of humanity.

If you’re on board with me, let us continue.


Step 2: How can I make a “living” on the road?

The point of being a digital nomad isn’t to become rich. Instead, it is cutting your expenses to the bare minimum, living below your means, in order for you to continue living on the road.

Therefore the mission is to simply make a “living” (not a “killing”).

The easiest way to make a living from what you’re passionate about is 1) Reducing your expenses, 2) Earning an income, 3) Staying profitable, in order to sustain your lifestyle.

1. Reducing your expenses

What are your living expenses? How little can you get by on? What are ‘necessities’ and what are ‘luxuries’ in your life?

For everyone this is different. But based on my experiences, I learned that I can survive on very little.

For example, I can subsist on eggs (I usually eat 6-10 eggs everyday), coffee (I can make coffee at home/in my apartment with a Clever dripper), wifi (essentially free), with a laptop/device (already own), camera, and my greatest joy in life is walking and taking photos (essentially free).

If you want to live as a digital nomad, the best advice I have is this: live somewhere really cheap, where your rent, expenses, food costs, living costs, transportation costs, etc are very cheap. For example, I think Saigon in Vietnam is ideal for digital nomads– super-fast wifi at coffee shops all over (I can upload a 1GB video to YouTube in 5 minutes), cheap food ($2-3 a meal), and cheap rent (you can rent a 1-bedroom apartment for around $350-500 USD a month).

Even if you decide to live in more ‘exotic’ places like Japan, Cindy and I currently are living in an apartment in Kyoto we found on Kyoto-apartment.com and we are only paying ~$800 USD for 20 days. We found a local discount grocery market/supermarket with super cheap foods as well. Even when living in Japan, as long as you aren’t buying super-expensive sushi dinners every night, you can survive on very little! Even as a random note, when we were on the road in NYC, we saved a TON of money just eating $8 Rotisserie Whole Chickens at Whole Foods in their food court.

Also another tip: if you’re living on the road, try to see if you can crash with friends on their couch. Cindy and I spent time hopping around the states and abroad, and the best thing is if you can stay with friends, family, for free.

2. Earning an income

If you want to actively make income while living nomadically on the road, here is some advice:

  • First of all, figure out how you can start your own business and become an entrepreneur. I have made my living teaching workshops, selling products, and doing active work while on the road. Around 80% of my income comes from teaching workshops, and around 20% selling products. Also my income is supplemented with Cindy’s income that she earns as a Ph.D. student, through her grants and scholarships. Also note that HAPTIC INDUSTRIES is Cindy’s company.
  • A strategy is spending some of the year in one location, earning an income, and spending the rest of the year traveling and being nomadic. This is a successful strategy a lot of people do: work some sort of job (either full-time or part-time back home), quit their job, then spend the rest of the time traveling and living on the road. To me, it is a very smart strategy to earn a western income for some of the year, and then spend your hard-earned cash living in developing countries such as Vietnam or Bangkok. You can use your time living nomadically to create more art: to write more, to make more photos, make films, etc.
  • Online business ideas: You can create your own products and sell them via the ‘Woocommerce store‘ plugin on WordPress, you can sell products (drop-shipping) via Amazon Fulfillment. I personally think there is a huge market and potential in education (both in-person and online). For example, you can teach in-person workshops, you can teach your own course online on Udemy.com, you can offer consulting services (do 1:1 Skype calls with clients, or via email). See more monetization strategies here.

3. Staying profitable

YEN CAMERA MONEY by ANNETTE KIM

Simple equation for profitability:

Income – Expenses = Profit

To become more profitable, you can either increase your income, or decrease your expenses. In an ideal world, you would both INCREASE your income, AND decrease your expenses.

In other words: make more money, and spend less money.

CAMERA MONEY GBP by ANNETTE KIM

For myself, I have become more profitable the last few years by increasing the prices for my services and products, and by living (even more) frugally. I generally have a principle that will help you: charge 25% more for your services than you think you should. Also, I’ve learned to have fun living more frugally. For example, I no longer care to get full from eating fancy foods; I prefer to share a single meal with Cindy at a restaurant, and then have my infamous 6-10 “egg snack” at home in the evenings. I still do enjoy my simple luxuries in life which include ice cold baths (combined with steamy hot saunas), delicious hipster espressos, getting cheap Chinese/Thai-styled massages, etc.

The sucker mistake a lot of us make in life is this:

We start to make more money, and our expenses/lifestyle raises in proportion to our income.

Money time knowledge products services money

The solution is this: keep living like a starving college student, even when you’ve earned more money. Why? My suggestion is to add more money to your savings, in order for you to have a larger financial cushion to keep living nomadically, doing what you love, following your passion, and in order for you to retain your freedom.

Because the truth is, freedom is far more valuable than money. To me, money is a means to achieving freedom in life. Having a lot of money isn’t the goal.

For example, you can be a billionaire, but if you don’t have any freedom– why have all that money?


I’m still learning

To be honest, I’m still learning this lifestyle of being a digital nomad. But the ultimate takeaway point is this:

The point of life isn’t to become a digital nomad. The point is to be a productive, happy, fulfilled, and purpose-driven individual-artist.

If you’re able to be a happy and prolific artist while living in one spot in a “settled” life– that is awesome! Many great artists, philosophers, poets, etc have created great art while having “boring” jobs, or having a “settled” life. For example,

  • Philosopher Spinoza made his living grinding lenses, and philosophized on the side. His philosophy lives on!
  • Albert Einstein made theories while day-dreaming and in his free time at the Swiss Patent office.
  • Philosopher Nassim Taleb wrote several books while working full-time as a trader in his free time after work.
  • Philosopher Montaigne retired to his home, locked himself in a tower, and spent the rest of his life philosophizing and writing.
  • Philosopher Seneca wrote much of his great philosophical works, plays, and ideas while living in exile.
  • Philosopher-Emperor Marcus Aurelius philosophized and wrote his timeless “Meditations” while having his (very stressful) job as emperor.
  • Philosopher Diogenes was homeless/a slave, yet still lived in freedom, was happy, and philosophized on the daily.

Do you want to make a living from your passion in photography?

If you want to learn more practical tips, strategies, and tactics to effectively monetize your passion and perhaps live like a digital nomad, join ERIC KIM NEWSLETTER and stay updated with my new upcoming “Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Photography Entrepreneurship” course (dropping soon on Udemy).

Also check out my new and upcoming photography entrepenrship workshops coming to your area.

BE BOLD,
ERIC


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ERIC KIM x HENRI NECK STRAP

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By ERIC KIM

Artist-Philosopher