If you’ve never heard the term digital nomad, it refers to someone who travels full-time while working remotely.
When most people picture life as a digital nomad, they envision working on the beach in Mexico or typing away in a cafe in Italy. No one considers that we might want to just enjoy the coffee or that our family and friends might be snorkeling and kayaking while we’re stuck working.
When I first hit the road a year ago, I worked five-day workweeks and quickly realized there was no way I could enjoy full-time travel while working so many days. So, I cut my days down to four and cut my pay. However, life on the road is more expensive than my stationary life was, so that didn’t work out quite as I planned.
Yet, I now work only three days per week and cover all my bills. So, how did I do it and how can you do the same?
1. Start Your Own Business
Not all digital nomads are influencers and bloggers who make the bulk of their money from creating content. Some work regular jobs but can do so remotely. While many employers are more open to people clocking in from locations all over the world, most of them aren’t open to a three-day workweek. In some cases, you might be able to lobby for a four-day workweek, but unless you’re working part-time hours, you would have a difficult time convincing them to condense your work into three days.
When you start your own business, you get to set your own hours. Realistically, though, you won’t be starting off with just three days per week. I worked seven days per week for five years, including two part-time jobs, to build my business. Three-day work weeks are earned after you’ve established yourself and your business.
2. Set a Work Quota
Do you know how much money you need to make per week or per month to cover all your expenses? What about the number of assignments or the work hours that help you meet that quota, on average? These are just some of the questions you will need to answer when setting a quota. It all starts with a budget and the use of productivity tools. You will need to know:
- Your average hourly rate
- Your average piece rate
- Your average daily, weekly, and monthly totals
- Your current progress each day
- Total business expenses for the month
- Total personal expenses for the month
I use Microsoft Excel to populate all of the business information with simple formulas. I then use this information to calculate how much work I need to complete. This can change from week to week, depending on the type of assignments I work on and how much they pay.
3. Get Higher Paying Clients
When I first moved to America, making even $11 per hour in a part-time job was a dream come true. So, raking in $15 per hour doing freelance work was even better. However, you can’t work three days per week for $15 per hour and cover all your necessities on the road. So, over the years, I have actively searched for higher-paying clients. The more money I made from my business, the fewer hours I put in at my part-time job. Eventually, I was able to quit and pay myself full wages from the business.
When I hit the road, I followed a similar formula. I continued the hunt for higher-paying clients and reduced my work hours accordingly. Sometimes, that meant dropping lower-paying clients, but I usually keep the ones that are fun and easy to work with. This is the single most important step in reducing my workdays to just three per week.
4. Add Passive Income
People often ask me what happened to my home in Georgia. It’s still there and still an important element in my exit strategy, should I ever need to give up life on the road. My home is listed on Airbnb* and generates a decent income. It was very important to me that mom has money to retire in the next few years, so I give roughly 60% of profits to her. She also earns it fair and square as the person who does most of the hands-on work. However, that 40% I get supplements my business revenue, so I can work fewer days.
There are also several other forms of passive income streams that could bring in anywhere from pennies to thousands of dollars, depending on your luck and skill:
- Stock photography
- Stock music
- YouTube monetization
- Amazon affiliate links
- Book publishing
- Vocal Writing**
5. Create a Specific Work Schedule
One of the best benefits of working on the road is that you have more control over your life. If you work for yourself, you might have gotten into the habit of getting up when you feel like it and starting the workday at whatever time suits your mood. For most people, it’s hard to remain productive under a model like this. No matter how much anyone loves their job, when traveling full-time, there are so many other things you will want to do more than you’ll want to work — including doing absolutely nothing at all. So, if you only work when you want to, you might not work very much at all.
Creating a work schedule keeps you in line. Take some time to determine whether you can really get all your work done in three days. If you can, how much time would you need to meet your quota? You will also need to determine which three days are most convenient to your clients and your preferred work schedule. Knowing when they can reach you is crucial for a smooth work relationship. I work from 11AM to 11PM Pacific Time, Mondays to Wednesdays.
6. Enforce Work Boundaries
Even when you’ve mastered the three-day work week, it will take your clients some time to adjust. Ease them into this by informing existing ones ahead of time that you will only be working three-day workweeks for a set period of time or as an experiment. Then, politely enforce this boundary and make it permanent when they adjust. Your family and friends will also need time to adjust. Chances are you will need to really focus for those three days to get everything done, so you will need to get them on board with leaving you alone to concentrate on work.
My clients took about a month to adjust to my three-day workweek. Prior to this, they had adjusted down from seven to six to five and then to four days, so they had plenty of practice. I inform all incoming clients of my schedule, create out-of-office reminders that run from Thursdays to Sundays, and provide an emergency number. So far, no client has ever reached out to me via the emergency number. Everyone patiently waits until I’m back in the office on Monday morning.
It’s important to note that a three-day workweek can make it difficult to get new clients. Some businesses prefer to work with contractors who maintain the same work hours they do. With the current labor shortage, others might want you to commit to hours that you couldn’t complete in three days and still keep your current clients. Still, if you want to have more days in the week to truly explore the amazing places you visit, this is the way to get it done. Happy travels!
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* I may receive a commission if you use my “refer a host” link to list your home on Airbnb. Thanks for supporting my travels!
**I am a Vocal Ambassador and may receive a commission if you sign up using my link. I write for them for fun and have made ~$200 in passive income. Most of these come in the form of tips paid voluntarily by readers.