From Employee to Digital Nomad: My Journey, Struggles & Tips!

Contributed by Dan Travels

In case you don’t know me yet, I am Daniel Forteza from the Philippines. And yes, I quit my corporate job exactly a month ago to pursue becoming a digital nomad. I am writing this today to assess myself how far I’ve come and, of course, share this blog with you as a guide if you are also in the same shoes as mine wanting to live the life you’ve always dreamed of.

explore, travel, from employee to digital nomad: my journey, struggles & tips!

Workstations inside Fluor Philippines.

So let me make it simple. If you are wanting to:

  1. Escape the 9-to-5 rat race
  2. Work where and when you want
  3. Make money while you travel
  4. Spend more time with your loved ones

Don’t worry, you are not alone! Everyone feels the same way. Yes, most of the people I’ve talked to do not want to spend the rest of their adulthood working in a traditional 9-to-5 day job. They would prefer to build their own stream of income and enjoy life! But the problem is, they don’t know how to start.

As they say, life is too short to work for someone else’s dream!

However, is becoming a digital nomad the solution? What is a digital nomad, anyway?

According to Wikipedia — “Digital nomads are a type of people who use telecommunications technologies to earn a living and, more generally, conduct their life in a nomadic manner.” People who become digital nomads often do so for positive reasons, such as financial independence and a career that allows for location independence.

This kind of lifestyle could be one of the solutions if a person wants to travel and work remotely at the same time. All you need is a working laptop and an internet connection. Does that sound good to you? If yes, then welcome to the digital nomad wanna-be club!

But before I go further, let me first have a brief introduction of myself.

explore, travel, from employee to digital nomad: my journey, struggles & tips!

My workstation as an Engineer at Fluor Philippines.

I am a mechanical engineering graduate. I have been working for more than seven years in a good-paying engineering firm in the southern side of Metro Manila, Philippines. It is a typical 9-to-5 corporate job setup. It can be both very stressful and boring at times. It was also worth mentioning that it was my very first job after graduating from college. Nevertheless, I got to the point where I told myself “This is enough!”. A part of me tells me to do something different and follow what I love before I hit the age of 30 (I just turned 29 today). I am single, by the way, so I guess I get more motivated to explore more while I’m not committed to any relationship.

Quitting a job, however, was never easy. I had to evaluate it a hundred times. But because regret is something I do not want to face in my late twenties, I told myself to quit my day job and give remote works a try for at least a year and see from there how it goes.

I’m no digital nomad yet but I always aspire to be one someday, or at least a simple remote worker will do.

So let me tell you the steps I took before I finally submitted that resignation letter.

Steps I did before quitting my job

Step 1. Save, save, and save!

This does not require much explanation. If you do not intend to be a corporate slave for the rest of your life and break free to financial freedom while travelling, you basically need to save. Saving before you step into the nomadic world is one of the most important pieces of advice I could give you.

Since you are eyeing a digital nomadic lifestyle, you need to set aside savings to buy your own laptop, Internet connection, etc. Another thing you can do is to make a conscious effort of cutting down on your expenditures. Reduce your living expenses as much as you can. Stop buying things you don’t need!

As for me, I believe I have ample savings and emergency fund to keep me going for the next couple of months. But of course, being digital nomads that we intend to be, I need to find a way to create a steady flow of income once I quit my day job.

As they say, it is not fun paying bills from your own savings!

Step 2. Build your travel history

It was November 2015 when I decided to go on solo backpacking to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It was the first time I received a stamp on my passport. Fast forward to January 2019, I now have visited 21 countries! It was indeed an exciting journey in the span of almost four years, not to mention that I only have a weak or third world country passport.

Within the busy world of engineering works and in regards to meeting deadlines, it is, however, not easy to simply file a time off whenever a travel bug bites you. What I do is whenever there are holidays or light-loaded tasks at the office, I go on a trip. The shortest vacation I’ve experienced was a four-day trip to Taiwan while the longest one was a 14-day trip to South America covering the countries of Brazil, Peru, Colombia, and Ecuador. It was a tight schedule but you should know that I’ve sacrificed my Christmas vacation in order to go halfway around the world and make my South American trip a reality. For us Catholics, Christmas and New Year are the best time to get together alongside our family and friends and I had to miss that a couple of times.

While travelling abroad, I have been influenced and inspired by so many open-minded people who I met and travelled with along the way. Not only is a travel history built, but you are also making connections and collecting a pocketful of memories, may they be good or bad.

If finding people to connect with is a challenge for you, you can go ahead and join platforms of travel and language exchange communities such as Couchsurfing, Hellotalk, and Tandem. I think that the world is so connected now that we can create a virtual friendship with people no matter what their languages and racial backgrounds are.

Step 3. Create a travel blog

Not only that you can share your travel experiences to the world or simply vent out your feelings, but you can also monetise your blog if the content is sufficient enough.

I should tell you that I do not have any background in website design and coding, but I did manage to create a blog on my own. The information is simply out there. Take YouTube for example. There are a lot of resources on website development providing you with easy-to-follow step-by-step tutorials.

With this newly-minted knowledge, I created my own blog called ‘Dan Travels’ using the WordPress builder where I write guides in getting visas and travel itineraries. I only started the blog this past February 2019. I immediately applied for Google Adsense in the hope of monetising my blog through running ads (especially if readers are clicking them). Unfortunately, a week after my application, I got feedback denying my application due to insufficient content. I then took my time writing good articles and of course, I never gave up. With five blog articles already published in my blog, I applied for Yahoo!’s Media.net and Infolinks ads which are known alternatives to Google Adsense. I was approved within 24 hours. I then re-applied to Google Adsense and also got approved within 24 hours.

With Google Ads running in my website, I made US$120.69 in the month of April which is enough to pay my apartment rent and utility bills. I’m no expert blogger but this is a good start!

As they say, blogging is a very ‘nomadable’ career.

explore, travel, from employee to digital nomad: my journey, struggles & tips!

My earning from Google Adsense last April 2019.

Step 4. Break into freelancing jobs

I earned my very first dollar online being a transcriber at GoTranscript last March 2019. As a transcriber, I convert English audio files to its equivalent written words. If you are familiar with movies with subtitles, those subtitles were encoded by transcribers or transcriptionists. It is, however, a challenge to transcribe audio with parts mostly inaudible or hardly understood due to background noise.

There are other freelancing and remote jobs you can find but, of course, it depends on your set of skills. To be honest, I find it hard getting a freelancing job suited to a person like me who has an engineering background. It is not a very in-demand online job skill like web design or IT. But, there is always room for learning other skills.

For the benefit of sharing, here are some of the legit freelancing websites you can consider applying on. I have yet to discover most of them.

General: Upwork, Peopleperhour, Fiverr, Guru, Truelancer, Freeeup, Freelancer, Galance, Onlinejobs, Myoutdesk, Mturk, Zeerk, 199jobs, Outsourcely, Hubstaff, Raket Tutorial: 51talk, Acadsoc, Bizmates, Rarejobs, Cambly, Limlessons, Bibo, Nicetalk, Ipalfish Transcription: Gotranscript, Transcribeme, Scrible, Verbit, Rev, Peechpad, Civimom, Appenonline, Waywithwordsjobs, Accutranglobal, Crowdsurfwork, Verbalink, Workshop.castingwords Creatives: 99designs, Toptal, Themeforest, Envato Review/testing: Picoworker, Analysia, Enrollapp, Startuplift, Testingtime, Trymyui, Userfeel, Userlytics, Usertest, Usertesting, Utest, App.whatusersdo Annotations: Remotasks, Humanatic, Microwork Data entry: Capitaltyping, Tv.microworkers
Voice narration: Voicebunny, Voices

Step 5. Get a US visa

If you have a weak passport like mine, I’m sure you’ll understand.

Acquiring a US visa makes one’s passport mightier as it opens new doors to other countries. So, I told myself before I file my resignation and pursue the digital nomad lifestyle that I should first get a US visa.

I had been in the company for more than seven years, been to several countries, and had ample savings. Because of these factors, I believed I had a good chance of getting a US visa. I succeeded in getting a 10-year multiple-entry visa in March 2019.

So, take advantage of your valid US visa if you have one, especially if you’re from a developing country or third-world-country like me.

Step 6. Create an e-commerce website

An e-commerce website is simply an online store. You do product research, create a website, have an inventory, advertise your products or drive traffic to your website, and then you make your first sale. No inventory is needed if you’re in a dropshipping operation.

In my case, I started creating my e-commerce website during the first week of April, which was also my last week at work. Again, there are loads of tutorials you can find on YouTube on how to build your online store. This is typically built using either the platforms of Shopify or Woocommerce.

Because I have heard great stories that one can make five to seven figures (US$) a month in the e-commerce industry, I was very hopeful this will give me a fortune. However, I won’t deny this is a very difficult industry to break into and it requires your full-time attention, especially if you’re just starting. Though I have not made any sales as of this writing, I was glad to gain basic skills specific to e-commerce — from building an online store to running Facebook ads.

I am currently still improving my online store — let’s see how it goes in the next couple of months. But I’m not holding my breath!

Roadblocks I’ve encountered after I quit my job

I was no exemption to encountering roadblocks hindering my way after quitting my job. It was tougher than I had ever imagined. I’ll be discussing them below.

Roadblock 1. Adjustment is very depressing

Adjusting to staying home can be very depressing and lonely as it is a bit isolating at times. I solely rent a small apartment near the office where I used to wake up at 5.40am, shower, and leave my apartment at 6.30am for work. I’ll be missing those days even though every morning I wished I could have stayed longer in bed and was not tied up to an early schedule.

Now that I am officially resigned, I often go for a five-minute walk from my apartment to reach a certain shopping mall and work on my laptop in any coffee shop in the vicinity.

I agree, depression is real and we need to fight this! We need to have a good support system, especially from our immediate family. When I told my brother I quit my job to travel but will probably be struggling in the next three months, he replied “If it makes you happy, go for it. Help is always here.”

My sister from the north side of Metro Manila offered me a room at her place and said I could always stay there for as long as I want. She runs a small eatery business and I never worry about food whenever I’m at her place.

Simple things like this brighten up one’s day who is experiencing the downside of life. Indeed, having a supportive family is very important.

Roadblock 2. Losing motivation and focus

No doubt, I love weekends of procrastination, but things are changing now since I left my job.

In times of losing motivation and focus, I question myself: “How do I keep myself motivated?”. I’m sure you’ll ask this as well along the way, so be prepared.

Well, there are many blogs, podcasts, and Facebook groups out there where you can get daily motivation.

You know yourself better than anyone, so you know what helps keep you motivated. Maybe it is knowing you can have a beer at the end of the day, or listening to a happy Spotify music playlist while you work, or knowing that you’re working on building your dream life. Whatever it is that keeps you motivated, keep doing it.

So, stop watching the Game of Thrones, and focus on what needs to be done!

Fine… I love the series probably as much as you do, but what I am trying to say here is that if you really are serious about being a digital nomad, then you need to stop procrastinating and invest your free time to build connections, grow your freelance portfolio and learn as much as you can.

Roadblock 3. Fear of risks

You must embrace some level of discomfort if you want to create some interesting work and work that you love.

However, the fear of taking risks is always going to be there. I myself have a lot of “What ifs” in my mind — “What if I fail?”, “What if this doesn’t go well?”, or “What if people laugh at me for taking a different path?”. So many uncertainties to fear for!

But how can you trust yourself enough to step into the unknown until you try?

I took one of the biggest risks of my life a month ago. Instead of continuing the traditional 9-to-5 job, I decided to take a break and pursue meaningful work for me. So why can’t you? Why don’t you list down all your fears and start mitigating them? I think that’s one of the steps you need to evaluate first.

Don’t think too far into the future when you decide to take action. Use what you have right now and take that calculated risk to advance your work.

But whatever your decision is — taking that risk or not, I am going to be here for you. I understand because I have fears, too.

My final say

If you have a dream, do something and work for it! I am nowhere near any success yet but at least I am trying. I have a long way to go and I expect a lot of failures down the road. But no matter how slow and small my progress is, it is still progress. So keep working on yours, too.

There are bigger mountains to climb. There might be a huge learning curve in climbing each mountain, but I assure you the view at the top is very worth it.

So yeah, let’s do this!

This story was originally written on 10 May 2019.

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