Being on an indefinite round-the-world motorcycle ride, living on the road full time, and working from wherever you happen to be in the world is something more and more people seem to want to do. The question, “How to be a digital moto nomad?” keeps popping up on social media groups and forums, followed by a flurry of comments usually amounting to: it’s impossible, unless you’re a trust fund baby, a secret millionaire, or Ewan McGregor. It’s impossible, because “the ADV market is saturated”, because the blogging scene is too hard to break into, because you must sell out to companies sponsoring your ride; it’s impossible, because… You get the idea.
Funny thing is, all of that is true and untrue at the same time, depending on how you look at it. The good old cliché saying that “whether you think something is possible or impossible, you’re right” holds true here. Another truism is that being a digital motorcycle nomad isn’t for everyone.
But if you like the idea of an independent lifestyle on two wheels and aren’t a trust fund baby, genius finance guru, or Ewan, here’s how to get started.
Pick Your Strength
Full disclosure: I’m a book nerd to a ridiculous extent. I learned to read when I was four, wrote my first book at the age of six, my high school nickname was Four Eyes because I wore horrendous oversized glasses, and I was fluent in spoken and written Middle Earth Elvish by the age of fifteen. I’ve always loved books and the way stories could take you places you thought you’d never see, and the written word still holds absolute fascination to me. After a few honest but unsuccessful attempts to become a Respectable Citizen working in offices and newsrooms, I realized 9-5 was going to crush my soul and decided to become a digital nomad instead (except back then, I didn’t know the term yet and aimed instead for the Starving Artist mode).
Upon hearing “digital nomad”, most people instantly imagine a bratty millennial hipster hanging out at a coffee shop and pawing at his or her Mac laptop. I make my own coffee and don’t own any Apple products, but in essence, this is what I do. I write, and I get paid for it. Most of it is ghost-writing books and other content for individuals and businesses, plus some travel and ADV writing here and there.
Because I’m so obsessed with books, texts, and storytelling, this is something I can do full time and non-stop. I sometimes pull off 14-hour work days and have largely forgotten what “weekend” even means. And that’s cool, because the majority of my work is dear to me. If I had to do something I don’t understand or like, like accounting or selling shoes, this would be pure torture. But, since I happen to be a book freak, writing is my happy place.
You don’t need to be a writer to become a digital nomad. Nor do you have to be a photographer, a graphic designer, or an IT genius. Almost every profession imaginable can be transferred online nowadays, even chicken whispering (yes, it’s a thing) and plumbing. Whatever you do can be done remotely and online, but make sure you pick something you really love, because you’ll have to get really good at it and spend a crazy amount of time working on it. Otherwise, the location-independent lifestyle becomes yet another gruelling nine-to-five, except with better views from the office.
I’ve answered countless messages and shared advice, contacts, pitch samples, and resources with people who want to try doing what I do. About 95% of those people never make it, and it’s not because they lack skill, talent, or creativity.
It’s because they believe in overnight success.
They send one or two pitches to magazine editors, don’t get a reply, and quit. Or, their first assignment is so small they decide it’s just not worth it, announce that riding around the world indefinitely is impossible because A, B or C, and give up.
When I started, I used to send out 15-20 pitches a day and felt victorious if I got 2-3 replies resulting in one assignment. My first freelance writing gig paid 25 euros ($30), and I was ecstatic because while the amount was small, it was proof to me that yes, this was doable. I just needed more work that was paid better.
It took me over 3 years to go from $30 to an income that allows me to travel the world on my motorcycle, chase and race rallies, and even begin to create some savings and passive income for the future. It will take another three to five years of relentless hard work to get to where I truly want to be, but that’s OK with me.
There’s no such thing as overnight success. Most of the “overnight success” cases have five, ten, fifteen years of hard, consistent work behind them. Nothing is going to fall in your lap, you won’t develop new skills by simply wishing you had them, and you’ll need to learn everything you need to learn before you can stop putting in 12 or 14 hours a day. It’ll be hard, lonely and just barely pay your bills in the beginning.
As my good friend and mentor said to me once, this lifestyle is an acquired taste. Being a location independent freelancer and riding around the world on your bike is not a luxury vacation, nor is it a beer-soaked adventure fiesta, except for a few precious moments here and there.
It’s not for everyone.
But for me, this is freedom.
If you’re still up for the challenge, here’s how you can get started. Identify your passion and your strength, manage expectations, be prepared to work a lot and work hard, and make the first step. Stop saying “someday”. Someday is today.
- To get some cash flow immediately, get on sites like Upwork and Fivver. The pay isn’t great, but short term, this can be a source of income as you progress. Both of these sites have jobs for a variety of professions from legal counsel and accounting to virtual assistants, remote office managers, creatives, and so on.
- Start building a portfolio. Offer to work for free so you can get experience and get your name out. It’s not ideal, but it’s a way to get your foot in the door.
- Word of mouth is still the best recommendation there is, so see who in your network can help you, recommend you, or introduce you to people who might hire you. Get on LinkedIn and relevant social media groups.
- Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. If you just got one big assignment or signed a high-paying client or contract, it’s reason to celebrate, but you should still be looking for other gigs in the meantime. Unexpected changes can always happen, so have at least three different ongoing gigs to compensate for loss of work if it happens.
- Being your own boss doesn’t mean you get to just ride your bike to exotic places, go out for beers with all the awesome people you meet on the road, or Netflix and chill. It means you’ll have to kick your own butt to get work done. It’s easy to get distracted by answering emails, browsing, or going down social media rabbit holes. Restrict your emails and social media to 1,5 hours per day, turn off all notifications, make a new to-do checklist each day, and get to work.
- Optimize everything. Tim Ferris’ book, 4 Hour Work Week, is an excellent guide for freelancers and entrepreneurs alike. Get a copy now and read it. Start treating your time like it’s your most valuable possession on Earth, because, well, it is. Stop getting distracted and wasting time on things that don’t matter, like shopping, getting into fruitless discussions on social media, or getting obsessed over which tyres your bike needs at the moment. Make fewer insignificant decisions (like which socks do you buy) so you can make impactful decisions on things that do mater (like getting better-paid work or choosing your next continent to ride).
- Leverage currencies. Put simply, you need to be earning dollars, pounds or euros and spending soles, pesos or rupees. This is especially important in the beginning. If you’re not making much money yet, don’t go riding to Switzerland or Norway just now. Hang out in Mexico, Bolivia, or India instead. There’s plenty of great riding, amazing people, good food, and fast WiFi. Move to more expensive continents and countries when you can afford to.
Managing Internal Blocks
When I started out, I had two massive blocks that seriously hindered my progress for quite a while. One was English – I’m not a native speaker, and for the longest time, I was obsessively paranoid about not being good enough.
Another was my name.
Imagine you’re a magazine editor or a content marketing director at your company. You get an email from someone named, say, Sara Williams. Sara is offering you an article or a pitch for some blog posts.
Sara sounds nice and familiar.
Now imagine you get an email from someone named Egle Gerulaityte. Egg…what? Is this even a real person? Is this one of those Nigeria scam things?
But the reality was, this is what I assumed people would think. My weird name, my Lithuanian roots – none of that mattered provided I could produce quality work on time.
Quality work delivered on time is all that matters to people. Can you solve their problem, and can you do it quickly and efficiently? That’s all that people care about. Nobody has time to study your collection of Certificate Of This and Degree of That, learn about your passion for antique French buttons and adventure motorcycles or that time you interned at Some Cool Company, or your thoughts on English literature and climate change. Nobody cares about your name, age, or nationality. All people want is quality work delivered on or ahead of time – that’s it.
That’s not to say that education is meaningless, or that you should proclaim yourself an expert on something you are not. It’s not about being careless or deceitful. It’s about saving people’s time, explaining exactly how you’re going to solve their problem, and then doing it so well they’ll want to hire you again.
On the same note, never take rejection personally. Chances are, your idea, pitch or offer wasn’t rejected because you’re a shitty writer/chicken whisperer/manager. It’s because they just needed something different right now. That’s literally all there is to it. Fine-tune your offer, better your work, and never stop trying. Rejection is not personal, it’s a chance for you to improve.
During your life as a digital nomad on a motorcycle, stupid, hurtful, expensive, serious, challenging, moronic, unlucky and tedious stuff is going to happen. That’s just fact. Thing is, whenever that happens, there are only two possible scenarios: you either win, or you learn.
Both are valuable.
Just like you optimize your time, energy, geography and currencies, you’ve got to optimize your mind. Quitting, procrastinating, self-pity, excuses, and guilt are extremely unproductive. Eliminate all of that from your mindset, because it wastes time, energy and productivity. Whenever you encounter a problem, never look at it negatively and instead focus your brain on a solution. It’s natural to get emotional; I feel that my world is collapsing when I don’t hear from a shipping agent (this is it, they lost the container, my bike is in the bottom of the ocean), I get unhealthily paranoid about the possibility of delayed flights (I’ll never make that connection now), health-related issues scare the daylight out of me (what if I need another surgery), and life suddenly becomes very dark, complicated and painful if I run out of coffee or inspiration. But, since I can’t afford giving in to fears and doubts, I’ve got to get up and go. Onwards, buttercup.
Got dropped by a client? Awesome, now you can pitch new ideas to new people. Have $200 in your account and two weeks to go till your next gig pays? It’s an opportunity to learn about budgeting and money management. Unexpected medical situation? Crap – but, here’s an excellent reminder to take better care of your health. Terrified by the prospect of your bike breaking down? Cool, time to learn some mechanics.
Unless it’s a matter of death, nothing is a tragedy or an apocalypse, even if it feels like it. There are solutions to everything, no matter how bad, unfair, unlucky, or scary it is. You either already have the tools and the know-how to deal with it, or you can learn and acquire those tools and knowledge.
At this point, I have probably put most people off. If this whole digital moto nomad deal sounds like a lot of hard work and self-discipline, that’s because it is. But it’s also the most liberating and rewarding thing I’ve ever done.
I’m writing this article in a room of a small BnB in Vilnius before packing to leave for Warsaw tomorrow. From there, I’ll pick up my bike and ride to Southern Germany, where Dirt Bike Jesus is lending me his navigation tower for the rally in Greece. Then, I’ll ride to Italy and the Balkans, race in Hellas Rally in May, wander off to Serbia or Croatia for a couple of months, get some work done, and head south to begin the next chapter of my journey – a ride around Africa.
I’m the same Four Eyes with a suspicious name, I’m from a country nobody’s heard of, and I still pronounce “Yosemite” wrong. I don’t have any fancy university degrees, I’m slow even when given a KTM450, I’m unable to install an Ico on my bike, and I dread tyre punctures. And yet, somehow, against all odds, I answer to no one, work from anywhere in the world, am hopelessly hooked on cross country rallies, and intend to ride around the whole planet, however slowly.
And the best part? Anybody can do this. Anybody, from anywhere, anytime.
All you need is a little determination, creativity, and a decent WiFi connection.
What an extraordinary time to be alive.