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‘”You’re living the dream”
If I had £1 for every time I had heard that, I would be considerably richer than what I am now.
People think I have the dream job. I’m fortunate enough to work fully online and because of that, I choose to travel and change countries every month or so as well. I guess that makes me a digital nomad.
I try and tell people what I do, but as is the case with social media, they don’t see what goes on in my 9-5 world so think I must be incredibly wealthy, have a trust fund or have an Only Fans (yep, I was asked this once!).
However, I do have a regular job, working 40 hours per week and earning a salary. I won’t disclose my salary here but I will say it is less than the median for a worker from the UK.
(I’ll wait here whilst all you nosey people Google the average UK salary 😉 )
I’m from London, one of the most expensive cities in the world. Add to that my love of travel and being a digital nomad just makes sense to me, it means that I choose to live in different countries and travel around as much as I can.
Here I’ll explain how much I spend being a digital nomad and all the associated costs that go with it.
What is a digital nomad?
Digital nomads are defined as “people who conduct their life in a nomadic manner while engaging in remote work using digital telecommunications technology”. What that really means is they work online whilst working in another country and moving when they feel like it. But how do digital nomads make money?
There are many different types of digital nomads, from people like me who have their own job, ones that are freelancers and work on projects and ones that run their own online business.
All of these have different pros and cons and wildly different incomes as well. A business owner may be earning six figures. Someone as a freelancer may earn $1000 per month for very little work but they travel more on a budget.
There are thousands of digital nomad jobs out there. Basically, any job that you can do in an office, you can now do online. One of the upsides of the pandemic (I can’t think of many) has shown this to be the case. And earnings will vary as wildly as office jobs as well.
There are also different levels of travelling in the digital nomad community. Some may base themselves in one city or country for many months or even years at a time. Georgia has a 1 year visa for many nationalities. Bali and Chang Mai are popular destinations for digital nomads and have a large expat population. (Some countries are now offering a digital nomad visa for workers to base themselves in a country for an extended period whilst earning their income abroad. Estonia, Malaysia, Malta and Barbados are among the countries that have done this.) However some digital nomads travel on every few days, squeezing in work to 8 hours of their day between sleeping and exploring.
Personally, I am in between this. I like to stay somewhere for around one month before moving on for a few reasons:
- Many countries will give a 30 day visa which means I can only stay one month before moving on again.
- It’s also a nice amount of time to get to know the place, form some roots and explore everything around the city I’m staying in. I stayed in Tbilisi for just two weeks, but with my job that only leaves a few hours in the evening and one weekend in the middle of my stay to explore.
- I stay in AirBnB’s which sometimes provide a discount if you stay longer than 28 days.
I have stayed for just 2-3 nights before moving on but I found I get tired easily. I’ve also stayed for six weeks in the same place and I feel you get into too much of a routine if you do this.
I want to be as open and transparent with you all here and share some of my personal costs from my experience of being a digital nomad.
General Costs of Being a Digital Nomad
Living is one of the most expensive things you can do.
Everyone needs to spend money to live, whether they are in a megacity like London, a beach resort in Bali or a small town in Kyrgyzstan.
Ever since people became independent from their parents, they would be spending money on accommodation, food, travel and activities. Being a digital nomad is no different.
This is actually where the biggest cost savings come into play. If these non-negotiable costs come down, living costs in total come down.
Digital Nomad Accommodation Cost
Like many digital nomads, I use AirBnB to find short term accommodation of around one month. Occasionally I will stay in hotels if it is just for a couple of nights, or a hostel if I don’t plan to work on the days I am staying there. I have also found short term rentals on Facebook groups and word of mouth.
Depending on the host, AirBnB can offer monthly and weekly discounts. I’ve seen weekly discounts as low as 3% and monthly discounts as high as 70% and everything in between. Not only do you have the cost of the stay, there will often be a cleaning fee and then a service fee of 15% on top which goes straight to AirBnB. The cleaning fee and service fee are per stay, so the less you move around, the fewer times you have to pay these one off fees.
I’ll break down some of the stays I’ve had below. To make things easy, I have made them all USD amounts per night. To do this I have taken the total amount I have paid (accom + fees) and divided by the number of nights I have stayed there. Although I’m sure I can find the breakdown of if I have had any discounts and all the fees, I haven’t accounted for them here.
I have also made some notes regarding the living situation, if I have stayed with friends or if it has any special features.
If nothing is mentioned, this is a one bedroom apartment I have had to myself in a city.
|Cost per night (USD)
|Rented an apartment through an owner
|Sea view, low season
|Villa with pool, with friends
|Had a pool, shared with friends
All of these places have their pros and cons like any accommodation you book. This is by far my biggest regular expense.
Living cost as a digital nomad
My living costs are things such as food, drink, groceries and the other day to day things that people buy when they are living anywhere in the world.
I normally get my food from a supermarket or other small local market depending on where I am staying. In Egypt, my breakfast (and sometimes my lunch!) every day was some freshly baked bread that cost pennies. In Istanbul, I had a local kebab man for my dinner far too often for only $1.50. My noodle man in Penang was even cheaper. Sometimes I will eat in restaurants to experience the local food as well, a seafood pasta dish in Saranda cost $7 but a ticket to the top of the Cairo tower with dinner was $25.
Food can be as cheap or expensive as you would like it to be. I normally eat out once per week depending on where I am staying with most other meals eaten at home.
Other toiletries and incidentals are almost always cheaper abroad than in the UK.
These could be absolutely anything depending on what I am doing. I have hired a car for a road trip around Oman which cost close to $400 for 4 days away. I spent a weekend heading to Mulu National Park for a tour of the rainforest which set me back $170. I have spent a weekend hiking in the mountains in Georgia which cost $50 for the weekend and I’ve also done day trips that have cost me just a couples of dollars in a bus fare.
In many cities there are free walking tours which are great for giving an over view of the city and a chance to ask the local tour guide their thoughts on anything from the history of the place to their favourite local restaurant. These aren’t strictly free as you are expected to tip at the end but there is no set cost involved.
There are often free sites in many cities as well. Churches, mosques and some museums often don’t have entrance fees. Local parks and beaches are great places to hang out and people watch to observe more cultures.
I personally stick to more budget trips and tours but I have seen day tours costing $100+. I feel that most digital nomads are budget savvy and will almost always go for the cheaper option.
Cost of Travel for Digital Nomads
This is where digital nomads reduce their costs compared to people taking a 2 week holiday.
Flights are often a massive cost, especially if flying to different continents.
But here’s the thing.
Most digital nomads don’t take those kind of flights too often. They normally stick to a region for a prolonged period of time meaning these long distance expensive flights average themselves out over time. If a flight is $500 and you go for 2 weeks, it adds $35 to your daily budget each day. If you stay somewhere for 6 months, it only adds $2.50 per day.
I’m actually not sure of anyone that thinks about this in the way I do but its something to consider. I spent 6 weeks in the Middle East as my return flight from London to Dubai took up a large chunk of my budget.
When you have done your “big flight”, travelling between regions on local public transport is often very affordable. A 5 hour bus in Albania, was $15. 2 hour bus in Poland was $2. A local ferry in Turkey was $0.30. Another reason that goes to show the longer you stay somewhere, the cheaper it will be.
These are all the things that you don’t tend to think about when budgeting but definitely still need to pay for!
Firstly, travel insurance. As the old saying goes, “If you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel.”
There are now plans out there that cater to remote workers specifically. The best digital nomad travel insurance out there is SafetyWing. I have never had to claim with them but their customer service has been excellent when I have had to deal with them. You can renew when outside your own country and getting a quote is easy. Prices start at $42 per month.
I get a local SIM card in every country I go to. They are handy for data on the go but I also have it as a backup to hotspot if the wifi isn’t great where I am. Again the prices vary massively costing from $8 to $25 for a one month plan with varying amounts of data. Most countries have shops that sell SIM cards at the airport right outside departures. These are usually a bit more expensive that if you were to get one in a city but you are paying for the convenience.
I try to join a gym when I am in one place for a long time. Prices for these have ranged from $20-$40 for a month.
You will also have to think about any other costs that you have back in your home country.
Are you still paying rent or a mortgage on a place? Or have you put it all into storage? Do you have any other bills back home you need to pay?
Do you have any subscriptions that you still pay? Cloud storage, Netflix, any other software like a VPN? All of these need to be factored in to any budget if you are a long term digital nomad.
How much does a digital nomad spend per day?
Everyone in the digital nomad community will have a different answer to this. There will be some that will live off a few dollars per day staying in hostel and eating noodles. There will be others that have the most Instagramable villa in Dubai and eat out every night.
My budget is $58 per day however I am a bit flexible with that. If there is something amazing happening or a tour that I really want to do, I will. Seeing the Pyramids on my birthday would’ve taken me over this budget but it was so worth it!
The $58 daily budget figure includes accommodation, food and activities. It does not include flights as I categorise that differently. On the whole, I am under budget sometimes, about average most of the time and I go way over for special occasions.
As I spend different amounts of time in different places, it would be harsh of me to look at overall spend so I calculate in on a daily basis.
(If you are looking for a card that doesn’t charge ATM or currency fees abroad, I highly recommend Wise which I have now used in over 15 countries! Use this link to start saving abroad now!)
Here is my daily spend in a few locations:
|Total daily spend (USD)
|Cheapest place I have stayed so far
|Got a great deal on coworking and accommodation
|Bansko was cheaper, but Sofia more expensive
|Accommodation shared with a friend
|A short holiday to watch the cricket
|Travelling around to watch sport
Even somewhere like Barbados, which many would consider a luxury travel destination in the Caribbean, can be travelled on a budget. I went out there to watch England play cricket whilst also seeing some of the country and working during the day. Check out my post on how to travel to Barbados on a budget.
I’ve tried to be as honest as possible explaining how much a digital nomad spends whilst travelling. These are purely for me only and everyone is different. I could definitely travel a lot cheaper by staying in hostels or cheaper AirBnB’s, but it could also be a lot more expensive.
The main reason I wrote this was to dispel the myth that I may be earning a silly amount of money, that I am using a trust fund or have another unlimited supply of money somewhere else funding my travels.
It is also to note that travelling, when done long term, can be affordable. It can even being cheaper than just living in my home country (that line is taken from whereintheworldisnina.com!) which is another reason I do it.
Dan is an avid traveller from London. His first big adventure was in 2010 living in Malaysia for 3 months and becoming a divemaster. He has been on the road almost constantly since 2015 travelling to destinations that aren’t on the mainstream tourist trail.