As was foretold, we've added advertisements to the forums! If you have questions, or if you encounter any bugs, please visit this thread:

The road to digital nomadhood

ReznikReznik Registered User regular
For the past year and change I have been dissatisfied with my current job (IT support) in the sense that while I don't actively hate it, I'm bored and find it pointless. I realize that any job I have is just doing to be a 9 to 5 time sink, something that prevents me from doing things that I want to do. In my current situation, I'm at the mercy of bosses who really don't give a shit and will fire me at any time if they think it will save a couple bucks - that's why they've hired contractors instead of full time employees. No benefits to pay. I don't feel valued by my employers, and I'm just tired of all the pointless bullshit that comes with an office job, like why I have to sit in the office for 8 hours when I have my work done in 4.

At this rate I'm never going to save up enough money to own a house in the area I want to live in, I don't own a car, I'm single, I have no debt, I have over 20k in savings, and the only thing tying me to where I am is a job and two cats.

I really like the idea of the digital nomad. I would love to just pack up and head to Thailand or Budapest or Amsterdam for months at a time. I'm on my first ever trip to Europe right now and I fucking love it. I love travelling, and I know that if I remain in my current job I will never be able to travel as much as I want - I'm never, ever going to get that month off to go to a training camp in Thailand. A week is not enough time to see Japan. Etc etc.

My current job does not allow for any remote work, both as a matter of policy and just based on the type of work that I'm currently doing. So I know that I will need to find new work.

My current plan is as follows:

- I will continue to work this job while learning web development. I am enrolled in several courses covering HTML, CSS, Python, SQL, and JavaScript. I have prior web dev experience, but am rusty, so I want to take a lot of time to get back up to speed
- I will build up a portfolio of personal projects, then begin seeking out freelance work on the side once I am comfortable with my skills
- I will discuss with some friends who are pursuing web design/development the possibility of forming a small company
- I will obtain my Italian citizenship through my dad (retaining my current Canadian citizenship) which will give me a ton more options in the EU
- I will build up a client list
- When I am satisfied with the stability of my freelance operation (and/or small company), I will quit my job and begin the globetrotting fun times to places with reliable internet connections

Does this seem like a solid plan? I am looking at this on a time scale of a few years, let's say that by year 5 I want to be in a position to start traveling. Does this seem feasible? Are there any major hiccups I'm overlooking? Have any of you done the digital nomad thing or are you currently doing it, and if so, can you offer any advice? Does anyone have any idea how filing income tax works for something like this? I imagine I would maintain an apartment in Canada and probably sublet it while I'm away for extended periods.

Appreciate any insight/advice

Do... Re.... Mi... Ti... La...
Do... Re... Mi... So... Fa.... Do... Re.... Do...
Forget it...


  • zepherinzepherin Russian warship, go fuck yourself Registered User regular
    It's not a bad plan, but you'll find that you end up traveling to where the work is not to where you want to be traveling, which is interesting in a certain view.

    When I was in my 20s I wanted to do a lot of traveling for work, see a bunch of sites, go to interesting places.

    Now I do travel for work, and I kinda wish I'd told myself not to, because work travel isn't like vacation travel, and freelancing means feast or famine, so when you are making the money to enjoy the cities you are visiting, you also will be working 12-14 hours a day so you won't have the time.

    Forming a small company is great, I own 3, mostly for tax reasons, but one of them creates a small amount of revenue, and I plan on growing it. I would advise not to get into bed with more than 1 other person on a company like that, and if you can handle the process A-Z be your own company. I've worked with a partner who turned out to be a flake before, and it will drive you nuts. I can send you a copy of my partnership agreement if you want, just PM me.

  • vimmervimmer Registered User regular
    It's feasible, but I'll be frank, it might not work the way you think it will, and 5 years is a long time to spend waiting to "live".

    I did this kind of thing for three years. I started a small company with two other friends and we did all kinds of web and mobile app work for clients. The idea was to work small projects, then gradually scale up and become a big company and eventually not do much of the work ourselves, but it never happened.

    It seemed like a big deal to us at the time, but in retrospect our execution was shit and utterly hopeless from day one. Scaling up was not in our DNA. There is no automagic path that levels you up from "freelancers" to "contract company". If you want to become a company you need to think about it from day one and have a REAL plan. Open up a spreadsheet and start putting in numbers.

    Here's three things I would do differently if I had to do it again:

    1. From day one, I would not write any code myself unless it was an emergency. Instead, I would focus entirely on consulting with the clients and solving their problems, and I would save up enough money to kickstart my company by hiring developers who would do the actual coding for me. I would bill the clients at least a 30-50% markup on whatever I'm paying the developers per hour.

    2. For the first year or two, or for as long as I can, I would not expect a profit at all, I would continually reinvest profits back into the company to grow the team as fast as possible and build more capacity for work.

    3. I would provide hosting solutions as options for clients and their applications. I would try to get them to commit to a yearly subscription so that I could purchase AWS reserved instances and increase my profit margins on hosting as much as possible, or they could host their own stuff and instead I could sell them on system administration.

    You have $20,000 in savings. If you hire a developer for $80/hr, this starts you off with 250 hours of developer time. Could you find a client who would pay somewhere between $105-$125/hr minimum per developer? This is what you will need to do if you are going to grow.

    If your company does 1500 hours of work in a year at a rate of $105/hr you would have about $37k or so in profit. Not great, but that's a nearly 180% return on investment for your $20k. If you reinvest that all money and keep growing at the same rate then by the end of year two you'd probably have somewhere around $150k in profit. Better, but not great. You can now pay yourself a decent salary and hire a few more people that are not developers if necessary.

    Sounds too good to be true, and probably is. Maybe someone wants to chime in, I've never done this, but maybe I'll try in the future when I have money to burn. My guess is you'll probably struggle to find clients or get enough work. And that's why you should dedicate 100% of your time to finding clients and not actually coding.

    As a business owner, coding is a low value activity for you. It's shit, it's blue collar work. Trust me I know, I code all day long. Would you rather spend your timing working on someone's application for $120/hr or would you prefer to spend your time landing a $20k, $30k, $50k contract with a valuable client? If you want to eventually be free and travel the world, you'll have to do this, so that eventually your company is making enough revenue that you can hire your own salesforce and you won't even need to talk to the clients much anymore.

    Freelancing on your own is not really a business, you're just renting out your time and working for multiple bosses that you could fire if you feel like it. Your life would still be long periods of work with a few periods of vacation scattered around, and on top of that you are endlessly searching for more work. It's hell.

    People who freelance and travel the world like a free spirit generally freelance in a valuable niche that pays really well, such that they don't need to work for large periods of time. The skills you listed are a good start but also very commoditized nowadays. Be careful, and whatever you do make sure you don't spend your entire life waiting to live, the present is all you have.

  • ReznikReznik Registered User regular
    @zepherin thanks for the response. I'll PM you once I'm done traveling as I would like to take a look at that agreement.

    @vimmer thanks, this is giving me a lot to think about. I hadn't considered contracting out and planned on doing the coding myself because at this point I don't have any experience managing people and resources. I've always just been a cog in the machine, not in any kind of team lead position, so the idea of finding people to work for me and making sure they're getting the work done is a little daunting.

    I really appreciate the perspectives you've both provided and when I get back from this trip I'm going to sit down and start mapping things out in more detail.

    The reason I have the 5 year timeline is I'm still relatively young (28), and I don't want to be overeager and try to reach beyond where my skill level is at. I'm generally risk averse so it's in my nature to take a lot of extra time and double check that all the Ts are crossed and Is dotted.

    Do... Re.... Mi... Ti... La...
    Do... Re... Mi... So... Fa.... Do... Re.... Do...
    Forget it...
  • vimmervimmer Registered User regular
    Traveling is much easier with a scalable business model. Being a one man shop isn't scalable unless you're building and supporting a product that you sell.

    Good luck!

  • spool32spool32 Contrary Library Registered User regular
    edited May 2017
    Vimmer makes fantastic points. "Guy with the money" is a job on its own, and a very valuable one. Likewise 'guy who finds the business'.

    At the end of the day, 'Guy who writes the app' is not much different from 'guy who fixes the computer'. If that's what you want to do, awesome! But if you want to have a freelance company so you can travel, you will need a money person and a business finder person, and they will be telling the coders (i.e. you) what to do / when to do it.

    spool32 on
Sign In or Register to comment.