Digital Nomads: Answers to questions about our work-life balance

April 19, 2013 in Inspiration

Family Travel

We get a lot of questions about how the logistics of balancing work while traveling works  in our family.

The short answer: sometimes better than others!

Our travels are not a vacation and we’re far from independently wealthy, so that means that we’ve converted our careers and work as we go. This gets complicated sometimes. This post is an attempt to answer a few of the recent inquiries. If you’re interested in the tightrope walk, read on. If you’re not, there’ll be another post about lovely New Zealand within a day or so, have patience! 🙂

How do you earn a living? 

We work, like everyone else! 😉 Okay, maybe not quite like everyone else, but we do work. The upside of being location independent in our jobs is that we can live and work anywhere… the down side is that we’re living and working everywhere! Basically, we converted existing skill sets and developed a few new ones to things that could be done remotely.

Specifically, Tony does database development, design & implementation for big companies you’ve heard of and iOS/Android development for small ones you haven’t. He works with a friend who is stateside and together they maximize one another’s strengths in a partnership that allows us to be out of the USA much of the time.

I write, as you already know, but not just for this blog. I write freelance within the Alternative Education and Travel markets for fun and profit. Mostly for fun. Writers don’t make real money. They do, occasionally, get to do some cool stuff and that adds to our travels sometimes.

We both average about 20 hours a week of proper “work time.”

How expensive is it to travel all the time? 

This is the great, unanswerable, much debated question on travel websites everywhere. There are innumerable variables, not the least of which is how many children you have and what the teenage boy-to-normal human ratio is in the mix. Feeding just one of those creatures is enough to make a person want to move to Southeast Asia and live on noodles and Buddha sticks.

I can tell you this: Our absolute cheapest phase of travel (and most accurately tracked in terms of expenses, we documented EVERYTHING back then) was when we began, with bicycles and a year cycling (and largely camping) our way around Europe and Tunisia. We were under $100 a day for all six of us for that portion of the journey. We are able to maintain that rough budget now (even with the voracious hoard) if we stay the heck out of the first world. Thailand and Southeast Asia were kind to us, as was Guatemala and much of Central America.

Australia? New Zealand? Not so much. We’re probably spending double that in Oceania, but honestly, we’re not tracking it at the moment. Our basic budget on land and sea, at home and abroad is $3000 a month… but that’s an average, and over years, not months. If you’re asking that question to figure out how much to save for your trip, here’s my general recommendation: Make a fair budget based on your variables, not cheaping out, and then add 25% to that. Having too much money is rarely a problem… having 25% too little, will not be fun.

How you maintain internet connection to post your articles? 

Ha. Maintaining internet to post articles is not the primary difficulty. It takes surprisingly little bandwidth to maintain websites and you’d be shocked at the level of connectivity that can be found even in seemingly backwater places. We’ve stayed on islands without electricity that have satellite wi-fi. No kidding. Crazy. 

The real difficulty is having good enough internet to do real work over it, VPN to clients, business calls, remote server work, etc. Tony struggles with this intensely and with remarkable patience. It means that a lot of what would otherwise be billable time, is spent pulling hair out over connectivity issues. You’ve noticed his hairline, right?

What difficulties do you have with internet?

Finding it. Maintaining an adequate connection. Sharing it, when we’re working off of a phone for data, between six people (the kids use it for school and work as well.) The cost has been a surprise in Australia and NZ; where we expected it to be cheap and easy, it’s very expensive and a continual pain in the patootie. Enough whinging about that, however. There are real problems in the world!

How do you find time to write with all you do? 

People have been asking me this question since my kids were small. I don’t really know how to answer it, except to tell you that writing is non-optional for me. I have to write to keep breathing. If I haven’t written about something, I haven’t thought about it yet. What people read, on websites or in magazines is about one third of my actual output. I’m writing all the time, in my head, as I walk, as we travel, while we live life. I can’t not write. I write journals. I have 2/3 of a fiction book finished that will probably never see the light of day. I write poetry. I write letters long hand to friends and draw pictures in the margins. I send postcards. I write for happiness. I write for therapy. I. Must. Write. 🙂

When do I find time for the output? Well, that’s getting easier as the kids are now self-sufficient and I haven’t tied a shoe or wiped a nose in years. I write in the mornings early and in the evenings (now!) I squeeze it in in twenty minute chunks here and there. I tend to write while the children are schooling now. We sit and work together! 🙂

More important than the writing though, is the living. Im too busy living life, getting messy, having adventures, blazing a trail with this tribe, too write as much as I would like. Perhaps when I’m old I’ll have more time. Perhaps not. I just do my best each day.

How much time do you spend writing?

Hard question to answer… I’ve never set a timer. I think it’s safe to say that I write with purpose for at least 3 hours a day most days.


So those are the answers to the questions we have gotten about work… hopefully that helps you see the big picture better. If you have more questions, don’t hesitate to ask!