Being a digital nomad is 'not easy' but it’s 'worth it,' says New York Times-bestselling author

"If you can make it happen, then it'll be worth it."

Mateo Askaripour.
Photo by Andrew "Fifthgod" Askaripour

The coronavirus pandemic has been a wakeup call for many young people feeling stuck in jobs and lives that didn't spark joy. Some are requesting more flexibility at work, while others are leaving altogether to start new businesses or creative endeavors. New York Times reporter Kevin Roose has dubbed this shift the "YOLO economy."

For novelist Mateo Askaripour, it's a familiar story. The 29-year-old author of the New York Times bestseller "Black Buck" spent his early career working in sales at a start-up. After four years, he was burned out. In September 2016, he quit his job and bought a one-way ticket to Costa Rica. "I just had to get away from New York," he recalls.

Askaripour ended up spending three months in Central America, then three more months in Southeast Asia in early 2017. Initially, he used his savings to travel; later, he began working as a freelance consultant as well. That gave him the time to pursue his dream of becoming a writer. Ultimately, he earned "more than six figures" for "Black Buck," which was published in January. He's now living in New York.

Being a digital nomad "is not easy," Askaripour says, "but if you can make it happen, then it'll be worth it." Here's how he was able to fund his life and travels, and his advice for anyone interested in following suit.

Giving friends references turned into consulting at $150/hr

After years in sales and in the start-up world, Askaripour had built a positive reputation. Early in his travels, his friends asked to use him as a reference when they applied for jobs. Once he began talking to the CEOs and hiring managers screening his friends, "they'd say, 'Do you want to work for us?'" he recalls.

Though Askaripour always declined full-time offers, he'd say he was willing to do some sales consulting, his area of expertise. This opened the door to what would become one of his main money-making gigs as he traveled.

Askaripour set his price at $150 per hour, knowing that in Nicaragua, where he was at the time, "even getting $150 for one call is going to let me eat for a couple of days or maybe a week."

A 35-hour package for $4,000-$5,000

After returning to the States in late 2016, Askaripour began to accept more freelance work and consult more widely. An old colleague working for a new company reached out to see if he could do some sales development. For 35 hours of work done over the course of a month, Askaripour would earn $4,000-$5,000.

Since he'd already started pursuing writing as he traveled, he thought, "I got this $5,000, I can do this work from wherever I want," he says. "So I got a one-way ticket to Bali."

While in Bali, Askaripour picked up work doing email marketing campaigns for another former colleague. "I got a couple thousand dollars for this while I was traveling in Southeast Asia," he says. "That not only went a long way; it put me at ease, and freed up the emotional space and the emotional bandwidth I needed to be able to sit down and write."

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Being a digital nomad 'is a grind'

While traveling the world untethered from an office may sound fun, "people have to know that it is a grind to be a digital nomad," Askaripour says. His reputation, skill set, and connections opened doors for freelance work, but there were still a lot of logistics involved.

"You have to be your own salesperson, your own marketer, your own accounting firm for giving invoices and then following up three, four, or five times," he says.  

Before you hit the road, design a money-making plan, says Askaripour.

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Video by Stephen Parkhurst

Say you want to consult in your field of expertise, or you'd like to pick up some remote work in marketing or virtual assisting. That could mean you set a competitive rate, consider how many hours you'll need to work to cover your expenses, ensure you have the tech equipment you need to do your job, and start reaching out to potential clients and customers.

You can also set up some passive income streams, like writing an e-book or selling Google spreadsheets on Etsy. Remember though that while those will require the bulk of the work upfront, you'll still need to invest time into ongoing efforts like social media marketing to get the word out about your products.

Despite the logistical and other challenges, Askaripour says his nomadic lifestyle was worth the effort: "It just allowed me to fund the dream."

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