How to Save Your Pennies When Going Through a Low Income Period as a Digital Nomad

While the lifestyle of a web-based freelancer/digital nomad may seem idyllic – working and travelling wherever and whenever - it actually carries with it some significant negatives which aren't immediately apparent. For instance, freelancers don't get sick pay when they're unwell, nor do they get any kind of double-time or holiday pay. Moreover, self-employed professionals get very little in the way of maternity/paternity pay and receive no occupational pension unless they sort one out themselves. However, it is perhaps the fluidity of the work itself which is the biggest concern of all when working as freelancer – there is just no guarantee that the work will be there all throughout the year.

I found this out for myself when I was working my way around Asia as a digital nomad a few years ago. Out of the blue, a good 70 per cent of my work just dried up over the course of a week and I suddenly found myself struggling to rub two pennies together in Jakarta, feeling somewhat isolated and a little vulnerable. Fortunately, Indonesia is not the most expensive place to find yourself 'stuck' in so, after my initial concerns passed, I set about putting measures in place which would help me to save pennies and keep myself 'ticking over' until my income picked up again. Although they were specific to Indonesia at the time, these measures can be applied to pretty much any budget travel-based scenario (indeed I have used them in other places when work once again became a little thin on the ground).

So what kind of measures are we talking about here?

Go on a diet

The good thing about travelling, especially in Asia, is that food options are plentiful and cheap. The bad thing about Western travellers/nomads is that we generally have large appetites and (all too often) expensive tastes. Because we can buy a three or five course meal for half the price of what it will cost back home, we automatically believe we are getting a bargain. While this may be true when you're flush with cash, it looks completely different when your wallet is all but bare. The truth is, eating like a king will still cost you a decent amount of money; money which you really need to save when your income is stuttering. Do yourself a favour, get into the habit of eating the cheapest filler food (toast is always a good option) you can for five days of the week and then treating yourself to something just a little bit decadent (a chain store burger perhaps) once or twice a week. You'll be amazed at the savings you make and pleasantly surprised by how svelte you look after a couple of weeks.

Walk everywhere

Many Western travellers see walking – especially in the tropics – as being something that should be avoided at all costs. I can see why; after all, pounding the pavement when the heat and humidity are at their highest is not always the most pleasant experience. The thing is, taxi drivers in hot countries know this; they know that pale-looking travellers will start looking around for a four-wheeled savour within five minutes of leaving their accommodation and they know that they won't mind paying a little extra for the privilege. If you've got the money then there is nothing wrong with taking this option. If you haven't then put on a wide-brimmed hat, slap on some sun block, put a nice full water bottle in your daysack and put one foot in front of the other until you get to where you need to be. As well as saving yourself money (think how much you'll save over the course of a couple of weeks), you'll keep fit and get to see things you might otherwise miss.


Invest in a good book

Every digital nomad knows that bars and clubs are financial black holes. Going out for a drink in the evening, either with pals from your hostel/hotel or to a local watering hole frequented by other workers, often ends up with you coming home with empty pockets in the early hours. If you're an English speaker (and I'm assuming you are) then you can take advantage of the fact that there are very few places in the world that don't have English language books available for purchase or hire these days. Instead of going out on the razz, get yourself down to a quiet spot at a nearby beach, park, garden or plaza and pass a good few hours in the company of a good book. As well as providing you with some mental stimulation, reading four or five nights of the week will give your wallet AND your liver a much needed break.

Although they didn't seem like it at the time, I now see these periods of spontaneous austerity as being some of the most rewarding of all my digital nomad/travelling adventures. Adversity is a part of life and, while it is perhaps easier and more sensible to call on the help of others when at home, it is quite empowering to overcome problems of this kind by yourself, adapting your nomad lifestyle to deal with the challenges at hand and ensure your adventure stays on track.


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