The digital nomad lifestyle gives you freedom and flexibility you can’t find anywhere else. What’s it like to travel the world while working from anywhere?
This is the second in my new(ish) series of interviews with digital nomads.
James Cave is a travel blogger who runs a blog all about Portugal, which he turned into his main source of income.
Portugalist is a comprehensive resource on Portuguese cities, food, expat life and lots more. It’s full of useful travel guides and just about everything you need to now when you visit Portugal.
Originally from Ireland, James has lived and worked as a digital nomad in Europe, Asia, South Africa and North America.
I interviewed him to learn how he became a digital nomad, what are the realities of working as a blogger, what’s Lisbon like for digital nomads and what he values most about this lifestyle.
How did you become a digital nomad?
I became a digital nomad roughly 7.5 years ago. It was a move I’d been planning to make for years, as I’d caught the travel bug in my early 20s, but had been putting off for far too long.
Luckily, I ended up working a job that I hated so much I actually had enough motivation to go and do it!
Prior to finally quitting that job and hitting the road, I’d spent the previous year trying to build up an income by writing ebooks and making websites that I hoped would earn me some money.
Within a few months of going travelling, though, I ended up connecting with someone who was looking for someone to manage their online marketing.
They ended up becoming a client for 2-3 years and so, for the first few years, I made my money by providing marketing services instead.
How do you make a living as a digital nomad?
I started off as an online marketing consultant and, after that gig ended, I did a lot of freelance copywriting while I tried to work out what I was going to do next. Somewhere along the way, I also wrote a tongue-in-cheek guidebook to German culture.
During that freelancer period, I started Portugalist (my blog). I’d lived in Portugal for several years as a kid, and then as a digital nomad, and my family has lived there for close to two decades so it was something I felt I could talk about.
The blog was something I was working on sporadically, but I could never really get it to make that much money.
In fact, given the amount of time I was spending on it versus the amount of money it was bringing in, it was basically losing me money.
I kept going back to it, though, and eventually the traffic started to pick up and suddenly it started to look like something I could seriously invest my time in.
These days, that takes up a big portion of my time and is now my main source of income. It’s not quite where I want it to be at, so I still support myself with other occasional projects, but it’s getting there.
What’s your favourite thing about the digital nomad lifestyle?
I like the flexibility. It’s so nice being able to meet up with someone for a long lunch, go to the gym when it’s not peak hours, or get your washing done while working from the house.
I always get the work that needs doing done, and some, but even still, I’d probably never be given the same freedom in a traditional job.
What are the best cities for digital nomads from your experience?
I might be biased, but I love Lisbon. It has one of the largest communities of digital nomads in the world, and it also has a very friendly young expat scene as well.
Rental prices have risen a lot in the past few years, and it’s definitely not the hidden gem that it once was, but it’s still a great place to live as a digital nomad.
Finding an apartment or room to rent can take a few weeks, and can be competitive, but it’s not impossible. There are plenty of sites that advertise house shares and apartment rentals including some Facebook groups and websites that cater solely to digital nomads.
Aside from rent, most other things haven’t risen dramatically in price. It’s still possible to eat out, especially at lunchtime, for between €5 and €10. A bica (espresso) can cost as little as €0.50 while a small beer or glass of wine can both cost as little as €1.
I’m also a big fan of Cape Town, Berlin, and Mexico City, although they’re not necessarily the best cities for digital nomads, as the best digital nomads cities are the ones where other nomads are.
I think you have to go to certain places for your “nomad fix,” and then go off and spend a few months travelling to fulfill all your other needs.
How many hours a day do you work?
I definitely work a lot more than I ever did in an office. I work at least the equivalent of a 40-hour workweek, which is around 8 hours per day, but usually much more than that.
The goal is to try and cut that down as much as possible, but that’s definitely something I have to work on.
Is it important for you to be part of a digital nomad community?
This wasn’t something that I really got involved in for the first few years, partly because I didn’t live anywhere that had a large nomad community, but it is something that has become important to me.
I’ve visited a few of the popular nomad hubs, including Chiang Mai and Playa del Carmen. Although they weren’t my favourite places that I’ve been to, I’d consider going back to them simply for the community.
What’s one piece of advice you’d like to share on being or becoming a digital nomad?
I would encourage people to look at remote jobs– something which wasn’t really a thing when I was starting out.
These are jobs (which you can find on job boards like Remote Ok and We Work Remotely) that allow you to work remotely, which is much, much easier than trying to find multiple clients, write an e-book, or start a travel blog.
You can do all of those things later, of course, but a remote job will at least get you on the road.
What are your plans for the future?
Currently, I’m based in Portugal as I’m doing a lot of work on the site. I need a lot of photos, and I need to write a lot more content, so I’m nomading it from here for the time being.
After that, I’m really not sure. There’s still a lot of world to see, but I haven’t decided which country I’ll go to next.