This interview in my series of interviews with digital nomads features Sara Tyler, who shares her life story as a digital nomad and some very useful tips.
Sara grew up in Philadelphia, PA, USA. She’s been living abroad since 2010, and has been a digital nomad since 2014.
She is currently working on a multi-author book which features female digital nomads who own their own businesses.
What made you decide you wanted to be a digital nomad?
To be honest, I didn’t set out to become a digital nomad. I didn’t even know it was an option.
I was living abroad, in Mexico, and teaching English at a local school. On summer vacation, I was able to backpack down to the Panama Canal for 5 weeks, and I was really happy with that freedom.
After 2 years, I was really fed up with the school, the owner, and the general treatment of us as teachers. I took 2 days off for ¨mental health¨, to really think about my options, and online I found the opportunity to teach English for Education First and TutorABC.
Both were paying around $10 USD per 45 minute class at the time, and I was making about $4 USD an hour at the school, so it was a no-brainer.
Once I began teaching online, I realized I would be able to travel as long as I had a wired internet connection.
How do you make a living as a digital nomad these days?
Starting off in the online ESL industry, I doubled my income by switching to online teaching. And I was able to choose my hours.
I scheduled myself 3 days a week, 13 classes per day, and kept the other 4 days for travel.
As the peso/dollar exchange rate changed, I was making even more. I did end up going down to El Salvador for 3 years and using it as a homebase to travel throughout Central America. But, once in El Salvador, the internet was not great, and I ended up failing a couple IT tests.
Luckily, I had applied to the writing team for TutorABC and was able to continue to make money with them, while I started teaching independently.
I ended up leaving El Salvador when I had my daughter for safety concerns, and came back to Mexico.
Then, I fell into teaching Spanish, as well as ESL, online. My business grew over the years until I had hundreds of group students a week.
But then, with COVID, a lot changed with online teaching. The industry became flooded, people began price gouging because of the demand, and the students were worn out from being on Zoom all day.
I decided to walk away from my company and find something that I was passionate about again instead.
For a few years, I had been publishing books on Amazon, mostly bilingual children’s books and academic Spanish workbooks.
Now, I am working on multi-author books and growing my own publishing company.
I still teach a handful of students who have been with me for 3-5 years, because I honestly enjoy teaching also. But publishing books allows me more flexibility, which is especially important with little kids.
What are the best cities for digital nomads from your experience?
That depends on what you are looking for. I think Playa del Carmen provides the most opportunity to meet other nomads and co-working spaces.
Other places have a lower cost of living, if that is what is important. I really love living in Chelem, Yucatan, but the internet problems make it hard to work.
I have an excellent balance in Veracruz because the cost of living is lower, the internet is fast, and I am immersed in the culture. Very few expats and/or nomads here.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give someone who’s starting out as a digital nomad?
Always have multiple streams of income, including passive ones, no matter how small they begin or may seem.
From my teaching days, I have products on Teachers Pay Teachers, and about 15 books on Amazon. It brings in a couple hundred dollars a month passively.
In addition, I have my few private students I work with, and my publishing company.
Share one resource that every digital nomad should be aware of
If you are in Mexico, we have a Telcel router which we can bring anywhere in the country for WiFi. We just pay about $5 USD when we need more internet. For our purposes, we pay about $35 USD a month.
Also, we have several unlimited SIM cards, including Unefon (AT&T) for $15 a month and Megacable for $10 a month as back ups.
The best investment I made was purchasing an iPad pro with a SIM option. I use it much more than my computer, it is more portable, and gets great speed for Zoom calls.
How do you stay productive while you travel?
I make a schedule and set SMART goals.
I don’t allow myself to go to the beach or do anything for leisure until I have completed my goal for the day.
My partner helps A LOT with this as he has to take care of the kids for me to be able to be productive.
What are your plans for the future?
I get the travel itch more often during the quarantine, so it is hard to say.
Recently, we have been driving around Mexico and visiting different places, so I see that being our travel for the immediate future.
I would like to purchase land and build in Chelem, Yucatan to have a home base as we explore the peninsula more.