The truth about “location independent” digital nomads

I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I was living abroad 10 years before “The 4-Hour Workweek” came out. Back then, I was strange and unusual. People asked,

“But why would you live abroad?”

I did my Junior year of high school at an art school in Argentina, in Spanish. Then I moved to Malta to study philosophy (instead of going to a 4 year American college, which saved me at least 100K).

Then I studied classical oil painting in Florence, got a certificate for teaching English in Barcelona, and moved to Taiwan.

People interested in travel often ask,

“But how do you afford to travel all the time?”

Answer: I wasn’t travelling all the time. Travel is expensive. But living abroad is almost always cheaper than living in America. Part of it is because you don’t need as much: no car bills, cable TV, or house payments.

Off the top of my head I’d say that living in at least 75% of the countries in the world will cut your monthly expenses in half. And you’ll be living better: nicer, bigger apartments, better food, and of course, much more exciting experiences.

Living abroad is challenging but rewarding. You grow as person. You make relationships. That is, if you stay in one place. It takes a year to go through the full stages of culture shock and become relatively self-sufficient.

Which is why it worries me a little that traveling the world has become the new life goal of many young people. Sure, I did it too – travel is a great way to learn about yourself and the world. But don’t be a travel slut.

Don’t visit countries and famous landmarks to check them off your bucket list, take selfies and brag about it on Facebook. Don’t live in English-speaking communes and avoid interaction with real people. You’ll probably need to learn the language or get off the tourist route – which you won’t do if you’re eager to head to the next beckoning destination for more selfies. (FYI, I’m a hypocrite and I’m sure you’ll see selfies of my wife and I in famous places on Facebook soon).

Just keep in mind it’s easy to be an obnoxious asshole foreigner taking advantage of troubled economies, and that – yes it’s cool – but it doesn’t make you as special as you think it does. But that’s probably the old man in me talking, and you just want me to tell you how to make money online.

Luckily, it’s not so hard. Have a laptop? You can probably figure out how to provide a service online that people will pay for. Or start a website and sell a book or product.

You only need to make about $1000usd a month to cut it in many countries. And $1000 a month isn’t all that difficult (I’m building a course that will show you how to do it in 21 days).

And while you may call yourself a “Digital Nomad” – a recent discussion on the Dynamite Circle (an elite group of internet entrepreneurs I’m involved with) made me realize that “location independence” is more elusive.

Most digital nomads are actually extremely dependent on the low cost of living of their host country. Saigon and Chiang Mai are hotspots for digital nomads because of the cheap cost of living and the ease of transition; foreigners can get along very well there without learning the local language (unlike Taiwan, where I live).

So what does “location independence” look like?

Location independence means you can easily live in any country in the world – even expensive countries like the USA, and expensive cities. So you could fly into New York or London or Tokyo and not balk at the prices. For that to happen, you need to be making closer to $10,000usd a month.

Luckily, if you can make $1000 a month online, it shouldn’t be hard to scale to $10,000, depending on what you’re doing. You can increase your traffic, raise your prices, or get more sales and clients. You can build more businesses.

But true location independence also demands a business that can run without you. And that’s where I’m stuck right now. We’re flying to Paris in a week. Then we’ll travel to London, Budapest, Vienna and stay in Prague for a month. We’ll end up in Barcelona, fly to Berlin, head back to Taiwan, and then head home to Portland Oregon for the summer. We may spend the fall in Mexico or Argentina, where ever I can get the most writing done.

I love travelling, and luckily I’ve built my online businesses up to the point of true location independence (just over $10K a month), however I’m still extremely chained to day to day operations. I have to check email every 12 hours or someone may freak out at me. I need to be constantly working on dozens of projects for clients. I have to delegate tasks to my team and often step in and take over, or tell them exactly what to do.

It’s stressful, I’m usually behind and overwhelmed, and if anybody gets frustrated with me I need to give refunds.

When we were in Boracay last year, I spent most of the time trying to find a stable internet connection to get some work done, instead of enjoying the amazing beach.


The whole experience was frustrating; to be in paradise and unable to relax and enjoy it (I don’t think I’ve ‘relaxed’ for several years).

On the one hand, yes it’s nice not to have a schedule, to wake up when I want, to travel freely and explore the world. On the other hand, I was much happier when I was living on government education scholarships or teaching English – my time ‘off the clock’ was completely my own.

There was no guilt that I should be working, or stress and fear about checking my email and spending the day dealing with emergencies.

But hey, at least I’m learning what I like and don’t like to do. By the end of this year, I’ll probably have transitioned into fully passive income (I won’t be accepting client work anymore). I won’t make as much money, but can probably still make around $5,000 a month in passive income. But even if I go back to making just $1,000 a month, it will be worth it, because I can spend all my time developing content that will earn more passive income.

Like novels. The only project I’m really passionate about anymore is publishing dozens of novels a year and watching my income skyrocket. That’s what I plan to be doing for the next 5 years, and I want to sell 1 million copies before I’m 40.

Audacious? Sure. Worth the attempt? Absolutely.

For me, being “location independent” shouldn’t require being stressed out and working too hard. On the other hand I know that my hustle has built a platform I can now use to make smarter choices.

For me, location independence is being able to find a nice, beautiful picture, like this one taken in the Carpathian Mountains, and saying, “I think I’ll move there for awhile.”

location independence


Then I can look up something on AirBnB, and find a place to rent in the same area.

Do you want to live abroad and travel full time?

Still figuring out how to make money online?

You should probably follow me or join my list (I’ll email you when my new course is out, and I’ll be practically giving it away at first to my followers).

About Derek Murphy

I help authors and artists turn their passions into full-time businesses, make a bigger impact, and blaze a luminous trail of creative independence. Right now I'm in Taiwan finishing a PHD in Literature, writing several books, and managing a handful of online businesses. Find me
  • Derek,
    BRAVO! Love your article, thank you for sharing your life with your readers so honestly. Although I have to say I’m a bit worried. I was counting on being able to go to you for ALL my future book covers. I’m freaking out now – but happy for you! Blessings of happiness and prosperity, Julie

Pin It on Pinterest


Share This

Share this post with your friends!