Skip to main content
Perspectives

Making it work as a digital nomad

Meaghan Johnson, a Fintech Research and Strategy Consultant, shares her story on creating a successful career as a digital nomad.
Digital Nomad

When I turned 20, I left the USA with a brand-new passport, heading to Ireland to start a semester abroad in DublinAfter four years, my passport had so many stamps and visas that I needed to add new pages. Two years after that, I had to make yet another trip to the US embassy to ask for even more pages.  

To say I’d caught the travel bug is a bit of an understatement. Now, at the tender age of 33, I have recently visited my 76th country. 

You must be thinking, ‘well, she’s a trust fund baby or got lucky and sold a start-up. But more than half of my travels have been for business. I was incredibly lucky to have the freedom and flexibility for work trips when I was employed full-time, which ultimately shaped my decision to become a freelancing digital semi-nomad. 

My line of work is quite unique. I’m a research and strategy consultant for digital banking teams within banks, start-ups and company builders. This means I present a lot of reports, run workshops and speak at events for anything and everything to do with fintech and digital financial services.  

Theres a lot of innovation coming out of Europe, so luckily for me, a lot of non-European companies are keen to see what this looks like, which has allowed me to travel outside of Europe. 

 

Managing your finances as a freelancer

Angelica Malin shares her top tips for staying on top of your finances and managing your cashflow.

I took the leap into freelancing after seven years of full-time employment in London. I decided to move to Berlin, a city that values a work-life balance and the individual. This meant leaving the company I co-founded in London and landing in Berlin with no full-time work.  

Becoming a freelancer was sort of an accident. With one LinkedIn post, I quickly picked up retainers and one-off engagements and found banks asking me to work as a contractor. Life was good!  

None of this work bound me to one city or one country – I had the option to become a complete digital nomad. However, I quickly learnt that I preferred having a base. I wanted to learn German, go to my favourite yoga studio, and take advantage of having a place to return home to, so a semi-nomadic lifestyle has worked out for me so far. 

One of the first and most memorable opportunities I had in my first few months of freelancing was a paid-speaking engagement in Dubai. Not only was it fantastic to receive a speaker’s fee, but the ability to take up to two weeks off and Skyscanner’s options from Dubai to ‘Everywhere’ made the leap into freelancing worth it. (I went for 9 days in Sri Lanka, which was just incredible.)  

I am now nearly a year and a half into freelancing, and I have recently started taking working holidays. I get to travel to a country and spend a few days working on my own time whilst exploring. I recently went to the Azores and Jordan, working from my hotels and an Airbnb.  

"It can also be complicated to organise the right paperwork and insurance if you’re travelling to a lot of countries for both business and leisure."

I found it fairly easy to manage my workload and client expectations, but one challenge came with a surprise piece of work I couldn’t turn down. It required a few very early mornings and late nights, but I was confident in my ability to deliver, and being in such beautiful places meant it didn’t bother me too much.  

While that instance was a small, one-off challenge, there are two constant obstacles I face as a freelancer. The first is late invoice payments, which is unfortunately quite common. The second is the lack of benefits, specifically health care.  

On the payments side, I tend to stipulate a 14-day payment period. However, at one point, I was only working for a single client, and they were two months late in paying me. Even though I was fairly consistent in chasing, and they kept promising payment in a few days, it took a while to get them to cough up 

This lack of transparency really bothered me, as I had tax payments and rent deposits due. The only way to stay on top of this as a freelancer is to build out your emergency funds and ensure that you always have multiple streams of income. That way, you’re not dependent on one client or another. It’s tricky sometimes, but it’s worth it when you do it right.  

The second challenge is the lack of benefits – especially health care – once you travel beyond the UK. In Germany, for example, health care is very complicated. It is mandatory and very expensive for freelancers. In a nutshell, if a freelancer expects to make over EUR 50,000 per year, it makes more sense financially to take on private health insurance.  

It can also be complicated to organise the right paperwork and insurance if you’re travelling to a lot of countries for both business and leisure. You need to keep an eye on the rules wherever you go, as you don’t want to get caught out. 

However, from purely a work perspective, I have come across amazing opportunities. I’ve also realised the value of my knowledge and skills, which in itself is invaluable.  

Send invoices on the go

Create and customise invoices while you're on the move. Send them from your mobile and get paid sooner.

As a freelancer, this recognition comes with new projects, extended contracts and the ability to increase your day rate (you are essentially giving yourself a pay rise, which is pretty fun!). While you don’t necessarily have peers to pat you on the back, you by default share these wins with friends and family. This more than makes up for the lack of standard “peer” recognition.  

For me, striking out on my own was one of the best decisions I have made. As a freelancer, I have been able to truly live by my values of flexibility, freedom and fairness and continue to fulfil my passion for travel.