Nusa Lembongan, Indonesia. Not pictured: my bank account balance.

An Honest Self-Assessment: My Finances after 7 Months of Living Abroad

The “Digital Nomad” lifestyle has been popularized by many books, online publications for a few years now: being able to work remotely and set your own hours by traveling is relatively new, and continues to astonish and inspire anyone who’s not currently living that reality. Last Fall I finally decided to pull the trigger and buy a one-way ticket to Bali. After years of living with my family to save up, and fantasizing about what that life would be like, I set out with high hopes, a decent savings account and little debt. I’d never had an income from working remotely, but I was semi-confident that I could find work as a freelancer. Serendipitously, I found my first gig through a conversation with a fellow traveler at a café. I was relieved, ecstatic and baffled at my own “luck”; it was enough reassurance that I could sustain this way of living long-term.

That was then, and plenty has happened since last October. That initial excitement fizzled out once my savings dwindled, and once a project my friends and I were working on disintegrated. After all was said and done, I logged an average of 4 hours of work per week, which wasn’t enough to cover the (relatively cheap) cost of living in Bali. Please note, this isn’t something that I hold a grudge against my employer for — the rates that I agreed to and the amount of hours I had were “fine” because I said they were. Being far from where I started economically, accumulating roughly $3,800 in debt, with a project that didn’t “succeed” the way most people would use that word — I have to make an honest assessment of where I stand financially. I don’t regret any of the decisions I’ve made, and I wouldn’t trade this adventure and all it’s taught me for anything. But at this stage some kind of solution is kind of imperative.

The “plan” that I was telling people was straight-forward and simple enough: “I’m currently doing some freelance virtual assistant work, and looking for more jobs on freelance sites like Upwork.”

What that process actually looked like was this:

I’d end up going out to cafés, looking through project listings, at best writing a proposal for one or two (on a good day). Eventually I’d get hungry and move somewhere less expensive to eat. Then I’d often repeat the whole process at a different café. While not on the job search, I’d worry about how I could improve my approach to land more work. Seeing as how all of this is occurring in a tropical paradise, any outside observer would judge this behavior to be at least a little bit silly.

If I were to be completely honest with myself, I don’t think I really want to succeed at “this,” this process of finding work through impersonal means. I don’t mean to quit freelancing altogether, just the fear-based lies I tell myself about how I have to play the game. What I’ve opted to do, as much as my mind (and other people’s well-intentioned advice), is let go of work that I’m not truly aligned with, anymore…

A long time ago now I started a blog with the tagline, “stop impressing, start expressing” (it seemed cool at the time). And it felt real to me then — that there’s real power in revealing the parts of yourself that you consider unlovable — publicly. Over time I lost sight of how important that was to me; it was my whole reason for working the first place, and no amount of tropical snorkeling, sun bathing and massages could replace it for me. It’s taken an experience like this for me to realize it. If this post still seems like pointless rambling, a cry for help, or a complaint about “the way it is,” all I really want you to know is this:

The more you hold these secrets to yourself, the more you define YOURSELF as your debt, your rates, your title, etc..

Now that I’m thousands of miles away from home, with just a few familiar souls around, scared of what my family and friends back home really think of me, it seems like self-expression’s all I’ve got.

And it’s enough.

And if you read this far, thanks for letting me share that with you.

With love,
Rolando

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