Welcome to Location Independent Success Stories, the newest interview series on The Sweetest Way!
In each new post, I’ll be introducing you to someone who’s using their unique skills and talents to kick ass as a digital nomad and live life on their terms.
This week, I’m thrilled to introduce you to Amy and Nathan, a couple whose lust for world exploration led them to adventure…and each other.
Amy & Nathan are a newlywed travel couple currently adventuring around the world together as digital nomads. The bloggers behind Two Drifters, these two first met in an Edinburgh hostel in 2011, and their lives have never been the same since.
First, please tell us a little bit about yourselves. What are your backgrounds, and what are you doing now?
We first met when we were both in our mid-late 20s, on separate journeys that somehow took us to the same dorm in the same hostel. We’re both from the US; Nathan grew up in North Carolina, and Amy in Florida/Vermont. When we met it was actually Amy’s first big travel adventure backpacking Europe for two months. Nathan had just been traveling solo in Morocco.
We didn’t start dating until about 6 months later, and we knew it would be long distance, as Amy had decided to go to grad school in Scotland. A year or so later we were finally able to be together in the same location and thus began the start of our traveling lifestyle. Now we work 100% online, primarily via our freelance work: Amy as a copywriter and Nathan as a copyeditor, but we also earn through our travel blog and social media networks.
How often do you travel? Do you have one city that you consider a home base?
Our travels tend to be slow and extended. Currently, there’s no precise end date, although we know that we will likely return to the US and “settle” somewhat in a few years. Currently, North Carolina is our legal home base, but we don’t own any property there, so technically we’re true nomads. Our travel style generally takes us from one sort of base to the next. We like staying for a few months in one place as this is the best approach financially and allows us to travel AND get work done as we go.
Where are you now, and where do you plan to travel next?
We are currently in Romania, where we intend to stay for roughly another two months. After that, we are planning a trip to Israel with Amy’s mom, and then after that, maybe Thailand. It will be time for some warm sunshine!
How do you typically choose your destinations?
Now that we’re really living out our nomadic lifestyle, the affordability of a place takes precedence over other elements. Of course, we choose places we’re excited about visiting, too. Beautiful scenery and plenty of nature are major attractors for us, as well as the availability of culture and activity. We’re not really into giant urban areas; we prefer mountains to beaches, and we enjoy small cities or more rustic areas, so as long as there is WiFi and the opportunity to get a tasty cup of coffee, we’re all set!
Traveling slowly also means we have to choose carefully, as we know we won’t get to see as many destinations as if we were traveling more swiftly. So oftentimes it involves really looking at what places are at the top of our list.
When did you realize you wanted to become location independent, and what were your reasons behind that decision?
In some ways, we just fell into the lifestyle. We knew we wanted to travel a lot together but weren’t exactly sure what it would look like. We also knew we were after an atypical, memorable lifestyle. Nathan found his copy editing job when he was visiting Amy in Scotland during her grad school studies, and so he was already working remotely. Following that, we lived in Maryland for a while and did some “real” jobs as we saved up money for our next plan: a working holiday in Australia. At that time, Nathan was editing on the side and planned to continue that work during our time in Australia, but we also considered the likely possibility of getting jobs down under such as in cafes or shops. As it turned out, we never needed to.
While still in Maryland, Amy started working on Upwork to supplement her work waiting tables (which she hated), and quickly began getting some solid gigs. It probably helped that she had just earned a Master’s in English, so she used that liberally on her resume when applying for writing and editing tasks. Funnily enough, it was easier to get those online gigs with a master’s degree than to get jobs in the “real world.” Go figure!
Once Upwork started paying off, we realized that we could both potentially never work in the “offline” realm again, and the possibility excited us. We were especially thrilled with the idea of being our own bosses and having true flexibility with our work. Around the same time, we started our travel blog Two Drifters, vaguely hoping it might make us money some day, but mostly just to have a creative outlet and a place to share our adventures and our talents (writing and photography).
Related post: 6 Online Marketplaces to List Your Freelance Services
What were some of the first steps you took toward achieving this lifestyle for yourself?
As we started the location independent lifestyle, we worked a ton trying to save money and to increase the amount of work we were getting. Nathan works remotely for a single company which makes it a little easier for him to have an expected income, but for Amy, especially at first, there was a lot of pitching and applying for projects. The focus of her work also shifted. Initially, she was doing lots of varied projects including essay writing, editing, and even transcription, but it soon became apparent that her talents and interest were more aligned in the field of copywriting. That’s what Amy does now, freelancing for a few different clients (and yet always looking for more!—such is the freelance life).
When we first started on the path toward this lifestyle, we were already planning a 6+ month trip to Australia, so we didn’t have many belongings to sell or get rid of, and we didn’t have any serious 9-5s to up and quit, like other couples or digital nomads. Instead, we had to discover how to slowly morph our lifestyle into something new. This involved learning how to set our own hours, how to boost productivity (still an ongoing struggle at times), and learning how to invoice, how to do our taxes, and much more. It also became a balancing act with the blog; at times we’d focus more heavily on our freelance work and at other times we could spend more of our efforts building Two Drifters.
Of all the places you’ve lived and worked so far, which one was the best suited for people living a location independent lifestyle and why?
We haven’t yet lived in a lot of the more popular “traditional” digital nomad locations (Chiang Mai, Mexico, etc.) so the best spot we’ve lived in so far for our lifestyle was Asheville, North Carolina. We lived just outside of Asheville in a cozy cabin, which was perfect for relaxing and getting stuff done. But when we were tired of nature and in need of some socialization, we’d head into Asheville, the perfect little small city. With a vibrant arts scene, amazing food, beer, and a bevy of coffee shops where we could get work done, this was a great place for us. It’s not the most expensive area of the country either, but it’s an awesome city with so much to offer.
Related post: Chiang Mai vs. Medellin: What Digital Nomads Are Saying
Tell us about your work. What is your primary source of income?
Now, our primary source of income is our copywriting and editing. Nathan works for one company as a remote copy editor, so he can scale his work up or down as much as he chooses. Amy is a freelance copywriter who has a few current ongoing clients. For them, she writes website content, marketing emails, blogs, and much more. She’s also done projects such as ghostwriting ebooks, editing college admissions essays, and writing product descriptions. Amy has done freelance travel writing, too, and hopes to do more in the future.
How did you get started?
Nathan had done some work in college as an editor for his university newspaper, plus he is an experienced writer. He used these skills and experiences when applying for various editing services until he landed the role he has now. He’s been working with the same company for more than 3 years.
Amy started on the freelancing website Upwork but now has her own website for sourcing clients. Her work comes from referrals, direct pitches, and sometimes via her writing website or through the Two Drifters blog.
What does the average workday look like for you?
Nathan rises around 5 or 6 and works for several hours. On a productive day, Amy wakes at 7:30 or 8, but a less-great day might start at 10! Amy usually responds to Two Drifters social media messages from bed to get a start on the day, and she also schedules the day’s tweets. Typically we do our morning routine and have breakfast at home (or wherever we are staying). We then work until 5 or 6 pm or later depending on what projects we have going on (and how motivated we are).
We often head out after breakfast to a coffee shop, where we find we are most productive. It’s that combination of caffeine and a chill atmosphere that helps us work hard. We eat lunch in the coffee shop sometimes, but we try to bring our own lunches to cut down on costs. Sometimes this means we have to eat outside or while we walk—not every coffee shop is cool with us pulling out and munching our own sandwiches! We might then head to another cafe for the afternoon, or we’ll head back to our accommodation.
We try to get some exercise in the evenings and are trying to incorporate this even more, currently, as it’s easy for digital nomads to be desk or couch-bound. After dinner, we watch Netflix together, and then usually read before going to bed.
During the workday, Nathan spends most of his time focused on his editing projects, but allocates an hour or so per day to his real passion, his own writing. He’s currently working on a science fiction/fantasy series he hopes to publish in the next couple of years.
Amy likes to bounce back and forth from her copywriting projects to Two Drifters work, but she finds she is most productive if she sets aside specific time for each. It’s too easy to get sucked into the social media world!
If someone else wanted to follow a path similar to yours, what advice would you give them?
As far as the freelancing, we’d say just dive in and do it! A lot of people think you need to take a bunch of courses or build an amazing website, but the truth is, you just need to get clients and start writing, or editing, or designing, or whatever your specialty is. That’s the best way to get started, just go full stop and do it. For those wanting to start a travel blog, we also say to jump in and start writing, but figure out early on what sets you apart from the thousands of other bloggers out there. Be passionate, be smart, and remember it’s a business.
And for those just looking to travel more and live location independent, we would 100% encourage them to do it. The first step is making the decision and the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and endless steps are all about making it happen. Don’t let excuses get in the way. Now is the time to grab hold of the online world, and anyone can do so.
How much could someone expect to earn when just starting out? How much do you earn now?
When starting out as a blogger, you likely won’t make income on your blog for awhile. As a beginning freelance writer or editor, don’t undervalue yourself, but you might have to start out earning a bit less as you build your portfolio, perhaps a few hundred in a month. Together currently we earn anywhere from $2500-$4000 per month, depending on how much we put our noses to the grindstone!
What are some of the other ways you earn a living?
In addition to our freelancing, we make some money through our travel blog. The primary way is through sponsored posts. We can make a few hundred dollars by advertising a product/website/destination on our Instagram, which currently has about 55K followers. These sponsored posts don’t happen often, but we’d love to get into those more and more. Influencer marketing is such a cool way to earn money!
The blog itself is a small source of income, primarily bringing us money through affiliate marketing. We are Amazon affiliates and are affiliates for a few other programs as well, but this is still a growing source of income for us. As of yet, we haven’t made more than $100/month with affiliate marketing.
In your opinion, what is the hardest thing about living a location independent lifestyle?
It’s tough sometimes to EXPLAIN to people what you do! It’s still kind of fascinating for many that we work 100% online, so there’s often a challenge to describe how it all works. The other hard part is remaining productive. When you’re seeing new, exciting places, it can be soooo tempting to head out and explore. But nope. Work first, explore later. That’s the only way to ensure we can keep on adventuring long-term.
What are some of the things you like about it the most?
We love that we can work in our pajamas if we want to. We love being able to ditch work if something important or exciting comes up. It’s nice knowing we never have to work on holidays (provided we’ve planned ahead) so we can always enjoy those special days. And the whole not having a boss thing? Best part of the entire package.
How did becoming location independent change your relationship with travel? Do you do things differently now?
It coincided for us so much that we didn’t really have the chance to travel together much without being location independent. I think we would have a much different perspective if we didn’t live this way, and we’d probably be spending more time working at other jobs, saving like mad, and heading out for some travel after that.
Do you have any great money-saving travel tips to share?
There’s a well-known one that goes around travel blogs. Save money by kicking your Starbucks habit. To this we say, hell naw! We can’t LIVE without our daily latte, and so we figure this expense into our lifestyle. For us, we prefer splurging on coffee and saving more of our money elsewhere, such as by eating in whenever possible instead of heading to restaurants. When the weather is nice, and it’s not too far, we also walk to our destinations, instead of taking public transport. Plus, this way we save money and get a brisk little workout in.
Related post: The Top Ways I Save Money on Travel
What do you think are some of the necessary traits or skills someone should have if they plan to pursue a location independent lifestyle?
Perseverance. No lie, it can be tough starting out, and tough when freelance gigs dry up or when a client is late on paying you. It’s enough to make anyone want to throw in the towel. But you have to keep your eye on the prize and remember why you’re doing what you’re doing. You also need some creativity and a healthy dose of self-motivation. Sometimes we’ve landed gigs or sponsored posts merely because we were bold and sent a cold email to a brand or potential client. Being ballsy works, and digital nomads need a bit of chutzpah, if you will. So be bold and get out there!
Productivity is a major challenge for many digital nomads. Share with us one of your best tips for staying motivated and getting sh*t done.
CAFFEINE. Haha, no actually, we are still working on improving our productivity every single day. That’s one of the toughest things when working for yourself; no one is looking over your shoulder to keep you on task. Being organized really helps us be productive, and we’ve compiled a list of our favorite digital nomad tools that help us stay that way.
Do you have any location independent role models who have helped you or motivated you to achieve your goals?
Steve Roller of Cafe Writer has become a friend and inspiring mentor-type to Amy. He’s a successful copywriter who believes in using big ideas to create businesses and encourages moving beyond the freelance world into building your own business. That is a mindset that has really helped us with our blog focus especially moving forward as we look for more ways to turn Two Drifters into a full-time income machine!
Tell us about one of the biggest mistakes you’ve made and how others can avoid it.
Amy: My biggest mistake was working at first without professional contracts in place. This ended up being a problem when I ended up with a few problem clients who wouldn’t pay—and I had no way to enforce the matter. Always work with a contract, even if it is very basic. All it has to do is outline the terms of your agreement, and at the very least, expectations outlined in an email is better than nothing. You simply need something you can point to in writing.
Finally, if you could offer your younger, less experienced self one piece of advice for this journey, what would it be?
Start sooner. Don’t be afraid to charge what you’re worth.
Read more interviews in the Location Independent Success Stories series:
- How to Travel the World as a Freelance Social Media Manager
- Working from Anywhere as a Self-Taught E-Commerce Marketing Specialist
- How One Couple Turned Their Travel Obsession Into a Lifestyle
- Living the Digital Nomad Lifestyle as a Professional Translator
Many thanks to Amy & Nathan for sharing their inspiring story! Still have questions about becoming a freelance copywriter or copy editor? Leave them in the comments below!
All photos courtesy of Two Drifters.