Welcome to Location Independent Success Stories!
In this series, I’ll be introducing you to inspiring men and women who are using their unique skills and talents to live the location independent lifestyle of their dreams.
This week, I’m excited to introduce you to Nick and Maggie, a couple of travel-loving workaholics who knew they wanted two things: location independence and each other.
Maggie & Nick are a couple of digital chameleons who met whilst working for the same travel company in Europe in 2013. They blog about travel and freelancing on Living to Roam, and also created an online course teaching digital marketing skills to aspiring location independent travelers. Their mission is to empower people to create a life that they love (and drink lots of delicious coffee in the process!).
First, please tell us a little bit about yourselves. What’s your background, and what are you doing now?
Nick is a born and raised Australian, whilst Maggie was born in Slovakia, emigrated to Canada as a teenager, and promptly left again 3 days after graduating university with a one-way ticket to the south of Italy.
We met in France while we were both working for a European tour company–Nick as a tour manager and Maggie as a chef (and later a tour manager too).
Nick and his tour group arrived at the French chateau where Maggie was based at the time. He got off the coach to greet her while she was rocking a BBQ sauce-stained chef jacket and two completely different colored shoes.
It must have won him over because we began dating a short 12 months after. Great things take time!
By the time we were dating we were both running our own tours. This meant that we only saw each other every few months in random parts of Europe–sometimes just for a few brief hours. We decided we’d give ‘settling down’ a shot and move to Australia.
If we’re completely honest, the thought of owning more than 7 pairs of underwear made us extremely excited.
Nick also promised Maggie that Vegemite tasted amazing, which turned out to be a blatant lie.
We purchased additional pairs of underwear and even got ‘grown-up jobs’, Nick at a bank and Maggie at a travel agency. We lasted an impressive 6 months before looking for a way to get back to being location independent.
Shortly after that, Maggie began freelancing online as a social media manager and virtual assistant. Once she was established, Nick left his banking job to help in setting up and running our blog.
Nowadays, managing Living to Roam and our course is our full-time gig!
Want to try this yourself? Find out how to start a side hustle that you can turn into a full-time remote job!
How often do you travel? Do you have one city that you consider a home base?
Technically, we’re still in the process of applying for our Australian partnership visa so we can only leave Australia for 3 months at a time while the decision is pending. It’s a ridiculously long and drawn out process!
We try and spend a few months at a time in Australia and a few months overseas. While in Australia, we either stay with Nick’s family in a granny flat (in his home city of Adelaide) or house sit somewhere new.
Where are you now, and where do you plan to travel next?
At the moment we’re in Toronto, Canada visiting Maggie’s family, and Nick just experienced his first proper white Christmas.
He’s perhaps the only person in Canada enjoying the -30 degree weather and overpopulation of squirrels.
Next, we’ll be back to house sitting around Australia for a few months before hopefully heading off again. We really want to eat our way through Japan at some stage this year and Maggie is obsessed with sloths so Costa Rica is definitely on the cards too.
How do you typically choose your destinations?
In the past, we’ve traveled around to meet up with friends or family. Maggie’s sister got married in Italy last year so we just did a two-month trip around Southeast Asia ‘on the way’ to Italy. A few years earlier, we were in Poland and wanted to meet up with Maggie’s parents in Canada, so we met (kind of) halfway in Iceland.
We’re working towards a lifestyle that’ll allow us to jump on any cheap flight we come across. Flexibility has always been our friend and we try not to plan our lives too far in advance so that we can take advantage of whatever adventures come along!
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?
When we’re considering where to go we look for a few things. Any city that has good coffee, coworking spaces and culture fits the bill. Eastern Europe is definitely near the top. Bali and the coastal lifestyle there is awesome too.
But we think that Vietnam was the most ideal place for people living a location independent lifestyle.
The cost of living is relatively cheap, Vietnamese coffee is to die for, and there are a number of quality coworking spaces popping up around the country.
Maggie’s vegan too, so ideally we like going to places that can accommodate for this, and both Hanoi and Hoi An have amazing vegan food!
When did you realize you wanted to become location independent, and what were your reasons behind that decision?
We were living with Nick’s family in Australia and we knew we had two choices.
The first was to buy a house, get a 9-5 job, and maybe a dog (or a miniature goat… if Maggie had her way). The second was to find something we were outrageously passionate about, that we could do from anywhere–and that would give us the same level of happiness that we got from being tour managers.
But unlike our lives while leading tours, we needed to find something that would allow us to have a relationship outside of Skype and Facebook Messenger.
Option one sounded appealing and it was certainly the easier of the two, but we weren’t done exploring the world. Maggie’s from Eastern Europe so she’s naturally skeptical about everything that sounds too good to be true and working online definitely fit this criterion. It wasn’t until she got her first real client as a social media manager that she really believed we could do it for a living.
What were some of the first steps you took toward achieving this lifestyle for yourself?
The travel side of it came easy to us as we’d both worked in the industry leading and planning tours for a number of years already. As for actually earning money…
Maggie took a few courses about freelancing in the field of social media as that seemed like the easiest way to get started. She already enjoyed posting videos of animals doing hilarious things on Facebook, so why not get paid for it? Well, it turns out it was a little more complicated than that.
None of the courses gave her 100% of what she wanted to learn, but each taught her something incredibly valuable. Our goal from the beginning was to eventually be able to teach others how to create their own freedom lifestyle and to show them what’s possible. In order to do that, we had to learn a great deal and also work for several clients within various industries before being able to teach others how to do it.
In the process, we taught ourselves web design, photo editing, email marketing, social media management, SEO and everything in between.
But the very first step we took was just to start without allowing any doubt to come into the equation. Instead of spending months thinking about it, and worrying about what happens if it all goes to sh*t, we just started.
This meant that Maggie was doing courses and working for clients in the evenings, on her lunch breaks and on the weekends. Nick was still working full-time at this stage which allowed us to ease into it at the right pace. It was in no way ideal but it was a start!
Tell us about your work. What is your primary source of income?
Our income comes mainly from launching our course, Learning to Roam, every few months.
We don’t keep the doors to the course open all year round because we want to be able to support each new group of students and help them get their first few clients online.
This means that our income is quite up and down throughout the year–it’s definitely an adjustment from getting a weekly paycheck!
We have taken a break from freelancing for the time being to focus on making our course the best that it can be and also to create additional free resources for our audience. Even though occasionally we do get awesome proposals from potential clients. It’s hard to say no sometimes!
How did you get started doing what you’re doing?
Maggie clicked on a Facebook ad (we know–shock horror right?) and from there learned about freelancing. She started on Upwork as a virtual assistant and social media manager and got her first client the day she joined the platform working at $20/hour for 3 hours per week.
In financial terms, it doesn’t sound like much but from the perspective of getting on the right track, it was absolutely everything. More recently, however, Upwork has become difficult to get started with as a new freelancer due to the volume of applicants (around 8,000 per day)!
Once we saw the value in working online, Nick left his banking job and we both started to learn additional skills that we could use while freelancing. Online work is not for everyone, you essentially become a business owner and have to be extremely organized and motivated, but the reward for doing this is that you get to work from your pajamas at home if you want.
If you’ve been an employee for a long time, the switch to being your own boss can be quite drastic so freelancing platforms can be a great way to get started when you’re not entirely sure if this will be for you.
What does the average workday look like for you?
Nick is an early-ish riser (if you call 7 am early) while Maggie is most certainly not! We’re committed to not touching technology for the first hour of the day. So we both start by reading a book over breakfast and coffee. It’s super necessary because it helps to set our days up right.
We have meetings every week to decide on our priorities and then organize and schedule our daily tasks through Asana (an awesome project management tool).
Yes, it is totally weird at first having a business meeting with your partner. We also work really well from cafes, so once a week we exchange our home office for somewhere with tasty caffeine!
Generally, we try and wind things up around 6-7 pm and then have dinner together. Ideally, we go for an evening walk and clear our heads before watching whatever Netflix show we are currently addicted to (currently it’s a photography doco series called Tales by Light).
We are also massive workaholics so we don’t really have scheduled days off either, unless we are traveling somewhere new.
If someone else wanted to follow a path similar to yours, what advice would you give them?
Just take the first step and try it for yourself! You likely already have a skill you can get paid for as an online freelancer. Whether it’s writing or basic photo editing I guarantee you there’s someone out there with a need for whatever your unique skills are.
Try out if you like working from home, and not having a physical boss and coworkers.
It certainly isn’t for everyone and your friends and family may not understand what you’re doing (some of ours certainly didn’t). Trying it and finding challenges along the way is certainly better than spending your days dreaming about ‘what if’.
Also, once you make the decision that this is the right choice for you, don’t be afraid to invest in yourself. Take courses, read books and join Facebook groups where people are sharing their experiences of what you are trying to achieve.
How much could someone expect to earn when just starting out? How much do you earn now?
When Maggie first started out as a VA and social media manager it took about 3 months to reach her previous ‘offline’ monthly income–which was around $4k per month.
We’ve found that the biggest mistake newbies make is undervaluing their time and their services–thinking that you need to charge low in order to get freelance work, but it’s not true.
There will always be quality clients looking for someone charging a premium amount for their work.
As we now earn money primarily from our course, we generally make five figures per launch and launch 3 or 4 times per year.
Do you have other income sources as well?
Currently, we are too busy to take on any freelance work so the course is our only source of income.
As for our blog, we earn less than $100 per month from affiliate deals with travel booking websites, so it’s more about providing value to our readers rather than bringing in the bacon (or in Maggie’s case, vegan ‘facon’).
In your opinion, what is the hardest thing about living a location independent lifestyle?
Personally, we’ve found that the hardest thing is leaving our family and friends behind every few months or even years. Together, we have family in Australia, Greece, Slovakia, Austria, UK and Canada–so we’re always at a distance from at least some of our loved ones.
Also, we also often find it hard to actually explain what we do to others. Most people in our lives still don’t really understand location independence!
What are some of the things you like about it the most?
Living a location independent lifestyle leads to naturally owning a lot less ‘stuff’ and being free of typical financial commitments.
Without a home loan or a boss telling us when we can go on holiday, we are incredibly free to just up and leave whenever we want, which is a great feeling.
Having the ability to take our business and income wherever we go is a huge bonus too–so we aren’t relying on finding a new job and starting from scratch in each city that we travel to.
How did becoming location independent change your relationship with travel?
As former tour managers, we were both used to traveling quite fast and visiting a new city or country every few days. Nick once ran a 45-day trip that visited 17 countries in Europe and Africa with over 50 passengers!
We aren’t energetic enough for that kind of taste-test travel anymore. When we became location independent and started working from our laptops, that kind of pace just didn’t work for us.
We’ve fully embraced slow traveling now and try to settle into a place for at least a week or two. When we are house sitting we travel even slower.
Our priorities have changed too. We used to love staying in cheap hostel dorms but now we value the comfort of our own space so we often stay in hotels or Airbnb apartments.
We do still book the occasional private room in a hostel while we travel. Sometimes you have to trade in a bit of comfort for the awesome cheap beer and social hostel vibes.
Do you have any great money-saving travel tips to share?
Yes! Nick is a closet finance nerd with a Bachelor’s degree in accounting. The absolute golden rule is to remain flexible. Plan ahead if you can and the slower you travel, the more money you save.
- Learn how to use Google Flights
- House sit and Couchsurf as often as possible
- Find a bank account that doesn’t charge currency conversion or overseas ATM fees
- Book places that have kitchen access so you can cook
- Embrace having a budget!
A big part of the travel section of our blog is dedicated to budget travel guides.
What do you think are some of the necessary traits or skills someone should have if they plan to pursue a location independent lifestyle?
Patience, perseverance and a high level of self-belief. There’s a great quote we both love from Henry Ford that hits the nail on the head:
“Whether you think you can, or think you can’t–you’re right.”
If you truly believe that you are going to succeed in location independence, you’ll make it work. So many people around you will doubt that you have what it takes, and you might even doubt yourself at times, but if you’re patient enough to stick with it, you’ll get there.
We know that sounds like it’s straight out of the Oprah handbook, but it’s true. The universe has a funny way of rewarding the people who want something bad enough to make it happen.
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.
The truth? If procrastination was a sport, we’d both be gold medallists by now. And both of us have an insane knack for distracting one another. To get through this, we just had to figure out how we each worked best through old-fashioned trial and error.
Maggie is at her productive best whilst half-watching Grey’s Anatomy reruns in the background, and is usually doing 20 things at once. Nick, on the other hand, cannot watch anything whilst working and prefers to listen to music without too many words or he starts singing and tapping along (which drives Maggie nuts!).
So, safe to say we usually work in separate rooms due to this major difference in working styles.
We also find that we are most productive in public places like the local library, a cafe or coworking space. Find what you need to get into your flow and which environment you are most productive in. (It’s usually not the comfiest couch or your bed either!)
Do you have any location independent role models who have helped you or motivated you to achieve your goals?
Reading about actual experiences was always more valuable and motivating to us than scrolling through a curated Instagram feed.
Also, we have to thank our parents for taking us traveling when we were both youngsters on opposite sides of the world. It always seemed like such a natural thing to want to travel full-time and they have definitely instilled that in us from our childhoods.
What’s one of the most valuable purchases you’ve made for your business–something that wasn’t necessarily expensive, but provided you with a lot of value?
A membership to a house sitting website. To have access to a year’s worth of accommodation and meet some great home-owners along the way (one of them is now even a student of ours) for less than $100 per year is unbelievable.
House sitting has changed the way that we travel, restored our faith in humanity with how trusting people can be and allows us to take care of awesome pets too. Plus it gives us the chance to change up our work environment every month or so, which keeps us at our productive best.
Tell us about one of the biggest mistakes you’ve made and how others can avoid it.
Not treating freelancing like a business from the start. We’ve found that this is a mistake a lot of freelancers make.
You can be the best graphic designer, web developer or social media manager but unless you’re in a business mindset, going freelance just won’t work out.
You essentially become the boss, employee, accountant, the sales department, the marketing team and everything in between. Our biggest piece of advice is that if you’re not good at something in your business, find someone who is and either pay them to do it or get their advice on how to do it yourself.
Also, make sure you have contracts in place from the very start of your first freelancing job. We hear horror stories of people not getting paid for their work way too often.
Finally, if you could offer your younger, less experienced selves one piece of advice for this journey, what would it be?
Don’t overthink it and just start! You are more valuable than you think you are–so the sooner the rest of the world sees that, the better 🙂
Have more questions about Nick and Maggie’s journey to location independence? Leave them in the comments below!
Read More Location Independent Success Stories:
- How to Travel the World as a Freelance Social Media Manager
- Working from Anywhere as a Self-Taught E-Commerce Marketing Specialist
- Living the Digital Nomad Lifestyle as a Professional Translator
- Freelance Your Way to Location Independence: A Copywriter & Copy Editor Tell All
- How This Blogger Built Her Dream Location Independent RV Lifestyle
- Traveling the World as a Digital Media Consultant
Please note: This post contains affiliate links, meaning I may earn a small commission if you make a purchase, at no extra cost to you. Thank you for your support of The Sweetest Way!