Quitting your job, leaving everything behind and becoming a Digital Nomad in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
That was the dream.
That… Was the plan.
But reality never quite meets what our dreams want.
This is my story, my first 6 months of what it’s really like in to be a Digital Nomad in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
It all started when I saw a video on YouTube by Riley Bennett, the FBA guy as he is known.
It was the first time I heard about the term Digital Nomad and it blew my mind.
If you don’t already know, a Digital Nomad is someone who works online using their laptop to earn money.
They don’t have a home base so can travel to other countries while still working and earning a full-time income.
It was scary, exciting and risky.
The hardest part was leaving my full time “comfortable” office job, knowing how much of a risk I was taking.
I was living in London, as a web developer, a Full Stack PHP Developer for a nice company call Lineten.
This had been my home for 2 years, my colleagues which I was now leaving to go travelling abroad.
I had my family, my support network within 30 minutes from my home in London too.
And yet… All I yearned for was the dream of being able to work remotely…
To be able to travel the world…
Experiencing exiting new places and meeting extraordinary people.
To become a Digital Nomad in Chiang Mai.
It all started back in April 28th, 2017.
That was the last day of working and living in London.
The day I quit.
I spent a month with my family, seeing my friends before jet setting off with a one-way ticket to Chiang Mai, Thailand.
I had no income, no job, no support.
All I had was my skills, my mind and a 6 month deadline.
£6000, that’s how much money I gave myself.
I locked away the rest, if I couldn’t do it in 6 months…
Then I needed to have a serious re-think about the whole idea of being a digital nomad.
Day One as a Digital Nomad in Chiang Mai
On 31st May 2017, I flew to Thailand, landing in Bangkok first before changing plane and heading north to the mountains of Chiang Mai.
I still remember that night I landed, 3 and a half years later.
It was quiet when I arrived, most people were inside hiding from the recent rainfall that just covered the north, I’d not experienced Asian rain yet so I was in for treat shortly.
After a good sleep, I went out exploring and searching for other Digital Nomads in Chiang Mai.
Surprisingly, it took me a couple days to find them.
The usual place, Punspace seemed dead, even though it was Thursday.
I think the rain encouraged a work from home attitude that day.
After 2 days, I heard about the local coffee club meetup happening.
It’s on every week, which is fortunate for me.
I was determined to go, and it seeing as it’s only a 25-minute walk, I decided to walk, a big mistake.
10 minutes into my walk, I experienced a full-blown monsoon.
I’d never experienced rain this hard, within 10 minutes the streets were 50cm deep in water and I was essentially swimming to my destination.
When I arrived, everyone was laughing at me, I was completely covered in water.
It was a wet welcome instead of the hopeful, warm welcome…
The event that was on that evening was all about making money on Udemy selling online courses.
I was particularly interested in this because of my 6 years experience, it’s something I could create a course on and actually know what I’m talking about.
This is where reality started to hit me.
All my hopes and dreams about the whole digital nomad successes just hit me right in the face.
I’m not saying it’s impossible, I’m proof of that nearly 4 years later.
I realised quite quickly that more than half the people in the room had not made any money yet.
Not a single dollar.
I calculated that to live comfortably, you need about 1000 dollars per month and I didn’t meet anyone at this event who came close.
But I remained positive…
The speakers at the event are successful.
They make money.
They did but not as much as I was hoping for.
The most successful of the three, spent 6 months making his online course, 6 months…
Udemy take 50% of a sale at $15 and the top guy had sold just under 1000 copies of his course.
He was being hailed as a megastar, the super successful digital nomad.
But it only took a quick calculation in my head to realise that he only made about $7000 for 6 months work.
I admit I’m being very critical here but after all the YouTube videos I’d seen about how successful everyone is in Chiang Mai and when I finally arrived, the super successful speaker of the event, that everyone is looking to for advice is in survival mode still.
I was rather irritated and it didn’t fill me with confidence about the whole Digital Nomad movement.
After some reflection, I realised that the speaker is just like me, a developer trying to make money.
He’s done a good job and made a success of Udemy.
The problem was much bigger.
YouTube painted a rather pretty picture of Chiang Mai and the success of people here.
So when reality hit, it hit hard.
I had it good back in London, and Chiang Mai was not going to be the saviour of my life.
I had to be.
Alas, I persisted with my plan.
Month One as a Digital Nomad in Chiang Mai
I spent the whole of the next month going out and meeting people, I quickly learned about Punspace weekly meetups on a Friday.
Fortunately, Punspace seemed to attract a number of more successful digital nomads, more than half were developers like me.
Most were happy to give me advice on how to get started finding clients.
Essentially, I needed to work for free or extremely low prices on specific freelancing platforms, giving the best service possible in exchange for reviews.
This worked and after earning $5 for my first job, I had a 5 star review sitting on my profile.
I started to feel very positive about the whole digital nomad scene.
I had made my first dollar.
Now it was time to level up and make my first 100 dollars.
I had a couple more successes like this with 2 more reviews but again it was for small amounts of money.
I made $90 for a couple days work but then the review took about 2 months to come through.
At this point it was already the end of the first month and I’d made $100 total online.
Some people would see this as a success, but for me, it was not so impressive.
I was working like a slave and being paid peanuts, at least that’s how I felt.
4 years on though, I look back thinking how naïve I was, I jumped to another country and made $100 in my first month doing something that was essentially brand new.
I did pretty well!
But I’m pretty harsh on myself sometimes and often kept comparing myself to other much more successful digital nomads who made much more than me.
Comparison is the thief of joy – Theodore Roosevelt
All in all, the advice I was getting from people at Punspace was working, but you just need to have more patience…
Which can be difficult when you have a hard deadline of 6 months.
Month Two as a Digital Nomad in Chiang Mai
Month 2 was purely travel as a friend came to visit, so I’ll skip this month, mostly.
I’ll say this… By the end of it, I was seriously starting to feel the pressure of it all.
2 months gone, 4 left and I’d made $100.
I was going to need to change things up if I’m going to make it.
Failure was NOT an option to me.
Month Three to Five, as a Digital Nomad in Chiang Mai
Fortunately, this is where things started to turn around and be more positive.
I had the fortune to meet a guy name Phil, although we didn’t hit off on a friendship level, I think at the time he took a little pity on me because he could see my desire for success but didn’t know how to achieve it remotely on a significant level.
He connected me with another very successful developer called Tanveer who I invited to lunch, I’m glad he accepted.
When I met Tanveer, he seemed really down to earth and was glad to explain his process for finding clients.
He was like me 2 years previously, a developer, hungry for success but hadn’t found any remote work.
Tanveer fortunately found a resource which he used to great effect which guided him towards success.
Freelance to Win, is a website dedicated to helping people just like me succeed on UpWork or other Freelancing platforms.
I was hopeful because Tanveer said he followed it and executed what Freelance to Win told him to do closely.
With patience and persistence, Tanveer succeed using the guide.
I did the same.
Freelance to win basically told me a few main points.
- Focus purely on solving your client’s pain, find it, understand it and cure it.
- Trust is a huge issue, so you need to stand out, using pictures, videos and portfolios.
- Be a specialist, don’t be a generalist.
- Learn the process of hiring freelancers yourself, what you see first and what triggers you to click.
- Upsell, upsell, upsell.
Once I adapted what Freelance to Win told me, I saw a 10x increase in my responses.
And within 2.5 months I did it!
A client paying me $30 per hour and offering me a consistent 20 hours per week of work, indefinitely.
$2400 per month.
And I had my free time to explore other options in my life.
Anything I wanted…
Unfortunate… The worst thing that could possibly happen… Happened.
It was like climbing to the top of the mountain, you’d just got to the top and achieved your ultimate goal…
And then someone pushes you off and you go tumbling all the way to the bottom.
I had a bike accident.
It changed the entire direction of my life, which took 14 months to recover.
At the time of it happening, I had worked for my client for 1 week, a successful week, but alas.
It was only a week, so my reputation was not strong enough.
He was good to me but unfortunately, it just didn’t work out because of the accident.
So, all in all, being a Digital Nomad in Chiang Mai was a great experience, you can definitely succeed and I’m proof of that.
I achieved the goal, within 4.5 months of being in Chiang Mai with the first 2 months just experiencing Chiang Mai and Thailand for all it’s glory.
So really, with focus, I got my client within 2.5 months.
It was just really unfortunate that 6 weeks before my deadline I ended up in hospital.
Sitting in the hospital, losing my client and money running out.
I accepted I was going home.
So I tried to enjoy the remaining days of Chiang Mai after all the hospital experience ended, it was tough but I tried to enjoy it.
And then on the 21th December 2017, I landed back in the UK, the darkest day of my life.
Figuratively and literally.
Having success ripped away from me after all my hard work and it not being my own fault, I was angry and depressed.
But seeing as I succeeded the first time, I decided I would return one day.
Let me know in the comments if you’re interesting in hearing what happened after I returned a year later!
Hope to hear from you.