Last year, I left my corporate life in New York City behind in a vow to give myself one year to design my dream job. Shortly thereafter, I took off on a 9-month-long social experiment, in which I would circumnavigate the globe by couch-surfing exclusively through my social network. Seventeen countries, four continents, and over a hundred encounters later, I have learned that I am not alone in my quest to earn a living while traveling the world: there are so many people out there right now who are making it work. One of the most exciting parts about my newfound life as a digital nomad has been meeting and learning from successful, inspiring Millennials who are building their own virtual businesses.
Meet best friend duo Cassie and Shay of the Bucketlist Bombshells, an educational community that teaches millennial women to build service-based online businesses that give them freedom to travel the world. Both women are a wealth of information when it comes to building a virtual business, traveling full-time, overcoming the difficulties of being a freelancer, and – of course – making a solid income while at it. Cassie and Shay share how they became income-earning, full-time travelers, as well as advice for those aspiring to become location-independent:
Celinne Da Costa: What is your background before becoming digital nomads?
Cassandra Torrecillas: I’m originally from Orange County, California where I was raised by the most incredible single mom who always put a strong focus on education. I attended Texas Christian University and graduated with a degree in Strategic Communication in August 2013. I was passionate about marketing and wanted to work for a creative agency, so I secured two internships at large fashion companies where I started developing my marketing, public relations, and brand development skills.
As much as I loved these experiences, when I graduated I couldn’t help but crave more than the corporate, 9-5 grind. As the majority of my college friends began landing contracts at prominent companies in big cities like New York, Dallas and Los Angeles, I made the only decision that felt right at the time: I booked a one-way ticket to Mexico.
Shayleen Brown: I’m from a small town on Vancouver Island, Canada. My entrepreneurial dream started around the age of ten as I watched my dad successfully start and run his own chiropractic business. I graduated from the University of Victoria with a Bachelors of Commerce and a specialization in Entrepreneurship in August of 2012. At the time, my post-university goal was to start my own shoe collection.
Since I needed income, that dream was put on the back-burner and I unenthusiastically started working in retail. Soon after, I transitioned into a social media management position for a tech startup in Vancouver, until one day during the summer of 2013, I woke up and realized the life I was living wasn’t for me. I quit my corporate job and booked a one-way ticket to Playa del Carmen, Mexico, where I met Cassie.
Da Costa: Why did you make the switch from 9-5 to digital nomad?
Torrecillas, Brown: We never understood why it’s so accepted to study hard at a university just to graduate and get stuck in a cubicle job building somebody else’s dream.
We were passionless about our 9-5 jobs, only living for the weekends and desperately looking forward to our one week of vacation a year. When the thought of this becoming the rest of our lives became unbearable, we decided to make a change.
We had no idea that the digital nomad world even existed when we booked one-way tickets to Mexico to pursue this lifestyle. The goal was to build online businesses that gave us the freedom to travel, be our own boss and genuinely enjoy this one life we’re given.
Da Costa: Did you have student loans? How did you deal with those?
Torrecillas: Yes, I have student loans from attending a private university. I manage my student loans through an income-driven repayment plan that allows me to make affordable monthly payments based on the income I’m making in my business.
Even though we’re traveling and building our own online businesses, it’s incredibly important to maintain our responsibilities. We choose to do so in a way that allows us to enjoy our lives.
We don’t believe that student loans should hold us back and dictate our life choices. The reason we went to university in the first place was so that we could build a career and life that we love.
Da Costa: How were you able to earn $130K, and over what span of time?
Torrecillas, Brown: Between the two of us, we own an online virtual assistant company, a boutique graphic design studio, and an educational platform where we sell online courses.
We combined the strengths of both our virtual assistant and graphic design businesses to become a one-stop shop for online entrepreneurs: offering everything from front-end website design, branding & marketing materials, sales funnel creation, to consulting on new products and services.
We niched down to working with female online business coaches (e.g. health, financial, and marketing coaches), created new packages at higher price points, invested our energy into finding premium clients, and as our experience level grew, we became respected and valued as experts in that niche.
Our third business, The Bucketlist Bombshells, is an educational community that teaches millennial women how to build service-based online businesses. We saw major growth at the end of the year so we decided to pursue our educational community and online courses full-time.
Last year, we averaged approximately $11,000 per month, which is how we were able to earn $130,000.
Da Costa: How did you master the online skills needed for remote work, and what are they?
Torrecillas, Brown: When we quit our 9-5s to work online, we asked ourselves, “What skills do we have to offer that people will pay us for online?”
We realized that we had skills such as basic graphic design, social media management, and project management from our past job, internship, and university experiences that could be transitioned online. As we weren’t incredibly experienced, our next step was to improve our skills and learn new ones by taking online courses, reading blog posts, and soaking up all of the knowledge we could to start offering these services online.
When we started working with clients, we realized how highly valued and sought-after skills in design (e.g.. logo design, branding, website design, etc.) and tech (e.g. email marketing, sales funnels, business automation, etc.) are to online entrepreneurs as they start growing their businesses.
Over the past 4 years, we’ve mastered these skills by implementing them in real-life client projects, investing in online courses, and brainstorming with other entrepreneurs.
Da Costa: What have been the biggest challenges of building your own business on the road?
Torrecillas, Brown: First off, traveling full-time can be exhausting. Building a business while traveling requires us to juggle the stresses that come with running a business while also navigating new cultures, languages, and cities. Tasks like understanding visa requirements, how to get laundry done, and figuring out local transportation add to our ever-growing to-do list.
After the first few months on the road, we realized it’s not feasible for us to grow a business while constantly traveling as we need some stability to allow for creativity and growth. Now, we settle in a new city for a minimum of three months, which gives us the necessary stability to focus on growing our business while also immersing ourselves in a new culture.
Second, finding Wi-Fi takes effort! With an online business, it’s absolutely crucial to have access to coffee shops and workspaces with fast and strong Wi-Fi to efficiently get work done. This can be particularly difficult while traveling through third-world countries with unstable infrastructure. With this lifestyle, there’s honestly nothing worse than wasting your entire day trying to find a spot with a decent Wi-Fi connection.
To avoid Wi-Fi failures and settling in a city with poor Wi-Fi, we utilize online resources to find the best digital nomad cities and seek out coworking spaces or coffee shops with fast Wi-Fi speeds.
Da Costa: What are your current expenses like?
Torrecillas, Brown: It’s important to realize that even though we’re traveling the world full-time, we’re not on vacation. For example, instead of spending $3k on a short vacation, we spend $3k over the course of a month living luxuriously in a country like Indonesia.
This also means we’re not staying in hotels and paying expensive tourist rates in each city. We utilize platforms like Airbnb to find hosts that are looking to rent longer term at a lower cost. Over the past four years, our rent has averaged about $700 USD a month, per person. This can afford us a fully-furnished modern villa with daily maid service in low-cost countries.
Transportation costs vary depending on which country we’re currently living in, however, most cities have fantastic inexpensive options (e.g. it’s about $50 USD/month to rent a scooter in Southeast Asia).
As for our online businesses, the overhead expenses are incredibly low. Our freelancing businesses averaged approximately $250 USD/month for softwares like invoicing, project management, proposals, website hosting, etc.
Da Costa: What are the downsides of being a freelancer?
1. Your effort directly dictates your success
Freelancers are their own boss, which means no one is forcing you to work. It’s up to you to set your own schedule, motivate yourself, and stay disciplined. You no longer get paid to simply sit at your desk and “clock in,” which means it’s a constant hustle. Being in control of your own destiny can be incredibly liberating, but also paralyzing and overwhelming at times.
2. You need to make self-care a priority
Self-care is usually the first thing that falls to the wayside when you’re an entrepreneur because you’re “too busy” building your business. It’s easy to spend all day working, skip a workout, or forget to shower. Dismissing your self-care can affect your mental health though, which can also directly affect your business. You need to make time for your passions and setting boundaries to avoid burning out.
3. It can be lonely
While the idea of working from home can seem like a dream, it can be very isolating. There are entire days we’ve spent working in our pajamas without interacting with other people. It’s important to find an entrepreneurial community, join coworking spaces, and connect with other freelancers to combat the isolating feeling that can come with being a freelancer.
Da Costa: What tips do you have for millennials who want to begin freelancing?
Torrecillas, Brown: First and foremost, find your online skills. Most millennials assume that in order to work online, you need to be a coder or a travel blogger. This isn’t true. Many people already have skills that they can transition into the online landscape.
Start by dissecting your past experiences (i.e. work, internships, education, passion projects) and finding what you’re naturally good at by taking a personality test like Myers-Briggs. Narrow it down by considering which tasks you actually enjoy doing. From here, choose three core service offerings and build a simple yet professional site using a platform like Squarespace to showcase your freelancing services.
Second, make sure to invest in online courses to improve and learn new skills as they are a quick and fantastic way to increase your skill level without investing the time and finances of getting a formal degree.
Third, create a stable income. To do this, we suggest two tactics: set minimum three-month client contracts and book projects ahead. Instead of taking small one-time projects, focus on securing long-term work by requiring your clients to commit to a minimum of three months of work to ensure a stable influx of income.
As a freelancer, it can also be common to find yourself extremely busy with work one month and slower in another. To ensure consistent work in the upcoming months, book clients ahead of time and require your client to put down a non-refundable deposit to secure their spot.
Da Costa: What are some key takeaway lessons from your experience?
Torrecillas, Brown: Traveling has made us better entrepreneurs by helping us see our business from new perspectives and become extremely adaptable.
As most travelers know, things don’t always go as planned when you’re entering a new environment. Like business, you’re constantly presented with obstacles (delayed flights, language barriers, limited internet access, etc.) and have to make decisions about the best solution. In both travel and business, you sometimes make the wrong decision, but there is always a lesson to be learned from it for the next time you hit a similar obstacle.
Not only does travel make you into a better decision maker, it also helps you with multitasking. You’re encountering countless adaptation tasks every time you enter a new city, and in business, you’re handling everything from product development and marketing to accounting and customer service. Learning to juggle so much gives you that sense of confidence and know-how that you can handle all aspects of your business as an entrepreneur.
As business guru Marie Forleo says, “Everything is figureoutable”. If you don’t know something in business, find someone who does and learn from them. We’ve realized that what separates entrepreneurs who are successful from the ones who aren’t is that they aren’t afraid to move forward into the unknown. It’s not about knowing everything or having it all figured out – you need to be hungry to learn and determined to take action to succeed.
Da Costa: What advice would you give to millennials who strive to become location independent?
Torrecillas, Brown: Our biggest piece of advice to an aspiring entrepreneur is to sit down and ask yourself, “What does your ideal day look like?” Get creative and don’t hold back. Would you surf in the mornings? Do yoga mid-day? Take an hour beach break? Whatever the answer, once you know it, have the courage to make choices and design your life around your answer.
Find a community of like-minded millennials
It’s incredibly important to connect with other aspiring or seasoned location-independent entrepreneurs on online platforms like our Globetrotting Girl Bosses Facebook group or in person. Surrounding yourself with people who have the same visions and goals and who are also actively working to make this lifestyle a reality will help you get there more quickly.
Join a coworking space
When you’re first starting out, join different coworking spaces around the world to get access to creative, Wi-Fi accessible environments. There are amazing coworking spaces: like in Bali, where you can get coconuts and acai bowls delivered straight to your desk and take a midday break in the pool, or in Bangkok, with onsite spas that allow you to get massages while you work. Working in an inspiring environment will increase your productivity and help with your work and life balance.
Start in a city with a low cost of living
The easiest way to start living a location-independent lifestyle is to travel to cities with a low cost of living. This will give you the time you need to build up a successful online business while lessening the financial pressure.
At the end of the day, many people let fear hold them back from pursuing a location-independent lifestyle. Remember that it’s not just about the experience or skill-set: ultimately, it’s about having the courage to pursue freedom, take your life into your own hands, and stop at nothing to be successful. The key lies in finding the courage to bet on yourself and say, “I can and I will. Watch me.”
More Info: www.forbes.com