How a millennial remote worker finds work and embraces a digital nomadic lifestyle – Business Insider | Gmx Pharm

  • Michelle Checchi, 29, travels the world working remotely since 2019.
  • She says her lifestyle is “much more affordable” than she would expect in the US.
  • In 2021, over 15 million Americans identified themselves as digital nomads, up 112% from 2019.

When Michelle Checchi, 29, left the United States in 2019, she only wanted to be away for a few months — until her savings account was empty.

Today, she still travels the world and works as a freelance writer and video producer — according to banking documents verified by Insider, she makes $4,000 in a typical month while working just 15 to 30 hours a week.

“Rather than just being stuck in my one place, I live in what I consider to be an international environment where I’m still a traveler and a visitor,” she says.

A growing number of digital nomads or teleworkers who travel for weeks, months or – in their case – “for the foreseeable future”. Over 15 million Americans self-identify as digital nomads, up 42% from 2020 and 112% from 2019, according to MBO Partners’ State of Independence 2021 study. The driving force behind this trend is the growing flexibility of remote working, the yearning to see the world and the desire to reduce costs.

As of June, over 25 countries had launched digital nomad visa programs aimed at luring remote workers and their wallets. According to the World Population Review, only two countries — Bermuda and Switzerland — have a higher cost of living than New York City, where Checchi grew up. For them, living abroad was a budget saver.

Earn more money than ever before

After graduating in 2015, Checchi enjoyed her job as a local news producer for four years, but she says she has an enduring desire to “travel and experience freedom.” In September 2019, she sold most of her belongings, drove cross-country and boarded a one-way flight to Tel Aviv, Israel.

In her first few months abroad, Checchi traveled to Cyprus, India and Nepal, where she tried to stretch her savings as long as possible. But after about three months, when it seemed like her fun was about to end, Checchi had a “spark of an idea”: “What if she found a way to make money working remotely? She started browsing Upwork and other platforms for freelance writing jobs.

“I thought, ‘If I get a full-time job, it’s going to pin me in one place,'” she says. “I really wanted to create a lifestyle where I could maintain my independence of location.”

While she found work, early on the money was “not good” — a few hundred bucks here and there — not enough to delay her return to the US for very long. But slowly her workflow started to grow. After about six months, Checchi was making as much as her news job — which brought in about $50,000 a year — and was working about half the hours, not to mention traveling the world in the process.

A few months later, she surpassed her old salary and broke $10,000 in earnings in a few months, including $17,000 last June — while doing on-site video production for a convention. Checchi also has over 68,000 followers on TikTok — where she posts her travel highlights and tips — though she says it’s only recently that she’s started making “a little money” from social media. Checchi says she used to wonder how digital nomads could even afford their lifestyle.

“I was really surprised,” she says. “I thought, ‘Oh, okay. So it can be sustainable.”

As she continues to write freelance content — “ghostwriting blogs, articles, and web copy” — she’s begun to lean more towards her roots in video production. Although her clients vary, she often films and produces content for companies in the tourism industry – projects that typically fund her trips.

Checchi says it’s odd to look back on her time as a local news producer when she felt her skills weren’t transferable anywhere else.

“Now I’m like, ‘Wow, there’s so much I can do with my skills if you think outside the box a little,’ she says.

The challenges of a nomadic life

When not traveling, Checchi has a home base in Tel Aviv, which she chose in part for its accessibility to both Europe and Asia. While Tel Aviv can be a pretty expensive place to live, Checchi pays just $871 a month to rent an apartment with a couple — and usually sublets her room when she’s traveling for long periods of time. She typically stays in hostels and Airbnbs, which helps her stay on a monthly housing budget of around $900. That’s a big saving compared to the average rent of $3,100 in June for a studio apartment in NYC, where she previously lived.

Airfare is her biggest expense, but since she doesn’t often cross the Atlantic to see her family, she can travel from place to place relatively cheaply. There is also more competition in the European airline industry compared to the US, which helps keep their airfares lower.

It wasn’t all roses, she had to return to the US and stay with her family in Staten Island, New York, for a time during the pandemic. Aside from that, she admits she doesn’t see her family often – although she now makes an effort to return to the US every three to four months. Those airfare expenses can add up, but she says they’re worth it and that she can find extra work to offset it if needed. While her best friends are in the US, Checchi says she has friends “everywhere” and that traveling solo has been a “great way to meet new people.”

While she believes a nomadic lifestyle isn’t for everyone, she has no plans to give it up anytime soon: “I’m living for myself at this point in my life.”

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