In Germany, there used to be a word for people abandoning the welfare state in search of an adventure. ‘Aussteiger’ they called them, -‘exiters’, implying that they were ‘leaving’ and one day, they would have to ‘come back’. Fast forward 20 years and new graduates can’t wait to ditch the western world for a career overseas as a digital nomad. And the ones that succeed will often do so while retaining the full benefits of their home country, living a never-ending holiday. But it is possible to live the digital nomad lifestyle as a couple?
The short answer: yes, definitely. Two people can roam the earth, travel from one island to the next and eternally live in affordable, last-minute hotels and cool colonial rentals. But there will be unique challenges, and a lot depends on what kind of relationship you have. And whether you possess skills that can make money remotely. Keep in mind that digital nomads are essentially entrepreneurs, and it is hard to find someone who is just as dialed-in to this lifestyle as you are.
While it is great to have that special someone along for the ride, extra luggage gets tedious over time. Especially when you need to hustle to make a living abroad and quickly establish a network, it is important to be with someone who understands your everyday challenges. Sorting out someone else’s visa because they can’t be bothered can get tiresome very quickly.
Or let’s say your partner is outgoing, and networking at meetups and events comes natural to him/her. If you get anxious at the mere thought of small talk and exchanging contact details, it means he/she is much more likely to sign on new clients than you are. Given that all relationships have an element of competition, and you are both working in the same field, this will become a problem area. Besides, nobody should be comfortable being someone’s proverbial ‘ball and chain’.
How much do you depend on each other?
In a relationship of 20 years, it is normal that certain roles emerge, where one person is the designated earner and their partner has a different set of responsibilities. But as a starting digital nomad, your budget often will not allow you to support an additional individual. Dependency issues like this will weigh you down in the long run as well.
But whenever I meet a couple of digital nomads who make it work, they are often equally successful individuals. One may be running a set of websites, while the other is a dedicated SEO expert with some modeling gigs on the side. With a decent overlap in expertise, they get to use each other’s network and suddenly these nomadic lifestyle jobs tend to get a lot easier. Alternatively, if one is dependent of the other, it can work out amazingly as well, but I would not call that a ‘digital nomad couple’.
Working together as digital nomads
A lot of travel vloggers/bloggers tend to work together, where one person is ‘the face’ of the channel, while the other is in charge of cameras and post-production. This works great, as you are equally invested in getting those subscribers and views, plus you share a common goal.
I’ve met a couple in Bali who maintained an ultra-professional façade to the outside world as an online consultancy. They would not acknowledge their relationship to outsiders, let alone customers, but it certainly worked for them. Note that both of them were already established professionals before they met; she worked several years for Facebook and he was an account executive at a digital agency.
Realistically, I think they both work a few hours , and spend the rest of the day playing with their dogs, surfing and casually managing their other revenue streams from an iPad while getting massaged or grabbing some food. They are a digital nomad couple in the purest sense of the word.
Starting a digital nomad career as a couple
I think this is the hardest thing to do, as you will both struggle to get that initial traction. It’s not impossible, but we’ve all seen that couple. Excited about the prospect of travelling indefinitely, they try to extend their gap-year by becoming shopify- or bitcoin experts overnight. The inability to generate steady paychecks or revenues can be frustrating, and more often than not, the money runs out before they manage to make any progress.
If you find yourself in this situation, be realistic and do not spend your remaining time and money in coffeeshops, casually browsing Fiverr or contemplating remote jobs at Google (there are too few, and the pay is horrific). Approach the next few weeks with a structure.
Identify a sector you want to be working in and set yourself hard deadlines. Be aware that you do not have a skill or subscriber base (yet!) that you can monetize, and that it will take months before you will. If you are comfortable with that idea and your partner is too, you are already miles ahead of the competition.
All good ideas require a roadmap, otherwise they stay just that; ideas. Whether it is copywriting, video editing or anything else you wish to do remotely – start learning! As you acquire the necessary skills, do not be afraid to take on clients as early as possible. Tell them you are willing to work for free, as you are trying to build a portfolio. Selling yourself (remotely) is one of the most lucrative skills you can have, so the process of taking on the first few clients is an invaluable skill in itself. When satisfied, these early clients usually become your first endorsers. These are the people who will put you in touch with those magical paying clients. When you reach that point, you are well on your way to become a successful digital nomad. If you’ve done this together, and you are both starting to get traction – Congratulations, you’ve hit the ground running. More power to you!
Be Digital Nomads together, don’t become Digital Nomads together
In conclusion, the most accomplished digital nomads I’ve come across were already in a committed relationship for quite some time. In essence, they are living as a digital nomad together, proving that it is not just possible: You are way more likely to succeed in the long term as a couple. Since you both face the same unique challenges, the amount of empathy and support your partner can give is that much bigger.
Plus, online veterans thrive on their networks, and by combining your network with the network of your partner everything becomes much more easy. Having said that, most of these people are in their late twenties, beginning thirties and all are experienced professionals who possess valuable skills. At the same time, all forums and digital nomad groups I subscribe to have their share of teenage backpackers who want to ‘become digital nomads’ selling t-shirts on shopify or dream about working remotely in Thailand without any qualification. They usually ask in an overly optimistic tone if anyone can give them any pointers’.
The reality is that like any business sector, the online market has matured and just like a nine-to-five, you can’t succeed without determination, focus and old fashioned hard work. The benefits of being a Digital Nomad will appear over time, as the number of paying customers grows to a comfortable level and your skillset moves from intermediate to ‘expert’. At the beginner level though, making a living is hard enough on your own. Being in a relationship at the same time, in a country far away, without a marketable skill, is damn near impossible.