Top 5 tips for a cash-strapped digital nomad


I had the misfortune of losing my job this past week. After two years of surviving cut after cut, the endless layoffs at finally got me. That’s startup life, I suppose. And truthfully, it was probably time for me to move on, level up in my life and in my career.

I know it’s a weird thing to write from a foreign country halfway across the world, but I had gotten complacent.

Life as a digital nomad looks a lot different once your income stream dries up. Things get a lot more stressful. I’m lucky enough to have saved up a nice little cushion, so I’m trying to treat this break as a vacation, rather than an excuse to panic. Still, money suddenly became a lot more precious to me. Here are the top five things I’m doing to save money while traveling (as a digital nomad, specifically).

Get free water at your coworking space

Since nomads often frequent undeveloped countries, bottled drinking water is one of those little expenses that can quickly add up. Especially in a place like Bali, where we are currently experiencing 90 degree days with alarming regularity. You have to drink to avoid dangerous dehydration— but you don’t necessarily have to pay for that water.

If you are using a coworking space, almost all of them offer water coolers, with safe filtered water. Use them. Get a water bottle and fill it up every day before you leave. Bring it back the next day, and fill it up again.

It’s also smart to stop buying coffee, and use the free stuff provided at the coworking space. As a coffee lover myself, I find it hard to consistently obey that last rule, but I am trying. If you make use of the free water and coffee every day, you can often more than make up for the cost of your coworking.

Of course, if you are truly budget strapped, then it’s often more economical to just

Drop your coworking space

In Bali, this is simply not feasible— Internet speeds are awful in most places on this island. You can’t rely on a coffee shop, and most hotels, homestays, and guesthouses can barely handle your Facebook uploads.

However, in a place like Chiang Mai or Taipei, it’s worth asking yourself: is a coworking space a necessary expense? You can work just the same from your apartment. It might not be as social, but skipping the trendy coworking can save you anywhere from $50 to $300 a month.

You might have less cool Instagram shots, but you will have more money to eat and experience the local culture. Which is the reason you’re abroad in the first place, right??

One option here is to

Replace your coworking with a mobile hotspot

Since I don’t need blazing fast Internet, I’ve opted to supplement my basic coworking with pay-as-you-go mobile data. I use tethering on my iPhone to beam the connection to my computer. In general, it’s a lot cheaper. Here in Bali, 4 GB of data on Telekomsel costs 100.000 rupiah (~$7.50 USD). 25 hours of coworking at Hubud costs $60 USD. Guess which lasts me longer?

4G tethering through my phone is almost always faster than the free wifi offered at the cafes and restaurants throughout town.

Plus, Telekomsel has coverage throughout the Ubud area. I’ve actually been quite pleased with the coverage here: it’s fast (4G), and rarely do I drop coverage. I think Telekomsel must have invested some serious time and money into their infrastructure, because prior to arrival, I had heard their coverage was slow and spotty. That hasn’t been true in my experience, at all.

Eat local

This is a tried and true travel tip, or course. Local food is always cheaper, and often better, than the Western food on offer. When you have money coming in though, it can be easy to treat yourself; this is why its not uncommon for 20-somethings living in big cities to drop fifty, sixty, seventy dollars on brunch. Why not?

Why not is you’ll get just as full on a $1.50 dish of Nasi Goreng as you will on a $12 green shake with eggs and toast. Granted, you’ll get really sick of– and possibly from– the Nasi Goreng by the time to leave Bali (ahem), but over the course of a month, you’ll save enough to be able to afford a plane ticket to your next destination.

Plus, when you return home, you’ll be able to explain the ins and outs of Indonesian food, which will make it seem like you actually went somewhere, and did something.

Set aside an emergency fund

This is something you should do BEFORE you start your trip. Not everyone has this luxury, I know. But IF POSSIBLE, you should set aside at least a few hundred dollars in case things go sideways. Ideally, this fund should contain enough for a plane ticket home, and then a few hundred on top.

I understand a lot of people like to live life a little riskier than that, and that’s fine. It’s certainly possible– and probably a better story– to work yourself out of that hole, learn to survive, and find a way home from the verge of bankruptcy.

But for me, I prefer a little more stability. My savings account means I have a few months of runway to seek out freelance work, affiliate income, or a new full time job before I have to head home with my tail between my legs.

In the meantime, I’m taking all the steps above to reduce my burn and increase my runway, but I’m damn glad I have the safety cushion.

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