Updated: Mar 30
First thing I need to say is International Living mag is an okay place to start if you have zero international contacts and below average research and communication skills. Otherwise save your $50 for coffee on the beach.
Honestly, I've never seen more fluff in my life. It's actually painful to read article after article about absolutely nothing in this publication that is supposed to be a resource. If anything, each article just leads you to a "special offer". I have to use the term magazine loosely, it's more like one big infomercial. Depending on the day and how full my schedule is, I can offer some pretty colourful words when my inbox is bombarded with "postcard" after "postcard" with flowery tales of how Bob and Mary have found independence and freedom from their 9-5's and now live happily on a beach, sipping wine all day with the other expats in their lovely seaside village or how Ben gets paid to dine in restaurants around the world. Like just stop it already. Okay, yes some people do make a living selling travel photos online or writing for (real) travel magazines but the way IL makes it sound like these things happen overnight for people with no knowledge of the industry and no prior experience is absolute bullocks. Granted, they will add later in the article that you do need to familiarize yourself with industry protocol, do some free work before you get paid and try to make some connections. Well there's the reality, hidden under a steaming pile of bullshit. The truth is, it's not as easy as they purport to become a well paid writer or photographer. What they don't tell you is that you will typically get paid in cents not dollars for that awesome palm tree shot IF it's even accepted by a stock agency. Yes, technically you can create passive income this way but be aware it may take years before you're selling the volume required to live on those earnings... even in Southeast Asia. And travel writing? That's fine if you can churn out quality work rapidly because the last time I checked, like with a real website that pays for articles, the going rate for submissions was around $10 and maybe $50-$100 for a good quality feature piece. So could you technically write articles from some exotic locale, yes but could you realistically write enough of them in the "few hours a week" that International Living gushes about to actually buy food? I suppose that depends on how exotic your location is (read: how good the internet connection is), how bright the glare from the sun is on your screen and how badly you'd rather be napping in your hammock, Belikin in hand than writing articles. Take it from someone who has lived and worked abroad, the answer is most likely not.
The reality for me anyway, was that paradise tends to offer really shitty (and expensive) internet. You won't hear that mentioned once in an International Living article. Although infrastructure is improving, I paid $400 USD/month for a sad download speed of 4 GBPS in San Pedro, Belize a few years ago. A location that IL magazine has often purported to be an idyllic paradise for digital nomads. Umm, no. In order to actively work you need decent internet. Even today, in remote places you will not find decent internet and what you do find will sometimes be outrageously expensive. Please keep that in mind when planning your escape.
They also mention working as an online researcher/fact checker. I guess if you want to be at the bottom of the food chain, it's an option. I just feel like it would be hard living in paradise, tethered to your computer or smartphone when you'd rather be frolicking in the surf with your kids. Been there.
Another sugar coated example they give of an expat earning online is that of a remote English teacher. Legit job? Yes if you have a university or teaching degree. Definitely. Otherwise is working 10 hours/day to earn $2000/month really living the dream? Not for me. Actually, at this point in my life I am unable to commit to any set hours of work due to injuries/health priorities. Because of this, I have to be even more selective about how I would choose to fund my expat or travel lifestyle.
With that said I'm sure you're thinking "Okay then wise guy, how would you do it?" Don't get me wrong, you could technically do any of the things suggested above. Sure they work out for a small percentage but odds are you would end up choking on all that fluff about how living a luxury lifestyle via travel writing, photography or online teaching takes so little of your time. My disappointment with IL is also not with the tips and ideas they present rather it's more about how deceivingly it is written. For every sentence containing useful information, I have to wade through 25 redundant ones. Oh and of course the ever present, deeply discounted, limited time only "how-to" class. It's really, really annoying for someone with very little time. As my mother's husband always says "STATE YOUR BUSINESS!" In all honesty I usually end up deleting their emails before I get to anything juicy just out of frustration.
So, enough fluff from me. Without further adieu, here are my thoughts on how to realistically move abroad or travel the world.
"Attention has become the most valuable currency in the media world." ~ Fortune magazine