Nomad life: How Modern Day Explorers Plan Their Financial Lives

Whether it happens at 25, 35, 45, or beyond, there comes a time when you may just feel a need for change. For some, it could mean shifting careers, moving into a new home or deciding to have kids.

For others, it could mean packing your bags and seeing the world.

We spoke to a group of modern nomads ranging in age from 27 to 38, who spent anywhere from three months to three years traveling full-time to find out how they fund their adventures, find a good work/life balance, and keep their budgets in check as they go.

Meet 7 professionals who get paid while traveling

Jillian Glazer, 33, and Andrew Glazer, 33

Nomads for: 3 months

Some of the places visited during this time: Southeast Asia, (including Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia) as well as the Maldives, and Hong Kong.

What they do for money: Jillian is a freelance writer; Andrew does freelance work in sales data and email management.

Julie Couchey, 30, and Dean Couchey, 36

Nomads for: 7 months

Some of the places visited during this time: Europe (including Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Germany), The Netherlands, Southeast Asia and South America. 

What they do for money: Earned money through referrals on Ebates, saved up prior to trips, used travel rewards to cover hotels.

Katie Lockhart, 27, and Patrick Sgro, 38

Nomads for: 9 months and counting

Some of the places visited during this time: Japan, Southeast Asia, Australia, the United States

What they do for money: Katie is a freelance travel and food writer; Patrick runs a marketing consultancy.

Chantal Cachela, 31

Nomads for: 3 years

Some of the places visited during this time: Sri Lanka, Philippines, the Canary Islands, France, Spain the United States.

What she does for money: Content creator, photographer, model

What has nomad life taught you about managing your finances?

Jillian Glazer

“I wish I had a better handle on how much cash we'd need over a certain period of time so that we could have used ATMs less frequently. When you use ATMs abroad, your bank charges you a foreign transaction fee and the ATM you're withdrawing from charges you for using it (we found this cost to be a few dollars to as many as $7 per withdrawal). 

Katie Lockhart

"A mistake which ended up being a bit costly was with luggage restrictions. I didn’t read the fine print and my carry-on ended up being way over the 7kg limit. Combined, we were looking at $600 worth of luggage fees. I still paid $300 in fees even after throwing out a full suitcase of clothing. We learned to always just buy the extra kilos.”

"I think it's all about asking things like: Why is this thing important for you to spend money on?"

Chantal Cachela

"I used to spend a lot of money once I earned it and I've learned how to save money, be more selective about where my money goes, and prioritize.”

How do you budget for the road?

Jillian Glazer 

"We spoke to other digital nomads and did a lot of research about how much it might cost us to live in each of the countries we planned to visit. 

We kept a daily accounting of our spending. I counted our cash first thing in the morning, then recorded everything we spent throughout the day in my app, then counted our cash again at the end of the day.”

Julie and Dean Couchey

"We started out with a general idea of what we wanted to spend per day on hotels and per day on food/activities. In South America, Asia, and Morocco it was easy to stay within or under budget, but New Zealand and Australia required us to go way over since it was their high season! It also turned out to be that way in most of Europe. It taught us to take a look at those types of things, too.”

Katie Lockhart

"We typically plan out flights and hotels about a month in advance to avoid costly last-minute prices. If there is a festival like Songkran in Thailand (we’ll be attending this year) we plan further out to ensure we get a good hotel in the right area.”

If you travel with a partner, what have you learned about budgeting as a couple?

Jillian Glazer

“Not many people have the exact same relationship with money. For example, I'm very conservative and reluctant to spend, while my husband is a little more relaxed with his spending. If we went too far to my side, we might have skipped some major activities that are now some of my favorite memories. 

I think it's all about asking things like: Why is this thing important for you to spend money on? How can we save to make you feel better? When you understand where the other person is coming from, it's easier to know what's important to spend money on and where to save it.”

Julie and Dean Couchey

"This was the first time we really had a combined ‘account’ or amount of money that we were pulling from. No more ‘you get this and I'll get the next one.’ We learned how to have conversations about money and decide together what was the appropriate amount to spend on certain things and places. It really set us up for success when we got back to real life."

Katie Lockhart

"We keep our finances separate but split everything including accommodation, flights, transport, and meals. It’s harder to keep track of all the daily expenses instead of the standard monthly cable, internet, and rent bills. We run a spreadsheet to keep track of everything.”

Chantal Cachela

"That sharing is caring and both of us can hold each other’s back in case something happens. We also have a shared account that we put money on every week.”

What's the best money tip you could offer someone considering becoming a full-time nomad?

Jillian Glazer

"Over budget. Whatever you think you're going to spend or need to save, pad it by 25 percent — or more, if your financial situation allows. When you're traveling, things come up that you could never anticipate or imagine, and you'll be glad you have that buffer built in when they do!”

Julie and Dean Couchey

"Save, save, save! Even better if you can find a job where you can work remotely, or freelance. Also consider creating a nest egg for yourself so you can have money for when you get back from traveling, too. Lastly, buy travel insurance. Hopefully you won't need it, but if you do, it's worth it!”

Katie Lockhart

"First, figure out how much the next six months will cost you without making any money. Make sure you have at least that amount saved before you become a digital nomad or just quit your job to travel full-time. I make sure I have a nest egg I can fall back on if I need to.”

Chantal Cachela

"Save as much as you can, know your priorities, set up saving goals, and always have a spending limit (at least monthly). I also use an app that helps me knows how much I’m spending and what I’m spending my money on so I can see what I can cut off or what I can spend more money on.”

These interviews have been edited for clarity and brevity.

This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for individualized professional advice. Articles on this site were commissioned and approved by Marcus by Goldman Sachs®, but may not reflect the institutional opinions of The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc., Goldman Sachs Bank USA or any of their affiliates, subsidiaries or divisions.