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This is the latest interview in a series featuring digital nomads talking about their lives and lessons (click here if you want to be interviewed). The goal is to help demystify the process of making money online, wandering the world, and living an unconventional life!
Mitch Glass agrees with us that freedom is everything. He dove head first into discovering ways to make a living remotely, and he’s landed in something that works for his family. Be sure to check out his YouTube videos for tons of great adventure content!
Take it away, Mitch!
Introduce yourself! 🙂 Who are you? What do you do for work? And what is your nomadic story?
My name is Mitch (or as everyone I meet on the road calls me, “Mitch from Michigan”), and I’m currently living in the beautiful mountains of Colombia with my wife, Day.
My nomad story started back in 2015—the summer before starting my doctorate program in Physical Therapy.
Before that summer, the thought of travel never crossed my mind—I was too focused on my career. But a friend invited me to backpack through Thailand for a month, and I decided it would be a fun adventure to “get it out of my system” before starting my program.
That month changed my entire perspective on life (more on that later).
Long story short, I asked my program if they’d save my seat for a year so I could do a solo backpacking trip along the “Gringo Trail”—from Mexico all the way down to Brazil for the Olympics.
To my surprise, they agreed.
Halfway into my trip, I decided I could never go back to a “normal” life, not after what I’d experienced. So I called up my program and told them to take my spot—the spot I’d worked towards and obsessed over for the past six years—and give it to someone else.
Instead of returning to the U.S after my year-long trip, I found myself in Cali, Colombia.
I planned to hang out there for a couple of months, taking salsa dancing classes. But then life threw me a curveball.
I met a cute Colombian in class, those couple months turned into a couple of years, and now we’re married, traveling the world together as digital nomads.
Shortly after meeting her, I realized (1) my savings account was drying up, and (2) girlfriends are expensive.
I needed to figure out a way to earn money online.
While testing out a bunch of different online business ideas, I realized there were probably loads of other people like me looking for ways to support themselves while traveling.
So I decided to put together the internet’s most ginormous list of travel job ideas—and that’s how the Project Untethered blog was born.
What inspired you to start nomading? And how has nomading changed your perspective on life?
I never in a million years thought I’d become a nomad. Back in my “normal” life, I had career blinders on and didn’t even know this type of lifestyle existed.
It wasn’t until that first month-long trip to Thailand that those blinders were ripped off.
In just a few short weeks, I met loads of travelers with amazing life stories. Travelers who had been exploring the world for years. Decades.
Top-earning professionals had left it all behind to teach Scuba diving or become yoga instructors or open motorbike rental shops on tiny Thai islands. And despite taking huge pay cuts and “throwing away their careers,” they were happy.
Like, weirdly happy.
One French guy I met in Scuba class was an ex-physical education teacher who—after traveling to Australia on a one-way ticket with no plans—somehow stumbled into a job giving one-hour-a-day exercise classes to a multi-millionaire while sailing around the world on his private yacht.
What the heck was I doing with my life??
Since then, my view on life has taken a complete 180.
I don’t care about status. I don’t care about climbing the ladder. I don’t care how much money I make.
All I care about is living life to the fullest.
My life no longer revolves around work. My work revolves around my life.
Please tell us the detailed story of how you started your freelancing business.
When I started, I knew nothing about making money online.
My background was in athletic training and physical therapy.
My first rodeo online business attempt completely flopped.
I was not aware of all the different ways you could earn online (including freelancing), and I stumbled on a podcast about starting an Amazon FBA Business.
I was obsessed with it, latched onto the idea, and binge-listening to like 50 hours of episodes (at which point I considered myself a “pro”).
I followed this podcaster’s directions to a T, invested $10,000 of my savings in product inventory (most of which was from selling my car back home), and went all in.
The first couple of weeks went off without a hitch. Then one morning, I woke up to an email saying I had unknowingly infringed on someone’s rights, and my Amazon account was frozen.
Long story short, I ended up giving away most of my inventory and chalking it up to a very expensive lesson.
About that time, I discovered freelance writing. Again, I had no idea what I was doing.
After wasting time on Upwork, I wisened up, wrote a couple of samples, and started reaching out directly to digital marketing agencies in my hometown.
My first few gigs were writing about powertrain parts for conveyor belts and a blockchain-powered diamond exchange.
Not the most interesting topics in the world. But I powered through.
It felt surreal to know I could just email some random person, write them an article, and earn money.
I used the samples and testimonials from those first one-off clients to eventually land more interesting work.
While growing my freelance business, I realized my dream life was not to have to answer to anyone—including freelance clients—so I decided to start my own blog.
I’m hoping that one day, it will grow to the point where I’ll no longer have to freelance anymore and will have complete control over my schedule.
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What are the 2-3 favorite places where you’ve lived/traveled to and why?
This is an impossible question.
Sometimes the most stunning destinations suck because you’re with sucky people. Other times lame destinations are awesome because you’re with awesome people.
That said, if I had to pick my three favorite places, they’d be.
#1.) Cali, Colombia – This is where I first fell in love with salsa dancing and then fell in love with my wife. We invest in properties in Cali, and this is our home base we always come back to.
#2.) Thailand – Despite it being mega-touristic, it was where I first fell in love with travel, and it will always have a soft spot in my heart. Plus, you can find ridiculously cheap luxury condos there.
#3.) The Van – My third favorite place is our home on wheels (AKA “The Salsa Mobile”). It feels so liberating to take the comforts of home along with you as you explore all the most amazing places a country has to offer.
What advice would you give to someone who’s thinking about nomading?
I have three pieces of advice.
The first is a shameless plug. Read our guide on how to become a digital nomad. It’s literally the most comprehensive free guide on the entire internet, and it will help you feel more confident and prepared for your journey.
Second, digital nomad life can be lonely—especially if you’re traveling solo. You can meet other nomads in co-working spaces and meetups in the city you’re staying in, but I prefer a different approach.
I like to choose a hobby or skill to learn that is popular in whatever country I’m staying in. Then I take classes. In Colombia, that was salsa dancing. Within a couple of days, I had an entire group of Colombian friends to hang out with.
The cool thing about this approach is you actually get to make friends and immerse yourself in the culture rather than living in an “expat bubble.”
The last, and probably most important, is to USE YOUR FREEDOM.
If you ever start feeling like you’re no longer enjoying digital nomad life, use your freedom to make a change. Maybe that’s visiting home, maybe that’s adjusting your travel speed, or maybe that’s changing career paths.
It seems like many digital nomads seem to “burn out” after a year or two, but I don’t understand why. You have the ultimate freedom to set up your life however you want, wherever you want.
If you don’t like something, change it!
What is one of your favorite travel stories/experiences?
I don’t know if this is my favorite story, but it’s certainly a wild one.
In 2020, I shattered my wrist in a motorcycle accident in Thailand and had to have two delicate surgeries (luckily, I had digital nomad health insurance!)
That’s where the story begins.
While still recovering, we headed to Cambodia—deciding to completely disconnect for my birthday on a remote beach on the tiny island of Koh Rong Samloem.
When we reconnected to the internet, the world had basically shut down overnight due to the pandemic.
We ended up getting stranded in this tropical paradise for four months and practically had the whole place to ourselves!
Best of all, since the place was deserted, we scored a gorgeous beachside bungalow—normally $180/night—for just $15/night.
It was an insane experience, and we essentially became “one with the island.” To keep ourselves occupied, we started recording our weekly island adventures on Youtube.
You can check out the entire Cambodian island quarantine adventure, photos, and video series here.
What is unique about the way you travel, and what advice do you have for someone that wants to travel with a similar style?
I try not to put myself in a box or label myself as a certain type of traveler. Our travel style is constantly changing. We travel one way for a while, lose interest, then use our freedom to switch it up.
Perhaps you could call it a “Use Your Freedom” travel style 🙂
Sometimes that’s traveling fast, jamming in loads of fun activities, and working minimally. Other times it’s slowing down and setting up a routine in a cool destination.
Sometimes it’s staying in hostels to fill up our social tanks and meet awesome people. Other times it’s parking the van in the middle of a random forest, miles away from other people.
Sometimes we crash on our family’s couch. Other times we go full-on “farmer mode” and live with a bunch of animals up in the Colombian mountains.
My favorite part of this lifestyle is you can change things up whenever you want, so you never get bored.
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If you had debt/student loans when you started nomading, how did you handle or think about this, and what advice would you give to other people with a similar situation?
I’m no financial advisor, so take my advice at your own risk.
When I first started traveling, I wasn’t earning any money, so I switched my loans to an income-driven repayment plan. This meant that I essentially didn’t have to make payments if I didn’t want to.
Is interest accruing? Yes.
But I simply consider those interest payments the cost of my freedom.
Even now, after saving enough to pay off my loans in full, I choose not to.
Why would I use my savings to pay off a low-interest loan when I could invest those same savings and earn a higher rate of return?
Maybe there’s something that I don’t understand, but it just doesn’t make sense to me.
Since launching, what has been most effective to acquire/retain clients?
Honestly, the hardest part was getting my foot in the door.
Once I had those first samples and testimonials under my belt, most things started happening organically.
The trick for me has been finding a couple clients who send me ongoing work. Then when I want to “move up the ladder”, I find a better client before letting the old one go.
My blog and my network have helped me land most of my work.
Clients have told me that they had tons of applications (including applicants who were more qualified than me), but when they saw I ran my own blog, they automatically knew I had valuable skills and would require less training.
I also joined an accountability group of other bloggers. We had regular group calls and were familiar with each other’s work. A couple people in our group were well-connected in the freelance writing world, and whenever they met someone who needed help, they recommended me.
Some of those clients have been sending me work every month for over a year.
So basically, it pays to put yourself out there, make friends online, and not be a hermit.
It also pays to always turn in top-notch work, so your clients keep coming back for more.
What digital tools do you use for your work/business?
I actually created a giant “Work from Anywhere Toolkit” with over 200 free (and super cheap) tools to make digital nomad life easier.
But here are some that I use every day:
- Google Docs for almost everything
- Apple Notes for to-do lists and random ideas
- Evernote and sometimes Notion for note-taking
- Pocket for my reading list
- Tunnelbear (free account) for VPN
- Slack and Gmail for communicating with clients and freelancers I hire
- Canva, Google Drawings, and Procreate (iPad) for graphics
- WhiteNoiseLite to block out noise with headphones and concentrate (airplane sound)
- KeySearch, Frase, Keywords Everywhere, and Keyword Sheeter for SEO
- Kashoo for bookkeeping
- BetterSnapTool to organize windows on my MacBook
- …and tons more.
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What scale is your business at today, and what are your future goals?
I’ve cut down my freelancing to just one day per week, which equates to roughly $2,000/month.
It’s tempting to double down on freelancing. I know if I went full-time (and actually tried to market myself), I’d make a great income.
But I’m not sure that Future Mitch would appreciate that.
My dream life is to not have to answer to anyone. And to get to that point, I need to build my own thing.
That’s why I now spend most of my time on our blog and Youtube channel, which are still in the growing stages.
These currently provide an additional ~$800/month, but I have an inkling that things are about to take off.
We are nowhere near a six-figure income, but that’s not really our goal. Our goal is to:
- Earn enough to support our travel lifestyle (which doesn’t cost much), and
- Have enough money that we can choose not to do things we don’t enjoy doing.
Lastly, we also rent out our condo in Colombia on Airbnb as we travel and have several other property investments in Cali through my father-in-law’s real estate company. We use most of these earnings to save for retirement.
For someone interested in becoming a freelancer in your field, what’s the best advice you would give? And what books, podcasts, thought leaders, or other learning resources do you recommend?
First, I’d make sure you actually enjoy writing.
Many people latch onto freelance writing because it’s just the “popular” thing to do. But if you hate writing, you’re going to be miserable.
Second, don’t niche down right away.
Start by taking whatever jobs you can get and see where that leads. You’ll quickly find which topics you enjoy writing about, which topics pay well, and which are easiest to find work.
You don’t have to be an expert on the topic you’re writing about to do quality work. You can learn everything you need to know on the internet.
Some of my favorite writing-related books are:
- The Freelance Content Marketing Writer by Jennifer Gregory
- The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
- The Adweek Copywriting Handbook by Joe Sugarman
- Influence by Robert Cialdini
I’ve also learned a ton about freelancing and writing from the Smart Blogger website.
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Tell us about your content creation journey, and share some of your favorite content that people should check out!
As I mentioned, the Project Untethered blog all started when I was trying to find different ways to make money traveling.
The Amazon fiasco happened because I didn’t know all my options. I just chose the first idea I learned about and dove in headfirst.
After failing, I wanted to create a resource for other people in my position who were struggling to figure out how to support themselves on the road.
I’ve mentioned a few of our most valuable resources already in this interview, but if you’re new to digital nomad life, just poke around the site, and you’re sure to find something useful.
There’s loads of helpful info—from how to choose the best digital nomad laptop to figuring out the best travel internet solution to which banks are best for digital nomads (and everything in between).
Our Youtube channel was born thanks to my motorcycle accident in Thailand. After surviving a near-death experience, I wanted to warn others of the dangers of riding.
Shortly after, we were trapped quarantined on a Cambodian island, which was the perfect opportunity to continue creating videos.
Finally, we shifted gears to van life videos after moving into our beloved Salsa Mobile.
Here’s one of my favorites 🙂
If you only had a few minutes to live, what are the most important life lessons you would share with the world?
The first is to know what you believe and why.
Where did we come from? Why are we here?
Depending on what you believe, the answer to this may have eternal implications (probably something you should pay attention to!).
Keep an open mind and look at the evidence from all points of view—Play Devil’s Advocate with yourself. Don’t just live in a bubble of people who all agree with you.
The second lesson I’d share is that life is extremely fragile, and we should live every day—or even every second—like it will be our last.
It will change the way you live.
This teaching profoundly changed the way I interact with the world:
A man was being chased by a tiger and found himself at the edge of a cliff. With nowhere to go, he climbed down a vine on the side of the cliff. As the tiger approached, the vine began to break under his weight. Seconds before falling, he noticed a strawberry hanging from the vine and shoved it in his mouth. He savored it for those last few seconds and never tasted anything so delicious in his life.
Just as he savored that strawberry, we should savor every experience in life.
What do you travel with that you couldn’t imagine traveling without?
Oh, boy. Let’s see…
- Exercise straps (TRX or cheap knockoff) and resistance bands
- Organizer bag for cords and electronics
- Waterproof Bluetooth speaker
- Xeno Pro Lens Kit
- Cordless buzzer (to shave my face and head)
- Sony WX1000XM3 headphones for work
- Jabra Elite Active 65t earbuds for exercise and everything else
- Next and Laptop Stand (cheap Roost knockoff)
- Pacsafe Portable Safe
- MacBook Pro
- Magic Trackpad and Keyboard
- HDMI cable
- A fanny pack (or what the cool kids call a “sling bag”)
What’s your favorite book and why?
One of my favorite books is The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. There are so many life-changing takeaways in that book that it should be required reading for every human. I especially love the part about creating a personal mission statement.