It ain’t easy being full-time digital nomads in the time of COVID-19.
To be sure, COVID-19 has been hard on so many levels for every human on planet Earth.
And of course it has been life-altering bad for those who suffered through a bout with the virus or – worse – lost someone to it.
But being a digital nomad in the time of COVID-19 brings a unique set of challenges.
Man Plans… and God Laughs
After a little over 2 months we left Colombia in early March for a couple weeks in the U.S.
We would visit Atlanta, D.C., New York, California and Pennsylvania to visit friends and family.
And then we had train tickets to New York. And plane tickets from New York to Spain.
We were excited to get to spend a month at Sun and Co. coworking and co-living. It’s a 19th-century house located in Jávea, a historic seaside town on the east coast of Spain.
Our plan was to rent a car and explore the entire area while working and playing with fellow digital nomads at Sun and Co. and continuing our Spanish language immersion that we had started in Colombia.
From there we’d pop back the U.S. for a couple of events.
Then spend a month with nomad friends on the Greek island of Syros.
We had put a deposit down on a beautiful house there that we would share with nomad friends we had met over the course of our nomadic adventures.
And then in late June and July we would make our way to the Bansko Nomad Fest in Bansko, Bulgaria where Lisa was set to be a presenter.
We had our spring and summer all planned out.
Well, as Michael Chabon said, ‘Man plans…and God laughs.’
Because when we landed in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in mid-March to visit Lisa’s family the COVID-19 stay-at-home lockdown had started in the U.S.
On March 18, all our wonderful plans went down the COVID-19 toilet.
Man plans…and God laughs…and then man cries…
So…How Do Digital Nomads ‘Stay at Home’!?
The COVID-19 Pandemic and resulting ‘stay at home’ orders caught most people in the U.S. by surprise. Well, some combination of surprise and denial. After all, Europe and Asia had been on lockdown for weeks at that point.
But for full-time digital nomads like us, it created something of an existential crisis. After all, we don’t have a ‘home’ to ‘stay home’ at.
As luck/fate would have it, we hadn’t had to alter a single plan when the stay at home orders came down.
We were already in the U.S., so we didn’t have to face the choice of suffering repatriation flights on the one hand or riding out the pandemic in a country that didn’t really want us there on the other.
We simply landed as planned in the Harrisburg/Hershey area from visiting friends in California in mid-March. It was meant to be a 5-day visit with Lisa’s family for her niece’s birthday.
And so it was that our 5-day rental in a flat above a massage parlor in Campbelltown, Pennsylvania became our ‘stay at home’ home for the next two and a half months.
It Was Fine
And really, it was fine.
Lisa’s parents and her brother’s family live in the area. So we were able to borrow a car and that allowed us to run errands for her parents who were on a strict lockdown due to being higher-risk.
And we could socialize with Lisa’s entire family using social distancing protocols.
Plus, Hershey is urban enough to have all one needs but rural enough that COVID-19 cases remained relatively low.
And unlike in more urban areas, after the initial shock, grocery stores remained relatively well stocked and accessible – no lines outside of grocery stores to comply with social distancing rules.
And – as a bonus – most days in Hershey you can smell the chocolate being manufactured at the Hershey and Reese’s factories!
Possibly the worst part of riding out COVID-19 in Hershey was when they would test the roller coasters at the downtown amusement park during the lockdown. Lisa got all excited for a roller coaster ride…and then realized that the park was very closed. I’ve promised to ride them with her one day when they open back up.
Having spent the pandemic lockdown in Hershey, PA we can definitely recommend that you visit when all of the really cool attractions here are open!
Digital Nomad Income in the Time of COVID-19
As we discussed in our article about 3 Tips on Working from Home From Full-Time Digital Nomads, we basically work from ‘home’ full time.
We’ve learned a lot about working from home as digital nomads. And so when the rest of the world was required to work from home we were well ahead of the game.
But just like most, our businesses suffered from the pandemic and lockdowns.
Our fulfilled by Amazon (FBA) retail business was hamstrung by Amazon’s restrictions over what customers could buy and what inventory we could send into Amazon from our warehouse.
Sales nosedived in March and April and only recovered thanks to Mothers Day.
And ReadyJetRoam.com suffered too. Our readership plummeted and revenue was literally down 100% in March and April. We didn’t earn a dime! Luckily by May things started looking better.
$2,000 in Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL)-COVID-19 related assistance program payments from the US federal government helped take a little bit of the sting out of those revenue losses from these two businesses. But only a little.
Our consulting practice, EQM Management Advisory Group, on the other hand, not only continued but actually grew during the pandemic lockdown. Not nearly enough to make up for other lost revenue, but it still helped.
So following the digital nomad advice of having multiple revenue streams really helped out during the lockdown.
And the reality is that while our income was down, so were our expenses. Our life of full-time affordable luxury travel was placed on hold. We weren’t taking affordable luxury flights across the globe. Weren’t eating out at restaurants and paying restaurant markups on wine every night.
So our cash flow situation was ok throughout the stay at home lockdown.
A New Side Hustle
But Lisa and I are seldom content to idle for long. We are nomads, after all.
After a quarantine period, we volunteered to shop and deliver meals for Lisa’s parents using a car borrowed from Lisa’s brother.
And having decided to do that, we thought ‘Hey, why not deliver more meals and get paid to do it!?‘
So we signed up as drivers for DoorDash restaurant meal delivery service.
Well, Lisa signed up. We decided to deliver meals together. So I would drive and Lisa would handle the meal pick ups and drop offs as well as manage the app.
We felt like it was a way to get out of our flat and help provide an essential service.
And also serve as another revenue stream for digital nomads stuck in the U.S. in the time of COVID-19. We used every precaution: masks, gloves and hand sanitizer after each pick up and delivery.
When we started delivering meals it was very quiet. Almost eerily quiet. The streets of Hershey, Palmyra and Hummelstown, Pennsylvania felt like they were a set on a zombie apocalypse movie (without the zombies)!
Most people were abiding by the stay at home order. And only some of the restaurants in the Hershey area had reopened for take out and delivery, meaning demand for meal delivery from those restaurants was high.
So we did a brisk business and drove along deserted streets that would have been packed with traffic in any normal Spring in the tourist town of Hershey, PA. We spent 2 to 4 hours picking up and delivering meals 5 or 6 days a week.
If we felt like driving, we drove. If not, we didn’t. When we felt done we turned off the app and went home.
Within a couple weeks more restaurants opened up. And as a result more DoorDash drivers returned to work. Suddenly we were idle more and earning less when we drove.
So we decided to add UberEats to our food delivery side hustle efforts. And juggling the two apps got us back to busy most nights.
On our best nights we earned as much as $150. On the slowest night we earned about $20 (it was so slow that we quit driving pretty quickly). Our goal was to net $500 a week. And we beat that goal every week that we drove. Ultimately, we earned about $3,000 with this little side hustle. And thanks to COVID-19 cheap gas, we netted about $2800 for our efforts.
Of course, it was only possible because we were able to borrow and use Lisa’s niece’s car, a 2001 Buick Park Avenue with only 68,000 miles on it (talk about affordable luxury!!!)!
So THANKS, SCOTT, THERESA AND JORDAN!!!
By the time we were preparing to leave Hershey traffic had really picked back up. As the stay- at-home order loosened more and more people were driving to get their own carry-out meals rather than ordering delivery.
But we kept driving until the end.
We were making a little money while getting out of the house for a few hours in the evening. And, more importantly, felt like we were doing some good in this crazy world.
Ending Stay At Home
Needless to say, even with our meal delivery side hustle on, we desperately missed travel.
And not just the adventure of seeing and living in new places. We missed the friends we made and would have made along the way.
Thanks to Facebook groups, Zoom, Whatsapp and Slack channels we kept in touch with our friends all over the world including other digital nomads in the time of COVID-19. And that’s how we plotted to get traveling again as soon as possible.
But then March rolled over into April. And April into May with no end to international travel restrictions in sight.
So a group of U.S. based nomads – all of us trapped in the U.S. but longing to travel – decided to create our own digital nomad co-living and co-working house right here in the good old US of A.
Our friends Nicole and Lauren that we met during our Hacker Paradise membership in Medellin Colombia led the charge and found a gorgeous 9-BR house (mansion, really) in Lake Tahoe, Nevada that we could rent for pennies on the dollar thanks to COVID-19 destroying tourism there.
So we paid our share for the house. Then bought tickets to fly to Las Vegas. And rented a car for a month from there and started getting ready to finally travel again.
It felt amazing.
Bottom Line – Digital Nomads in the Time of COVID-19
Every day we count our blessings around the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting world shut down.
Between us, we only personally knew two people who died from the virus. And only a handful who had nasty bouts with the virus.
We were near some of our family and were able to stay in touch with friends and other family. We fell in love with John Krasinski (and Emily Blunt!) all over again watching Some Good News. We also binged Billions, Little Fires Everywhere, Survivor, Star Trek TNG and lots of other shows. And we hosted a virtual pub quiz on Zoom for friends and family across the country.
Sure, there were times when we felt the emotional weight of the lockdown and how utterly surreal the world seemed. There were tears and anger and sadness. Lots of it, if I’m being honest. Still are.
But through it all we tried to stay positive, focus on the things we could control and think about the future.
Obviously it’s not over yet. And we are terrified that a spike/second wave will create more problems.
But nomads gotta nomad.
So, for now, away we go.