Successful Nomad: Dan Cowell

In Successful Nomads by VirginieLeave a Comment

This post is part of the Successful Nomads series

Have you even wondered how people can travel and support themselves at the same time? It’s not as difficult as it seems! To show you that there are already plenty of people doing it, and that you can do it too, we’ve interview different kinds of nomads. They were all given 30 questions, with a minimum of 10 to answer.

Dan Cowell is the one answering them for us today! You can find him at

1) Where are you from?

I’m Australian. I grew up on the Gold Coast – a tourism hotspot – for 12 years. I left on my nomadic journey at the end of 2013 and haven’t looked back. I just wish I could have dragged my family and friends along with me!

2) What is your background?

My Dad was in the army, so in my early years we moved to a new city each year, even spending a year living in the USA. I think this is where I got my appreciation for travel! After moving to the Gold Coast (where Dad left the army) I had some trouble settling in at school, so I was homeschooled for three years. Both of my parents were entrepreneurs, so I spent each day doing my schoolwork in the office of my Mum’s accounting firm. I worked as her receptionist, IT technician and helped out with day-to-day bookkeeping work while studying for my 8th, 9th and 10th grade exams. I think working in the business was the most valuable part of my education; I learnt so much and it set me up to run my own company, which I’m doing today.

3) What is your job?

I run a company developing web applications and websites. I’ve been freelancing for the last six months but my workload has now grown to the point where I need to employ someone.

4) How much money do you make per month?

Anywhere between USD$4,000 in a slow month to USD$15,000+ in a busy month. I’m expecting my average to go up over the next six months as I bring on an apprentice or a part time employee.

5) How long have you known you wanted to be a digital nomad?

I’ve wanted to travel ever since I was a kid. I took my first solo overseas holiday in 2011 when I was 19. That was my first time in Japan. After that I was hooked, both on Japan and travel in general.

6) How did you start your online career?

I started in 2012 when I was approached by a professional services consultancy who needed a programmer. I negotiated permission to work from home, which I did for 18 months. After a positive performance review I asked to go nomadic. I travelled and worked with that company for another 18 months before quitting to focus on building my own business.

7) How often are you on the road?

I call myself a digital slowmad! I tend to park myself in a place for 6-12 months and use it as a home base to explore the surrounding countries. My home base for the next 11 months is a two bedroom apartment in Saigon. I’ve set up a really peaceful home office and my productivity is through the roof. When I’m in my apartment I’m in work mode, sometimes pulling 10-12 hour days. When I travel – usually for 2-5 weeks at a stretch – I don’t set any work goals, I just keep on top of the email and enjoy exploring my destination.

8) What is your favorite place in the world?

I have seven entry permits for Japan in my passport, all of them granted within the past two years. The history, culture and photography opportunities are endless and the food is incredible. If the visa situation were more slowmad-friendly I’d spend more time there! I’m hoping to camp out in Nagano for next year’s ski season.

9) Are you a carry-on person or a checked luggage person?

I’m exclusively a carry-on guy. I can’t stand waiting around at the baggage claim! The only exception is if I’m moving my home base, in which case I indulge in some checked bags.

10) What kind of lifestyle are you living with the money you make?

If I’m not comfortable and happy, I’m not working as effectively as I could be, which means my business is suffering and my income drops. Spending more on a comfortable apartment, high quality food, nice wine and the best tools I can find can sometimes be perceived as a waste of money, but having each of those things increases my productivity and they’ve paid for themselves many times over. It’s expensive, but it’s an investment in myself and more importantly, it’s sustainable.

11) Follow your passion or follow the market?

Follow the market every time. If you’re lucky enough to have a passion which intersects the market, go for it, but it’s always more fun travelling with money in the bank. My passion is travel photography, but I’d rather enjoy it as a hobby while I have a reliable income coming in from my tech business. Less stress is always a good thing and having a big pool of potential customers helps keep the blood pressure down.

12) Money isn’t always consistent. What is the best way to deal with that?

Paradoxically, grow your business. Hire employees to increase your bandwidth, allowing you to take on more and larger projects. With proven revenue you gain access to useful financial tools like lines of credit or overdrafts to help manage cash flow in the lean times.

Do you have a reasonably steady flow of work? If not, you probably need to spend more time on lead generation or refining your sales funnel.

13) What is the mistake everybody makes that you wish you could stop them from doing?

I’ve found a lot of nomads are averse to investing in tools even when there’s an obvious return. Dropping a few hundred dollars on an external display (or an iPad with Duet Display for more mobile nomads), spending an extra $200/month to rent a more comfortable apartment – these things will have a massive impact on your productivity, enabling you to earn that small investment back many times over. Focusing on increasing your productivity rather than cutting out small expenses will let you achieve more in less time – and who doesn’t want a few extra hours in the day to explore, or a bigger number in the bank account?

14) What are the awesome benefits of being a digital nomad?

When a moment of inspiration hits I can drop everything, jump on my computer, get in the zone and achieve more in one hour than I would otherwise achieve in four. Likewise, I’ve been known to take entire days off – exploring the city I’m in, having cocktails by the river at 10am on Monday or just sit by the pool reading a book – when I wake up and instantly know that it’s not going to be a productive day.

It’s great for me because I’m always working at the top of my game and it’s great for my customers because they aren’t paying me to sit around struggling through hours of low productivity.

15) What is the downside that nobody sees?

If you love what you do, maintaining work-life balance is tricky. Being able to work anywhere quickly becomes working everywhere. That’s why I put away most of my work while I travel: it’s important to take that time off to recharge.

Additionally, sick days really suck. Being in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language, having no idea where to find something as simple as paracetamol and not having anyone to bring you chicken soup is really tough.

Similarly, constant communication struggles can wear you down. Having to say everything twice (or even three times) can be frustrating, but before you shout at the poor taxi driver just remember that you’re a visitor in his country, he’s doing his best with an unfamiliar language and it’s really your fault that he can’t understand you. Remember to breathe.

Let us know what your thoughts are on this interview in the comments!