Why Teaching English Online is the Fast-Track to Digital Nomad Life

by Rachel Story
teach English online Puerto Vallarta

You’ve done all the exercises that lifestyle gurus tell you to. Your perfect day has been in your head staring at you for weeks, maybe months. It feels like all you do anymore is plan and scheme to make more travel possible. You’re sick and tired of [insert your situation here]. Talking to your friends and family about it doesn’t help. They think you’re crazy! digital nomad life is the ultimate goal but how are you going to get there?

Teaching English online is the fast-track to digital nomad life and I’m going to tell you why.

Some of the most common ways to become a digital nomad are to start a blog, learn a skill or service that you can sell, or create an online business. These are all great options that can have handsome rewards in the long-run, but none of these will give you overnight success. 

People spend years building and growing these online ventures.

You can’t set up a blog today and be earning money from it tomorrow (otherwise I’d be rich AF!). It’s not possible to start a rent-a-chicken business (yes, it’s a thing) and begin earning a sustainable income next week. All of those awesome products you put in your e-commerce store take time to market. In short, it takes at least a year of hard work and dedication to break even, much less earn a profit.

Wouldn’t it be great if there were a faster way?

Oh wait, there is! That’s the whole point of this post: teaching English online!

teaching English online in Quito

Teaching in Quito, Ecuador before heading out to do some sightseeing

Think you can’t do it? I bet you can!

No degree? No problem! There’s a company that will take you.

No experience? I’ll show you how to get some. Stick with me!

There’s a free download for you at the bottom, too!

How Long Does it Take to Become a Traveling Teacher?

This is how long it took us to achieve the digital nomad lifestyle after starting with VIPKID:

  • From the first day to location independence: 9 months
  • Going full nomad: 8 more months
  • Total time: 17 months

It took us 1 year and 5 months to go from zero to full nomad thanks to teaching English online.

I took a poll in one of the VIPKID Facebook groups to see how long it took other teachers to go from start to full-time travel. It’s a Facebook group specifically for traveling VIPKID teachers. Here are the results:

  • 0 – 6 months: 13%
  • 6 – 12 months: 2%
  • 12 – 18 months: 2%
  • Not yet traveling but planning to: 19%

You might notice that this doesn’t add up to 100%. That is because there was one more section of people who responded: 63% of responders were already living abroad or traveling full-time when they started teaching with VIPKID!

One person said it took 18-24 months but that’s because they have kids. They could’ve done it in 0-6 if not for that. Another woman said she got the job, had a baby 1 year later, and 2 years later started traveling full-time as a family.

So as you can see, it’s very possible to travel part-time or full-time by teaching English online and many people who decide to start teaching online, do it to support their desire to travel.

Read More: The Best Online English Teaching Jobs

How We Became Digital Nomads

Moving to China to teach English was the first step. This got us out of our comfort zone and used to traveling and living in different places. It’s also where we got our initial teaching experience.

In October 2012, we went on vacation to Bali. It was one of many vacations that year. One of our friends had recently moved there for a study abroad program so we used that as our reason for going.

We had such a good time that Sasha decided he was tired of having to leave vacation. He liked the idea of not having a job and an apartment to go home to. So after 3.5 years of life in Beijing, we decided it was time for a change.

Over the next 10 months, we saved up as much as we could, quit our jobs, sold our stuff, and took off on a 14-month gap year trip.

That’s where we got our first taste of long-term, full-time travel. That sense of freedom is addictive.

Eventually, though, our savings ran out and we headed back to China, this time to Kunming, and settled into an apartment and teaching jobs.

Kunming China apartment

Feeling a little tired after 14 months of non-stop travel

Who knew traveling at break-neck speeds would be so exhausting! As you can see, we were a little tired.

Truth be told, we were excited to live somewhere again. This time was different, though. We started looking for ways to make our exit from China and figure out a way to travel full-time.

Sasha applied for the Darmasiswa Program – the same study abroad program our friend was doing in Bali when we visited in 2012. It’s a free program offered at many universities throughout Indonesia meant to spread the Indonesian language and culture.

The application process for the program is a waiting game and an exercise in patience, which is why this was a great time to give it a shot.

June 2015 – So Long, China!

In June 2015, Sasha got his acceptance letter!

By that point, we had already gotten engaged at a Phish concert and planned our wedding for that July. That acceptance letter planned our honeymoon for us.

After living in China for over 5 years, we were moving to Bali!

Not only is the Darmasiswa Program free, but it pays students a monthly stipend and provides a residence permit – something that’s highly sought after as staying in Bali long-term is difficult.

All that was great for Sasha, but they don’t provide any help for spouses. In fact, one of the qualifications of the program is being single.

I started researching jobs in Bali and found that it’s quite difficult for bule (Indonesian for foreigner) to get hired unless they have a specialized skill. Well, I don’t have any specialized skills nor do I have an Education degree, so that meant I couldn’t get a job at the international school.

That put us in a somewhat difficult position; we really wanted to go live in Bali, but it was a scary leap if just one of us had an income.

We decided that I would stay in China for an extra six weeks after Sasha left for Bali so I could finish my contract at my school. As hard as that would be after just getting married, doing so would earn me a big bonus which would go a long way in Bali.

Setting Ourselves Up for Digital Nomad Life

Sasha’s expert number crunching skills showed that with the money we had already saved from a year in Kunming plus my bonus, Sasha’s freelance writing income, and the stipend from the university we would be okay for the year financially if we stuck to the budget.

I saw it as an opportunity to really learn how to travel full-time. We had launched this blog just before we started our gap year trip and I had always wanted to learn how to grow it into a business.

My newfound free time gave me the chance to get serious and really start turning it into a business. I started a blogging course that I got in The Paradise Pack and got to work figuring it out.

Bali beach

Enjoying life in Bali

I knew it was going to be tough, but O.M.G., never did I think it was going to be such a steep learning curve. Every time I would log in to WordPress, I would get so overwhelmed that I would just log out after a few minutes without doing anything.

It became clear very fast that it was going to take a long time to grow and monetize it. I was going to have to look into other ways to make money if I wanted to bring my dreams of full-time travel to life.

April 2016 – Landing The Perfect Online Teaching Job

Sasha’s brother had done some teaching online while he was finishing up university so I started looking into that. My search results didn’t turn up much.

I was beginning to think that I might have to find a new teaching job somewhere.

But then I saw a post about VIPKID in a Facebook group.  It seemed too good to be true, but I met all their requirements so I applied. They got back to me right away with an invitation to interview.

I got the job!

It took me a little more than 2 weeks to get through the recruiting process. I started getting a few classes, which was nice as I had a chance to get the hang of things while I was in the same time zone as China.

The timing couldn’t have been better. It was April 2016 and we were down to our last month in Bali. After 6 years of living and traveling around China and Asia at large, we were ready to spend some quality time in the USA.

We had made major plans for the summer.

Experimenting With the Work/Travel Combo

In May, we went back to the States and put the new online teaching job to the road test. At the time, I was required to be available for 15 classes (7.5 hours) per week.

I was a little nervous about my ability to keep up the teaching between all the moving around we were doing, especially since we were mostly on the west coast which meant that classes were in the middle of the night.

But I’m proud to say that I pulled it off! We had such a huge month of music that summer that we had to split the recaps into two parts!

Red Rocks amphitheater Colorado

The first of many shows for us at Red Rocks in 2016

It was so nice knowing that I was still earning an income even while we were still doing all that moving around. That income carried us through an extra few months in the States that we hadn’t planned on.

My first contract went so well that I signed on for another six months. Sasha finally applied, too.

With both of us now earning a steady income from VIPKID, I was able to turn my focus back to the blog and building our social media following (follow us!).

January 2017 – We Follow the Lines Going South

By December 2016, we had been back in the States for 7 months. We were ready to hit the road again.

America is not a cheap place to be and it was slowly draining the rest of our savings. Plus, we found out that Sasha needed a root canal. He was quoted $2500 to do it at home. Yikes! It was time to get back to more inexpensive pastures.

So we hopped a bus and hightailed it down to Mexico.

Monterrey Mexico

Monterrey – our first stop in Mexico

This was the first moment I truly felt like a digital nomad. It took 9 months. We pulled ourselves out of our comfort zone and back into the unknown. It wasn’t completely unfamiliar territory for us, but it was the first time we had to balance working with international travel.

We set our sights on Puerto Vallarta. I had been hearing whispers online about how beautiful it was. Airbnb turned up an apartment for super cheap and the host put us in touch with a dentist that came highly recommended.

Our plans were set.

Thanks to our backpacker mindset, we thought it would be good to see a few other parts of Mexico before settling in for boring dentist work. We added Monterrey, Mexico City, San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, and Guadalajara.

Enjoying the Flexibility

By the time we got to Puerto Vallarta, we were pretty happy to slow down and sit still for a bit.

It turned out that Sasha and I both needed more dental work than expected. But you know what? It didn’t matter because we didn’t have to leave.

things to do in Puerto Vallarta

Beautiful Puerto Vallarta. Who wouldn’t want to stay longer?!

We had the flexibility to stay for as long as we needed. Thanks to teaching English online, we also had the income to pay for everything and not go into debt. If Sasha had gotten his root canal at home, we would have definitely gone into debt. It ended up costing a fraction of what we were quoted in the States.

During that time we really started to fall in love with Puerto Vallarta. So much so that we stuck around for another three months. That gave us more time to save some money for our next big move.

September 2017 – Going Full Nomad

Starting in September 2017, we took off to Colombia and spent seven months traveling South America all while teaching English online. We checked off all our bucket list items – Galapagos Islands, NYE in Valparaiso, trekking in Patagonia, Carnaval in Brazil, Iguazu Falls, the Atacama Desert in Chile, the Salt Flats of Bolivia, and Machu Picchu.

To see how we did it, check out our guide to traveling South Ameria as digital nomads.

South America

Just a sampling of our epic trip to South America

From there, we got to move into our favorite apartment in Puerto Vallarta for a full six months. We didn’t sit still, though.

We hit up Summer Camp Music Festival. Sasha backpacked through Europe for a month on his way to the World Cup in Russia while I kicked it on the beach in PV and showed my parents around for a week.

We got to spend the holidays at home at the end of 2018.

On New Year’s Day, we hit the road again and spent the first few months of 2019 in the Mayan Riviera, Costa Rica, and Guatemala.

You Can Become a Digital Nomad by Teaching English Online

I want to show everyone that you can become a digital nomad just by teaching English online. Yes, we have other income streams, but teaching online has been our main source of income and the number one thing keeping us on the road.

If I hadn’t found VIPKID when I did, our trip to South America might have been a move to a new city to teach at a new school. Instead, we were able to check off all the places we wanted to see while earning a sustainable income.

The fall of 2018 was full of travel. We did so much that couldn’t have happened if we had brick & mortar teaching jobs. I went to a digital nomad conference in Colombia, and we both went to Hulaween Music Festival in Florida and Phish’s Halloween run in Las Vegas.

Phish Las Vegas

Live music is our biggest passion in life. Teaching English online allows us to see it whenever we want!

Why Teaching English Online Will Propel You into Digital Nomad Life

Here are 5 reasons why teaching English online is the fast-track to digital nomad life:

  • You can start now
  • Frees up your time to work on other projects
  • Financial Security
  • Flexible Schedule
  • It’s Fulfilling Work

Now let’s finally dig into those reasons.

You Can Start Right Now

The best part about teaching English online is that you can start right now, even if you still have a full-time job. Start earning some extra cash by teaching a few classes in the mornings before work. You can also stay home one weekend night to teach a few classes.

It takes some time for your schedule to fill in. The earlier you start, the more likely you’ll have a full schedule of classes and fun students by the time you hit the road.

Starting now will also help you get used to teaching online. It was an adjustment for both Sasha and myself and we already had 5 years of classroom teaching experience under our belts.

You’ll have plenty of time to work out the kinks and figure out your teaching flow while you’re still in your comfort zone. Let me tell you, trying to work out kinks when you’re in an unfamiliar place makes them feel ten times harder than they really are.

For me, being able to get the hang of teaching English online while I was in the States made a world of difference. I don’t think things would have gone so smoothly if I had started just before we hit the road or in the middle of our big trip.

teaching English online

Nothing like an ocean view to enjoy while you’re teaching!

Teaching English Online Frees Up Time for Other Projects

Most online teaching jobs are part-time on weekdays because they are an extracurricular activity for the students. During the week, you’ll most likely only teach for four hours a day. We usually only teach 2.5 – 3 hours a day.

In most cases, you won’t even have to spend time lesson planning. The companies make the lesson plans and you simply familiarize yourself with them. Of course, if you like lesson planning there are companies that give you free rein.

You can use the extra free time to work on your other projects, hobbies, and passions in life.

I use my free time to grow this blog. In my perfect world, we would earn a sustainable living from the blog and replace teaching English online as our main source of income.

Our monetization efforts are paying off and I know it wouldn’t be this far along if not for all my extra free time that teaching English online gives me.

Teaching English Online Provides Financial Security

In the past, teaching online meant that you had to create your own platform as well as market yourself and find your own students. My how times have changed!

Education technology has exploded in the last few years. There are lots of online teaching companies that do all of the marketing for you. They connect you with students and pay you on time. You won’t even have to communicate with the parents (if you’re teaching kids).

So not only do you have more free time to work on your other projects, you’re still earning an income. That income will go a lot further if you spend more time in less expensive countries such as Mexico, Colombia, Indonesia, or Thailand. Basing yourself in another country gives you easier access to multiple destinations while allowing you to immerse yourself in a new culture.

Running a successful business of any sort is hard and takes a lot of time, patience, and a willingness to experiment and try different strategies. I would’ve given up on my blogging goals a long time ago if I didn’t have the financial security that teaching English provides. 

Furthermore, we don’t have to compromise our morals and values for the sake of growth because we’re able to feed ourselves and pay our bills.

teaching English online setup

Teaching English online allowed us to pay for dental work without going into debt

Teaching English Online Gives you a Flexible Schedule

The best companies give you complete control over your schedule. You can open class times whenever it works best for you. That means making time for travel has never been easier. Some companies have weekly minimum requirements but you can get around it with some fancy scheduling strategies if you’re doing more off-the-grid traveling (like trekking in Torres del Paine).

Having a flexible schedule made our 7 months traveling South America more manageable. You see, unlike our gap year trip, we didn’t have a ton of savings. We were very much paycheck-to-paycheck.

When we first landed in Colombia, we made a checklist of the big things we wanted to see and how much it would cost. This list included things like Galapagos Islands, trekking in Patagonia, a tour to the Salt Flats in Bolivia, and the Jungle Trek to Machu Picchu. We were then able to calculate how many classes we needed to teach to afford it all.

Thanks to our flexible schedule with VIPKID, we made that and then some in a short amount of time. We were then able to take as many days off as we needed without having to ask anyone for permission!

That is the definition of freedom.

Teaching English Online is Fulfilling Work

You’ll get extreme satisfaction in watching your students progress in their language abilities. Learning a new language can open lots of doors to opportunities. You can take pride in helping your students achieve their goals of travel, passing a test, or getting a better job.

This job is so fulfilling that I will still teach online when my business is finally earning a sustainable income because it feeds my soul.

Teaching provides way more than just money. I’ve developed fun little bonds with several of my students and I look forward to seeing them week after week. They often teach me some things, too!

Furthermore, teaching online has helped me keep going when I was feeling down and frustrated with the blog. Building an online business is hard work. There have been so many points where I felt like nothing was working and I was ready to give up. But because I was still doing other work that fulfilled me, I found the motivation to keep trying.

It’s not always rainbows and unicorns, though. Teacher burnout is a real thing no matter how much you like it. Finding a balance is key and knowing when to back off on the scheduling is something you should be aware of from the start.

Let’s Get You Ready to Teach English Online (Free Download!)

Now that you know why teaching English online is the fast path to location independence, you’re probably wondering how you can get started.

Well, I wrote this e-book just for you!

teaching English online

Inside, I introduce you to the companies that I think are the best for teaching online.  I have even included companies that do not require a Bachelor’s degree. You’ll have to hustle harder as they don’t pay as well, but this is still an option for those that don’t have one.

I also walk you through the steps you can start taking to minimize your life and get a grip on tracking your spending. It will help you lay the groundwork for your new location independent lifestyle.

And the best part: IT’S FREE!!!

Enter the information below to grab your copy or check out this post for more info.

I’m also coming out with something that will help you even more on your online teaching journey. By downloading the e-book you’ll be the first to know what it is and when it’ll finally be ready!

Conclusion

Teaching English online is a great option for people who want to start creating a life of freedom. Even if you’re not passionate about teaching, it’ll get you out on the road and traveling more quickly than many other remote work options.

You can start teaching online now while you’re still in your full-time job, living at home with your parents, or whatever your situation may be. Begin building up your student base and have a full schedule when you’re finally ready to hit the road.

It’ll enable you to get out of your current situation and base yourself wherever you want for as long as you want. You won’t have to stress about money because you’ll have a steady income from teaching. Then you can use all your newfound free time to focus on other projects like an online business, a blog, or a service you want to offer.

Or, if all you really want to do is travel where you want when you want it’s totally possible to earn enough money by teaching English online.

 

 

What’s holding you back? Let’s discuss it in the comments!


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Teaching English online is the fastest way to become location independent and live a digital nomad lifestyle. Most people move abroad or travel long-term within 6 months to a year of starting to teach online. Read on to learn the 5 reasons why and how we became digital nomads by teaching English online. #teachenglish #tefl #teachesl #teachEnglishonline #onlineeducation #digitalnomads #englishteaching #englishasasecondlanguage
Teaching English online is the fastest way to become location independent and live a digital nomad lifestyle. Most people move abroad or travel long-term within 6 months to a year of starting to teach online. Read on to learn the 5 reasons why and how we became digital nomads by teaching English online. #teachenglish #tefl #teachesl #teachEnglishonline #onlineeducation #digitalnomads #englishteaching #englishasasecondlanguage

 

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Teaching English online is the fastest way to become location independent and live a digital nomad lifestyle. Most people move abroad or travel long-term within 6 months to a year of starting to teach online. Read on to learn the 5 reasons why and how we became digital nomads by teaching English online. #teachenglish #tefl #teachesl #teachEnglishonline #onlineeducation #digitalnomads #englishteaching #englishasasecondlanguage
Teaching English online is the fastest way to become location independent and live a digital nomad lifestyle. Most people move abroad or travel long-term within 6 months to a year of starting to teach online. Read on to learn the 5 reasons why and how we became digital nomads by teaching English online. #teachenglish #tefl #teachesl #teachEnglishonline #onlineeducation #digitalnomads #englishteaching #englishasasecondlanguage
12 comments

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12 comments

Clare D October 22, 2019 - 4:34 am

Great blog post! I have been teaching in schools in Vietnam and China, and now I’m venturing into teaching online to give me more freedom. You mention wifi, and also AirBnBs, but do online schools know if you’re using wifi or 4G when teaching? I have a decent 4G signal here in Indonesia by using my phone with a local SIM as a mobile hotspot. Is this doable do you think?

Reply
Rachel Story October 30, 2019 - 7:37 pm

Hi, Clare!

I’m so terribly sorry I’m just now responding. The last week has been crazy busy! I think some of the companies have the technology to know what type of connection you’re on. It won’t work if you’re teaching with a company that has 1:4 (1 teacher to 4 students) because it’s heavier on bandwidth. But anything 1:1 is fine. I do think it’s doable to teach on 4G hotspot from your phone but I don’t think it’s good for all the time. It’s better as a backup option.

Hope this helps! Let me know if you have other questions 🙂

Reply
Desiree June 24, 2019 - 8:45 pm

Reading your story was much like reading my own! My husband and I were exactly the same, we HAD to leave the United States. We left in November 2018 and came to Colombia. I took a job teaching kindergarten and it’s brutal. I’m literally exhausted all the time. Now the pollution here is causing health issues. I’m ready to leave and start traveling more. Living here has helped us realize that we CAN travel the world without having a lot of money or a big long term plan. We want to house sit, do work aways, and I’ll teach English. I’m in the hiring process with Vipkid now! I’m hoping to save $3000 by mid November and then heading to Europe!

Thanks for sharing this great blog! Hugs!

PS. We are HUGE STS9 fans ( Tribe Fam). Our last show was Red Rocks in September. It will likely be another year before we see our favorite band again!

Reply
Rachel Story July 1, 2019 - 11:57 am

Hi, Desiree! Tribe fam ftw! Haha, that awesome! I love STS9! We’re going to Denver to see them at Red Rocks this September and I can’t wait! Yes, teaching English online really is a great way to do lots of traveling. Europe is next on my list, too. I was hoping to go this fall now it’s looking like we’ll spend a few more months in Mexico. How are things going with VIPKID? Feel free to ask any questions, if you need to. Definitely keep me posted on your progress for VIPKID and travel plans 🙂 Cheers!

Reply
Alexander February 21, 2019 - 7:35 am

Hello Rachel! Reading part of your story has given me a lot of energy to kick off my day. I really wish to congratulate you for embracing such a deep journey for the sake of your own happiness. I’m by no means a native English speaker, yet I trust my skills enough to pursue a English teaching career while traveling as much as possible. I’m also trying to do new things that encourage me not to procrastinate much and work hard towards my goal (one of those new things is reading blogs, and yours has suited perfectly so far)

Again, congratulations for your hard work. I’ll try to keep up with the blog and make the best out of it (:

Reply
Rachel Story February 28, 2019 - 6:04 pm

Hi, Alexander! Thank you for the kind words! I’m so happy to hear that you’re enjoying the blog and finding some encouragement. It’s definitely possible to teach English online even if you’re not a native English speaker. Let me know if you’d like me to steer you in the right direction. Cheers! 🙂

Reply
Robin December 9, 2018 - 5:00 am

I’d love to try this but everything I’m reading seems to point that I might have the odds stacked against me. The program you did at the beginning, the age limit is between 17-35 -> I’m 43 so I can’t do that program. I have no previous teaching experience (unless you count raising two children) and I don’t have a degree. What do you suggest I do if you were in my situation and would like to teach English around the world or online?

Reply
Rachel Story December 12, 2018 - 8:13 pm

Hi, Robin! I believe you are referring to the Darmasiswa Program which actually doesn’t have anything to do with teaching. It’s simply a study abroad program that doesn’t even give you a certificate. I think raising children counts as teaching experience, especially if you homeschooled them. The first thing I would suggest is to get a TEFL certificate. I wrote this post all about what a TEFL certificate is and how you can get one online. Taking a TEFL certification course will teach you all the necessary skills for teaching English. Many online platforms and schools abroad do require a Bachelor’s degree but if you dig deep enough you can find ones that accept a TEFL certification in lieu of a degree. Hope this helps! Let me know if I can do anything else.

Reply
Lisa December 3, 2018 - 2:00 am

I’m about to finish a degree Bach of Educational Studies. I took the degree to give me a better chance of teaching English online or in a class. I’m all for going LI but the one thing that concerns me is the internet speed that a lot of companies say you must have, and if traveling what do you do about internet connection? Do you end up with a zillion different accounts for each country you go to?

Reply
Rachel Story December 3, 2018 - 12:01 pm

Hi, Lisa! Thanks for reaching out! I get this question a lot so I’m going to be writing a post all about this and other issues to be aware of on the road. I’ve found that as long as you have at least 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload speed, then you will be fine teaching online. You can do it with 5 Mbps download but it’s risky. It’s okay for 1 or 2 days but I wouldn’t try to teach on a speed that low for an extended period of time. While speeds are important, the biggest factor to consider is latency (ping) and the stability of the network. We pretty much always stay in Airbnb’s and Sasha always sends a message to hosts asking for their wifi speed before we book. We make it clear that we need numbers and not a simple response like “Oh it’s fast,” or “Other guests have worked here with no problems,” and if that’s all they say then we keep looking. There are definitely places where teaching just isn’t possible like Banos, Ecuador. The internet there is crap so we just treated it as a vacation and stayed only a few days. Hope this helps! Let me know if you have other questions!

Reply
Betsy Ramser Jaime December 2, 2018 - 8:15 pm

I think this is such a good point! I’ve worked remotely for 6+ years now and I completely agree that teaching English is a great way to get started with remote work. It’s fairly easy and the ideal way to build a consistent income while building a blog or other business on the side!

Reply
Rachel Story December 3, 2018 - 11:48 am

Hi, Betsy! Thank you so much for the comment! What kind of remote work do you do?

Reply

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