It’s October and a typical Spring afternoon. There’s not a cloud in the sky and a light breeze blows on the Gold Coast, Australia as I walk into the warehouse converted Karma Collab cowork space. I saunter through the entrance past a row of bowed heads and laptops into the back area, a separate room, where I find Chris Dodd settled in at his desk. Headphones on and typing away, he is completely absorbed. I catch his eye and immediately he beams me a friendly smile,
“let’s go chat out the back there’s a quiet space in the alleyway there,” he says.
Chris the Freelancer – as he is better known – is a digital nomad and content creator you may have come across on YouTube. His channel describes itself as being ‘dedicated to documenting the Digital Nomad movement and the Future of Work.’ Chris began this channel back in 2016, venturing out into the world from his native Australia on a quest to live a digitally nomadic existence. Deciding he would document the process; the followers soon began to stack up. From his admission — “it kinda just went from there.”
“These days I have a loyal fan base because I am so niche, I guess. There’s a lot of content creators out there who cover digital nomad lifestyle as part of their channels. Yet with me, at least when I started, I feel like I was one of a very few focussing on the digital nomad lifestyle in its entirety”.
And you cannot fault the guy. With a healthy seventy-seven thousand or so subscribers a quick search on YouTube brings up a plethora of videos Chris has made ranging from: interviews with other successful digital nomads, city profiles, general tips on how to make the dream become a reality, and how you might financially support this dream even if you are the indulgent type; whereby drowning yourself in pool parties and beer is your modus operandi.
“The problem I found with other channels is they’d cover tourist style stuff — this is what you can do when you aren’t working, etc. They’d never touch on the nitty-gritty like, is the Wi-Fi here good? Is there a decent grocery store nearby? For me, this is what I felt was underserved. My content is weighted towards where you can work, available coworking spaces, accommodation and the associated costs. It’s candid and real.”
Scratching out a living as a freelancer can be a hard task. Especially if you find yourself outside your home country and completely reliant on continuous work in a remote capacity. Projects can dry up — they can also come in deluges. Either way, financing this lifestyle is certainly a much talked about aspect.
“Cost of living abroad is a hot topic, especially for somewhere like Chang Mai,” He tells me. Chris’ most popular video is a half an hour mini-documentary on how to live on $600 USD a month in Chang Mai. In the video, he succinctly breaks down a vast amount of variables with astute candour. And with nearly 2 million hits and counting it’s certainly caught a lot of attention.
Chris muses, “I wanted to make this video special, entertaining and above all genuine. I set myself the challenge and documented the whole thing, rather than just getting to the end of the month and recapping. Mind you there is nothing wrong with those style of videos. With this one, it was more an experiment to see if it could be done”.
Could it be done? Let’s just say he’s fairly savvy with his money.
“If you want to go out and hit the beers — you’ll spend money fast. If you make work a priority and watch how you spend your money, the cost of living can be really low.”
These days Chris is a web developer specialising in theme development within Shopify, as well as other spaces. He also takes the time to make videos on how you can teach yourself to do this on the platform Skillshare. He’s quite the busy chap you might say. Helping out those along the way, though, is part and parcel of being Chris the Freelancer — and now a verified top teacher on Skillshare, he is somewhat obliged.
Is he getting hit up all hours of the night from folks all over the world?
Chris laughs, “I do get random messages all the time, even now when I am currently outside of the digital nomad world. Some people don’t make it easy. Pleasantries do go a long way. Quite often people reach out to me and come across as entitled and/or abrupt. My time is precious these days — I’m reluctant to answer back if this is the case.”
Needless to say, Chris certainly isn’t doing any travelling anytime soon. Being holed up in Australia for the foreseeable future is a very real prospect, even moving around domestically has its challenges with closed borders and travel restrictions galore.
How does this affect a guy who appears to live and breathe travel, a guy who obviously enjoys those freedoms and helps others to do the same?
“I’m trying not to think about where we are with the pandemic. If I did, I think there is the potential to get pretty depressed about it” Chris says with a distant look.
It’s the first time I see a grain of negativity whilst talking with the young Australian. It doesn’t last, nodding and flashing me a grin Chris goes on, “It’s particularly frustrating as I planned for 2020 to be a starting point for me to ramp back up my content and build my brand. Life is pretty sweet here in Australia, but I am playing it smart mind you. My current housing is on a month to month basis, as is my desk here at the cowork space and my local gym membership. As soon as we can travel, I’ll be on my way somewhere. When that is though? Who’s to say!”
Seems Chris has himself firmly on standby, almost like an athlete waiting for a starting gun. Until then, he has to make do with the pristine beaches of Queensland and a fast-approaching summer — he knows it’s not a bad place to be.
Could be worse, right?
words by Alex Mitcheson