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  • Writer's pictureNathaniel Mellor

The Importance of Passive Income to [Freelancing] Digital Nomads

From pennies to dollars, it all adds up


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While the post-pandemic world could easily blame the pandemic on the rise of tele-working, or Zoom working, I think one could just as easily blame the Great Resignation (Big Quit, Great Reshuffle) on the absolute explosion of digital nomads.

A dollar and various coins in American money.
A visual representation of how much you can earn in a year.

Suddenly, jobs didn’t require their workers to be living nearby. Making one’s own schedule often became accepted, or even normal.

And, en masse, every South American and South East Asian country became the destination for flocks of laptop-toting, headphone-wearing, smashed avocado toast-eating (this is not a dig, I like smashed avocado on toast), workers looking to (if I may put it bluntly) take advantage of a lower cost of living.

The effect of which has led to a higher cost of living for the residents, cafes and bars opening up solely for the digital nomads and their Western tastes and paychecks, and the absolute destruction of local communities with the increase in rent.

Ignoring, for the purposes of this article, the aforementioned paragraph and the pitfalls of digital nomadism that it contains, I will pretend that all is well with this lifestyle. This being said, there are some important tools that I believe every digital nomad should have, or at least be aware of.

This includes passive income.


For absolute clarity, I will use Investopedia’s definition.

“Passive income includes earnings derived from a rental property, limited partnership, or other enterprise in which a person is not actively involved.”

While I think the best of my readers, I can’t imagine many of you have other properties that you’re leasing out for passive income. And if you are someone who is letting out properties, I hope that you’re not the slumlord/AirBnB czar, but the cool person who helps out their tenants, especially in this day and age of insanely high rents.

So this leaves us with a limited partnership or other enterprise. And a limited partnership is essentially being a silent partner, just getting a little bit when the money is distributed. And because that’s also hyper-specific and not necessarily inline with “young freelancers/white-collar workers finding a new home in a tropical paradise” and more “retired, doing really well, dropping a few hundred on dinner once in a while” I won’t deign to give advice on the importance of passive income form a limited partnership because it’s undoubtable that you already know more than me.

And then there was one. “Other enterprise.”

This is what practically every passive income, crypto-and-stock flipping, affiliate marketing, get-rich-quick scheme falls into. Despite how I make it sound, passive income can absolutely be the difference between life and death. Or rent and not rent. Or maybe just one coffee or two.


Because I value honesty (to a certain extent. Don’t be too honest with me, I also like a little bit of storyin’, as my grandmother-in-law would say.) I think it’s important to mention that I have a number of passive income streams set up. Or rather, it’s important to mention that I’m not someone who says “these five passive income streams can make you rich overnight” but more “these five passive income streams can make you like 20 extra bucks a month”. Wait, $20 extra a month? That’s it?

Talking about burying the lede, right? Who wants to work for hours just to make a measly extra $20 a month?

The truth is, living in Southern Italy, that $20 a month has saved Darcy (my partner) and I more times than I can count. When our rent is only $400 a month (including utilities), and our weekly grocery cost is about $50, that $20 a month can get us an extra half week of groceries. It can get us about 28 espressos (at $0.70 each from our local cafe). It almost covers two months of our phone/internet bill (at $11 a month). And it’s money we made while doing literally nothing.

As a freelancer, I rarely know when my next job will come. And I never know how much that next job will pay. My prices range from $15 (for beta reading a short story) to $1,500 (for editing a massive 150,000 word book) but that $1,500 might be spread across two or three months.

With this uncertainty, I have turned to passive income to provide a semblance of consistency.

Why not just get a remote job that provides a more consistent income, you might ask? Allow me to ignore that question.

What income streams do I use?

For those wanting to dip their toes into the world of passive income streams and are looking for some places to start, here’s what I use:

Udemy: Udemy is a educational platform that allows anyone to create and upload a course. I prefer Udemy over other places like Coursera due to the fact Udemy doubles as a marketplace while you have to be the one to drive all traffic to your Coursera page. I created and uploaded a writing course back in 2017 that has, to date, earned me $1,291. Looking at it in broad strokes, that’s about $18 a month, from March of 2017 to March of 2023 (rounding up).

Redbubble/TeePublic: This is one I have less luck/experience with. I found that I don’t love the idea of trying to constantly make graphics, logos, and witty one-liners that fit on a shirt. I also don’t know where or how to market said shirts. Since October 2017, it has made me about $164. Which is about $2.70 a month. Again, I rarely use Redbubble and I have received a number of cease and desists since I began. (Due to my ever-popular “Yale School of Divination” logo playing on their “Yale School of Divinity”.)

Podcast: Give or take, two years ago, Darcy and I started a podcast on Anchor that pays us 1 cent per ad listen. In the last two years we have earned about $45 from it. Which sounds pitiful, but $30 of that has been from this year. So, little by little. And, just to keep it consistent, that’s $1.87 a month. And while the upfront work isn’t “passive” (we do spend hours on each episode), we do make money from episodes made a year ago, which is quasi-passive.

Affiliate Marketing: The classic passive income stream of the 21st century. “Go sell your friends this product and I’ll cut you in, no, it’s not a pyramid scheme, and no, I don’t know the difference.” I guess the only difference is the fact well-known companies use affiliate programs (if you don’t believe me, check the footer of any website. Most online shopping/services/etc. websites will have both a “refer a friend” program and an affiliate marketing program.) While I partake in affiliate marketing, I’m not very good with it, and I have made $4 to date.

Medium: Like podcasting, it’s not actually passive income. I have to sit down and write articles. And research the articles. And hope that someone will read them. However, once that’s all said and done, the articles will continue to earn me money through Medium’s Partner Program.

So, why is passive income so important again?

Because it’s nice to have. Because it’s [theoretically] infinitely scalable. Today that article might only earn $0.20 but tomorrow it could be $20, or $200. The podcast might continue to grow and those ads will continue to make money. People might continue to buy whatever it is you’re hocking, and those pennies can easily turn into dollars.

Before you know it, you might be one of the lucky ones, suddenly making a rent payment from your YouTube channel.

And why am I advocating for such an incredible time investment without a promise of much in return?

Because I'm excited by the idea of people being able to travel without working. This folly that everyone can sell adspace to each other in order to spend another week on a Greek isle. I want a legion of people to be able to live anywhere they want, broaden their minds, quash their prejudices, and not feel like living can only be done two weeks of the year once they’ve been pre-approved by a superior.


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