Nomadico by Tim Leffel

“I’d rather have 1,000 highly engaged subscribers than 10,000 who don’t open or click.”

Newsletter Circle is the newsletter all about newsletters for indie creators.

👉 Every Sunday, you will read the unique journey of a different newsletter creator and learn more about how to start, grow and monetize your own newsletter.

🚀 From Newsletter Circle followers like you

An appreciation tweet about the last issue of Newsletter Circle came from Wyatt Stephens. Wyatt is the creator of the local newsletter CuratedLA, sharing weekly events, happenings, eats and vibes for LA. Thank you Wyatt!

🔎 5 Handpicked Finds of the Week

*This section includes paid(bold) and free recommendations. Rest assured that, I only recommend products & resources I trust and believe provide value.


Tim Leffel is an award-winning travel writer who created his first blog in 2003.

He has contributed to more than 50 publications as a freelancer, the author of the living abroad book A Better Life for Half the Price and currently runs multiple travel publications as an editor/publisher, including Nomadico.

Nomadico is a one-pager newsletter sharing 4 tips for travelers who work remotely and it reaches more than 9,000 highly engaged subscribers (65% avg. open rate, 36% avg. click rate) every week. Tim is running Nomadico while he continuous travelling as well.

Today we discussed:

  • How his partnership with Cool Tools and Recomendo team works

  • How he manages to run multiple online content platforms while he’s on the move

  • As an experienced blog operator, how he utilized newsletters in his content mechanism

  • His strategy to create the right content for the right audience

  • Why he prefers 1,000 highly engaged readers over 10,000 readers who aren’t interested in his content

  • Growth and monetization strategies, weekly system, recommendations and more.

Let’s dive into!


🛠 Tool Stack


Welcome Tim. Let’s start with getting to know you.

I’ve been a full-time travel content creator since 2007 and I started my first blog, “Cheap Destinations Blog”, still active, in 2003.

There’s an accompanying book that’s in its 5th edition and I’ve published several others.

“In a nutshell, I run five online magazines and blogs, write books, publish newsletters, and do a bit of writing for others still.”

You are a freelance travel writer and author for over 31 years!

How did you explore your passion for traveling and decide to build a content business around it?

I met my wife in New York City while both of us worked in the music business and eventually, we went backpacking around the world for a year. One trip turned into three and in addition to teaching English in Turkey and Korea, I wrote travel articles for various magazines and did hotel reviews for a trade publication.

“The numbers never added up to take that full-time, but when the ability to blog and create online magazines came along, without any gatekeepers to get permission from, I grabbed the opportunity and eventually turned it into a real career.”


You are the editor and founder of five travel publications, including the highly acclaimed narrative online magazine Perceptive Travel, one of the longest-running budget travel blogs,, and a site focused on high-end travel in Latin America.

You witnessed the evolution of content marketing, including old times when blogs were the rising stars and the current times when newsletters are gaining popularity.

When & How did you include ‘newsletter’ as a channel to your content mechanism? What is its role and importance today?

“I’ve always used newsletters to keep in touch with my readers at the various publications I run and to keep reminding them that we exist.”

I also started a newsletter about living abroad before I launched the first edition of my book A Better Life for Half the Price. For that one, my goal was to sell books and packages, build a community of sorts, and occasionally make some money from it directly.

I’ve gradually monetized the others a bit more over time, but I try to make it subtle and well-matched instead of being a shill that’s putting the ads first, content second on the priority list.

“They all aim to make the reader think, “I’m glad I opened that.“

Why and how did you decide to start Nomadico in the first place? What is its role among other publications you run?

It was a joint discussion between Kevin Kelly and I (see below) that evolved from a travel tips newsletter to one aimed at “working travelers,”--those who can do remote work or want to get to that point, people who like to travel and treat it as a priority on par with their job. When the pandemic killed travel for a while and remote work exploded, it seemed like the timing was right once the world started opening up again.

“It has the second-highest readership of the newsletters I run and the most potential, so I imagine it will become the most important in terms of growth and income as well over time.

Perhaps someday years down the line, we’ll hand it off to someone else and trade the asset for equity.“

You do 95% of the work on Nomadico yourself and your co-founders are the Recomendo and Cool Tools team: Mark Frauenfelder, Kevin Kelly, and Claudia Dawson.

How does you partnership work? What are the benefits for you?

I do the writing, though sometimes they submit tips, and they supply the infrastructure and help promote it. They were already well-established with Cool Tools and Recomendo, so I knew that following their lead would save a lot of trial-and-error learning.

It’s a simple revenue split: I keep half and Cool Tools gets the other half. That seems fair all around.


During our previous conversation, you said, “I'm just trying to get the right content to the people who really want it”.

How do you identify which content people need?

If you’ve done your job right, a niche website will naturally segment the potential audience and gather the right people around you, those who are really interested in your subject. Then, ideally, the ones signing up for the newsletter are the ones who are the most interested and will keep returning. (This is why I’m not a big fan of putting a newsletter sign-up pop-up on pages that hit first-time visitors. If they’re coming to one page from a random search query, are they really interested in your angle overall?)

Then, the content itself revolves around the site’s niche, what the people are interested in, and what their desires or pain points might be. With something like Nomadico that’s not tied to a specific website, I experiment a lot and pay attention to what’s resonating. By making it clear who we’re for, however, I imagine we don’t get a lot of couch potatoes who don’t have wanderlust. We’re attracting frequent travelers who like the idea of settling down for a few weeks or even a few years in a different country. While still working and getting paid.

“I think it’s crucial to leave blog comments enabled and to allow people to e-mail me with questions or comments. I get a lot of ideas from readers. If I don’t get feedback, I can’t give the readers what they want and need.

Some people get a real dialogue going on social media, but most of what I’ve seen there is quite shallow in comparison to what I get on the blog and by e-mail.”

I’m all for weeding out those who don’t really belong as well. For my Cheapest Destinations Blog, I’ll get people complaining when I say you shouldn’t go a certain place because you’re handing all your money to a repressive government or they’ll tell me to “stick to travel” and not talk about politics. Travel and politics are joined at the hip, though (visas, immigration, press freedom, taxation), so I have no qualms telling those complainers to find another free newsletter to check out instead. They don’t belong.

“I also purge subscribers who haven’t opened or clicked the last five issues. They clearly aren’t interested.”

How did you gain your first 1000 subscribers?

Recomendo recommended it in their newsletter, I recommended it in my Cheap Living Abroad newsletter, and we were off to the races. We passed 1,000 subscribers in a day or two, then 2,000 the first month.

Which growth channels do you mainly use? What are the most effective ones?

Honestly, all our growth has been organic and we haven’t done anything besides promote it in our own channels, including the occasional mention on social media.

“The right people seem to be finding us that way, though we have gotten some people coming over through recommendations from other Substack newsletters. That’s one big advantage of that platform: the network effect.”

Considering you have a newsletter for all the blogs you run, I assume you had a chance to test different kinds of newsletter sign-up pages.

What should we pay attention to the most to increase the conversion rate of a newsletter sign-up page? Any learnings, tips & tricks?

I wish I had the magic answer for this but I’ve found very little correlation between lead magnets, sign-up placements, landing page quality, or any of that in terms of sign-ups and retention. Pop-up nags can help get subscribers faster, of course, but as I mentioned before, you often get people who don’t really belong there just for the sake of pumping up the top-line number.

“I’d rather have 1,000 highly engaged subscribers than 10,000 who don’t open or click.”

What’s funny to me is, there’s no lead magnet or any kind of pop-up for Nomadico and we’ve grown that steadily past 9,000 subscribers, adding more week after week. And our open rate has only dropped to 65% as we’ve grown. For some of the other newsletters I’m giving away something great and the needle barely moves.

“If people don’t want to be there, bribing them with a freebie isn’t going to get them to stick around, from what I’ve seen. So I’ve tried just to promise relevant content and deliver it. For the people who really care about the subject, that’s the reward.”


How do you currently make money with your newsletter? What are your plans for the future?

“We earn from a mix of paid direct ads, Amazon affiliate ads, Substack affiliate ads, and a few other affiliates.“

After we pass 10K subscribers, we’ll probably add a paid offering that has webinars/conference calls or videos from the founder team. A more direct connection and Q&As. But we haven’t decided what that will look like yet.

Plus we’ll raise our ad rates then. They’ve been the same from the start, so for now, they’re still a terrific value.


Why did you choose Substack? Pros and cons?

I have other newsletters on Aweber and Benchmark. In the past I have used Feedblitz and Mailchimp. Substack is free if your newsletter is, first of all, so you don’t have to worry about your costs climbing quickly as new people sign up like you deal with on the others. They’re also focused on distributing content, not doing 100 other things that are involved in segmenting, funnels, and order bumps, so it’s a cleaner, simpler platform than the others.

Substack is its own ecosystem, with a lot of well-known thought leaders on it, so you get a network effect from others sharing or recommending newsletters they like. The better known you are, the more that happens, so after a while it can really help spread your message.


How do you find time to run multiple blogs, online magazines and newsletters at the same time while you’re on the move?

It is tougher when on the move, so I try to front-load my content creation a bit and schedule ahead.

Then, if I’m traveling slowly on my own, I’ll block out time to do work just as I would at home. I spent five months traveling in Europe this year and not much fell through the cracks.

If I’m traveling quickly from place to place, though, I can’t do much more than respond to urgent e-mails and get a few social media posts up.

Thankfully much of my business is passive, so the income doesn’t fluctuate much depending on how much time my butt is in an office chair. Plus, I do have some reliable assistants who have been with me for years and they keep the gears turning.

What is your weekly typical process from creating to distributing a new issue of Nomadico?

It’s a fairly simple system.

  • I’m constantly gathering news tidbits or advice that I think will be relevant to readers and either saving the e-mails in a folder or pasting them into a plain text file tab I keep open in NoteTab Light.

  • Then, on Wednesday morning, I choose which four items will go in, mixing in a product recommendation or two for travelers.

  • I put the “Unclassifieds” ads at the bottom, schedule it, and tell Claudia via Slack that it’s ready to roll.

  • She proofs it, fixes any goofs, and it goes out early Thursday morning.


How did writing Nomadico contribute to your life professionally & personally?

It has put me firmly into a community of digital nomads and remote workers and given me a platform to reach them.

It’s a nice combination of two expertise areas I was already known for–traveling well for less money and living abroad–so this lets me combine them in one place.

It has given me something to talk about with companies trying to reach nomadic travelers who are working, so we are helping those companies build their awareness and increase their customer bases.

Besides, it’s a quicker weekly project than writing a 3,000-word article and I enjoy it.

What is the most challenging part of writing a newsletter and how do you handle it?

If it has been a particularly slow news month in the area we’re covering, there could be less to talk about, but so far I’ve always managed to find interesting items or products to include.

“Some weeks, the subscriber numbers aren’t growing much and I think, “Well, have we peaked?” But then it’ll double the next week and I realize I need just to stop looking at those reports!”


What is next on Nomadico’s journey?

We will launch a paid upgrade later, probably in early 2024.

We also hope to get more new advertisers in the door after we pass that magic 10K subscribers mark.

Otherwise, we’re just trying to keep growing and keep pleasing the subscribers with quality content.


What would it be if you had the right to give one piece of advice to aspiring newsletter creators?

Focus! Have a clear answer to “Who is this for?”

“Don’t be afraid to offend people or alienate those who aren’t your ideal readers. Better to be prickly and interesting than to try to be inoffensive and please everyone.

I believe creators (and too many advertisers) focus on vanity stats and overall numbers instead of looking at actual engagement and influence. If there’s a high click-through rate and people are buying what you recommend, that means a lot more than how many inboxes you landed in.“

About two-thirds of our Nomadico readers open what we send out and about a third click on something, which is a dream level for almost any e-mail marketer–and it’s what advertisers should really care about.

What are your favorite newsletters that you can’t wait for the next issue?

Even though I’ve never bought one of his courses (sorry dude), I always like Ramit Sethi’s newsletters. I did watch his Netflix show, at least.

I read Remote Insider, aimed at a similar audience to Nomadico, by Mitko Karshovski.

On Substack, I read Noahpinion and Austin Kleon.

For my job, I read everything that Fat Stacks (John Dykstra) and Niche Pursuits (Spencer Haws) send out.

Plus, This Week in Blogging and the newsletters from TBEX and NATJA, all geared to travel content creators.

And every week I look forward to Recomendo!


If anyone wants to see what I’m up to or hit my social channels, everything is linked from my portfolio site.

Thank you so much, Tim. Never stop writing and traveling!

🔗 Where to find Tim Leffel and his work

🔎 3 Popular Issues from Nomadico

That’s all for today. Thanks for reading and don’t be shy to leave your comment by clicking the below button.

See you next week.


Join the conversation

or to participate.