The Life of a Digital Nomad
Ever dream of ditching your 9-5 job for a life that offers the luxury to travel and work from anywhere in the world? Yeah, sure, we've all probably fantasized about it, but only some are brave enough to take the plunge and become a digital nomad!
A what? What the heck is a digital nomad? Basically, a digital nomad is someone who works remotely - from wherever they live or travel. But it's not just the typical office employee working from home or traveling for business. Digital nomads frequently live outside of their home countries. They use the internet, smartphones, voice over IP, and cloud-based application to do their jobs, and so "digital". More often than not, digital nomads are anywhere in the world, and are not necessarily tied down to a location long term, leading a more "nomadic" lifestyle. We often think of bloggers or web designers as being digital nomads, because they don't need a dedicated office to do their jobs, although they may use co-working spaces, cafes, house sitting agreements, and shared offices in places around the world.
I'm fascinated by the lifestyle, not just from a travel standpoint, but also from the logistics of setting up shop in a place that may be totally unfamiliar. Having been an expat (by that I mean an expatriot - someone who lives outside of his or her home country), I understand some of the challenges, but being a digital nomad seems as if you're completely working without a net. So, to get a better understanding of what it means to be one, I tapped into one of my resources, Hailey, the owner of Mentor Travel. Hailey provides travel planning and assistance to the nomadic set. She kindly agreed to give us a glimpse into her never-a-dull-moment life as a digital nomad!
We hear the name “digital nomad” a lot, but can you tell me what it means to you?
Whenever I hear the word digital nomad, I always immediately think freedom. For me being a digital nomad is about being free and independent of the 9-5 job, independent of being told how much vacation I have or when I’m supposed to work throughout the day. It allows you to take your most valuable asset, your time, and spend it where you think it’s most important.
You own a company that provides travel services to lot of different kinds of travelers, and you do it all remotely (from Thailand currently). Tell me a bit more about your company - how you came up with your concept/model, and how you’ve figured out how to be successful without a traditional office?
Mentor Travel is still pretty young. I started it last year as a blog and am now trying to expand into a travel planning company. We assist digital nomads by planning their trips, finding them housing, and being an on call virtual assistant. We also help backpackers plan their trips cheaply by getting most of the time-consuming research out of the way for them. We also help plan business retreats. I originally came up with the idea for this company because I’d had so many people ask me how to travel that I thought, “Hey, this might work out as a business.” Plus, I really want to help as many people travel as possible. I came up with the name Mentor Travel because to be successful at anything it’s important to have a mentor. One of the biggest hindrances people have when they first want to travel is that they have all these questions and often don’t have anyone to answer their questions. My company is their to answer their travel questions and teach them how to travel.
I’m living remotely in Thailand right now and my friend Jess also helps me run the company from back home in Washington. She’s very well-traveled too and wants to help get as many people traveling as possible. She also loves real estate so in the future we might branch out into moving assistance into Washington state. We’ve become more and more successful as time has gone one but it’s been a learning curve trying to figure out how to create partnerships with other companies, getting clients, and improving the blog. Using social media has been key to our success. Having FB (Facebook) groups as resources has also really helped because people on those groups love answering questions and are willing to help.
What made you decide to “go nomadic”?
I decided to become a nomad after joining Amway. One of my really good friends joined Amway and got me involved in it. Ultimately, I’m very grateful to him because I learned so much from that company. It was by going to their meetings and listening to their powerful speakers that I learnt that I could design my life the way I want it to be shaped. That was when I decided to become a freelancing digital nomad.
What's the most unexpected part of being a nomad, an expat, whatever you’d like to call yourself?
This is a hard question. There have been so many shockers moving here. Like the fact that when you get a debit card here from the bank (in Thailand), it doesn’t mean you can purchase things online you have to go through a 10-step process to get your card set up for buying things online. And this might be the more shocking part is that none of the expats, at least the ones I’m around know how to do this. They have all given up. I was finally successful last week.Hooray!!! But it took a good 4 months of trying lots of different things to become successful. I think that really the most difficult part about living abroad for a long time has been missing my family and friends so much. I knew that I would miss them, but it’s definitely been my largest unexpected struggle.
What’s another unexpected thing about being nomadic – good or bad?
I wanted to be a nomad to become better at being by myself. The first few months of this were really hard but now I love it and I feel much more comfortable being by myself. My house is in the jungle and I love sitting on my couch looking out the open windows, basking in the silence and calm of the jungle. It’s also been very empowering to be able to choose where to spend my time and what I want to focus on.
Name a mistake you made when you first relocated to a new country and what you learned from it.
I haven’t made any big mistakes since moving here. BUT that’s because I have listened and acted upon the advice that I received from all the other expats living in my area. I’m good at listening and following sound advice when I hear it and I think that has saved me a bunch of trouble. There have been many, many challenges since moving here though like the bank account and finding housing, and learning how to ride a motorbike.
How do you decide how long to stay in a place and where you’re going next? For example, how did you decide on Thailand?
I’ll be in Thailand for a while because it’s a great starting off point to travel to other countries in SE Asia. I chose Thailand because I’d been here before and I felt safe living here. I have a long list of all the places I want to visit in Asia before I leave here. Then I want to go to Australia and backpack around.
How long have you lived outside of the US? Is there something you miss?
I’ve been gone since November. I really miss my friends, family, and my pets. I did miss the food, but since I’ve moved into my current house I have a large kitchen which allows me to cook the foods I miss back home. One thing that can’t be replaced here is the fun night life and activity focused atmosphere in Seattle. There are so many different activities that you can do back home that you can’t do here. I miss those sometimes too.
Is there one misconception people should know about living abroad?
People often assume that living abroad is all sunshine and beaches, and sometimes it is. But I love travel not because it’s always fun, but because I always grow as a person. Also, travel isn’t a way to escape your problems, but it can be a way to step back and learn how to solve or correct them.
What are three money saving strategies you have developed to help either your clients or yourself?
This first tip is really well known but is so important; don’t spend more than you make. My second tip is always put money into savings each month. Third create a budget and stick to it. I’ve had to change my budgeting strategy a bit since moving to Thailand, because everything here is mostly cash based transactions. I’ve started to use the envelope method to stay on budget, whereas back home I had a savings account, bill account, and spending account. I’d also recommend listening to podcasts on finances and money. Like Motley Fool, Stacking Benjamin’s, Invest talk, and Moneytree Investing Podcast. There are so many great tips you can get from listening to experts discuss money and the economy. (Another passion of mine is stocks). Money is the most powerful tool to wield to become financially free.
What countries are on you bucket list – to live or to visit?
I really want to live in Italy, Greece, and Australia. My number one country after I leave Asia is to visit Turkey. I’ve heard so many great things about it. I want to do the hot air balloon ride in the monk caves there. Before I leave here I want to go to Laos, Vietnam, Philippines, New Zealand, Papa New Guinea, Tanzania, South Korea, Bhutan, and Myanmar.
Where’s your next trip and why did you choose it?
My next trip is going to India to hike the Himalayas and Nepal. I wanted to visit these countries because Thailand is really hot and it’s nice to visit some cooler places. My old coworker was from Nepal and told me amazing stories about her home country, which also inspired this trip.I’m super stoked to hike the Himalayas!
Favorite travel memory or place so far?
This is a hard one. One of my favourite memories is when I was traveling with my girlfriend in Santa Catalina Panama. We went on a snorkeling trip around the islands. It was so magical. There were dolphins jumping and leaping around our boat. We saw a giant whale, sharks, and an octopus. The water was so beautiful clear and blue. It felt like we’d stepped back into another world.
Make sure to check out the interview I did for Mentor Travel on my Other Cool Stuff page!