3 Women on What It’s Really Like to Be a Digital Nomad

3 Women on What It's Really Like to Be a Digital Nomad
Photo: Artem Bali

Maybe it was the feeling that swept through your body the first time you set foot on a plane. Or the scent in the air of incense or pretzels or cars – depending on where you landed – when you first stepped out in the street. Or maybe it was the longing to stay when you knew you had to return home. Whatever it was, we’ve all entertained the thought of running away to a foreign land – and staying.

But as you know, money makes the world – your world – go around, which means you probably can’t fulfil this fantasy without a steady income of some sort. That doesn’t make the dream impossible, though.

Ahead, we talk to three women who have left their “normal” lives behind and travelled the world, all while working. These digital nomads, as they’re known, give us the scoop on the pros and cons of life on the road, what the nomadic lifestyle is really about, and how to work while travelling.

Melony Candea

3 Women on What It's Really Like to Be a Digital Nomad - Quote by Melony Candea

American Melony Candea and her Italian husband Armando Costantino have been travelling the world for the past six years. Melony is a copywriter and digital consultant, while Armando is a film director and editor. With a little help from their van, Mork, they have travelled through Turkey, Morocco and Canada, to name a few.

What made you choose the “digital nomad” life?

Melony Candea: I’d been living in the Czech Republic for years and I was tired of being sedentary. When Armando and I got together in 2012, we had one main goal in common: to travel as much as possible. Our first obstacle was the method (flying, staying in hotels, etc.) and we decided a van would be ideal. He’s a filmmaker and has a lot of gear, and we both have computers [and] little things like clothes.

The second obstacle was how to maintain a travelling lifestyle. Working online or remotely from the road made the most sense. I’d already been writing online for a few years, and along with filmmaking, Armando is also a film editor.

I suppose in a nutshell it was simple; we wanted to travel and experience our travels fully as a lifestyle. Working remotely has allowed us to do it.

Do you have a home base?

MC: Our home base is our van named “Mork.” He’s a T4 VW Westfalia we bought in Prague in 2012. Although I’m originally from Montana and Armando’s originally from Milan, we don’t consider them home bases because we travel full-time.

What did you do to prepare to take your life on the road?

MC: We actually had very little preparation time, beyond downsizing to one bag each. We’d planned on doing some “test stays” in the van before going out on the road since I still had a flat at that time. But Armando had a job offer in Bulgaria and the next thing we knew we were driving for 24 hours to Sofia from the Czech Republic. At that point, we didn’t even have license plates. We shared a fork to cook hot dogs over the van’s stove. Ha.

As far as work was concerned, I’d started dabbling in online writing in 2008 and had several clients. Armando had been doing some stock video footage for sites like iStock and Shutterstock. We gravitated from there to online job sites. There weren’t that many when we started out, but we were lucky in finding long-term clients early on that valued us. We built online reputations and in our off-time – freelancing is always “feast or famine,” right? – we started extending our skills.

I branched out into social media management, including setting up social pages and scheduling posts. I also went from articles, blog posts, reviews and research into web content and in the past two years I’ve added video scriptwriting and voice-overs.

My husband has added 2-D animation, explainer videos, tutorials and vlogging into his repertoire. We’ve found that building on the skillsets we have opens us up to new work, new clients and new learning experiences. We love that.

What are your best productivity tips for digital nomads?

MC: I think it can be incredibly hard initially. Whether you’re on your own and dealing with a lack of a support system or you’re part of a couple – even an established couple – the stresses can wear on you quite quickly. It’s difficult to be productive when you’re feeling emotional pressures.

Some of the best tips I can give, speaking not just from my experience but also knowing female friends who have travelled solo: reach out to people as you travel. There are loads of sites holding meetups for digital nomads. It helps to speak and celebrate the wins and commiserate the downsides with similar minds.

As a couple, communication and space are key. Especially when one is bored and the other is working to a deadline. Or when financials create a false sense of doom. Don’t fixate on the problem; discover the solution. However minor or major it might seem at the moment, it’s usually not the end of the world. Sometimes a brisk and healthy walk gives you some much-needed perspective.

One general trap I think freelancers fall into is either working too much and ignoring where they are and how fantastic it is that they’re there or not planning further than the current job and living it up.

It’s life. It takes time to find a balance, but we’ve learned to insist on specific deadlines we can meet. After a big job, we insist on exploring and trying to mellow from being online. Each person has different balances, but we’ve seen a lot of remote workers give up because they either burned out or they didn’t plan for dry work spells.

What is one thing you wish you knew before you went remote?

MC: Goodness. Good question. I suppose first and foremost: job platforms that require you to pay for tests or that are huge – this doesn’t make them good. For newbies, always, always look at the reviews from freelancers. I find Reddit a great place to get honest opinions on sites.

But really, I wish I had known how much I was truly worth and dictated those terms from the first client. When I was starting out, I didn’t have confidence and the so-called “market” dictated the price clients were willing to pay. Meaning peanuts for hours, since I’ve always taken my work seriously, big or small.

So yes. Old me: research the going rates for professionals in whichever market. If you’re new, decrease a bit. But don’t sell yourself short. Your words and your worth mean more than that.

Ally LaBriola

3 Women on What It's Really Like to Be a Digital Nomad - Quote by Ally LaBriola

Ally LaBriola and her husband have been digital nomads for the past two years. Ally works in public relations and marketing, specialising in the tourism industry. During her time on the road, she has lived on a boat and cat-sat for 18 cats in Greece, all while managing clients in far-flung locations such as Chile and Australia and keeping up with her blog.

What made you choose the “digital nomad” life?

Ally LaBriola: It was a combination of wanting to explore my career potential (particularly if I could survive freelancing) and wanting to be bored more, as I read somewhere that often our best ideas come when we are bored. In the last two years, that has proved very true.

For example, in Greece, I really wanted to go kayaking, but there was no rental place to do so. Instead, I scoured the Airbnbs in the area, looking through all the pictures to see if any had a kayak in their photos. Sure enough, one listing did, so I messaged him and made an arrangement to meet at a local restaurant on the water and rent his kayak for the day. Obviously, I never did this kind of stuff when I worked full time – especially going on a wild goose chase all day for a kayak. But now it’s one of my favourite memories from our travels.

Do you have a home base?

AL: No home base. We have our mail sent to a friend’s house and they mail it to us quarterly in a flat-rate envelope. We usually find one piece of mail that is important in the whole bundle. So, we can’t totally ditch our mail, but it’s not that important in the grand scheme of things to get our mail more regularly than that.

What did you do to prepare to take your life on the road?

For our first three months, we lived in our little Honda Element. So, we pretty much packed our studio apartment into the car. It was jam-packed! Our first night camping, there was a huge dumpster near our campsite and we just started throwing so much junk away that we had brought with us. Anything we thought others could use, we would sit next to the dumpster or offer to fellow campers, but there was so much junk that had to go.

The crazy part is we felt so might lighter after doing it. Maybe that’s not crazy when I think back on it now.

That was two years ago, and we have our valuables (winter coats, coffee-making gear, and tennis rackets) spread out across four or five different locations. We have duplicates of a lot of things too – tennis rackets in Los Angeles and in Miami. Coffee-making stations in LA, Canada, Miami, and Philadelphia. Sometimes the system fails; right now, we are on the east coast and our winter coats are in Miami because we didn’t want to bring them to Thailand. So, we do a lot of thrift store shopping.

What are your best productivity tips for digital nomads?

AL: Being productive will take a lot of soul-searching and it won’t come easily in the beginning if you’ve been working in an office for a while. (I was in one for seven years.) It was a bit like a cleanse for me; stripping all the work habits down. I even stopped work for a few months at the beginning, which felt very risky but was essential for me.

Slowly building habits back up is my best advice – and also, add new habits that you want in your life. You are now the one who is accountable for work/life balance – there’s no one to blame but yourself and that’s a lot of responsibility, but it’s also very liberating. I made a list of my core values and then made sure my new work life was in line with those values. Newness, honesty, positivity and health were a few of mine, but they can be anything. They can be “make billions of dollars” but that one doesn’t really speak my name.

My health was a low priority back when I worked in an office, and now I have been able to walk every day for at least an hour, play more basketball, eat real meals, cook more, and save money by cooking. Improved health was a gift, something I didn’t expect but a direct result of freelancing.

What is one thing you wish you knew before you went remote?

AL: I wish I would have had more faith in myself. My husband was very supportive and encouraging, my family was excited for us, but I personally thought at best it would be a good vacation and I’d pick up a few jobs to buy groceries. I had no idea it could actually lead to a new career, working with amazing clients around the world, improving my health and relationships. It just feels like I’ve tapped into an abundance that I didn’t believe existed around me.

We have relied so much on the generosity of others. We have definitely not travelled for two years straight without help, and it won’t last forever, but it has been the best ride ever and we are truly thankful every day for making the jump and having a support system around us, encouraging us along the way.

Serena Star-Leonard

3 Women on What It's Really Like to Be a Digital Nomad - Quote by Serena Star Leonard

Serena Star-Leonard and her husband left their normal life behind six years ago and have been travelling ever since. Together, they run a business, Website Alchemy, and Serena is also the author of How to Succeed in 12 Months. Since becoming digital nomads, they have travelled through 33 countries.

What made you choose the “digital nomad” life?

Serena Star-Leonard: In 2009, I created a challenge called “How to Retire in 12 Months.” It was a tongue-in-cheek name, but the idea was to see if I could create an income by working just two days a week from anywhere in the world.

After 12 months of various successes and failures, I had an income that was location independent. It was a rollercoaster. First, I was asked to write a book for John Wiley and Sons – it was thrilling! Then, my little brother passed away suddenly; it was the worst time of my life.

I had a painful lesson that life was short, and I knew I wanted to make the most of it.

In 2011, my husband John and I had a chat in a coffee shop about life and what we wanted to achieve. Then we passed a travel agency on the way out. We tentatively booked one-way tickets to Venezuela and gave ourselves five months to get ready. We sold our stuff and left our lives in Australia on April 1st, 2012.

Do you have a home base?

SS: No. We have a suitcase stored with family in Dublin, Melbourne and New Zealand, mainly containing winter clothes. If we stay somewhere for more than a few weeks, it feels like a home base; if we stay a few months, we are locals. One of my current goals is to set up an eco-village in New Zealand, which will be a home base.

What did you do to prepare to take your life on the road?

SS: While planning to leave, we decided that we wanted to have a mission while we travelled. So, we created a project called Five Point Five. We planned to film short documentaries of people who made a difference to their communities around the world. To this end, a lot of what we prepared before we left were things like buying film equipment, getting partners and sponsors and sourcing great stories to film on our travels.

We also did all the stressful stuff like selling and giving away everything we owned, packing our lives into a couple of backpacks and worrying about how little savings we had and if our plan would actually fund our new lives. I had an income, but it was only new, so it wasn’t a sure bet. John was quitting his job and would need to find an income along the way. We nearly changed the dates a couple of times due to worrying about it, but we held strong and just decided to have faith in our ability to overcome any challenges.

For my business, I packed my whole office into my laptop. I scanned hundreds of documents and put the important ones into a box for safe keeping.

What are your best productivity tips for digital nomads?

SS: In terms of tips for being productive, find the rhythm that works for you. Over time we have created structures that work for us, but we have a different set up in Australasia than we do in Europe and it’s different again in Asia. If we are staying in our home countries we tend to knuckle down and get loads done at once.

Right now, we are in Vietnam. Here, we usually work first thing in the morning or in the evening. This gives us the ability to speak with our clients in different time zones and use our days for doing other things. We also now prefer to travel more slowly. We might stay one to three months in a place, or more if we really like it, and take one to three weeks for “holidays.”

Day to day what works for us is to have a central place to manage our tasks. We use Monday for project management and then we free flow around that.

Also, find the right tools. As well as Monday for project management, we use Wave for accounting, Dropbox for cloud backups, Affinity Photo for design and TransferWise (when possible) for getting paid or for paying our people. When you find the right tools, it makes life so much easier.

In my experience, when you run a business it is hard to find a balance because you are always thinking about the new/essential/cool things you could/should/must do. But we do have a very relaxed existence in general. We give ourselves space and time to just be. We work to our strengths and allow ourselves to be unconventional rather than trying to fit the mould. It just works better when you give yourself the freedom to not work.

Also, our business has been designed on our terms. I think as you get older, you get more clear about what is and isn’t your “thing.” For example, our business is going well right now, so we have the privilege of turning away clients if we don’t think we are a good fit. As a result, we work with the loveliest and most inspiring people in the world.

What is one thing you wish you knew before you went remote?

SS: I wish I had done it sooner. Every year of this journey has been life-changing; I have had more adventures in six years than I had in the previous 32, and I was an adventurous person!

It took me a while to ditch the societal guilt of needing to work 9am to 5pm. I am a creative person and when I am inspired, I can be super-human level productive and can create great things. But I also need a lot of downtime to simply read, learn and ponder new ideas – or work through problems and challenges. When my mind is enriched, and I have time to be fit, cook my own meals and get to the beach, what I create is so much better than if I am stuffed in a box, trying to maximise my time and output.

Right now, we have the most stunning river view from our living room/office, a cool breeze gently rustles through the palm leaves and it’s an exquisite place to write. I have actually dreamed about this place and here it was waiting for me. I just had to come and find it.

More [topic] inspiration:

More travel stories:

5 Movies (Based on Books) That Will Inspire Your Wanderlust
If You Love Travelling, You Need to Know About Lost Guides
This Is What Happened When I Moved Overseas

By |2018-10-14T19:12:01+00:00May 1, 2018|Budget Travel, Cover Story, Entrepreneurship, Travel, Way of Life, Work|

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