Digital nomad story is a weekly story series sharing experiences and tips from nomadic entrepreneurs all over the world. Join the journey!
My name is Caitlin,
I am a photographer, writer, and fitness coach. Ever since I was little I was always writing and taking pictures – they were/are my two greatest passions. When I was growing up I would always have my film camera with me and would always have a writing book. Now that I am older I still always have a camera in my hand and a writing book in my bag. They were both passions and talents that came to me naturally that I turned into careers.
Fitness coaching came to me after a car accident took away my ability to exercise or move without pain and it forced me to pay attention to my body and what it was telling me as I worked through rehabilitation. Through doing so it changed the way I exercised and my appreciation for the stress relief fitness brought me. Being more in tune with my body I began studying health, nutrition, and exercise and I realized that the previous ways I tried to be healthy were actually extremely unhealthy.
I decided I wanted to help other women achieve their goals through being more educated about their health and breaking the stereotypes within the fitness world. I first decided to change all three of my careers from local to international through being a digital nomad when I tried to tackle the problem of constantly wanting to travel. I realized that all my careers could be done online/on location and because of that I gained the freedom to do the things I love anywhere in the world.
What’s your favorite part about of being a digital nomad? & What’s the opposite – least favorite?
My favorite part of being a digital nomad is that I get to have my freedom. I’ve never liked being tied down or staying in the same place for too long. Back in Canada, I would always try to find little adventures here and there even if I couldn’t be traveling and that was when I was happiest – it’s how I knew I wasn’t made for the 9-5 lifestyle and I would much rather be able to travel whenever and wherever I can.
My least favorite part of being a DN is the negativity from other digital nomads who are angry it’s become a fad/status symbol or who think their way is the only right way. For me, I didn’t even know “digital nomadism” existed until about 4 months ago. Before that, I just told people what I did for work not knowing a name for it and I did it all on my own not knowing anyone else doing the same thing. It’s unfortunate that so much negativity has flowed into the digital nomad community where people view it as a competition or thinking one person is better than another.
Online it’s no longer about helping one another but who is “right” versus realizing that everyone works, lives, and feels differently. What works for one person may not work for another. It’s really unfortunate when you watch a community meant to help one another turn into a place where people constantly argue.
What’s the first adventure that comes on your mind?
When I had started changing my photography work to focus more on travel and nature conservation I went on a road trip that had been on my bucket list. It was to road trip from where I grew up (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada) down to California. If you’re not familiar with this area you drive through Washington, and from there follow the Orgeon Coast (Highway 101 – the people’s coast) and this connects to the Californian Coast (Highway 1). It’s absolutely breath taking. The Orgeon Coast is one of my favorite places in the world.
I’ve road-tripped along there many times but never went far enough to go into California. I specifically wanted to go to accomplish another thing on my bucket list: “Go to Yosemite National Park”. This wasn’t my first digital nomad trip but it was a trip that got me writing again for the first time since brain injuries from a car accident, which was a big deal for me. It was got me back to writing as I use to.
What are the hardest things to keep up with while being a digital nomad? What’s your suggestion for dealing with them?
Posting pictures from my travels is the hardest thing for me to keep up with. Since they are my professional photography photos that mean they are shot in raw format and to be able to post them and show friends and family they must be put through an editing program, which for me is Lightroom, edited, and converted to JPEG.
When you’re traveling constantly as well as working this builds up quickly. My suggestion is to keep on top of it as much as possible if you’re in the same situation. Edit before bed, and try to post as close to real time as possible. The more you put it off the worse it will be.
What were your beliefs about “being a digital nomad” before you became one, that turned out to be a complete nonsense?
I didn’t have any because as I said before I didn’t even know about the term “Digital Nomad” let alone know there were communities of people doing this. I had simply looked at what made me happiest and how important travel was for me and asked myself “how can I make this work while I am traveling?” and simply started changing my businesses to not be location dependent. I think for me my previous beliefs were simply that it wasn’t possible. Society had put it in my head that working while traveling still has to be an office job or that you have to stay somewhere longer to work or else it’s just a vacation that you must come home from and start saving for your next trip. It took me a long time to realize this wasn’t true and it is possible to live traveling all the time and working while traveling online. So for me it was realizing it’s not just a dream, it’s something you can make into reality.
What’s the biggest misconception people have about digital nomads? Is there any way we can try to change that?
Since I’ve joined online communities of Digital Nomads and people who aspire to become one I noticed a lot of people have this misconception that DN’s are traveling constantly and never stopping. That isn’t always the case.
Some people have a home base and travel from there every few weeks or months. Some people do it more slowly in the sense of living in one city for a month or two and then moving to a new one versus constantly jumping. There are so many different ways people do it and each way works differently for differently people. I’ve heard people get scared over trying to be a DN because they don’t know if they could handle the constant travel (specifically because of “loneliness”) and it’s simply because of the misconception that everyone travels so often there is no time for friendships or feeling settled.
There is no right or wrong way – there is only right or wrong for you personally that you figure out from trying different methods but if you do online work and travel to live in other countries then you are a digital nomad even if you don’t feel you fit under that umbrella. I think a way to change this is simply doing what we are here: having people sharing their stories so people understand there are so many different lifestyles within being a DN. And I also think it’s important for other DN’s to really be encouraging others and letting them know to go with what works for them versus bickering with each other over the right way or wrong way to be a DN.
What are your tips & tricks for better travels?
My two biggest tips to anyone who is doing a lot of traveling is taking care of yourself and travel as light as you can. People imagine that travel means relaxing time because most people associate the word “travel” with the word “vacation”. However Digital Nomads aren’t on vacation, we are working and travel is part of our day-to-day lives. That means that everyday things/emotions that people experience at home we also experience on top of constantly traveling around. When I tell people I spent months walking 15-20 kilometers a day because of traveling they suddenly realize how exhausting it can actually be. That on top of your brain taking in new things, speaking another language, and working, you’re mentally exhausted just as much as you are physically exhausted.
If you don’t give yourself the rest days and time you need then you will railroad yourself and your body will take control by making you sick so you’re forced to stay in bed. You often hear of people traveling and packing way too many activities into a small amount of time and then they get sick within the first few days and end up missing out on a lot. This is because you’ve over stressed your body and aren’t paying attention to getting the rest you need. And this is simply for people who are only visiting one city and their luggage stays in a hotel.
For digital nomads, we are switching cities and carrying luggage on top of all of that. It’s why it’s important for anyone traveling to make sure they’re not overworking themselves and pushing themselves to exhaustion every single day. For me after long days I always massage or roll my feet, I have hot baths or showers to relax my muscles, I treat myself to a massage at a spa when I can, and when I wake up feeling like I just can’t get up I let myself sleep. I also consider travel days between cities as write off days – I never try to do something other than get food in a city the days I arrive/depart. I have back and neck injuries so even from lifting my suitcase around and sitting in the same position for too long while I travel between cities is exhausting. I make sure after that I get the rest and relaxation I need.
Also because of the stress, this causes on your body I recommend to travel as light as possible. For people like me who are photographers that can be really difficult. But after you’ve done it enough times you get used to what you’re really going to use and what you don’t. For the regular traveller I recommend simply looking at things saying “do I need this?” if the answer isn’t an automatic “yes” then don’t bring it. Often the “maybes” are simply things we think we randomly might need and in the end, they’re just extra weight.
Get an electronic suitcase weighing system and use that to weigh your belongings and ask yourself is it worth that extra weight? A good rule of thumb is that the 21-23kg max that airports use are put in place for a reason. I find if you stick to that weight or below your bag is much easier to maneuver and move around. If it’s heavier than that you will be sore and hurting later and most likely have bruises on your legs from moving your luggage around.
Another big thing I would recommend is to stay in a city at least a week. Don’t try to pack too much into a small space of time – it will exhaust you and that will affect your experiences in that city. It also doesn’t give you enough time to really explore and soak in what the city is about in 1-2 days. I hear so many people, including new digital nomads, who want to do a lot of cities in a very small span of time. For a digital nomad you just won’t have time for work and exploring and for a regular traveler, you won’t truly experience a city in that sort of time.
For my travels I often choose Airbnb for my accommodations and for me they’re exactly what I need. I get to choose a place to myself or shared space that is much cheaper than a hotel and usually around the same price or cheaper than a hostel (in some cities) and I’ve met great people along the way. I’ve only had a few unpleasant experiences which Airbnb did their best to fix.
I avoid flying as much as possible as it’s just not good for your body. However in terms of traveling around Europe, if I do fly I usually use budget airlines like Ryanair and Easyjet. The prices will always stay the same regardless of how many times you look. You just need to read the fine print to ensure you won’t get extra fees. In terms of travel in Europe between cities I much prefer coach bus travel instead of train travel.
In terms of travel in Europe between cities, I much prefer coach bus travel instead of train travel. For me, I can relax more as my baggage is stowed away underneath (so nothing is stolen). Flixbus is my favorite but if you’re in the United Kingdom Megabus is a great equivalent – they are both extremely cheap pricing.
I am used to longer flights of 9 plus hours from Canada to Europe and for those flights I always just have different things to entertain myself: a writing book, a reading book, and something to watch. But I always bring earplugs, an eye mask, and a neck pillow to sleep and get myself onto the right sleeping schedule. I also always remember to get up every few hours to get my blood circulating. Doctors actually say if you’re flying more than 5 hours you should wear compression socks to keep blood flow to your legs.
I find during long travel with lack of moving my feet swell. To avoid this I make sure I get up and stretch when I can. People forget how important this is and how much of a difference it makes when you get off the flight. Also for anyone who gets sick often from planes, put Vaseline in the beginning of your nasal cavities. People often get sick because your nose dries out from the air on an airplane and causes splitting of the skin which then allows anything to be brought into your body. With Vaseline it keeps moisture in your nose and prevents that from happening.
What’s your favorite way of meeting new people as a nomad?
I have always been an introvert. I would much rather spend time alone than with other people and I also get high anxiety sometimes to the point of panic attacks in crowds. That can make traveling hard sometimes. However, I also know the importance of not missing out on experiences because of those things. Through my time of traveling it’s the random people I met while traveling that I have stayed in contact with that are some of my closest friends and people who support me unconditionally. Because of that, I think it’s much easier to push myself out of my introverted shell and talk to strangers.
I enjoy doing things alone but if I am ever craving some human connection I go out to events, tours, or simply walk the city and see who I meet along the way. If you find it hard to just talk to random people I recommend finding a tour of something you want to see, there are often other people by themselves or groups of people who will take you in as a friend because you’re by yourself. I’ve never gone on a tour without talking to anyone and I’ve also never gone on a tour and not come away with at least one new friend. There are also online resources for meeting people who are in the same city.
The website Meetup.com is great, I met my two best friends from that website and made many other great connections. Of course in the digital nomad world, there are coworking spaces and communities online to find those. On Couchsurfing, they have an events section as well as a place where you can post questions or talks to locals – I often see people posting asking if anyone is up to go to an event or meet for coffee etc.
What are the main things you are looking for when deciding where to go next?
I look to see what the culture is like and whether I feel I would be happy spending time with those people, integrating with the culture, and whether that would make me happy. For me to be the best I can be and to be the most productive within my work I need to be inspired and happy wherever I am. And unfortunately. there are certain cities or countries that will hold values that won’t be conducive to your happiness. I’ve lived in a few places that I found to make me completely miserable.
There are two quotes by Roman Payne that fully encompass this: “This was how it was with travel: one city gives you gifts, another robs you. One gives you the heart’s affections, the other destroys your soul. Cities and countries are as alive, as feeling, as fickle and uncertain as people. Their degrees of love and devotion are as varying as with any human relation. Just as one is good, another is bad.”
And “Cities were always like people, showing their varying personalities to the traveler. Depending on the city and on the traveler, there might begin a mutual love, or dislike, friendship, or enmity. Where one city will rise a certain individual to glory, it will destroy another who is not suited to its personality. Only through travel can we know where we belong or not, where we are loved and where we are rejected.”
I find these to be the absolute truth and the only way we can find out if we want to stay somewhere long is to travel there. However, it is also just as important to do research into the culture and ask other expats their experiences to see whether you feel it will be a good fit. I specifically ask expats their experiences NOT locals because I find some countries really do not have a good understanding of themselves and what it is like for an expat in their country. Some countries although great for locals, known to be the most “livable”, and that are beautiful have a massive xenophobic community which means as an expat you will be hated, attacked, and/or in a really negative space. Also sometimes the most beautiful countries are also dangerous or do not have sound governmental or health care systems. All of these things should be factored in.
When I am planning to live long term somewhere I always look at the living conditions – cost of living (food, rent, phone plans, transportation, etc) and whether it works within my budget. I also look at pictures of the place and see how it makes me feel. If it doesn’t make me feel excited and look like it could be home I don’t consider it. I also, of course, look at the different visa choices and if I am at all eligible and if I think the visa process is worth the work and money to get the opportunity to live in that country for a longer period of time.
But the biggest thing I want to say to someone when they’re making this choice is at the end of the day it’s okay to be wrong. If you get to a country, give it a chance, and notice it’s just not working it’s okay to move on. It may feel like a mistake or like you wasted your own money and time but it’s a learning lesson and will help push you more toward different countries that may be the right fit. Don’t be hard on yourself and always remember there are tons of countries out there where you may end up finding your bliss.
Top 3 places to visit as a digital nomad
I am not the type of digital nomad that goes to co-working spaces, huge communities of DN’s, or who specifically looks for places with good wifi. I, of course, make sure wherever I am living has good wifi connection however when I look for where I want to stay it’s about whether I will be happy there first and foremost. Because of that my top three are where I’ve been happiest/think are the most beautiful – not where the most DN people are or where there is the best for wifi everywhere.
Hvar, Croatia – this city took my breath away from the first moment I got off the boat and stepped out onto the island. Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast, in general, is gorgeous but Hvar offers something unique. It is such a small quaint city that is always going. During the day people are relaxing in the shade or swimming where they can and at night it turns into a dancing island. You’re also a short boat ride away from the island of Vis or the city of Split on the mainland. The Croatian people are kind and welcoming, they all speak good English, and it was one of the few places I felt safe as a woman alone.
Cinque Terre, Italy – these 5 small towns sit along the mountains and the Italian Riviera. Although it gets packed with tourists in the summer it is quiet other times of the year. For me having 5 different towns to spend time in gives me so much variety. Each of them is unique with their own things to offer and are all only a short train ride from one another or a 30 minute to 3-hour hike. And if I am feeling like a break and if I am wanting to go outdoors I take a swim in the Ligurian Sea or hike in the National Park when the trails between the cities are open. The Italian hospitality here is great and the sights are beautiful.
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada – this is where I grew up but it’s honestly one of the most beautiful cities in the world and British Columbia itself has so much to offer. Vancouver is surrounded by ocean and mountains, with country fields and ski/snowboard resorts only a short drive away. It’s a dynamic city that is perfect for the outdoor adventure lover or anyone who enjoys time spent seeking out unique coffee shops, events, and interesting modern architecture. And of course, Canadians are polite and kind people and are usually very welcoming to new people and always excited to hear your story.
You’ll notice all three are by the ocean and in the mountains – these are two things that bring me joy and it’s scientifically proven that those who spend more time outdoors are happier. I think it’s extremely important when you’re working in front of a computer to be somewhere where you’re also getting outside just as much. When you’re in a place with so much natural beauty it’s not tough to want to go outside or simply go for a walk or a hike for a bit to refresh yourself. For me it’s how I also boost my creativity, cleanse my pallet, or simply feel happier which boosts my productivity.
What’s your vision of the future?
The Digital Nomad lifestyle is my future and how I intend to always live my life. Eventually, I may stay somewhere for a longer period of time but that doesn’t mean I will ever stop traveling or working digitally. At the moment my whole life is in two suitcases and my phone is the closest thing I have to “home”. I use the addresses of friends or family if I need something shipped. And I ensure my life is always ready to be moved.
In the future, I will have a home base but still be traveling often and rent out my apartment while I do and/or be taking longer 3-month trips. And in the further future, I will settle in one place that I love the most and travel from there for projects. I can see myself having a winter home and summer home and moving between the two. But I will continue for my life to work online and to travel. For me, this lifestyle isn’t a fad and it isn’t something I do so I can travel “while young” and then return back to your 9-5 job later in life. I don’t need retirement security or a consistent paycheck to feel good. I live this way because it’s how I am happiest and is what works best for me and I will continue to follow whatever makes me happy for the rest of my life.