“Digital nomad story” is weekly story series sharing experiences and tips from nomadic entrepreneurs all over the world. Join the journey!
Hi, my name’s Mel,
I’m originally from Montana, but for the past 5 years I’ve been traveling Europe in a van with my husband and working on the road. I’m an online writer, he’s a freelance videographer.
I started writing creatively in my teens and was published a few times (poetry and short stories) before moving to the Czech Republic to teach English. When I lived in Brno, I got my CELTA and taught. I also started freelance writing online in my free time.
When my husband and I got together, we knew we wanted to travel. We were horribly bored with our ‘regular’ lives. Knowing that, and knowing we didn’t want to haul around all of our equipment from plane to plane (2+ computers, cameras, tripods, 1 bag clothes each and many extras) we decided buying a used van was the best option. In less than a month, we were on the road.
I started out writing topical articles about dating and product descriptions for very little. After building up an online reputation, I built up my skills (I now write Youtube scripts; SEO; and blog posts/articles – I also do social media management and voice overs). Plus I work on our website and videos.
We’d never considered ‘becoming digital nomads’ for one simple reason: it didn’t really exist in 2012. It had barely begun and there were few resources. We kind of made it up as we went along. Sometimes it worked. Grin.
What’s your normal daily routine as a digital nomad?
It’s funny, in our old lives we weren’t really morning people. 9 a.m. was early. Now 5 or 6 a.m. is the norm and we’re eager to start the day. Always 2 cups of coffee and deciding what the priorities of the day are. For example, if we have deadlines, we choose to stay put instead of traveling to the next place.
We always have a loose schedule of events and places, don’t get me wrong. It’s just that experience has taught us that no matter how much planning, life can get in the way. It doesn’t mean we aren’t organized or uber-professional, it just means we leave some room for the unexpected.
On free days, Armando (my husband) fishes, surfs and shoots footage. I read a lot, go on walks with our dog Ziggy (he adopted us in Morocco), take photos or write creatively. We also explore each area we stay in and check out the interesting sights, which is easier for us to take our time, since we ‘slow travel.’
What’s your favorite part about of being a digital nomad? & What’s the opposite – least favorite?
Everyone usually says it’s the freedom of being able to work when you want, as much or as little as you want. Of course, that’s true – but more importantly (at least for me) is the quality of life I have now. I’m a lot happier and feel loads less stress. I enjoy my work. I adore waking up to different sunrises and feeling the excitement of discovery with my husband. It’s anticipation instead of dread.
My least favorite part? Waiting. Whether it’s waiting to hear back from a client, or waiting for the ‘Okay’ to go ahead, or waiting for them to pay, or even waiting for the payment to be processed. It drives me crazy.
What’s the first adventure that comes to your mind from your DN career?
Our first adventure was really memorable. My husband had a job on a film in Sofia, Bulgaria and we had to drive 24 hours to get there (we’d barely finished buying our T4 Westy). We stayed on the film lot, in the van. We were on a 1920s New York City film set because he was shooting a period piece about Rudy Valentino.
It was surreal being surrounded by horse-drawn carriages and costumes. There was the added bonus of the afternoon break from another film set, with scantily-clad gladiators that walked by on their way to lunch in their armor. Grin.
What are the hardest things to keep up with while being a DN? What’s your suggestion for dealing with them?
We’re usually online daily, just to check in and see what’s up with the world. That’s also the time (during the first coffees of the day) that we catch up with family and friends or figure out work priorities – for example, if a client needs a quick edit or sends new information. Skype or Viber are perfect for chats.
Both of us had already lived abroad for years away from family and friends, so it wasn’t new to us dealing with distance.
I think you have to be really organized to freelance full-time. It can be feast-or-famine, which means trying to find the balance between working enough to have extra for the quiet times. Depending on how long you stay in a country, you’ll also have visas, taxes and such to sort out.
Are there any online resources you find really useful and essential?
We haven’t used digital nomad resources in quite a while. I think it’d be difficult starting out now because there are so many ‘faux digital nomad’ sites giving advice that aren’t actually digital nomads themselves. Or they were for a few months and quit.
But there are several sites from experienced nomads I’d definitely recommend as useful for new nomads: Nomadic Notes by James Clark; Nomadtopia by Amy Scott; and I think the digital nomad thread on Reddit is really useful.
What were your beliefs about “being a digital nomad” before you became one, that turned out to be a complete nonsense?
We didn’t have preconceived notions of ‘digital nomadism,’ as it didn’t really exist, but the one ridiculous idea that always makes us laugh: the typical photo of someone on a beach or floating in the sea ‘working on their laptop.’ Ha. As if-! Your livelihood depends on that little gadget. No one would chance dropping it in water or getting sand in the keyboard…
What’s the biggest misconception people have about digital nomads? Is there any way we can try to change that?
I’d say there are 2 misconceptions. The first is from people who want to become a digital nomad, but believe hype like ‘You can live in an exotic location, work a few hours and that’s it!’ Or ‘Take this digital nomad course and we’ll teach you how to live off a passive income forever!’ Not even close.
When you’re starting out and you have to establish yourself, you work hard. If you’ve got a deadline, you put in the 15 hours straight to meet it, or your reputation takes a hit. Most nomads I know work harder now than they did in ‘normal jobs,’ but the difference is that they love the work they’re doing now. Most of the ‘overnight sensation’ travel bloggers or Youtube gurus put in years before it paid off.
And that leads into the 2nd, almost same misconception people have: that DNs are lazy beach bums that go to cheap countries and take advantage of poorer economies. There’s some truth to it, but I think that as more people make the choice to work remotely, the more normalized it’ll become.
Being a digital nomad may include a lot of traveling. What are your tips & tricks for better travels?
It’s difficult to come up with many tips that aren’t van/driving related, but I think one great piece of advice we’ve learned is trading. We’ve traded making a short promotional video of organic B & Bs for room and board for a week. Free WiFi, showers and some really unique locations.
Think about what your skills (making a landing page? Creating a basic website? Updating an old one? Editing a brochure? Creating a Facebook business page? etc.) could be used for exchange.
Many people are afraid of never being able to settle down after being nomads. What are your thoughts on this?
I was recently stuck* back in the States (due to an external situation) for 2 months. After having traveled for the last 4+ years, I found it incredibly difficult to be so static. I was depressed and really unmotivated until I got back to Europe.
As far as being able to meet fellow like-minded people and such, there are loads of sites like Meetup Digital Nomads to find local travelers nearby.
Where have you experienced the strongest nomad community? Also, please share, if there is any place where you’ve found a lack of it!
We went to one meetup in Berlin for travel bloggers and we’ve done free seminars in a lot of different co-working spaces across Europe. I don’t think there’s any one place in Europe – each country and each large city have DN communities.
There are loads of sites like this Currency Fair post, and I imagine it’d be easy to find a place in the area you want to go with a little research.
What’s your favorite way of meeting new people as a nomad? What would you suggest for introvert digital nomads to get out there more?
My husband’s the extrovert and is always meeting new people. He chats with local fishermen, meets people online then organizes a meet up in person and generally is pretty gregarious. I usually meet the people he’s met first. Grin.
What are the main things you are looking for when deciding where to go next?
Our first priority is atmosphere or scenery. We’ve got our portable WiFi, and it works almost anywhere. So a nice seaside view or outside of a historic town, depending on what we want to see. Parking’s important (for us).
We have a general idea of how much time we want to spend in a country, so that sometimes dictates where we go next. Right now we’re in Sicily, and we have a plan of all we want to do and see. But our schedule is flexible, because we slow travel.
Top 3 places to visit as a digital nomad
Lithuania. Fantastic people, super-fast WiFi and it’s got such an interesting history and culture.
Portugal, for many of the same reasons. The people were warm and generous, the countryside was beautiful and you can’t beat the weather.
Berlin. It’s green, filled with artistic people and very inspiring as a city.
What’s your vision of the future? How long are you planning to keep up with your digital nomad lifestyle? Do you have any long-term plans on your mind?
We’ve been doing it for 5 years and don’t plan on stopping anytime soon. It’s our lifestyle and it suits us. Our van is our home. Grin. We have a lot of projects we’re working on at the moment, which will hopefully lead into other projects in different countries. We’ll have to wait and see.
Gathering all your current experience – what would you now say to your old self, back when you just started?
I’d say: ask for what you’re worth, what your work is worth. Not what the going cheap freelance rate is. I’d say: stop looking backward or forward, but breathe in the now and live it. And lastly, I’d say: don’t sweat the small stuff.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by little details when you’re wildly out of your comfort zone, but it’s not the end of the world. Embrace it.
Youtube: Westfalia Digital Nomads