“After a few months of soul-searching and planning, I finally made the change, took an online job, and became a digital nomad."
Ali Jennings is a freelance writer, house sitter, and teacher currently residing in the UK.
SIX YEARS AGO, I was living in a great city with a good job, a cool flat, and enough money in the bank to be comfortable. I had what every person who has just turned 30 should probably want – a sense of security and what seemed from the outside a good life. But I still felt that there was something missing.
Even as a child I had dreamt of having the freedom to travel around the world as and when I wished, without having to conform to the restraints of everyday life. When I was a child, this didn’t seem to be possible. However, times have changed significantly in the past 20 years to the point where working remotely and being location-independent are not just possible, but are actually becoming increasingly common.
After a few months of soul-searching and planning, I finally made the change, took an online job, and became a digital nomad. And although it hasn’t been completely plain sailing the entire time, I have to say that it is definitely one of the best decisions I have ever made. Becoming a digital nomad has made a lot of significant changes to my life. Here I’ll explain to you how making the change has had such a positive impact on my life.
Of course, this is the main reason why people become digital nomads – because they want to see the world. When I got my online job, it was the perfect opportunity to head out and see all the places I wanted to see. Around the same time I got my online job, I decided to look into house sitting (when you look after someone’s home and pets while they are away in exchange for free accommodation) and managed to score a six-week house sit in Seoul.
I couldn’t have asked for a better start to my life as a digital nomad; Seoul is an incredibly exciting city with a fairly big ex-pat and digital nomad community, and because of the hours I was working at the time, I had whole days to do what I wanted to do and then spent my weekday evenings working.
Between house-sitting and working online, I have traveled through Asia and Europe, visiting many different countries, living in some of them like a local, and staying in places that I certainly wouldn’t have been able to afford if I was staying there for a holiday. For example, I’d never have had the opportunity to live in Oslo for two and a half months and in Switzerland for five and a half weeks if I hadn’t have been doing what I do now. So being a digital nomad has meant that I’ve seen places I’d always wanted to go to but thought I may never do so because of the cost. It’s opened up lots of travel opportunities for me just because I decided to work online rather than in an office.
Greater travel opportunities, in turn, mean being able to tick off all those places you wanted to see and things you wanted to do, and even things you didn’t realize you wanted to do. Since becoming a digital nomad, I’ve been to some of the most iconic landmarks on the planet, eaten some of the best food the world has to offer and done everything from seeing the ice hockey world championships in Germany to getting badgered for food off deer in Japan. It’s so exciting getting to do all the things I’ve spent years dreaming of doing. But best of all, once I’ve ticked things off, I can just add more to my bucket list and carry on.
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This, of course, depends on the type of job you have when working remotely, but as I’m a teacher, I get the opportunity to decide on my hours, both when I work and how many hours I work during the week. In recent months I’ve also started working as a writer, which has given me even greater flexibility in my working hours. I can get up when I want, start work when I want, and take breaks when I want, as long as I meet my deadlines for my clients. If I want to take a day off, I don’t have to call my boss to ask permission or apply for a day’s holiday because I am my own boss; I make all the decisions.
This flexibility in working hours is one of the many things which leads to a better work-life balance. If you can decide on the hours that you work, it means that you can also decide on the hours you spend enjoying yourself. Before I became a digital nomad, I was working myself into the ground by working in excess of 50 hours a week. As much as I enjoyed my job back then, working that many hours had a detrimental effect on my social life, my personal life, and my health, both physical and mental.
I was earning good money but I barely had time to spend it, unless it was on the takeaways I ate regularly because I didn’t have time to cook for myself. Now, although I can sometimes work quite a lot, I certainly work fewer hours than I did back then, freeing up time to do things that I enjoy, such as meeting new people, going sightseeing, and studying languages. I also manage to keep up with my friends and family much more often and have time to chill out in the evenings and watch a movie or read a book instead of just going to bed and falling asleep immediately.
Meeting new people is one of the best things about traveling and it’s even better as a digital nomad as you tend to stay in places longer, giving you the opportunity to get to know people better. Another great thing about meeting people as a digital nomad is the diversity in the nationalities that you’ll get to meet. Digital nomad communities are made up of a variety of people from all around the globe.
In my life as a digital nomad, I’ve met people from the US, Australia, the Netherlands, the UK, Germany, Norway, Vietnam, and many more besides. Meeting people from all over is a really important part of traveling; it opens your eyes to different viewpoints and how other people see the world.
Sometimes it can be difficult to meet people if your job means you spend a lot of time by yourself. My two jobs as a teacher and a writer mean I spend quite a lot of time inside staring at my laptop, and even though I talk to people in my teaching job, it’s not the same as meeting people in real-time.
To get around this, I use sites like Meet Up to see what kind of events and groups are happening in the area. Occasionally I also use co-working spaces; although it’s not a social atmosphere, I’m still around people and getting the chance to chat. It’s a cool way of meeting like-minded people who have the same interests as me and gives me time away from looking at a screen.
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A fantastic thing about being a digital nomad, and something which I still appreciate on a day-to-day basis, is giving up the commute to work. It’s amazing how much of the day is taken up just by getting to and coming home from work.
Since becoming a digital nomad, I don’t need to roll out of bed until 20 minutes before I have to start teaching, and if I’m on a writing day, I can get up whenever I wish. Another big time-saver is not having to get ready for work. OK, obviously I have to look vaguely presentable if I’m teaching but it’s not the same as having to put on a suit and makeup.
My students can’t tell if I’ve had a shower that morning or if I’m in my pajama bottoms so I’m saving a lot of time here too. This doesn’t exactly apply to me but a few of my digital nomad friends who stay in cheap places for extended periods and are earning western salaries tend to hire help at home to cut down on dull domestic chores like cleaning and laundry. While this isn’t something I have done, it is something I would consider in the future to gain more time for myself.
When I was living my life before becoming a digital nomad, it seemed that everything was aimed at what people have. Advertisements everywhere convince us that we’ll not be happy unless we have the latest fashions and the latest gadgets. But do we really need all of these things? The answer is simple: no, we really don’t. Before, I had a flat filled with things. A lot of these things I barely looked at from month to month. When I decided to head off on my travels, I pretty much got rid of all my stuff apart from the bare basics that filled my backpack and a small holdall.
There’s something liberating about freeing yourself of your possessions and it really made it clear to me how little we actually need in material things to be happy. I’ve spent the last two years only owning what I can carry and it’s changed my life immensely. I’ve even changed my opinion on the material possessions that I currently own. Prior to being a digital nomad, I used to really enjoy shopping and always bought clothes from the biggest high street brands as well as some independent boutiques. Now the majority of the clothes I wear are from charity and second-hand shops. This is for a number of reasons. Firstly, it keeps costs down massively, meaning I can spend more on my travels.
Secondly, as I’m on the road pretty much constantly, I spend a lot of time dumping clothes along the way (either for recycling or give to charities) as the seasons change; there’s no point in carrying around a heavy winter coat in the middle of an Asian summer. There’s also no real point in having nice, expensive clothes if they’re going to spend the majority of the time stuffed into a backpack.
But what started as a practical and economical way of living has become a huge hobby of mine now. I now love hunting for individual and unique pieces that I can’t find anywhere else and I’ve discovered that there are some parts of the world – like Japan – are fantastic when it comes to second-hand shopping.
Photo: Patrick Schneider/Shutterstock
You’d think that being your own boss might not leave time to work on one’s own health and body. In fact, it’s potentially very easy to put a lot of weight on, what with eating out a lot, socializing with new people and drinking a lot of alcohol, and then laying around when you’ve got a hangover. Although I’ve had to discipline myself a lot at times, I have found that I’m a lot healthier than I was when I was working an average job.
Probably the biggest reason I’ve managed to get that bit fitter is by spending a lot of my days sightseeing. House sitting means I get access to a full kitchen so I can prepare my own meals and having a house or apartment gives me a space to do some exercise. Working fewer hours and giving up the commute also helped with gaining time to sort out my exercise regime and diet.
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When working in my old job, it always seemed like there was so much to do and not enough time to do it in. Since beginning to work remotely, it still sometimes seems that I have too much to do but as I now only have myself to depend on, I’ve had to learn to how to manage my time efficiently. It’s been an essential skill to learn as it not only impacts my working life but also my social life; if I wasn’t organized with my schedule and all my deadlines, it would be pretty much impossible to have any kind of personal relationships or any fun.
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In a normal nine-to-five job where you have a boss and are told what to do on a day-to-day basis, it’s very hard to say no to things, especially as you’re on salary. As soon as I started working remotely and I was asked to do something which wasn’t necessarily part of my job description, I felt more confident in saying no to things, especially if I’d already made other plans.
That’s not to say that I said no to everything; I don’t mind doing extra things for my employers and clients if I have the time and it fits in with everything else I’m doing, but I’m now no longer prepared to give up my free time just in order to keep other people happy – it’s not why I became a digital nomad in the first place.
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I’ve already mentioned co-working spaces which are great for having a quiet space and for meeting other digital nomads. However, they’re certainly not the only places where you can work. Of course, I work at home (and by home, I mean the house sit that I’m on or the Airbnb I’m staying in), especially when I’m teaching as I need a quiet background. When I’m writing though, I often decamp to cafes and pubs as I find having the rumble of other people’s conversations quite inspiring and creates an ambient atmosphere to get me in the mood for writing.
Sometimes, if I’m feeling really lazy, I stay in bed to write. Being a digital nomad has meant that I can work wherever I like, as long as I have my laptop with me and a good internet connection. Having the freedom to choose my own workspaces helps massively with my work; it’s makes me more productive and I get articles for clients done faster.
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A humdrum office job can obviously get very monotonous and a lot of my friends and acquaintances have regularly complained to me about doing the same thing day in, day out when they go to work. Working freelance can help to take away that boredom in your work. I find this especially true with my writing work. Every time I get a new order from a client, it’s something new that I get the chance to write about. Having a variety in my work has made me much happier and more motivated to continue to develop.
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Getting out into the world is a great chance to try out new things. One of my favorite things to do, since I’ve lived outside of my home country, is learning other languages; it’s a fun hobby plus at least attempting to communicate in the language of the country I’m staying in really enhances the traveling experience. I’ve also tried rafting, parasailing, food tours, trekking, and loads of other activities I would never have had the opportunity to do if I’d just stayed in one place. And as the world is such a big place, there’s always something new to try out wherever I go.
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Digital nomads are one of the largest growing groups of workers; more and more people are seeing the advantages of working remotely and changing their lifestyles for the better. By deciding to become a digital nomad, I have joined a fast-moving trend which will continue to keep growing, a community that is accepting of all who join it and who are committed to making the most of their lives – and it’s a community which I am very proud to be a part of.
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OK, so I have to put in the hours at work to make sure I’m earning enough money both to live and to fund my travels. But as I’ve said previously, being able to change my location so often means there’s always something new to discover, somewhere new to go, and someone new to meet, meaning that my life has become exponentially more exciting and fulfilled since becoming a digital nomad.
Of course, being a digital nomad isn’t perfect. As you’re working for yourself, you usually can’t offload work onto someone else and you have no backup if you become sick, if you’re working freelance you can have periods of time when work is on the slow side and at times, if you’re not careful, the lifestyle can get a little bit isolating. But overall, the benefits outweigh the negatives and it’s definitely worth it to get the lifestyle you dreamt of and visit some of the most unique travel destinations in the world.