In my mind the word ‘nomad’ evokes images of indigenous communities travelling to tend the land and look after their animals as the seasons change - it is a must for their survival.
To clarify, what I mean here is copious amounts of white people, sat at computers, choosing to live where we want because we have the luxury of choice.
So I use the words ‘Digital Nomad’ as it's the most recognisable term, but I use it somewhat apologetically. Essentially I'm talking about a location independent lifestyle - being able to travel and live wherever we choose because our work is online.
I’ve always been curious about the world, although until recently had never done what you would call ‘travelling’. As a young mum bringing up a child mainly on my own, the opportunities are limited, although I always prioritised regular holidays abroad.
A love for the whole world
We saw the vineyards of Tuscany, the old villages of Crete, the mountains of Spain, the temples of Egypt, the beaches of the Caribbean islands, and every major European capital city. We fell in love with many places. We weren’t ever wealthy, I just worked hard and prioritised new experiences over other things.
I’ve always had a natural fascination with other cultures and how people live, not celebrities or rock stars, just ordinary people like you and me: What are their priorities? What time do they get up? What do they eat? How do they get to work? I really should have been an anthropologist.
I’d always fantasised about living abroad but had neither the courage, confidence nor finances to consider it properly, and my daughter had deep roots in our community, with her father, friends, and rest of my family in the UK and I didn’t want to interrupt her routine.
In my mid-thirties, for various reasons, (you can read my story here), I took a serious look at my life and realised I didn’t like what I could see and wanted to make some significant changes.
I realised with trepidation that my daughter would inevitably be leaving home in around five years and although the thought saddened me greatly, I knew it would be an opportunity for drastic change, and for me to try to make my dream of seeing even more of the world real.
I had no idea where I wanted to go, and although certain places from the past had struck a chord with me, the idea of picking out a place to go and settle wasn’t on my mind, I just knew that I wanted to live somewhere warm, where I could spend most of my free time outside.
I already knew that I wanted to be a professional writer, and I knew in theory that writers could work from anywhere, and so after much careful research and consideration I devised a five-year plan, with an end goal:
To be able to work from anywhere in the world as an experienced and qualified writer.
I wanted to feel sunshine on my face every day
I wanted to see more of the world
I wanted to meet new people
I wanted to have new experiences
I wanted the freedom to work when I choose
I wanted to be a positive role model for my daughter
The start of an adventure
I split up all of the tasks up that needed completing and divided them between the months and years:
- Start writing regularly
- Get experience
- Do internships
- Get published
- Apply to do a Masters
- Complete the Masters
- Build a portfolio
Doubt and fear
At one point I nearly didn’t do the Masters.
I was terrified of going back to university and studying at that level, and I was scared of showing anyone my writing; I was scared of putting myself out there.
Showing a piece of writing to the world (or to anyone for that matter) is like extracting your heart from your body, placing it on a silver tray - red, vibrant and pumping, and then inviting the world to come and pound it with a sledgehammer.
Oh, the pain…
I delayed it by a year.
Passion and drive won in the end
My desire for a new life overtook my fears, and I wasn’t going to let anything stop me from pursuing this long-held fantasy - including my self-sabotaging self.
And so when the time came for my daughter to leave home, I was ready.
This was unbelievably exciting but also terrifying.
I had NEVER really done anything on my own, not really.
During the five years of my plan, it was pure coincidence that I got a job as a Travel Writer for a UK Magazine and was afforded many incredible opportunities to travel the world. I specialised in five-star wellness retreats while writing for YOGA magazine, what an enjoyable experience and I’m eternally thankful.
Travel Writing - The Truth
Those of you who know me personally may think that I’m an ‘avid traveller’ or that I’m ‘well-travelled’, but that’s not the case - let me explain what working as a travel writer for a magazine entails.
We get picked up from home by taxi to the airport; often there is a PR waiting for us, and our flights, meals and seats are all booked. When we arrive at the destination, we are chauffeur driven to our resort, spa or hotel and a PR or guide accompanies us throughout the whole trip, responding to our every need. Every breakfast, lunch and dinner is already arranged, and sometimes the food is ordered for you before you even get there.
Confidence in some ways
It’s a cushy gig for sure, and some of the things I ended up doing in the name of reporting were incredible, and I would NEVER have had the confidence to do on my own - surfing in Morocco, snorkelling in Aruba, Standup Paddleboarding in Anglesey, Hiking in the Himalayas etc.
It's all very glamorous and lovely and dreamy, BUT it is not travelling alone. It is alone, but it's not alone.
So although it certainly kept the fire burning in terms of my passion for seeing more of the world; it in no way increased my confidence in travelling alone.
When the time came
When the time finally came for me to leave the UK, unbelievably I didn't want to, I was just too scared.
All of my self-limiting beliefs and fears came to smash me in the face at once and paralysed me in the forms of anxiety, sadness, insecurity, procrastination, and self-doubt.
Of course, none of my desires had changed, but they were overshadowed by this now impending sense of doom.
Just book it
Fortunately, I had already moved my daughter to university, said goodbye to my apartment, stored all of my things, bought my ticket to Vietnam, and had even secured some part-time teaching hours.
I had to leave.
There is something to be said for committing to something physically, even when we're not 100% confident or sure, this is the driver that never fails to motivate me to get on with it.
The Other Side of the World
And so it was that I found myself living in Vietnam. It was an incredible experience, I made so many friends, explored the countryside on a motorbike and delved into the rich culture and history of this fascinating country. What a blast.
After about six months I started to feel restless and I like I wanted to see something different and check out a more relaxed vibe. Now I'm living in Thailand where the mountains and limestone cliffs are breathtaking, the beaches are like picture postcards, the people are wonderful, and the sun shines every day.
Next stop: Malaysia.
Do I miss home?
No, not really.
I miss my daughter so much sometimes it hurts me physically, but I've never once thought about coming home, not to live anyway.
Sometimes I miss straightforward things such as being able to sit across from my sister or one of my dear friend's while we catch up, put the world to rights and laugh until we're on the floor.
But you can't have it all, everything in life is a compromise, and I'm very happy making these compromises for the lifestyle that I dreamed about for years.
So what is the lifestyle?
It will be different in each place and for each person, depending on your wants and needs.
For some, this lifestyle is all about travel, cruising from one place to the next and seeing all that the world has to offer, 50 countries in a year etc.
I’ve realised now that I’m not a traveller - I hate travelling. Yep, I hate queuing; I hate spending time in airports, I hate being starving most of the time (no vegan food anywhere) and I hate being intimately close to total strangers. I love seeing the world of course, but I choose to do it at a slower pace.
My current lifestyle in Krabi, Thailand
- 5 am I get up and start writing straight away; I've always been a morning person
- 11 am I go into town for lunch, wander about, pick up groceries, have a coffee etc.
- 1 pm I meditate, then go to the pool
- 2 pm I do another 2-3 hours work
- 6 pm I go walking along the estuary
- 8 pm I have dinner, either at a restaurant or get a takeout - I never cook.
- In the evening I speak to my daughter, family and friends if they’re available
I do this five days a week; it’s tempting to work six or even seven days a week as I love what I do some much, but if I do this I end up burnt out.
So I spend a day exploring, going to new beaches, temples etc. and the other day I spend on self-care: I have a massage, do some yoga, read, meditate, and then go to a swanky restaurant where they serve the most delicious chilled Italian Sauvignon Blanc - a rarity in Asia I can tell you.
None of this is set in stone, sometimes I take a day off here and there, or sometimes I work far more if I'm particularly interested in something or am on multiple deadlines.
My life in each place is different
In Vietnam, I had a very different routine. I was teaching for a few hours in the evenings, so my daily routine was off-kilter, the air wasn't clean so I didn't spend as much time outside and there were no beaches nearby to explore, but there were other incredible places - it was just a wholly different experience.
It’s a major capital city with significant infrastructure, so the opportunities for meeting people are plenty, and there’s always something to do. I’d go out a couple of times a week and also spend time in Hanoi regularly seeing exhibitions, getting clothes made and eating delicious, vegan food.
Both lifestyles are equally as enjoyable, just different.
A big highlight
When my daughter came to Vietnam we spent two weeks razzing around the countryside on motorbikes and backpacking; it was like a dream come true for me. Back in the UK, she had stopped coming away with me choosing naturally as a teenager to go with her friends, so it was wonderful that we spent this time together having fun like we hadn't done in years.
It is a holiday I will never forget. I did intend to write about it because it was so unique, so hilarious, and so inspiring, but in the end, I decided to keep the memories just for us. I look forward to every new experience that I can now offer her wherever they may be.
I was so pleased to be able to give her this experience, this real taste of Vietnam, and also to show her that women can go off and do what we want, we can overcome our fears, we can support ourselves, we can make our own choices, we can ride motorbikes!
Do I need a five-year plan?
You don’t need a five-year plan to achieve this kind of lifestyle. I couldn’t physically make a move for five years, so I made it a five-year plan. I know many people who have done very little planning and made a successful transition. It’s not easy, but it’s easier than you might think.
Not only do you not need a five-year plan, but you also don't need to be qualified in anything, anything at all, to create a successful location independence career and lifestyle for yourself. Say what!?
No, you don't.
A new landscape
I know multiple people who aren't qualified in much but are intensely passionate about creating a location-independent career for themselves and have made it work. There are people like me who are experienced and qualified, but there are many people who are not. Generally, we all have skills that can be utilised and charged for online and there is a massive demand for these skills.
The face of the job market has changed so much, and potential clients and companies aren't necessarily interested in what qualifications you have, just if you can do the work and you can prove this with your portfolio. If you don't have a portfolio, it doesn't take long to get one together.
What work can I do?
The list is endless but here are just some of the jobs that some of my friends are doing:
- Video Producer
- VA - Virtual Assistant
- Social Media Manager
- Graphic Designer
- Personal Trainer
- Yoga Teacher
- Health & Wellness Coach
- Online Teacher
Jobs that historically have always had to be in person, no longer are.
Is the lifestyle for me?
Not necessarily. It wouldn't suit everyone.
I have barely any material possessions anymore, I started with a fair few but have discarded them along the way because they're a pain to lug around; all of the airlines have different weight restrictions, so it gets annoying continually having to think about it - I have my whole life in 25 KG.
So if you need lots of material stuff around you, you're probably not going to like it.
There are challenges
You won't be able to buy the toiletries that you normally use - this annoyed me off at first, but eventually, once you get to know a place, you'll be able to find equally as good alternatives.
You won't always be able to find the food that you like. As a vegan, this is particularly challenging in Asia, but you know, you get by.
You will miss home; sometimes you don't know what it is your missing or why you're missing it, it just comes with a feeling. When this happens, I walk out into the sunshine and feel the sun on my face, then call my family.
You will get ill - new food, new (and not always clean) water, and insect bites will all contribute. This can feel very hard and very lonely, you'll want your mum to make you some soup and put a duvet over you. It's not an option, so you get on with it. There will always be someone that will help you to get medicine or go to the doctors, even if it's just the landlord of your apartment.
You will find yourself in unusual situations that you're not comfortable with, either culturally, or, because you're hanging out with dickheads whom you've just met and who seemed OK initially - these get less and less as you learn to trust your gut and act instinctively.
Equally, you're going to meet people with stories that will blow your mind, and who will show you kindness like nothing you've experienced in your life before.
It's hard for me to talk about the pros without sounding like I'm gloating. All of my 'Why's' from above are now my everyday experience - all of them, plus so much more., the advantages of this lifestyle are so numerous and so real.
I work 40+ hours a week because I love writing and I love what I do, but a lot of digital nomads only work about 18 hours - this is because living costs are so low in Asia that you can still have a high standard of living and save money for the future, just from working a few hours.
I hope you enjoyed reading about my escapades and the truth about the realities of working online.
To receive honest and absorbing stories to help us try and make sense of our world please get on my email list.
Hannah Anstee is a former British Wellness Journalist turned Women’s Coach & Mentor.
You may know her from her work as Beauty Editor at YOGA Magazine or her contributions to The Independent or Psychologies Magazine.
Hannah uses a kind and candid approach to help women rewrite their stories.