On becoming a digital nomad

When I first started travelling in the early eighties, being able to keep on travelling meant finding work in each new place. It was usually bar work, waitressing, cleaning and such-like. My first overseas job was as a kitchen hand in Athens, Greece. The temperamental chef would hurl pots at me. I never took it personally, because it wasn’t, but I did learn to take evasive action. I had some fun jobs, and some terrible ones, but it was a great way to get to know (extra) ‘ordinary’ people and to get a feel for what it was like to live there.

Working in a souvenir shop in Jerusalem, Palestine 1983

Working in a souvenir shop in Jerusalem, Palestine 1983

I would write long letters home to family and friends and to new friends I made along the way. These often didn’t get posted. There was something I loved about writing those letters. It was a way of capturing a moment in time and the flavour of a place. Writing something down can reveal so much about yourself and the way you experience the world. Sometimes, when I read something I’ve written, I’ll think ‘I didn’t know I thought that’!  I rarely travelled with a camera. I used to think it would create a barrier between me and the world. I wanted to experience everything fully. Later on, when I did start to carry a camera, they never lasted long. They would invariably get lost or stolen. Once, in Algeria, I was sitting in a car and a man reached in the window, grabbed my camera and ran away. I took it as a sign.

Here’s a postcard I sent to JH in 1998.

Mongolian children on horseback10B9CB1B-D241-4144-8877-943283F001FD

Writing this blog is very much like writing those letters. I do like taking photos now but I don’t always carry a camera and I’m still not usually comfortable taking photos of people. I love taking photos of wildlife though, and buildings. Buildings are cool. Some people do make money from their travel blog but that’s not going to work for me. I’m not really keen on all that advertising, promotional, capitalist sales stuff. So, I guess this blog is more a series of letters and a way of finding, and experimenting with, my writer’s voice. I’m practicing writing.


My lovely little ‘bon voyage’ notebook (thanks KB)

The only people in the past who seemed to be able to live (and finance) the romantic nomadic lifestyle of my dreams were writers or journalists. No wonder I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I just wanted to travel and be able to earn enough money to keep travelling. So, although this blog is more play than work, there is in the back of my mind, the idea that it could lead me to becoming a writer. A real writer who writes books. Or perhaps, with enough ‘followers’, practice and credibility, I could get article writing gigs in magazines.

I do have a fallback position. I am (used to be/could be again if I had to) a teacher. It’s a portable skill. Like nurses, doctors and engineers, there’s always work anywhere in the world for teachers. The problem with this (apart from having to teach) is that it’s not flexible in terms of hours, days and time commitment. You still have to show up. You can’t get up on a Wednesday and think I might go to Paris tomorrow (unless you’re already in Paris). You’re tied down to a location unless you quit. This is not what I want.

Teacher writing on the board

Teaching in England in 2001

The first time I heard the term ‘digital nomad’ I thought ‘that’s it’! That’s what I’ve always wanted to be – and now there’s an actual name for it. The internet has changed everything. Now it’s really possible to work and travel at the same time. While it’s not necessary to have high level technical skills to find freelance ‘location independent’ work online, if you are a web developer, programmer, graphic designer or UX designer, the world is your slice of tofu. As a learning/instructional designer I’ve happily discovered this also seems to be true for me.

As soon as I changed a setting on LinkedIn to say I was looking for new opportunities, I got a message from a company asking if I’d be interested in doing some eLearning consultancy. Amazingly, they’re a solar energy company. I love how synchronicity kicks in when you’re following your best path. This has led to learning design work developing their online training, and will possibly/probably be ongoing. I’m also in discussions with two other companies. These are all Australian based but didn’t even blink when I said I’m travelling around overseas. We communicate via Skype and email. I actually love learning design, so as long as I also have time to breathe, dance, swim, I think (for right now anyway) I’ve found my ikigai.


Thanks to the incredibly generous donations from some of you gorgeous people we’ve now got enough money to buy the solar system I wrote about in Lighting up a village. Poor JH hurt his back and hasn’t been able to walk properly or get down the 88 stairs for the past week, so no progress has been made on actually buying or installing it yet. Soon! We’ve been in a strange little bubble perched up here on the fourth floor. I’m part freelancer, part nurse. We’re still in Siem Reap but we could be anywhere.

Yet here I am. I’ve arrived. I’m actually doing it. I’m a digital nomad.


Siem Reap sunset from the 4th floor

12 thoughts on “On becoming a digital nomad

  1. Well done Jeanne I resonate with everything here Except I started travelling in the early 70s and never stopped long enough to get a proper education haha But still travelling and I also hear you about the capitalist marketing stuff that seems to be needed for blog success But like you I follow what feels like my right path and it does work Keep on keeping on


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