Photo: Global Panorama via Flickr
Roughly half a year ago, I packed a single checked bag, a carry-on, and a backpack, loaded everything else I owned into a storage unit, and happily boarded a one-way flight from New York’s JFK to Split, Croatia. A month before, I quit my full-time job as an editorial and content director at a flourishing start-up to take what felt (and proved to be) the trip of a lifetime.
Deciding to e-sign on the dotted line to join Remote Year, a program that gives digital nomads the opportunity to work in 12 different international cities over the course of a year, wasn’t a tough call to make. Though I — admittedly — exercised my type-A mentality and made a pro/con list, when it came time to opt in or out, I can’t describe the sense of relief or excitement when I decided to join the Yugen community. Along with 56 other talented folks, I wake up each day fueled by coffee and wonder, feeling like I’ve been given the undefinable gift of redefining what it means to be a professional.
I’m not the only one either. Many 20 and 30 (and 40 and 50)-somethings are putting a thick question mark over the standard (and tired) rules of making their way up those pillars of success. Remote Year isn’t the only program that challenges workers to redesign the traditional approach to working, and many nomadic workers are choosing to take the leap all on their own, too.
After filing more than 200 articles from Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Germany, Austria, Italy, Morocco, Portugal, and Japan, I can confidently say that while there are difficulties keeping hours abroad and navigating the freelance lifestyle, I’ve mostly been amazed and surprised at how seamless the transition has been.
And — sorry mom and dad — but I’m not sure how anyone returns to the standard 9-to-5 gig after experiencing the inspiration, the freedom, and the community that’s found between the pages of your passport.
Want to take the plunge?
Here, eight digital nomads share what they learned from quitting their jobs to travel the globe — and how it might be a possibility for you, too.
You have to always be growing and learning
Fellow freelance writer Brittany Hughes grew tired of writing for others instead of for herself. After gaining experience building brands and giving them a voice, she decided to quit her corporate role as an advertising copywriter in the hopes of doing something that had more of an impact by building her blog.
As she makes her way through Prague, Africa and beyond, she’s picking up writing projects but mostly, she’s learning all that she can — a skill she says is vital to success as a nomad.
“You have to treat building your own brand like building your own business. You always have to look for ways to improve and learn more. From taking e-courses on photography to reading books about travel writing, I’m always looking for ways to grow and get better,” she says.
You get the most out of the nomadic life when you build your community
It was freelance videographer Jason Rost’s wife who suggested completely changing his life, even though she wouldn’t be joining him for the ride. After working as an environment artist and game designer in the video game industry for Sony, Warner Brothers, and Valkyrie Entertainment, he felt stagnant and needed something that would break him out of his rut and fuel his inspiration.
“I quit my job because I didn’t want to be traveling and keep a regular work schedule, and working for myself allows me to set my own hours and not have to keep a strict schedule,” he says. “I also wanted to be able to take my job outdoors. Filming allows me to visit unique locations that I’m interested in, film them, and combine sightseeing with work.”
What has he learned on-the-go? The vast importance of developing and finding a community while you’re traveling really makes the nomadic lifestyle worth it.
“Our group is so diverse, there’s always something new to learn or someone that challenges your assumptions. Being around so many driven, unique personalities has really pushed me to be my best at times,” he says.
Happiness isn’t tied to your job, but to your life
For the first year she traveled abroad, Sarah Rabideau kept her job working in advertising technology in digital strategy, but recently, she decided to put in her notice and invest her time and energy into the travel start-up, Pana. Her decision to pack it up and head out was prompted by 50+ hour weeks in New York City, and overall, feeling burnt out professionally, emotionally, and physically.
The experience of setting foot in continents all over the world helped her realize that her career doesn’t define her.
“Asking ‘what do you do?’ is a very American question and even more so a New York City question. I’ve learned that my happiness doesn’t come from a high salary and a title in an industry that doesn’t fulfill me,” she says. “Traveling has inspired me to keep an open mind, try new things, meet more people and to get out of my comfort zone.”
Don’t forget to call your mom
Art director and designer Sally Fung was trigger shy the first time she was offered the chance to travel for a year. Fast-forward a few months later when a second opportunity arrived, and she finally got up the courage to let go of her full-time job — where she worked overtime nights and weekends at an agency — to see the planet. While contracting, she will visit Europe, Asia, South America, and beyond, expanding her creativity and her skillset on the road.
For Fung, being left to her own devices has taught her how much she truly enjoys design, and how now, it feels a lot less like work and more like a passion and a hobby. But as wonderful as travel is, she’s also realized that it’s not quite as glamorous as it sounds being a digital nomad, and sometimes, it’s okay to miss home.
“There’s a lot of hype about it and you get showered with compliments of bravery and courage or something like ‘you’ve made the best decision of your life.’ It’s easy to lose sight that life is still happening,” she says. “You don’t put life on pause to travel. There’ll be lots of emotions and internal struggles, there may be heart breaks and emergencies back home. It’s learning to be selfish and responsible at the same time. Just remember to always call your mom.”
You reap the most reward from being flexible
When Lisa Niver was working as a teacher and part-time at Club Med, she couldn’t shake the desire to have more adventures. She wanted to scuba dive. She wanted to move. She wanted to see the world. Energized with hope and hunger, she moved to Copper Mountain, Colorado to work and ski. Then to the Bahamas to snorkel. Then on a cruise line for seven years, sailing all over the world — and getting paid for it. Then it was Asia, and the list continues.
These days, she films travel segments and has an active YouTube channel about wanderlust, and has grown as a professional and as a person in more ways than she can count. But the greatest lesson being nomadic has taught her? The ‘F’ word — and no, not that one: flexibility. Both with travel plans and with her worldview.
“When I went back to teaching after spending three months in India and three months in Nepal, one day the lights went out. My students were freaking out. We had a long discussion about how in Nepal they only have power for 13 hours a day and that some people do not have hot water or any water in their homes. My students were interested in why there was not 24 hours of power a day,” she says. “It was a great life lesson and we decided we liked the classroom with the lights off and the blinds open.”
You quickly learn your value — and how to market it
Jeanna Manifold felt lucky to work in an industry that challenged her and, well, was fun. Though she managed the media account for Australia’s largest travel retailer, she found herself growing more and more restless. Instead of feeling inspired by the client, she really just wanted to visit the destinations she was writing briefs about.
“One day I finally realized as a single, child-free woman, the only thing stopping me was that I voluntarily chained myself to a desk for too many hours a week,” she says. So what did she do? Break free! These days, she finagles her work to match her travel goals, country hopping along the way.
Though she’s new to the nomadic way of earning money, she’s quickly discovered her value — and more importantly, how to profit off of it.
“My skills are much more transferable than I give myself credit, particularly within the marketing and advertising space. Within the first few weeks of my nomadic life I’ve dabbled in digital content writing, developed some sales collateral, and tried my hand at SEO,” she says. “I’m not earning anywhere near as much as I did in a high-powered role — yet — but I’m teaching myself new skills every day and accidentally learning others along the way.”
Networking comes easier — and differently — remotely
Scott Dukette retired from a civil engineering firm and signed a one year non-compete, preventing him from snagging a job at another company in his field. Though he didn’t have a defined pension income and wasn’t old enough for social security, he had the means to bridge a career transition that took him exploring countries worldwide. Along with his wife, he decided to travel for a year, hoping to connect with various communities and organizations globally. He’s used the so-called break between his first career and whatever his second will be to consult and cultivating fiction-writing skills. But mostly, he’s savoring the peace that comes with remote work.
“I’m writing this from the pool deck on the roof of our apartment building at 9 a.m.. The sun is shining, it ‘s 77 F, birds are chirping and I can hear the distant sounds of the fitness boot camp that meets nearby,” he writes.
But his greatest takeaway from this dramatic shift is how easy it is to network as a nomad, especially when you’re open to it.
“I’ve added several great contacts in each city we’ve visited, some personal and some potentially professional. I’ve also discovered that an American with an engineering degree — even a monolingual one outside of computer tech — is taken seriously in most countries, more so than in the U.S.,” he says. “One common theme I’ve found is that having to communicate every day in another language that you don’t speak well, or at all, exercises my left brain. Every day is amazing. Sometimes I still feel surprised and even overwhelmed that we’re actually doing it.”
Being your own boss means you must be disciplined
For those who have never lived in the Big Apple, it might sound insane that author Ellen Goodlett reached a point where the city felt small. After working in the same industry for seven years, she wanted something that would stir up her life and invigorate her. Challenged with the opportunity to travel, she quit her full-time gig to ghostwrite cheesy romantic novels and debuted her first book, while touring the big ‘ole world. The experience of working for herself has taught her the vast importance of sticking to deadlines — something you might take for granted when someone else is dictating them.
“It takes a lot more active energy and work than my previous position, and while the schedule is more flexible, there are times when I have deadlines I simply need to hit, no matter what other life situations get in the way. But the freedom it’s bought me simply can’t be beat, especially while traveling,” she says. “You have to be so flexible and open to trying new things/adapting to situations you’ve never encountered before, all the time. But I love it like crazy and wouldn’t trade it for anything. Even when I’m feeling overwhelmed and I have a lot of work piling up, I feel excited to wake up and tackle it every morning — which is all I can ask for! A job and a life that I truly love.”