From Solo traveler to Digital Nomad. This is my story of how I became a Digital Nomad and where that road has led me today.
When I think what it means to be Digital Nomad (DN) the main topics at hand are the jobs that you do to identify as a DN and the places you travel to while working remotely. With those main overarching subjects, this is the in depth tale including the collection of my jobs, finances, locations, to a new search of refining the Digital Nomad label, with the hopes to bring me back home to myself a little more, trust, have gratitude and fulfillment in all the main pillars in life on a day to day basis.
Let’s start with back to where it begun. After I took my first official solo trip to New Zealand, I was hooked. My thirst for more travel was ignited. How can I do more of this for an extended period of time? When I got home, my travel angel, Justin, whispered in my ear about a company called, Remote Year that was just starting to get themselves on the map. They organized a year-long travel experience for remote workers to live and work remotely in one city, one country a month for a year in total. This was a game changer for me. I saw an out to the 9-5 plus the opportunity to travel the world while working.
Getting an Interview with Remote Year
I started researching the company and discovered I had a mutual friend with one of the founders. I slowly networked and made my way into an application process where I was a finalist for a Program Leader. The position was to be the point of contact for all the remotes during the trip as the one to help with anything they needed in partnership with the city manager that was stationed at each location. I was chosen out of thousands of applicants they interviewed.
At the time, this was like making the finals for American Idol. The company flew myself and about 15 other candidates to Paris for a long weekend of intensive interviews, mock scenarios, icebreakers and games.
While the weekend was emotionally trying, it did not deter me from my new dream of becoming a digital nomad and working for the original company that seemingly coined the term and marketed their way as the top industry leaders for group remote travel. So, I swapped a recited academy award speech, with a laptop on a hammock on my vision board.
Getting Rejected from the Program Leader Position
I was disappointed to hear later in the week that I did not get the position. I wasn’t going to let that stop me with realizing this vision. At the time, I was also still into my acting and focused energy on Producing a play with my Dad as a very special moment we wanted to create. I knew, there was a reason that the opportunity did not align at the time since I had a project that was more important.
Fast forward to 2018 and a series of wild events occurred at the job I spent the last 4 years in. The complex, complicated scenario led me to the ultimate decision to resign with a company. After I left the company, I went through months of healing from a collection of traumatic events that built over time.
Rejecting Remote Year for a 6 Figure Position
Once I cleared most of the cobwebs, the unexpected happened. I got offered two incredible positions at the same time. I got a call from Remote Year offering me a job as a Program Consultant (a sales role) and very prestigious, six figure position at another start up wanting me to build, create and grow my own department.
I felt the struggle with the choice and ultimately settled on the bigger paycheck with the growing start up. I went against my intuition and went for the title and money because I needed to prove to my bruised ego that I was capable of landing another higher up role at a startup.
Overcoming by Ego to Pursue by Dream Job
Quickly, I started regretting my choice. Two strong things came to my mind as I called my mom hysterically crying in an alley behind my office in Venice, California. My energy was not in a space to take on a beast of a project as I was still healing from prior events. My mental health was more important than my salary. Not to mention, I kicked aside the dream for money and the egoic, subconscious desire that wanted my former colleagues to see a new position on my LinkedIn profile pop up that showed I moved on to bigger and better things.
I wasn’t being fair to my heart or the company I was working for as I knew I could not put my best food forward at the time.
I circled back to Remote Year, asking if there was a chance they would revisit extending my offer explaining I would be remiss if I did not try. It was clear to me when they accepted and put me in a cohort that this was the “right” choice all along.
In January of 2020, I started my new role. At first it was all so exciting, and slowly I started to see the burning flames as my idealized perspective slowly starting to catch fire. I was again flown out of the country for training. This time it was to Mexico City for a worldwide team meet and greet and coworking. There were about 50 of us, including the 10 people that were in my training pod.
There I was in a similar situation but this time slightly upgraded to an actual role but with the same intense weekend filled with work, play and introduction to the Intensified micro version of what a month on a program looked like.
I left the weekend, exhausted and questioned where I was at in my life. The truth is, I finally got to peek behind the curtains of OZ and what I discovered was, the fantasy did not match the reality. It wasn’t that Remote Year wasn’t wonderful for some people, it just wasn’t for me.
I was pretty miserable in the role itself, yet my rose colored glasses remained strong with the company itself. I wrestled yet again, with the decision. How can I leave my “dream job”. I had been praying and working towards this for years, how dare I be ungrateful for this opportunity. I need to have a positive mind and tell the negative scatter to stop.
Mental Heath Debate vs. Sticking with my “Dream Job”
I was to stuck in an inner debate of mental health vs alleged dream job what I coined “Dream Company. Nightmare Role”. I really could not decide. Then, a miracle happened. Covid hit in March and 99% of the company was laid off. It was a relief to hear the news as I was blessed with severance and unemployment to figure out what I wanted to do next. I wasn’t forced to be in a position where I had to quit my “dream job”. There was a God and the universe will show up and do it for you, if you can’t do it yourself. Sometimes, it won’t look very pretty and sometimes it is glorious.
Thriving in the time of COVID
The pandemic was traumatic, yet, within the horrible events, I found a lot of positive things unfolding in my life. I cautiously and humbly say this, I felt like I was thriving during this time. For one, the isolation was something I was used to from recently recoiling into a cocoon of healing. I also spent over a decade working on traumas through therapy and different healing modalities.
I had a lot of tools and was grateful that the world finally understood mental health and inadvertently, understood me. The pandemic gave me permission to not have to be or do anything at all. This unspoken support allowed me to look for jobs that felt more in alignment with my heart, loose 10 LBS I put on during a very trying time, and embrace the solitude in having a quieter, slower paced way of living.
I don’t want to undermine the pain and suffering that occurred in the world during this time, and still is happening. For me, it was a time where I started to find peace with things out of my control, and the forced lock down gave me space to breathe in the stillness.
I suppose, I had to learn to take a bad situation and make it a gift, I had been doing it for years and this was no exception.
Finding a New Career Path
Since I was one of the many unemployed Americans, I was grateful for the highly controversial unemployment benefits that were being added to my funds. This was my chance to cultivate new opportunities within the job world. I would go through cycles where I would hunt for similar past positions and pause questioning why, when I knew I wasn’t happy. After some time, I decided I wanted a more purposeful path. That year, I was done with sales and working for companies that weren’t what I loved and thought teaching would fulfill that need to give back.
I ended up deciding to get a virtual TEFL Certification for ESL with the International TEFL Academy. I saw the chance to work online, be remote and get back to traveling and a future opportunity to live abroad and teach. I struggled with the importance of being paid handsomely. After all, I had big goals of still receiving outward success. Even though I chose a different way of doing it, I still wanted to check the boxes so to speak. I just didn’t mind the detour or thought it could lead to a better reality. While teaching was far from a high salaried role, I saw opportunities with private tutoring and the possibility of building my own service that would supersede my financial desires. There were only upsides to this decisions. It was my first push to know I really could do anything and find ways to grow a healthy income with enough creativity.
My Do it Yourself (DIY) Remote Year Experience
After the course ended, I got lucky to make a connection with a Los Angeles based school that was remote due to Covid. However, when Greece opened in June, I knew I had to go. This was my #1 destination on my travel list. I was originally saving it for a honeymoon or romantic getaway, but after a Covid break up, and everything that bubbled up over the years, I was well overdue for a solo trip. I took off as a traveler with the intention that after Greece, I would go to Split, Croatia, which was one of Remote Year’s hubs and DIY my own remote year.
Since, I was grandfathered into the community as a “citizen”, I was on slack channels where I was able to pop in for selected events or just meet up with the crew. This was my backdoor into the community I wanted to desperately be a part of. Except, this time I got to do it my own way.
Once I hit Croatia it was time to make the digital nomad/remote worker portion of the dream a reality. I ended up working part time for my Los Angeles ESL school, which provided me just the right amount of hours to make this vision happen. It was even better, because I only had to work 16 hours a week. I made it!
Soon, I realized needing to be on zoom, it was going to be too hard for me to try the coworking spaces, especially since my hours were in the evenings. The co-working part of the experience didn’t happen. Slowly I realized that I loved my days more and had my ideal scheduled of Monday- Thursdays, starting at 5-9PM. I was cheering. My working hours were spent in my apartment and when my wifi was not good, I got crafty with local hotels that had quiet work rooms and my friend’s apartment where I would go once a week to work and hang out with her.
It was pretty surreal that I created a better version of what I expected. I also got to make friends with some of the remote year participants. I spent 6 months traveling in Europe with 3 months on my own version of Remote Year. I did Split for a month, Belgrade for October and Canary Islands for November/December and had mini trips in between.
I Achieved my Dream…Now What?
I finally realized the dream, I was a Digital Nomad, but it wasn’t enough. Eventually, part of the experience being on the road, was that I was actually looking for an increased salary to continue my travels and save money for my future. This meant I had to reassess what I was doing for work. I decided to become open minded to anything and everything, Including the good old 9-5, or start up jobs I swore off during the pandemic.
As I interviewed, I got to the final rounds of 3 companies. I ended up getting a job offer for Yelp that I turned down. It reminded me of what I left with Remote Year and while they allowed for a Remote culture, it meant I had to return to the US. I wasn’t opposed to it but at the time it felt too early for me to jump back into a corporate environment with a job I was already plotting on when I would be able to leave.
So, I continued working part time and applied for other small opportunities. I ended up getting contracted opportunities to write for Bumble and I was on cloud nine! I finally saw a way to become a freelance Digital Nomad without needing to work as an employee.
Redefining What I Wanted as A Digital Nomad
Every job I was taking was a means to an end of extending my travel trips, except the writing. It was subconscious mini decisions, calculations of time and money and how I would be able to keep being a digital nomad, living and working wherever I wanted. My entire objectives became, how to stay a digital nomad with an increased salary, minimal hours in order to enjoy life and continue being free with the added stress of also coming up with a retirement plan or enough savings in the bank to not worry about money ever again. What an overwhelming monstrous undertaking I gave myself. To have it all, money, retirement, travel, a job I love. This brought about the begging question is the alleged freedom and flexibility really lending towards a more sustainable, safe, trusting future and is this all really what I even wanted?
Eventually, I came across a training for digital skills class that I decided to take in January 2022. I returned home from my travels for my sister’s baby and reassessed the reality of my expenses. The purpose of the course was for me to know the ins and outs of the digital online world. It was a general skills course that included all aspects of social media, copywriting, web development, anything and everything. So much so, that I became so overwhelmed and spun for over a year on a niche! I still do not have the answer to this by the way, (solo, female travel, slow travel, slow-mad, retired digital nomad, mental health traveling guru, dating coach, well you get, I am all over the place :). Needless to say, I haven’t finished the course. Yet, the universe is funny as once you make a proclamation and start down the road, it will show up.
I started getting a couple more remote opportunities, that included private tutoring with high profiled business clients and contract work. I landed a job that started in person with an actress on lots of random projects that eventually turned into a remote opportunity to run her social media, be an underground talent manager, where I would find her opportunities through socials, on actors’ access, casting network, etc and was tasked to run her dating profiles. I found her a girlfriend! I became a Digital Manager for all things that related to her career and personal life and worked in partnership with her personal assistant. It was a very unique role that strangely combined an explosion of all the things in one (I was writing copy for her socials, her dating profiles, became her manager, dating guru, talent gig opportunities, helping her with auditions as a reader, actor, director, producer). I mean, if I put all my jobs on paper, this was mini bursts of most of them.
I still poked my head into the course community yet it wasn’t exactly what I wanted. I came to terms with wanting to continue being a paid writer. It was so obvious that it made more sense for me to focus on the copywriting aspect of the digital world. Yet, I was still stuck on the freaking BS of a damn niche. I was paralyzed with choices. Regardless, I still had opportunities flying in and I said yes to them all.
Remote Year DIY Part II
Finally, I collected enough money and gigs to take off again for another one way travel plan to Asia. I had 2 contracted positions and was working on the road. Again, my hours were no more than 10 hours a week and I was feeling comfortable enough in pay to not overly stress. It was still on the back of my mind that I needed to increase my income if I wanted to sustain this lifestyle.
This trip had a lot of layers to it that were revealed to me slowly. First, I had a curiosity for the entrepreneurs living in Bali claiming to make 25K+ a month. When I got there, I found myself not even focusing on that and wanting to explore Bali, and see what it was about at the heart of it all. I spent 2 months working remotely and moving around A LOT. I must have stayed in at least 30 different accommodations. I could not get comfortable.
I got in my head that I was actually scouting for where I could root for a longer period of time (over 1 month this time). I wanted to push the one month Remote Year plan to try 2 months or more in one spot. Yet, I was lost and drifting. My 60 day visa was up in Bali. I decided it wasn’t for me at the time anyways, and wanted to head to Vietnam to see if I wanted to pause the Digital Nomad journey and try living and working abroad, teaching English. I took pit stops in Malaysia, and to the lantern festival in Thailand where I got Covid for the first time and was forced to relax.
Decision to Root and Teach English Abroad
When I made it to Vietnam, I moved a lot too. I landed in Hanoi where I was certain I would say and look for an ESL job. Yet, I was curious to see the rest of the country before committing and I was getting very cold. I made everything about an excuse over the weather and being comfortable. I finally landed in HCMC and stayed for 6 weeks. It was never my plan to go to a big metropolitan city. It was my least favorite area in Vietnam and yet the happiest I felt in months. I made a group of friends, created a routine and was back into my DIY Remote Year stride.
I decided to substitute teach or “cover teach” for 2 days to test the waters with teaching abroad IRL. It was the 2 days before TET (Chinese New Year) and everyone was leaving for vacation for 2 weeks, which was perfect timing as my visa was done and I had to leave the country for a “visa run”. I decided if I returned I would head back to Da Nang/Hoi An to teach as I preferred being by the beach and the slower pace right now.
After two days teaching high school kids, I had a strong voice shout, “I DO NOT WANT TO TEACH ANYONE WHO DOES NOT WANT TO BE TAUGHT.” It’s exhausting and I can not care more than you do.
Making a Choice to Start a Blog- Digital Nomad Job Change
So, I temporarily ruled out teaching and knew I had to make a visa run anyways. A couple weeks before I left, I secretly decided I wanted to restart my blog, properly and with more intention. I set up my blog in HCMC and started making it happen. I decided to hire a blog coach. I knew I needed the support and I only wanted one other voice in the swimming pool of all my other ones. It needed to be an expert I could trust who wouldn’t spin with me and would just get it done. I was done hearing feedback about “blogs being dead” and this being a bad choice. I had enough! I couldn’t hear anyone’s voice except my own and the coachI selected to be my expert.
So, when I took off for my visa run, another one way ticket back to Thailand, this time one of the Islands, Koh Lanta. I decided I would be open minded to where this would lead and all I knew was I needed to be a chill, low key Island with everything I needed within walking distance as close to the beach as possible, in my own housing with a kitchen and give myself space to write, be in calm, center, breath and relax, without worrying about work, or my next job.
The journey has started to transform from how can I stay a digital nomad, and grab whatever job to sustain this, to it being time to make the choice to stop the chaotic voices in my head, slow down, give my brain a task of “create a blog” while my soul can start to play, speak, sing and my body can decompress.
Where I’ve started to get clear that outside things can not bring inner peace, joy, and fulfillment. My mom always says, it’s good to be a life longer learner and I agree that is the best mindset to have and it’s just as wonderful if you are a slow one too. I’ve come to terms that working towards a passion, a project and learning is where I find portion of these elements, being around wonderful people is where I can find others and learning to cultivate the stillness, and peace within, was going to be the extra umph to make it all come together. And in the end, it is all about balance of all pieces.
Slow Travel- Mental Health Comes First
I just knew I reached the end of the road. I always come back to the same point, my emotional wellbeing needs to win now and Morgan needs to be heard. With so many darn voices in my head, I had to learn to befriend them and decide who can stay and who needs to lovingly be integrated and transformed.
This started with being kind, gentle, slow and learning how to stay in the eye of the storm of my thoughts and not let them overwhelm me. I couldn’t run around anymore without a more clear direction or reason why I was wherever I was. It was time to relearn Morgan. I needed to choose writing as my outlet of creation, expression and healing to get to the other side of what the accumulation of the last decade was about and where I wanted to start working on baby steps towards. Even if it meant going back to something familiar, I would at least do it with a different mindset, calm, centered, confident and certain in my choices. All I knew in my bones was that it was time to sit down, slow down and write, write, write.
It’s funny when I think back, I have traveled around in the last year in order to recreate a Covid quarantine for myself on my own Island. I knew I thrived in that environment because I relieve pressure and there was no FOMO. I cut out distractions, life was more simple. I came to learn that healing is slow, happiness is simple and it’s hard to be slow and simple.
If I could do those things in conjunction with committing to something else I love next to myself and travel, which one of those things is, writing….well wouldn’t that be something…
So here I am , technically a retired digital nomad and Slow mad traveler (Slow Nomad). Leaning into the Slow Travel, Slow Tourism industry. I’m honoring my manifestations and sitting with the committed choice of this blog and writing.
My digital nomad journey is still happening, it’s transformed a bit to a slower, quieter, longer term stays , with and intention of prioritizing well being with any and all life choices moving forward.
Whether the next chapter is a different version of a digital nomad, an expat, a remote worker back in my home town or country, an office worker, a teacher, tbd. I’ll know it will all be OK because I’m finding my secret sauce to life… balance, inner peace, solid friends, play & purposeful intentional projects and work.
Check back in to see how it all unfolds. Follow my journey as I also provide tips , tricks how tos, musings manifestations, personal stories, exposes and more !
Thanks for the support 🙂