Lately, a few people have asked me how I became a digital nomad – so in the interests of transparency I’m writing my story here for all to see.
Assuming you’re over 40, what’s driving your interest in a location independent lifestyle? After all, most other people are fully settled about now, right?
Is it the the feeling that you really can’t deal with yet another encroaching winter, where you go to work in the dark, and come home in the dark?
Or maybe it’s a creeping sense of career apathy which is making you restless and bored.
I can relate to all of these reasons, as can many others, I imagine. But undoubtedly there are other reasons too – reasons which are known by only you. Here are mine.
How I became an older digital nomad
I became a nomad after years of living a very responsible life as a career-minded, relatively young single parent, and after seeing my father die of cancer.
Years and years of doing ‘the right thing’ had taken its toll, and in 2014, aged 39, I noticed a quiet but insistent feeling of wanting to explore a different sort of life. Some might call it a ‘slow emerging mid-life crisis’.
It wasn’t as if I didn’t have a good life at the time, either. I was immensely proud of my teenage daughter. My partner was loving, and we were engaged to be married. We had a beautiful home which we owned together.
My friends were warm, interesting and creative. As Head of Marketing for a large healthcare organisation, I had a good job and a comfortable salary.
But despite all that, I felt this gnawing sense of monotony. I couldn’t stand getting up in the dark in the cold winter months, making my way through traffic to sit in a grey box of an office, going to pointless meetings and then cycling home again to eat, sleep and repeat.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I wasn’t grateful for my lot. It wasn’t handed to me on a plate, either. I’d fought tooth and nail for it. Becoming a single parent at the young age of 20 made me grow up fast, and I went to a top University when my daughter was just 5 months. After graduating, I scaled the career ladder quickly. So, having achieved my life ‘the hard way’, I really appreciated how lucky I was.
Looking for a different way to live
But I had a huge desire to travel, having not done it when I was younger. And I still had a lot of energy within me. I wanted to see the world and to live in a different, more meaningful way.
So, in 2014, I buried myself in blogs, podcasts and the web. I knew that there were other ways of living life and I was determined to find out about them.
My reading taught me that a lot of it came down to reducing expenses but increasing income, and working from a laptop to achieve ‘location independence’.
I studied frugality, extreme saving and early retirement (AKA the save up and live off the interest model). Books and courses on passive income models were consumed in my spare time. I became mildly envious of writers who lived a romantic, off grid existence in a campervan, working from their laptops.
Reverse-engineering a life is hard
But I began to realise was that there was no easy way around some of the obstacles in front of me. Unlike many ‘digital nomad’ millennials who don’t have commitments, I couldn’t just sell the house and my belongings and just get on the road in a van without a care in the world.
My daughter was about to go to university and with the advent of tuition fees, I needed to pay £500+ a month to enable her to live in another city and attend. That tied me firmly to my well-paid corporate role.
My partner earned half of what I did, so I was the main bread winner of the household, meaning the mortgage also relied on my income.
My job involved long hours, so I didn’t really have the energy to pour another 10+ hours a week into a side hustle. And we couldn’t be extremely frugal, as the mortgage and bills were around £1800+ a month.
In conclusion, I had engineered this enormous beast of a life – reverse engineering it in a short space of time would have been simply impossible. Does any of this sound familiar to you?
Gradually I ignored the feelings of boredom and dissatisfaction and I just focused on having fun with our friends. Going out a lot as a way of escaping the monotony.
Until one day in 2017 when we found out that my father had Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML). AML is a very unforgiving cancer with a low survival rate for someone of his age (64).
Witnessing Dad’s illness pushed me into action
I knew straight away, after doing some internet research, that Dad was unlikely to survive for a long time with this disease.
At that point, everything changed for me. My relationship with my partner started to fall apart: after 11 years together, we had grown into just best friends, rather than lovers. We cancelled the wedding, and remain good friends.
Every few days I journeyed over to Wales to visit Dad as he went through a gruelling chemotherapy regime. As the strong ‘eldest child’, I accompanied him on all of his consultant’s appointments so I could understand his treatment in depth and advocate on his behalf.
I started questioning what it was all for. Are we here just to work hard, as my Dad had done all of his life, and right at the point of retirement, to become sick and fade away?
A brief window of hope
Dad eventually had a stem cell transplant and for a brief while things seemed a bit better. We got lodgers in the house, providing additional income, and my daughter graduated. I asked my boss for a desperately needed sabbatical from work, so I could go backpacking.
I booked return flights to South America. At last, my desire to travel was finally coming to fruition, after years and years of feeling responsible.
But just a few weeks later, Dad developed a chest infection which he couldn’t shift. Day by day, it steadily got worse. And in January, the day before my flight, I got a call from the consultant on Dad’s ward. She advised me not to get on the plane. Dad was gravely ill with pneumonia and was in intensive care.
Dad’s condition worsened as the night progressed, and later that day – the day I was due to fly – he passed away, peacefully and without pain. To this day, I’m so grateful that I was with him and my family at the end.
Eventually, after laying Dad to rest and spending time with my mum and siblings, I flew to south America.
Finally finding peace through travel
From that point onwards, things finally, slowly got better.
I travelled around ten different countries, made friends and explored new areas. I went diving and picked up some freelance communications work – just ten hours a week, working from my laptop on the road for a tech start up.
And in May 2019, I came home, with a new energy and purpose. At that point, I knew I had everything I needed to reverse engineer my ‘enormous’ life. My daughter was old enough to fend for herself. My family were at peace.
One month after I returned to my corporate job in the UK, the company I worked for made me redundant after losing a major contract, so I didn’t need to hand my notice in.
I dared to dream about doing what I love: writing, photography, meeting people and travelling.
I knew that working freelance on a part time basis would be enough to sustain me in somewhere like SE Asia. The redundancy gave me a small sum of money to fall back on as a cushion. I already had lodgers paying the mortgage in the house, and this meant I was able to keep one room there to come back to in the summer months.
Back to the present day
And that leads me squarely back to the here and now…. I’ve learned so much over the last few years, and I want to help other people achieve their dreams too.
People like you and I. Generation Xers, basically. Hard working, independent, self-sufficient sorts that are now all grown up, in their 40s and early 50s, and doing brilliantly – but who still have that inner fire and rebellion within them, and who are looking for a better way. The people I choose to interview and learn from on this blog.
Because we know what it’s like to have BIG responsibilities. To work hard, in order to scale the career ladder, in order to afford that (frankly) unaffordable mortgage.
We know what it’s like to see our parents work all of their lives, only to retire and then become ill. And we don’t want that for ourselves! We want a better way.
Apologies for this very long post! But if you’re still reading… I’d love to read about your story and your drivers.
Leave me a comment below and I look forward to responding.
P.S. Would you like to get a free copy of my new eBook, Become location independent over 40? Get yours here.