How Growing up Nomadic Prepared Me for a Life of World Exploration (Deya Aliaga Kuhnle’s Story)

This post is brought to you by some of Deya’s essentials for an ergonomic work setup: external keyboards + mice + wrist guards.

This is the latest interview in a series featuring digital nomads talking about their lives and lessons (click here if you want to be interviewed). The goal is to help demystify the process of making money online, wandering the world, and living an unconventional life!

Deya grew up in an international community and continued with this when she became a digital nomad. Below she shares her awesome story of creating a lifestyle of freedom and offers great tips on how anyone can do the same. Be sure to check out her website if you’re interested in becoming a digital business manager!

Thank you for hanging out with Freedom Is Everything, Deya!

Key takeaways from Deya’s interview:

“A lot of people (me included!) get stuck on the ‘I don’t know where to start,’ ‘I don’t know if I’m ready,’ ‘I don’t think I have enough experience,’ ‘I’ll wait until _______,’ and honestly, the most important when you get stuck here is just take one small step forward – even if it’s just a teeny, tiny step. I’m relatively risk-averse and a big worrier, so I totally get this overthinking loop you can get stuck in – it almost always results in analysis paralysis personally for me. Getting going with this nomad life was only possible because I took those small steps.”

“I went to international schools basically my whole life, which meant I got to experience cultural appreciation events as well as multicultural and multilingual friend groups from a young age. I think that opened up the world to me more than I can say – nomading helps you realize how small you are in the grand scheme of the world and of all the other humans that exist out there, doing their own thing and living life in a totally different way than you do. It gives you such a unique opportunity to learn and develop yourself to be better for the world.”

“The most important thing you can do in your life is try – don’t let dreams and wishes and ‘if only…’ fester in your brain for years and years without at least trying to make them happen. Failure sucks – but not even trying sucks so much more, and I know personally I’d rather give something my all and know for sure if it was meant to happen than think ‘What if? forever.”

Introduce yourself! 🙂 Who are you? What do you do for work? And what is your nomadic story?

Deya sits at a table with her laptop open in front of her smiling and wearing glasses

Hi – my name is Deya! 

For the past few years, I’ve worked as a freelance Digital Business Manager helping 6-7 figure entrepreneurs manage their projects, teams, and systems. So that’s anything from managing the launches of online courses, hiring, training, and onboarding remote team members to setting up SOPs and running the day-to-day operations of digital businesses.

My partner and I decided to venture into the remote work world back in 2017, after both completing 6-month corporate internships. 

We knew pretty much right away that this lifestyle was 100% opposite of our values in our life; we wanted to try (at least attempt!) to live a different type of lifestyle – one where we had more freedom to plan our time and spend our energy; one where our work revolved around our life instead of the other way around.

So we started looking into alternative ways to make a living, and honestly, we haven’t looked back since. 

At this point, I don’t think of working remotely or freelancing as a ‘career’ decision, I see it more as an overall lifestyle decision, and it has been, hands-down, the best decision I’ve ever made.

We’ve since traveled primarily in Asia and Europe, where we have family! We’ve spent time in South Korea, Thailand, Indonesia, Taiwan, as well as Germany, Spain, and most recently, due to COVID, we have decided to settle momentarily in Prague in the Czech Republic.

What inspired you to start nomading? And how has nomading changed your perspective on life?

I grew up relatively ‘nomadic’ – I’m mixed race, combined with the fact that my dad worked for a company that moved us around a lot – we moved a lot growing up. I was so grateful to have gotten an international upbringing; I know that’s a big privilege that I had. I went to international schools basically my whole life, which meant I got to experience cultural appreciation events as well as multicultural and multilingual friend groups from a young age. 

I think that opened up the world to me more than I can say – nomading helps you realize how small you are in the grand scheme of the world and of all the other humans that exist out there, doing their own thing and living life in a totally different way than you do. It gives you such a unique opportunity to learn and develop yourself to be better for the world.

In recent years, I’ve also really come to understand how big of a privilege it is to be able to travel and be a nomad, and I think it’s important to recognize the role that our backgrounds, our race, and our gender play into that privilege. Specifically, to be aware of how we interact with locals and their culture in their homes to ensure that it’s always respectful and thoughtful.

Please tell us your detailed story of how you got into your line of work and how you turned it into a remote career.

Deya stands with her hands in her dress pockets in front of a wooden panel wall while making a silly face

When I first started freelancing, I actually bounced around a lot of different roles in the beginning because I had no idea what I wanted to do. 

After a lot of “trying out” roles and tasks, I finally found the role that I knew I wanted to do long-term – Digital Business Management.

I began freelancing by using online job platforms actually – I was totally inexperienced, had no network or community of any kind, didn’t know anyone who was doing this ’nomad thing’ – so online job platforms allowed me to dip my toe into the world before committing fully. I started freelancing on the weekends and in the evenings alongside my corporate internship.

When I first started, I actually also didn’t know what this dream position of “DBM” work was called – I kind of tried a lot of things in the first few months of my side hustle – I worked as a Content Assistant then Content Manager then Project Manager before I ultimately found Digital Business Management. This was the ’testing phase’ that I conducted while I was still a corporate intern at my 9-6.

I realized slowly that I didn’t want to just be in charge of content or just of one project or two – I wanted to holistically be able to see the entire business and all its moving parts, people, projects and be in charge of helping drive the business forward in that way. I loved seeing the big picture and diving into the nitty gritty details with the team.

Essentially, this role is the second-in-command in digital businesses and work alongside entrepreneurs and CEOs to grow the business. Normally, they handle a mixture of project and team management as well as handling the day-to-day running of the business. Other similar terms you may have heard of include Chief Operations Officer, Integrator, Online Business Manager, etc.!

Once I found Digital Business Management, everything clicked into place for me. It achieved the different values that I ultimately cared about:

  • Passion for the work and diversity of tasks.
  • Earning potential.
  • Amount of freedom that it afforded me.

What does a day in your work life look like? Paint a picture for us :).

Looking down on Nina Clapperton's laptop keyboard as she has both hands on the keyboard

A day in the life of a Digital Business Manager involves lots of different things!

In one day, I might be putting together a project plan for the launch of a new online course for a client, hosting a weekly call with the team to do check-ins and make sure all questions are answered. I might be finalizing the hiring of a new team member and getting their new onboarding materials set up, and of course – doing check-ins in our project management tool and remote communication tool. It’s a lot of fun because there is a lot of variety in the daily to-do’s! 

How much I work tends to depend on how many clients I actively have.

I work for multiple clients normally with retainers – and depending on the size of the entrepreneur’s business, they normally need different amounts of time in their retainers. E.g., I had one client that only needed 10 hours a week of DBM time – which included managing her content processes, hosting calls with her team, and helping her with her main project, which was her membership site. 

Another client may be 5 hours a week and just needs help being held accountable to finish her online course and work with the web developer to get the course tech set up. So it’s super customizable depending on the client and their needs – and that’s kind of how I allocate my workload.

Eventually, I did shift into a full-time DBM role with one of my clients, who was a 7-figure digital entrepreneur, and she needed a full-time DBM for managing the day-to-day of the team of 15 and multiple digital projects launched/developed per quarter.

What are the 2-3 favorite places where you’ve lived/traveled to and why?

Deya sits in a swinging chair meant to mimic a bird's nest in Bali

Prague is definitely one of our favorites – it is the most beautiful city we’ve been to in Europe. The people are super nice, the weather is great, and the architecture is out of this world.

I also loved Javea as well as Aguadulce on the Southern coast in Spain!

And I know these ones are kind of ‘nomad hot spots’ – but it’s true, we absolutely loved Ubud and Canggu – we had a lot of friends who were living there, and they introduced us to wonderful locals, great food, hidden spots, cute dogs. It really made our time there super special!

What advice would you give to someone who’s thinking about nomading?

Deya stands with one arm across her body to hold her other arm while standing in front of a coral colored wall with hands painted on it

My biggest piece of advice is always to take that first little step.

A lot of people (me included!) get stuck on the ‘I don’t know where to start,’ ‘I don’t know if I’m ready,’ ‘I don’t think I have enough experience,’ ‘I’ll wait until _______,’ and honestly, the most important when you get stuck here is just take one small step forward – even if it’s just a teeny, tiny step. 

I’m relatively risk-averse and a big worrier, so I totally get this overthinking loop you can get stuck in – it almost always results in analysis paralysis personally for me. Getting going with this nomad life was only possible because I took those small steps.

Even if it’s just googling and making a list of where you’d ideally like to go, or putting together your freelancer portfolio and applying to 1 job with it, or doing some research on insurance you might want to get.

There’s an awesome quote by Martin Luther King Jr., “You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” You don’t need to know how the next five years are going to unfold on the road. You don’t need to plan every destination upfront. You don’t need to have crystal clarity on how it’ll all work out.

Get started with prepping your basics:

  • Have at least 6-12 months of cash reserves saved up, 
  • make sure to get health and travel insurance, 
  • Do your due diligence on the spots you want to go, legal + visa requirements, etc.,
  • Test out the method of working remotely you want to use (freelancing, starting a business, etc.) and make sure the method is validated…

It’s so easy to want to wait until the moment is ‘perfect’ or when you’re prepared. There is no such moment – there is no moment like in the movies where you’re zapped, and you think, ‘now is the time.’ 

So just begin – the rest of it will reveal itself once you just take that first step, and it’s really incredible what can unravel from just taking that one small step.

So take that first step today. 🙂

What is unique about the way you travel, and what advice do you have for someone that wants to travel with a similar style?

a shot of deya working on her laptop in a cafe wearing a grey sweater

We are definitely slow travelers. We spend half the year in Europe and half the year in Asia – partly because our families are split across the two continents but also partly because it’s super stressful to travel every week, especially while you’re trying to get full-time work done.

Slow traveling means we try to stay at least a few weeks in each location, wherever we’re allowed to – so that we can take time to enjoy the culture, get to know locals, have the capacity to do our work, and not feel rushed in the whole process.

It makes the lifestyle also more sustainable to us – not only because we can focus on our work better but also so that we have way more time to decompress and relax in between trips!

What digital tools do you use for your work?

My favorite tools include: Asana, ClickUp, Airtable, Zapier, and Slack!

For someone interested in getting into your field of work, what’s the best advice you would give? And what books, podcasts, thought leaders, or other learning resources do you recommend?

Deya stands on a sunny balcony holding the railing while turned slightly sideways smiling

If you’re interested in going down the Digital Business Manager path, I highly recommend studying up in 3 specific areas:

  1. Management training, specifically in project, team, and systems management specifically for small-to-medium digital businesses
  2. Basic digital business terminology & strategy – understanding core terms will be super useful when working with clients and advising them.
  3. Digital tools – learning the most popular tools (I mention a few above!) so that you’re aware of the features and ready to dive in with your clients in using them.

And actually – over the past few years, I had dozens of people reach out to me asking for more information about how to get started as a DBM (and clients that asked me for DBM referrals) that I ended up founding a business around the topic.

I have a free intro class that walks through it all in more detail that you can find here.

Full disclosure – I also have an online course that teaches this role that I pitch at the end of the class, but the class will give you tons of value regardless of if you join the course!

If you only had a few minutes to live, what are the most important life lessons you would share with the world?

Deya smiles with her hand on her hip while wearing a dress and glasses, posing in front of topical green plants

The most important thing you can do in your life is try – don’t let dreams and wishes and “if only…” fester in your brain for years and years without at least trying to make them happen.

Failure sucks – but not even trying sucks so much more, and I know personally I’d rather give something my all and know for sure if it was meant to happen than think “What if?” forever.

What do you travel with that you couldn’t imagine traveling without?

How can people learn more about you and your work?

You can find my website here – https://dbmbootcamp.com/

If you’re curious about working as a Digital Business Manager online, I have a free class that walks through all the basics, shares a day-in-the-life, and introduces the role in more detail here as well.

You can also connect with me on Instagram or Linkedin if you’d like!

 

Lauren Allain
Lauren is a freelance journalist from Seattle. She travels the globe in search of the best grocery stores, bouldering gyms, and snorkeling locations. Her mission at Freedom Is Everything is to help others make the transition into location-independent lifestyles.