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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!
Mark and Kristen are both scientists but had a change of heart after their honeymoon took them to over 30 countries. We love their story of adapting their careers to fit into a life of freedom and travel. Be sure to check out their blog for travel tips!
Thank you for sharing your story with Freedom Is Everything, Mark and Kristen!
Key takeaways from Mark and Kristen’s interview:
“Travel is the best education you can ever receive. We find travel broadens our minds at a much faster rate than we ever saw back at home. We are constantly in atypical situations, out of our comfort zones, overcoming problems, and meeting new people. It’s a great way to learn your strengths and weaknesses as an individual but also to learn about your partner and how the team works most efficiently.”
“What makes us unique is that we don’t have a specific travel style! We have traveled long term with no home base, and we have traveled with a home base. We have traveled on a strict budget and no budget. We stay in hostels, hotels, and luxury accommodation. Basically, we travel in every way to see what works for us.”
“It’s extremely easy to get stuck in the rut of ‘I’ll do it one day’ or ‘I don’t have enough money.’ We promise there will never be enough money because things come up, but the reality is you can make more money, and you can’t get back time. The longer you prolong your decision, the harder it will be to make the jump.”
“We have been able to meet people extremely easily no matter where we were. Some of our fondest memories from traveling the world are from spontaneous connections we made on a bus in Thailand, on a train in Poland, at the airport in Hanoi, or even at an astrophotography shoot in Acadia. Our point is there are thousands of other people just like you traveling the world searching for connections.”
Introduce yourself! 🙂 Who are you? What do you do for work? And what is your nomadic story?
Hi! We are Mark and Kristen Morgan. Mark is from the historic city of York in Northern England, and Kristen is from Upstate New York. We always like to joke that one of us is from the Old York and one of us is from the New York. We are both scientists by trade. Mark specializes in immunology, and Kristen is a generalist in hematology and chemistry.
Our nomadic lives began in 2018 when we quit our full-time jobs as scientists and left for a yearlong honeymoon (which actually turned into 18 months)! We explored 30+ countries across four continents, and it definitely was an unforgettable adventure. We returned from our trip in Dec 2019 and made plans to travel long-term again.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic put a halt on our international nomadic ambitions, so Kristen went back to work in the lab as a traveling medical technologist, and Mark currently works full time building our travel blog. Every few months, Kristen gets a new assignment in a different US state, and we pack everything into our car and make an extended road trip out of the journey.
We recently arrived in Seattle, Washington, for our latest assignment, and we’re incredibly excited to explore every corner of the Pacific Northwest over the next few months!
What inspired you to start nomading? And how has nomading changed your perspective on life?
Growing up, we each had a deep desire to explore, but life took us both on a different path with our careers. It’s easy for societal norms to steer you in a ‘typical’ direction which is exactly what happened to us. But when we met, we instantly connected about our love for travel on our first date and made plans to see the world as soon as possible.
Travel is the best education you can ever receive. We find travel broadens our minds at a much faster rate than we ever saw back at home. We are constantly in atypical situations, out of our comfort zones, overcoming problems, and meeting new people. It’s a great way to learn your strengths and weaknesses as an individual but also to learn about your partner and how the team works most efficiently.
After living a nomadic lifestyle, our perspectives on life are very different. Problems we thought we had back at home seem insignificant. With a wider knowledge of the world, culture, and companionship, we are humbler and more appreciative of things we once took for granted.
Nomading allows you to slow down and appreciate everyday life, which is something we never did in our fast-paced careers. We also learned how to form strong connections and friendships with like-minded people across different continents.
Please tell us your detailed story of how you got into your line of work and how you turned it into a remote career.
Being scientists and working for a global clinical trial company offered several business trips on different continents. From each of these business trips, we would tag on a vacation after working in a new place. We met at work, so we knew we worked well together, and we always used travel blogs when we planned our small trips.
Travel blogs are a wealth of information, helping you find full itineraries and travel tips. Since we had traveled so much, we wanted to be able to give back to travelers who followed us. Our major focus and the reason we do what we do is to help people travel as best they can when on vacation. Our travel guides and itineraries, hiking, and photography articles are always overflowing with useful tips and advice to help people plan efficient trips.
Very early in our relationship, we began to make plans about how to save money and make our dreams become a reality. Once we met our goal financially, we quit our jobs and started our journey.
What does a day in your work life look like? Paint a picture for us :).
Full disclosure, we work a lot! A typical workday includes Kristen going to work in the lab while Mark writes our blog posts, edits photographs, and does the technical website development. Once Kristen gets home, we work together on the blog for a few hours at night on collaborations and scheduling social media. Weekends we use for collecting new content. When we are on the road, we typically travel for a few days collecting content then spend a day or two working on the blog. We don’t get much chance to watch tv shows!!
At the moment, our full attention is on building our website so we can both be full-time on the blog. The pandemic certainly brought unexpected challenges, but it also taught us this is exactly what we want to be doing because life is short, and we’re here to make the most of it.
Tell us about your content creation journey and share some of your favorite content that people should check out!
Our journey has been a long, hard, and at times arduous one due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We created our blog in June 2018 but only began to start working on it in February of 2020, right in time for lockdown in the US and worldwide. The little bit of traffic we had just begun to see died out completely. Once we established the international borders would remain closed, we quickly changed focus on our blog to strictly USA content. This helped bridge the gap in traffic drops as domestic travel began to increase. Our top tip is to be adaptable and understand trends in your traffic. If a topic is trending, adjust your focus accordingly.
What is unique about the way you travel, and what advice do you have for someone that wants to travel with a similar style?
What makes us unique is that we don’t have a specific travel style! We have traveled long term with no home base, and we have traveled with a home base. We have traveled on a strict budget and no budget. We stay in hostels, hotels, and luxury accommodation. Basically, we travel in every way to see what works for us.
But we try to do as much as possible in every destination we visit. We hate to miss out on sites or attractions, best photography locations, and anything that a place is famous for. We are hikers and photographers who are always up for the sunrise shoots, hiking the trails during the day, and then out for astrophotography. Our days are long, but we truly wouldn’t want to be doing anything else!
What advice would you give to someone who’s thinking about nomading?
Our best advice is to just go for it! It’s extremely easy to get stuck in the rut of “I’ll do it one day” or “I don’t have enough money.” We promise there will never be enough money because things come up, but the reality is you can make more money, and you can’t get back time. The longer you prolong your decision, the harder it will be to make the jump.
We travel as a couple, so we always have each other to fall back on. With this said, we have been able to meet people extremely easily no matter where we were. Some of our fondest memories from traveling the world are from spontaneous connections we made on a bus in Thailand, on a train in Poland, at the airport in Hanoi, or even at an astrophotography shoot in Acadia. Our point is there are thousands of other people just like you traveling the world searching for connections.
A fear we both had before nomading was the effect it would have on our careers. We both had worked in the corporate world for almost a decade, and we weren’t sure what the fallout would be. However, nomading has provided nothing but opportunities! It’s given us an edge over the competition in interviews because we have so many experiences to draw from. It has given us insight from other cultures and the ability to be well-rounded so we can get along with anyone.
We have had more job opportunities after long-term travel, but at the moment, we are focused on our travel blog. Through nomading, we have been able to create our own business, which was completely unexpected, and we couldn’t be happier with how things have turned out.
As an example, Mark had a wonderful job opportunity come up right before our honeymoon, and we made the decision to turn it down and take our trip. Had we not, our travel plans would have been postponed for a long time, and ultimately, we would have been forced to end our honeymoon early due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We are grateful every day that we left when we did because the window for opportunity does close, and you never know what is around the corner.
What are the 2-3 favorite places where you’ve lived/traveled to and why?
This is such a hard question we get asked all the time! But we would have to say…
1). Patagonia in Chile. The W or O trek is a great challenge, and the scenery is unbelievable. It is natural beauty at its greatest, plus the limit on tourists inside the Torres del Paine park allows you to enjoy the hiking without crowds.
2. Japan is such an amazing country. It’s an extremely eye-opening and unique place. We found it was the perfect mix of ancient world meeting modern technology. From bullet trains to ryokans and the food along with the people, it’s just a great place to be. We had so many people ask us if we needed help with directions if we looked lost at a train station!
3). The United States. This country has so much to offer with the beauty of the national parks and accessibility of road trips. You can find everything from snow and desert to oceans and craters. We have driven across the country twice already, and you can bet we will again!
What is one of your favorite travel stories/experiences?
One of Kristen’s favorite travel experiences was driving from Hue to Hoi An over the Hai Van Pass by motorbike in Vietnam. We hired a guide who led the way, but we each drove our own motorbike the entire 8-hour journey. It was Kristen’s first time driving a motorbike by herself, and the roads in Vietnam can be a little crazy. She was nervous for the ride, but we stopped at several beaches and viewpoints throughout the day to break up the drive as part of a truly unforgettable day.
We’ve connected with so many great people on our travels, but one of Mark’s favorite experiences was meeting an awesome Canadian couple on a train from Krakow to Prague in Europe. Kristen and I had an efficient three-day itinerary planned for Prague, but instead, the four of us ended up drinking the best and cheapest beer for three full days.
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?
The best advice we could give is to understand what learning style best serves you. If you learn by reading, read as many relevant books and online resources as you can. If you learn by listening, watch videos, and listen to relevant podcasts. If you learn by doing, trial and error is the best tool.
We both learn by doing so the best thing we did was to just get stuck into building our website. You will make mistakes, no matter how much you research, it is inevitable. Don’t dwell on those mistakes; instead, learn from them. We quickly learned what not to do, but we also learned what did work!
Whichever way you learn, we recommend thorough research. For example, you want to write about packing for a road trip – pick 10 sources and try to find common themes in those sources. If a point keeps coming up over and over, it’s most likely important.
Also, not to sound cliché, but don’t believe everything you read. If someone is recommending a product, is there more reward for them or you? If something doesn’t seem right, it probably is not.
If you had debt/student loans when you started nomading, how did you handle or think about this, and what advice would you give to other people with a similar situation?
Traveling with student debt is easily doable; it just has to be budgeted for, so don’t let it hold you back! We made the decision to pay off some of our loans quicker with additional payments, which meant more money for travel in the long term. This meant putting some of our travel budget down on our loans as a lump sum, but we were free and clear with less stress.
If this isn’t an option, factor in your loan payment as part of your monthly travel budget. Pay the least amount, so you have time to travel and pay off loans when you get back. However, keep in mind interest will further add to your loan payment, so it might not be the best option in the long run.
Our advice would also be to look into programs to help with loan payments. For example, the company we previously worked for helped to pay for Kristen’s Master’s degree. Another option is to apply for scholarships. You could even consider an investment account which is how we were able to save up money quicker to pay off our loans. If all else fails, considering moving somewhere with a low cost of living.
What digital tools do you use for your work?
Our tools for work include Canva, Keysearch, Tailwind, Lightroom, Zoom, Google Analytics/Google Search Console, Gsuite, Social Media Platforms, and Yoast Premium.
What small change has made a big difference in your life?
Eating cleaner, especially while nomading. It’s really easy to get into a bad habit of eating junk food or fast food while on the road. However, when you make an honest effort to eat better, you feel better. We have more energy to enjoy our travel experiences.
What do you travel with that you couldn’t imagine traveling without?
For starters, we have to say each other! But as travel bloggers, our photography equipment including all our lenses and travel tripods. Our drone. Our Peak Design backpacks which are perfect for our photography gear. Our external hardrive and extra batteries. Packing cubes to keep us organized. Multi-purpose footwear (for hiking and exploring cities). And tea bags for Mark (yes, we actually travel with tea bags)!
If you only had a few minutes to live, what are the most important life lessons you would share with the world?
Follow your dreams today because tomorrow may be too late.
Mental health is important. If you aren’t happy doing what you do every day, change it.
For us, money doesn’t buy happiness, experiences do!
Tell us about a deep passion of yours!
Travel photography! We started out with an appreciation for photographs and an iPhone but very quickly realized we enjoyed taking photographs of urban and natural landscapes. So, we upgraded to our first mirrorless entry-level camera with kit lenses. We bought a Sony A6000 in Tokyo, Japan! We dove in at the deep end, made some serious effort to be at sunrise, sunset, and night photography locations, made a ton of mistakes, and had the best time. Now, we have top spec gear and have to go back to every place we visited with an iPhone!!
One of our most important tips for anyone thinking about travel blogging is to take the plunge on buying higher-quality equipment. That doesn’t mean spend a third of your entire travel budget on cameras and lenses, but high-quality photographs will help you create a more professional blog down the line.
What is your philosophy on being happy and/or finding meaning/purpose in life?
We always try to find the positives in every situation instead of looking at the negatives. It’s too easy to dwell on negatives and worry about what didn’t go so well. Focusing all energy on the positives is the key to happiness in life.
Our philosophy on finding meaning in life is based entirely around personal experiences. What will you remember when you look back later in life? We want to remember the adventures, jaw-dropping landscapes, sunrise photography on top of mountains, the amazing people we met in a completely unexpected part of the world, and being able to say we did it all together.
As far as finding meaning for your life and your purpose, only you can make that decision. What drives you? What gets you excited? Once you can answer those questions, you will be able to find your purpose.
If you’re passionate about FIRE (Financial Independence Early Retirement), please share how this has impacted your life, what your journey has been like, and what other people should know about FIRE!
To be honest, we love working on our blog, and we haven’t considered an early retirement. We never see our days as work. Our work will be travel even when we are older.
The best things you can do to set yourself up for success financially is to save and invest as early as possible. Also, take a long hard look at your lifestyle and identify what you can cut out. In order to travel long term, we had to make several financial sacrifices, but it was worth everything!
How can people learn more about you and your work?
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