I Chose to Become a Digital Nomad Instead of a Lawyer, This Is My Story – Nina Clapperton

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This post is brought to you by a few wellness items Nina packs when she’s traveling: a lacrosse ball to help roll out muscles after long plane rides, an ergonomic wrist rest, and comfy PJs.

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!

Nina got a taste for prioritizing travel when she a studied abroad in Italy at age 16. Since then, she’s made career choices that allow her to continue traveling while working online. Be sure to check out her blog for great travel tips!

Thank you for being here with Freedom Is Everything, Nina!

Key takeaways from Nina’s interview:

“Slow-mading is a unique travel style because some people argue that it isn’t being a nomad because you are staying put for longer periods of time. However, I find it the best way to really get to know a place. It lets me spend longer in different areas, meet the locals, and go deeper into the culture.”

“You’re allowed to be homesick: I tell every traveller that homesick is totally normal. I get homesick all the time, and I don’t even technically have a home! Embrace what you’re feeling and think about where it’s coming from. Maybe you’re missing the food? Then make that for dinner. If you’re missing a part of the culture, like a traditional custom, plan an event with new friends. Trust me, travel friends are always happy to think outside the box and offer some home-based comfort. Or just call your parents and have a chat. Do whatever you need to.”

“To maintain clients from different fields all at once, time management is key. I schedule my days into chunks of time for each client. If I don’t finish the project in that time, I move on and work on the rest of my day. I only come back to it if I have time at the end of the day or if it’s urgent (but good time management will prevent last-minute crises). Carving out the specific times helps me switch my brain between the modes so I can perform at my best and deliver excellent content to my clients.”

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

nina clapperton with a white background while she poses with her left hand on her neck, smiling and wearing glasses

I’m Nina Clapperton, a Canadian girl who ditched law school to live nomadically around the world. I was born and raised in Toronto, then moved abroad at 16 to live in a small town in Italy.

I’d always had the travel bug, but that trip made me realize how much you can learn from living in a new place. That’s when I started my nomadic journey. Since the age of 16, I haven’t lived anywhere for more than a few years. Recently, I’ve moved every eight months. I’m currently based in Ottawa, Canada. It’s a bit odd being back in Canada for over a year, as I haven’t visited the country for more than a month at a time since 2017. It makes me miss the nomadic journey, so I’m planning on moving into a converted van as soon as it’s safe so I can road trip around my home nation.

My nomadic journey started during my school years, so I was constantly finding study abroads and discount experiences while puppy sitting during the year to save up. After I graduated, I took the freelancing route coupled with some volunteering to finance a year in Europe.

Since becoming a full-time nomad, I’ve had a few different jobs that I combine to create my full income. In profession, I’m a travel blogger. I run a website that generates income from ad revenue, affiliate sales, and products/services I offer. I also freelance travel write for a number of publications around the world.

But travel writing isn’t always a steady income. So I freelance as a copywriter for various marketing firms. That helps me have a base salary without needing to pitch for work constantly.

Finally, I’m a legal secretary for a firm based in Toronto. It’s where I worked when I thought I would become a lawyer and was starting to train/save up for law school. I’ve freelanced for them from abroad for over five years now, drafting documents and handling fiduciary accounting through remote portals.

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

Oddly, I think my parents’ divorce helped a lot. It made me comfortable changing my environment regularly and finding a way to feel at home in new spaces. Since fear is one of the biggest deterrents to starting a life as a nomad, I was at an advantage, as I’d already conquered that.

I don’t think I realized I was living nomadically until I’d been doing it for about four years. Now, I recognize it as living as a “slow-mad,” as travel writer Rosie Bell would say. I would spend a year or two in a destination before moving on. I was living that way because I wanted to see more, do more, and find more. I think I was running towards happiness, and I kept finding it.

Living nomadically has changed everything for me. It was the way I first met people like me who value life and travel over money or the “traditional” lifestyle. It helped me see how similar people from around the world are beneath all of our differences.

It wasn’t until I lived nomadically that I fell in love with Canada. I wasn’t even living in the country, but acting as an ambassador for the great white north forced me to take stock of my life there.

When I lived in Canada, I was so bogged down in the negatives. I had to move further away to see the bright points and to actually take the time to learn about my nation.

I think travellers are often so focused on moving forward that they forget to look back at where they came from. When you’re living somewhere full time, you can’t reflect in the same way, you’re too close. You need that blend of distance and time to really understand your country.

Please tell us the detailed story of how you started your freelancing business.

My freelance business officially started in 2017, when I launched Nina Out and About, a media group including my freelancing and my travel blog. 

Technically, though, it began while I was working at a Canadian law firm. They let me work remotely during my last year of school. When I decided to move abroad for a year, I asked them if I could keep doing freelance work for them from overseas. They accepted.

With that steady income, I decided to branch out into my actual passion: writing. I had just finished a degree in English and Creative Writing and wanted to actually use it.

I started by setting up my blog with no idea what I was doing. I didn’t monetize it or really do anything that would have made it a money-making endeavor. I didn’t understand how to.

A year later, I began joining Facebook blogging groups and taking courses on income streams through a blog. I grew my pageviews to 25k in one month with the changes I was making, got my first two sponsored posts, and implemented online ads that started making me monthly income. I’ve continued to grow the blog and now offer digital products to help travel bloggers make revenue and coaching services to help women gain the confidence to solo travel (including helping them through their first trip, from budget to booking).

Throughout my nomad journey, I’ve freelanced as a travel and copywriter. Initially, I began on Upwork, accepting far too little money for my work. I once wrote a travel book for someone for $25.

Once I learned how to price my work properly, I started searching for long-term clients. I used Binders Full of Writers, a Facebook group specifically for freelance writers, to pitch the marketing company that I now do regular copywriting for.

I continue to use Upwork rarely for editing, proofreading, and freelance writing work when it pays well. However, I find the site is better for one-off work and not as helpful for long-term partnerships. 

Pitching is a big part of a freelance writer’s life. I pitch to news outlets regularly but also take the time to pitch to smaller organizations. Once you get your name out there, you’ll start having people come to you offering you work. I’m currently a writer for a Canadian travel magazine because they saw my work on my blog and for a Turkish company I was freelancing for.

Make the most of opportunities. Advertise your services on social media. Have a dedicated website where people can discover your work and see your portfolio. And if you’re just getting started, create 3 sample pieces to show off your work.

Remember: you deserve a real wage. Stand by your prices. 

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

I love giving advice on how to live your travel dreams and overcome your fears, so I’m going to use point forms to keep this a bit shorter. But this is legitimately why I started a blog: to help people get the courage to live life differently.

  • Start small: Don’t launch into a 5-year plan abroad on day one. Go in with the expectation of taking each day as it comes.
  • Any job can be remote: When I started travelling as a legal secretary, people thought it was so weird. Everyone thinks only writers or VAs can live nomadically. That is NOT the case. Any job can be nomadic. You can find tons of examples on Fiverr and Upwork. I even know remote architects.
  • Meet new people: I’m a shy introvert, so I was terrified of meeting people abroad, but you need to, or it’s just not as fun. I use Couchsurfing meetups (even though I don’t couchsurf), Facebook groups (women only at the moment), Meetups.com (especially for hiking groups!), and hostels to meet new people. You can also use coworking spaces or join local clubs if you’re slow-mading through a region.
  • You’re allowed to be homesick: I tell every traveller that homesick is totally normal. I get homesick all the time, and I don’t even technically have a home! Embrace what you’re feeling and think about where it’s coming from. Maybe you’re missing the food? Then make that for dinner. If you’re missing a part of the culture, like a traditional custom, plan an event with new friends. Trust me, travel friends are always happy to think outside the box and offer some home-based comfort. Or just call your parents and have a chat. Do whatever you need to.
  • You don’t need to live carry-on only: Carry-on only travel is so popular, but it’s just not feasible for nomads. Eventually, you’ll get tired of owning a week’s worth of clothes and not having options for different environments. Get a real backpack or suitcase and use that.
  • But don’t pack your whole life: I used to be a total hoarder. Now, I’ve lived in New Zealand for a year with nine shirts. You don’t need as much as you think to travel. Plus, having less means you can buy more items on the road – like the amazing 5-in-1 jacket I bought for New Zealand “winter” (because 10C is definitely not winter temperatures).
  • Take time for yourself: Living nomadically isn’t the same as being a full-time vacationer. You have work to do and a life to live. That means spending some days curled up on the couch watching movies or eating ramen because you’re too tired to cook. And that’s ok. Remember that the key to living nomadically is to live on your terms. Not every day will be an adventure.
  • Practice self-care: I have clinical anxiety, so I’m literally always in fight or flight mode. That means scary things like travel feel like the world is imploding around me. I use self-care to help me take care of myself. That means taking my meds, having restful days, continuing to exercise, having virtual therapy sessions, and not over-taxing myself. Sometimes I have bad anxiety days, and that’s ok. 
  • Function over fashion: I love a pretty dress as much as the next Instagram addict, but nomads have to prioritize function. You can still have fashionable items too, but the first things in your “essentials” that you pack should be the items you actually need. Mine include a workout outfit, hiking socks (they don’t prevent blisters), good walking shoes, a pair of flip flops (shower shoes/summer footwear), a raincoat, an item to layer for colder weather, and a universal travel adaptor. 

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

Nina Clapperton sits on the peak of a sand dune in the desert during sunset

Slow-mading is a unique travel style because some people argue that it isn’t being a nomad because you are staying put for longer periods of time. However, I find it the best way to really get to know a place. It lets me spend longer in different areas, meet the locals, and go deeper into the culture.

However, it can be challenging. Most countries won’t let you turn up and stay for a year or two without a visa. Thankfully, digital nomad visas are becoming a more regular occurrence now.

I actually haven’t had to use one yet, though. I’ve found ways to stay in countries using legitimate visas that work for me.

Many countries have Working Holiday Visas, which allow people aged 18-35 to stay for up to 2 years and work in the area. I did this in New Zealand. It gives you access to some level of healthcare and gives you a tax ID so you can open a local bank account, which helped me out as I picked up local work while I was there and needed a way to be paid.

I’ve also used student visas to travel. I got a post-graduate Tier 4 student visa to study in Oxford for my Master’s degree. It let me stay for the year of my degree plus four additional months. If you’re from a commonwealth country, you can actually go between them for six months at a time, but my degree was eight months, so I needed to get the official visa.

I don’t recommend going somewhere then leaving every few months just to scam the visa system. If you’re working in an area, you should give back to it. That means paying visa fees and potentially taxes.

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

My absolute favourite place, and where I hope to move to whenever I decide to “settle” a bit more, is New Zealand. Everyone warned me that I’d move there and fall in love, then never want to leave. I’d heard it before about many countries I’d visited, but it had never rung true. Then I arrived in New Zealand, and BAM, I understood.

It’s such a unique nation. The people are genuinely the kindest, most outgoing people you’ll ever meet. They’ve got a great blend of Scottish humour and Mediterranean warmth that makes you instantly fall in love with them. Beyond the people, New Zealand is stunning. Everywhere you look, you’ll find scenes of natural wonder. I hiked a volcanic lava field that’s now a national park, visited the 8th natural wonder of the world (according to Kipling), and got to see the cheekiest (and only) alpine parrot species in the world.

If there’s only one place to tell people to visit, it’s New Zealand.

My second favourite place I lived would be Atri, Italy. It’s this tiny town of a few thousand people on a hilltop. It’s so small, most Italians don’t know it. It’s located as the Achilles heel of Italy.

Nina Clapperton in Italy standing in a large, ornate hall with many people standing near and behind her

This tiny, forgotten town is full of historic magic. The local cathedral is built over the ruins of a Roman bath, with a plexiglass floor so they could preserve the original mosaics. There’s a half un-earthed colosseum that looks over the hill to the ocean. There are winding aqueducts beneath the town that offer portholes into the mountain. And it is where I had the best cookies of my entire life. This little bakery down the road from where I lived knew my order after a week of living there and always had fresh chocolate-dipped almond cookies ready for me after classes.

People often move to big cities or English-speaking nations, but the local towns in foreign countries offer a deeper cultural immersion. I learned more Italian there than I ever did in classes or even in my attempts to practice in Rome.

My third favourite place I lived was Nova Scotia, Canada. I moved out there for university in Halifax and genuinely couldn’t believe I was still in Canada. It’s such a big country that every province feels like a completely new region. Nova Scotia is a fishing province that has this wildness to it.

Downtown Halifax is about five streets big. It’s full of local pubs that play Irish drinking songs. Everyone smiles and says hello on the street. And two steps from your door are epic hiking trails. Plus, it’s the freshest and cheapest seafood I’ve ever eaten. I was on a university budget and was having lobster rolls and scallops weekly.

As a woman, what should other people who identify similarly (and who haven’t traveled much) know about traveling/nomading?

I’m a cis-gender female. Before I started solo travelling, literally everyone told me it was dangerous, and that bad things would happen to me. I’ve been to 29 countries now and have yet to have a bad experience that was based on my gender.

Women know how to be wary. We literally do it every day at home. Using common sense, we translate that into travel. 

Statistics in most countries show that men get involved in more violent tourist crime than women. It’s usually because they get drunk and start fights or walk down dark alleys.

You can definitely travel alone as a woman and stay safe. And you don’t need a fake wedding ring – foreign men don’t care if you’re married unless the man is beside you.

Here are my tips to help you out:

  • Respect the local dress code. This will ensure that you don’t stand out.
  • Don’t walk down dark alleys or through dark fields alone. Pretty common sense.
  • Don’t carry weapons – you can get arrested at airports in some countries for having things like knuckle rings or pepper spray.
  • You can get safety apps on your phone that have panic buttons to text friends if you feel unsafe.
  • Trust your gut.
  • Don’t drink excessively if you’re on your own. Keep your wits about you.
  • Research local scams to avoid, such as fake taxis.
  • Remember, you don’t owe anyone politeness. If people are bothering you, leave the situation, even if you feel it’s “rude.” I once noped out of a store when the vendor started bringing too many items to me and wasn’t letting me browse in peace. It was probably rude, but it meant I didn’t feel cornered.
  • Keep a hand on your purse. I know some people say to get money belts, but I never have. I wear a crossbody bag when I travel, and I keep my arm over it. It’s worked with three different bags in dozens of countries, even ones known for pickpocketing.

Since launching, what has been most effective to acquire/retain clients?

 

To maintain clients from different fields all at once, time management is key. I schedule my days into chunks of time for each client. If I don’t finish the project in that time, I move on and work on the rest of my day. I only come back to it if I have time at the end of the day or if it’s urgent (but good time management will prevent last-minute crises).

Carving out the specific times helps me switch my brain between the modes so I can perform at my best and deliver excellent content to my clients. They stay because they know my work is excellent. 

What digital tools do you use for your work/business?

I use different tools for my different jobs.

Legal Secretary:

  • Microsoft Outlook and its portals
  • PC Law
  • Estate-a-base
  • Remote Desktop

Blogging:

  • Ahrefs / Keysearch
  • Canva
  • WordPress
  • Trello
  • Zoom
  • Google Docs and Google Sheets
  • Later
  • Coschedule Headline Analyzer
  • Rank Math
  • Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop
  • Convertkit

Freelancing:

  • Asana / Trello
  • Google Docs
  • Grammarly (for US to UK English checks)
  • Ahrefs / Keysearch
  • Zoom / Skype

What scale is your business at today, and what are your future goals?

Nina Clapperton stands at the corner of a chest-high fence overlooking a turquoise ocean with a slightly cloudy but blue sky above

Combining multiple revenue streams through different work styles has allowed me to reach my first 6-figure year. Previously, I have had mid-to-high 5 figure years when I was working 20 hours per week. I still only work about 30 hours a week.

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

Legal Secretary: Legal secretaries don’t need degrees. They simply need to be able to get the job done. Having a background in administrative works is incredibly helpful. You can get started as a freelancer through Upwork and Fiverr, but gaining better-paying work may require working in an office first then requesting a transition to remote work.

Blogging: Join a lot of Facebook groups! Find your niche, work on your SEO, and write excellent content. It takes a while to grow, but it does work. Only pick two things to focus on per year for advertising (i.e., SEO & Pinterest, Instagram & Pinterest, Twitter & Google Stories).

Courses for Blogging:

  • Stupid Simple SEO
  • Nomadic Matt’s Travel Writing Course
  • Nina Out and About’s Complete Brand Pitching Kit for Travel Writers

Freelancing: Start by creating a portfolio of work. Make three pieces of work for a company you’d want to work with (i.e., Lonely Planet articles for travel writers). Have a website where individuals can find you. Promote your work and ask clients for testimonials. Prioritize long-term projects with companies.

Tools:

  • Upwork/Fiverr for sourcing work
  • Pitching companies directly
  • Bitchin’ Pitchin’ by Abby Lee Hood for great freelance writing tips

Tell us about your content creation journey and share some of your favorite content that people should check out!

I adore travel blogging. It’s not been a great year for it, but I’ve actually fallen even more in love with it lately. 

Sharing travel stories and helping other people gain the confidence to travel are my passions. I want everyone to be able to enjoy the world the way I do. 

Since transitioning into an SEO-focused strategy, I’ve increased my revenue enough to hire my first VA to assist with all the goings-on of my business.

My favourite articles are:

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

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

Nina Clapperton walks to the end of a concrete pier with the blue ocean in front of her while the sun is shining

Happiness is the most important thing.

You’ll learn more from exploring the world than you ever will from reading about other people who did.

Eat that second cookie (or 4th or 8th).

What’s your favorite book and why?

The Professor and the Madman – a tale of the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary. It sounds super dry, but it’s this amazing nonfiction book with murder, crowdsourcing from Victorian housewives, and an insane asylum. It reminds me that the real world can be just as thrilling and unbelievable as fantasy.

How can people learn more about you and your work?

Website: Nina Out and About – https://ninaoutandabout.ca

https://twitter.com/ninaclapperton

https://instagram.com/ninaclapperton

https://pinterest.com/ninaoutandabout

https://tiktok.com/ninaoutandabout 

Podcast: Tripping Up – available wherever you get your podcasts. A comedy travel podcast about the times travel hasn’t gone as planned.

 

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.