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!
Jade battled with a sense of restlessness and discontent for years. But she pulled the plug on that life and began a new one abroad. With her dog by her side, Jade has set off to dozens of countries, always finding a balance between cost of living and quality of life.
Thank you for sharing your story with us, Jade!
Key takeaways from Jade’s interview:
“The concept of nomading always seemed like an unattainable dream for me. I thought that in order to be a digital nomad, you had to be tech-savvy or have a certain set of technical skills in areas that I knew nothing about.”
“I, of course, had a great deal of anxiety that I wouldn’t be able to make money consistently to support myself. Should someone else be feeling the same way, my advice would be to just pull the trigger. You can always go home if it doesn’t work out.”
“Having an open mind will give you more happiness, a deeper understanding and make you a genuinely better person.”
Introduce yourself! 🙂 Who are you? What do you do for work? And what is your nomadic story?
Hello! I’m a Digital Nomad originally from the United States. I grew up on the East Coast (Rhode Island) but was always getting bored and moving to different states, and even a few European countries (I had a couple of stints in Italy as well as an extended stay in Paris before I even knew what a digital nomad was). My restlessness and discontent were always keeping me on the go, regardless of how many times I returned to my home state.
I work online as a travel blogger, yoga instructor, and ESL teacher. I’m beginning to dabble in the world of SEO these days as well, though my biggest passion is travel blogging. I started nomading in January 2020 (yes, right before the pandemic). I spent a month in Italy, a few weeks in Hungary, and then made my way to Romania right before the world shut down.
What inspired you to start nomading? And how has nomading changed your perspective on life?
The concept of nomading always seemed like an unattainable dream for me. I thought that in order to be a digital nomad, you had to be tech-savvy or have a certain set of technical skills in areas that I knew nothing about. Along with this conditioned belief about nomading was the knowledge that I would never be content in a typical 9-to-5 lifestyle. Monotony scared the shit out of me, and with the growing political and socio-economic tensions in the USA, along with a few agonizing experiences with the American healthcare system, I just knew I had to get out.
While nomading hasn’t exactly changed my perspective too much, it has given me the knowledge and confidence that solid side-hustles can give you the freedom to do whatever. I grew up conditioned to believe that I needed to get good grades, go to a good college, and get a good career – similar to many fellow millennials. I completely regret wasting ten years going back and forth between majors, changing schools, etc., trying to figure out my place in the world. I wish I had accepted back then that I would never fit into that type of life and saved myself and my parents a ton of money on student loans.
Please tell us your detailed story of how you got into your line of work and how you turned it into a remote career.
After moving back to Rhode Island from NYC, I finally finished my college education and began a career in environmental science. I really enjoyed my job itself, but after three years of the monotony of driving the same route, dealing with the same traffic, having the same after-work routine, etc., I felt my restlessness growing once again. I was fortunate enough to have a job that was lenient with taking time off, so I was, fortunately, able to do a lot of traveling during my days of working in environmental science.
I decided to start a travel blog to document my adventures and hopefully find a way to make a living remotely. I continued with my job and worked on the blog after hours and during travels. Success in blogging doesn’t happen overnight, and I continued to look for other ways to work remotely. One day I happened upon an advertisement for VIPKID, a Chinese company that hires American and Canadian ESL teachers to teach children English online.
After an arduous hiring process, I began working for VIPKID part-time while I maintained my full-time job. I began working with them in September 2019. Because I was teaching kids in China while living on the East Coast USA, my workdays began around 3 or 4 am. I taught for a few hours, then went to my day job. I had zero semblance of a social life for the next few months.
Finally, in December 2019, I gave my notice to my employer and began the process of selling my belongings and preparing my dog, Andre, for life abroad.
Today, my main source of income is VIPKID. I work for them about 15-20 hours per week. I spend an additional 20+ hours on my websites and teach a couple of private yoga classes per month.
What are the 2-3 favorite places where you’ve lived/traveled to and why?
I don’t know that I have a favorite place I’ve lived since nomading. I chose to start my journey in Italy because I had lived there previously, had a solid foundation in the language, and knew I’d have to deal with getting Andre a pet passport and going to the vet. I knew it would be a good place to get my feet wet before venturing on to more (to me) foreign places. But we got an Airbnb in a teeny-tiny medieval village, with little to do and not much access to public transportation.
I’ve been in Romania now since March 2020, so just over a year. I started in Sibiu, a city I absolutely adored, and now live in Cluj-Napoca, a much larger and busier city. I still have yet to experience a lot of what Romania has to offer because of the pandemic-related restrictions still in place.
My favorite places to travel have definitely been Ireland (Galway), Ecuador (Cuenca), Guadeloupe (St. Anne), and France (Paris).
What advice would you give to someone who’s thinking about nomading?
I have clinical depression and generalized anxiety disorder, so the decision to start nomading caused a lot of angst and indecision in the first few months. I pretty much just pushed them to the backburner and powered through. Having my dog with me was a great comfort. I’m sure that, had it not been for Andre, I would have returned home when the pandemic set in.
I, of course, had a great deal of anxiety that I wouldn’t be able to make money consistently to support myself. Should someone else be feeling the same way, my advice would be to just pull the trigger. You can always go home if it doesn’t work out. I currently work about six hours per day and live comfortably in Romania. Getting paid in USD is a huge help, along with living in an inexpensive country that doesn’t use the Euro or US Dollar. My money goes very far here.
I’m an introvert, so meeting people has never been my strong suit. I do, however, love my wine, which opens me up quite a bit. Before the pandemic set in, I enjoyed going to a local bar or pub, having a couple of glasses of wine, and I’d undoubtedly make some friends.
Once lockdown began in Romania, a mere ten days after my arrival, I decided to download Tinder to kill some boredom. I met a guy (who is now asleep next to me). We have been together almost a year, are now engaged, and have adopted another dog. If you’re single, download dating apps! Use your best judgment and remove yourself from situations that feel unsafe, but otherwise, have fun and relax a bit. I also encourage joining local expat groups on Facebook – that’s how I’ve met most of my friends, particularly in the days when going out to a bar isn’t so feasible.
I think one of the most important pieces of advice to anyone who’s considering a nomadic lifestyle would be this: you can’t just pick your dream destination and go there. There are a lot of things to consider. Most importantly, cost of living and currency.
I wanted a more comfortable life and fewer hours spent working. After all the great things I’d heard about Romania, I decided that would be my next stop after Hungary. Romania also has excellent internet connections and reliability. You’ll have to do your research for each country and be prepared for at least a little bit of culture shock. Romania was not as difficult to adjust to as I’d imagined. The best destinations for digital nomads will have a good cost of living relative to your salary, internet reliability, and solid networks of expats to make friends, in my opinion.
What is unique about the way you travel, and what advice do you have for someone who wants to travel with a similar style?
I think the most unique aspect of my nomadic journey is the fact that I opted to bring my dog. He’s small-medium in size, around 12.5kg. Because he is an Emotional Support Animal for my anxiety disorder, he was able to fly in-cabin with me to Europe. Europe, however, has different regulations with ESAs, and he would not have been allowed in the cabin on flights between EU countries. This severely limited me in terms of places I could go and how I could get there. I knew he’d never be able to go as ‘excess baggage,’ so trains were the only way we would be able to travel. I had to plan my destinations accordingly. It definitely hasn’t been easy, but well worth it.
We began in Italy, a few hours outside of Rome. When I wanted to make my way east, we took an overnight train to Vienna, followed by a short train to Budapest. After spending a while in Budapest, I took a ten-hour train to Sibiu. All of this had to be carefully planned with Andre’s best interest in mind.
If you do opt to bring your furry friend with you, be sure to keep their personality in mind, as well as how pet-friendly your chosen destinations are.
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?
I have student loan debt, but it’s been postponed due to the pandemic, so it hasn’t really been an issue for me. The amount I’ve been saving each month due to the postponement has helped me to save a bit, though!
What does a day in your work life look like? Paint a picture for us :).
My typical day is something like this:
Wake up and teach a few sporadic classes from 7–9 am.
Take care of the dogs and make some breakfast.
Take care of whatever errands need tending or take a day to explore a new area of the city with a camera in-tow. Maybe find an outdoor terrace to work on the website if the weather is nice.
Return to the house from 2–4 pm to teach.
Relax, go for outings, work more on websites, go to dinner, spend time with friends – whatever I feel like, essentially.
On my days off, I love taking day trips! Anything that involves a camera and exploring somewhere new.
Keep in mind that this is during the pandemic, and we still have fairly tight restrictions. I’m in the process of getting my residency here, so although some Balkan countries nearby have opened their borders, I cannot yet leave to go exploring elsewhere.
Once my papers are finalized, I plan on taking short trips to surrounding countries to explore more.
What digital tools do you use for your work?
For ESL teaching, I only use the VIPKID platform. For my websites, I use Keysearch, Moz, and Trello.
For someone interested in getting into your field of work, what’s the best advice that you would give? And what books, podcasts, thought leaders, or other learning resources do you recommend?
If you’re interested in working for an online ESL company, my advice is this: be prepared for inconsistencies. I make exponentially more money in the summer and during school breaks than when school is in session in China. It can be frustrating, but at this point, I’m used to it.
Since the onset of the pandemic, a large number of teachers have joined the company, and work is pretty slow.
Get your ESL Certification! Honestly, there aren’t many learning resources for online ESL teaching – you are provided with lesson plans, and there’s very little work you have to do on your own besides actually teaching the child.
If you only had a few minutes to live, what are the most important life lessons you would share with the world?
The life you have isn’t the only way to live life. Get out, see the world, and re-evaluate as you go. Having an open mind will give you more happiness, a deeper understanding and make you a genuinely better person.
What do you travel with that you couldn’t imagine traveling without?
I definitely wouldn’t want to travel long-term without my dogs. The nomadic lifestyle can be lonely, and they are a great source of comfort. In terms of material things, I’d definitely recommend a portable charger. When traveling, I usually am away from the apartment for long periods of time, and I use my phone for Google Maps, photos, and regular communication. It sucks at the end of the day when your battery is dead, and you’re lost!
I’d also recommend taking something small and sentimental from home. I have a set of Tibetan Prayer Flags that have decorated every apartment I’ve lived in since beginning my nomad journey.
What’s your favorite book and why?
The Little Prince, Antoine de Ste. Exupery. I love that it is a children’s book, but also for adults. I first read it in French class in high school and since use it as a language learning tool for myself when trying to learn a new language.
Tell us about a deep passion of yours! What has your journey been like, and what advice/resources would you recommend for someone interested in learning more about this topic?
Yoga is a passion that I seem to have put on the back burner lately. It really helps me cope with situations outside of my control, which is huge for me. If you’ve never done yoga but are interested, I’d suggest taking a few free YouTube classes. I started my yoga journey by taking Bryan Kest’s free classes on YouTube (Power 1 is great for beginners). Don’t worry if you aren’t flexible – yoga makes you flexible. Don’t worry if you aren’t strong – yoga makes you strong. Don’t give in to these limiting beliefs. It’s like saying, “I’m too hungry to eat.”
How can people learn more about you and your work?
My first travel blog is The Migrant Yogi, which is a hybrid of travel, mindfulness, and personal development. I recently started a destination niche site since traveling isn’t feasible right now, related to the Transylvania region of Romania, where I’ve been living for the past year – Traveling Transylvania.