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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!
Louise has worked as an English teacher and a freelance writer and photographer to find freedom. Her insights on both paths are sure to be useful to anyone thinking of taking the leap into digital nomad life. Check out her content portfolio on her website!
Thank you for sharing your nomad story with Freedom Is Everything, Louise!
Key takeaways from Louise’s interview:
“I quickly learned that nomading isn’t all about money. I chose to be a nomad to be rich in experiences over things. So as long as I am not digging myself into a hole, I will always make time for adventure.”
“I am happy when I stay curious, humble, and focused. I don’t need long-term goals to fulfill. If my goal for the day is to just make up my bed, and I complete that, I feel accomplished. So small, attainable goals keep me on track and feeling determined. ”
“I come from a country where being a woman teaches you to be tough and independent. It is a jungle out there, and we South African ladies know it all too well. Funny enough, this made me much less scared to venture out on my own. We have a “don’t show your fear” mentality, and it has served me well.”
“Many nomads like to hop from one country to the next. I enjoy settling in a little bit and stay at least 6-months to a year. That gives me a great lay of the land, and I really get to experience the best and the worst of a place. So I like to rent an apartment, shop locally, and make up my own itineraries from there. I don’t follow guidebooks.”
Table of Contents
Introduce yourself! 🙂 Who are you? What do you do for work? And what is your nomadic story?
I am from South Africa and currently live in Tbilisi, Georgia. I started traveling two years ago and set out to be a teacher in Vietnam. I made that happen, and I ended up living in Saigon and Da Nang during my time there. Vietnam is super central in Asia, and it made it easy for me to see many places cheaply and in a short amount of time. Just like everyone else, Covid made me refocus my priorities, and while teaching was a good “inbetween job,” I ultimately realised that writing was my one true love, and I needed to make my return to it.
What inspired you to start nomading? And how has nomading changed your perspective on life?
While working in South Africa, I was already working freelance. But I knew there had to be more to see and more to do. What was the use of being your own boss if I was always tethered to my clients around me? So I made the leap and changed careers in the hopes of seeing the world. My parents are both teachers, so hard could it really be? Very hard, is the answer. Many people take being an ESL teacher very lightly and see it as a way to make a quick buck. But working with the students I did, you became invested in them, and I became much more dedicated to the work than I was anticipating. But by the end of my contract, I knew it wasn’t a long-term option for me.
I studied journalism, and my heart has always been with writing. But it took me moving overseas to figure my way back into the industry. I polished off my portfolio and got back into copywriting, and I have not looked back since.
My country has a bit of a bad wrap on the international spectrum, and it was fascinating seeing that through other people’s eyes. But every moment away from home just made me miss it more and more, especially the people. Traveling isn’t easy, and it’s not what you see on Instagram. So, through it all, I have learned a lot about my own skills, dedication, and determination.
Please tell us the detailed story of how you started your freelancing business.
I studied journalism but quickly realised I was not interested in going into hard-hitting news journalism. I broke into the entertainment scene as a photographer and PR Agent. I started to grow my business and became a fully-fledged one-woman show managing bands, booking tours, creating PR campaigns, and publishing music.
The money wasn’t great as the South African music scene is really small, and I was being a bleeding heart, catering to small artists trying to make it. I decided to go to Vietnam as a teacher to see if I wanted to change careers, and it was an easy way for me to save money.
It never occurred to me that teaching was now a viable option online, so I worked for a learning center. I got lots of time off to explore around my city or travel around Vietnam, and on holidays I could travel abroad. When Covid hit, we all got grounded in Vietnam (just like the rest of the world, I know). I had been struggling with the idea of my future plans for a while by then. I knew I loved teaching, but after spending most of my adult life touring with musicians and working in the media world, it was hard to give it up.
I got introduced to Upwork, and I was able to upload a pretty hefty portfolio from the get-go. Work started trickling in, and quickly I was able to commit to fully writing again and quit teaching. One of my clients saw my CV online and offered me a full-time job as a marketing director and press correspondent. So now I am juggling my writing and my full-time job and absolutely loving it.
What advice would you give to someone who’s thinking about nomading?
One thing I have seen that sets many people back is self-doubt. Can I do it? Should I/Shouldn’t I? There is no room for that in this lifestyle. You will quickly need to learn and adapt to a decisive mindset. If you want to truly make a success of it, you will have to be able to think rationally about things and follow through. People who are flaky and indecisive get stuck, take the easy way out, or just plain fail.
I also quickly learned that it isn’t all about money. I chose to be a nomad to be rich in experiences over things. So as long as I am not digging myself into a hole, I will always make time for adventure.
Facebook is a blessing and a curse. I stay away from my newsfeed, and I linger on the expat groups in different cities. People are full of advice and always happy to meet up. There are also plenty of “Women in ….” groups that are super supportive and helpful.
What is unique about the way you travel, and what advice do you have for someone who wants to travel with a similar style?
Many nomads like to hop from one country to the next. I enjoy settling in a little bit and stay at least 6-months to a year. That gives me a great lay of the land, and I really get to experience the best and the worst of a place. So I like to rent an apartment, shop locally, and make up my own itineraries from there. I don’t follow guidebooks.
What are the 2-3 favorite places where you’ve lived/traveled to and why?
I loved Vietnam. Life was easy in my cozy little beach city. You hop on your motorbike, and the world is your oyster. The mountains and the sea are in a constant tug-of-war of who is the most beautiful.
I also loved traveling through London. It’s not for everybody, but I have always had an obsession with British culture. I had a place to stay, so that also helps a lot because that place is EXPENSIVE. But man, the balance of history and metropolitan landscapes is fabulous.
Now that I am in Georgia, I can’t see myself living anywhere else in the near future. It stole my heart from day 1! Every day the city just ticks more and more boxes I didn’t even know I needed ticking. The mix of Soviet and Haussmanian architecture is so unique, and the city is on the fast track to becoming a green city which makes it a joy to walk around. The expat community is also more stable, and you feel more integrated in society, rather than the blissful bubbles of foreigners we come across in other places.
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As a woman, what should other people who identify similarly (and who haven’t traveled much) know about traveling/nomading?
I come from a country where being a woman teaches you to be tough and independent. It is a jungle out there, and we South African ladies know it all too well. Funny enough, this made me much less scared to venture out on my own. We have a “don’t show your fear” mentality, and it has served me well. So I won’t stay away from a country because “people” say it is dangerous for women. I have heard this about places like Turkey and India, and they are top of my list to visit. So don’t lend out your ears too much to other people because they don’t know your background.
I don’t have a blackbelt or anything, but I am not intimidated by the idea of a culture that will treat me differently.
What is one of your favorite travel stories/experiences?
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When I was on a motorbike trip on the border of China and Vietnam, I got my second flat tire for the day in the middle of nowhere on a dirt road. I rolled along until I got to a little village with nothing more than three huts, some rice, and a chicken that did not know when to shut up. One of the huts looked like they might be able to have some tools to help me, but there were no people. There was, however, a hand-written note with a telephone number on it. I phoned and, in my very broken Vietnamese, explained that I have a flat tire.
As luck would have it, this guy did not speak Vietnamese but rather a minority language from these parts. I was just fed up and tired and just cried out, “HELP ME.” “OK,” and he hung up. Only a few minutes later, a disheveled-looking man and his wide-eyed son come rolling down the hill on their equally disheveled bike. He fixed my tire in a jiffy and refused to take any extra money to thank him. It was merely his duty to save this damsel in distress. Even though he did not speak my language or know me from anywhere, he understood my cry for help.
It really taught me that there is never an excuse to not reach out for help. (and to carry a spare tire with me)
Since launching, what has been most effective to acquire/retain clients?
I love Upwork for my copywriting work. It is a great platform with lots of opportunities. But it is important to know your worth because many people will lowball you with terrible offers or want free demo articles. I make it a priority to always be available. It might not be the healthiest thing to do, but it has served me well.
I have emails and apps synced on my phone, tablet, and laptop, and it never takes me more than an hour to get back to someone. This has helped me secure many clients and keep them in the long run. As time goes on and I know I have super stable relationships with my clients, I do start to scale down and set boundaries concerning hours.
What scale is your business at today, and what are your future goals?
I am completely self-sufficient but still working on my own. I have a full-time job with one company, and then I have seven long-term clients for whom I supply up to 8 articles per month each. So it is safe to say I write A LOT. I am still in the 5 figure range, but as a nomad, that is a VERY comfortable place to be. I am not running into any debt and can travel as much and as often as I like. I sometimes have the luxury of outsourcing some work, but I still edit the copy to give it my own voice.
What digital tools do you use for your work/business?
I use Upwork, Slack, Ahrefs, Podio, Pitchbox, Adobe Suits, Grammarly, Hunter, LinkedIn, and Nofollow.
For someone interested in becoming a freelancer in your field, what’s the best advice that you would give? And what books, podcasts, thought leaders, or other learning resources do you recommend?
It is important to have a good portfolio, but it is not easy getting published. I always suggest that people take a writing course where they are given writing prompts (bonus if they get assessed) or rewrite existing topics. Search for topics unique to your field to really show off your skills. It is always great to be able to write for a small niche market. The writing comes naturally and goes much faster. That being said, you should be open to new opportunities too. My focus is entertainment and travel, but I have written an article or two about dogs and universities!
What small change has made a big difference in your life?
Tracking my spending. I am a shopaholic and a gift-giver. I kept seeing that I was not saving money until I started using a money tracking app and figured out where my money was seeping out of my pockets. That made a huge difference in the way I see money.
If you’re a content creator (podcaster, YouTuber, blogger, etc.), tell us about your content creation journey and share some of your favorite content that people should check out!
A lot of my work is ghost-writing or uncredited research pieces. So, I can not share those, unfortunately. But I do have one client for whom I write listicles, and those are very fun! Here are two of my favorites:
If you only had a few minutes to live, what are the most important life lessons you would share with the world?
- Find beauty in the little things.
- Never compare yourself to anyone.
- Don’t look for your happiness in other people. You can only create it yourself.
- Your worth is not measured by how many people you know.
- Watch out for narcissists.
What do you travel with that you couldn’t imagine traveling without?
–Packing cubes: they are an over-packer’s dream.
-My camera: I have a Canon 6D. Full-frame or nothing! A phone just can not capture everything.
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?
As far back as I can remember, my mother and grandmother have been obsessed with photos. Every moment in our lives was captured on film. From a young age, I took it up, but I have never owned super expensive camera gear. Always something super basic. Nonetheless, I reached great heights in my career as a photographer with my low-grade gear. I had the opportunity to film festivals and shoot bands like Aerosmith, Guns and Roses, and Red Hot Chili Peppers.
When I started traveling, my focus shifted from rock n roll to real people. It has been amazing to capture places and faces from across the world.
What is your philosophy on being happy and/or finding meaning/purpose in life? And any recommended resources for people navigating this journey?
I think if you find the purpose of life, we will stop searching. That sounds pretty boring to me. I am happy when I stay curious, humble, and focused. I don’t need long-term goals to fulfill. If my goal for the day is to just make up my bed, and I complete that, I feel accomplished. So small, attainable goals keep me on track and feeling determined.
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!
The only thing I have done for my future is a retirement annuity. With my future being so uncertain all the time, that was the one thing I knew I needed. One day, I am catered for. As for now, I am perfectly content saving as I go and I am enjoying finally not living paycheck to paycheck.
How can people learn more about you and your work?