Interview with Julia Jerg: backpacker to digital nomad

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Meet Julia, a German backpacker turned digital nomad who blogs on jeyjetter.com (English) and jeyjetter.de (German). Like many of us, she loves traveling, exploring new cultures and hate routine.

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Tell us more about how you made the decision to become a digital nomad.

Before my life as a digital nomad, I worked in Munich as a PR/Marketing and social media consultant and copywriter. In 2011, I took off to go on a short break. My plan was to travel around the world for six months, then go back to Munich to start my own public relations agency.

When I first started traveling, I did not intend to become a digital nomad. I did not even know that such a lifestyle exists. Only when I realized that I did not want to go back to Germany after my first backpacking year was over, I started looking for ways to keep traveling.

Today, I am a successful digital nomad and still traveling to beautiful places all over this planet.

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How did you find your first clients?

To be honest, it was more the other way round: Former clients from my time back in Munich started contacting me and wanted to know if I ever came back. When they heard that I wasn’t sure, they offered me to do some remote freelancing projects with them. Back then, I still didn’t realize that this was the beginning of my digital nomad path.

At first, the projects were small and not on a frequent basis, and my mindset was still programmed from the old conventional way of thinking: I thought, I could only make “serious” money whilst being in a location. But then, after some time, my online gigs grew bigger and I even managed to get more clients so that I suddenly did not have the time to work in a beach bar or, as a tour guide or in a hotel as I used to do in some of the destinations where I could get a working visa. Bingo!

That was the moment when I actually became aware of the fact that I can make money completely location independently. And by then I had done a lot of research and also came across the term “digital nomads”. Only in 2015, when I decided to start a travel blog, I fully emerged into the digital nomad scene though, noticing that there is a huge movement behind that term and that I am not at all alone with my “alternative” way of living.

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What has been the highlight of being a digital nomad?

My highlight since I have been a digital nomad was in 2016, when I traveled (for the first time in my life) on a cruise ship from Colombia to Portugal with 200 fellow digital nomads. My partner and I found that absolute great deal that included 13 days accommodation and food on the cruise ship with a package of workshops and networking events for less than 500 dollars! Not only because of the price, this experience was outstanding: I met so many cool and inspiring people, learned a lot and – again – got reassured that life as a digital nomad is not a “en vogue-phase” but a real lifestyle option for many out there.

What about any not-so-good aspect of being a digital nomad?

Really can’t think of any. My life as an employee had more downsides than the challenges of being an independent freelancer and living out of the system has ever had for me.

Did you encounter any safety issues while traveling, especially as a solo female?

During my first year I solo-backpacked from India, through Asia, Australia, New Zealand and South America. It goes without saying that India was one of the most intense countries and also for women it is more “stressful” perhaps than for male tourists. You are really kind of an attraction there and I constantly felt observed.

Now, I am 1.80m tall, blond and have blue eyes. Perhaps I did not blend in as much as others and still, I could always laugh away the marriage proposals, group photo requests and people who wanted simply to stand next to me.

In South America, there was only one situation that made me feel a bit unsafe when two other girls and I were walking through the streets of a small town in Peru. We obviously missed the right turn and ended up in a neighborhood that didn’t look too inviting. But only when 1 guy came across the street asking us if we were nuts to walk around this area as tourists, it dawned on us that we were unsafe. We turned around and left the area quickly. It happened fast and was perhaps harmless, but since you’re asking, this is the only real “dangerous” scene I’ve ever managed to get myself into.

Tell us more about how you got into PR and marketing.

My professional background has the same patchwork pattern as my momentary income: I studied English and Spanish Literature, Language and Culture at the University of Constance. After that, I was without a concrete job title and had to invent or look for a suitable profession. The reason why I studied two “world languages” was that I wanted to be able to work internationally, and preferably with a lot of business trips to my international clients. I decided to look for a job in a big German company to combine my language skills and passion for traveling.

Yet, the contrary happened: I got a job in a small Bavarian agency (where no one needed my English or Spanish skills, nor did I have to travel to other countries for them). What seemed like a step into the wrong direction at first, was actually basis for my digital nomad lifestyle: In those 4 years, I learned a lot about corporate publishing, public relations and marketing. I also improved my writing skills, became the manager of the Munich subdivision and eventually had a team of 7 employees and freelancers to take care of.

What do you think about freelancing sites such as Fiverr and Upwork?

Most people tend to start off by offering their skills on websites like Fiverr and Upwork. But the pay is so low that I feel it’s almost a waste of time. What really brings me money are those contacts that I personally made through friends/former business contacts or recommendations.

Of course, when you are first starting out, you need to focus on building a portfolio and that could mean that you offer your services for a lot less money than you will be able to charge in the future. One thing leads to another and all you need is persistence, belief in this lifestyle and openness towards all sorts of new ways. Today for example, I am only by coincidence a translator because I once gave German classes in Australia to an English business man who decided to hire me as translator for his product and website texts. I have done tons of translations for him and even for other clients afterwards – without being a certified translator.

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Any advice for an aspiring digital nomad?

Everyone who has a skill that they can do online can become a digital nomad. Yet, you really need to bring some sort of discipline, independence and entrepreneur thinking with you. I suppose that you can learn those skills in a course on the way too. I was lucky enough to learn a lot about leadership, project management and entrepreneur thinking during my time in the agency in Munich.

But I think everyone can work as a freelancer or even have their own online business if they are passionate about traveling and the idea of living a location-independent life. But you need to be able to marketing your skills and organize yourself in an efficient way. Only because I am fluent in three languages doesn’t bring me international projects. Or just because I know a lot about PR and Social Media Marketing doesn’t guarantee I’ll have clients lining up that want my advice.

Follow Julia on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and her website.

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