- 1 Hi Ellen. Tell us a little more about who you are and what you do.
- 2 How did you get started as a digital nomad?
- 3 What has been your best and worse experience as a digital nomad so far?
- 4 Did you run into any safety problems while traveling?
- 5 Any advice for someone who wants to become a traveling psychologist/writer/management consultant?
- 6 What would you say to an aspiring female digital nomad?
Hi Ellen. Tell us a little more about who you are and what you do.
I’m a British digital nomad, mostly based in Thailand but still managing 100 or so flights a year, who you could call ‘job polygamous’. I’m a work psychologist and freelance management consultant, working across SE Asia and the Middle East, in places from China to Saudi Arabia. I also run a personal development blog that focuses on the intersection of productivity and self-care, have a travel blog, and I write fiction (paranormal romance/urban fantasy).
I’m fascinated by people, and love writing, and I really appreciate the variety that my blend of roles gives me. I enjoy travel, and feel privileged to work within contrasting cultures – it’s a different feeling working with locals rather than just diving in and out as a traveller, although both have their highs and lows. I’m a voracious reader, and as an introvert, I love spending quality time with small groups of interesting people.
How did you get started as a digital nomad?
I ‘went nomad’ about 3.5 years ago, when I resigned from my 60-hour per week consulting job in London (which I’d been doing for about 10/11 years), ‘went travelling for a few months’ – then never went back. I ended up in Chiang Mai, met a few people who were making this lifestyle work, and, eventually rearranged my own life so I could do it too.
What has been your best and worse experience as a digital nomad so far?
Best: The sheer number of places I’ve been and people I’ve met astounds me. My favourite place in the last few years was probably Angkor Wat, which was stunning in terms of beauty, size and scale, and I will definitely return to. Going to see the Egyptian Pyramids 18 months ago was also amazing – after the revolution, tourism has been at a bit of a low, so there were very few people there and it felt very humbling.
Worse: No single experience comes to mind, but from an emotional perspective, there are certainly times when I miss my friends and family from the UK. It can be difficult to build deep connections and relationships as it’s a transient lifestyle, because even if, like me, you tend to return to one single city, others may not – I find there is always someone to whom I am saying goodbye.
For example, in a few weeks, my three best girl friends currently in Chiang Mai all leave within a week of each other, which I’m sad about. And don’t even get me started on dating… The flip side is that there are always new people to meet, and that generally travellers tend to be people who are more open to making new friends than people in a more settled community, so if you’re prepared to get out of your shell, there are plenty of meet-ups and activities.
Did you run into any safety problems while traveling?
Not really. I’m just as careful when I travel as I would be in London, where you could easily get your bag stolen or your pocket picked. Thailand’s probably safer in that respect actually, although I did have my handbag stolen on Koh Phangan.
The place I felt most stressed was Egypt, where I felt objectified and uncomfortable, and many of the men that I met, from taxi drivers to hotel porters to waiters wouldn’t leave me alone, and consistently asked me very personal questions. I wouldn’t say I felt unsafe, but I chose not to go out on my own at night time.
Any advice for someone who wants to become a traveling psychologist/writer/management consultant?
If you want to be a psychologist and a consultant, that’s something that needs a certain level of education, experience and professional qualifications, so is probably not something most people can do, but if you want to be a writer, that’s very different.
I know many nomads who have become freelance writers in many different fields. Fiction is probably a long game in that you need to write a number of books to make a living, but I have friends who make $20k a month from writing fiction (I’m not there yet, but I plan to be one day!), so it is possible. I would point people to podcasts like The Creative Penn and the Self-publishing Podcast to find out more about this. If you want to be a blogger, then https://smartblogger.com is a good place to get information.
I’m also a member of the digital nomad community Location Rebel, which I highly recommend as a community of like-minded nomads. This community is also a bit more gender-balanced than some of the nomad communities, which can be a bit testosterone heavy.
What would you say to an aspiring female digital nomad?
Think about whether the lifestyle will suit you in terms of temperament and personality. Sometimes I find people have a somewhat optimistic view of what the life is like, and while I personally love it, I don’t think it’s for everyone (and neither do I think it’s ‘better’ than any other lifestyle choice) – I’ve seen a number of people burn out and head back to the 9-5 as they were more suited to that.
Then it’s about thinking broadly about your skill set, and what you have that might be a transferable skill to another domain. You might also be surprised about what in your current life might transfer – it was a surprise to me that I could freelance as a consultant outside the UK for example. Offer your services for free to build experience if you’re going into a new niche, and try and learn as much as possible from good websites and other people’s experience. There are plenty of information out there to be found, but you also need to work hard and put it into practice.
Then build out your networks. I’ve been surprised to find how, over time, I’ve ended up with networks of people across all my industries, and the opportunities that they have led to. Be open-minded, go to events, meet-ups and conferences, and be generous with your own time and resources, without expecting anything in return. Over time, this attitude will help you to connect with a range of people.