We speak to Leah of The Sweetest Way on being a digital nomad and her experience in Medellin, Colombia.
Tell us more about yourself.
My name is Leah Davis and I am a Washington state native with a passion for long-term travel. I left the US in 2011 and have spent the last 5 years exploring different corners of the world, first working and volunteering along the way and eventually building a location independent business through my blog.
What do you do for a living?
I currently make my living in a variety of ways, including social media management and consulting services, sponsored blog content, affiliate marketing, display ads, and sales of my newly-released eBook, “Take Your Life Back: Finding Freedom Through Location Independence.”
Where are you now and where are you headed to next?
I’m currently in Stockholm, Sweden, with plans to travel Europe until September before returning to the US for a few months. My family is still based in the northwest so I’ve been trying to spend more time there in recent years. After that, who knows!
What I love about my lifestyle is that it’s flexible and often unpredictable. I never have more than a few months planned at a time.
Besides traveling, what other hobbies do you have?
I love photography, so whenever I’m in a new city I like to just wander and see what subjects I find. I also love to discover a new culture through food, so trying the local dishes is always a priority.
Being active is another one of my favorite things; I’m always looking for fun ways to get outdoors and get moving. I recently attended a week-long surf camp in France, and it was amazing!
How long have you been a digital nomad? What started your journey?
You could say my quest to become a digital nomad began in late 2013 when I had a chance encounter with a travel blogger while in Peru.
I’d never really considered location independence at the time, so this was a real lightbulb moment for me, realizing I didn’t necessarily have to go back to a traditional workplace or commit to living in one place for a long period of time.
I started my travel blog not long after, but didn’t really take it seriously as a business opportunity until about 6 months in. Then, that same blogger I met on the road hired me as her virtual assistant, giving me my first source of income as a digital nomad.
Things only snowballed from there; I gained a wider reputation and gained more clients, eventually specializing in Pinterest consulting. I now spend all of my free time creating passive income streams through my blog, which is still very much a work in progress!
You lived in Medellin for a while. How did you find the city for digital nomads?
I loved living in Medellin as a digital nomad. I had a great living situation in a shared apartment with some locals, so I didn’t spend much of my time working in cafes; I had great WiFi and a fabulous view right from my living room.
The city is really friendly to digital nomads, though. There are a lot of great cafes to work in and a growing number of co-working spaces, as well as a big community of expats and others building location independent lifestyles. I
t’s not as cheap to live as, say, Southeast Asia, but it has other advantages such as a language that is relatively easy to learn, and being in a timezone that made communication with family and friends in the US (and often clients) much easier.
What were your favorite cafes to work at in Medellin?
If I did go to cafes to work, I was just a short bus ride away from a neighborhood popular with expats and travelers known as El Poblado. There are a lot of amazing cafes there, but a few of my favorites are Pergamino and Cafe Velvet.
The restaurants in that area area also amazing—a vegetarian place called Verdeo is by far my favorite, I recommend it to everyone!
What fun things are there to do in Medellin?
My other favorite thing to do in Medellin was to buy a cheap bottle of Aguardiente (aka “firewater,” a local spirit) and a few beers and sit in a park in the evening to just people watch.
Dancing is also a lot of fun, especially if you are brave enough to try learning salsa (and after some Aguardiente, you will be!).
Any safety tips for women traveling in Medellin?
I have a lot of safety tips for Medellin, and in fact I put together a post on the topic which you can find in its entirety on my blog.
A few of the most important things are to leave most of your valuables at home when going out at night, never leave a drink unattended, and keep the windows rolled up when riding in taxis.
Best experience as a digital nomad?
Getting to know so many of my travel-obsessed peers has been one of the greatest benefits of being a digital nomad.
Knowing that I’m not alone in my feelings of not being ready to “settle down” is extremely comforting, and travelers tend to be some of the friendliest, most open-minded people out there!
Worse experience as a digital nomad?
It does get lonely on occasion. I’ve written before about how this lifestyle has made it hard or nearly impossible for me to form a community, and I do feel that one day I will need a home base in order to do that. That time hasn’t come yet, but it will, eventually.
And I’ll be totally honest, dating is a real pain in the ass when you’re always moving!
How do you balance working and traveling? Do you use any particular productivity technique?
I’m not the best role model of a balanced life! This has been one of my biggest challenges. I like to be in control of my own schedule, even if that means that every day is different.
Sometimes I’m in the mood to wake up early and start working right away so I can do something fun in the afternoon. Other days, I stay up way too late and then sleep in the next morning.
Sometimes I’ll work for weeks with very little social interaction, and then when I get back on the road I’ll be playing more and working a lot less.
To stay productive even when I’m traveling, I find it extremely useful to have a T-Mobile phone plan that includes international data. I can answer emails from my phone while on the go, or even use it as a mobile hotspot to get work done when I have downtime in airports, bus stations, or hotel lobbies.
Being creative with how I use my time is crucial; when I don’t have WiFi available, I think of what I can do without it, like writing or editing photos.
Have you encountered any safety issues while traveling?
I generally feel very safe when traveling, but that might be in part because I’ve traveled solo for so long that I have good intuition and can easily avoid situations that might put me at risk.
Certainly, women are sometimes more susceptible to danger than men, but by using common sense practices and listening to our gut we can keep ourselves out of harm’s way.
What is one travel hack that you use?
I’ll admit, I’m not the most savvy travel hacker, but I do have a few tricks. When searching for the cheapest flights, I find a complete route, say, Seattle to Stockholm.
I take note of the connecting city; in this example, it could be New York or Reykjavik. Then, I search each leg of the trip individually. If I can afford (time-wise) to stay in the connecting city for a day or two, I’ll play around with the dates until I find the cheapest combination.
It sometimes also saves you money to search for flights in the local currency of where you are flying rather than your own currency. This way, you can avoid paying out-of-date exchange rates.
If I’m booking a flight within Europe, I’ll search for prices in euros, or even Swedish kronor.
Any advice for someone who wants to do what you do for a living?
If you want to become a freelancer in any industry, you first need to perfect your craft, and then you need to learn how to market yourself. I always tell people I wouldn’t be where I am if I hadn’t learned how to network and make connections in my industry, and it’s true!
I’ve gotten nearly every single client through in-person networking or word-of-mouth from past clients. I spent more than a year learning the ins and outs of Pinterest for business before I started gaining credibility; whatever it is that you want to do, sharpen your skills first, and then start talking to people.
Attend networking events and conferences. Get your name out there in any way that you can! I wrote a detailed post on how I started my consulting side hustle, which gives away all of my best secrets!
As for blogging, consistency is really important, as is giving yourself time to build authority.
No blogger who’s been in the game for 6 months has any sway with their audience (if they even have an audience to speak of); it takes more time than that, so try to be patient and focus on producing quality, useful content.
Lastly, any advice for aspiring women digital nomads?
The first thing to ask yourself is, “What do I want my ideal lifestyle to look like?”. There are many different paths to location independence, and they all look very different!
Working remotely for a company can give you income stability while sacrificing scheduling flexibility. Freelancing can give you greater control over your time and the work that you do, but at the risk of not knowing whether you’ll make a profit each month.
Entrepreneurship is freeing, but comes with a lot of stress because you’re wearing all the company hats at once. How much freedom do you want, and how comfortable are you with risk?
Once you know which path is right for you, it will be easier to know where to focus your initial efforts. I have a lot more advice for digital nomads, and it’s all included in the eBook I just finished.
If you are interested in becoming a digital nomad and don’t know where to begin or just need some extra guidance, it could be the perfect resource for you.
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