How I became a Digital Nomad in 2016
I feel like what I need to express first is that by no means had we expected we would give up on our stable life in the UK for good in 2016. This was not planned and we weren’t prepared for it whatsoever. Now, 12 months later, we still aren’t sure how we managed to do it, but, hey, it happened! We made it happen.
Is Nomadic Life for me? Can I be a digital nomad?
Being a digital nomad was definitely something I was interested in before we quit our jobs in the UK. I wanted to try it someday, but, of course, it was not the right time! I was finally getting on my feet, I was feeling comfortable in Cardiff. It felt like such an amazing city to live in. It wasn’t the right time… But guess what I learned – that it never is!
I know it now – I shouldn’t have been so scared. And I was. I was scared of missing my home and my friends, I was worried about the money and I was petrified of not having my own place long-term. But let’s go back to the beginning. How did it all happen in the first place?
I quit my job to travel
One year ago, I was so frustrated with myself, being stuck in work for 50 hours a week, I decided I needed a change. I needed a break, desperately. So I spoke to my boss if it would be alright for me to leave right after New Years for a non-paid holiday for a few months. A few months!
I thought I was being crazy even bringing it up. But I looked at my bank statements and it seemed I could easily afford it. Why not, then? I asked myself, if not for this reason, then why am I really saving money? What do I want to spend it on? What is the point of overworking myself so much? And that convinced me to try to make this work.
Thank God, my boss said yes. Maybe she knew I’d probably leave anyway. So when Greg managed to get time off work, too, we booked our flights.
We were really excited for a ten-week long backpacking trip across three countries. It was another small dream come true! We decided to go to the Philippines, Cambodia, and Vietnam. After the trip, we still wanted to stay in Cardiff (Wales) for at least another half a year. Little did we know, everything was about to change.
Leaving everything behind and traveling the world
One rainy evening in November, my flatmate sat me down in our living room and told me she’d be leaving Cardiff and moving out from our apartment. Damn. That’s not the kind of news that you wanna hear when you think you’ve got everything planned out already!
What it meant for us was that we would have to move to a smaller place as well. Our contract, without extending it (and we had been planning to do that), would end in February. That would be halfway through our backpacking trip. We found ourselves in quite a pickle and couldn’t really find the right solution. What do we do? Do we not go? Should we reschedule the trip? As always, I panicked.
We were meant to leave the UK on January the 10th. There wasn’t much time left. The decision did not come easily to us, but we thought it was time to take some risks.
We didn’t want to come back early from our trip and we didn’t want to rent another flat in January if we’d be gone till April anyway. It would just be a waste of money. So the only smart thing to do was to move out from the apartment before our trip. We packed all of our belongings and shoved them into a storage space in Cardiff. Suddenly, we were ready to go!
Our big adventure was finally about to start. We said our goodbyes to all friends in Cardiff and to our beautiful apartment, but we were happy to leave. I’m kinda glad I didn’t know back then I was saying goodbye to everyone for much longer than 10 weeks. This way it wasn’t as sad as it would have been had I known.
The Journey Begins: Short Vietnam Tour
The second half of January we spent in Vietnam. We fell in love with Mekong Delta, a very underrated part of this country in our opinion. We had such great time there, we knew we’d go back there again for sure. It felt like Thailand on steroids. The food was amazing, people were so lovely and Southern Vietnam amazed us with gorgeous views of fruit plantations and Mekong canals full of colorful boats and buzzing cicadas.
The cuisine in Vietnam was unexpectedly healthy and different from anything I’d tasted before. Vietnam made me fall in love with Pho noodle soup that later on I even learned to make on my own. I was addicted to sugarcane juice and coconut water, but the worst addiction of them all was Vietnamese coffee. Oh, ca phe sua da – beyond my words.
The amazing blends of various kinds of coffee beans prepared in a phin coffee filter and served with sweetened condensed milk was mind-blowing. My taste buds were hooked on the rich flavors of the blends and my brain was hooked on the caffeine. Let’s be honest, drinking three coffees a day, I was bouncing off the walls.
Our Points of Interest in Cambodia
In February we visited Cambodia and in two weeks time, we took on a little bit too much than we could carry. First, we explored Kep and Kampot’s gorgeous pepper farms, salt fields, and caves.
Cambodia welcomed us warmly with its breathtaking landscape from pagodas situated on tops of rocky hills. We found Khmer people to be extremely welcoming and friendly. Unfortunately, another thing that came to our attention was the extreme poverty that a big part of Khmer society lived in – especially in the countryside.
Trying to make the most of the little time we had there, before heading to Phnom Penh, we decided to visit Koh Rong. The island is also the location of the American reality show Survivor.
Koh Rong turned out to be one of the best island getaways we’ve ever experienced. Sandy beaches, crystal-clear, azure water of the Gulf of Thailand, swimming in fluorescent plankton, thick, unspoiled jungle treks from one part of the island to the other – it was one of the most stunning places we’ve ever seen. And so was Koh Rong Samloem, where we spent half a day on a snorkeling trip.
Knowing that we only had a couple of days left in Cambodia, quickly after our short beach getaway, we took a bus to Phnom Penh, the capital. There, we learned an important lesson about Khmer history.
We visited the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and the Killing Fields to learn about the tragic events that occurred in Cambodia in the last century. We thought that more people in western countries should know about it and so did some of our viewers. Some of them were shocked by the video we made about the history of Khmer people.
Cambodia was a good lesson about appreciation of life in all of its aspects. When I look back on our time in Cambodia, I don’t think I’ve ever visited a place that taught me so much about being humble and thankful for what I’ve got. But I’ll explain a bit more about this later on.
Read: Dine in the Dark, Phnom Penh, Review: I didn’t know that eating in the dark could be so much fun!
We left Phnom Penh on an overnight bus to reach the little town of Siem Reap at dawn. We had three days to explore the largest religious monument in the world, the Angkor Wat temple complex. And we had a great opportunity to take some amazing must take pics of Angkor at sunrise and sunset, standing in the crowd of hundreds of tourists. Cheesy, I know, but well worth it!
We managed to rent a motorbike to explore the Angkor temples, which isn’t very common as it’s against the policy of Siem Reap. We had a great time in the ruins while recording tons of footage for our YouTube videos.
Siem Reap was our last stop in Cambodia. The next leg of our adventure was coming and we had to leave. We were meeting a group of travel companions awaiting us at the airport in Manila, Philippines.
Blood is thicker than water in the Philippines
The first two weeks in the Philippines we were accompanied by Greg’s family. Traveling in a group of six was something we already experienced before. It can be rough, but in the end, it is worth it because you get to experience a life-changing adventure with people you love and care about.
The Philippines, however, gave us a harsh welcome. The hectic city of Legazpi taught us right off the bat that it is not as easy to travel in the Philippines as we expected. The street food was rare, the cuisine questionable to our spoilt by Vietnamese dishes taste buds, our family was all-new to backpacking in Asia, and the accommodation standards were much lower than before for an even higher price. Yeah, we weren’t impressed with Legazpi. But we didn’t let it discourage us!
Seeing the picturesque images when googling the Philippines, we knew those gorgeous places must really exist, but we have to find them first. So we booked transport and left Legaspi to explore Donsol, a famous whale shark spotting area. And while we haven’t spotted any whale sharks during our time there, we experienced the most magical fluorescent plankton we’ve ever seen.
Reaching the Paradise: Caramoan Tour
A few more rough patches on the way across Bicol in the Philippines, we were so happy when we finally arrived in Caramoan, our final destination during this leg of our journey.
The rest of our group only had a few more days left in Asia before going back to Europe, so finally reaching Caramoan, we were the happiest people on the planet. Our guide in Caramoan Discovery Hotel gave us a fantastic tour of the area and we have never, ever seen anything like this before. Really, no other island or beach destination could compare to what we’ve seen in Caramoan.
If you haven’t heard about this place, and you probably haven’t, you definitely need to check our complete guide with details of our tour here: Caramoan Itinerary: Island Hopping Discovery Tour.
Caramoan was so inspiring to us, we looked in fear at the approaching date of our flight back to London.
I want to be a Digital Nomad
It was in Caramoan that we decided we couldn’t just go back to the UK. We finally set up our website, YouTube channel was slowly getting momentum, we haven’t spent even half of our budget – there was no way we could just go back to work! It didn’t feel right. I was also trying to make some money online at this point and took a few freelancing jobs. It wasn’t easy, but I was learning quickly. Always asking myself, how do digital nomads make money?
I remember this day as if it happened yesterday. We were sitting on the balcony outside our room in Caramoan Discovery Hotel. It was raining, water buffalos kept walking around the rice fields just a few meters away from the building. And we agreed that we can’t go back to work yet. My stomach was turning upside down and I felt sick thinking about it, but in the end, it was the right time to take again some risks. We believed we had a good shot at traveling for at least another three months and maybe – MAYBE – even at turning it into a full-time gig. So we booked another flight. And the destination wasn’t the UK.
Our Big Backpacking Trip Across Thailand
Instead of going home, we went to Thailand for another month on the road. With a one-day transit in Singapore, we started our next part of the adventure in Phuket.
Backpacking through the south of Thailand, Greg finally made his dream of completing a diving course come true on the tropical island of Koh Tao. We also visited a couple of under-the-radar destinations such as Prachuap Khiri Khan and Surat Thani as we headed towards Bangkok.
It was fantastic to fill our bellies with tasty Pad Thai and other Thai delicacies after starving in the Philippines for over a month.
Traveling around Thailand just feels so easy and it’s always a very tempting alternative. Thailand is my first love, the destination of my first backpacking trip. And it will always feel special. Feeling so confident and comfortable – of course, we decided to mix things up a little bit. Make the adventure more exciting and surely more challenging for us.
Hitting the Roads in Thailand on Two Wheels
We decided to drop our backpacks off in Bangkok, swap them for panniers and bicycles. The idea was:
‘Let’s cycle to Cambodia!’
And so our journey began again. We left Bangkok and from there we visited on our way many spots off the beaten track such as the villages of Khao Yai National Park, Pak Chong, Lamnarai, Pasak, Sa Kaeo and more. The prices offseason are really low in those areas and you get to see the rural Thailand. No tourists, no tropical islands, just local markets, temples and gorgeous views.
It was an unbelievable adventure. If someone had told me earlier that I was gonna cycle from one country to another, I would have never believed them. Up to this day, I am so incredibly proud of myself for deciding to do it and actually pulling it off! In spite of my shitty physical condition and the longest heatwave in 50 years, we did it! We pulled it off!
Once we got to Cambodia, unfortunately, we must have been running out of luck. The weather has gone from bad to worse and the road conditions made cycling really hard for us. And we had a few misfortunes ahead.
Bad things come in threes in Cambodia
After we crossed the border, on the second leg of our trip across the country, I fell off my bicycle. Defeated by traffic on National Highway No 5, we got really demotivated. My foot was in a pretty bad state. Thankfully, we managed to sort it out without a visit to a hospital. I couldn’t walk for a couple of days and Greg had to look after me. But something was changed after that fall on the busy Khmer road. I was scared to move forward.
I was in no state to go anywhere – emotionally or physically. Falling off your bicycle in your hometown is something else than an accident in the middle of nowhere in a foreign country. You realize how quickly things can change and something bad can happen. What made this even worse, a week later I got also hit by a car in Battambang.
Again, I was lucky, but what if? What if I was? You can’t stop yourself from asking these questions in situations like that. How do you move from that feeling? It was the first time on the road I thought I just couldn’t push it any harder. I thought I was done and there was nothing left to do, but to give up.
Traveling is awesome and we wouldn’t stop traveling no matter what, but it’s important to understand bad things can happen. Especially when you least expect it, so it is important to be safe and careful at all times. We did not expect another awful thing to happen to us in Battambang. Two accidents, that was enough! And yet, Greg was nearly struck by lightning in something that must have been one of the scariest thunderstorms we’ve ever witnessed.
Remember how earlier on I said Cambodia taught me to be humble and appreciate life? This is why. I learned how important my health is and how I should appreciate it every day of my life.
Going Full-circle: Back in Vietnam
After the fall, the car accident and the thunder, we decided to take the easy way out. We booked buses for the rest of the road leading to Vietnam. We decided to go there again because we truly fell in love with this country the first time around. Two weeks was not nearly enough, so this time we were going there for two months.
We traveled from Ho Chi Minh City all the way to the Chinese border in the far north, the small town of Lao Cai. On the way, we’ve seen some gorgeous places that left us stunned and overwhelmed with the size and beauty of Vietnam.
In Dalat, we decided to sell our bikes and luckily we got back 75% of what we’d paid for them in Thailand! We were sad to see them go, but it was the right time.
Read: Our Complete Guide to Stunning Dalat, Vietnam and Falling in Love with the Mountains in Sapa, Vietnam
As much as we had to deal with a few annoying situations in Vietnam as we stumbled upon some people who wanted to take advantage of us, it was still our favorite country of this whole trip. So amazing! I thought there was just so much to it! The cuisine, the national parks, the countryside, the beaches, the mountains! I could go back there again and again, discover all-new areas and explore Vietnam off the beaten track.
Returning home after traveling
In July it was time to return to our homeland. Since we left Poland to go to university over five years ago, we never had time to visit home for longer than a week or two. We finally had an opportunity to spend some quality time with our families and friends, but also to travel around and get to know the country where we were born.
We visited Krakow, Warsaw, and Poznan, we drove to discover the Moszna Castle and had a cheeky afternoon visit in the Czech Republic. The summers in Poland are truly beautiful and it’s such an underrated tourist destination! I really wish more people would visit.
A few months in Poland also gave us a chance to reevaluate our life and decide what we wanted to do next. After all, we still had our belongings in the storage space in Cardiff (Wales). We also had our previous jobs waiting for us back in the UK. And it took us a while to make a coherent decision. It was finally the right time to go all-in.
How to become a digital nomad?
Or rather can I? Can I become a digital nomad? Where to start? I had no idea. I would read every article about digital nomad lifestyle I could find on Facebook or Pinterest. It seemed surreal. But we had to do something.
With our bank accounts starting to run low on our savings, we knew we’d have to start making money somehow. And that was how we started to look for freelance jobs as our source of income.
I examined my skills carefully and learned a whole lot about digital marketing and content creation. I started to offer my services as a copywriter on numerous freelance platforms online to make some money here and there. It was finally starting to work! I saw I was good at it and it was time to put my best skills to good use!
I also had time to focus on our travel website and I improved the traffic by over 400% in 30 days! Working in the blogging industry became really exciting as I could see the effects of my work on a day to day basis. It gives me satisfaction and makes me want to do more and more.
I’m really excited for the future because I found that thing that excites me. Writing for this blog and for my freelance clients has been a very rewarding challenge and I’m glad I keep improving my skills.
2016 could not have gone better
And so we left Poland once again and flew from London to Bangkok.
We’re currently living in a small condo in this magical city that I consider home on this side of the world. Honestly, I never expected I could be one of these people. Yet I’m actually making things work. I have lots of work to do, I’m constantly learning, I’m always busy and I wouldn’t swap lives with anyone at this point! I can’t wait to see what the future has to offer. The fact that throughout this year I haven’t felt bored one day probably means we’re doing it right.
I don’t know where I will be in six months, hell, I don’t even know where I’ll be in one month! But that’s the beauty of being a location independent digital nomad. You can make whatever choices you want (or rather can afford). But it’s still better to be a digital nomad than to get stuck in the office or any other full-time job, isn’t it? At least for me.
This year has been so life-changing, I can’t emphasize that enough. The first year on the road. The first year without a full-time job. The year of risks and many countries on the road. Poland, United Kingdom, Vietnam, Cambodia, Singapore, Philippines, Thailand, China, and the Czech Republic. After the last 12 months, I think I can do anything. And I’m glad I decided to go all-in and make my dream of becoming a digital nomad come true.
I’m a traveler, but I’m also making a career in writing, which is something I’ve been dreaming about since I was a child. Back then, I didn’t know that one doesn’t have to write books to become a writer.
I don’t know what 2017 has in store for us, but I’m ready. We’re ready. Happy New Year!
Let me know in the comments how your 2016 went!
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