A Digital Nomad Pursuing Her Dreams: Sarah's Story

Friday, May 11, 2018

1. Could you tell us a bit about yourself? What’s your name and where are you originally from?

I’m Sarah, and I grew up in Kansas. I spent a lot of my childhood travelling with my parents and family, especially when my dad worked abroad. In university, I spent three semesters abroad - two summers and one fall. When I graduated and the US economy was terrible, I moved to Scotlandinfo-icon to pursue a Masters Degree. After that, I returned to Kansas and my family, where I promptly started working as a bartender! Three years of that convinced me I needed to leave, and I applied for work onboard a small expedition cruise ship. I worked for them for 3 years, as a steward and as a bartender, before quitting to pursue my dreams.

In fall of 2015, I packed up a backpack and headed for New Zealandinfo-icon on a working holiday visa. I spent 14 months in total there, mainly bartending, but also freelance writing. In Australiainfo-icon and Bali, I wrote for various blogs (as well as my own). I finally returned home in May 2017, after 19 months abroad, to start a travel consulting business, which is what I am doing now!

I made the decision early on to not monetise my blog. Yes, I have some ads on there and yes I have some affiliate links, but I don’t do sponsors and guest posts all that often. The Solo Female Traveller blog market is SO washed out and you have to be incredibly unique to stand out there. My goal from day one was to be a travel advisor, so I use it as a platform to market my travel expertise.

2. Where do you currently reside and is there any place in the world you can say for yourself that you’re local there?

I am currently in Pennsylvania, USAinfo-icon, living in a family household, and … I guess I would say I am local to Kansas although I am rarely there! I feel very at home in New Zealand and Scotland, and lived in both, but as for calling myself a local, I doubt I could say it about either place either. Maybe one day I will say I am from somewhere other than Kansas! After all, I’m not in Kansas anymore.

3. We saw you had quite amazing adventures during your journey, so could you share the trick with us? How do you fund your trips and for how long you’re on the road? Do you have a home base or you’re constantly on the road?

I’m a bit of half and half. During my nineteen months abroad, I was a freelance writer. I picked up work on various online digital nomad sites. Much of that was writing about destinations or crafting itineraries for blogs that wanted to share them. While in New Zealand, I was able to legally work as a bartender which I did. In the other places I travelled, I wasn’t allowed to work there so I had to freelance to keep it up.

Now, as a travel advisor, I have a home base where I am for most of the time, although I can work on the road so I take extended leaves from time to time. Bonus of owning a US-based business is that I can work from my computer and I am not “travelling for business” when I visit a new place.

4. What’s the criteria for choosing your next location?

New Zealand is one of the Sarah's favorite destinations.

I often pick based on whether I have been there before. If I have, there has to be a unique event to get me there. There are a few exceptions. I love Scotland and New Zealand, and like to return to those, as well as Australia and Italyinfo-icon.

Back in January, my parents and I decided to visit the Shetland Islands for Up Helly Aa, the famous fire festival. I’d never been to Shetland before, but this was also a unique event. I’ll definitely go back!

When someone asks me why I’m going somewhere, my usual answer is, “because it’s there,” if that gives you any clue as to why I travel!

5. What was the breaking point of starting a digital nomad career?

You cannot run away from your problems, but you can use them to find true happiness.

I was really annoyed with working in the service industry. In the US, especially, serving and bartending are not lucrative careers for a lot of people. The work is hard for very little pay. It got very tough to work paycheck to paycheck and never feel like I had money to enjoy life. I was either always working or sleeping. I was depressed and I was miserable. I wasn’t happy in my relationship either and I thought that by leaving I would get better. Ok, just a PSA, you can’t run away from your problems. BUT you can use your problems to figure out what makes you happy, and for me travelling made me very happy.

6. What kind of job you’re currently working on? How did you find this one?

Hahahaha. This story is so great and proves that coincidences don’t exist - they’re fate. So, while I was working for the expedition ship, I got the chance to take a vacation on one of our other ships in the Arctic. I went solo, but I knew a few people onboard (either fellow staff or guests from my own ship). On one of the last days, this woman came up to me and asked if I was “the girl from Kansas.” I said yes and she introduced herself, it turns out she lived practically around the corner from my parents! And, later, it transpired that she was a travel advisor! Now, I resigned from that job while onboard the ship, but it had nothing to do with meeting her - it had to do with wanting to go to New Zealand. We spoke when I got home to Kansas, and I showed her my business plans/ideas. She agreed to mentor me if I signed with her agency as an independent consultant, but I said I was going to New Zealand -- AND SHE TOLD ME TO GO! She said that when I returned, she would mentor me if I signed with her.

I went, had a blast, met a ton of amazing people, and got home. In that 19 months though, they merged with my current agency. The fact of who they merged with had nothing to do with my signing with my current agency, it had to do with the fact that who they merged with is located in the same place as some of my family. It seemed like a sign, and I took it and ran with it. I haven’t looked back. I’m going on a year of being a travel advisor and of course it’s slow now but it is SO fun.

7. What aspect of your job you like the most?

I love talking to people about their travels. I love getting the feel for their vision and putting it all together in one adventure that hopefully they’ll remember for a long time. I really love working with kids and families since I think that travel is such a great part of education.

8. What aspect of your job you dislike the most?

The paperwork and the tedious things. I am learning about new tools to help me work smarter, not harder.

9. How’s your regular working day looks like?

I wake up, check emails from my Asian supplier partners, and respond if I can get it in before they leave the office, read the news (current events, mainly), check in with any clients travelling (pay attention to time zones too!), and then head for the gym. I “work” while there … I stay on top of my emails, I post my daily Instagram, and then I do my Duolingo (I am learning Italian). Back home, I make food and watch a webinar while I do that, then I sit back at my desk and work on whatever’s on my to do list.

My day to day changes because I may have a client emergency or maybe an itinerary I have to get done ASAP - so I move things to the back burner in order to get those done. I try to schedule Facebook posts or write my Instagram posts ahead of time (I have a Mac so they sync to my notes in my phone - huge time saver) but sometimes that just doesn’t get done.

I used to run a daily blog series on destinations but as I’ve gotten busier I aim for a once a week post. Still, even that can be tough when I have to play catch up.

10. Do you pay close attention to work-life balance? Could you tell us a bit more about that?

It’s far easier when I am on the road, as I make a point to explore the city or destination I am currently in and only work about 6 hours each day. When I am “home,” at my dining-room-table-desk, I tend to work 8-10 hours each day and I don’t take as many breaks as I should. It is another thing I am working on!

11. What’s your advice for someone who’d like to start with digital nomading, but constantly getting discouraged by the society?

Get out and explore! You may find your passion on the road.

Oh boy. So, I think a lot of this stems from what your passion is. I wrote a post about this topic  while I was abroad in Australia because I kept meeting people who wanted to do what I was doing. I can tell you, it’s not a life for everyone and it can be hard to get into if you’re not a passionate person. You have to LOVE what you do in order to make the leap to working on the road. Working on a different time schedule is hard, having clients in another country is hard, and getting people to understand that you are still working even if your desk is the picnic table at the beach is hard. I doubled down on my efforts to get freelancing gigs when I was travelling full time because I wanted people to see that I was SO easy to work with even if I was in Australia, or Bali, or Nepalinfo-icon (where the Wi-Fi isn’t amazing). You have to. You cannot be lax about it, or people won’t hire you.

That being said, if your passion is engineering, you’re going to have a hard time being a digital nomad unless you want to experience it for a bit. Getting a work visa (a real one) for another country is difficult; the best path would be through Australia or New Zealand on the Working Holiday Visa. Through that you might get offered a full-time job with someone that would sponsor a work visa. But it is rare.

I am a huge advocate for getting out and exploring, so go. Try it. If it doesn’t work, you can always go home. I had a tiny bit in reserve so I could book a flight home from wherever I ran out of money. Be aware of the things around you and if a chance opens up, take it. Experience it for a bit, even - especially - if it’s out of your comfort zone!

Sarah is a luxury travel advisor who spent nineteen months travelling the world with a backpack, a camera, and a computer. She was a freelance writer while working on a business plan that eventually became her full-time career. Her favourite places in the world are New Zealand and Scotland, but she is always open to going to a new place to experience it. Her favourite colour is green, and her favourite sound is the crashing of ocean waves on a rocky shore.

Check out more stories from her travels on her website or if you need a travel advisor. Also, check out her Facebook profiles, Instagram profiles and Twitter.

Antonio Gabric a freelance content writer for aSabbatical.com
Traveling is the best way to learn about the world and cultures. It changes your mindset and you see possibilities everywhere.