We all have two lives. The second begins when you realise you only have one.
Hi, I’m Liza and I like to think I’m now living my second life 🙂
1. How and why did you choose to go nomadic?
In my “previous life”, I worked in public relations and communications. While I enjoyed the work, having a full-time job was essentially just a way to earn and save money so that I could travel. Pretty much all of my money would go into new travel experiences, and I was always planning a trip to somewhere in the world.
In July 2015, I put in my resignation from my full-time job, without having another job lined up. There weren’t any opportunities that I was particularly excited about and I was just feeling done with the corporate 9-to-5 life. I had planned a 3-month trip to Europe, and somehow while doing travel research, I found Location Rebel.
Location Rebel was how I learnt about the digital nomad lifestyle, and it seemed completely up my alley. I was a bit hesitant about signing up, but I joined the mailing list; soon after, Sean Ogle (founder of LR) ran a promotion and I took that as a sign that I should get on board.
Time passed; I went to Europe, had a hell of a good time, and basically switched off my brain and didn’t think about the future (which, if you knew me personally, is a freakin’ miracle!). 2016 rolled around and I had to face reality (aka bills and life and adulting). By that point, I knew that I definitely didn’t want to go back to a “normal job” but I was still unsure about what I would do in lieu of that.
Location Rebel was a really great resource for me, and it gave me a good starting point to think about what I could do. Freelance writing seemed the obvious choice, given my professional background and my own personal love of writing. So I started putting out some feelers about doing freelance writing, and picked up some jobs but through it all, I was still wondering if this path was for me. (Yeah, the resistance was pretty strong…)
Then I saw a post in the LR forum that would — and this sounds super dramatic, but it’s true — change my life.
Someone (Ellen Bard, whom I am now happy to call a friend!) posted a link to a job ad, saying that she knew the guy who was hiring and that she thought it was a good opportunity for anyone starting out in LR.
I checked out the ad, thought I was a perfect fit and knew that I absolutely had to apply.
… and then I procrastinated. Haha! The reason? The application required a video introduction, and my brain was like, “Nope”. (I hate doing videos. It’s an irrational hate; I need to get over it, I know.)
Good thing there was still a large part of my brain that knew it would be monumentally stupid to not even apply; so finally, the day before the application deadline, I got my shit together and parked myself in front of a camera to talk about myself. Bleeuchhh. I didn’t want to bother with editing so I wanted to do it in one take, which, let me just say, is easier said than done.
I had plans that weekend so after doing a video that I was happy with, I kinda let it sit until I remembered on Sunday night that I needed to upload it and submit my application. I cut it pretty close; the deadline was April 10, midnight and the timestamp on my email tells me I sent mine at 11.23pm.
Many emails, a Skype interview, a writing assignment, and one week later,Michael Henman offered me the job.
In end-May 2016, I moved to Chiang Mai and into the digital nomad life.
As for the why: I think I have a nomadic soul. I was privileged enough to grow up with travel experiences (my dad works for Singapore Airlines, and so we were lucky to have annual family holidays around the world) and the travel bug stayed with me. I always knew the world was a big beautiful place and I wanted to be out there, not stuck in teeny-tiny Singapore.
I value freedom and independence, and I suppose in some way, I’ve been looking for ways to align my life to that. Being a digital nomad lets me design my life in a way that makes me happier, more fulfilled and more excited. I’m doing work that I enjoy and love, while experiencing a new beautiful place. It seems like a no-brainer that I would choose this!
In an alternate universe, I’m back in Singapore, working a cushy PR job, cashing in that monthly paycheck and trying to find little pockets of travel, happiness and freedom. Here and now, I’m in a cafe in Chiang Mai, working on putting out some great content and looking forward to chilling in my pool once I “clock off” at 4.30pm. I’m glad I’m in this reality! 🙂
2. What was it like leaving your home country?
77% Excitement, 23% Nervousness.
I hadn’t been to Chiang Mai, so I didn’t know what to expect. I also hadn’t met Michael in person before, so I was concerned about whether we would get along and how we would work together. (Spoiler alert: Chiang Mai isamazing, and Michael & I haven’t killed each other. Yet. No, I’m kidding; we’re an ass-kicking team!)
But, for me, since Chiang Mai is so close to home, I had the small reassurance that if things went south, Singapore is only a 3-hour flight away. Besides, I like taking calculated risks and this seemed like a good bet.
So, mostly, I was excited. It felt like a whole new world was opening up to me (cue the Aladdin theme song; seriously that song is still so magical!), and I was super excited to delve in. It felt like the right move.
The hardest part was explaining this life decision to family and friends. To me, it was a good bet but to everyone else, it probably seemed like a stupid-ass illogical decision. (“Why are you moving to Thailand?” / “What are you gonna do there?” / “Who is this person you’re working with? He does what?” / “Wait, you’ve never met this guy?” / “… okay, are you sure this is a good idea?”) But the people who know me well know that I hardly ever make stupid-ass illogical decisions so after expressing their concern, I think they had faith that I knew what I was doing. (And yes, I did!)
It was most challenging telling my mom, but she’s awesome and super supportive (HI MOM!) even if she didn’t quite understand why or what I was getting myself into.
3. What are your biggest struggles? Fears?
My current struggle is finding my own path. I very much enjoy working with Michael, but I’d also love to build something of my own. I came into this thinking that I wanted to build a freelance writing business. Now it’s merely one option in a somewhat lengthy list.
I have some ideas marinating in my mind that I hope to start working on soon. One of my biggest personal challenges is to get out of my head, stop conceptualizing and just fuckin’ do it. I have to start somewhere, and refine the idea as I go along.
Making new friends, sighhhh. When you’re an introvert in a new environment, that can be a nightmare. Working with Michael made things a bit easier because he has been a social conduit, so to speak, and I’ve met a lot of cool people through him. I’ve also met some awesome people via the Chiang Mai writers group.
It does take some time and effort but eventually you will find people who become your social/support network. I feel really lucky to know some really great people whom I’ve clicked with in some way. What I thought would be a struggle has actually been a blessing — I’ve had so many insightful, supportive and inspiring conversations with friends; conversations that help me with life, work and everything else in between.
4. How are you funding your lifestyle and what projects are you working on?
I think my entry into the digital nomad lifestyle has been an easier one, compared to those who are going in alone, because I don’t have to worry about money. Most, if not all, of my expenses are taken care of under the terms of my employment (that sounds so official!) which is a huge worry off my mind.
Work-wise, I currently create content and manage social media for two websites in the team building and leadership niche that help people become more empowered in their lives. I’ve also been doing some freelance writing on the side, although admittedly I’ve scaled that back by a lot while I figure out what I want to focus on in the (near) future.
As I mentioned, there are a few personal projects I’ve been thinking about, but I’m not quite ready to share them with the world yet (the struggle is real, you guys. Haha!). Something that already exists is my personal website/blog called The Second Begins, which I’ve sorely neglected; maybe mentioning it here will be the kick in the ass I need to do more with it.
5. What is the estimated monthly cost of living for one of your favorite locations? What lifestyle does that afford?
My living/personal expenses typically come in under US$300/month. This includes fun stuff like desserts, movies, dance class, a night out once in a while, self-pampering (massage or mani/pedi) and spending too much in the supermarket. (All I have to say: Lay’s Honey & Butter chips are addictive!!!) I don’t really go out to party so my “going out” budget is more like my “desserts” budget, haha. My mobile plan that includes 16gb of data costs me about US$17/month.
I love Thai food, so that’s what I eat most of the time. A Thai meal typically costs between 40–60 baht (under US$2). But maybe once or twice (… or a few times) a week, I’ll spend a bit more on a burger (Beast Burger is totally worth the 190 baht price tag!) or pizza or Korean BBQ wings. Or Cherng Doi chicken. Yeahhh.
My rent is about US$230/month; I live in a studio apartment in a lovely apartment complex out on Suthep Road. Really chill atmosphere, and I have a pool and a gym. I have my hermit moments, so it’s great to have a nice living space.
Life in Chiang Mai is pretty sweet. I’d say I enjoy the same standard of living here as I would in Singapore but at a much, much lower cost.
6. What is your top tip for someone who aspires to earn money online and travel?
Well, I have two tips.
1. Build a nest egg before you go nomad. Having a small financial cushion can reduce your stress levels by a lot. If you know you can support yourself for a few months without having to worry, you can put 100% of your focus on your work and your business.
2. Build a social/support network. Life is so much better when you surround yourself with the right people. I didn’t realize the value of being part of a community of like-minded people until I arrived here in Chiang Mai and became inspired by everyone’s personal stories. Being around friends who dream big and hustle hard pushes you to do the same.
Okay, I lied: three tips.
3. The digital nomad life isn’t for everyone. It sure looks glamorous and fun and exciting, but it also requires focus, hard work, self-discipline (still working on this) and the ability to pick yourself up when you fail. You’ll have moments of FOMO when friends back home get married or it’s your mom’s birthday or a loved one is going through a tough time… and you’re half a world away. You have to know/learn how to manage your own life, your emotions, your time.
The digital nomad life can look like an endless vacation to your Facebook friends — but be prepared for the work behind it. Everyone I know who’s making money online works just as hard as they play.
Any final thoughts?
I’m still a n00b to the digital nomad life, but it has been such an enriching and enlightening time. It feels like the puzzle pieces of my life are fitting together, and it’s awesome!
I know I’m pretty lucky that my path to being a digital nomad worked itself out the way it did, but it’s only the beginning really… there are so many things that I’d like to learn, experience, do, try, build, create. Life is full of possibilities, and I’m psyched for whatever lies ahead.
If you’re considering this lifestyle at all, I’d definitely encourage you to give it a go. Save some money, come out to Thailand, and start working on your business. You have absolutely nothing to lose! Give it a few months or a year, and see for yourself if being a digital nomad is something that suits you. If it doesn’t, no harm no foul; the “real world” will always be there, waiting.
And if you’re a woman reading this: GIRLLLLL, DO IT! 😛