When in Roam
Frolicking with penguins in the Antarctic Circle. Ostrich riding in Vietnam. These off-beat situations are considered to be all in a day’s work in the world’s growing field of digital nomads. For these peripatetic journalists, an office is wherever wi-fi or a decent signal is available and office supplies are often a laptop, camera and anything that can fit into a backpack.
The blogosphere is full of sites that chronicle the journeys of travel enthusiasts, who range from singles and couples to parents toting their little ones along on their treks. For some, globetrotting followed saying good-bye to corporate life. For others, wanderlust is the only office they’ve known. To peruse these blogs is to witness bucket lists being fulfilled and the aphorism of carpe diem being exemplified.
And just how are these dreams financed? Readers may think such adventures are anchored in wealthy backgrounds, but quite the contrary. Many bloggers demonstrate that while money is definitely a factor, a lack of riches is not a hindrance to maintaining their lifestyles.
“We didn’t win the lottery, nor are we living off a trust fund. We made conscious choices [such as] no property, car, etc. and saved to make this trip a reality,” Scott said. “It’s also important to understand that we travel on a budget, so the cost may not be as high as you imagine. This makes the journey lighter on our pocketbooks and often makes things more interesting. Finally, we sustain our traveling ways through freelance projects along the way.”
In addition to following a debt-free lifestyle, Chris Guillebeau, author of The Art of Non-Conformity, uses a combination of well-researched methods known as “travel hacking” that take advantage of frequent flyer miles and rewards for free or close-to-nothing flights and accommodations.
“I started travel hacking after moving to West Africa. I came home to visit the U.S. one Christmas and found a way to fly business class for the same price as economy,” Guillebeau said. “After that, I was hooked—I wanted to do anything I could to fly for free, get upgraded, and work the system to allow me to see the world.”
Guillebeau is also an avid user of round-the-world (RTW) tickets, which allow passengers to fly around the world, usually within a period of up to a year and with multiple stops at different airports. His first itinerary included 19 stops from Tokyo to Chile and back.
And aspiring bloggers certainly don’t need to be former travel agents or flight attendants to grasp the skills of a digital nomad. Scott and Noll, who worked in tax/legal and management consulting roles in Eastern Europe, note that while there is no direct link between their previous work and travel writing, their professional backgrounds helped in terms of managing the business side of things and consulting for their clients.
They do, however, impart words of wisdom on how saturated the travel blogging field is. “There are so many people who want to do this, which means that market prices for entry work are quite low. It takes a lot of work and time to make a name where you can make decent money from travel writing alone. That said, there’s many more opportunities to get started today than ever before.”
Samuel Jeffery, a self-described perpetual backpacker and author of Nomadic Samuel, has worked in travel-related roles such as teaching abroad, and recommends the obvious for those from non-journalism backgrounds seeking to enter the field.
“Unless you’ve traveled abroad with your family while growing up and/or done a gap year or study abroad program, chances are your travel experience may be somewhat limited,” Jeffery said. “What has allowed me to launch my site and career in the travel industry rather rapidly has a lot to do with the many years I’ve spent teaching English in South Korea and backpacking in between contracts. Gaining invaluable experience writing, taking photos and creating videos while traveling are the skills required to really succeed as a travel blogger.”
And in an imperfect world, what about the seemingly constant travel and health warnings issued to tourists?
Guillebeau, who has visited more than 190 countries, says to heed warnings while not relinquishing travel goals. “Sure, there are always plenty of warnings and advisories, but I’ve been treated very well almost everywhere I’ve been. I do think it’s important to be cautious wherever you go, but in many cases that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go.”
Jeffery, who walked away unscathed from a terrorist attack in India, echoes this sentiment. Describing the incident as an isolated event, he said, “There is a lot of fear associated with travelling to far off corners of the world, and while it’s wise not to travel to areas that are experiencing internal strife or conflict, many countries that receive warnings are destinations worth exploring today. The only thing a traveller can really do while on the road is exercise the same degree of caution they would back home.”
Tales of cautious venturing aside, many media and PR professionals are also interested in tapping this growing market. While some sites focus purely on the blogger’s personal goals, others offer advertising, media and promotional opportunities. Jeffery advises professionals to consider the nature of digital nomads’ lifestyles when pitching.
“Advertising and PR are spheres of business few serious travel bloggers ignore. Personally, I’m open to partnering with companies in the travel industry – whether it be advertising or press trips. When I partner with a company, I’m looking for a win-win situation where both parties benefit. Given that travel blogging is an emerging field, patience on both sides of the fence – travel bloggers and companies – is essential to fostering a healthy relationship.”
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