Sarah Holden is a “digital nomad” and her office is wherever she happens to be

Sarah Holden at the Templo Budista, Foz do Iguazu, Brazil.

She’s a digital nomad and right now Sarah Holden has swapped a drab Dublin commute for the open road in South America.

It was one year ago this month when I packed the contents of my life into boxes to store in the attic of my parents’ house and hopped on a flight to Brazil.

I don’t know when I’ll see those possessions again or even where I will be a few months from now.

It’s not that I have escaped from life, but that I have found a different way to live it — a way that most 9-to-5ers are too afraid to try. 

I am part of a new generation of sun-kissed, barefooted entrepreneurs, people who have chosen to live life as a digital nomad, with no fixed residency and solely dependent on their laptop for income.

The term “digital nomad” refers to location-independent people, just like me, who have the freedom to work remotely from anywhere in the world with an internet connection.

We can roam the globe freely, working wherever we want, travelling to exotic locations, and earning enough money to live a comfortable life.

Castelo Ze dos Montes in Brazil
Castelo Ze dos Montes in Brazil

In 2015 I was miserable.

I worked long hours as a sports journalist in an office on the outskirts of Dublin. 

I lived in a cramped overpriced apartment where the mould had started to give me a morning wheeze and, regardless of how many thief-proof locks I tried, my bicycles still disappeared overnight.

As a young adult in my early 20s, I felt I needed more out of life. 

I quit my job despite being on the verge of a pay rise, moved out of my city-centre apartment, and waved goodbye to the Irish rain with nothing more than a backpack, my passport, and the hope of removing myself from the grid to live and work nomadically.

I left Ireland with enough savings to last me a few months, and a backup emergency fund in case everything crumbled and I needed to get a plane ticket home, but I had a plan that I hoped could change my life for the better. 

Last July I started a travel blog, www.sarahthegringa.com, which focuses on my travels throughout South America. 

My blog is honest, and gives practical advice and travel experiences for those looking to travel in South America, and posts are written on anything from Pre-Columbian Chilean art to interviews with the locals from where I am travelling.

Since leaving Ireland I have blogged my way through Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Peru.

The Choapa Dam in Chile
The Choapa Dam in Chile

Next month I will fly to Bolivia where I will find a bedroom to rent for a month or two, take in the sites and sample the local cuisine, all paid for with money that I have made as a digital nomad.

Each day I work my own hours and, despite the apparent freedom, I work long days that occasionally see me sitting at my laptop until the small hours of the morning, but I still lead a more balanced life on the road than I would ever have in an office.

I make time for sightseeing, leisurely lunches and evening drinks and I have enough money to live a good life for a fraction of what it would cost back in Ireland.

Being a digital nomad may seem like a glamourous job title but it has its disadvantages. 

You have no fixed residency, your friends and family can’t understand why you don’t have a date set to return home, and you never know what your income will be for the month ahead.

Some months, you exceed your financial expectations; other months, you can barely scrape by.

I earn a lot less than I did in full-time employment but on the road I am more cautious with my spending.

For me, the lifestyle of being a digital nomad compensates for the lack of stable employment that you would have as a regular employee and, most of the time, my life feels pretty normal. 

Horseback riding at Los Perales, Chile
Horseback riding at Los Perales, Chile

I’ve even managed to get engaged to my Brazilian fiancé on the road and I’m planning a wedding for next year.

Productivity as a digital nomad can be quite challenging. 

The distractions of being in a new country every month can make it difficult to focus your mind on work, but you have to be strict on yourself and create a routine.

Making money through my blog was a lot easier than I expected, but I’m not going to exaggerate and say that all of my income comes from advertising on my blog, it doesn’t.

I see my travel blog not as a means of generating income, but rather a platform to showcase my talents in an online curriculum vitae, complete with a portfolio of work.

I earn the bulk of my income from copywriting, freelance travel writing, ghost blogging, website translation and creating digital marketing plans for start-up travel businesses.

And how do I convince companies to hire me? 

You guessed it, through my travel blog. 

An increasing number of companies are now hiring out-of-office workers and it’s not unusual to find project managers working with remote teams of professionals.

The only thing that is needed is a laptop and an internet connection to be able to work from practically anywhere in the world.

At Casa de Pedra
At Casa de Pedra

I have travel-blogged from the Chilean Andes surrounded by snow-tipped mountain peaks with farmers hurrying by to milk their goats and feed their chickens. 

I have written a digital marketing strategy on a 19-hour bus journey from Argentina to Santiago with a 100 metre drop down the side of the narrow mountain road. 

I have translated website content from my hammock on the sandy beaches of Brazil. 

And have had an online job interview in the airport while waiting to catch a connecting flight from São Paulo.

It is true that travel remains the optimal aspiration for millennials, and technology has given us the capability to have portable, asset-free lives.

But don’t be fooled into thinking that digital nomadism is only for the young and free. 

There are digital nomads from all stages in life.

Some become part-time vagabonds and take a few months off work to travel. 

Others choose to travel long-term, stopping in cities to work and live along the way. 

And there are those who travel constantly with their life squeezed into a backpack.

Some travel solo, some are couples and some even bring their children along.

Sarah Holden is a “digital nomad” and her office is wherever she happens to be

Location-free jobs can accommodate a large amount of professions; the lengthy list includes journalists, marketers, language teachers, graphic designers, web developers, virtual assistants, translators and even psychologists.

Think about your own average work day: was that meeting really necessary, or could it have been done online?

Full-time digital nomads are generally not your average backpackers, staying in shared hostel rooms and jumping from place to place. 

We leverage our location independence to indulge in travel and adventure. 

We want nice meals, to sleep in a comfortable bed and to take in the country and sample the culture before packing up.

Life on the road can offer many opportunities to people; my fiancé and I started a side-business after we noticed that there was an opportunity for us to provide a translation service to the hospitality sector.

Many hotels that we visited had no English version of their website.

We contact hotels before travelling to a city and ask them if they could provide us with free accommodation in exchange for translating their website into English and optimising content for search rankings. 

This saves us the cost of accommodation and lets us live the high life for less.

Constant travel doesn’t appeal to everyone, but an increasing number of people today are adopting the life of a digital nomad.

Sarah Holden is a “digital nomad” and her office is wherever she happens to be

The opportunity to work online from anywhere in the world makes travel both feasible and affordable.

There are many Facebook groups full of like-minded people who work from the road and are in search of networking and building nomadic relationships.

One of the biggest online communities is Girls LOVE Travel, a female-only group of globe-trotters who openly talk about their freelancing woes and successes on the road.

For people fed up with the daily grind, the independence of working remotely can be incredibly appealing.

There are many people out there who have shown that you can combine your career with the freedom of life on the road, a generation that has shifted away from the cubicles, florescent lights and weak coffee.

The idea of digital nomadism may have been inconceivable 20 years ago, but advances in technology are making it easier to cut the cord of everyday living as we know it.


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