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How to prepare for life as a digital nomad (without freaking out)

22 Apr
The whiteboard of endless lists

The whiteboard of endless lists

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There comes a time in every soon-to-be digital nomad’s life when they think:

‘HOLY CRAP! I HAVE SO MANY FREAKING THINGS TO DO! Where do I start? How will I sell all my junk? Why am I doing this? And why did I choose NOW to start watching Breaking Bad? So many episodes, so little time! WAAAA!’

Welcome to my world.

Above is a piccy of my lovely little whiteboard. It looks fairly tame, sure, but it’s been updated about 15 times in the past 2 weeks. As soon as a task is done and rubbed off, I think of another thing to do and it fills back up again.

Let’s just say I’m a wee bit overwhelmed.

On the flip side, it’s thrilling. Every time I tick off a task, I’m inching towards my new life as a digital nomad. The weeks are whizzing by and I can’t wait to hop on the plane and see where I wind up.

Here I share my top tips for getting ready to work overseas – wherever that may be. I hope this list helps you avoid the WAAA! moments:

Sort out your stuff

So, you’ve got a room or apartment full o crap. Eeeexcellent. This is every neat freak’s dream. It’s time to sort that shit out, my friend.

Begin by grabbing some bin bags or boxes, a marker, labels or paper strips and clearing space on the floor. Going room by room (maybe make a goal of one room a day to avoid overwhelm), sort everything into piles:

  • Pack
  • Bin
  • Sell
  • Donate

Then put each pile into a bin bag or box, labelling it accordingly. As soon as you see your stuff start to move out and onto a new life. you’ll feel invigorated about doing the same!

Cancel your accounts

Depending on how long til you go, you’ll need to start cancelling your accounts such as your mobile phone and internet, electricity and gas, library and gym memberships, tolling and any other regular payments. Ensure you advise the company of the day you’re leaving the country…cos cold showers and no phone ain’t fun.

Set up new accounts

Think about how you’ll work as a digital nomad, and the tools and tech you’ll need to thrive. I’m still researching this, but I know I’ll need to sort out my cloud storage, get a VoIP connection so I can keep my Aussie number – or upgrade my Skype account, and find an organisation that will divert my mail and email it to me. I’ll write a post once I’ve worked these little things out.

Get a visa

Some countries offer visa exemptions, others ask you to apply before you arrive, while some (like Indonesia) grant you a visa on arrival. If that’s the case, you may find you can only get a longer visa (i.e. 6 months rather than 3) if you apply before you arrive. So visit the website or office of the relevant embassy in your city to get the down low.

Just be aware that there can be a backlog. You don’t want your passport sitting under a pile of untouched applications when you’re due to fly out in three days time.

Get an International Driving Permit

An International Driving Permit (IDP) is a handy little document to get. It allows you to drive in over 150 countries, so you’re not hopping around illegally on your standard licence. In Australia, the NRMA (and other motoring groups) issues 12 month IDPs for $39.

Just be aware that if your normal licence expires before the 12 months, your IDP does too. My licence expires in 6 months, so I have to wait til the new one comes through before I apply for the IDP. Saves the hassle of renewing it from somewhere in the middle of South-East Asia.

Get travel insurance

Sigh. I know. It’s a pain in the derriere. But it’s worth forking out a few bucks to save your butt. When shopping around for travel insurance, look for annual rates. And ensure it includes emergency evacuation (especially if you’ll be in remote places) and any adventure sports or driving you plan to do.

Throw a party!

I know, it’s really tempting to just take off with minimal fuss. Especially if you’re an introverted nomad like me. But show your friends you care by organising one or a few farewells. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, but people will appreciate the chance to buy you a drink and wish you well. Besides, who doesn’t love a party?

Alrighty, that’s all I can think of for now. Because Breaking Bad is calling and it’s been a long day of sorting out my crapola to sell or ditch.

What are your tips for getting ready to roam? I’d love to know! Just leave a comment below.

 

Fighting the fear to travel

10 Apr

Image

I’m quitting my life.

In Sydney, everything is easy. A little tooooo easy. Too freakin’ comfortable. It’s beautiful, abundant, brimming with opportunities. But I’m bored. And edging on ungrateful…which ain’t good.

And after spending a month in Vietnam, I’m yearning to spread my flippers and sample more.

So off I go on my gray whale migration. Heading north to California, then Bali to check out the digital nomad community and get my body back into balance. Then I float across to Chiang Mai in Thailand, and finally Vietnam. The plan after that is…well…there kinda isn’t one.

Eep.

I’m scared.

Weally, weally fwightened.

Only really extroverted, confident people can pack up and make a red hot go as roamers. Right?

I’m a super sensitive soul. I’m not flamboyant, I take time to open up to people (after which time I am flamboyant. Just invite me to karaoke.) And I tend to worry about stuff.

One thing working in my favour is that I like my alone time. Of course I crave contact with others, but I’m genuinely happy in my own company. As a writer, it’s all part of the gig. I like time to reflect and think and feel deeply. So I’m not worried about being alone while I meander around.

Maybe I’m afraid of finding my self. Or not finding her. Or being in a dangerous situation. Winding up broke. Missing marriages and babies back home. Not putting down roots or making real, lasting connections with people.

But I know the only way I’ll make it as a gray whale is to JUST. GO.

I have a whiteboard with a million tasks scribbled on it. Each day, I pick a task and tick it off. It’s all I can do. If I give myself time to question my travel plans, it may not happen.

I’m here to prove that even we introverted folk, we sensitive souls, we can roam. We can do GREAT, GRAND things. We can have an EPIC existence. We can push and surprise and be alone and fall down and laugh about it…and then cry about it. We can do it while being a little bit weird.

Thank you for joining me on this journey. This mammoth migration.

Here are my flippers. They’re stretched out wide. Let’s go swimming!

Miss Saigon

25 Mar

They call her Miss Saigon,

Been here far too long,

Lonely nights in seedy holes,

Her innocence, the streets they stole.

 

Miss Saigon,

What’s your story,

Wrapped around a midnight glory.

 

Miss Saigon,

Why do you linger,

These empty souls,

Their calloused fingers.

 

Your country’s calling,

Hit the highlands,

Turn away,

From this endless nightmare.

 

They call her Miss Saigon,

But she doesn’t belong,

They call her Miss Saigon,

Been here far too long.

Vietnam – the land of suntanned smiles

7 Mar

Some sensitive souls struggle in hot, heaving places. India, for instance, is incredibly overwhelming. Stunning but stifling.

Vietnam is a soothing surprise.

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Amid the tooting mopeds, giant sleeper buses, dusty roads and heaving street stalls, there is a sense of solace. Peace in the pace.

Anxiety melts away. Smiles as wide as the soft sunset. Quiet enterprise. A low, comforting hum swirling through the vast valleys and twisting alleys.

A surprising start

Even her heaving metropolis, Ho Chi Minh City, is a delightful discovery. Stepping onto a local bus without proper change, the locals rushed to pay my way. An introduction to the warmth and kindness of these sweet people.

A must-see is the war museum in HCMC. It’s a tough attraction. The cold hard truths of the American War are documented in death toll notices, reports of ambushes on innocent villagers, and heartbreaking images of deformed babies – caused by chemical warfare. I had to leave that room, feeling ill and incredibly sad. As I did, I noticed a bright shiny Coca-Cola fridge, filled with bottles of the ice-cold brown beverage. Another kind of chemical warfare…

Despite its horrific history, Vietnam is vibrant. Keen to crack on. Welcoming to camera-touting tourists. Proud and positive.

Discovering Da Lat

I took the top bunk on a comfortably cool and cosy sleeper bus. Lulled by the local love songs played on an endless loop, I looked outside and recorded these thoughts:

Mountains meet valleys. Little limbs, scarved necks cycle out of dusty school yards. A giant giraffe statue beside a shop with grimy glass windows, where weary wedding dresses and forgotten frocks hung.

Masked smiles on scooters, faded mint and butter yellow hued homes for miles. Abandoned building pipes, half-built blocks…what horrors were stamped on these streets mere decades ago?

French windows, French impressions, almost out of place in these quaint villages. Crumbling abodes like dollhouses, their fronts blown open, abandoned rooms on show.

Sun sets behind temples, bus teeters over twisting turns, head-ons avoided by mere millimetres.

Freshly bathed babes play in pyjamas. A sea of fluttering trousers spills out of a pristine church, a magenta sky illuminating its steeple.

Seven hours later, a panel of colourful disco lights flood the cabin. Not to be outdone, Da Lat puts on its own Vegas-style light show, with kitschy flashing signs and LEDs in the shape of animals and roses. Gigantic plush hotels with manicured lawns meet manicured streets.

In a dark alley, the Pink Hotel awaits. The effervescent Mr Rot beams – “Miss Kat! Come in! You have the honeymoon suite – big balcony! Most excellent view!”

Most excellent it is. My $10 retreat. With an endless vista stretching out to the edges of the highlands.

Secret tour, humble hosts

Jump on the back of a bike – a geared, clutchless motorbike – and zigzag through steep coffee plantations, vibrant green rice paddies, past immaculate school children screaming ‘HELLOOOO!’

See silk spun from tiny cocoons onto spinning wheels. Taste the freshest fruits – milk apple, custard apple, dragon fruit, jack fruit, tomato apple – and savour the sweet treats offered by generous stall owners in remote markets. Curious eyes peer out under helmets.

Ushered out of the heat and into a hut – the humble home of a local lady with thick tanned skin and a crinkly smile. She and her friends speak one of the 50+ dialects that span the land, and so we connect with smiles, nodding, showing, pointing. A fermented ginger treat turns out to be a concoction mixed with rat. Local man with broken English explains the local culture – girls are married at 10, her family must buy her husband, and their prosperity depends entirely on coffee.

Join a vigorous volleyball game on a pitch marked with wire and with a net strung between two tree trunks. Locals cycle off the road to watch, bikes are abandoned in the sand, babies propped up on scooter seats.

Darkness creeps across the field. Back on bike, spluttering in the dark.

Back to Da Lat. Back to the quaint, quirky town. Back to a feast of what looks like chicken but turns out to be dog, cat and frog. Back to a karaoke bar, where proud locals sing slow songs and couples puff up their chests and slow dance gracefully across the polished floor. Where we sing Summer of 69 and ABBA hits, as men present us with glittery fake flowers.

I love this land. Her fresh pho. Her fragrant herbs. Her delightful delicacies and proud, positive people. Her open arms. Her gentle yawning highlands. Her kindness and her curiosity.

I am transfixed.

This is Vietnam.

Layover in no man’s land

3 Mar

 

I’m writing this from an eerie airport lounge in Kuala Lumpur.

It’s dim, chilly, vast.

Every so often, the sound of phlegm being spat up in a sink penetrates my headphones.

A Muslim man wades past in freshly pressed linen pants.

Just hours ago, I was in my living room in Sydney, munching veggie sticks with my trivia buddies. The reigning champions, we were celebrating our winning streak with wine and snacks. Rain rattled the windows. Boats see-sawed in the rough harbour. We laughed at silly things.

A horn tooted, bag flung over shoulder, cab to the airport…

And now here I am.

Alone.

In a Malaysian lounge serving congee and coffee from a push-button machine.

I could be anywhere.

Weary, bleary-eyed travellers warily watch one another. I wonder where each one is from, where they’re going, if they’re with a lover or colleague or brother. Are they heading off on holiday – or home to bad news or an exhilarating announcement?

How odd that we are all here together. Strangers in this sterile no man’s land, sipping our sweetened coffee while screens silently stream the film The Impossible, about the 2004 Thailand tsunami.

I wouldn’t want to have a ticket to Koh Samui right now…

In just a few hours, I’ll be in Vietnam.

A three-week wander awaits.

No plan, no bookings, no clue.

The Sa Pa mountains are calling.

My sensitive soul is seeking solace.

India is a distant memory. I need be awakened again.

I’m grateful that I am free to travel. It’s a privilege. And I promise not to waste it.

xx

The nomad’s guide to putting down roots

17 Jan

ID-100111562

I can’t sit still. Seriously. Even in the cinema, I wriggle and sigh and stretch and play with my hair. Two hours sat in the same seat? Gah!

It could be because my family moved house seven times before I was eight. And after relocating to Perth, no sooner did we settle in a space, we packed up and found another.

So I say I never really had a home. Houses, sure – and some pretty cool ones (including one that was DEFINITELY haunted) – but no home. We were like nomadic animals, roaming about with no destination in mind. We simply spotted a better watering hole and set off.

And in the past year, I’ve moved four times. FOUR!

I’m now back at the beach in Sydney. And part of me never wants to leave.

But the nomad in me is already itchy. Already restless. Thinking about far-flung lands, wondering if the other side of Manly might be more exciting, more me. Searching for a better watering hole.

So how can we nomadic souls stay still?

Because we really, really want to sometimes. I’m nearing 30 and should probably start thinking about ‘nesting’.

That’s not to say I won’t travel and explore and jump around. But I want to be in a place long enough to make connections, meet likeminded souls, contribute to the community and build my business.

It’s funny. I’ve just finished reading ‘The Life You Were Born to Live’ by Dan Millman. It uses the Life-Purpose System to calculate your path. My life path number 34/7 is described as struggling to commit. To work through issues of trust and security (the main life purpose for 34/7s), I need to stop flapping about, stay still and put down roots.

How?

Well, I’ve started with daily meditation. And by meditation I mean – try to block thoughts about what I’m going to do the second meditation ends. And ignore the itch on the end of my nose. And stop wondering how I’m going to be still in life when I can’t even sit still to meditate. It’s a struggle! 😉

I’ve also started getting out more, and trying to be more open in public. I’m meeting strangers in cafes – a few of whom have already turned into friends who are on a similar path. I’m reaching out to other business owners on the beaches, just for a chat, not to sell. Or I’m just striking up conversations with people on the beach…many of whom probably think I’m a tad cray cray. (All of this, by the way, is pretty frightening for a sensitive soul!)

And I’m expressing gratitude, in the moment. Like looking out at the water and saying, ‘thank you that I get to look at this beautiful view’. Or ‘thank you that this time I had the patience to actually bake the cake, instead of eating all the batter  and feeling really really sick as a result.’ Whatever works, right? 😉

Who knows if any of it is working. But so far, I’m still.

Are you a nomad? How do you sit still long enough to put down roots? I’d love your help!

Blogging on the road again

16 Dec

Blogging while travelling is a tough gig. Before every trip, I stare at my laptop and deliberate whether or not to take it with me. And every time, I say ‘Nehh, she’ll be right.’ She is usually so, so wrong.

And so I emerge in a new destination, wide-eyed and mentally drafting blog posts as I gorge on the culture, the sights, the strange experiences, all the while cursing myself for leaving my laptop at home. If I get the chance, I’ll pull out a crumpled notebook and scribble as much down as I can before The Lad yawns and I get a case of the guilts. Here in Canada, however, it’s so freezing that whenever I pull off a glove to grasp the pen, my naked fingers turn blue and the nails ache. So far I’ve managed to jot down the date, before abandoning the whole thing, shoving my glove back on and cursing the cold.

Thankfully, though, The Lad and I favour roughing it in hostels. More often than not, they have a computer or two set up. But given my penchant for lazing about in bed, I tend to jump under the covers with my phone and tune in to the free Wi-Fi. I don’t recommend attempting to tap out your thoughts on a teeny, tiny screen. You will make typos, you will definitely get a thumb cramp and you may end up throwing your phone against the wall.

Complaints aside, I’m thrilled to announce my blogging drought has been broken by the penning of this post. As I type, I’m enjoying the warmth of the communal living room at Planet Traveler in Toronto. It’s 4pm and pitch black outside and there’s a fellow hosteller next to me who keeps interrupting to tell me about the night he wound up down a nearby alleyway with two kids and a camera. I’ve decided it’s best not to ask questions about that.

 

 

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