I had it all planned out. After a year of hard work at my first job after college, a New York City-based public relations agency, I could finally unlock my two weeks' vacation time. Cleverly, or so I thought, I would book a vacation over Fourth of July to eliminate a few workdays, allowing for a substantial almost two weeks of travel time! Giddy with excitement, I emailed my boss requesting the time off, outlining that this schedule would require me to use only seven of my fourteen vacation days.
I patted myself on the back for being so cunning.
My boss must have laughed out loud, replying to let me know of the company's policy stating employees can only be out of the office for five consecutive business days, thereby shattering my plans of frolicking through Switzerland and Malta for two weeks. As an avid traveler, I was seriously pissed off. Smoke fumed from my ears as I realized this was common practice for many businesses. How could I truly experience a new country with such little time? My dreams of exploring Bali, Australia, India, and other far-flung locations, now seemed way out of reach. Adult life was looking bleak.
I left that agency for another one a few months later and this is when I became introduced to a term that would change my life — "digital nomad." It was 2016 and working remotely was becoming a trend. Graphic designers, writers, social media marketers, and other online entrepreneurs were taking their work with them as they trotted around the globe, sipping cocktails out of coconuts while laying on the beach answering emails on their phones.
I wanted in. NOW. I already had an online job, sitting behind a computer all day. I knew I could live this lifestyle and the thought of achieving it completely consumed me. I was a girl on a mission to do something that no one around me could even conceive of. All I needed was a few clients.
Now, that part was daunting, but it wasn't going to hold me back. I made a list of the brands I wanted to work with and started connecting with them on LinkedIn. After countless emails and an in-person meeting, I landed a dream client — a winery that paid me six months upfront and signed a year-long contract! I was still employed at that point, so I took the opportunity to save all the money I received from my new client as well as a little bit from each paycheck.
Eventually, I was feeling financially secure enough to quit my job, leave my apartment, friends and family behind and booked a one-way ticket to Nicaragua. No big deal.
I left New York on October 2nd, 2017. As fate would have it, I met my long-term boyfriend three days into this journey, but I will save that story for another time.
Breaking the news to my family and friends was nerve-wracking. How do you tell people that at 25 years old you were quitting your corporate job and embarking on a yearlong digital nomad journey with no solid plans? My mother asked if I could just do it for a month and not quit my job. No mom, it doesn't work that way. It wasn't just my career she was concerned for. I knew she was also nervous that I was throwing away my chance at finding love. Why would I leave NYC? Surely this is the place to find a suitor. Somehow, I was able to abate her fears. Once they saw how determined I was, both of my parents were pretty supportive. My friends were sad but also excited for me to go on such a life-changing adventure. Everyone, myself included, thought I would be back in a year once I got this out of my system.
Flash forward to now, almost three years later, and I am still living nomadically with a successful PR business and a loving relationship.
For the first few months of my newfound nomad life I was traipsing through Central America. I lived and worked in Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Costa Rica. Then I met up with my boyfriend and we explored Saint Martin, Curacao, and Aruba before I jetted off to Bali, my dream digital nomad locale. After spending enough time frolicking through the jungle, enjoying lush beaches and fueling my avocado toast addiction, I headed to Australia with my mom. Then I moved to Kauai, Hawaii to live with my boyfriend. We spent about a year living in Hawaii, divided between Kauai and Maui, before leaving our stunning home for a campervan in New Zealand.
I spent my fair share of time working in cafés and hostels with questionable Wi-Fi, but a campervan would be the ultimate test if I could keep my business afloat regardless of where I was. I made it clear to my partner that I would need days where I spent hours dedicated to work, either in a café or at a camp park without feeling guilty.
There were mornings when I rolled out of the van at 5 am for conference calls with clients located across the globe. It was rough, but doing so proved that I was (and still am) able to adapt to any time zone. It is my decision to live this way and my clients don't need to worry about scheduling calls that fit wherever I happen to be in the world. That is my responsibility.
From New Zealand, we moved to Australia on working holiday visas, where we lived and worked on a tiny island resort off the Great Barrier Reef, Heron Island. This was by far one of the best experiences of my life, and it helped me grow as an entrepreneur. I was now juggling my PR business and working part-time as a bartender in the resort. I didn't need the extra income, but I did want to live on the private island and being a staff member was the only way to do so. I became meticulous with my time, balancing work, the beach, gym, and scuba diving as often as possible. The Gmail scheduling tool became a lifesaver. I tripled my income during these six months, and I proved to myself and my clients that I can be successful no matter what time zone I am working in. Yes, it is harder and requires more personal sacrifices (missing out on a party because I have a client call at 11 pm), but it can be done.
Now, I am back in the states waiting out COVID-19. I am working with corporate leaders, many of whom are in the healthcare industry, so thankfully, business is going well. Despite any ups and downs, I can still achieve great success for my clients in national media outlets, whether I'm hunkered down stateside for a pandemic or living it up on the other side of the world. I even recently reached a major entrepreneurship milestone — hiring my first employee to accommodate my growing business.
Sorry, NYC, I don't think I am ever coming back.
WRITTEN BYSarah Solomon