Four steps to freedom – how we ditched the 9-to-5 to travel the world

We’re delighted to have Catherine Toms of Smithfield Digital writing for us about her experience as a digital nomad. She and husband Stephen are running a Digital Nomad Masterclass at General Assembly on 8 September for those that are keen to gain a deeper insight into what it means to head off on the road and work at the same time.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to trade it all in for simpler times and sunnier climes? To jump off the conveyor belt of life and press pause?

One day, we’d give up the 9-5, the commute and the grey English weather. We’d leave behind the constant juggles of work, childcare and the scant remains of a social life. We’d stop dreaming about the life we want and start living it instead.

One day, we realised that while we (well actually me) continued to make excuses about logistics, timings and a whole host of other imagined barriers, there was a risk that life was passing us by. So one gin-fuelled evening, we hatched a plan to do the scariest, maddest, greatest thing we’ve ever done. We quit our jobs, packed up our belongings and took off on the adventure of a lifetime with our kids in tow.

In the last 2.5 years, we’ve based ourselves in 12 different countries, pared down our possessions to 8.5kg each, and worked hard to create our work-anywhere lifestyle. To turn our dream into a reality, some big changes had to be made and not just with our careers. But we weren’t going to let that stop us. Here’s how we did it.

MAKING IT HAPPEN – MINDSET MATTERS

The first step is to decide why you want to make the change. Understand what drives you, what makes you happy.

For us, it was about freedom and flexibility. In our former lives, we climbed the corporate ladder and held full-on jobs, with big teams and senior positions. After almost two decades (gulp) we cut our careers off in their prime to experiment and find what works for us instead of just accepting what’s “normal”.

Sure, we could have stayed, we could’ve climbed higher, earned more money and chased bigger fish. But, it was all-consuming. The thought that ‘there must be more to life than this’ kept coming up in with alarming frequency.

We got brave enough to reject the “way things are done” and look for a better way to live life on our terms. Now we live wherever we want, doing work we love. We enjoy the freedom and the excitement of new experiences and new places.

But, it’s not all sunsets and flip-flops. Life on the road can be unpredictable and chaotic. It demands stamina, energy and resilience and sometimes all you crave is normality, routine, familiarity and creature comforts.

So, ask yourself why you want to make the change, and take some time to weigh the pros and cons that come with a lifestyle of frequent travel.

FINDING WORK THAT WORKS FOR YOU

There’s certainly no shortage of advice out there suggesting that you should “just go for it,” and not worry about the finances. Like you can just “fall into” this idyllic lifestyle.

We’re here to set the record straight. If you’re planning on waving goodbye to the 9 to 5 and booking a one-way ticket to somewhere exotic, it’s best if you’re able to support yourself from the beginning. But don’t worry: It’s totally doable.

One option is to find a full-time, 100% remote position. There’s a growing tribe of companies with remote DNA who believe work is a thing you do, not a place you go. They don’t mind where you do your work (as long as you get it done).  This is a good choice if you prefer the stability of regular income.

Another solution is to go the self-employment route and create a lightweight, flexible business you can run from anywhere. Keep in mind it’s wise to hold out until your business is established (and you can support yourself) before making the leap.

When we set off, we didn’t know exactly how www.smithfielddigital.com.au would take shape. We knew it would have something to do with copywriting, web design and branding: it’s what we’re interested in, what we have experience in, and what we enjoy.

So although some people will probably think you’re on some fancy extended gap year, chances are you may be working harder than ever. But, for all the small sacrifices, there are huge wins; a real business that allows you to live anywhere, and never have it feel like work.

FACE YOUR FEARS AND START SMALL

As we nervously boarded that plane in April 2014, we had no idea we’d travel so far and be on the move for so long. What started out as a “3-month stint in Bali” ended up being 622 days of global travel.

The longer we were on the road, the braver we grew. The more confident, self-assured and adventurous we felt. Destinations became increasingly exotic and far-flung. Just start small. Decide what you could try out in a low-risk way before you make a permanent decision. Perhaps it’s your first solo trip away; maybe it’s launching a side-gig to start supporting yourself. Whatever it takes, small steps will eventually move you to bigger things.

MAKING THE DECISION

The perfect time to change your life will never magically appear. There will always be a long list of practical and utterly logical reasons why it may not be a good idea. The secret is not to overthink it.

There is no doubt packing up your home, quitting your job and leaving everything behind is a gigantic decision. Change is scary; it takes courage to venture into the unknown. It’s perfectly normal to feel daunted. But once you’ve made the choice and boarded the plane it’ll feel like the most obvious thing you ever did.

Our advice is just go for it. Set a deadline, book a flight and make it happen. You could spend your whole life waiting for the perfect time, the right age, the correct bank balance. Or you could grab life with both hands. Do what you love. Do what makes you happy, even if sometimes it means taking risks. You only get one life. Spend it making brilliant memories.

Feeling inspired to take the next step? Why not come along to our Digital Nomad Masterclass. You’ll discover how you can travel, live and work anywhere and the logistical, practical and mental steps you need to make it happen. This is the course we wish had existed when we set out, so we created it for everyone. Join us.