What It's Really Like When You're A Digital Nomad
A travel journalist on the road tells his story.
BY James Wong | Jun 19, 2018 | Travel
In 2016 I quit a full-time job and ventured into the unknown; freelance travel journalism. It’s not the kind of profession to sleep on comfortably, but rather keeps you awake tossing and turning with uncertainty. On the plus, it comes with a hefty bonus of incredible moments; ones that can’t be experienced if confined in an office cubicle. Personally and for now, experience outweighs money, so the digital nomad way of life suits just fine. This is my journey.
My kid years were spent meticulously running a magazine written on a typewriter, photocopied and distributed to a readership of four. I always knew I was destined to write, but years later, live-tweeting for a British TV channel wasn’t exactly what I had in mind. In 2016, I packed up my life in two suitcases and relocated to Tokyo where I forged a career in journalism, simultaneously teaching English to keep a visa and rent a shoebox-sized flat. Initially, I covered city events for local newspapers, but months later an opportunity to freelance for an airline came along. It ignited my decision to go solo, step out of my safety net of a stable job and regular income, and work for myself on a full-time basis. Within a few months I was flying out to Hong Kong, Singapore, Manila, Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok; meeting editors, writing travel guides, and rapidly building a portfolio that my kid self wouldn’t dare dream of.
I’m fortunate enough to specialise in the luxury travel sector. What you read within a travel piece is generally thoroughly researched and physically experienced by the journalist, be it attraction, restaurant or five-star accommodation. Over the past year, the job has taken me swimming with seals in Hong Kong, motorcycling through temples in Taipei, scaling the Great Wall of China and retreating into some of the world’s most extravagant hotels – personal butler included. I’ve also interviewed the world’s most influential chefs and chart-topping musicians, and on occasions even brought my retired mother along to enjoy the ride. When I say the highs are high, they are through the ceiling and into the sky, high.
And then there are the lows, which many on the outside just don’t get. The thing about freelancing is you never know when the next job is coming. One month may be insanely busy, and then the next it’s tumbleweed across my Lenovo laptop. It means I have to budget very carefully in order to keep up with regular payments that come with life. Constantly pitching for work means plenty of rejection, and at the end of the day, the travelling is a job, and must be treated seriously. Seeing a new city is great fun, but seeing it with a loved one is a million times better. I’d much rather stay at an Airbnb with my partner, than in a luxury resort alone. I’d rather brunch at the local with my best pal than be swapping business cards over cocktails with people I barely know. And sometimes, I really would rather be in bed at home, instead of running to the airport to go to a place colder than Canada.
A TYPICAL WEEK
As a digital nomad, my laptop, phone, and Pacsafe anti-theft backpack are my life. I try and keep a regular routine as much possible when travelling, usually working from a coffee shop or remote office during the day, which allows for exploration come evening. I’m never really ‘off’ because any free time is spent jotting down store names or chasing locals for recommendations. This week I have a JR pass from the Japan Experience, giving me access to travel by high-speed bullet train across a number of cities over five days. I’m stopping at Nikko, Tokyo, Yokohama, Fukushima and Sendai, in the name of a general travel guide to the Tohoku region of Japan. That isn’t my sole assignment right now as there are five other pieces due this week. For one, I am testing out health food Huel while on the road, I’m giving guys dating advice, and for a female monthly, I am preparing a review of the Hello Kitty themed suite at the Keio Plaza on my stop in Tokyo. Day six I depart for London, where I’ll switch all devices to airplane mode and work in flight, and on day seven I’ll try and recover, that is, unless another deadline is sprung upon me.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
Some people say there is nothing better than travelling, but while it’s essential for many, what’s a necessity for all is companionship. At this moment in time I’m enjoying the ride, but rides are made to reach destinations. An obvious destination is a family like the one you were born into, based in a friendly neighbourhood with a garden big enough for a BBQ, while the kids dig up worms. Being a digital nomad is something I’m sure I’ll look back on with a proud smile if I ever find myself in that garden, and who is to say that garden won’t be full of its own adventures and stories that are equally worth noting?
James Wong is a travel writer. Read more of his work on www.boxojames.com