We’ve all heard the stories and seen the viral articles about “digital nomads.” Splashed across every social media platform, they hold out the promise that we, too can move abroad, travel all we want, and live freely without having to show up for a desk job in the morning.
Many of these articles seem to share the same idealized picture of a beaming millennial, somewhere on a beach in Thailand, surfing and having a blast. A few yards away from the ocean is always a laptop, from which the millennial manages the nebulous blog or online gig that always seems to bring in an inordinate sum of money each month. But after reading countless articles like this, the question remains: how do you do it?
If there are legitimate online jobs that enable people to live this way, what are they? Believe it or not, the most stable and scalable of these jobs is teaching. So how does being a digital nomad, something associated with mobility, square with being a teacher, a role that is often stationary and highly regimented?
Kerry Gallagher is a perfect example of someone who decided to follow her dream of living this lifestyle, and her story is not just an inspiration but a practical resource for anyone interested in adopting it. Kerry was well prepared for the nomadic life. After growing up in two countries and attending nine different schools, she was no stranger to finding her way in new places. The challenge, however, was how to use these foundational experiences as a jump-off point for living a free life. As she says, “I was a nomad long before I was digital.”
Even before she attended college, Kerry knew she wanted to teach English abroad in Asia, and after she had graduated, that’s what she did. For several years, Kerry taught English in Thailand, Vietnam, and Myanmar, which not only proved to her that teaching was her calling, but that these were the areas of the world in which she knew she had to live. The problem, as she puts it, was that “after all these years, I still wasn’t earning money.”
Dream profession? Check. Dream location? Check. Enough money to live comfortably? Nope.
At this point, many people would have given up on living such an ideal life, and most likely returned home and settled into the regimented lifestyle that so many of us have. Kerry, however, was determined to make it work. “I wanted something more,” she says, “but wasn’t willing to give up my life of adventure.”
It was at that point that she came across 51Talk, an online English education company that pairs students in China with teachers abroad for live, online English lessons. With millions of people in China looking for this service, she found that there was never a shortage of classes to teach. Since all the classes are online, she could work from anywhere—and the company allowed her to make her own schedule.
For Kerry, it was a life-changing experience. “I finally had the freedom, flexibility, and the funds to live where I wanted, and I was able to afford a visit home at least once a year,” she says. “51Talk has allowed me to pair my sense of adventure with my passion for teaching.”
Kerry now resides in a beautiful region of southern Thailand with her husband and child, and not only has the flexibility to care for her family, but the freedom to travel and be herself. “Knowing that I can visit home, take a vacation, or even enjoy a long weekend away and still work means the world to me,” she says.
Despite the sometimes-dubious nature of the many digital nomad “how-to” articles that we so often come across online, it is, in fact, possible to make this lifestyle a reality. Kerry has two pieces of advice for aspiring digital nomads:
1) Get a connected job first. “If you want to become a successful digital nomad, it’s important to be digital first, and then become a nomad.”
2) Expect the unexpected. “Being a digital nomad means you have surrendered yourself to what you are unaccustomed to so you can experience the extraordinary. It’s key to remember this advice when you consider making the transition to this lifestyle.”
The nomadic lifestyle may not be for everyone, but if you can’t help but feel a thrill of excitement when imagining yourself living in a foreign land with a stable job and the time to travel anywhere your heart desires, then this just may be the life for you. As Kerry says, “I am an eager working mother with an adventurous spirit. Who knows where I will visit next?”
James Stewart is the North American Marketing Manager at 51Talk, where he focuses on growing the company’s operations and teacher community in the West. If you are a digital nomad looking for a reliable opportunity, 51Talk could be the right fit for you. Please click here to learn more.