After spending years in a boring office job, James Clark realized he’s had enough and took up a working holiday visa to the UK in 1999. He soon discovered his two biggest passions— the internet and travelling. He’s one of the world’s first digital nomads and has been an inspiration for many others. He’s a long-term traveller and will surely tell you how to find the best coffee places around the world.
He started making travel websites in 2002, and by the end of 2003 he had become fully self-employed. His own travel blog, Nomadic Notes was born six years later.
You don’t want to miss our interview with James as it is a rare opportunity to get a sneak peek into the mind of someone who’s been on the road for 14 long years. Not only will we discuss the upsides of this lifestyle, but also the rarely discussed downsides.
1. James, how did you become an entrepreneur? What ultimately led you to make this lifestyle change?
I always felt like I was meant to work for myself but I didn't know what to do. I was working for small business owners and their lifestyle appealed to me more than working for someone. I didn’t find any traditional business that was suitable for me, so in 1999 I applied for a working holiday visa for Australians in the UK. I got a 2-year visa in the UK, and then followed that with a 1-year visa in Ireland. Those years gave me a taste for living abroad and for long-term travel. It was during this time that I became interested in the internet, so the merging of travel and the online world became an obvious choice of business model. There wasn’t a defining moment where I become an entrepreneur - it just organically happened over time.
2. What do you do to fund your travels now? How many hours do you work? What does your average day look like?
I’m a publisher of travel websites, so writing about travel is part of my business model. The travel component of my budget is not overly expensive when you compare it with fixed monthly expenses of car and mortgage repayments.
I probably work 8 hours a day, though it doesn’t feel like work. I usually wake up at 7 and I am working by 7:30. I split my work day between my home base and at cafes. I go for walks during the day as well, in between cafes. Sometimes I will meet friends during the day, and do some more work at night. It’s a fluid arrangement with no set time schedule.
3. What is it that do you love the most about long-term travelling? What are the experiences you’re looking for? What is it that still keeps you adventurous after all those years of travelling?
For me it has been about being able to live in different cities around the world. Early on in my travels I would travel more frequently. Now my travels are much slower and I tend to stay in places for longer. I am more interested in getting to know a city well rather than seeing as many places as possible.
I ask myself every year if I should go back home (wherever that is now) but so far I still enjoy this lifestyle. I seem to have the right disposition for living the expat lifestyle.
4. What are some of the difficulties you have to deal with as a long-term nomad? Any suggestions for how to deal with them?
Making friends and then leaving is a downside to travel which never gets easy. I remind myself that if I didn’t travel I would not have had the opportunity to meet these people in the first place. In that case I make sure to keep in touch with friends I’ve made around the world.
I have always been a minimalist so accumulating things isn’t a big problem. You still have to be mindful of what you acquire though, so if you are a collector of things then having a base of some sort would be more appropriate.
5. What are some of the top lessons you’ve learned about human beings during your travels? What about yourself?
The overwhelming majority of people in the world are good, so don’t inform an opinion from the news. For myself I’ve learned that change is a continual and necessary process, but I still resist it.
6. After flying to Dublin in 2002, you maxed out your credit card to purchase a laptop. What was your thought process behind making this leap of faith? Were you worried things not working out for you? If so, how did you deal with this fear?
At that point I felt I had nothing to lose. I had a one year work visa in Ireland, and I was prepared to stay for the year, save money, and work on making a business online.
I had no idea how any of it was going to work out. At that point I was so unsatisfied working in boring temp jobs, so anything was better than what I was doing.
7. You have witnessed digital nomad lifestyle rising. How do you see the next 10 years of this lifestyle movement? What kind of impact will it have on the world?
Remote working will become more common. There is still a mindset with traditional office-based businesses that an employee should be in the office. Working remotely will become more acceptable as businesses realise they can hire people who they can trust to work at home and get the job done. This will also benefit the business as they will not have to rent a bigger office space. With more people working remotely, coworking spaces will become more widespread.
Digital nomadism will become more diverse as well. A typical nomad blog is of a young western guy, but in the last year I have seen more blogs by Indian, Turkish, and Indonesian bloggers, to name but a few.
8. Where do you turn to for business advice or mindset shifts when you’re so far into the game? What books, forums, or people do you like to follow?
There isn't one person or group in particular that I follow. Instead, I have finely tuned who I follow on social media, so the most important articles of the day rise to the top of my feed. For forums check out nomadlist for getting started, and DynamiteCircle for private membership discussion. I also keep a comprehensive digital nomad resources page which lists all the nomad-related sites.
9. What’s your top advice to people that also want to become digital nomads?
Many people confuse digital nomadism with remote working (i.e. not working in an office). You have to ask yourself what part of being a digital nomad appeals to you - the travel/living abroad aspect, or not working in an office.
You don’t have to sell everything you own and travel permanently to be a digital nomad. I would recommend go on a test run first. Keep your home and go on a holiday somewhere, and try out the working travel lifestyle. You might find that you that working and travel is not for you, but at least you didn’t throw everything away in the process of finding out.
Initially I found that having a home base worked well for me. When I started out I went back to my home city of Melbourne and rented a place there with some friends. I would travel for half the year while keeping my base in Melbourne. I rented that place for nine years and would come and go throughout the year. I had a few years where I would spend 4-5 months in Europe, and then return for the Australian summer.
After that I went full-time nomad in 2009 and I have had no permanent base since. This was around the time I started Nomadic Notes.
10. Is there any projects, ideas or advice you’d like to share with our readers here today?
If you are interested in becoming a digital nomad but don’t know where to start, the first question to ask is what you can do for work or a business that can be done online. If you don’t have a skill set, learn one in your after work hours.
I would also suggest starting a blog. Even if you don’t have a business idea, blog about ideas. Learning to write well is a great skill to have, and you never know what connections you will make online. I've met so many people and made business connections that I would not have happened if I didn’t have a blog.
James Clark is a digital nomad pioneer and an entrepreneur who runs a travel media business. You can read his personal blog at www.nomadicnotes.com and his free guide to starting and running a travel blog at www.travelbloggersguide.com. You can also follow him in Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.