Quit Your 9-to-5 and Travel – These People Did

Three digital nomads reveal the good and the bad about their inspiring, globe-trotting lifestyles.
Benny Lewis, blogger at Fluent in three months at the Great Wall of China
Benny on the Great Wall of China © Benny Lewis
By Alison Mann

Giving up the ol' 9-to-5 grind and figuring out a way to make enough money traveling the world is certainly a scenario that more than a few of us have fantasized about. For most of us, however, it remains a dream, tucked away in a distant corner of our "someday" plans. For a few people, though, this is reality.

Enter the digital nomads — people who have shed their fixed address, steady income and familiar life to travel the world and work for themselves while they’re at it. They took the plunge and made the dream a reality. We're not saying it was easy, but sometimes taking the first step is actually the hardest part.

We met three inspiring people who did manage to make the move to life on the road, and the following is what they had to say about their lifestyle.

Jodi Ettenberg, the Legal Nomads blogger on her travels around the world
Jodi on her travels © Jodi Ettenberg

The travelers

Jodi Ettenberg runs the blog Legal Nomads, wrote the book "The Food Traveler's Handbook" and works as a food writer and speaker. Formerly a lawyer, she saved up while working in a New York City firm before traveling initially for one year. She left in 2008 and is still traveling.

Gigi Griffis runs the blog The Ramble and has published a series of "Unconventional Travel Guides" using useful tips from locals. Working in a stressful job as a content strategist and copywriter, she decided to quit her job and built her freelance business for a year. She then took off to travel and has been doing so for three-and-a-half years. She travels with her dog, Luna.

Benny Lewis runs the blog Fluent in Three Months that attracts over 1 million visitors per month. He also wrote a best-selling book with the same name, which is sold across the world in multiple languages. After graduating in electrical engineering in Ireland he interned in Spain, fell in love with the country, learned the language and sparked a passion for travel and languages.

Travel author and blogger Gigi Griffis with her dog Luna in Slovenia
Gigi with her dog Luna in Slovenia © Gigi Griffis

What's the lifestyle like?

What they have in common is a passion for travel and an appreciation of the freedom the lifestyle gives. "The flexibility is the best part," Ettenberg explains. "If friends go to certain places then I can go hang out with them, or if a family member is ill I can go and spend quality time with them I wouldn’t get otherwise.

"I’m doing something I care about. The money is definitely different to being a lawyer and has a degree of uncertainty, but I love that I’m doing something that makes more of a difference in people’s lives than the type of law I was doing previously."

Jodi Ettenberg, the Legal Nomads blogger in Saigon
Jodi hangs out in Saigon © Jodi Ettenberg

How do they choose locations?

That flexibility is great, but with a whole world of places to choose to explore, it must be difficult to choose, right? These three tend not to plan too far in advance and all have unique ways of choosing their next location.

Speaking 12 languages and having created a successful business and book from that, you’d think Lewis would pick a language and travel to learn. That isn’t the case, however; he needs to be inspired by the country rather than the language.

“People always told me to go to China and learn Mandarin, but I didn’t care about that challenge," Lewis says. "Then I met people from Taiwan while traveling and they were so nice and told me so many interesting things that I decided to go to Taiwan and learn Mandarin in three months.”

Travel author and blogger Gigi Griffis with monkey during her travels
Gigi Griffis makes a friend © Gigi Griffis

For Griffis, her work definitely helps her decide. “The books help decide where to go. I realized that when I write these guidebooks, that to sell them I need to write about the place I visited in magazines or on the blog," she says. "So I tend to go back to the place in order to sell the book.”

And with a passion for food, Ettenberg certainly follows her stomach, especially to countries where she can eat celiac-friendly food and at the same time allow others to face less uncertainty abroad.

Benny Lewis, blogger at Fluent in three months at the Taj Mahal
Banny visits the Taj Mahal © Benny Lewis

Finding a routine can be difficult

And the bad points? It can’t all be fun and adventure when living your life as a nomad. Ettenberg says the uncertainty that comes with being an entrepreneur can be difficult, as well as trying to make close relationships. They all agree that finding a routine takes work, but believe it can be done.

With over 20 years of combined traveling among them, it’s a lifestyle that obviously works for them and has allowed them to build successful businesses at the same time.

Jodi Ettenberg, the Legal Nomads blogger enjoying the sunset in Wadi Rum, Jordan
Jodi enjoys the Wadi Rum sunset © Jodi Ettenberg

"I think this is the way the future is going."

As #digitalnomad pops up on social media more and more, it would seem that there are more people taking up this lifestyle. “I think this is the natural way things are going," says Lewis. "Many jobs are now possible entirely on a computer. [They don't] require you to be present. If you can work from home, that home could be anywhere, so I’ve seen more people transition in recent years. It was very different in the early years. Sometimes I struggled just to find an Internet cafe to work from, now there’s Wi-Fi everywhere so it’s easier!”

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