In this interview series we share the stories of real Digital Nomad Girls who’ve all created a life of travel and freedom and who have joined the Digital Nomad Girls Retreats. Nothing is as inspiring as meeting real people living the life that you’re dreaming of. Find out how they did it!
This week we meet Digital Nomad Girl Nives, a food blogger and online entrepreneur from Austria.
1. Introduce yourself! Where are you from, how old are you (if we may ask 🙂 and where are you currently living?
I am Nives, 33 years old, originally from Austria and currently living in the city of Hamburg, Germany.
2. What is your location independent job?
I am a food blogger and online entrepreneur. I work on multiple projects I am passionate about, which are all related to my food blog. At the moment, I am focused on my paleo online course for women. Further, I am also building a business, where I am helping other bloggers to monetize their blog and existing content.
3. We met at the DNG Retreat in Las Palmas, yay! What made you join the retreat?
I was just starting out with my new passion project and curious about finding like-minded women to learn from each other and get inspired. Additionally, it was taking place in Gran Canaria which I wanted to visit anyway. The Canary Islands are one of my favourite places in the world so far!
4. What did you get out of the retreat? What was your favourite part?
Honestly I didn’t know what to expect at all. There were even times when I was a little nervous about what to expect in these ten very intense days. After all you are not only working with each other, you are also living with each other. At this point I did not know any of the other women. But the schedule was so well balanced that I always had “my own me time” if I had wished so.
Jenny made it really easy for everyone to get to know each other. She (together with some helping hands) arranged a super nice Welcome Party where we all had Sangria and snacks and could chat a little bit. After that we went to a nice tapas place together, where we could talk even more. And on the next day we already had our first hike together and spent the whole day in the most beautiful surrounding without any pressure and workload. That really helped a lot to adjust.
What I liked most, regarding the content, was the Mastermind sessions. Everybody got their own 30 Minutes of concentrated know-how and expertise of everyone. Every single Mastermind was very helpful for my own progress, too.
That leads me to the thing I benefited most from: the diversity of the group. Not only the different ages (from 23 to 49), nationalities(from Sweden to the US) and occupations: but the different stages of their lives and businesses, some of them still in a full time 9-5, others full time travellers and digital business experts, other ones working remotely in a full time job and some, like me, just started out with their full time self-employment. That was so refreshing and inspiring, also to see that we all have the same fears and passions, some of us already went through that exact stage that somebody else is experiencing right now. And even the oldest could learn something from the youngest, and even the long time business women could learn something from the “newbies”.
I believe that everybody learned so much in those ten days, for me I could not be more thankful to everything I experienced in this retreat. At the end, my brain really hurt, because I got so much input. I needed some time to process all of that. I am glad that I used that kind of vibe and motivation for my own purpose. So I just kept going after coming home and executed everything we discussed before. That way I could not fall into the trap of overthinking again. I just did it. That was the kick in the ass I really needed at that moment.
The girls who lived with each other in the same house obviously spent a lot of time together. For that reason we bonded very quickly. After the 10 days I really had the feeling I knew everybody quite well and found some real lasting friendships.
5. Who would benefit from joining a DNG retreat?
Everyone who wants to become a digital worker, remote worker, entrepreneur, full time traveller or digital nomad and of course, all “free spirits” who’d like to experience something new and want to make new friends.
6. What has happened since the retreat?
I made the crucial steps to monetize my food blog. After the retreat I promoted my online course and set it up during the process. Now we are already in the second round and you can enroll into my five-day free paleo hero course again here.
I think I wouldn’t have been brave enough to do that before the retreat, but I saw that other people have done the same successfully. And I learned exactly what and how I was supposed to do it. I finally achieved momentum to get things going instead of overthinking everything. For example, I’ve had a business idea for two years now and I finally made some steps towards it. Also, I am participating in digital masterminds with the women from the last retreats on a weekly base so we are accountable for each other and get even more inspiration and expertise and different point of views.
7. How did you get started with your location independent job/business? How can others do the same?
I used to work full time as an IT project manager what was already a job in the digital business. Besides that I tried to grow my food blog in the evenings. It worked out quite well in the beginning, but turned out not to be very sustainable in the long run. When I recognised that I could not manage to do both of it besides each other, I quit my job and went for the “risky” but free life I have now.
8. What made you pursue a life as a Digital Nomad?
I was always a traveller and a free spirit. When I started corporate life I recognised very soon that this is not for me. I was always feeling on missing out on something, chained to that office desk. I felt squeezed in that 9 to 5 daily business. But I felt that I have to do that, have to live that life everybody tells you that “this is the way” doing it.
After two years at my first job I quit and did a world trip (this was already my second one). At this time I had already heard about the term ‘digital nomad’ and wanted to start my blog while travelling. That plan didn’t work out at all, as my boyfriend and I changed destinations every other day. Half a year later we settled in Hamburg and I decided to give it another try in the corporate world. I also needed money after the world trip, as you can imagine. So I started over again in Germany this time, thinking I would like it better in a start up company. For one year I could manage to build my blog in the evenings, after work. But working in a start up company means not having much time for yourself so this didn’t last very long. After a year I was so tired in the evenings that I could not do anything besides watching TV and going to bed early. That was definitely not the life I had imagined for myself. My boyfriend convinced me to go for at least two full years in the company what I did. Eventually I quit my job on the very last day of these two years (again) and started my own business.
I would not consider myself as a “real” digital nomad, since I still have a homebase here in Hamburg and in Austria. But it gives me that kind of freedom that I could go anywhere anytime without having to get another job. I just love the freedom of taking my work with me, even if I am in Gran Canaria for a couple of weeks.
9. Did your friends/family/colleagues think you’ve gone crazy? Were they supportive?
With most people I don’t like to talk about it, because I can feel their lack of understanding. Especially older people mostly don’t really get it. That’s why I couldn’t even tell my grandmother that I quit my job. She would be so concerned.
But even people in my age couldn’t believe that I quit a safe, good paying job “for nothing”. I guess they don’t take me very seriously. That was another reason why I loved the retreat so much. Finally, I was with people who were as “crazy” as I am.
10. What do you struggle with most when you travel and work?
Real work and real travelling at the same time is not possible in my current state as I am building something from scratch. I guess it is getting easier as soon as I can automate stuff. At the moment, I have real difficulties getting in to my daily routines again as soon as I am changing my destination. The longer I am staying at one place, the more productive I am.
11. How do you connect with and meet new people while travelling?
If it is a destination where other digital nomads are based, it is really easy. You just check in to a co-working space and that’s it. I love how open digital nomads are so everybody can meet and connect to new people very soon. Especially if it is a place like Restation, where several events are hosted each week.
12. What advice would you give a girl friend who wanted to start out as a digital nomad?
I believe it is crucial to surround yourself with like-minded people and people who already live the life, you desire to live. The rest just follows. Mindset is one thing, but nothing will come from sitting at home alone.
When I feel lonely, I…
skype with someone I love.
My favourite digital nomad location is…
The one item I always pack is…
In 5 years time I want to be…
a successful online business owner and a mother, living on the Canary islands (at least during winter) and be financially free.
My favourite digital nomad tool/app/resource is…
iCloud where I have all my files on every device every time.
My all-time favourite quote is…
“Your mind is your instrument, learn to be its master and not its slave.” Remez Sasson
In our Digital Nomad Girls interview series, we feature interviews with Digital Nomad Girls from around the world with interesting location independent jobs. This month we talked to Anna who is a part time flight attendant and also creates online courses for universities.
I was born 26 years ago in Bremen, a small town in the north of Germany. After high school I was an international volunteer in Italy. Six years and 15 apartments later I moved to Frankfurt in Germany last year, where I am now based over the summer.
You work as a part-time flight attendant for an international airline. How did you get into this?
I’ve always been very passionate about the airline industry and used every opportunity I had at university to turn essays and dissertations into anything aviation related (…I am still surprised lecturers accepted essays on Airbus’ relevance to international relations).
While I was a student I took internships with Lufthansa and Air India. Even though I really enjoyed the work and had fantastic colleagues, I figured that what I loved most about working for an airline was that the planes were surprisingly far away from my 9-to-5 office job.
I was told by a colleague about the part-time flight attendant programme – six months flying and six months off – and it was just the perfect fit for my situation. I went through the assessment centre and started the 12-week training course in January last year.
What do you like about the job?
It probably goes without saying that the opportunity to go to places like Buenos Aires, Los Angeles or Tokyo for 48 hours at a time is a major perk of the job. It gives you a great insight into the dynamics and culture of a country and more often than not leaves you craving to travel there for longer.
However, what I really like about the job, apart from the planes and the cheap travel opportunities that come with working for an airline (yes, we get discounts), is the diversity of people you meet, from colleagues to passengers. You get to know incredibly impressive and inspiring people you would probably have never spoken to otherwise, especially not in a 9-to-5 office setting where you have the same colleagues every day.
In an office, everyone has a certain role (e.g., the funny one, the organizer, the one looking after everyone else, etc.), but working as a flight attendant your crew is always different. When you meet your colleagues at the briefing, everyone is motivated to work together as a team and you have the opportunity to adapt to the team dynamic differently, which is nice.
You also create online courses location independently. Please tell us a bit about that.
I love the internet and have always liked the idea of learning online, but I realised the potential of e-learning when I spent time in India two years ago.
I learned about a part-time degree that the University of Edinburgh offers after I graduated with an MA in 2015. I signed up and learned more about the power and impact of online courses and intranet structures, and also about the fact that it seemed to be pretty much every university’s and company’s weak spot.
I got talking with people and got an incredible amount of response from people who needed help. I am currently finishing off my MSc in Digital Education to have more academic proof that I know what I am doing. People love (and pay for) formal qualifications.
How do you juggle all these different jobs and travel at the same time?
A big portion of sacrifice and self-discipline I think. Also embracing 80/20 (haha). I used to be a perfectionist/borderline workaholic. Travelling cured this by showing me that there are other things to enjoy apart from living in the library or taking work home from the office.
I use RescueTime to track how much time I spend on certain things and I am a big fan of the Pomodoro Technique. I know that I only work well under a lot of pressure, so I consciously ask for tight deadlines, and I make sure to be in one place for two or three days before that.
However, I don’t want this to come across as work just dropping into my lap, I do translating on the side and am also very fortunate that my flight attendant salary is paid 50% the whole year. Having a base salary to live off(-ish) definitely helps me to pick out only the good work and say no to other things.
What made you pursue a life as a Digital Nomad?
It wasn’t really a conscious decision, but more a gradual process of me using opportunities to move around as much as I can.
I first realised that living abroad wasn’t too bad during a high school year in Quebec. After I finished school, I moved to Rome for a year and started living out of a suitcase while most of my friends back home started buying furniture and signing long-term leases. I then went to Edinburgh to study. During my MA in International Business Management and French I did an Internship in China, two in different cities in Germany, spent a year in France, and went onto a study-abroad programme in India.
So, I was already moving apartments and countries roughly two to three times a year and knew it was not a bad way to live at all. The only thing that has changed with becoming a part-time flight attendant is that I now actually own a bed, desk and wardrobe because it is much harder to find furnished flats in Germany, and that I move locations more often than I used to in winter (which gives you a lot more flexibility – yay).
Did your friends/family/colleagues think you’d gone crazy? Or were they supportive?
I can say without batting an eyelid that my parents and brother are the most supportive people I know and I’m very thankful for that. Especially for my mother – I think it’s often not easy to know where I am and what I do. Travelling as a girl, especially alone, is probably not a mum’s favourite activity for their daughter. But both of my parents love travelling and she probably did more dangerous things when she was young.
I use TripCase to keep them updated wherever I am, and I provide phone numbers of people I am with or I know in the area just in case. I frequently share photos on telegram/whatsapp/polarsteps, which they really enjoy.
When it comes to friends, I know that I can not always be the best friend one would wish for, because I am just not there, but with the technology we have, hopefully I am only a message away. It helps that many of my friends have quite an international make-up, so they understand.
What is your favourite city/country/beach/mountain destination to work?
I think I already established that airplanes are my number one happy place, and I have always worked best at the airport and on airplanes (as a passenger that is).
The best thing that can happen to me when I have a lot of work to do is a long distance flight and an outlet at the seat. I just find it really easy to get in the zone, and there are no distractions (although now that more and more airlines offer wifi, it’s more tempting to just start surfing).
In terms of cities, I have recently been to Penang, Chiang Mai (obviously…) and Ho Chi Minh City, and I loved them. They have lots of cafés that tolerate people sitting around with their laptops for an eternity. The closer the deadline is, the more able I am to work anywhere.
What do you struggle with most when you travel and work?
I am sure that every DNG can relate, it requires a lot of sacrifice and a big portion of discipline. Sometimes you spend days in a beautiful location when all you do is stare at your computer and sit in coffee shops and feel like you don’t really live up to either your work or cultural immersion standards.
A major struggle I have is being with people who are ‘just travelling’, because I’m not a backpacker. I sometimes get tired of having to explain why I am not going out/joining the trip to XYZ/staying in a quiet place because I am working and not just on holiday. It obviously mostly annoys me because I wish I could go out (haha).
How do you connect with and meet new people while travelling?
This sounds pretty boring, but I mostly just post and update on Facebook with my next trip. I am really lucky to have incredible Facebook friends who just seem to know people everywhere.
I also try to write a newsletter that I send to a mailing list of about 150 people updating them where I am and what I do. I get an incredible amount of response for that. When they read it they put me in touch with friends/family/friends of friends they know in the area.
I also studied at quite a few international universities, so very often I get the chance to meet friends during layovers when I’m flying over summer.
What item should every Digital Nomad Girl pack? What packing tips can you share from your experience as a flight attendant?
Urgh, this is a hard one. A wifi repeater and noise cancelling headphones. Those who have seen me with wifi-rage will agree. Slow wifi connections turn me into a totally different version of myself. This repeater is also a power bank and SD storage. Noise cancelling headphones allow me to work anywhere noisy and I have a classical music playlist that I put on that helps me get in the zone (I use Bose QuietComfort, they are expensive, but really worth it).
I love it when other people share their travel hacks, so here’s some more of mine:
A major problem when I travel as a flight attendant is that I don’t have to carry luggage very often, so I just throw it all in. Unfortunately, this isn’t the DNG way. I have an Osprey Sojourn backpack that has a harness and wheels. While it looks massive (it fits 60 litres), it seriously is the best thing ever.
I really admire anyone who travels with hand luggage only, but it’s not for me. I am not a hard-core backpacker, and I carry what other people would call useless shit around just to feel at home, so my bag weighs a good 16–18kg and I am not keen to carry that on my shoulders.
In the unlikely event that I have to wade through water and scramble over shores to get to my accommodation (see photo), my pack is fantastic. The transformation from wheelie case to backpack takes about one minute if you are as unskilled as me, so you can do it quickly when queuing for a boat for instance.
I hate packing, but I also like things to be organised, so I use travel cubes (such as these ones) and an organiser for all my cables, passports, batteries, etc (like this).
I also use a battery case (like this one) for my mobile phone that stores two additional charges (great for night bus travelling, or just days of heavy phone/hotspot use with no outlet in sight – it seriously feels like being handed more lives when you just died in a computer game, minus all the cable struggles you have with power banks).
In terms of banking, I use N26 because you can do everything through the app – instant money transfers, changing pin codes, blocking cards, ordering new cards, etc. – which is so handy when you have a problem outside German office hours.
This sounds very girly, but I also always have bright lipstick with me. There are just days where you wake up and you feel like you’ve been handed a second-hand version of a day, and it’s a great ego boost. It’s also an easy way to turn what you’re wearing into an outfit if you’re going to fancier places and all you have is jeans and sneakers.
I also swear by Airborne Vitamin C effervescent tablets. Whenever I feel like I am getting the flu, I take these for a day and it’s gone (fingers crossed it stays that way). I know you can get these in the US and South Africa for sure (sometimes called Airshield, Airmune, etc.).
What advice would you give a girl friend who wanted to start out as a digital nomad?
Always have enough money tucked away to be able to buy a one-way ticket home in case shit really hits the fan. And don’t touch this money, no matter how tempting the trip to wherever might be.
And then the obvious: Being a DN is not the same as being a backpacker. It is not always fun, it takes a lot of sacrifice and means not being with family and friends for important dates. Do a dry run before you cut all ties and make sure you always have a homebase you can go back to without having to ask (parents, good friends, partner, flat in your home country, etc.).
What are your future travel plans?
Indonesia has long been on my list, but I’ll hopefully be able to work this into the current trip around SE Asia. I will be working as a flight attendant full-time over summer again and I hope to be able to go to Australia/NZ and Micronesia in autumn. A trip around Central and South America is also on the list (a significant driver of this is that I love sloths and I want to see some, not kidding).
And last: Do you have a favourite inspirational (or cheesy) quote you’d like to share?
“Things that take less than 10 minutes are to be done straight away” (one of my co-workers in Shanghai, it’s a mantra I live by as much as I can).
I also found this illustration by Mari Andrew very accurate, so I keep it as my wallpaper on my phone:
Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, has come a long way since the Rose Revolution in 2003. Overthrowing the post-Soviet government, the country started to look up to its western neighbors. Ancient architecture, a modern cultural scene, and Georgian hospitality are what make this country unique.
Tbilisi’s old town is full of narrow cobblestone lanes, reflecting its complicated history of Persian and Russian rule. The impact of these invasions is still visible present today, with the city featuring ornate art nouveau buildings alongside soviet modernist structures.
The country is becoming a popular destination for budget and adventure travelers. You can enjoy mountains, lush nature, ski resorts, underdeveloped towns and remote villages with the highest altitude settlement in Europe.
Georgia has always been a cheap destination for travelers, but the decline of the Georgian Lari against stronger currencies means that it is becoming even cheaper. At the time of writing (Feb 2017), 1 USD=2.64 GEL and 1 Euro= 2.83 GEL.
The advantages of Tbilisi for digital nomads are the affordable cost of living, moderate weather (it almost never snows in the capital, and melts within a day when it does), hot summer and a beautiful old town. The borders with Armenia and Azerbaijan are very close to Tbilisi and, since WizzAir began offering Georgian flights, it has become extremely cheap to visit Europe from Kutaisi, the former capital and second largest city in Georgia.
My favorite thing to do in Tbilisi is watch over the city from Narikala fortress at sundown.
Cost of Living
Living in Tbilisi is relatively cheap in general, but you can save even more by staying outside of the city center and living like a local. The recent devaluation of the Lari slightly raised the price of groceries, petrol, and alcohol. Yet, compared with other European or overseas cities, it is still a budget destination.
Renting an entire apartment can cost from $200, depending on the district. Prices are often quoted in US dollars and tenants are asked to pay in dollars. However, you can still find owners who ask for Lari too.
According to Airbnb, Tbilisi is the cheapest city for renting an entire apartment. And some of them are even quite cute. Prices start from $28 per night.
The cost of food will depend on the venue and how often you eat out. However, there are relatively cheap places to eat traditional and Asian cuisine. On average a person needs around 20-25 Lari ($7-9) per meal, which might include a couple of dishes and a drink.
Transportation here includes minibuses, called Marshutka, which cost 80 Tetri (29 ¢) per ride, while bus and metro rides cost 50 Tetri (18 ¢). However, if you have a MetroMoney card, you can travel by bus and metro for free for 90 minutes after buying the ticket. Paying with the card on Marshutka reduces your subsequent trips each day to 65 Tetri (24 ¢) during the day.
Best Places to Work From
Tbilisi does not have many coworking spaces as the concept is new here. For more European style coworking spaces, check out Impact Hub and Vere Loft. Both offer monthly memberships in different price ranges and diverse infrastructure. They are open 24/7. For more budget option, Generator 9.8 offers FREE working space. However, the time is limited to 10am to 7pm Monday to Saturday. In the evening, Generator 9.8 becomes an overcrowded bar full of young locals.
Cafés and restaurants have good internet speeds most of the time. Try New Mziuri café or coffee shops like Entrée or Coffeesta.
Moreover, the city has its own free WiFi, called Tbilisi Loves You. It is available in most districts and areas. The connection is not always super-fast, but it lets you catch up with friends on Facebook and Instagram, reply to emails or search for a spot on the go.
Must-see Landmarks in Tbilisi
One of the must-see sights in Tbilisi is its Old Town. Featuring Narikala fortress, sulfur baths and cobblestone narrow lanes leading to traditional brick houses with carved wooden balconies, the old town is a marvelous experience.
Narikala, located on the hill overlooking the city is an ancient symbol of Tbilisi. Constructed in the 4th century, it was once known as Invidious Fort. Locals believe that the name comes from a Persian word for the citadel, but another theory notes that in Mongolian it meant “little fortress”.
Directly below Narikala hill lies Abanotubani, a district with public bathhouses of natural sulfurous water.
This is the area where, according to legend, King Vakhtang Gorgasali’s falcon fell. This was when he discovered hot springs and founded a new capital. Tbilisi is the combination of two words, and means “warm waters”.
From here, you can stroll towards Shareni, Mambis Rigi or Rkinis Rigi streets. These pedestrian-only areas are full of cafés, bars and clubs.
Another absolute must-visit is Tbilisi’s new landmark, the Tower Clock. Every hour an angel rings the bell with a hammer, but if you’re there at noon or 7 pm, you’ll see a small puppet theater show “The Circle of Life”. Tower Clock also has a unique exterior that features hundreds of handmade tiles.
Handpicked meals from Georgian cuisine
Generally, feasts are an important custom here. Each region has its own individual meals and culinary traditions. Therefore, the cuisine here is very diverse and authentic. You should know that Georgian meals are heavy in dough, meat, and walnuts. The cuisine suits both meat lovers and vegetarians.
It goes without saying that eating a meal in the region it was originally developed is better. But don’t worry! Some places in Tbilisi still offer these authentic meals.
The number one meal favored by locals and foreigners is Khinkali, a type of meat dumpling. Khinkali have to be eaten in the right way; it has a broth inside, so you should avoid spilling this on your plate while eating. This needs a bit of practice, but you’ll get there. Vegetarians can enjoy mushroom or potato Khinkali.
Foreigners visiting Georgia are keen on vegetables in walnut sauce, and especially eggplant. For locals, walnuts play a vital role in the cuisine and can be found in almost anything, even desserts.
Spinach, bell pepper, cabbage and eggplant seasoned with walnut sauce are an essential part of Georgian cuisine and feasts. It’s found on literally every dinner table. Usually, they are prepared and served separately, but some restaurants serve them as a mixture.
Another all-time favorite is Khachapuri, a pizza-like meal full of mozzarella-like cheese. The variety changes from region to region, with one of the most distinguished from the Adjara region. Often called a “cheese boat” by visitors, the meal is unique in its shape and preparation method. After baking in a brick oven, a raw egg is cracked on top, together with a knob of butter. Like Khinkali, this meal also has its own eating method. The insides should be mixed together and bread should be dipped in the cheese.
Lastly, you should definitely try the candle-shaped Georgian snack/dessert, Churchkhela. Made of grape juice and nuts, it is a very common dessert served during Christmas in Georgia.
Important Resources you Might Need
If you plan on staying in Tbilisi for a while, you might want to get a SIM card to get a great mobile connection or call befriended locals. Magti GSM provides a great internet connection, while Geocell has better call and SMS packages.
To see what events, exhibitions, and festivals are happening in the capital, check out Tbilisi Life.
Depending on the season, Tbilisi hosts a flea market in various locations. Here you can find used clothes, handmade accessories, paintings and much more. Another event to consider visiting is a Startup Market, which helps start-up businesses to attract visitors and customers.
Tbilisi is a great up and coming destination for Digital Nomads. Have you visited or are you planning to? Please share in the comments below!
Baia is a freelance writer, travel junkie, food lover and amateur photographer. She quit her editorial job at the newspaper with a passion for doing what she loves most – traveling and writing on her personal blog Red Fedora Diary. Learn more about her adventures by following her on Facebook and Instagram
In our new blog series ‘Online Job of the Month’ we share the most interesting online jobs with you. You might think only web developers and graphic designers can be digital nomads. But there are actually a huge number of interesting (and profitable) jobs out there for aspiring Digital Nomad Girls.
This month we will tell you all about working as a Virtual Assistant. Digital Nomad Girls spoke to three girls who are successfully working as Virtual Assistants while travelling the world.
What exactly is a Virtual Assistant? What do Virtual Assistants do?
A virtual assistant is a professional who provides assistance to business owners on a virtual basis. They help to free up valuable time for their clients, for instance by supporting them with admin or online marketing tasks.
The scope of what a VA can help with is much more varied than the traditional office worker, which is perhaps one of the most beneficial and exciting aspects of this career. You can be flexible in the hours you work, the services you provide, where you work from and the clients you choose to work with. VAs can work for individuals, agencies, or other VAs (as associates), but are always self-employed or business owners. They can work from anywhere in the world, so long as there’s a stable Internet connection.
What kind of skills do I need to become a Virtual Assistant?
“There’s a huge misconception that VAs need to have extensive experience to get started. It’s true that training and tech skills would be beneficial in getting the higher paying jobs – but to start, I bet you that pretty much anyone reading this already has a skill that could be transferrable” says Hannah Dixon. “If you have some skills in any of these key areas, there are people who would pay you for those services online:”
General Administration…you could be doing: Email correspondence, producing reports, taking minutes, organizing digital assets (dropbox/google drive), data entry, invoicing, bookkeeping, diary management, travel booking
Writing…you could be doing: Blog posts, social media posts, correspondence, copywriting for sales pages, crafting recruitment ads, proofreading, ghostwriting, preparing presentations in Powerpoint, transcription, translation, copy for email marketing campaigns, press releases, SEO copywriting
Graphic Design…you could be doing: Social media graphics, logo design, web design, banners, marketing materials for print, flyers, business cards, signage for events, ebook & pdf design, preparing presentations, creating infographics
Social Media Management…you could be: Scheduling posts, running ads, community (group) engagement, strategy, creating Facebook groups/pages, managing scheduling platforms, curating and creating content, monitoring insights and stats
“Speaking a foreign language is definitely a bonus. Most of my work involves graphic design, translation, proofreading and social media management” adds Julia Neubauer from Austria, who is working as a nomadic VA in Tenerife.
To support a client’s online and cloud activity, a VA needs to have knowledge of “at least one application or platform for working with email, documents, file storage, calendar, and communications. A VA does not need to know everything, but rather know the areas they wish to work in, are good at, and enjoy” Elaine Rogers adds.
Do you need any qualifications or certificates to become a VA?
The VA industry is not regulated, so the short answer is no. However, some VAs feel more confident with a certification. Certifications in specific online tools can attract higher rates, but that is down to the individual. “A good education, excellent language and written skills, attention to detail, and a responsive nature will go a long way” Elaine shared with us.
Julia thinks “It’s essential that you’re someone who loves to learn and can be self-sufficient in learning new skills if they are needed.”
Hannah added that “the online world is ever changing. Technology, tools and programs are always being tweaked to suit the times and needs of their users. It’s pretty much your duty to stay ahead of the game to be able to set yourself apart as a VA – you can learn the basics and get by, or you can be a pioneer in the cutting edge and offer your clients the newest, coolest strategies and tools for success. You want to be pretty passionate about learning as this career will require just that.”
Where do you find jobs as a Virtual Assistant?
All three VAs we spoke to agreed on this topic. While online freelancing platforms can be a way to get a foot in the door, they warn that “there is lots of competition and hourly rates tend to be low.” They can be great for building up a portfolio of work and a small client base. After you’re comfortable, it’s definitely best to source clients yourself” said Julia. Hannah emphasised that “sites like these will not provide you the clients you really want to work for, the ones that value you and want to build a lasting relationship.“
They all agreed that using your network is key to a successful career as a VA. Elaine said “Personally, I use my own professional networks both offline (business communities from a previous profession) and online (LinkedIn and FB groups are key for me).”
Hannah says she focuses on building her network organically. “I cannot stress enough how important building true relationships with your online community is. I spent hours, weeks, months…okaaaayyy…maybe 3 years building my network and I still am. I rarely look for clients anymore, I am so well connected that I get tagged on Facebook by people I don’t even know for VA opportunities and wake up with people requesting to work with me in my messages every morning. How would that feel? To not have to even market yourself anymore?”
“It can seem impossible to find your first client” Julia adds – “but once you have a couple under your belt, you start to trust in yourself and realise that it’s actually not as hard as you first thought.”
How much can you earn as a Virtual Assistant?
As usual, when it comes to rates, it depends on the specific skills you can offer and whether they are in demand.
“A general VA can earn up to $30/hour, more if they package certain services. A specialist VA (copywriter, SM strategist, graphic designer, backend expert) can charge $50-120/hour, because of their specialty” says Elaine.
Julia agrees and adds that “an average rate for new VA’s is around £20 per hour and professional clients are more than happy to pay for quality work. It’s important not to undersell yourself! Clients will value your work much more if they pay £25 for it than £5 per hour.
Elaine points out that “pricing your skills is very important, in order to ensure you can survive on the road, or wherever you are stationed. As a gal who’s been around the block a few times, I also put certain things in place for my future, so I take that into consideration when pricing my services. You also need to be very aware to include hidden costs (taxes, social charges if applicable, overheads) as well as putting 20-30% aside for when you do stop travelling, or stop working.
If you charge $8 as a nomad, you will need to work 250 hours a month to create a turnover of $2000.”
“There are three main ways VAs price things: hourly, retainers and value-based pricing – the latter being the kind of mecca of pricing models that you can achieve only over time with experience and a deep understanding of the value and ROI you bring your clients” adds Hannah.
Is it easy to work as a VA while travelling?
Absolutely! So long as you have good internet access, a good work horse (aka laptop), and good systems in place, you’re good to go. A general rule is: The less correspondence a specific task requires, the easier it is to complete while travelling
Hannah, who is currently in Hoi An, Vietnam, adds that “providing you don’t work with clients who require you to work on their time, it can be super easy. You get to make your schedule based on the deadlines you have. So long as you meet them and are meeting your client’s expectations, you can do whatever the hell you like in your spare time.
“If you’re managing social media accounts, the time changes can be difficult – luckily there’s so much you can schedule in advance” says Julia. “It’s worth investing in a good laptop that can take the heat (in every sense!) and spare chargers, dongles, headphones and mic, and any other equipment that will make your life easier” Elaine shares.
What part of the job do you like most and which one least, and why?
All agree that they enjoy the freedom and flexibility this job offers them. “Becoming a VA has allowed me to travel and achieve what I call work-life integration. My work and play are happily intermingled, and I love it” says Elaine “I enjoy freedom of choice by being a VA – I choose my clients, how much I charge, and when I get paid. I don’t subscribe to industry standards or what is normal. I am not lucky, I have designed my work that way, and my clients respect me because I attracted them by marketing to the right types of clients.”
Of course, every job has some downsides. Ironically, Hannah dislikes the admin side of her career “doing my own paperwork sucks…I totally need a VA haha.”
This seems to be a common thread among freelancers and entrepreneurs. Elaine adds that she “does not enjoy the bureaucracy that comes with being self-employed.” Julia warns that “clients can sometimes forget that you’re not just working for them, but also for others. Each client would like their own project to be finished as soon as possible”
Hannah, who now trains others to become Virtual Assistants, shared the top soft skills she thinks clients are looking for when hiring a VA
The soft skills are really where your success lies. Here are the three most important soft skills:
Adaptability: Able to change and adapt to clients’ needs, new software and tools, time zones and a multitude of tasks that you’ll often need to figure out on the go.
Confidence: Being a VA does NOT mean you are an employee. You are a fully-fledged business owner in your own right and that means you need the gusto and confidence to ensure your clients treat you as such.
Patience: for sooo many reasons. Working with clients who don’t know their copy from their paste can be frustrating, patience and understanding goes a long way. Tech issues: they will happen! You must be prepared to deal with issues calmly and efficiently.
We hope you now have a better understanding of what a career as a VA could look like and how you can get started yourself. A HUGE thanks to our three interviewees for sharing their experience, tips and tricks with us.
If you enjoyed this post, please share it with others who might like it too!
To find out more about the girls you can find their author bios below:
Elaine Rogers is originally from Ireland and was a business coach and trainer in her previous profession. Due to her background in IT, a love of social media and WordPress, and a genuine interest in all things tech and internet, she re-invented herself as The Smart VA
Hannah Dixon from London is an adventurer extraordinaire with 8 consecutive years of travel experience. She funds her lifestyle through her ninja VA and OBM skills, serving those in the mind, body & soul industries. Her goal is to also empower other travel hungry folk, giving them the necessary skills to create their own thriving, location independent VA business.
If you feel that becoming a VA could be for you, why not join her VA Starter Kit Course where Hannah teaches you all the skills necessary to become a high-end VA! Hannah also runs her hugely popular 5-Day VA challenge, so make sure you sign up to that!
Julia Neubauer is a virtual assistant and visual artist exploring the world. You can find out more about her virtual assistance on her website Merakiva and follow her art on Instagram.
Thank you so much to all three girls who shared their experience and knowledge with us! What do you think, is a VA career the next step for you?
p.s. this post contains affiliate links which means I get a small commission if you purchase a service through my links at no extra cost to you. I only recommend services I’ve tested myself and I know will be helpful for my readers.
In our Digital Nomad Girls interview series we feature interviews with Digital Nomad Girls from around the world with interesting location independent jobs.
This month we talked to Kay Fabella, brand storyteller and communication strategist.
Hi there, I’m Kay, a Filipina-American expat entrepreneur based in Madrid. I have an ongoing love affair with Spain, my Spanish husband, and Sriracha. And I not-so-secretly wish my life was a musical.
What is your location independent job?
I am a brand storyteller and communication strategist. I help businesses to stand out with their story, to meaningfully connect with their customers, and boost their revenue through targeted online communication strategies.
We’d love to hear your story! How did you get into professional storytelling?
When a work contract fell through with no warning, I had to reinvent myself… fast!
I had always loved communication, languages, and helping people connect. So I looked into Master’s degrees in online marketing. But all of the Master’s degrees wanted someone with experience. And all the companies where I could get experience wanted candidates with Master’s degrees! What started as a way to build my portfolio as a freelancer to apply for a Master’s turned into my full-time business.
Now, I help solopreneurs to Fortune 500 companies in English and Spanish. I was also published as a storytelling expert in the Huffington Post and in El País, the largest Spanish language newspaper in the world.
What advice do you have for others? How can we use stories to help us in business?
Too many entrepreneurs I see focus on “how I sell my thing” rather than “how I can be of service.” It comes across as too pushy, too aggressive, and ultimately ends up being disastrous for their business.
No matter what industry you’re in, you have to communicate what you do in a way that connects with, convinces, and converts your audience into customers. And sharing stories is a great way to do that.
In the age of the social media, people care more about WHO you are + WHY you exist > WHAT you sell. So don’t be afraid to go past the shiny Instagram posts and show your human side once in a while, because that’s what people relate to most.
When everything on the market looks the same, your story is what determines if people like you, if they trust you, and, most importantly, if what you have to offer is worth their time. The decision as to whether or not they buy from you depends on how you make them feel. So if you don’t try to create an emotional connection with your audience first, you’ll never gain their permission to sell what you do.
What made you pursue a location independent life? Have you always loved travelling?
As the daughter of Filipino immigrants growing up in Los Angeles, I was exposed to many cultures at once. So I think it goes without saying that I’ve always loved travelling!
Before college, I had spent a month living in Paris and a month living in Mexico. I fell in love with the idea of travelling “deeper,” rather than checking a bunch of sights to see off a list. So I leapt at the opportunity to study abroad in Spain while at university. I came back in 2010 with the intention of staying for a year… met my now Spanish husband… and the rest is history.
I realized how lucky I was to have a business I could run from anywhere when my grandmother had her second stroke back in California in 2015. At a moment’s notice, I was able to book a flight to be with her, without having to worry about vacation days or checking with a boss.
So my idea of a location independent lifestyle has definitely evolved. I may not be a nomad moving from one country to another with my laptop. But I love that my business lets me work from wherever, especially if it’s close to the people I love.
Did your friends/family/colleagues think you’ve gone crazy or were they supportive?
I’m lucky to have an amazing support system here in Madrid, back in the US, and all over the world. And though I think my parents still don’t understand exactly what I do… they framed my El País interview even if they couldn’t understand it!
What’s been helpful is finding people who are also running online businesses, the ones who are “your kind of crazy”. Tribes like the Digital Nomad Girl group are super helpful for connecting with like-minded people who you can swap resources and experiences with!
What do you struggle with most when it comes to running your own business?
I’d have to say patience. You may have a grand vision for what you want to see happen. You may have certain expectations and objectives. But when other people, technology, and so many other factors are involved, you have to be willing to step back, reassess, and pivot if need be.
There’s a great quote by Bill Gates that really resonated with me: “We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten.”
And I couldn’t agree more. So my new personal project is learning not to let my own ambition get the better of me. It’s a very humbling exercise, but having a strong support system and team has really helped.
What item should every Digital Nomad Girl pack on her trips?
Just one? 😉
I’d have to say all the chargers and adapters for your digital gear. And a good pair of sneakers to go exploring when you turn off your laptop.
What are you up to next travel or business-wise?
I just got back from marrying my husband in San Francisco, renting a Mustang and driving down the California coast for a month!
As for my business, I launched my first online coaching program for women entrepreneurs to help them sell with confidence using their story: Move Hearts Make Profits.
What is your favourite business/travel/self-development book you’d recommend to other digital nomad girls?
I’d have to say the Suitcase Entrepreneur: Create freedom in business and adventure in life. This year, I had the pleasure of meeting the author, Natalie Sisson, who was one of the first digital marketing gurus I followed!
And last: Do you have a favourite inspirational (or cheesy) quote you’d like to share?
“Imperfect action > perfect inaction.” It’s my go-to motto whenever I’m nervous about taking a step outside of my comfort zone… as long as you’re moving, you’re learning!