Guest post by: Grace Austin Extreme Nomads
My secondary school English teacher was a riot of a fella; intelligent, totally hilarious, but with a temper that’d turn you into a puff of smoke if you dared cross him on a bad day. When all is said and done though, he was a phenomenal teacher — no less for the fact that he used to impart some of life’s most valuable lessons on us through old episodes of The Simpsons.
Remember that one where Homer goes:
“…and I gave that man directions, even though I didn’t know the way! ‘Cuz that’s just the kinda guy I am.”
There’s plenty to be said about implicitly trusting the wisdom of a beer-guzzling, donut-munching, yellow cartoon character, but ask me (or my English teacher) and I say Homer Simpson spits truth.
In this case though, I’m not here to give anyone directions to becoming location independent — because honestly, I don’t know the right way. If you’re after a practical guide on becoming a digital nomad, this ain’t your glass slipper (though there are plenty of blogs out there that can help you with this — including Local Nomads who have been kind/insane enough to host this post).
What I can offer you, though, is
a packet of biscuits and a can of Club Orange a ridiculous story about the ups and downs of moving towards a life of location independence.
But first… who the hell even is Grace Austin?
Existentialism aside… That’s me! Grace. I’m ½ of the travel blog Extreme Nomads. Along with my partner Jim, we create content about action sports and outdoor adventures around the world — like kitesurfing in China and hiking the hills of Ireland.
Before I got into the blogging game in 2017, I was making my way as a freelance writer whilst travelling full time through East and Southeast Asia (sometimes supporting myself with other jobs like bartending in an Irish pub TEFL teaching a herd of rowdy Chinese children… which was oddly similar to what it was like in the Irish pub after 2am).
While in Asia, I also had the real pleasure of working as part of the Kiteboard Tour Asia’s media team. We toured around the continent covering the official championships in places like Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Singapore. My role was TV presenter, blogger, and a member of their documentary production team (we now have three feature length docs out on broadcast telly — and a new one in the works!).
Fingers in many pies, my fine feathered friend… But — for fear of stumbling into cliché land — it didn’t come easy. Or quickly. Or in any sort of organised, planned, or otherwise adult fashion.
The early days
My journey to location independence was about as straightforward as a Stephen Hawking book. It involved jobs quit in a fiery wrath, denial of visas, and heeeella lotta time spent below the breadline. Weirdly enough, location independence wasn’t ever even a goal of mine (err, mostly because I literally didn’t know it was a thing. Like, why don’t they tell you this at careers day?!).
Roll back the years and you’ll see me panic choosing a college course RIGHT before the cut-off date for applications — International Commerce and Chinese Studies. Naturally, my thinking was a little less “this is a wise decision; the Chinese economy is booming and my skills as a graduate will be in high demand” and a little more “free year-long trip to Shanghai in third year?! Woohoo!!!”.
Homer Simpson would have been proud.
From college to “the real world”… *gulp*
After four years of heavy boozing and light studying (we’re not known for our studiousness, us Irish college kids) I miraculously made it out the other side with a diploma in hand. I had grand ideals. Big, humanitarian ones. I wanted to hop right out of my graduation hat and into a job at Amnesty (I had just done my biggest term paper on the Uighurs in Xinjiang and was completely riled up over it).
Thing is, Ireland was smack dab in the middle of the recession at this point and unemployment was the highest it’d been in decades. I couldn’t get a job packing bags at the supermarket — nevermind anything else.
So I packed it in, and packed up for China. I applied last minute to a company seeking TEFL teachers, got my certification with an online course, and by the end of the month I was the waijiao (that’s ‘foreign teacher’ in Mandarin) for 50-ish little rascals.
Launching into location independence
A practical note:
English teaching can be an excellent way of getting yourself out into the world and on a path towards permanent travel and/or location independence. Indeed, teaching isn’t for everyone (gotta mom y’all for a sec: it is important to consider whether or not you’re going to be able to take it seriously enough to really be a valuable supporter and educator for your future would-be students) but TEFL teaching can be a super experience for anyone — particularly those of you wondering how best to kick off a new life abroad. Typically, schools will provide you with a visa, flights, and accommodation — as well as a work contract — meaning you’ll have all the necessities to get started in a new place.
In my case, I stayed with this school for a couple of years. Like many teaching jobs in Asia, this one was part time — so I had tons of spare hours and days to pursue other things.
I started kitesurfing. I started a personal blog. I wangled my way into swapping blog posts for kite lessons. As serendipity would have it, the owner of the regional kitesurfing championships came across the blogs I had been writing for this obscure kite school in China, and asked me if I’d be down for doing the same for them. Ka-ching, first paying client!
Onwards and upwards
Personal circumstances led me away from China after 2 years, but luckily my job with the KTA had opened up a ton of connections, work-wise. I went on to work (briefly) in Hong Kong with a big kite company as part of their media team; I co-directed a kitesurfing documentary for broadcast TV; and I started to develop an inkling that I might be able to get away with doing this full time.
I started an Upwork profile — ugh, it’s one of the best and worst things I’ve ever done. It’s no joke dealing with the cowboy clients on there who want to pay you $5 for a 1,000 word article; but it was also the place I ended up scoring a couple of my first amazing clients who showed me the ropes of SEO, copywriting, consumer behaviour, content marketing, and how to write stories that stick.
Eventually, I had enough experience behind me that I was able to dump Upwork — more or less for good (admittedly it’s kinda like the ex-boyfriend I know I shouldn’t go back to but I do anyway when I’m lonely and have had too many glasses of wine).
Psst: if you’re wondering if freelancing on sites like Upwork is a good idea for you, I’d encourage you to read this article on where to find the best (and worst) writing clients, as recommended by some pro freelance writers.
Where are we at now?
Since then, I’ve been lucky AF to live in Vietnam, Thailand (where I met my Frenchman Jimbo, the other and possibly better half of Extreme Nomads), and back in Ireland — where I haven’t been in many years. This was all made possible by the location independence that I happily/haphazardly stumbled into.
And while some couples have babies, we have a blog (both constantly require attention and changing, though to be fair ours hasn’t ever experienced explosive diarrhea… yet). Blogging full time is super challenging; I honestly didn’t have any idea how much work it’d be when we started, though I’m grateful for my absolute naivety because if I’d know how hard it’d be I probably would never have got off the starting block.
But now that I’m knee deep in it, I know this is the lifestyle I want to pursue.
Location independence and passive income models are freeing — of your time, where you spend it, and who with.
It ain’t the easy way, and I can’t promise you there won’t be days when you want to throw your laptop out the window and eat ice cream from the tub while crying, but I can promise you it’ll be worth it if you stick around long enough to make it work.
If you’ve got any questions about becoming location independent — or, yenno… kitesurfing, dating French people, and how not to get a job at Amnesty International — hit me up with a comment below or on Facebook or Instagram).
Hi! I’m Grace — freelance writer & content creator for the outdoor travel industry. I spent the past few years living in China, Vietnam, and Thailand working as a blogger, TV presenter, and documentarist. These days you can find me Europe-side scouting out the best outdoor adventures Ireland has to offer — and drinking ALL the wine. Obviously.
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Such an amazing story. I’ve started as an English teacher in Vietnam but ended up starting my own digital marketing agency. Currently, traveling full-time while working remotely. My base is Da Nang, Vietnam. If you ever pass through Da Nang, hit me up. Cheers! 🙂
Thanks, Antonio! We’ll be passing through Da Nang in a couple of weeks, actually. We’re in digital marketing too. Let’s meet up for a chat!
Sure sure. I’ll be here till the end of this month. 🙂