‘Life isn’t just about money’: 5 digital nomads on following their dreams, and the liberation of working where and when they want

“I started off working in IT, but most of the time in customer support you are dealing with complaints so after a while I decided to make a move,” says Wu, who is currently based in Phi Phi, east of Phuket, in Thailand. “I’d got into diving in Canada, so that was the logical next step.”

I’d met people who had been travelling for months or years at a time, who were really experiencing the places they visited in-depth. I wanted the same
Hongkonger Jessica Tsang, currently in Kaohsiung, Taiwan

Having gained his Padi instructor’s qualification, he moved back to the warmer climes of Asia, where his fluency in English, Thai, Cantonese and Mandarin Chinese granted access to a broad range of students.

Underwater photography became another string to his bow, and he has travelled around much of Australia and Southeast Asia, diving – a business he cultivates online – teaching remotely and snapping pictures that he sells to the likes of the BBC and that have won awards (among them, those from the reFocus Colour Photography Contest and Ocean Art underwater photography competition).

While the Covid-19 pandemic put a stop to the flood of international clients, Wu – who was based in Phuket at the time – was able to keep his business going thanks to clients living in Thailand.

“Working in IT was great, and I was earning maybe about 10 times what I earn now, but life isn’t just about money,” says Wu. “With a laptop and a connection and my cameras I can work pretty much anywhere I want, and I’m planning to hit Egypt, the Galapagos and the Seychelles next.

2. Geneva Golamco

“Damn, but life’s good!”

For Geneva Golamco, the route to digital nomadism was a realisation that she was genetically suited to being what she describes as “location independent”.

After a four-day trip to Hanoi, in Vietnam, she decided she wanted to see more of the country, returning to motorbike the 350km Ha Giang loop, which weaves its way through the mountains near the Chinese border.

Geneva Golamco in Hanoi, having taken a one-way ticket to Vietnam from Manila in 2019. After two years there she headed for Peru and Colombia. Photo: Instagram/@thatgirlgenx

Geneva Golamco in Hanoi, having taken a one-way ticket to Vietnam from Manila in 2019. After two years there she headed for Peru and Colombia. Photo: Instagram/@thatgirlgenx

“There was no single thing that spurred the move, but rather a collection of incredible experiences,” says the 29-year-old graphic designer. “My parents were a bit worried initially, especially as they come from a generation that has not travelled so much, but they’ve just accepted that my independent nature is a part of who I am and have always been utterly supportive.

“To start off with, I lived in Tay Ho, nearby Hanoi’s Old Quarter, but by 2021 I was craving a change of scenery, so I moved to Da Nang.

“It’s no problem working while you’re travelling, and I love having complete control over my time.”

The long-term plan is to travel as much as possible, but slow down a bit
Alesha Bradford who, with partner Jarryd Salem, has been on the road for 15 years

After the best part of two years adjusting to life in Vietnam and working for a variety of clients online, Golamco looked for new horizons.

Eventually she settled on Peru and Colombia, not least because they offered Philippine passport holders three-month visa-free stays, although she still had to jump through a series of Covid-19 hoops.

“I travelled to Bogota and Medellin, in Colombia, as well as Lima, in Peru. The cost of living was low, getting on the net was easy, but what I liked the most about these two countries was the uniqueness of their culture.

“The locals were incredibly warm and always up for a good time. The fact that they were on a whole new continent made the adventure all the more thrilling.

Geneva Golamco in Boracay. She recently moved to another Philippine Island, Siargao. Photo: Instagram/@thatgirlgen

Geneva Golamco in Boracay. She recently moved to another Philippine Island, Siargao. Photo: Instagram/@thatgirlgen

“As a woman, solo travel brings me fun, liberation, excitement and adventure, but I always remain cautious,” says Golamco.

“Living out of a small bag is my speciality, I’m careful to set myself a clear work schedule – and stick to it – and money is not really a great concern as I travel at a gentle pace rather than rushing and try and live as local as possible.”

3. Jessica Tsang

It didn’t take much to persuade Jessica Tsang to pack her bags and head into the wide blue yonder from her home in Tsuen Wan, Hong Kong.

“I’d travelled before – amazing places like Turkey and Nepal – but only for a few weeks at a time, and it almost felt like I was working my way through a checklist,” says the 24-year-old product designer.

“I’d met people who had been travelling for months or years at a time, who were really experiencing the places they visited in-depth. I wanted the same.”

Jessica Tsang in Turkey. It didn’t take much to persuade Jessica Tsang to pack her bags and head into the wide blue yonder from her home in Tsuen Wan, Hong Kong. Photo: Jessica Tsang

Jessica Tsang in Turkey. It didn’t take much to persuade Jessica Tsang to pack her bags and head into the wide blue yonder from her home in Tsuen Wan, Hong Kong. Photo: Jessica Tsang

Late last year, Tsang moved to Taiwan. She is currently based in Kaohsiung, working on designing an app interface.

“As long as I have a laptop and a connection, I can work here just as well as I could in Hong Kong, where I was employed by a start-up,” she says. “My Mandarin is fluent, so there are no problems with communication, and people here are willing to talk to you, assist when you need help and even share their food.

“I can handle money matters online and with a credit card, and video-call friends and family to stay in touch.

“Being a digital nomad can be challenging at times – some places I really loved and met fantastic people, others were disappointing, so I need to manage my expectation of the place and try to fit in – but I don’t regret my decision to follow my dream for an instant.”

4 and 5. Jarryd Salem and Alesha Bradford

Poster boy and girl for star-studded digi­tal nomadic success are Australians Jarryd Salem and Alesha Bradford – aka Jazza and Lesh – who hit the road in 2008 and, having built up a business as professional photographers, continue to pummel it with gusto: they were surfing in the Solomon Islands when interviewed for this article.

Digital nomads Alesha Bradford and Jarryd Salem have travelled across vast swathes of Asia and Europe, much of the Americas and Africa and both the Arctic and Antarctica. Photo: Alesha Bradford

Digital nomads Alesha Bradford and Jarryd Salem have travelled across vast swathes of Asia and Europe, much of the Americas and Africa and both the Arctic and Antarctica. Photo: Alesha Bradford

To start with, they sold pictures from where they’d travelled. Now, they sometimes also get commissions from clients such as National Geographic, Lonely Planet, The Washington Post and CNN.

The pair have travelled across vast swathes of Asia and Europe, much of the Americas and Africa and both the Arctic and Antarctica. During the pandemic, they bought a camper van and toured Australia.

“Some of the happiest days of our lives were spent being dirt poor, eating crackers and sleeping inside our van,” says Bradford, 38.

Jarryd Salem and Alesha Bradford outside the camper van they bought to tour their native Australia. Photo: Instagram/@nomadasaurus

Jarryd Salem and Alesha Bradford outside the camper van they bought to tour their native Australia. Photo: Instagram/@nomadasaurus

Serendipity has been the leitmotif of the couple’s travelling – a decision to go to Africa morphed into a plan to make their way from Cape Town to Thailand without taking a single flight.

“There wasn’t any real reason for this overland adventure other than it sounded like a fun challenge,” says Salem, 36, “and we were drunk at the time.”

A trip to Hong Kong in 2015 ranks high among the globetrotting pair’s memories. “We stayed for just over two weeks – we knew the city and food scene would be magnificent, but had no idea just how stunning the nature would be,” says Bradford.

“A highlight was the MacLehose Trail and camping on the beaches, which were more beautiful than we ever imagined.”

Salem and Bradford on the “plank walk” on Huashan in China. The hike up the mountain is known as the most dangerous in the world. Photo: Jarryd Salem and Alesha Bradford

Salem and Bradford on the “plank walk” on Huashan in China. The hike up the mountain is known as the most dangerous in the world. Photo: Jarryd Salem and Alesha Bradford

Mainland China, where the pair spent four months, proved a tougher gig, as Salem explains, “especially the more remote we went, but we expected this as we were travelling around, so made concessions accordingly, using Pleco, the Chinese language app, and maxing out time whenever there was a good connection.

“Our images from China and Hong Kong ended up with BuzzFeed, Yahoo!, CNN and News.com.au.”

Is there no end to the nomad trail?

“The long-term plan is to travel as much as possible, but slow down a bit,” says Bradford. “We’ve recently built a home on Magnetic Island, near the Great Barrier Reef, in Australia, and this is the first time we’ve had a real base in our 15 years being on the road.

“We’re loving having a wonderful community to return to and recharge between adventures.”

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