There are many good reasons to become a digital nomad. Working remotely while traveling lets you chase the sunshine through the seasons and try new cuisines all over the world. For many people, living out their dreams is meaning enough. But in my case, getting closer to nature made me want to do something to protect the living world.
I didn’t set out with the aim to be a digital nomad. I just wanted to lead a simpler life. So, along with my now husband, we fitted out a Peugeot Boxer with some solar panels, a gas hob, and an almost-double bed, and we spent the next few years living in the French wilderness, moving slowly between spectacular mountain ranges.
As any van-dweller could attest to, there’s not much space for stuff when you’re living in a vehicle. You stick to what you need, and your idea of “what you need” adapts to living in a tiny space. I was doing all I could to cook from scratch to reduce waste and made a point to leave every place I parked cleaner than I found it. Ironically, I was funding this lifestyle by writing blog articles geared toward affiliate sales and it felt like my life was split between my values, choose experiences over possessions, and how I funded it, write articles that sell stuff.
Flash forward, and I'm working as a researcher and writer for an international ecological charity. I recently set down some roots in a forest in the Hautes Pyrenees, where I’m building an off-grid, self-sufficient home. My job is to teach people about biodiversity, climate, and food systems—something that terrifies and inspires me in equal measure. Aligning my work with my values has made me a happier person, but it took me a couple of years to get there.
If you're looking for a way to find more meaning in your work, here's some advice that might help.
Start With an Online Course
You don’t have to go back to school for four years to get a job that you’re passionate about. If there’s something that you're curious about, take a course on it. The more you learn about the things that genuinely excite you, the more relevant skills and knowledge you will have when the perfect opportunity presents itself.
For me, it started on a rainy day in the van watching a documentary called Kiss the Ground. It explained how farming can be changed for the good of people and the living planet and my mind was blown. So I found the organization behind the film, and discovered that they offer short courses in soil advocacy and regenerative gardening. I didn’t know what job could come out of it, but I knew I wanted to know more.
For the next six months, I took another online foundation course in soil microbiology, which meant investing in an expensive microscope and spending my days pouring over textbooks. There were times I wondered if I was wasting my time and money, but it all paid off during one fateful job interview. My interviewer turned out to be a soil scientist themselves and even though other people had more professional experience and academic achievements, my now boss told me that it was my genuine passion that set me apart.
Become an Expert in Your Niche
The more you travel, the more you and your interests will change, which is why it's important to identify the key areas to which you would like to dedicate your career. Keep tabs on the subjects that light your fire by checking the news cycle regularly, subscribing to any related magazines, and taking the time to research the niches that spark your interest.
For example, f you want to work in marine conservation, do you know the reasons why seaweed is such a promising food for the future, the role that whales play in cooling the planet, or that most of the oxygen we breathe comes from the ocean? If these kinds of things interest you, dedicate yourself to learning more about them. When you become an expert in your calling so you're the logical candidate for your dream job.
Invest in Yourself
When it comes to your own work and success, it's important to invest in the software, courses, and equipment you need to work efficiently and grow in confidence and value. That means you can be pickier about jobs and decline anything that isn't bringing you in the direction you want.
Some of my best investments were a writing masterclass and invoicing software that helped me keep up with my accounts. Industry-specific applications like Grammarly Pro also enhanced the quality of my work and helped me save time. And if your budget is tight, you can invest time rather than money; find free online seminars and devour as many books as you can at the local library.
Keep an Open Mind and Take Chances
I spent a couple of years working on unfulfilling projects because I didn't imagine I had other options. But when I started looking into my current field, I was surprised by how many opportunities are out there. Keeping an open mind can mean signing up for a wide range of job boards and newsletters or ambitiously applying for roles, even if you don't meet every requirement in a job description.
Research conducted by Hewlett-Packard has found that women tend to apply for top managerial roles if they meet 100% of the criteria, whereas men will apply even if they only meet 60%. This goes to show that flexibility in your thinking can open more opportunities for you. In my case, the charity I'm working for hadn't considered hiring somebody abroad—but the distance hasn't been a problem. Post-pandemic, more companies are open to the possibility of remote workers. If you don't ask, you'll never know!
Start Today and Keep at It
I can't count how many friends and family members I know who have spent years in jobs that they don't find fulfilling because it's easy to delay change for "another day" or “next month”. You don't have to build a meaningful career all at once or quit your day job right away. You can start by signing up for a part-time course or subscribing to a newsletter. But if you don't start the journey, how can you ever arrive where you want to go?
It might take you a while to build momentum but try not to lose hope. For me, it started with writing articles for grass-roots environmental magazines that paid next to nothing, but as my experience grew, people were more interested in what I had to say. And by the time I applied for a full-time role, a level of experience that gave me an edge in the interview.
Just try not to get disheartened when you set out; even if you get a thousand rejections, you only need one "yes" to change the trajectory of your career.