Digital Nomad Before It Was a Thing: Nora's Story

Friday, April 27, 2018

Welcome to this Travel Lifestyle Interview Series where we’ve had the pleasure of speaking with Nora from The Professional Hobo. Nora has been traveling continuously for the past 11 years. Check out our Q&A with her as she gives insight to her lifestyle, why and how she began traveling, as well as tips on how to travel long-term.

1. How and when did you discover the digital nomad lifestyle?

Nora connected the dots while on the road and realized that all you need to sustain your travels is a laptop and an Internet connection.

I was a digital nomad before it was even considered a “lifestyle”! In 2006 I sold everything I owned (including a busy financial planning practice) to embrace my life-long dreams of long-term immersive world travel. I didn’t know where I would go, how long I’d travel for, nor how I’d sustain it financially. Thus, the digital nomad career was secondary, and something that developed after I took to the road and started traveling full-time. It wasn’t long after I had hit the road that I connected the dots to realize that with little more than a laptop and an internet connection, I could earn a living as a freelance writer and travel for as long as I wished. Although I had a travel blog at the time, blogging wasn’t yet a monetized industry, so my initial efforts were on growing a freelance writing portfolio. 

Over time my site gained a global following and the whole travel blog industry built up around me. Suddenly, I was teaching people how to travel full-time in a financially sustainable way and had created a niche to harmonize with and enable the digital nomad lifestyle! And here we are. 

2. What about being a digital nomad made it preferred as opposed to a "traditional job"? Do you still use the same skills?

Travelling on the road can be financially sustainable.

Ever the entrepreneur, I use many of the business skills I used back home in Canada to run my financial planning business. Not only that, but in developing my freelance writing career, I realized my expertise and education was very handy; I wrote for travel publications about finance (cuz you need money to travel), and I wrote for finance publications about travel. I married the two topics on my site, which is not only about my crazy adventures around the world, but mostly focuses on the principles of financially sustainable travel. 

3. Can you share some tips on balancing work and life while traveling full-time? 

Balancing work and life on the road isn't easy; time management skills are a must!

Boy oh boy, I wish I could. Work-life balance has been one of the most difficult aspects of this lifestyle, and to be honest, it has gotten the better of me more than once, to the point where I’ve dreamt of doing something different a few times. Here’s what little advice I can offer: 

Traveling with a partner (especially one who doesn’t also have a digital nomad career) can be extremely difficult. In my less graceful moments, I’ve actually lamented about how solo travelers make better bloggers

I’ve recently started doing concentrated work from a separate space (like a coworking space or cafe) to separate my “work” and “home” lives. It has helped create more balance both in my relationships, as well as my solo travel life and lifestyle. 

There’s a school of thought that says you can only ever excel in two of the three pillars of life (the pillars being career, health&fitness, and family&friends). A more mindful approach to the concept can help create the balance you might feel like you’re missing. 

For some extra reading material on the topic, I recommend: Work Life Balance on the Road

4. What has been your favorite destination to visit and why?

Peru is one of the places Nora might call her home.

Tough question. See, travel is contextual. My experience of a place is only partly related to the place itself; it’s more about who I’m with, what I’m doing, and how I’m feeling at the time. Thus, my favorite destination could well be your least favorite. As a perfect example, many if not most of my traveling friends cite India as their favourite country. For me, it was hell on earth

I do have a love of Latin American cultures, and I lived in Peru for a couple of years and Ecuador for about 9 months. Perhaps one day I will call somewhere in this neck of the woods “home”. We’ll see! 

5. How do you decide your next destination to travel?

Nora chooses her destinations based on unique opportunities they may offer, but isn't limited to only that spectrum of choice.

I generally let my destinations choose me, in the form of a unique opportunity. Often it’s a free accommodation gig (like house-sitting or volunteering), other times it’s a chance to visit somebody or do something cool. Rarely do I just pick a destination out of the blue and go, although in the last six or so months it has happened a few times, for lack of any opportunities availing themselves. That in itself was an interesting opportunity to try out a new style of travel, although it’s more research-intensive without some aspect of my travel/accommodation already lined up and decided upon. 

6. What is your reason for traveling?

Nora started travelling way back because she wanted to culturally immerse herself in different cultures around the world.

My reason for embarking on a full-time travel lifestyle way back when was to culturally immerse myself around the world, in ways that no limited-duration vacation could enable. I wanted to break bread around dinner tables around the world, and to understand the subtle intricacies that make people from different backgrounds tick. This motivation kept me going through the last 11 years of travel, with a few home bases established along the way to prevent/recover from travel fatigue and also to deepen the cultural experience/immersion. 

Admittedly, now, all these years later, there are still large swaths of the world I haven’t seen, but my desire to “conquer” them is largely gone. Possibly because I’ve realized that fundamentally, we are all the same, despite outward appearances, languages, architecture, religion, and cultural practices. The world hasn’t lost its lustre; rather, it has gotten smaller for me. Now, it’s time for me to find somewhere to call home. I now travel in search of this place.

7. Advice for people interested in being a digital nomad?

Everyone has their own travel style, so plan out carefully before going out on the road!

If you have an inkling of starting a location independent business or career, I would suggest establishing the foundations of that business before you start traveling. Starting a digital business has a massive learning curve (like any business does) and often takes a lot of time to start generating income.

Likewise, the travel lifestyle has another dramatic learning curve as you carve out your own style. Trying to do both simultaneously is a big ask, and one or the other is likely to suffer. Trust me on this!  


Nora Dunn has been traveling full-time since she sold everything she owned at the end of 2006. She has lived in/traveled through 55+ countries and counting. She finances her travels as a travel blogger and freelance writer. On her website The Professional Hobo, she teaches people how to travel full-time in a financially sustainable way. She has penned books like How to Get Free Accommodation Around the World (available on her website), and Working on the Road: The Unconventional Guide to Full-Time Freedom. She also writes a monthly “Dear Nora” column - kind of like Dear Abbey for travel!

If you want to follow her journey, check out her Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Bryan Shelmon a freelance writer for aSabbatical.com
The best part about travelling is experiencing completely different ways of living that make you appreciate life even more.