In January 2014, Natalie Martin decided to quit her comfortable corporate job in London and go backpacking in India. It was a trip that changed her outlook on life for good and gave her the confidence to kick off her writing career by self-publishing. Since then, her debut novel, Together Apart, has become a No.1 bestseller on the Amazon charts and Love You Better, her second full-length novel, became a bestseller on release last October.
Despite having a base in both London, UK, and Germany, Natalie is always on the move. As a digital nomad she has lived and worked in Japan, India, Thailand, Cambodia, and a host of European countries, and this is just for starters. According to her, the adventure is just beginning. Here Natalie shares her inspiring story and explains why remote working is the way forward…
Credit Janograf Photography
It’s almost four years now since I left my comfortable life and well paid job in London to make the world my office. I’ve wandered around Cambodia’s magical Angkor Wat temple, glammed it up in Monaco and listened to the Dalai Lama at his temple in Dharamshala, northern India. I’ve had the time of my life but I am not special. There was nothing to set me apart from anyone else in my pursuit for happiness. I was not, am not (and probably never will be) rich. When I left my job, I had just under £3,000 in my bank account. I had no job to come back to or degree to fall back on. All I had was the feeling that I didn’t want to work in a rigid structure and a choice, although it didn’t feel like that at the time.
Bags packed and ready to go… laptop included!
Before I’d even thought about leaving my job, I came out of a long relationship and decided to take up French. I’d always loved the language, especially French film. Meanwhile, my career was approaching a crossroads: either I studied for a promotion or looked elsewhere. With no idea what to do, I stumbled upon Workaway, a site connecting volunteers with hosts to exchange skills in place for accommodation worldwide. I felt inspired enough to apply and instead of taking the usual two week summer holiday, bunched up my annual leave and headed to southern France.
I’d barely managed a Wagamama lunch alone before this but there I was, meeting new people and basking in sunshine all day long. I’d never felt happier or healthier. One day, I heard some musicians playing in the market. We got chatting afterwards and I was in awe of their lives. They busked around France during the summer, making enough money to spend the winter in Goa, playing in bars and restaurants. They invited me to join them but of course I said no. My life could never be like theirs, whether I wanted it to be or not.
In Monaco – the trip that changed everything
Soon enough, I returned to England but something had changed and on my second day back at work, I cried. I couldn’t justify having a job that didn’t fulfil me anymore, or a lifestyle that was slowly wearing me down. I wanted to be my own boss or at least be able to work more flexibly. I desperately wanted to try something else, so I decided to apply for a sabbatical to join my musician friends in Goa. To my disappointment, my request was denied and I was faced with a choice: stay and be unhappy, or not. I handed in my resignation that day.
I know this all makes me sound a little flighty and fearless, but like I said before, I’m not. I’m just a regular girl who craves routine and stability, cleanliness and order. Quitting my £38k job to go to India was never part of my plan. In fact, I’d never even really made a plan for anything before.
Looking back, I know that things started to change when I decided to make things happen. I chose to learn French and go to France. I chose to leave my job to take a trip of a lifetime. Ultimately, I guess I chose to open my eyes to what could be. I met countless people who worked while travelling, staying connected with smartphones and laptops. They inspired me to self-publish the novel I’d been secretly working on and most of all, to trust that it didn’t matter if things went wrong.
The novels I was inspired to write along the way. My books feature real-life-like characters – people who could well be your sister, uncle or best friend – and issues that are far from the stereotypical ‘fluffy’ romance storylines. They’re what I like to call contemporary fiction with love.
Worst case scenario, I’d go back home, use my skills and get a job. I wouldn’t end up destitute and homeless. In fact, I added to my skills, certifying as a Yoga Teacher and Thai Yoga Massage practitioner.
Six months later, I returned to England and, ironically, to my old job, covering maternity leave. I sat at the same desk, went to the same meetings and earned even more than I had before. But after a few months, I felt exactly how I had before leaving for France. With everything I’d seen and done, I knew the office life wasn’t for me, so I returned to India where I met my wonderful German boyfriend. I’m now happily settled (for now at least) in Bavaria, and I’ve never looked back.
Having the freedom to choose my own way of working has completely changed my life. I work when I have the most energy and relax when I don’t. Being free to take the afternoon off to rejuvenate instead of being forced to work means my concentration is much better than before. I sleep longer and wake up at a time that suits me before having a long yoga practice and relaxed breakfast. And instead of eating expensive lunches, I have time to make something during the day (or, being honest, eat what my boyfriend makes). Having three good, healthy meals a day means that I feel stronger, with less sick time and more output than before.
During my travels I discovered a passion for teaching. Here I am leading my first Yoga class
But it hasn’t been all easy. It was difficult at first to find my own rhythm and be disciplined when it came to carving out ‘work time.’ Some people assumed that because I was at home, I was available for unannounced coffees and chats. And of course, I’ve questioned my choices – emigrating for love, learning yet another language and becoming a full time writer – in case it all went wrong. It took a long time to learn to trust myself and my inner voice. I’ve also had to change my attitude towards things, especially money. My earnings as a writer are extremely variable and I’ve had to rein myself in on spending. I can’t just go and buy gorgeous shoes whenever I want, but it’s a tiny sacrifice to make for living the life I’ve always wanted. Plus, when I do treat myself, it feels that bit sweeter. It hasn’t been perfect, but I’ve learned that even during the tough times, I always have a choice. So often, it can feel like life is out of our control, that it happens to us and not for us, but that’s not true. And I know that because it was the choices I made years ago that have brought me here, and nobody else.
Me being interviewed by the BBC Interview in London
The beauty of life is that there are endlessly different ways of living it. Taking your work outside of the normal structure doesn’t mean having to completely up sticks and leave. It’s simply a case of listening to yourself. Ask yourself: How do I want to feel in my every day life? What do I really want? Where am I feeling most unsatisfied? When we start being active with ourselves instead of passive, that’s when change happens. It can be choosing to walk to the station instead of driving, or reading a book instead of watching TV. They’re small changes, but that book could spark your dream of being a writer. That walk might start a fitness journey leading to you running a marathon.
We humans can move mountains when we need to get things moving, or even become the mountain when we need to be strong. [Tweet “We might not know the outcome, but we always have a choice.”]
Worktime! Today’s choice of office: a Cornish beach
How to make the world your office
Remote working doesn’t necessarily mean making a drastic lifestyle change like I did. It could be a simple case of asking your boss for more flexible hours, or the opportunity to work from home one or two days a week, something that can be hugely beneficial to both employees and employers. In fact research by Stanford University has found that remote workers are 13% more productive, take fewer sick days and enjoy a quieter working environment than their commuting colleagues.
However, if like me, you crave the freedom, flexibility and opportunities that life as a digital nomad brings, here are my top tips for making a bigger change…
- Be clear about why you want to work remotely. Is it to pursue the career of your dreams, or to have more time with loved ones? Or are you just badly in need of a holiday? Switching to remote working is a big decision, so take your time. You wouldn’t rush into buying a house and this is just as important, if not more.
- When you work remotely you can’t just call the “IT Guy”, so it’s important to be sharp and self-reliant when it comes to the basics. Now’s the time to evaluate and hone your own skills. Read this article on Upwork for a list of things every remote worker should know.
- If money is tight, start small but think big. A Pret sandwich is the equivalent of a night’s accommodation. A month’s worth of those sandwiches could pay for a no-frills flight from Thailand to Singapore. Put the savings into any scenario that resonates for you.
- Find your own rhythm. It can take some time, so don’t get frustrated with yourself. It’s okay to veg out for a week if you have to.
- Be flexible enough to recognise when rhythms doesn’t work. Don’t force yourself into patterns that don’t work for you – that’s why you wanted this in the first place.
- Define your work time. Don’t overdo it by sitting in front of the computer until midnight. Do what you can, while you can.
- Take yourself seriously. It’s a sad fact that some people think working from home means doing nothing all day long. Remember that your working time is just as important as anyone else’s.
- Connect with other remote workers. It can feel lonely without the office camaraderie. Find a Meet-Up group to join, or even create your own!
- Make time for yourself. Whether it’s a daily yoga practice, knitting or Netflixing (there you go!), do something that makes you feel good.
- Enjoy it, whether it’s switching to working three days a week from home or handing in your notice to fly to Costa Rica with your laptop in hand. You’re living the life you want to, not the life you don’t!
My favourite quote is: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”, so ultimately my advice to anyone who dreams of making the world their office, is make plans, get out there and go for it!
Are you ready to make a big change in 2017? Are you curious to find out if digital nomadism is for you? Download Do What You Love’s free resource and unleash the remote worker in you!