*This digital nomad post is a collaboration which includes gifted products, but as usual, all views remain my own.
We all love the idea of becoming a digital nomad – of having the freedom to design our own life and work as we choose. Whether we want to do that in Bali or to simply work freelance in our pyjamas at home, it's never been a more realistic option for so many of us. Now don't get me wrong – it's not an easy choice by a long shot and it takes a hell of a lot of hard work to build up a freelancing career. But despite the time spent setting it up, the time and effort you put in at the beginning could finally help you live the life you've been dreaming of.
So many companies in the UK are not yet taking full advantage of flexible working and I am lucky to be working for a company at the moment who have really embraced the concept. Not only do we have the option to work remotely – either from home or even from another country – but we can choose our working hours and have access to a range of benefits including free travel, gym memberships and much more. Despite many companies in the UK taking bigger strides towards allowing their staff the opportunity to work from home, they are still hesitant to make the leap. Online security labeling company, Seareach, recently discovered that over 50% of office-based staff who could do their job role working from home were unable to as their employers would not permit it, due to security and GDPR reasons. Reasons for not allowing this have ranged from security issues and lack of teamwork, to productivity and fairness. But let's talk about what working remotely is really like for employees.
As someone who has worked in a office, remotely, across the globe and freelance, I believe that trusting your staff to work out of the office is a great way to encourage them to raise the quality of their work. When your management gives this vote of confidence, you feel inspired by their belief in you to actually work harder and better. Working in an environment of your choice, and without distractions, you will find your productivity levels increase and cut down on working hours due to lack of wasted time. Staff remain much happier and full of energy because they no longer waste time on a long commute or working in some stuffy office building. For companies, they are saving money on providing office space and can utilise technology for meetings and organisation. Happy staff and happy company means more room for growth and better employee retention in the longer term which benefits the business.
As with any choice, there are always cons for some people. Some may not embrace the independent working style of becoming a digital nomad. You do have to be a certain sort of person to do well at working remotely and to remain productive. Some do struggle outside of an office environment or may find the work lonely, but there are ways around this with co-working spaces and meetings over Google Hangouts and Skype. There sadly will always be individuals who take advantage of the generosity of their managers to work less and get away with as little as possible. There are also questions over security, data protection and ensuring laptops and technology provided by companies remains safe. But, overall, I would always say the pros far outweigh the cons.
There are so many ways of becoming a freelancer or a digital nomad – whether you start your own business, pick up clients or even start doing "home office" instead of working in-house. If you're dedicated and focused, it can be much easier to slip into this way of working than you think. There are so many ways of working freelance and becoming a digital nomad – basically if you can work from a laptop, you can work from anywhere. From writers and bloggers, to Youtubers, virtual assistants, seo experts, designers, coders... the list is endless! If you're thinking of becoming a freelancer – the first job you have is figuring out your skills and learning to sell them to clients and businesses.
I first started working as a freelancer when I was still in university when I was writing a weekly column for a newspaper. Over the last nearly ten years (yikes) I've worked freelance around traveling and various other jobs and have eased my way further into digital nomad life. These freelance roles have ranged from writing, blogging, journalism, social media, seo and content management, to even photography! At points I've been a full-time digital nomad, and at other points, I've held various jobs at the same time, and at some points I've jacked it all in just to travel full time. One thing I've loved about my experience is that it has been one heck of a varied journey and has taught me a LOT of new skills along the way.
It doesn't matter if you are planning to freelance from your bedroom, or if you want to build a business to run while you travel across the world. The job requires the same skills and commitment if you're going to be successful. You have to stay focused, organised and on top of your workload – but what are the best ways of doing that? Here are my top tips for creating the perfect working environment for your "home office":
This is vital to boosting productivity and ensuring distractions are kept at a minimum. First, figure out what kind of worker you are – do you crave silence, classical music, jungle sounds or loud cafes? Are you a morning person who leaps out of bed and seizes the day, or do you prefer to work when everyone else has gone to bed? Don't try to force yourself to be the worker you're not – working freelance is the perfect opportunity to finally do things your way. Be honest with yourself and embrace a working style that works for you.
The beauty of working as a digital nomad is that you get to design your life and make your work fit in with it. So choose your timetable wisely and take on as much work as you need, but make it work around you. Love yoga? Never let yourself miss those morning yoga sessions. Crave the beach? Give yourself a few hours off in the afternoon for tanning and swimming. For those who are staying at home – if you have children, or friends who want to spend time with, make sure to give yourself time for brunches and playtime. By allowing yourself to live without restriction and to do all the things you want to do, it makes it easier to leave distractions at the door. Work extra hard and keep your productivity levels high and you may even master the art of working minimal hours for maximum reward.
Part of embracing your working style is creating the perfect workspace for you. This means finding a spot where you feel comfortable and inspired to work, where you're safe from distractions but also not cooped up as you would be in an office. For some this means creating the perfect office space at home and filling it with light and creativity to inspire their work. For others it can be finding the perfect cafe with fresh juices and avocado toast no matter where they travel. And for some – with the right mindset – the world becomes their office whether it's the pool, the beach or the plane. I normally find heading to where the wifi and coffee are of similar strengths helps.
For me, part of workspace is being able to easily transport my most important tools both safely, and with a touch of luxury to make sure I always regard them as vital parts of my business. Family business, Pad and Quill, recognise the importance of hard-wearing and long-lasting items that come with a hint of luxury thanks to the highest quality materials. They gifted me a beautiful artisan-made Valet 13" leather laptop case, which comes with space to store both your laptop, iPad and accessories. Each of their products is thoughtfully designed for maximum practicality for your business needs, while still maintaining the traditional leather treatment and workmanship. I feel so lucky to have been gifted such a beautiful product, it really is made to such a high standard and I love that despite it being brand new, it will only improve with time as the leather becomes naturally worn and well-traveled – much like it's owner. Their website features a whole range of products from bags and wallets, to journals, wallets and much more, I can't recommend it enough for high quality but budget-friendly luxury accessories.
Investing in yourself and your new business is important – it doesn't have to mean spending a fortune but it does mean you believe in yourself. If you need a new camera, laptop or technical equipment, make sure you spend time doing your research, asking friends for advice and making sure that when you lay down the money and invest, you're sure you've found the best tools for the job. Think about marketing materials to help promote your business – whether it's branding, a new website or logo, business cards or pamphlets and spend time designing these exactly the way you want them. Even look into courses and ways of becoming an expert in your field – build your knowledge and learn how to sell yourself.
My biggest working investments have been my laptop, camera and mobile phone – all of these I use on a daily basis to work and further my business. It's easy to see these are larger outgoings, but when you weigh up the money you could make and the ways you could grow your business and skills with the right equipment – you'll see they're a worthy investment. My friends at Juice gifted me the Juice Kickstand Wireless Charger which is a great addition to my portable office. No matter where I am, I can always charge my phone even when there's nowhere to plug in – it's a lifesaver when I'm in a rush and need to work or stay online. When you spend as much time on the go as I do, you come to rely on battery packs and making the most of every last bit of charge. I'm a huge fan of the Juice products and I really love that they work on a "waste free world" policy – producing minimal accessories to reduce product waste.
It's so important to maintain a healthy lifestyle both physically and mentally when you're freelancing or working as a digital nomad. Even more so than while working in an office as you no longer have people telling you to go home, or make sure you take a lunch break. You have to take responsibility for setting your working hours, for making sure you take breaks and spread your workload, for recognising stress and any strains on your mental health. After all, when you run your own business, you have to invest everything into yourself. That means eating healthily and making sure you stop work to break when you eat rather than blasting through. It also means forcing yourself outside for some fresh air and getting to the gym to clear your head after a busy day. Most importantly, it means taking full days off and not letting yourself look at emails or anything work-related – taking time to indulge your creativity and inspire yourself away from work.
It can be easy to get lonely when you work freelance and stop going to the office – but don't let that make you feel isolated. Instead use this new business opportunity to meet like-minded souls and build a support network. Social media can be a godsend for this, as can co-working spaces and meet-ups for freelancing/business women. By using any, or all three of these, you can find it easy to make friends in similar positions who can offer friendship, support and advice. If you don't have any friends or family who already work freelance, it is really important to meet others who understand the struggles of the working life. By building up a working community of your own, you'll never miss the experience of office life.
Thinking about going freelance – what is inspiring to to try it out? What are your biggest worries over remote working? Does your company allow flexible working?
Moving to Germany. It didn't seem such a big deal back at the start of the year when I decided it would be my next move. Surely it's just like England, I thought. I couldn't have been more wrong. Now I want to make it clear, I'm not saying that I don't like my life here in Hamburg, but I think it's important to talk about an issue that a lot of expats face when moving to Germany. With Brexit looming, I think it's more important than ever to discuss the more negative side of moving abroad openly and honestly. Not to put people off, but instead to make sure you are more prepared than I was. For a long time, I thought perhaps it was just me facing some of these issues, until I started working for a company with fellow English expats. I also started to communicate more with expats from all over the world via Facebook groups for those who have moved to Germany and it's really opened my eyes to the issues so many expats are facing.
Lately I've lost count of the number of people who have confided in me about their feelings of loneliness, of feeling lost and without purpose, and finding it hard to adjust to living here. These people have great jobs, families, friends, many of them even speak German and have German friends, but they feel like there is something missing. So many of those affected have traveled across the world, many of them solo like myself, and despite never facing problems in Asia, South America, Africa, even elsewhere in Europe, Germany has been a huge struggle. I want to emphasise that these are my experiences and those of expats who have contributed to this piece - I am not saying this is the experience of every expat who comes to Germany.
Honestly, moving to Germany has been the biggest culture shock of my life, it has been the hardest thing I have ever done and there's no way I can sugarcoat that. That doesn't mean that I haven't made some incredible friends here, I'm surrounded by an amazing community of expats and I have a great job, but that doesn't remove this feeling of displacement that lingers in the back of my mind.
German culture is astonishingly different to any I have experienced before. It's funny, so much of Germany looks just like England, and yet the cultures couldn't be any more different if they tried. Now don't think I'm saying that I'm pining for English culture and expect everywhere to be just like the UK, it's more that moving here has made me appreciate English culture in a whole new light. I like the fact that in the UK, we're very involved, we help and support our community. We don't shove people to the ground on our morning commute as I witnessed once, if a woman is struggling to a get a pram down the stairs, we stop to help her and most of all, we leave people alone to just be instead of staring or commenting. I'm not saying the UK isn't without it's own issues, but since moving to Germany, I've found the sense of detachment overwhelming. It shocks me to see how unfriendly some of the people here are, it breaks my heart to see how uninvolved they are, I've seen someone being attacked in the street and everyone around just carried on walking instead of stopping to help. If someone plays music on the train, even a split second before turning it off, they get told off by other passengers.
Now don't get me wrong, there are a lot of wonderful things about German culture too, and not all people are like this. But I wanted to just touch on some of these incidents and how I feel they have shaped my experience of moving to Germany. More so than any country I have previously traveled or lived in, I feel that there is very much an "us and them" culture here, I feel I would be lost without my expat friends. Many of those who have now become some of my closest friends here in Hamburg have spoken about how hard it is to find friendships here that go beyond an acquaintance level, the sort of friendships you can call on any time of day and night. That so many expats are struggling with the complete lack of spontaneity of German culture, how they find even meeting for a beer has to be planned weeks in advance. I spoke to one German girl recently who said that after moving to China for several years, she still found returning to Germany to be the biggest culture shock of all.
Out of every negative comes a positive, and the most important thing to remember when moving to Germany is that the experience is what you make it. If you wallow in loneliness and complain you have no friends but don't actively reach out and take control of the situation, it will never improve. The same principle applies to everything in life, stop blaming those around you for something you can change. Here are my top tips for making friends and dealing with loneliness when moving to Germany:
This is so important when you first move over because it can really affect the first impressions you have of a place. I lived slightly south of the city where accommodation was cheaper with a partner, but I did live further away from all of my friends. If I was single, I never would have lived there, but having our own apartment made it worthwhile to save our money for other things. Likewise, for those moving on their own, it could be very isolating to live outside the city and make it much harder to make friends. Perhaps, if money allows, it would be best to choose a central and social neighbourhood. If you don't like your area, remember it's never too late to move!
When it comes to your job, it can be more difficult if you are limited on offers but make sure to find a job with community and with a supportive environment. I'm currently working in a great job, and while the pay is pretty rubbish, it has amazing community spirit and an entire staff of expats from all over the world. I work in the UK team and instantly had an amazing group of friends who have given me no end of support and friendship when I needed it most. If you're not happy in your job or feel there could be more out there, why not start looking for a new position?
Play a sport? Join the hockey team. Love music or the arts? Join a society or amateur dramatics group. Miss meeting people and speaking English? Join a social networking group. There are so many options and just like anywhere else in the world, there will always be a group no matter what you're passionate about. Can't find what you're looking for? Why not start a new club or get together with like-minded people and create your own community. Plus this is a great way to meet a range of people, I have friends who love hockey and joined teams where they have met lots of German friends which has helped them to feel more integrated.
I honestly don't think I would still be in Germany if it wasn't for social media. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have all helped form some of my greatest friendships since I moved to Hamburg. My best advice to anyone moving to Germany: join Facebook groups for expats, for those new to an area, try Girl Gone International - there's a group for every city - or even Girls Love Travel. These groups have been lifesavers for me all over the world, but more so than ever since living in Hamburg. I got a job interview out of a casual chat on Facebook, I've attended events for expats in the city, I've made countless friends and connections. Most importantly, I really found my tribe, a few women who I know I can really rely on, who I can call on if things go wrong and I need help. My support network, and all because of a few lucky comments on Facebook posts or the odd message on Insta. Use social media for the reason it was really invented and see the world of good that can come from it.
As I mentioned above, I have attended so many different events in Hamburg, from lunch dates to cocktail nights and even a taco night with some amazing women from all over the globe. By joining the Facebook groups, or even networking groups like Internations, you will be invited to a host of different events (I recommend the ones organised by Hamburg Girl Gone International Facebook group). These are so much fun and they're a great way to meet like-minded people who know exactly what you're going through and those who have similar interests.
I will stress that you don't have to speak German to thrive in Germany, but it does help. Part of these feelings of isolation and loneliness might come down to the fact that you can't communicate as easily. One good way to combat that, try learning German. Don't be that person who complains it's not easy when you don't even try to speak the language. You don't have to be fluent to have a conversation. Perhaps your work offers German classes like mine, or you could do a night course, or even sign up for an intensive course before you start work. Can't afford to do a course? There are other options, you could use apps like Duolingo or Memrise to learn the basics and then practice as much as you can with locals. Or even arrange a language tandem - there are lots of offers for these on the Facebook groups where you teach your native language in exchange for learning German.
One thing that has really helped has been reading this book that was sent to me, Culture Smart! Germany. It's a different kind of guide book, instead of focusing on the place and things to do, it takes a close look at the culture and all the things you should know if you are to really integrate when moving to Germany, or visiting. It's such an interesting concept and I think it's a really great read for anyone considering moving over here. While you may notice all these things about German culture once you arrive, you might not really know the reasons behind these cultural quirks. It's interesting to learn the history behind them and the reason they are part of society, after all, education is the best way to acceptance. These guides focus on the rich human dimension of foreign travel and are designed to help readers get the most out of their time abroad through a deeper understanding of the local culture. They are pocket-sized and practical, and are written to help travelers navigate new and unfamiliar situations they are likely to encounter with confidence and sensitivity. If you would like to check out the book, or order a copy, visit the website.
Lucky for you guys, I'm actually hosting a giveaway for a copy of this book, the 100th edition of Culture Smart! You can enter by following me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and commenting on this post with why you think you should win the book! Closing date 30/11/18, enter by midnight to be in with a chance of winning!
Have you moved to Germany - what weird cultural differences did you find? What's the biggest culture shock you've ever had? Would you like to move abroad?