Molly, 27 years old yet stubbornly hanging onto the adage that age is just a number, currently resides in the bottom bed of the farthermost bunk in an Apple Hostel of Philadelphia dormitory. She has hung up her towel to serve as a make-shirt privacy curtain, behind which she works on her computer and binge watches “The West Wing” on her iPad. As we “talk” she pulls her messy hair–that has the definite smell of cigarette smoke, residual of the dive bars on Market and Chestnut street she visited the night before–and reaches down periodically for the tart tea that sits on the floor when not in her hands.
She is not a glamorous person at the moment, not one resembling her Instagram photos nor the romantic idea most have for a life of travel, but in more ways than I thought possible, I wouldn’t want to be anyone else.
Though odd for me to be interviewing myself, I thought it was time that I answered some of the burning questions I ask myself and that others ask me on a regular basis. One day I’ll be famous and a similar interview will be published in a Time Inc publication, or my children will start to press questions that others have politely let me laugh off, or my doctors in the psych ward will insist that I explain myself.
Whatever the reason, consider this a dry run:
Molly, what the fuck are you doing?
Haha, I know, right?
But seriously, explain what you are doing.
I am traveling. The buzz word I use to describe myself is “digital nomad.” Instead of paying rent and commuting to the office everyday, I live out of a suitcase, move from place to place whenever I like, and work via my computer wherever I am.
So where do you live?
I’m homeless?… Really, I’m not, but I don’t have a home in the traditional sense at the moment either. I let my Chicago apartment go in August, moved my stuff into storage at my parents’ house in Kentucky, and they receive all my mail there. But it doesn’t feel right to say I live in Kentucky, it’s not true to say that I live in Chicago, and it sounds pretentious to say, “I live wherever I am;” I might as well say, “I’m a citizen of the world,” and then tighten my cheek for the smack in the face I just earned.
When you travel, where do you stay?
When I started my travels as a digital nomad, I had two side projects that supplied me with some additional funding. I was able to comfortably afford private rooms via AirBNB. It was great. In Munich, I had enough room to have friend come and stay with me. But, those projects have fallen to the wayside for whatever reason, and I’ve had to adjust how I spend money.
I also had to quickly stop living life like I was on vacation. I’d tell myself, “You’re in a new place; experience it! Get your souvenirs! Have local items for lunch. Of course you need to go out for drinks after dinner to meet locals.” But I can’t afford to live my life as if I’m on vacation everyday. I now hold myself to a tight budget, I go grocery shopping whenever I get to a new city, getting snacks and breakfast items to have handy, challenging myself to spend as little money as possible. This also means seeking out friends more deliberately and finding cheaper beds to stay in… hello hostels!
And then, I get to drop a lot of money on a literature class in Greece this coming summer, so it’s worth the budgeting.
So what do you do for work?
I do digital analytics and online strategy for a publishing company in Chicago. They don’t mind when or where I work as long as I’m available and get the work done.
How did you find a job that let you travel while you worked?
I was lucky; I didn’t find a job, rather I made the job suit what I wanted. In January 2015, I started this role as an in office employee. I still had 6 months of graduate school left, and I was excited to be able to start a new role at the same time. After getting back from a two-week study abroad trip to Munich and Berlin, I knew traveling was something missing from my life, and it was something I sorely needed to go after.
For three months I bored my family and friends with these naive-sounding ideas of not renewing my apartment lease, of moving all my things back to Kentucky, of taking off and traveling. My people are great; they were all supportive and if any were forcefully against my grand scheme, they weren’t forceful enough for me to remember now.
In July, I went to my boss and told him that traveling was important to me and that I felt I needed to do so now while I was young and not responsible for anyone else (ie. no significant other and no babies); that I liked my job and felt that I could continue moving forward with my work being a remote employee.
Thinking on it now, it seems akin to Jesus walking on water. But when I was asking, and when my boss and I were discussing details and getting our CEO on board with the idea, my working remotely seemed like the thing to do. It was logical and easy.
But damn, I was lucky. Lucky to have a supportive boss who thought my idea to travel and work was exciting and great rather than pointless and stupid. Everything from the support of my people, to the of transition in my career has come fairly easy to me, which just leads me to believe with a passion that I am pursuing the life that I’m meant to live.
Why do you travel?
This is a hard question, made harder by the fact that I really want to answer it well. The rambling answer is I’ve always wanted to travel, always wanted to be in a new place, figure out how to get around, see and eat and do all the things, and to write about the adventures as well as live them. Traveling, despite the fact that I didn’t travel very often growing up, has always felt like something I needed to do. The truth of it is (and I fully accept that someone reading this will roll their eyes) that I feel more myself when I’m somewhere I’ve never been.
Do you travel alone?
Most of the time. Sometimes I have people who travel with me or I go certain locations to see people, but for the most part, it’s just me.
Do you feel safe when you travel?
Yes, I feel safe. Sometimes I get lost in less popular areas of a new place which can be frustrating and a little scary, but that happens during the day and it’s only an inner voice that sounds like my mother that has ever given me a reason to be fearful. I carry a taser and a pocket knife, and I walk like I know exactly what I’m doing and where I’m going.
How about meeting people?
Meeting people isn’t easy. Mostly I meet other tourists, but other tourist keep a different schedule than I do. They want to spend the day shopping and touring around, and then want to go out all night, and I can’t do that with work. I chat with people at coffee shops and I still talk to my hosts from various countries. But I haven’t fallen in love with anyone, if that what you/I mean.
Is it worth it?
Worth missing holidays with my family, nights out with my friends and the luxury of my own bed surrounded by my own things? No, it’s not worth it all the time. But the things I get to see and do, the people I get to meet and learn about on a daily basis are priceless. There’s nothing for which I would exchange this freedom. Every day I am stretched and challenge, and every day I become a better version of myself.