From Dream to Reality: The Path to Becoming a Digital Nomad
From fixed employer to digital nomad, Sæunn shares her journey of making her travelling dreams a reality. Long-term financial planning and honest communication about money is key
Do you have dreams of quitting your job and moving abroad? Are you stuck about how to build a new life for yourself? Sæunn has been there. After building a decade long life in Copenhagen, she and her partner Sebastian made the brave decision to go freelance in order to fulfil their dream of travelling the world and becoming digital nomads. But life changing decisions like these require careful planning, both financially and logistically.
Sæunn has opened up about her own journey to financial freedom, from the ups and downs, the lessons learned and everything in between. Read her story and prepare to feel inspired.
What is the biggest risk you’ve taken?
"The biggest risk was moving by myself to Denmark back when I was 19-years-old for college, with no financial plan on how I would support myself. After paying my rent, I think I had maximum around 2000 DKK (approx. $280) for food and everything in between.
The second biggest risk was going after my dream to travel more and becoming a digital nomad and leaving all the comfort and safety which I had created for myself in Copenhagen for the last 10 years. But scariest of all was leaving a secure job which I not only liked, but loved with the most wonderful colleagues. Topped off with starting my own company and working for myself! But that‘s the thing about risk or leaving your comfort zone – growth doesn‘t exist in your comfort zone."
What made you decide to become a digital nomad?
"Me and my partner talked and dreamed about just packing our bags and moving to a totally new country. However these were just dreams back then. We then ended up buying an apartment together. I thought that meant that this dream would never happen. Ironically, we realised the opposite – because we owned property, we felt freer. So, we started dreaming again. But then I got a job that I loved and my partner started a new job that he was really excited about and time just kept on passing. However, in the spring of 2021 the stars aligned – my partner wanted to quit his new job to freelance and I wanted to stay at my job for at least a year. We made the decision to move in October."
What made you quit your job to become a digital nomad?
"I was a Project Manager at an advertising agency but the urge to travel and try something new was larger than keeping the job. With time (and as I grew older), I have wanted to create a better balance for myself. Now I work to live, rather than live to work."
How did you feel when you quit your full-time job?
"There were so many contradicting feelings. I was excited but nervous. I was happy, but also sad. It was a confusing time. I was also scared about how it would be received as I didn’t want to burn bridges with my previous employer. But I was so lucky as I'm still in touch with everyone and we have worked together on some projects since I left."
Did you have any concerns and what were they about?
"In the beginning, I think my excitement clouded any concerns. Yet a month before leaving for Greece (our first location), they all began to crumble in. I began becoming overly worried about my decision to leave a stable job with a stable income to becoming a freelancer. Self-doubt grew really fast!
"That‘s the thing about risk or leaving your comfort zone – growth doesn‘t exist in your comfort zone"
I also changed my title from Project Manager to Social Media Manager and although I had worked plenty with social media, it was something different to then calling myself a social media manager. So there were real concerns about when or if I would ever make money again."
What conversations did you and your partner have in the preparation time? And were they also about the financial aspect of your new life as digital nomads?
"We did speak very openly about it, which made us feel prepared. From the beginning of the relationship, we’ve always been very open about money. When I met Sebastian, I was unemployed and he had a full-time job. So to avoid uncomfortable situations, I was just very transparent about my financial situation.
My partner had started his company five months before we moved and he already had a stable client which provided him with a steady income. Therefore, a month before moving, he told me he would support me to make this shared dream a reality. It was really comforting knowing that I had some financial security."
How was that experience having your partner financially support you?
"At first, I thought I had won the lottery and was so grateful. We were so lucky to be able to do it in the way that we did. However, it surprised me how incredibly difficult it was for me. I have always been financially independent and took a lot of pride in making my own money losing that was much harder than I thought.
I had to work on my self image. In this capitalistic society that we live in, we are often valued based on the work or the output we generate. I had to remind myself that I was enough and that I was valuable, even if I wasn’t generating an income. I was still working a full-time work week, reaching out to anyone I knew in my network, constantly putting myself out there. But in my head, I wasn’t enough and I wasn’t doing enough. You are valuable by purely just existing. It was a beautiful realisation and made me learn a lot about my relationship with money."
Do you have to talk about money more often now with your new ways of living and working than before? What has changed?
"We talk more about money now than before, because of our current way of living, as opposed to back home when everything was fixed and we did not need to have monthly talks about money. Before moving we had split everything 50/50, even though my partner was making way more money than me. But as a woman, I wanted to contribute the same amount. Yet it left me with almost no money to spend on myself and the relationship became quite unbalanced even though our shared economy was balanced. So then we began sharing our expenses based on the percentage of our income. It feels way more balanced and is working for our relationship wonderfully!"
What are your money talks mainly about with regards to long-term and short-term financial planning?
"Since both our income and expenses vary month-to-month, we have a monthly sit down. Sebastian has made an amazing excel document, where we only have to enter our income and expenses for that month and it calculates exactly how much we're both contributing.
After being on our digital nomad journey now for half a year, we’ve realised our hearts belong in Copenhagen. Yet we still want to be free to travel and work where and when we want. For the long-term, we have been discussing how we can build more wealth for ourselves. We know that we want to upgrade our apartment from a co-op to a condo. However a condo is much more expensive and taking a bigger bank loan would financially tie us down much more. Therefore, we have talked about how we can build more wealth within the next five to ten years in order to buy a condo or a house without taking a bigger bank loan, but actually having the money. One of the ways we are hoping to achieve that is with our investments, as we are both long-term investors."
A lot of women find it difficult to talk about money. Do you have any pieces of advice on how you can talk about money with your family and friends and with your partner?
"My parents got divorced seven years ago after I moved to Copenhagen and a huge part of that was due to their lack of communication around finance. I promised myself that this would not be the case with my relationships. Like everything, it takes practice! When I was in school or in-between jobs, I found that speaking about my lack of money felt way more empowering than trying to hide it. I think what came as a shock was that everyone understood and respected it.
My advice is start with a money topic you feel more confident in and try it out with a sibling or a friend – it’s never as scary as you think! People are experiencing the same things you’re experiencing!"
What are the ups and downs of being a digital nomad?
"The ups are definitely being able to control your work in the way that suits your life. Having my mother’s side in Iceland and dad’s in the US, I’m able to visit them without taking time off work which has been one of the biggest upgrades to my life. Being free to travel to these amazingly beautiful places experiencing different cultures – I can’t get enough of that.
However, it can feel very isolating to be travelling around with only your partner, so at times it has felt insanely lonely. Christmas season was especially difficult. It can also be a little hard on our relationship as we are not only a couple but we are also roommates, working partners, workout mates and everything in between. I sometimes miss missing him.
It can also be hard to get used to the varying income month-to-month, which is a pleasure in the months when you’re expecting more projects but difficult in the months when you don’t have any. You must be good at planning accordingly, which is perfect for a project manager like myself."