Gigi Griffis is a long-term digital nomad with an inspirational story and many priceless insights into the benefits, and challenges, of life on the move.
Gigi’s approach to writing her own novel will be of particular interest to anyone who dreams of adapting their lifestyle to prioritise creativity and we also cover topics such as dealing with scary situations and the advantages of not owning a mobile phone.
Please can you give us some background on who you are, where you’re from and what you do as a digital nomad?
Hey, I’m Gigi! I’m originally from the States, but have been traveling full-time for almost five years now. I make my living as a copywriter, content strategist, and web consultant. I’m a big ol’ foodie and love all things outdoorsy (hiking, cycling, etc.) and literary (books, poetry, all of it). I currently travel with my partner, Chad, and my pint-sized Schnauzer-Yorkie mix, Luna.
What is a typical day like for you?
Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays are usually my big workdays each week. On those days, I get up, make myself a cup of milky tea, and dive into work early. My most productive hours are in the morning, so I try to tackle any writing and strategy work first thing.
On a good day, I try to wrap up around lunchtime and then I have the afternoon to myself. In summertime, I get outside a lot in the afternoons, walking, hiking, exploring, cycling…in colder seasons, I read or work on personal projects (like my novel). In the evenings, I usually get back on the computer for a bit to check emails or, when necessary, have Skype calls with clients.
Wednesdays are a bit different, as they’re typically reserved for errands. If I need to go to the dentist or do an in-person interview or check something out for a travel article, I often schedule it on Wednesdays.
And Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays are my days off at the moment. When it’s nice outside, you’ll find me cycling, hiking, or exploring a new place on foot. I also love food tours and spa days, so I do those when I can. When it’s dreary, I often bake, make elaborate meals with whatever local ingredients are on hand, read, or work on my novel.
As you can tell, I don’t work full time. I generally try to keep my working hours under 20 or 25 per week.
What pushed you to take the leap towards a nomadic lifestyle?
Honestly? I was wildly unhappy back in Denver and I took to the road because I needed to on a soul level. I needed to get myself out of the same routines, the same thought patterns, the same place. I needed newness and change. I needed alone time to think. I needed to shake things up.
I was already working for myself and almost never had to be on site for clients, so when the idea of working remotely came up, it made a lot of sense.
What is the first thing you do when you arrive in a new place?
Unpack and get groceries.
I know, that’s kind of a lame answer. But when you live on the road full-time, it’s important to make sure you feel at home when you get somewhere new. Thus, I take the time to unpack my bags, get settled in, go pick up groceries for the next day or two, and just relax into the new location.
What are your inspirations?
Honestly, the world around me, the travel itself, the people I meet, the food I try…the experiences are what continue to inspire me day by day.
Please can you tell us about the processing of writing your novel (and what it’s about?)?
The novel is an alternate history set in a world where the Nazis have won WWII and a young boy named Markus makes a mistake that leads to the death of his father at the hands of the S.S.
Markus grows up guilt-wracked and lost. He can’t keep a job. And his only friend in the world is a man he grew up with, who is now a high-ranking, dangerous Nazi official. One day, that friend recruits him to drive a truck full of prisoners to a concentration camp and Markus is forced to choose: be complicit in the murder of children or become the person his best friend is hunting.
I started the book in winter 2015 – 2016, working on the first chapters with a writing group I’d been invited to join in Arizona (where I spent four months in 2016). I wrote bits and pieces of the novel throughout 2016 and then got crazy inspired in December while we were on vacation in Taormina, Sicily. When I left Sicily, I was about 95% done with the first draft, which I then finished in Rome in between work projects in January/February.
Once I had a draft, I started working on edits and now that the book feels pretty polished, I’ve started trading critiques with other writers and book coaches, getting feedback on the first chapter from my ideal readers (people I don’t know but who are avid readers of books like mine), and getting it ready to send out to agents.
How does the digital nomad lifestyle enable and/or impede creativity?
I feel much more creative when I’m surrounded by newness and change. I read somewhere recently that travel makes us smarter because we’re constantly having to question and figure out things that at home would be simple (how to navigate the bus system, how to read a menu, how not to accidentally order six breakfasts – a thing that happened to a well-traveled friend of mine recently). For me, that’s absolutely true. I feel sharper, more curious, and more creative when I’m on the road. Especially if I’m somewhere surrounded by nature.
Where do you stand on e-readers versus physical books and why?
I love physical books, but sometimes e-readers are just more practical. Almost all the books I read these days are on a tablet (though when I’m in one place for a few months and have access to a wide range of English books, I dive back into traditional books).
How has your lifestyle affected your relationships with people back ‘home’?
All my closest friends have always been travelers, so they’re scattered all over the world (even if we all used to live in one place), so “back home” is a misnomer for me. Some of my closest friends are in Northern Arizona, Afghanistan, Paris, Berlin, and Tanzania. So really we’ve always had to keep in touch via Skype, make it a priority to visit one another, travel together, etc.
There is no back home, really.
What does the word ‘home’ mean to you?
Home is where your community is, which might be one place and might be many.
Has anything ever scared you as a digital nomad and how did you deal with it?
I was severely harassed when I was in Colombia–to the point where I started feeling afraid to leave my house even to go to the grocery store (guys would literally grab me when I was standing in line or scream in my face when I was having a coffee on a patio). It’s the only place in the world I’ve ever felt truly unsafe as a solo female traveler (this is before I was traveling with my partner).
At first I dealt with it as I’m sure most lady travelers do: I assumed each incident was just one jerk, not a pattern. But as it continued day by day for multiple months, I started staying in my house more and more often. I planned meet ups with other nomads every week because it was the only way I felt safe leaving the house (since I’d be with other people). And as soon as I could, I booked a flight out of there and went to spend four months living in my best friend’s town (Flagstaff, Arizona) to recover.
Do you prefer to travel slowly or quickly and why?
I like both! I mostly travel slow because I’m working and traveling fast while working is too stressful, but I do really like taking an occasional weekend or few days to travel more quickly and see more things (while not working).
For example, our schedule this year has been:
– Two months in Rome, working
– A quick weekend in Assisi, Italy, not working
– Fast travel that took us through Venice (for a few hours), Italy; Villach, Austria (a night and most of a day); and Zagreb, Croatia (a weekend) on our way to…
– Two months in Dubrovnik, Croatia
So our pattern is really long stays interspersed with tiny bursts of fast travel.
How do you think your attitude to life would have differed if you had never moved away?
Even before I was traveling full-time, I moved a lot. So I don’t think staying put would have been an option for my personality even if I didn’t go full-time remote.
How does location independence make you more productive?
I think there are a few answers to this, but the biggest for me is that because I’m in a beautiful new place, I want to get out and explore! I’m more motivated to get my work done when I’m in a place where I’m motivated to go out and do things.
How exactly do you track your time and how does it help you?
I don’t. 🙂 I work based on deadlines and projects, almost always doing projects on a fixed cost basis, so I rarely have to track my time.
Can you tell us about one or more of your favourite moments as a nomad?
The soaring feeling I felt in my chest when I got my visa to spend a year in Switzerland was one of the most wonderful of my life. Riding on the back of a motorcycle down the Dalmatian Coast (Croatia) was another highlight. And seeing Lake Bled in
Slovenia for the first time was really really wonderful, as well.
What have you found challenging about the digital nomad lifestyle?
The biggest challenge is making sure I have fast internet. It took like four years for me to figure out that I needed to ask Airbnb hosts to do an internet speed test for me before I booked. Too many times people list internet and you arrive to find out it’s slow as molasses. When your work is online, that’s a pretty bad situation.
How do you choose where to go next?
So many different ways. Sometimes I go to be near friends. Sometimes I go because the place looks incredibly beautiful (based on photos I’ve seen online). Sometimes I plan a stay around a conference I want to attend or a wedding I’m invited to. Sometimes I’m craving French or Italian food. And mostly I just go with my gut.
(This might sound like a ridiculous question but…) Do you take holidays? If so where and how?
Yes! It’s not a ridiculous question. It’s really easy to work all the time when you’re self-employed and it’s so so important to take real time off and not burn yourself out. My first few years of freelancing, I didn’t take enough time off and I kept burning myself out.
Now, I make it a point to take a month off every year. I started in 2013, taking September off to hike in the Swiss Alps. In 2014, I didn’t take that time and I regretted it.
In 2015, I took September again and this time I cycled across France from the Swiss border to the Atlantic ocean on a vintage bicycle.
In 2016, my partner and I took December off in Sicily (a time that turned into an impromptu writing retreat for my novel when I got all inspired). This year I’m planning to take September again and base in northern Slovenia for a lot of hiking and cycling.
How do you stay healthy when you are on the move a lot?
I’m actually much healthier now than I was when I was in one spot. I almost always rent apartments with kitchens, so I cook my own food – lots of fresh stuff, almost always organic, and pretty much always non-GMO. The things I love to do with my free time are mostly active – cycling, hiking, swing dancing, walking – so I get a lot of movement in my days, especially in the warmer months.
In winter months, I usually resort to yoga via YouTube videos. The lifestyles in Europe are honestly much more conducive to health. Cities are build for walking and cycling. Fresh markets abound. And GMOs are not even grown in most European cities, so if you’re concerned about them, they’re easy to avoid.
When I started traveling, I actually dropped two dress sizes. Not because of any special changes I made, but just because of how much I wanted to get outside, how easy it was to eat well, and how much happier I was.
What makes a good freelance client?
I think that’s different for everyone, but I love working with people who love what they do, who care about the balance between work and play, and who pay promptly.
Are there any places you would recommend against traveling to? If so where and why?
Colombia (for solo females) because of the intense harassment and physical danger (street crime is way way up in cities like Medellin, yet we still see all the travel magazines touting how much safer it is there).
The US because of its current dangerous political climate and unpredictable border situation.
And probably the UK because their border is almost as bad (I’ve personally been detained and mistreated and it’s absolutely not worth it) and I’ve heard too many scary stories from foreign friends since Brexit.
What do you wish you had known when you started (as a nomad)?
Always ask your Airbnb host to do a speed test for the Wi-Fi!
What do you do differently to the majority of people you know that (apart from living as a nomad!) that has a significant impact on your life (good or bad)?
I don’t own a cell phone. It’s super weird in today’s world and I love it with all my heart. Not having one means I’m always in the moment. When I’m working, I’m working. When I’m hiking, I’m hiking. When I’m having coffee with a new friend, I’m totally present. It’s too easy to be distracted by our constantly present technology, so I’m really glad to have opted out.
I also don’t use alarm clocks, so my body has synced up with the sun (I currently wake around 6 a.m. and fall asleep between 9 and 10).
And I work part time, which I think many freelancers are too nervous to do. I got really sick and ended up in the hospital in Malta a couple years ago and it took me a whole year to recover and I realized that the stress of trying to work so much was part of what was keeping me ill. I made it a priority to work less in 2016 and have kept it a priority this year.
What are the five books that you would take with you on a desert island?
What are the creature comforts you cannot live without?
Even though I love the outdoors, I definitely don’t do well without a bed for very long. So a comfy mattress is probably number one on that list. And pretty much everything in my bag is essential to me at this point: a nice dress or two, my curling iron, my tablet, my computer, the little baggies of spices I carry from place to place. When everything you own fits into a bag, you learn what you love most pretty fast.
Thanks so much to Gigi for taking the time to answer our questions. Please check out her website and connect with her on Facebook. You can also learn more about Gigi’s copywriting and content strategy services on her business site and take part in her her website building workshops.