Nomadic Tales #2
Welcome to Nomadic Tales, where we showcase the journeys and experiences of digital nomads around the world. Today, we have the pleasure of featuring David Harrison, a former BBC journalist turned freelance journalist and writer. Join us as David shares his insights on his nomadic lifestyle and the unique experiences he has encountered along the way.
My name is David Harrison and I’m a former BBC journalist, who worked for 9 years as a reporter in in the UK, now a freelance journalist and writer.
I also run PR for Untamed Borders (@untamedborders
), an adventure travel company, which organises trips to some of the world’s most interesting and inaccessible places (Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria, Somalia, Libya etc). We also organise adventure sport excursions and marathons in some of the countries. I’m an keen endurance athlete and nature enthusiast in my spare time and also run a street art/graffiti charity in England called Bankside Gallery Hull (@banksidegalleryhull
1) How did you start your journey as a digital nomad?
In July 2021 I was working for the BBC back in England and suffered from a big burnout at work. It coincided with a break-up at the time from a long-term relationship and I realised there is more to life than this. A long held ambition was to travel and the life circumstances meant this was going to be a once in a life time opportunity to change my course properly.
So I took the plunge, quit from the BBC, sold my house, a lot of my possessions and hit the road. I’m now a freelance journalist and writer, writing for all sorts of publications (bits for the BBC, travel websites, sports websites etc.) and fill the gap with content writing. I have also recently started doing PR for Untamed Borders.
I packed a bag and hit the road in August 2021 and haven’t stopped since. I do a mixture of solo travelling, co-livings and I also have a campervan back in western Europe.
2) What are lessons you’ve learned along your journey?
Slow down – I’ve learned to slow the pace down a bit. Initially I was very excited and wanted to see as many places as possible, so would be hopping from place to place every few days. In the long-run that’s unsustainable for work and for your own energy levels. I’ve slowed the pace down now and try to spend a little longer in each destination. Obviously there are sometimes exceptions to this rule, but 2 weeks is a decent aim, a month is a great amount – it means you have chance to get to know a place and get to grips with a city or area (around your work commitments) & can take weekend trips away if necessary.
Kindness – This isn’t a lesson, but it’s travelling as digital nomad has reaffirmed my belief that if you are kind to people you’ll largely get kindness back. I’ve not encountered any problems, conflict or any real negative experiences in around 18 months. But I’ve had umpteen random acts of kindness in my direction, people going over and above to help me etc. Everyone has different experiences, but if you emit kindness and warmth, more often than not you’ll get it back.
Keep a journal – I was advised to think about starting a journal back in 2021 when I had my stress problems. I began then and never stopped. It’s morphed into a travel journal and I’ve made a written account for every day on my adventure. It’s very easy to forget small sections of your digital nomad adventures and in years to come you will likely only remember the big moments. All those small interactions, funny moments and daily adventures are things you will love to look back on in time to come. It’s also a really peaceful process to do and a good moment to reflect.
Throw yourself into stuff – Be adventurous, step out your comfort zone, speak to lots of strangers, step off the traditional tourist path and go to places that tourists don’t usually go, always go and have a look yourself (don’t just take other people’s word or view of a destination), be curious.
Walk/cycle – This is less of a lesson learned, more of a long held daily routine. Walk or cycle as much as possible when based in a city (or other location) – it’s the best way to full get to see a destination. If you’re on metros and other public transport the world flies by, you have to encounter the rush of commuters etc. While travelling it can be tricky to get into the routine of going to a gym (because you’re constantly bouncing around and don’t need a membership), but walking and cycling everywhere in your daily life is free exercise, which will also give you a great perspective of places and encourage more interactions along the way.
Less is more – For me at least, I don’t need a lot of things and I’m sure a lot of digital nomads with agree. A lot of possessions aren’t needed in life. I still have a decent sized suitcase and a small rucksack with work bits, but from a monetary perspective I’m not trying to earn loads. I’m just trying to earn enough to do the nice things I want to do. Not save loads, not push myself to get more and more work. Just enough money in the bank to be able to pay for my adventure. It’s very freeing to not have many bills, not feel pushed to buy lots of things or to save lots of money. You can live very well in many countries, particularly outside Europe and US, on not very much.
3) What tools and resources do you use to stay productive?
Get into some sort of routine – as freelancer it’s sometimes very easy to say “ahh it can wait” and be distracted by the cool destination you’re in and put work to the side for an adventure. Certainly I was a bit like that in the beginning and the balance of work and life was very out of kilter. It was 80% life and slice of work.
However, I’ve realised forming some sort of normal routine is really important. I aim to do around 4 hours of writing a day, 5 days a week. This gives me time to keep a really good work life balance and still focus a lot of time into a travel adventure. If I know there’s a cool long weekend trip I want to do or something like that, I’ll double up a day to 8 hours, so I can take a day off.
Find a nice spot to work – get yourself out and about and find a nice location to base yourself in for work. Be that a cafe, a cool co-working space or somewhere with a beautiful view. I see a lot of people working in hostels, hotel lobbies or in their rooms and I think that must be a bit tough. I know in some cases that is impossible if you have to take calls, be on webcam etc, but if you have the option, get out there. It makes you feel like you’re always having a slice of adventure and not just within the same 4 walls the whole time, like a weird abroad office.
Co-livings – I have done a mixture of solo travelling and also been in a few co-livings. Co-livings have pros and cons for productivity – there were periods when we were having so much fun as a crew that work took a back seat, but then there have also been many occasions where I felt obliged to get my head down and work, when I saw so many other motivated folk getting work done. It was quite good motivation when I saw others knuckling down.
4) What are some of your favorite destinations so far?
Full package – Georgia – it’s a digital nomad’s dream. Tbilisi is one of the coolest cities I’ve been to and it’s incredibly affordable, while also very well geared up for digital nomad life. There are awesome spaces to work throughout the city, cheap AirBnBs/hotels/hostels and a very cool quality of life – the food and drink standard is exceptional for a fraction of western European prices, it has a pumping nightlife with techno clubs that rival Berlin, beautiful history, loads of art and culture, and surrounded by mountains. It’s also got a lovely mix of familiarity, which you might find in western Europe, and the utterly bonkers “I have no real idea what’s going on” Georgian twist – it’s a beautiful mix. Within a short drive you can hit stunning nature and there are lots more weekend trips you can take to jaw-dropping national parks, some of the tallest mountains in the whole of Europe/the Caucuses, ski resorts, coastal resorts and many more national parks. The country is also really safe for a traveller and people are super welcoming.
City life – Copenhagen in summer, Valencia in winter – Copenhagen isn’t cheap, but it’s my favourite city in Europe. The quality of life is exceptional – food and drink scene incredible, super creative, awesome events calendar, things happening every day, cycle friendly, laid back vibe, kind people, surrounded by water, awesome unique spaces to work etc. It’s a dreamy spot, but it’s too expensive to stay for any real length unfortunately (unless you have friends there, then it’s a no brainer).
Valencia has more than 300 days of sunshine a year and even in winter it can get up to 20 degrees or more. Similar vibes to Copenhagen, but at half the price in winter. Great music scene, beautiful beach, awesome food and drink scene, cycle friendly, history, mountains not far away, art and culture everywhere, packed events calender etc. Stiflingly hot and over crowded in summer though, plus prices go up.
Co-living – Kotor Nest in Kotor, Montenegro. Not only is Kotor Bay one of the most stunning locations in the whole of Europe – think Norwegian Fjord with Croatian weather, with mountain top castles, incredible hiking trails and mountains for miles and miles. But the co-living itself was truly exceptional – beautiful old property, right in the middle of the UNESCO World Heritage site of Kotor Old and it sparked such a sense of community. Incredible daily activities – hikes, paddleboarding, trips to mussel farms, cycle trips, day trips to local sites of interest, music events etc. I’ve made a beautiful group of friends who I envisage being close with for a long-time to come through Kotor Nest and some of us are still travelling together now, 6 months later.
Places I’ve been over the past 18 months:
– Ukraine (I volunteered in May 2022, during the war with Russia, helping with the aid effort in the country).
– Bosnia & Herzegovina
– North Macedonia
– Isle of Man
5) How should digital nomads contribute to local economies?
Technically we always are – by paying for accomodation, eating out, going for drinks, going on excursions, visiting attractions, going to local supermarkets and stores,
Just keep flipping travelling and we’ll always be contributing to these local economies.