Written by: Ricky Dunn
Posted on: 18th October 2019
Last updated: 18th October 2019
My wife and I recently set out on a mission to become location independent, allowing us the flexibility to live and work wherever we want as we start our own businesses.
Unlike many who embark on this relatively new phenomenon of digital nomadism, spending time overseas isn’t an unfamiliar concept to me. I’ve spent the best part of the last 10 years living and travelling in different parts of the world, while being lucky enough to have dream jobs, the likes of which I never could have imagined.
2. THE EARLY DAYS.
My travels started early! The oldest of three children, I was born in London to an Australian father and a Danish mother, both of whom had moved to England for adventure and opportunity, something that has evidently been passed on to me. When I was two, my family immigrated to Australia and I subsequently spent the majority of my childhood growing up in the beautiful suburbs of Northern Sydney.
I’d had few friends through school (I was a teacher’s pet – go figure!) and after a tough couple of years getting bullied, at 14 years old, I decided to move to a new school, which completely turned things around. However, a year later, in 1999, my parents decided we would relocate to the Gold Coast in Queensland. Having just got settled, I think most teenagers in my position would have been upset about this, and while it was hard to leave my newfound friends, I was beyond excited at the prospect of experiencing life in a new city. The first of many!
Like many young boys, I wanted to be a professional athlete. Unfortunately, I soon discovered that most of the attributes I required (namely skill) were lacking. After entertaining aspirations of being an astronomer and then a lawyer, I felt I had found my calling when we moved to the Gold Coast. While house hunting, a real estate agent drove us around a residential community on a golf buggy, stopping at cafes and having a coffee with us while selling us on life in the tourism capital of Australia. What an amazing job this guy had! He had a flashy sports car, he seemed to be his own boss and it didn’t appear a university degree was necessary. I started imagining my future.
In 2001, my second last year of high school, a substitute teacher was supervising school sport. Half-jokingly, I was telling some friends that in a few years I’d be playing golf while selling houses, something which the teacher happened to overhear. This was a life changing moment. Unknown to me at the time, the teacher oversaw the school’s vocational education programs and suggested I consider a school-based traineeship in real estate (a new program nobody had heard of). A traineeship would mean missing one day of school a week and dropping one subject, allowing me to spend that time gaining experience in the workplace. Although I did well at school, I failed to see the relevance in most of what I was learning and I jumped at the opportunity to get a head start on my career. I believe this allowed me to become the youngest person to get their real estate license in Queensland, though I’ve never had this confirmed.
That one day a week (along with some work over school holidays) earned me enough money to purchase my first car and resulted in me spending five years with the company, working across all facets of the real estate industry, from administrative duties to property management and eventually sales. As a teenager, my responsibilities went as far as going to court on a regular basis and representing landlords to evict tenants who had fallen in arrears. A fairly confronting experience for someone who’d had a relatively sheltered upbringing.
Driven by the pursuit of greater earning potential and fed up with spending my weekends running open houses instead of hanging out with mates or watching and playing sport, I made a move into commercial real estate. I loved the job and the lifestyle that went with it was amazing. I lived in a glamorous high-rise apartment in the middle of town, I was able to take some great holidays and, for the most part, I was working on my own terms.
From Monday to Friday, I’d help plan the tenancy mix in retail shopping centres and negotiate leases between businesses and landlords. In order to assess a potential tenant, I’d often receive a great deal of insight into their business and I loved learning about the different industries, analysing their operations and providing recommendations to my clients. I did well at it too, winning the Rising Star for Knight Frank Australia (a top global commercial agency), and making good money in the process.
There were many aspects of the work I loved but the dishonest nature of many in the industry, including some colleagues who put money above morals and would do anything to get a deal over the line, frustrated me. At one point, a colleague stole a deal that cost me tens of thousands of dollars – I was dismayed. Then, in 2009, the Global Financial Crisis hit and a big project I was about to take on was lost after the owner went bankrupt. I had put most of my eggs in one basket and went from huge income projections to having to prospect for new business in a challenging market. Feeling disenchanted, I decided I needed some time away to clear my head. Giving it little thought, I sold almost everything I had and booked a one-way flight to Europe.
3. MY ADDICTION TO TRAVEL BEGINS.
For the best part of a year, I backpacked around Europe, as well as Turkey, Egypt and India. I had some friends join certain parts of the trip, but I mostly travelled solo. My eyes were open to the diverse world that existed, away from standard, packaged holiday options. Rarely planning more than a week or two ahead, I would take a train or a plane to new countries on a whim, trusting my lonely planet guide to take care of me as I arrived in places I knew nothing about. I became addicted to the unknown and lived for the thrill of arriving in a foreign city and meeting new people with stories from around the world.
I had some incredible adventures and some challenging times. Within the space of two weeks, I was abducted in Portugal (a story for another day) and then robbed in Barcelona. These were testing times but the good far outweighed the bad. Strangely enough, both of these events became positives for me (although the same couldn’t be said for my worrying family back home). I had a great story from Portugal to tell other backpackers and when I was robbed in Barcelona, I lost my iPhone, which while upsetting at the time, resulted in me spending far more time engaging with people, instead of being glued to a screen. A habit we all know is hard to break.
Money had been easy to come by while I was in real estate and I had little regard for its value. This led me to undertake some fantastic experiences while backpacking: travel to Turkey and take a hot air balloon ride over Cappadocia? Why not?! Attend football matches in Spain and England? You bet! Go sailing in Croatia for a week? Do you even have to ask? Spontaneously run off a cliff and paraglide? Yes please (albeit with a little more hesitation). I wasn’t the type of backpacker who would cook two-minute noodles to save money; I preferred to visit local restaurants and soak up the vibe of the town or city I was in. As a result, money quickly ran dry. Over the course of 2009, I’d been frivolous, exhausting all my savings and also accumulating some credit card debt. It was time to return home.
4. CANADA BECKONS.
When I returned to Australia towards the end of 2009, I was fortunate to be welcomed back to my old job. Not only that, but I was offered a better title and my boss at the time (who is sadly no longer with us) even lent me one of his cars to use while I got myself settled. I had everything I needed to get back into the swing of things.
As many can attest to, returning to normal life after a long backpacking trip is challenging. I’d had all these amazing adventures and despite friends paying lip service, it was obvious people didn’t want to hear endless stories about what I’d been doing while abroad. I can’t say I blame them but it was tough. Meanwhile, life on the Gold Coast seemed stagnant and it felt like I had never left. Although I loved being back amongst the people I cared most about, I felt lost and I wasn’t happy.
I couldn’t get settled and although I probably should have given it longer, within a few weeks, I realised I had changed as a person. Although I needed to earn money, I wasn’t interested in going back into real estate and the almighty dollar was no longer my driving factor. I needed more adventure and I was determined to find it.
Somehow, over the course of approximately two months, I managed to close a few deals and make enough money to pay off all my debt (I still don’t know how) while at the same time investigating options for where I could go and what I could do next. I set my heart on joining a friend from high school who was going to work at the Winter Olympics in Canada. There was just one minor stumbling point – I couldn’t get a visa and I only had a few weeks to do so! Despite identifying as an Australian, I only had a British passport and I didn’t qualify for a visa through it.
Not willing to accept defeat, I pleaded with multiple government officials and over the space of a couple of weeks was able to fast track Australian citizenship, expedite a passport, and subsequently apply and get approved for a Canadian working visa. A miracle! By January 2010, I was on a one-way ticket to Vancouver with little more than $800 in my bank account and a week’s accommodation booked at a hostel.
For a month, I worked at the Winter Olympics in Whistler, predominantly selling drinks at the luge, bobsled and skeleton (two of which I hadn’t heard of until that point). I use the term ‘work’ loosely, as with the exception of some peak periods, there were few customers around, meaning I could watch the events and have regular snowball fights with the other staff. The accommodation and food were included, and I lived on an old cruise ship based in Squamish. It wasn’t glamorous but it was a lot of fun. Each day, the other workers and I would take a bus through the spectacular British Columbia mountains to reach Whistler, a commute I loved.
The games were an amazing experience and I didn’t want it to end. Fortunately for me, I was one of a small number of people to be able to make it last a little longer, securing a position at the Paralympics. With far fewer demands on accommodation during this time, I was moved into the Athletes’ Village for the duration of my contract. Not only was I now in the centre of the action, but close by was a McDonald’s that catered solely to us workers and the athletes (though I’m not sure this would hold the same appeal to me today). Over the next few weeks, I was able to watch a number of events while working and I witnessed some of the most inspiring athletes you could imagine. I made lifelong friends with other workers and, for the first time in my life, I realised how enjoyable it could be working outside of an office environment.
With a few thousand dollars saved and a complete disregard for anything further than a month into the future, I embarked on a road trip with my friend from school and some new mates we’d made during the Olympics. The plan was to spend three months in the US, though I don’t know how I thought I’d afford this. However, soon after starting the journey I discovered my passport had not been stamped out of the US on my last visit, between the Olympics and Paralympics. As a result, I would need to leave the country after only five weeks. Feeling slightly lost, I decided to head to Ontario in Canada, to visit friends I’d made during the games. What a decision that turned out to be!
5. WASAGA BEACH.
I’ve experienced a lot of generosity from people on my travels, but none more so than in Canada! Upon arriving in Ontario in April 2010, the parents of friends I’d made in Whistler offered me free accommodation living in their holiday home, a small cottage in a beachside town called Wasaga Beach. Home to the largest freshwater beach in the world and only 90 minutes from Toronto, it seemed like a good option. I accepted their offer and took some much-needed time to get settled and figure out what I’d do with myself, all without the financial pressure I would have otherwise felt. I quickly made some great friends and decided I’d stay for the summer, eventually renting a spare room from a local cop.
Having previously been inspired by the movie Cocktails, I was determined to get a job working at a bar, something I’d never done before. Unfortunately, I quickly discovered that these positions were highly sought after due to the tips you could earn. I would have to settle for waiting tables. Going from earning six figures in Australia to working for less than $8 an hour (plus tips) was initially a hard pill to swallow. However, I was enjoying life as much as ever and I soon realised that money is only one of many factors that determines our happiness. With few international visitors (let alone Australians) visiting Wasaga Beach, my accent got a lot of positive attention from the locals. In fact, I am sure my Australian accent became much stronger while living there, due to the increased smiles and tips that came from greeting people with ‘g’day’ rather than ‘hello’.
Despite enjoying spending my days on the beach and my nights serving tables, I continued to make my desire to work behind the bar well known. After a couple of months, I was excited to discover that the owners of the establishment where I worked had taken over management of a nightclub for the rest of the summer. I was desperate to work there (I think I even volunteered to do so without pay) and was offered the opportunity to do so on opening night. There weren’t many customers and so the money wasn’t as good, but I loved it and I pushed to work there again the following night – the only person to do so! As a result, I had a better idea of how things worked and was able to provide direction to the other staff. Rarely lacking in confidence, the following day, I made a number of suggestions on marketing, setup and some other aspects, which must have impressed because within a week of opening, I was given the title of manager. To say I was happy would be a massive understatement.
In summer, the population of Wasaga Beach reaches over 100,000. However, in the winter, this number drops to around 20,000 and there were limited opportunities. I’d started dating a local girl who was entering her final year of a psychology degree at a university in St Catharines, a town a few hours’ drive away, near Niagara Falls. As summer drew to a close and many of my friends were moving away, I decided to leave Wasaga Beach and join her for the final two semesters of her studies. Having never experienced the university lifestyle, I enjoyed hanging out with her and her friends and spending very little money while partying in another new place. I didn’t want to leave Canada, but I hadn’t tried to get a job since moving to St Catharines and with far too much free time, I began to miss everyone back in Australia. I decided I needed to find a way to get back there for a visit, but I also needed to make some money to fund it. Luckily, I had an idea!
6. WORKING IN THE JUNGLE ON REALITY TV.
A year earlier, while backpacking in Berlin, I’d met a guy who returned to Australia each year to work on a British reality TV show called I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here. I hadn’t thought anything of it at the time but coincidentally, the show was filmed near my family’s home on the Gold Coast. It turned out my sister had also worked on the series, though the two didn’t know each other. With nothing to lose, I reached out to both of them, asking if they would put me in touch with someone on the show and give me a reference. Nothing ventured, nothing gained!
Fortunately for me, both of them were held in high esteem by the producers of the show. Without so much as a Skype call and whilst still in Canada, I’d been promised a job making coffee and tea for editors when production started in late 2010. It was hardly my dream job but it was well paid, included accommodation and meant I could see everyone back home. I would have to fund flights to Australia for the work, but the position paid enough to justify the costs. Upon arriving for my first day on the job, I was advised that someone had dropped out and there was a role available setting up and helping to run games/challenges for the celebrities in the rainforest. After a quick chat with the production manager, it was determined that making coffees would no longer be my job and I’d instead be running around the jungle for the next month.
The hours were intense but it only ran for four to six weeks and the money I made kept me afloat for months. Dressed in camouflage, I would spend my days helping source props, setting up and testing games in the rainforest and assisting camera operators. Some of this was great fun but it also meant testing some pretty horrible challenges involving rats, green ants, disgusting foods and heights. I must have adapted fairly well though, because once the series was finished, they offered me a role on the German version of the show – Ich Bin Ein Star. Ich Bin Ein Star was filmed in the same location about a month later, allowing me to do a quick trip back to Canada and spend Christmas with my girlfriend and her family, before returning to Australia again in the new year for another few weeks. I ended up working on the British show for two seasons and the German version for three. It was an amazing experience and a real eye opener to work in an industry I had previously known nothing about.
7. YOU MAKE YOUR OWN LUCK.
In May 2011, my girlfriend finished her degree in St Catharines and we decided to move somewhere new for a shared adventure, settling on a place neither of us had been – Halifax, Nova Scotia. Knowing I’d need to start working sooner rather than later, I posted an ad seeking work on an online classified platform called Kijiji (similar to GumTree or Craigslist). I’d never done this before but I decided there was nothing to lose and figured I’d put my skills and experience out there (including my recently acquired bar experience). I had a few strange people contact me offering all sorts of ‘jobs’ (as can probably be expected from online classified ads) but beyond that, nothing eventuated. As such, upon arriving in Halifax, I went from bar to bar asking about potential openings, eventually taking a job at a sports bar.
We both fell in love with the Halifax and its surrounds. The food, landscapes and bar scene were fantastic and the people were really welcoming. We quickly settled into our new life and leased an apartment together for the first time. Then, out of the blue, I received a call from my ad on Kijiji! An expedition cruise company was looking for someone to manage their bar on an icebreaker departing Iceland in a few weeks’ time. After explaining that I’d just moved over with my girlfriend and that I couldn’t leave her, they offered her a role behind the bar too. You couldn’t make this stuff up! We spent all of five seconds considering the idea, before quickly subletting our apartment and hopping on a one-way flight to Reykjavik in June.
The next few months were spent sailing with a Russian crew from Iceland to Svalbard in Norway, up the west coast of Greenland and through the Canadian Northwest Passage. We visited remote communities and spent our days spotting amazing wildlife, including polar bears, walruses, seals, whales and various birds. There were less than 100 passengers on the ship, and when they went off the boat, we could too. Sometimes, when a port wasn’t of interest or we wanted to do something different, a small group of us would take kayaks and paddle through the ice – it was simply incredible!
The hours were long and, at times, there were rough seas which we both struggled with. Working behind a bar when you feel seasick and things are falling over isn’t much fun, but it was a small price to pay for the experience we had. In addition, we weren’t spending any money and we were given an alcohol allowance neither of us could keep up with. In a desperate attempt to utilise some of it while socialising with passengers, I had no choice but to develop a taste for expensive single malt Scotch. The things we do for work!
Sailing through these remote regions and seeing such unique wildlife in its natural environment made it a truly bucket list worthy three months. To top it off, on our final night (which also happened to be my birthday), we were treated to a spectacular display of the Northern Lights. It was epic! People were spending tens of thousands of dollars for these trips and we were doing most of what they were, while earning money.
At the end of the season, our contracts included a flight home. It was late 2011 and my Canadian working visa would expire in a couple of months’ time, so I couldn’t pass up taking a free flight back to Australia. The timing worked well, as I was able to get back in time to work on the reality TV shows. Once again (and selfishly in hindsight), I hadn’t given much thought to what the future would hold and it wasn’t too long before I realised a return to Canada was unlikely and the relationship with my girlfriend ended.
8. MORE INCREDIBLE JOBS.
It was late January 2012 and I was on the Gold Coast with my contract working on reality TV series, Ich Bin Ein Star, about to finish. The show had put me up in an apartment and I still had almost all my possessions in my suitcase. I had a little money saved but I had nowhere to be and soon, nothing to do. My last job had come from an online classified ad, so I decided to jump online and see if anything excited me.
One job stood out – being a tour leader for backpacker groups in Sydney, a role which included free accommodation in a hostel. The catch, it paid around $350-$400 a week. That might not be so bad in some places, but in Sydney, it won’t buy you much more than a few breakfasts of a flat white coffee and smashed avocado on toast. Nonetheless, it sounded like fun and what harm could come from giving it a go? Within 72 hours of enquiring about the role, I’d had a Skype interview, been offered the job and had booked a one-way flight to Sydney.
After a month or so of guiding first time visitors around Sydney and selling them onward travel around Australia, the company I was working for gave me the opportunity to be a group leader for their tours in Thailand. I didn’t think twice and before I knew it, I was splitting my time between Bangkok and Koh Phangan, hanging out with backpackers as I guided them on week-long, introductory trips around Thailand. The majority of the people on the tours were in their 20s, had never been to Asia and had never backpacked before. I loved opening their eyes to the experience and showing them how much fun it could be. Many of the trips would overlap with Full Moon Beach Parties and my wardrobe was quickly filled with fluorescent clothing as I slowly destroyed my liver.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Thailand. I relished the chance to get to know the locals, which had been tough to do on past trips of only a week or two. My role also saw me tasked with providing feedback on tweaking the tour – something I loved doing and felt was a strength of mine. All in all, it was right up there with the most fun jobs a young, carefree person could have. But, despite all the positives, it was an emotionally draining role. I’d spend 24/7 with a group of people that I’d quickly get close with, only for them to all but disappear from my life a week or two later.
After a few months in Thailand, an opportunity presented itself back home on the Gold Coast to work on the return of reality TV series Big Brother. The production company was the same one that had employed me for I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here and they offered me a great position on the show. Having spent so little time with family and friends over the past few years, it was the perfect chance to spend an extended period with them, while also replenishing my bank account and gaining more experience in the fascinating world of reality television.
In June 2012, I flew back from Thailand, hired a car, secured a short-term lease and started working on Big Brother. My main responsibilities were to oversee the property the housemates were living in, ration their food, turn off their hot water (normally mid-shower), set up challenges and occasionally dress up as a ninja and sneak into the house. Even more random was being tasked with taking care of a rescue dog the producers put into the house and looking after a puffer fish named Surly (who would ‘talk’ to the housemates and who was sadly replaced more than once). There aren’t too many roles out there with a job description like that! Big Brother was a success and despite not being someone who enjoys watching reality TV, I really enjoyed working on it.
9. MY CAREER IN TOURISM OFFICIALLY BEGINS.
My sister (the same one who helped me get a job in reality TV) had been working for Gold Coast Tourism (the city’s tourism board) for about a year. During that time, she had been periodically sending me job openings, encouraging me to make a more permanent move back to Australia. What she did for work looked amazing, as her role saw her undertake experiences all over the region. At this point, I knew little about the function of tourism boards but when Big Brother ended in November 2012, I finally succumbed to her efforts and applied for a role assisting with international operations and marketing. I got the job and have little doubt this can largely be attributed to the stellar performance she’d done (and continues to do) there. Thanks again, Molly!
Soon after starting with Gold Coast Tourism, I met my now wife, Nathalie (Nat). Nat was a primary school teacher from Sydney who had recently moved to the Gold Coast in search of a change as well as warmer weather. I had found a great girl and, for the first time in a long time, sought some form of stability, renting an apartment, buying a car and undertaking a somewhat normal lifestyle.
We soon moved in together, living in a great high-rise apartment by the beach. I enjoyed rediscovering my hometown and spending quality time with my friends and family – something I had missed a lot over the last few years. The job entailed assisting in international marketing as well as hosting and coordinating trips for travel agents and media to the city. It was another great job and I had a fantastic boss, but I was ambitious and if I was going to be working full time, I needed something more challenging, with more responsibility.
In early 2014, a little over a year into the role, an opportunity presented itself within Gold Coast Tourism to manage Incentive Business from South East Asia and India. I applied for and secured the position, a big step up from what I was doing. Whilst still based on the Gold Coast, the job had me regularly travelling to India, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia, pitching the Gold Coast as an incentive destination to travel agents and large corporations. For the most part, I really enjoyed it; I felt I had finally found a balance between a responsible career and regularly travelling.
In July 2015, after two and a half years with Gold Coast Tourism, some changes in my role were proposed that would result in less international travel and a greater focus on domestic conferences. This wasn’t something I was interested in and it led to me once again considering an overseas adventure. I am an avid supporter of West Ham (Premier League) and they were about to have their last season at their stadium of over 100 years, Upton Park. I started to think about the prospect of moving to the UK and being there to experience this, something which quickly gained momentum. At the same time, there were limited full time teaching positions available on the Gold Coast and Nat had been working at different schools on various contracts without much stability. The proposed move would provide Nat a platform to further her career and a chance for the two of us to have an adventure together. Despite fearing the cold winters, she didn’t take too much convincing.
A friend who I’d made while working at Gold Coast Tourism recommended me for a role he’d previously held with Tourism Australia in London. Without hesitation, I applied for the job. The process was very slow and while waiting, we decided we were going to make the move regardless and booked one-way flights to the UK (which by now, I can’t imagine surprised too many). Fortunately for me, a couple of weeks later, I was offered the role and would spend the coming years working across the UK and Northern Europe promoting Australia to travel agents. Surely my luck would run out soon!
10. LIFE IN ENGLAND.
There’s so much to love about London and from the moment we arrived in July 2015, the two of us made the most of our time there. From football matches around the country, to bike riding and exploring the city, to visiting the many beautiful little towns – we loved it. Even my daily commute felt special; despite starting with a claustrophobic train ride, it would then involve a walk over Waterloo Bridge, crossing the Thames and looking out over the London Eye and Big Ben. It was surreal and I was in awe of the situation we had found ourselves in.
My job predominantly consisted of teaching people about Australia and running events for travel advisors (agents) across the UK, Ireland, Scandinavia, Holland and Belgium. I was given a lot of autonomy and thrived in the role. Not only did it provide me with an opportunity to travel and work across Europe, but I was given free rein in how I went about reaching and teaching travel advisors.
In the UK, many high street travel agents don’t make a lot of money and it can be a lifestyle job as much as anything. There is also a lot of competition for travel products and tourism boards to get in front of these people. This meant I had to come up with interesting events (normally involving a lot of alcohol) to ensure I’d get a good number of people attend and hear me talk about the Land Down Under. Among many fun concepts, my favourite included hiring an Australian comedian to host a game show where travel agents had electronic buzzers and would work in teams to win tickets to Australia.
There was rarely a dull moment and on top of it all, I would regularly travel back to Australia to experience products and the destination first-hand. It was during this time I discovered just how brilliant my home country really was, especially regions like Western Australia, the Northern Territory and Tasmania. These were places I’d previously known very little about and are often overlooked by Australian travellers. For anyone who hasn’t spent time around Australia, there really is something for everyone and I can’t recommend exploring the continent enough.
As a teacher, Nat had plenty of free time over school holidays and we took every opportunity to travel extensively around Europe (and the Middle East). We visited many fantastic places I hadn’t been, like Russia, Greece, Jordan, Israel, Malta, Slovenia, Sweden and Austria, just to name a few. As good as all this was, one of the best parts for me was the chance to take multiple trips to see my grandfather in Denmark (who passed away soon after I left the UK) and have him meet Nat. It was the day after I introduced them to each other that Nat and I got engaged.
Eventually, the long UK winters got the better of us (well, mainly Nat) and we decided we would leave London in October 2017. We didn’t know where we would go or what we would do, but we both desperately wanted to spend some time exploring Central and South America – a region neither of us had visited. Driven by a fear that future career choices could limit our chances of spending an extended period doing this, we decided we would get married at a registry office on our final day in the UK and use the money we’d save from a traditional wedding to have a two and a half month honeymoon through Latin America. We have had many people question this, telling us their wedding day was the best day of their lives. And although it would have been nice to celebrate with our nearest and dearest, we had a fantastic wedding day and then the ten best weeks of our lives with the money we saved.
11. BIG LIFE CHANGES.
As with all my past jobs, I left Tourism Australia on good terms, providing a few months’ notice to assist in a smooth transition. During this time, my boss (and friend) suggested I apply for a role that I wasn’t aware of, being advertised in Tourism Australia’s Los Angeles office. Living in America had always been a dream and the job sounded incredible – managing the promotion of luxury travel to Australia across North and South America. Although I knew it was a long-shot, I spent countless hours learning everything possible about the US market, the position and what I would need to be successful. I knew how rare an opportunity this was and I didn’t want to waste it. I submitted my application, sought out some senior people at Tourism Australia to put forward my case and had an interview. Having gone through the process for the job in London, I knew I wouldn’t hear anything for a while.
I had my final day with Tourism Australia in London and the following morning, Nat and I got married. We had planned to head to a Michelin star restaurant for dinner to celebrate but West Ham’s progression in a knock out tournament meant they would be playing arch rival Tottenham at the same time. Knowing we’d both struggle to enjoy dinner with the game going on, we decided to scrap our romantic plans and head to Wembley to see it first hand. Another great decision as West Ham came back from 2-0 at half time, to win the game 2-3. It was an amazing game and a fitting end to our time in London. The next day, we departed for Nicaragua, once again with our future in limbo and no idea where our next paycheck would come from.
A few weeks into our honeymoon, we had made our way down to the stunning south east coast of Costa Rica. After returning to our accommodation from a day hiking through Cahuita National Park (now one of my favourite places in the world), I received a call offering me the job in America. Ecstatic, we went from researching venues for a wedding party in Australia to playing the Mamas and Papas California Dreaming on repeat while looking at rental properties around Santa Monica and Hollywood.
To say we enjoyed the rest of our honeymoon would be an understatement, as we went from Panama to Colombia, to Bolivia and then on to Peru, Chile, Argentina and Uruguay, before finishing in Brazil. All of our shared dreams were coming true and we were having the time of our lives. After finishing with New Year’s Eve on Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro, we made our way back to Australia with two weeks to arrange visas, see friends and family and get our affairs in order.
12. THE CITY OF ANGELS BECOMES OUR HOME.
In January 2018, we arrived at LAX and I started my job the following day. We had every intention of spending many years in America. Nat quickly secured a great job at a private school in Beverly Hills and for the first time since working in commercial real estate, I was making good money. My job saw me travelling all over the USA and other parts of the world, promoting the best of the best of high end, experiential travel in Australia, while overseeing a budget of approximately one million Australian dollars.
While doing this, I was experiencing business class flights, staying in Luxury Lodges that charge $2,000 a night, taking helicopter trips over some of the most spectacular landscapes in Australia and enjoying bespoke touring, the likes of which I previously didn’t know existed. I got to know Australia on a whole new level and it was fantastic. I was loving having the ability to constantly travel and experience so much, but doing so without Nat was hard and I always felt guilty that she was at home while I was living a truly Instagram worthy lifestyle (though ironically, I never posted a photo on Instagram during this time).
Whilst I knew the job would provide many of these ‘once in a lifetime’, awe-inspiring opportunities, there was another side of the industry that my eyes were opened to. Across the luxury travel sector there is an increased emphasis on sustainable travel as well as experiences that give back to local communities. I became increasingly interested and passionate about this sector of the industry and pushed for Tourism Australia to do more with it. Most of us recognise the adverse impact tourism can have on our planet, particularly in less developed regions, and although I wasn’t able to get anything off the ground while in the role, I’ll look to incorporate this into the work I do in the future.
I loved many aspects of the job and Nat loved the school where she was teaching, but we weren’t happy living in Los Angeles. Whilst we absolutely loved the experience of living in America (and travelling extensively around the country), we found LA a tough city and it never really felt like home. After a less than positive response from my boss when I requested to work from another part of the country, Nat and I spent our Christmas break in a secluded cabin in a forest in Oregon, evaluating what we wanted out of life.
I’ve never been one for planning too far into the future, believing it often stifles certain freedoms and opportunities, but on this occasion, it gave us both a lot of clarity. We took a step back, asking ourselves what we actually needed to be happy, what was most important to us, and crucially, how feasible it was. We decided that despite the privileged circumstances we found ourselves in, we would explore the possibility of giving it all up and becoming digital nomads!
13. THE DREAM JOB WASN’T ENOUGH.
Returning to Los Angeles after our Christmas break, we continued weighing up the options. We spent many nights after work looking at monthly rentals around the world and watching YouTube videos on life as digital nomads (which is why I am now making videos on the topic). Despite all my travels, this still felt like a foreign concept to me and we wanted to learn more.
As we spent more time investigating the possibilities, we realised this was the lifestyle we both wanted. The two of us feel the world right now is at a crossroads, whether it’s climate change, AI/automation, uncertain global financial markets, political power grabs/corruption, greedy corporations driven only by shareholder profit or the one percent getting richer as the rest of the world gets left behind – there’s little doubt the world is undergoing an unprecedented level of rapid change. I’m not saying it’s all doom and gloom and perhaps I’ll write more about my views on this another time, but as things stand, kids are a long way from our minds and we’re determined to make the most of the world we have available at our fingertips.
It’s easy to get carried away with ideas like this but as we continued to weigh the risks of quitting our jobs and embarking on a new adventure versus our desire to be our own bosses, see more of the world and experience different cultures and places, the decision became easy! Never one to be driven by fear of the unknown, I gave my notice to Tourism Australia, Nat told her school and we locked in our first couple of months’ accommodations.
We spent our remaining months in America struggling to balance our desire to save money with the reality that there were so many things we’d miss once we left the US: from the great hikes, to enjoying the stunning Los Angeles’ sunsets, from the equally delicious and disgustingly unhealthy foods, to the huge array of sporting events and concerts a city like LA affords – it is an incredible place.
Still unsure about exactly how things would work once we left LA, we chose destinations with a low cost of living, knowing we could afford to go without income for a decent period if we were smart with our money. While continuing to work through ideas on the direction of my business, we’ve focused most of our attention on Nat getting an online tutoring business (The Faraway Teacher) up and running. She’s loving life and getting huge job satisfaction, not only in being her own boss, but in making a difference to the children she’s working with – so that’s off to a great start. We’ve also had the chance to do some volunteer work with a local school in Indonesia, which we hope will be the first of many and has been a highlight of our adventure so far.
My business is a work in progress and as you can tell from the size of this piece of writing, I’m taking it slow as I weigh up options. I’ll be doing something that will allow me to make the most of my world travels and extensive experience in the tourism industry. I’ll also aim to incorporate a charitable element to this, so stay tuned for more details in the coming months!
14. WHICH BRINGS US TO NOW.
There are a few things that spending time in over 65 countries has taught me. The first is the realisation of the privileged upbringing I had. Like many in westernised countries, I never truly appreciated the things we take for granted every day: clean drinking water, free medical care, food on the table, an education and a roof over our heads. Living in America and closely following their politics has also made me realise how many threats there are to these things and how we should all take more of an interest in what our elected officials are doing.
What has also stood out is that money and happiness rarely have a direct correlation. The financially poor people I’ve spent time with across India, South East Asia and Latin America often seem more content than those in western countries earning hundreds of thousands of dollars, often at the expense of doing what makes them happy. That’s not to say Nat and I don’t like nice things – I write this from a new laptop, have a new smartphone and use a GoPro to capture our travels. However, I don’t plan to ever make the accumulation of possessions something that I sacrifice my health and happiness for.
Finally, it’s only now that I’m truly realising how fortunate I’ve been with everything I’ve done over the last ten years: from exploring places that I didn’t know existed, to the amazing jobs I’ve had, to the many people who have extended their hospitality to me over the years. I’m particularly grateful for the opportunities Tourism Australia afforded me and the many great people I had the chance to work with there over the last four years. I’ve loved the opportunity to represent my country (even if it wasn’t through sport) and have learned an incredible amount from my time there. It was a life changing experience.
Despite all the adventures I’ve written about, I feel all of this is just the beginning. Our next chapter is still up in the air and we have a fair way to go in order to make all of this feasible over the long term. We want to find a way to not only make this financially sustainable, but environmentally sustainable too. It’s going to be challenging but if what I’ve written about here is anything to go by, it’s proof that we have the power to make our dreams come true. It’s not everyone’s ideal lifestyle but it is ours and we’ll do the best we can to make it last – striving for happiness, experiencing the world and making a positive difference along the way.
LIFE DUNN DIFFERENTLY – To be continued…