Life As a Digital Nomad – Travel Blogger Interview with James Cave
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This interview series features interviews with travel bloggers and writers. If you are a travel blogger and a writer and have something to share with your readers, please get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to hearing from you!
In this interview, let us meet a digital nomad and travel blogger James Cave. James is from Ireland and has been a digital nomad for six years, working as an online marketing consultant and copywriter. He usually spends a couple of months each year in Portugal, and then travels for the rest of the year with a combination of short trips and sometimes stopping in a place for a few months. His travel blog, Portugalist, focuses on travel guides and food in Portugal and it is the web’s number one Portugal travel guide.
Welcome James! Please tell us a bit about yourself, your work and your travels.
Originally from Ireland, I’m a digital nomad who has spent the last six years travelling in Europe, Asia and Africa. I’ve spent a lot of that time slow travelling, and have spent time living in France, Spain, Portugal, Germany, and South Africa for several months at a time.
I started off as a marketing consultant, and did that for several years while travelling. These days, I work on a lot of my own projects. I’ve written a guidebook to German culture, and I also write a travel blog about Portugal.
What makes you decide to become a digital nomad?
I was living in Scotland and working in marketing, and I really wanted to travel. I didn’t particularly want to have to do bar work or other part-time jobs while travelling, as I’d only just gotten a desk job, so I looked into the possibility of freelancing on the road.
I initially started out as a house sitter, and spent time living in France looking after people’s pets while they were away. That was a useful way of travelling, but without having to worry too much about living costs. It certainly helped me get my digital nomad life up and running.
As a digital nomad, what does your routine look like?
My routine changes a little depending on where I live. Normally, though, I get up and have some coffee and start into my work while I try and wake up. That’s usually around 8 am. At some point, depending on how warm it is, I’ll go for a run or to the gym. If it’s summertime in Portugal, I usually run early to avoid the peak heat but during the rest of the year I’ll run around lunchtime.
The rest of the day is a mixture of work and procrastination. I usually work till around 7 pm, but often it can be much later. If I take a break in the afternoon to go for a coffee or do the shopping, I’ll usually end up working for another hour or two.
At the weekends, I like to explore on foot. If it’s a city I’ve never been to, I’ll usually walk around and take it in. If it’s somewhere I know well, I may go for a hike in the countryside or to visit a nearby town or village.
You have spend a lot of time in Portugal. Would you like to tell us what is your favorite place there?
There are so many places that I love in Portugal. I love visiting the Algarve in the winter time, and walking there. I usually walk the Seven Hanging Valleys walk at least once or twice per year, which is a nice walk that’s around 12 km in length. It’s very beautiful and varied, and somewhere I come back to a lot.
Algarve sounds like a dream place to visit in the winter. Which country do you want to go next as a digital nomad and why?
I have never been to Central or South America, so the next country will be there somewhere. I would really like to visit Costa Rica, but Colombia and Argentina are both on the list as well. I hear Medellin is a popular spot for digital nomads and, as I loved Narcos so much, I’ll have to swing by there.
What are the most important lessons you have learned as a digital nomad?
In the first few years of being a digital nomad, internet connections were a lot worse in Europe. I spent a lot of time in McDonald’s which, in France, was somewhere that always had a reasonably good wi-fi connection. It wasn’t the nicest place to work from, but at that point cafes in rural French towns didn’t really have wi-fi. It’s quite possible that they still don’t.
So, the lesson I had to learn was not to assume that there would be good wi-fi. Whenever I book an Airbnb, or if I book a hotel in a country that doesn’t have great internet, I’ll spend a lot of time reading the reviews to see if anyone mentions the wi-fi.
I’ve also learned that it’s often better to be in Northern Europe in the winter as a digital nomad than Southern Europe. Although Southern Europe has very mild winters outside, the houses are designed to stay as cool as possible and don’t have any heating. This means they’re absolutely freezing in the winter, which is a problem if you’re a digital nomad and have to work inside all day.
I still spend a lot of time in Southern Europe in the winter, but now I no longer assume the house will be warm and ask the owners in advance beforehand.
I have no idea there is no heating in Southern Europe. Thanks for this tip!
You have lived in several countries and traveled to many places. Tell us a bit about why you choose to focus your travel blog specifically on Portugal.
I’ve spent a lot of time in Portugal and, seeing as very few Portuguese people were blogging about it, I thought that I would jump in. I actually grew up in Portugal, and my parents have lived there for almost two decades so it’s somewhere that I know very well. Knowing how hard it was to find information about Portugal online, I decided to write about it myself.
There are pros and cons to focusing specifically on one country and, for most people, I think it makes more sense to keep your travel blog more general. There are a lot of things that I’ve wanted to write about while travelling, but couldn’t because I only write about Portugal.
You have been working as a digital nomad for six years now. How do you see the digital nomad sphere evolving over the past six years?
It’s changed dramatically, and especially in Lisbon. I remember moving to Lisbon back in 2013, and there were very few other expats let alone digital nomads in the city. I recently wrote a blog post about being a digital nomad in Lisbon, and I couldn’t believe how much things had changed. Now there are so many co-working spaces, meetups, and people passing through the city.
I think being a digital nomad is much less of an unusual thing now. I remember how exciting it used to be to meet other digital nomads, to meet other people like you. Now I meet so many, and so many non-digital nomads know that it’s possible, that it’s no longer as remarkable.
Lets talk about a bit of travel blogging and remote work. Now more than ever, many people have created a travel website and build their own platform and audience. Do you think it is a good thing or do you think it brings more difficulty and competition to make a full living out of it?
There are definitely a lot more people doing it now than there were five or six years ago. I think it’s still possible to make a living from it, but it is a lot of hard work. I don’t think many people will see significant results in their first year, unless they’re pretty much blogging full-time.
What advise you will offer to someone who wants to start their own online business and run a travel blog?
Understand that it’s going to take a long time to see results and, because of that, you’ve really got to enjoy doing this. Otherwise you’ll spend the next year or two constantly frustrated. If you love it, though, it’s a great way to travel and to make a living.
Thanks James for sharing your experience as a digital nomad with us. Enjoy your time in Portugal!
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