How I Went From Nursing School Dropout to Digital Nomad

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Allow me to take a moment to re-introduce myself to all of you! It’s been a long time since I shared my story, and there are lots of new faces reading the blog these days. In this post, I’ll be sharing my journey from nursing school dropout to digital nomad, how I make money, and what inspires me to keep traveling – plus so much more! 

Let’s get personal! Last week I shared a travel story from 2016, that didn’t make it onto the blog because I never deemed it ‘useful’ enough. It was so much fun to share that story with you – and it was a needed reminder that as much as we love helpful content, we also crave stories and human connection. 

This week I thought I’d share a little bit more about myself and my journey, to hopefully inspire you to take the leap and travel more. Whether you want to quit your job and travel for a year, plan your dream 2-week vacation, or sustain your travels by being a digital nomad (like myself), today I’ll be sharing how I got started. 

As a nursing school dropout who quit her job to take a year aboard – turned digital nomad who now lives abroad, I hope there’s something in my story for each of you. 

This post contains affiliate links. That means if you purchase something I’ve recommended, I may receive a small commission (at no additional cost to you!) This helps me keep living my dream and writing these guides. Thank you for your support.

From Nursing School Drop Out to Digital Nomad

A headline that would make any mother proud!  

All jokes aside, when I dropped out of nursing school to travel the world for a year, I had no idea that I would never return, that I would learn how to work online, or that I would still be traveling to this day. I still have ‘pinch-me’ moments when I tell people that I’m a full-time travel Pinterest Marketer. 

And sometimes I wonder if my parents would have been so supportive and encouraging if they knew it meant I would never come back…

Let’s not pull that thread…

19-Year-Old Justyn from Milan in 2015

Back in 2015, I took a year-long break from college to go backpacking in Europe. 

Armed with a phone that didn’t work abroad, a newly discovered app called WhatsApp, and the inability to read a map, I set out to see the world. My first stop was (bizarrely) Russia which left me feeling exhausted and slightly terrified, but from there I spent two weeks exploring Prague, which is where I immediately fell in love with travel, hostels (YUP), and Europe. 

Weeks into my first trip I was already plotting how I could keep this going for much, much longer. I started adding on destinations recommended to me by other travelers and going to places I had never previously heard of.  

This continued throughout Europe and Central America with occasional stints at home to earn a bit more money and say hi to my parents. 

During this stage of my travels, I learned that hostels would let you have free room and board if you volunteered with them and that websites like Couchsurfing and Worldpackers existed to help travelers keep costs down. 

I managed to volunteer and sustain my travels this way for two years before discovering work that I could do while traveling that would actually pay. 

19-Year-Old Justyn in Italy in 2015

Working as a Virtual Assistant 

My travels took me to Southeast Asia (Bali specifically) where I met Esther. I didn’t have anywhere to live and Esther happened to have a spare room at a villa where she was dog-sitting for a month. I moved in and we became fast friends. 

It was through Esther that I learned what a Virtual Assistant was. Within weeks I was taking her course, the 90-Da VA, and I fell into a world of online work. I still remember when I made my first $100 as a virtual assistant. Or months later when I was able to pay off my credit cards because money was coming in consistently. 

The fact that I could do it from anywhere? A total bonus. 

This lifestyle discovery was addictive. 

Somewhere along the way, someone asked me to manage their Pinterest account, and even though I had no idea how to manage a Pinterest account, I said yes. It’s nothing short of a miracle that I still work with my first 2 EVER Pinterest clients, today over 6 years later. 

Once I started managing more Pinterest accounts, I shifted from a generic Virtual Assistant to a more specific Marketing Virtual Assistant and eventually, I started to only take on Pinterest clients. 

To this day (over 6 years later), I’m a full-time digital marketer who specializes in Pinterest and Copywriting. 

My biggest piece of advice to anyone looking to start as a Virtual Assistant is to say YES to anything and everything. You never know what’s going to turn out to be your passion, and with the help of the 90-Day VA, you’ll know how to do almost every skill imaginable (I even teach a Pinterest Masterclass there).

My Digital Nomad Travels

Over the years (9 years by now) I’ve traveled to well over 50 countries. And I’ll be honest, some are better suited for Digital Nomads than others. 

Did I love French Polynesia with my entire soul? Yes. Could I afford to live there as a Digital Nomad? Absolutely not. 

Was East Timor one of the coolest places I’ve ever been? Absolutely. Would I choose to be a digital nomad there? Not at the moment. 

Is America vast and beautiful? YUP. Do I want to live as a digital nomad anywhere in its depths? NOPE. (Read my reasons here.) 

But there are some places that simply excel for digital nomads. Yes, there’s Bali, but there’s also my personal favorite, Thailand. And then there’s Mexico, Guatemala, Portugal, Greece and so many more. What it comes down to is your personal preference, your budget, and your interests outside of work. 

Some questions I ask myself before spending months in a place are: 
  • How’s the food?
  • What’s the Cost of Living like? 
  • How’s the internet and phone data? (this one is very important) 
  • Is there a community there?
  • Will there be activities I like to do (outside of work?) 
  • Is it close to the ocean? 

If you follow along my travels, you’ll notice that being close to the ocean is a big one for me. Diving is my favorite out-of-work hobby, so being close to affordable diving is a must (hello the next 3 months in Koh Tao!) 

But I also think about proximity to other countries and cities that I want to explore. This year I’m really dedicated to seeing more of South East Asia, so having a base in Thailand makes sense for me. Thailand is also an incredible country for digital nomads. It’s home to some of the best food and friendliest people on the planet.

Finding Community Abroad

One important factor in choosing where you want to be as a digital nomad is the sense of community. It’s important to find your people abroad, be somewhere where you can make friends, and choose a place that has other digital nomads. Having other digital nomads around you can help you feel more connected, productive, and happy! 

If you’re looking for that sense of community abroad, always start by joining the local Digital Nomad Facebook Group. Trust me, most places have them! They’ll usually do meetups, quiz nights, and coworking days and simply share tons of advice to help you make the most of your time in that place. 

You can also join a coworking space. In many traditional digital nomad communities, there are an abundance of coworking spaces! And in places like Bali, those coworking spaces also have classes and social events that can help you make friends. 

There are a few other ways that you can find community aboard. You can join an online community of Digital Nomads that meets up around the world, or you can try coliving. I’ve never done coliving, but I am a member of several online communities for digital nomads. 

Going to these digital nomad events and meetups, especially on my own, is still something that pushes me out of my comfort zone, but if I’ve learned anything from 9+ years of travel, it’s that if I wasn’t comfortable getting out of my comfort zone, I’d be a nurse in Utah right now. 

Showing up is the hardest part, once you’re there – I can promise that you’ll always meet incredible, like-minded people. 

Tips for Aspiring Digital Nomads

If you were to ask me for my top tips for aspiring digital nomads, I would say:

  1. Take the leap. It’s never going to feel like the right time so just say yes to the job, buy the plane ticket, and go. Most of us are lucky enough that if we fail, our parent’s home will still be there to catch us. 
  2. Pack light. Take half of that stuff out of your bag right now, and then half it again. You don’t actually need that much stuff, and getting rid of it will be a blessing. Besides, you’re not traveling to Mars. They do have THINGS abroad, you don’t have to bring a jumbo bottle of Tylenol, or shampoo, or toothpaste. 
  3. Say yes, Google later. If you don’t know how to do something, go onto YouTube, type that ‘thing’ into the search bar, and watch the top 5 videos. Bam! You now know how to do that thing. If there’s a job you really want to do, say yes, and learn how to later. 
  4. Don’t work for free. It’s 2024, you deserve to be paid for your work and they know it. They’re just hoping you don’t. 
  5. Remember to take time off. Don’t forget that the reason you’re doing this is for the lifestyle. It’s taken me years to get to the point where I’m happy earning enough money to simply keep traveling, instead of constantly striving for more. (Striving for more was constantly wearing me out and making this lifestyle feel too exhausting. Keep that in mind)
  6. Get the travel insurance. I know it feels like an unnecessary cost… you’re young, and you’re healthy… Bestie – the right travel insurance is about so much more than that. Your laptop could get ruined by a leaky airconditioner or your bag could get stolen right off the backseat of your rental car. Then what? Digital Nomad insurance is a travel must-have in 2024. If you want to learn more about my favorite travel insurance for digital nomads, scroll to the bottom of this post! 
What do I wish I had known before starting out as a digital nomad? 

Personally, I wish I’d known how much work it would actually be. There’s this common misconception online that digital nomads don’t work, or that we work for an hour by the beach while drinking piña coladas and swimming. 

First of all, working from the beach is actually impossible. The sand? The beating sun? The heat? None of those things are friends of laptops. 

Secondly, you have to work a lot – and you have to be self-motivated. Luckily I entered this lifestyle being pretty self-motivated and have since honed the skill. But if you want to be truly successful, make sure that you are ready to put in the work. 

Want to call Thailand home for two months? Want to find out what the fuss is all about in Bali? Have you always wanted to live on the coast of Mexico? Let’s make it happen in 2024. What questions do you have about being a digital nomad? Ask away! 

Digital Nomad Insurance

Lastly, before I go I have to share my favorite Digital Nomad insurance with you. I’ll be the first to tell you that I used to travel without insurance… and when stuff went wrong, I’d be paying out of pocket for lost laptops, stolen cameras, and hospital visits. 

Over the years I’ve paid thousands out of pocket for these things when digital nomad insurance is less than $60 a month. 

Learn from my mistakes and make sure that you’re covered wherever you go! SafetyWing offers digital nomad insurance – I’ve used them for several years now (and will continue to use them anytime I leave the US). They have great prices, good coverage, and really helpful customer service! 

Learn more about Nomad Insurance from SafetyWing.

If you’re ready to start traveling the world full-time, and you want some more inspiration about where to go, read this post next. 

Until next time, come hang out over on Instagram where I’ll be better about sharing the good, the bad, and the memorable of my adventures! 

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