Yes, you heard right; the diy guide to digital dirtbagging around the world. Let’s be honest, at some point nearly every climber has thought about leaving his or her day job for the open road. Some of us are lucky enough to live the dream, while the rest of us can only watch in envy. In today’s guest post, Jack Lyons of Adventure In My Veins gives some helpful tips on how to turn your dirtbagging dream into reality.
Climbing And Traveling
Aare perhaps the two sweetest words in any adventurer’s vocabulary. However, add a job to that equation and you quickly begin to see the limitations of where your dreams can take you. Unless your plan is to save all your pennies and cut loose on the world like a typical “dirtbag”, what is the average Joe to do? Enter the world of the Digital Dirtbag.
Digital Dirtbag (n):
A person who roams the planet for an extended period of time in search of beautiful landscapes and rocks to climb, making ends meet with their creative or digital skills via the internet, thus allowing location independence and financial flexibility.
I’ve been kicking this idea around on my blog for a while now and have gotten to the point where I now know that it is possible. Basically, ever since I left home just over a year and a half ago I’ve been yearning to find a means and a method to sustain my global gallivants. Adventure In My Veins is my way of giving back to the climbing community which I love so much. By interviewing a variety of Digital Dirtbags from all walks of life I have set myself on a mission to find out how to build a lifestyle balanced of both climbing and cash flow.
What I am trying to emphasize is that the shift in the way we acknowledge the “Dirtbag” has well and truly changed. The gap between the tech-crazed Gen Z’s and the beer guzzlin’ old schoolers is now so far apart that it may be hard for the traditionalists to relate, or appreciate (perhaps?) the differences in what it really means to be a dirtbag in 2015. Cedar Wright touched on this in his regular rants over at Climbing Magazine with an aptly titled piece “Dirtbagging is Dead”. However, I don’t think we should see it that way. I think it’s time for us to celebrate the future and the abundance of opportunities that technology, like the internet, has given us.
In order to celebrate the future, I would like to share my five-step starter guide designed to help you on your journey to becoming a Digital Dirtbag.
Step 1: Find a crag
First things first, you’ve got to ask yourself one simple question: Where do I want to climb?
Will it be the majestic moon hill karsts of Yangshuo, China, the abundant red rock runouts of Southern Australia, the sultry limestone of Tonsai, Thailand, the infamous and revered crags of Spain, or the ever bountiful variety of rock scattered all over the USA? Decisions, decisions, decisions…
Second best to a quick Google search, The Crag is my go-to tool when I want to look up crags around the world. Its user-friendly design allows anyone to update the database and best of all you can even download and print off your own crag guide using the Instant PDF feature.
A simple search like this: “Victoria, Australia”
Quickly turns into this: “Arapiles” (21 crags)
Allowing you to find awesomely helpful information like this:
Give it a try today. Sign up to list your local crag, share some beta and soon you’ll begin to earn some well deserved “Crag Karma”.
Step 2: Locate The Closest Town Or City
The next thing on the list is to figure out where exactly you want to stay. Of course, this all depends on how close to the rock you really want to be, but it also has to do with other variables like the internet, access to shops, bars, or other humans, and perhaps even fresh air (China anyone?). These are all factors that need to be openly determined by you (and your comfort zone). And the best way to figure this out is with Nomad List.
Nomad List is the brainchild of wunderkind Pieter Levels, a digital nomad from The Netherlands who has an astounding ability to build super cool online businesses with nothing but a laptop, a backpack, and an internet connection. Nomad List tells you everything you need to know about a place. You can search and specify the cost of living, weather, safety, air quality, fun factor, Wi-Fi speed, and whether it’s English friendly, female-friendly — even gay friendly.
Cities are ranked with an overall NomadScore and best of all, it’ll even tell you whether there are any digital nomads currently in that location at that very moment. If so, you can jump on Nomads Chat and ask anything you like; maybe even make some friends before you land (mind you the cost of joining has increased dramatically since when I joined in 2014!). Once you click on a city to view more you’re given the full, and I mean full, rundown.
There’s a comprehensive cost of living analysis, a Q & A board, accommodation listings, places to work, and even a complete Digital Guide featuring all the city’s ins and out. There you’ll find info on where to go out, what to do in a medical emergency, how to get a visa, and more.
The best part about Nomad List is that it has all been made possible with the help of real locals who know their cities best. You too can suggest your city (or town, or crag…?) and hopefully get it on the map in the near future!
Step 3: Hone Your Dirtbag Worthy Digital Skills
So the first two steps are way cooler than this one. But that’s not to say learning can’t be fun. Of course, it does take some (I mean A LOT) degree of discipline, but the best part of the story is…that it’s your story. You get to choose how it ends; therefore you have complete control over what you want to learn. Basically, in order to learn anything novel for the first time there are a few guidelines which I would highly recommend:
Cultivate A Routine Based On Successful Habits
First things first: to ever have a chance at learning a complex skill like coding or graphic design it’s important to set yourself up for success right from the start. This means eliminating distractions, being smart about your sleep, cultivating a morning routine, eating well, and exercising regularly. Yeah, yeah — you’ve probably heard it all before, but I wouldn’t say it if it wasn’t true. It’s the little things that count, which over time compound into the skills and success that matter most. This brings me to my first and probably the most important tip:
- Get a copy of Slight Edge by Jeff Olsen: Read this book and you will learn how to cultivate a successful mindset by taking an incredibly minimalist approach to learning new tasks or achieving big goals. It’s that 1% of extra effort you put in every day that when compounded over a week, a month, or a year, actually adds up to more than you could have ever imagined. Your newfound digital dirtbag skills certainly may not look like much in the beginning, but with patience, and persistence, anything is possible. The same rule applies to training for climbing.
- Check out the interviews on the Adventure In My Veins blog: You’ll find some incredibly wise words as well as a ton of exciting tips and tricks all created to help guide you along your journey.
- Subscribe to James Clear’s weekly newsletter: James writes simple, yet extremely effective articles using science-based methods to improve human performance, build lasting habits and reinforce positive behavior. I love his 20-week Tiny Gains Challenge.
- Create your miracle morning with Hal Elrod. If there is one thing that has dramatically transformed my life and my productivity, it’s my morning routine. After reading The Miracle Morning I now start my day by getting up early, spending 20 to 30 minutes doing some light meditation and yoga, getting online to do some work, taking some time out to read a few pages of a good book, and having a delicious Bulletproof Coffee to supercharge my day. You too will find that you’re able to get more done before 9 am than in your entire day.
- Listen to The Model Health Show podcast by Shawn Stevenson. Shawn is a sport, health, and wellness coach with an incredible ability to break down complicated health, wellness, exercise, and lifestyle topics into easily digestible information. One of my favorites is his episode on the 15 ways to do HIIT workouts for fat loss.
Unleash Your Inner “Digital Dirtbag”
Sure, it may look scary from the outside, but learning to code, tweak graphics, shoot photos, edit the film, or even write a blog are all skills that can be honed and buffed, given you are willing to put in the time. The important thing to remember is that, while you may feel like a total nOOb, it’s an incredibly rewarding practice and all it takes is a little persistence. It’s been just over a year and a half since I started learning to code. Continuing to the topic the diy guide to digital dirtbagging around the world. There have been plenty of keyboard smashing moments since then, however, there were some great takeaways too, notably:
a.) My problem-solving abilities, as well as my patience, improved dramatically;
b.) The satisfaction I gained from solving those problems and physically creating something was incredibly addictive;
c.) It felt really cool to manipulate the web and;
d.) My newfound skills earned me some good coin freelancing around Europe.
So what to learn? Well, that’s entirely up to you. There are tons of online courses out there. If I were to recommend any place to start then it would be Free Code Camp. Hands down this are one of the best resources out there for beginners.
Free Code Camp teaches you to code through a rigorous 800+ hour coding workshop. But don’t fret if that sounds crazy. You’ll be taken along a really incremental, step-by-step journey, gradually building you up to more complex tasks. The best part is that you actually get to build a ton of cool stuff that contributes towards helping non-profits. Your work literally helps to make the world a better place. Plus you get a rad certificate of achievement and ongoing support to find professional work once you’re done.
Alternatively, if you’re willing to invest in yourself, you can also enroll in an intensive software development program like Hack Reactor. For more information on that, definitely check out my interview with Quest Henkart, a digital dirtbag from the USA.
Want more options? Here’s another good place to start:
Step 4: Find A Job And/Or Save Some Money
Even if you’re not an über talented digital whiz, that doesn’t mean you still won’t be able to set your life up as a digital dirtbag. One of the best ways to climb and see the world is to work abroad. And that’s exactly how I started.
I lived with my girlfriend teaching English part-time in China. The hours were pretty good, mostly in the afternoons or evenings, which meant a lot of time in the day for climbing. The wage was solid and we were even hooked up with free rent. It’s a great way to experience the world and focus on cultivating new skills or work on a side project — like my girlfriend who built her food photography blog and business, Wildblend.
English teaching jobs are in demand all over the world and it’s relatively easy to find something that meets your needs in the town or city of your choice. But of course, it doesn’t have to be teaching either. There are tons of worldwide opportunities out there which offer a great work/life balance. Just get your pen and paper out and do some research.
Here are a couple of resources to get you started:
- Jobs Abroad: Here you will find a huge wealth of opportunities for jobs around the world. It might be harder to find something with less hours and more play, but hey, if you’re keen to get out and see the world then this might help.
- Daves ESL Cafe: A global ESL job board, as well as tons of Q & A, to help you find out more about where an ESL job could take you.
- Remote OK Digital Internships: With free rent, food, and maybe a little cash to spare, why not think about fast-tracking your digital skills with a remote internship.
Step 5: Plan Your Attack
So you’ve been bitten by the travel bug. You’re ready to travel, climb, and digitally dirtbag your way around the globe. Now, let’s put this all into practice and see what kind of results we get. I’m going to test the theory in my favorite place in the world: Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Chiang Mai was listed as the No. 1 Digital Nomad City in 2015, with a NomadScore of 100%. The average cost of living per month is around $800 with about $300 of that going towards accommodation. Like many Asian cities, this city can be as cheap or as expensive as you want it to be. It all depends on your lifestyle and how much (or how little) you’re willing to live with.
Crazy Horse Buttress is an upcoming and ever-expanding crag approximately 45 minutes outside the city. It has been getting a lot of attention lately due to its super lush surrounds, located on edge of the Himalayan foothills. The area has 16 crags and almost 200 sport routes with grading ranging between 4b — 8a including slabs, technical walls, limestone caves, adventurous multi-pitches as well as cracks. For more information check out:
English teaching is a big business in Thailand which means finding a job as an ESL teacher is not a problem. If you’re a native English speaker then all you need to do is complete a simple weekend ESL course (mine cost about $100 on Groupon) and you’re good to go. To be honest, you probably won’t make a ton of money in Thailand (China, Japan, the Middle East, and South Korea are the big-ticket countries). However, as we discussed, if the lifestyle is what you’re looking for then Chiang Mai is an absolutely incredible place to live. For more information check out:
Seeing as Thailand is so cheap, I would probably recommend saving a bit of cash beforehand and simply going there just to hang out. If you were to save about $3000 you could easily have an amazing few months just climbing, chilling, learning to code, meeting ex-pats, backpackers, and digital nomads, and escaping out into the beautiful mountain areas to do some yoga, meditation, or hiking. That way you get a good feel for whether you like it or not.
If you do and feel like you could stay longer, then getting a job as an ESL teacher shouldn’t be a problem (you may have to exit the country to finalize a work visa). Thailand is probably the most tourist-friendly country ever and you’re guaranteed a good time 100 percent.
Or, if you’re itching to move on and conquer some new crags, other notable (cheap, easy crag access, work options, internet access) destinations around the world include:
- Krabi Province, Thailand
- Guangzhou, China (Yangshuo also!)
- Barcelona, Spain
- Bogota, Colombia
- Busan, South Korea
- Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
- Istanbul, Turkey
- Athens/Kalymnos, Greece
So there you have it guys! I hope I have given you enough inspiration to step out and kick start your own digital dirtbag journey. I really believe that we all deserve to be doing work we love, enjoying our time outside on the rock, and exploring the world to the very end.
You can connect with me on Instagram. Alternatively, If you think you would be a great fit for the Digital Dirtbag series or know someone who might be interested in sharing their story then feels free to shoot through a message via my contact page on Adventure In My Veins.