I remember meeting Niall Doherty in digital nomad hotspot Chiang Mai, back in 2013. We were a bunch of nomads standing around in a bar, when one of us asked what Niall did for a living.
“I work on a cruise ship,” he said. “As a stripper.”
Whether he did a little dance to reinforce this statement, I don’t remember. But his answer to the inevitable what-do-you-do-question at that nomad meetup definitely brought some color to the procession of coders, travel bloggers, SEO specialists
Four years later we cross paths in the Canary Islands, in what is quickly becoming the European digital nomad hub: Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.
Could you introduce yourself briefly?
Yes, I can! My name is Niall, I’m 34, I’m originally from Ireland, but I’ve spent a lot of time overseas. I worked in the US for three years as a webdesigner, quit in 2010 and never held a job since then.
After leaving my last job, I spent a year chasing passive income, but I basically ended up spending my savings. That’s when it occurred to me to start freelancing, which has been my mainstay ever since.
What work do you do? What activities allow you to work from anywhere?
I’ll tell you exactly what I do in a moment, but the first thing I’ll say is that it almost doesn’t matter. I’ve been working for myself online for six years now. In that time I’ve met lots of other “digital nomad” types, and they’ve shown me that there are an almost infinite number of ways to earn a living online.
Some of the more common and easily-accessible ways to do it:
- Article writing
- Facebook/Google ads management
- Graphic design
- Online tutor
- Writing product descriptions
- Project management
- SEO consulting
- Social media management
- Video editing
- Virtual assistant
- Web development
Mostly for the past six years, I have earned a living via freelance web development, with some freelance writing, coaching, advertising, and affiliate marketing thrown into the mix.
Last year I began offering a course called 3M1K to help other people get started working online, and that’s about half my workload nowadays. I also just launched a handy little guide to help people find cheap flights online.
What do you like about living and working in Las Palmas?
I did a big round-the-world trip that saw me visit 37 countries in 44 months and left me pretty burnt out on travel. I was looking for a winter home base in Europe and the Canary Islands fit the bill nicely. They’re easy to get to from mainland Europe, the weather is great, cost of living is pretty good, there’s lots to see and do and there’s a nice mix of expats and locals.
I especially like Las Palmas because it’s a big city close to nature, easy to get around, right next to the beach, and the coworking and coliving through CoworkingC has been excellent so far. I also spent a few weeks coworking and coliving at Coworking In The Sun in Tenerife and liked that so much I made a video about it.
How do you manage to stay productive while travelling?
Okay, so there are some things you can do to be productive while traveling, but ultimately if you really want to get a lot of work done, the best “hack” is to stay in one place and stick to a solid routine. Consistency is the best way to make big things happen.
But if you do need to get some work done while traveling, I’d recommend the following:
- Stick to hotels/cities/countries with fast and available Internet access. Nothing kills your productivity like bad wifi.
- Read the book Deep Work by Cal Newport. Here’s an especially relevant part of it as summarized by Derek Sivers:
The journalist philosophy: in which you fit deep work wherever you can into your schedule. Journalists are trained to shift into a writing mode on a moment’s notice. Any time he could find some free time, he would switch into a deep work mode and hammer away at his book. He could retreat up to the bedroom for a while, when the rest of us were chilling on the patio or whatever, to work on his book… he’d go up for twenty minutes or an hour, we’d hear the typewriter pounding, then he’d come down as relaxed as the rest of us… the work never seemed to faze him, he just happily went up to work when he had the spare time.
This approach is not for the deep work novice.
The single best piece of advice I can offer to anyone trying to do creative work is to ignore inspiration. Waiting for inspiration to strike is a terrible, terrible plan.
You traveled around the world without flying. Why?
My goal was to do one complete circumnavigation of the globe without taking any airplanes. Why? For the challenge, the adventure, and the story. And I got more than I bargained for with all three 🙂
You can read more about my trip and see my route and lots of photos here.
My thinking is that giving your travels some kind of overarching theme instills in them an extra sense of meaning, and therefore makes them more enjoyable.
For example, a friend of mine is on a mission to visit every UNESCO World Heritage site in the world. There are more than 1,000 of them, so she’ll probably never see them all, but she’ll have tons of fun and learn a lot by trying, and she’ll be left with many a cool story to tell and many a fond memory to treasure.
Do you have other expeditions or travel challenges in store?
Yes, but I’m not ready to talk about that yet. 😉
But I can tell you which countries I’d love to visit in the future – how about that? Since I’m always on the lookout for epic outdoor stuff, I must ‘do’ New Zealand and Canada. And Africa. I would also love to go back to Japan, rent a car and go explore the countryside there. In my earlier visit to Japan I saw glimpses of spectacular landscapes, which I’m eager to see more of.
What is it about travelling that makes it so addictive?
Some people are hardwired to seek novelty, to meet new people, see new sights, experience new things. And travel is the best way to do that.
As with any addiction though, it can be destructive. When you find yourself visiting places just to check a box and take a selfie, you’ve gone too far.
Long-term, it seems most «digital nomads» do actually slow down, set up a home base (or two), and spend several months of the year in one place. The travel lifestyle does get exhausting after a while, and there are definite downsides. It can be difficult to develop and maintain deep relationships, and a sense of belonging can be hard to come by.
What is your biggest ‘travel hack’?
Nothing ruins a trip like lack of sleep. Earplugs can take some getting used to, but once you do they’re the best thing ever. I almost never sleep without them now. I’ve slept in dorms where other people were awake all night because of some dude’s snoring, but I slept the whole way through thanks to my trusty earplugs. It’s amazing to me that more people don’t use them.
Sometimes the simplest tech is the best.
What is your life motto?
«A little near-death experience never hurt anyone.»
Nah, just kidding. But that’s the first thing that comes to mind since I almost killed myself surfing yesterday 😛
I don’t have one single motto that I live by, but if I had to pick something it would probably be this: «Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.»
Could you give some examples of how you have pushed through your comfort zone?
In 2011 I did a little project called Random Acts of Courage. For 5 days, I did 10 challenges per day that helped me open up to people, embrace uncertainty, and squeeze more excitement from everyday situations. It was one of the most transformative weeks of my life.
In the same year, I also flirted with 100 women in Amsterdam. Other things that have helped me leave my comfort zone were working for myself and public speaking.
I would encourage anyone to face their fears, because most of them are based on false beliefs. I can’t tell you which challenges would be best for you, though. Everyone’s a little different.