|This week I had the privilege to interview Brad Chase, a crisis communications consultant and founder of Chase Global Travel, a travel consulting business that aims to restore trust in the travel industry for aspiring digital nomads, spontaneous travelers & holiday tourists.|
What was your inspiration for living and working nomadically? What factors inspired you to leave the stationary lifestyle and start earning money remotely?
For the majority of my 20s, I was an overachiever – finishing college before I could legally drink, heading straight to grad school, working full-time during the program, then moving rapidly up the corporate ladder. Making six figures running a communications department at a Fortune 500 company in your 20s is great, but it came at a high price to my emotional wellbeing. I missed out on so much and really burned myself out. The fix? Buying a one-way ticket to an exotic foreign country, turning off my phone, dropping off all my various social channels and wandering the globe for three months on a true dream vacation through Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Egypt, France, Spain, Gibraltar and more.
What unexpected challenges and hurdles have you encountered so far as a digital nomad?
Taxes, mail, and general residential issues are complicated when you have long gaps traveling abroad. Even after the pandemic has made work from anywhere (“WFX”) into a thing for millions and millions more people, there is no clear future for legislation or policies to help digital nomads address the complex nature of living in the U.S., without living in the U.S. for the majority of the year. Get yourself a good mail service that can scan and email your critical documents that must go through the mail (license updates, utility bills, tax forms, etc.).
Get yourself a dynamite laptop, phone and backup drive. There are lots of other pieces of tech you may want, but that’s really all you need. And find a way to cut your necessities to two bags total. If you can’t travel with two bags, you can’t be a digital nomad. Sometimes you can travel with more, but scale up as you go to more bags.
Has any aspect of the lifestyle and career been easier than expected? Is there anything that you thought would be difficult but, in reality, hasn’t been?
The actual work has actually been easier than expected. Fortunately, a long career (now at 17+ years) in a niche field (crisis communications and reputation management) has helped my ability to attract clients over the years. Everyone thought I was crazy to be location-independent in this field – how can I be the reliable, insightful, bulletproof rock for CEOs in need of senior-level crisis if I’m globetrotting? But clients learned quickly that it didn’t matter what I was doing, where I took their call from or what I was wearing if I could deliver excellent services.
Getting the tech, gear and luggage was important to ensure I could adapt to any situation (e.g., hop on a plane to get right to an emergency for a client), and I thought I would find myself in a position that my adventures came between me and my paycheck. But it never did. In fact, the juggling of time zones and the agility needed to timeshift work to the hours was a boon. I’ve improved immensely at time management, organization and prioritization. Focusing on quality over quantity reduced the stress of being on the road, while pushing me to better do the core elements of my client work.
What character traits would you say are the most important or essential for successful digital nomads?
A strong risk appetite is critical. The vast majority of digital nomads stick to domestic travels, or they relocate to one place and stay put with what amounts to a relocation. But for those who really want to see the world, heading to a new city or country every few weeks as the inspiration strikes, you have to be comfortable accepting what you can change and the things you can’t. It’s amazing how my friends and colleagues still freak out about getting to the airport with extra time, printing out boarding passes and reservations, packing every imaginable gizmo and toiletry, and spending a lifetime seeking the best deal for all the travel. Those far away edges of the world are no long as far away as you think. There’s a Popeye’s at the DMZ (border between South and North Korea). Wifi in every hostel and hotel in the tiny towns in Laos. Virtually everything you need is out there. As long as I have my passport, phone, underwear and shoes, I can manage any situation in any country at any hour of the day.
What would you say to aspiring digital nomads looking to get started on a similar career path? Any words of wisdom or cautionary tales?
If you want to be a digital nomad, whether it’s as global as I am or just someone who has more freedom to explore their city or other places around the U.S., do not jump in before you have a solid and steady career. I didn’t say job, I said career. You need to have the real ability to call your own shots. There’s a lot of paperwork and logistics you have to manage as your own boss, and that’s on top of building a client base. All the Four Hour Workweek stuff is nonsense, because it’s predicated on the worker having a set of skills that is niche and high-level. If you strike out as a digital nomad, you can’t just go back and get a desk job and try again a year later. You need to leap and be ready to stay afloat. Spend a minimum of five years in your career and know that you love it and can stick with it. It sounds rough, but you have to be committed to the job first.
What were some digital strategies that originally helped get your business or service off the ground, and what were some of the challenges you faced regarding digital visibility?
It’s essential to have a strong Twitter account, with Instagram a close second, then Facebook and YouTube. This may change based on the unique services, but Twitter is the most underutilized and critical if you want to be a true businessperson. Twitter catches a lot of flack, for good reason. But the resistance to it is comical when you consider where all the real dialogue is happening between politicians, business leaders, community leaders and thought leaders. Influencers can have the ‘gram and Tik Tok all they like, but you’re not going to make it as a digital nomad if you’re aiming to be an influencer – an unfortunate and unrealistic target for many young people. I saw this firsthand while being an adjunct professor at USC and the University of San Francisco.
The reality is this: serious people are on Twitter AND Twitter will be one of the top results in Google due to the way the search algorithms work. In business, you want to be top-of-mind and you need to generate a good first impression. Build a dynamite LinkedIn profile, a solid if not fancy website and then keep a semi-regular Twitter feed. You don’t need to post daily, or engage a huge amount, but build it slowly over time by following and posting matter-of-fact about your work. Focus on those three and you’ll do well. This ensures new clients and those in your industry can easily find you when they do a simple search, plus it ensures they read your narrative in your own words.
Advanced users should consider minimal promotional budgets on LinkedIn and Twitter as well, but start out slow and narrow your audience. These two networks, as well as all the other social networks for that matter, are overly broad and have poor returns if you leave any wiggle room for them to expand your audience. Spend a couple hundred bucks a month to start and scale up when business increases.
For more insights into the digital nomad workstyle, follow Brad on LinkedIn or Twitter.