Digital Nomad Diaries: This Business Owner Is Already Planning Her Next Adventure
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Digital Nomad Diaries: This Business Owner Is Already Planning Her Next Adventure

What really happens when wanderlust meets work? Welcome to Digital Nomad Diaries, where we ask women to get real about the joys and challenges of remote work. Because even though this lifestyle is definitely a privilege, that doesn't mean it's not without its challenges and trade-offs.  

Name: Rhowena Adolfo Patel
Industry: Health & Wellness
Countries/Cities You've Worked From: UK, Europe (London, Scotland, Ireland, Portugal, France, Italy, Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, Poland, Ukraine, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Croatia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, Bulgaria) Turkey, Israel, Bali and the Philippines. 

Rhowena Adolfo Patel in Jerusalem

When did you first start working remotely? Did the pandemic make this possible for you or were you way ahead of the game?  

My husband and I had a taste of backpacking during our two-month honeymoon through seven countries in Southeast Asia from 2013 to 2014. After returning back to Canada, we built a financial plan to travel full-time. I sold my financial planning practice, he quit his job, we purged, sold and donated 90% of our "stuff." With our remaining stuff packed into five bins kept in my in-law's basement, we set off to travel the world on January 9th, 2015. While travelling, we learned about the world of being a digital nomad, and even went on the first "Digital Nomads Cruise" from Colombia to Portugal. While on the cruise, I held a workshop, "Financial Planning for Digital Nomads." To my surprise, my workshop was one of the first sold-out events! My mind was blown! Let's just say the last five days of the cruise I was working 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. meeting with dozens of digital nomads about their needs and goals, and got off that cruise with a handful of new clients. It was during the European leg of our world tour that I dived into the digital nomad world: figuring out Skype conference calling and setting up online systems and communication channels, so that I could be efficient with my time while leaving the majority of my day open to exploring the city we were living in at the time. It was an amazing experience, but I also came to the realization that one-on-one financial planning was not what I wanted to continue to do.... 

What were the practical considerations of remote work? (Did you sublet your place, have to find a pet-sitter, make any arrangements with your workplace?)

Since we did not set out to be digital nomads during our first world tour, we had taken the responsible steps to close and finalize everything we had in Canada. Now, with our new business, Healing Mama™ Co., we are planning to be intentional digital nomads. Here is a list of the considerations that we are putting in place now and working towards before we head out to travel full time again:

Personal considerations:

  • Hire a property management firm to tenant and manage our property—working with property management firms whose fees are no more than 6% to 10%.
  • Purge our belongings down to eight bins which will be stored in my in-law's basement

Business considerations:

  • Operations and fulfillment/production team set-up and efficiently functioning
  • Sales team trained and sales systems fully operational
  • Our amazing current Healing Mama Team are all working remote already, with our marketing manager finally taking the plunge and trying out being a digital nomad (for 2 weeks) with his first trip for travel and work in Costa Rica.
  • Being a former financial planner, I was acutely aware that being as lean as possible and not incurring unnecessary costs, like office space, was key to keeping our costs down and the prices of all our offerings as competitive as possible.
  • I have given myself until the end of 2023 to make this happen, so we can start travelling full time as a family by 2024, while working remotely.

What was the time difference adjustment like? Do you pick your destinations with this in mind? 

The first time around, when I was working with clients in all different time zones, I had to make myself available when they were available. When we head out on our next adventure, we will take into consideration a time difference of (hopefully) no more than an 8 hours. This way, I can conduct online meetings during times that work for North America's time zones. Our first list of countries to live in for an extended period of time is Portugal, Spain and France, which are all within the time difference we are aiming for.

Rhowena Adolfo Patel with her husband

For you, what are the costs of working remote? (Rent, co-working space, flights). Would you say that this cost you more than working at home, less or about the same?

Our costs are less while travelling than living in Toronto—and that's taking into consideration travel costs (local transit, train, air). During our first world tour, we had a maximum budget of $1,550/month for everything. This included accommodations, food, going out/spending and all the travel costs. At the time we were spending $4,800/month on everything in Toronto. Now that we have a family, our budget for travelling and being digital nomads has increased to $4,000/month, which is still going to be less than the $6,000/month that we are currently spending.

Any unexpected costs? 

Never travel without travel health and medical insurance! The costs can be astronomical out of pocket. While we were in Sicily, Italy, my back literally gave out and I could barely walk. I went to two osteopath appointments while we were there and three chiropractic appointments while in Madrid, Spain—of course, my back went out two days before we were travelling from Sicily to Spain. All five appointments cost over $1,200! Thankfully, our insurance covered everything and we got our money reimbursed very quickly, but that was almost equivalent to an entire month's budget if we did not have insurance. 

What are the best parts of working remote?

Hands down the best parts are being in a new place, with new people, a new vibe, and ALL of the amazing opportunities to explore, experience and mostly become a better human being by being out in the world. Over nine years after our honeymoon, we are still in contact with the friends we made while travelling and our friends from abroad have only increased over the years. The connections, bonds and friendships that happen while travelling are lifelong, and no matter how long we go without talking to these amazing people, we know that the next time we are in their cities, we always have people there that we consider friends we could meet up with or stay with.

Here's the best thing I can share about working remote: leave all of your prejudices, preconceived notions and worries at home and go into it with a deeply open mind, use the highest level of common sense you can muster and let the magic of this new place unfold.

What about the worst parts and frustrations? 

The worst parts are unavoidable: travel delays or cancellations. Our worst experience was an overnight bus that broke down on the side of the road at 2 a.m.! A local bus ended up finally picking us up after waiting outside for an hour. Since it was not built as an overnight bus, my husband had to basically stand for 80% of the remaining four-hour bus ride until someone finally told him he could sit on their parcel box. Oh, and did I mention that I was all the way in the front, sitting on a blanket on the floor, and he was standing at the back of the bus? Outside of that, really taking the time to research your internet connection will save you a ton of potential headaches!

Rhowena Adolfo Patel in San Marcos

Did you find that you were fully able to enjoy being abroad while working? 

Yes, without a doubt, it is 100% possible to enjoy and work while in a new place. Time management is key to making work and exploring happen every day. I worked in blocked times, depending on the time difference. If I could get the bulk of my work done early in the morning: 6 a.m. (sometimes as early as 4 a.m.) to 9 a.m. (up to as late as 11 a.m.), then in the afternoon, I could hang out and explore. I'd schedule another block of time in the late afternoon to dinner time-ish, and that would still leave me with the night to go out. On days that were more work intense or if deadlines were approaching, I'd give myself as much time as needed for that specific day and get all the work done in one sitting, so that I could have the freedom to take the next day or few days completely off.

How does remote work affect your productivity? 

The flexibility that working remote offers is quite simply amazing. The skills to work remotely, though, are not necessarily inherent to everyone, and for many, it takes practice to gain the discipline needed to be productive while still enjoying your time wherever you are. When we made the decision to come back to Canada—because I was pregnant and we wanted to have our baby in Canada with our world-class healthcare system—we'd joke to ourselves that we were going back into "The Matrix!" The work-life balance simply doesn't exist in North America, and it's not something that is taught either. Witnessing firsthand the way other societies make this balance happen, and how you can live first and work second, has made a permanent imprint on us. We are building our business to mimic this as much as possible, in every aspect of the business and the team that we build.

With all of your experience now, what are your current thoughts on remote work? Would you do it forever/indefinitely? 

Being a digital nomad is 100% how we want to live the rest of our lives and why we are working so incredibly hard to make this a permanent option for us and our family. We have spent a significant amount of time, energy and budget to do the "work" on ourselves individually: unpacking our past, our stories, our relationships, our perspectives and everything in between to evolve into the best versions of ourselves, being fully aware and continually doing the work to evolve our consciousness. All it took was a willingness and a desire, and once we reached that, the whole world literally opened itself up to us! What we've experienced, the places we've explored, the connections we've made and the people we are today are because we took the jump to be remote and see this amazing world we get to live in. So, a huge YES, remote work is the future and opens up a whole new set of possibilities to everyone that chooses to go down this route.