DNS #26 Ali Marsland:: “Creating the life she loves to live”

“Digital Nomad story” is a weekly story series sharing experiences and tips from nomadic entrepreneurs all over the world on how the being of a digital nomad actually looks like & how they’re rolling in their nomadic lifestyle. Join the journey!


When I first decided to become a digital nomad I didn’t know that’s what it was called;

the term wasn’t really popular back then. What I knew was that I’ve had a real passion for travel since I was 14 and over the years it’s become a more and more essential and central part of my life. I went travelling after school, and then spent a year in Africa after university, so when I entered the corporate world and was restricted to only travelling within my allocated holiday allowance, it didn’t take long for me to feel that wasn’t enough.

I went freelance in 2006 so that I could travel more (although I only got paid when I was sitting in clients’ offices), but that still only sated me for a while, and in 2011 I decided that wasn’t enough either and that I wanted to be able to work from anywhere rather than working in clients’ offices and then going on holiday. So, I deliberately changed my business model (against the industry norm) to be able to work remotely, so that I could travel as much as I liked and still earn a living.

I set up a company that supports communications professionals by providing extra capacity and after a while it seemed that in theory the business could work remotely and I wanted to test it by going abroad for a month (I didn’t realise at the time that meant I would be a ‘digital nomad’). I went to Cape Town for a month in Feb 2012 and loved it and have now been back for a couple of months every year since.

Now, as well as running my communications business (The Effective English Company), I also work with people who are dissatisfied with their current lives and help them to identify and then create their ‘right’ life (whether or not that includes any travel).


What’s your normal daily routine as a digital nomad?

It varies a bit, but generally I try not to set an alarm, but instead to wake up naturally when it gets light. Then depending on where I am I’ll often go for a run or to the gym straight away. AfterwardI shower, dress, have breakfast and work until late afternoon. Then I’ll shut down the laptop and go and do something sociable or just enjoyable. Sometimes I take half or full days off during the week to get out and explore or enjoy a trip or activity, but I’m rigorous at planning everything into my diary and I make sure I keep clear boundaries between work time and fun time. I work around four days a week and try to keep a healthy balance between being a diligent business owner and making the most of experiencing and enjoying the place I’m in.

Cape Town office

What’s your favorite part about of being a DN? & What’s the opposite – least favorite?

My favourite part of DN life is the freedom! I just love seeing new places and meeting new people. And I find it fascinating to see how other people live their lives. As I travel I constantly pick up ideas and inspiration about the way I want to live my own life. I lived in Sudan for a year and while I saw and learnt many things there, one that sticks in my mind is how incredibly generous and un-materialistic the Sudanese people are. Many of them have very little but they will always share all that they have without a second thought. Their communal, sharing, unselfish approach was refreshing to me, and the lack of attachment to material items is something I have tried to take with me throughout my life. I would much rather spend any money I have on travel and new experiences than on the latest fashion, film or gadget.

My least favourite thing about the lifestyle is the isolation and loneliness that can very easily go along with travelling. When I was planning my big trip after school several friends were keen to come with me – and I would have loved them to, but none of them got their act together to actually organise anything. I knew it was something I wanted to do. With or without anyone else, and so I went on my own. That’s pretty much been the pattern ever since. I’m quite single-minded about my travel ambitions. And while it’s always great if anyone does want to join me, more often than not I go alone. Romantic relationships can be very challenging as well, but I’m now 100% sure that this crazy lifestyle is the right one for me, and the right partner for me will want the same thing.


What are the hardest things to keep up with while being a digital nomad? What’s your suggestion for dealing with them?

I think the single hardest thing to keep up with is relationships of all kinds. After years of moving around a lot and meeting people all over the world I’ve got lots of people I really want to stay in touch with but who are all very separate, so I find I spend a lot of time on WhatsApp and Facebook just connecting, reconnecting and catching up with the people I care about.

What’s the biggest misconception people have about digital nomads? Is there any way we can try to change that?

That we’re on a permanent holiday! I’ve given up trying to convince people otherwise. Because I’ve realised the whole DN concept is just too alien to them. Instead, I try to spend more time with people who do understand.


Being a digital nomad may include a lot of traveling. What are your tips & tricks for better travels? 

I travel light. After years of refining I now own a hard-working wardrobe with lots of multi-functional items so I don’t need to take many clothes. I also have a convertible rucksack/suitcase which I love. It’s super easy to pack, simple to check in on flights and comfortable to carry around. We’ve travelled together for 22 years now!

My top tip for long journeys on any form of transport is to perfect the art of sleeping anywhere. Once you can do that travel becomes so much easier. I always carry a cheap pashmina-style scarf when I travel. I can use it as a light blanket or sun shade. And when I want to sleep upright I twist it into a kind of rope and wrap it round my neck and it serves as a neck pillow. It’s also been a skirt, a dress and a top at various times.


What’s your vision of the future? How long are you planning to keep up with your digital nomad lifestyle? Do you have any long-term plans on your mind?

I feel like I’m only just getting started! I do have a home base in the UK which I return to several times a year. And I plan to keep that pattern. I’d like to keep on visiting more and more new places, meeting more amazing and fascinating people. Most importantly – continuing to create and live exactly the life that’s right for me.

Gathering all your current experience – what would you now say to your old self, back when you just started?

Don’t think so hard. Most of the time it doesn’t really matter very much which decision you make as almost everything can be changed – and whatever you decide today you’re not committed to sticking with that decision indefinitely.


One simple suggestion for someone just starting.

Practise hearing and following your instincts – they won’t steer you wrong.


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