Please tell us about yourself
I’m James, originally from Ireland although I spent most of my early twenties living in the UK. After working in marketing there for several years, my girlfriend and I decided to see if we could freelance and take travel at the same time. That was back in 2012, and we’ve been doing this ever since.
What do you do for work?
I worked as a marketing consultant for several years but, over time, I’ve begun working on a lot more of my own projects. I published an offbeat guide to German culture a few years ago, for example, and am working on releasing a few more books this year.
How did you get started as digital nomads?
We started off as house sitters initially. We were nervous about traveling and trying to build our businesses at the same time, and not having to pay rent seemed a sensible way of doing it.
We were able to line up 9 months of house sitting in France (one was 5 months long), which gave us a decent amount of time to get our businesses off the ground. During that time we looked after everything from cats and dogs to turtles and even a farm of eighteen alpacas and seven cats.
These house sits were great but very time-consuming. We imagined the alpaca housesit would be, as it involved a lot of specific training, but it turned out the others were as well. With some of them, we were doing several hours of work per day, and it just wasn’t cost effective for the amount it would cost us to rent a place instead.
So, we then switched to rent Airbnbs on a medium to long-term basis instead. We spent a few months living in Seville, Lisbon, Berlin, Valencia, Cape Town, along with a few shorter trips around South East Asia and Eastern Europe.
We fell in love with all of the places that we lived in, but particularly in Lisbon. We ended up coming back to Portugal several times, and spending a few months living in different parts of it. Most recently, we just spent a few months living in Lisbon again to see how it had changed.
Do you think house sitting is still a good way to travel?
It really depends on the house sit that you get, but absolutely. It’s definitely something that we’d consider doing again, but we’d be on the lookout for less time-consuming housesits and in locations that would normally be very expensive to rent. A catsit in Manhattan would be perfect, for example, but that’s the house sit everyone wants.
What is it about Lisbon that you fell in love with?
Lisbon is great on so many levels. It’s affordable, it has great summers, it’s incredibly photogenic, and it has a good selection of flights to many European cities. The winters can be mild as well. We’ve had a few winters in Lisbon, and some have been dry and sunny while others have been wet and damp.
When we first moved here, we were one of the only digital nomads but now Lisbon is a digital nomad hotspot. The weekly meetup usually has more than 80 people at it, and there are usually plenty of other smaller mastermind sessions, workshops, and meals out happening throughout the week as well.
Another reason to love Portugal is the food. Aside from the pastel de nata, it’s not a cuisine that’s well known outside of Portugal and people have a lot of fun working through way through all the different traditional dishes.
Has Lisbon changed?
It’s changed in so many ways. The cost of living has gone up, particularly when it comes to rent. At the same time as Lisbon became a digital nomad hotspot, it also became a hotspot for regular tourists as well. The two were probably connected, of course.
Tourism just boomed in Lisbon in a way that I’ve never seen before, and unfortunately, Lisbon was too small a city to deal with the numbers of tourists that have come. It’s meant that a lot of locals have switched to renting their properties on short-term Airbnb instead of locally and long-term, and this created a massive housing shortage and caused rents to shoot up.
Now, there have been a lot of benefits to tourism as well. It’s brought a lot of money into Lisbon, and meant that a lot of dilapidated buildings in the city centre could be restored. Tourism has created more jobs and, although Airbnb has created housing shortages, it’s been good for those people that owned properties in Lisbon.
So the cost of living has gone up, although that hasn’t stopped Lisbon becoming a popular location for digital nomads. It’s still very affordable by Western European standards and, if you’re careful about where you eat and drink, you can keep your costs down quite a bit. You can still get a three-course lunch menu with wine, for example, from many of the traditional Portuguese tascas.
How has your travelling changed over the years?
Back in our house sitting days, we actually had a car so that meant we had a lot more stuff. We’ve downsized a lot over the years, and I definitely prefer it that way. The only non-essential items we lug around now are kitchen items: Airbnb kitchens are usually very badly equipped and it can be annoying buying new spices and herbs all of the time.
Do you expect to keep doing the digital nomad thing?
For the time being, yes. We’ve been talking about settling down for a long time, at least for six months of the year but we’ll see if that happens. We both get itchy feet easily, and there are still so many places that we want to see.
For now, Portugal has become home for us. Between visiting family and blogging, we spend a lot of time there. It’s as settled as we’re going to be for the next while anyway.