Gigi left her ad agency job two years ago and started a small business doing content strategy and web writing work for companies that do good. The business grew quickly, allowing Gigi to sell everything and take to the road full-time with her dog Luna in May 2012. Please enjoy this week-in-the-life of Gigi living the digital nomadic life in Belgium and Germany.
Day 1: Friday
10 a.m. / I’ve been in Belgium for almost a month now. It feels familiar, homey. I have a favourite coffee shop, a circle of friends, even a bit of a love interest. I can read the maps, navigate the transportation systems, order off foreign menus…and I am starting to get a feel for the culture and its norms. I’m just a little bit Belgian. Or at least I feel a little bit Belgian.
So it should come as no surprise that today I’m starting my day in my favourite coffee shop, which just happens to overlook the canal and Ghent’s trademark canal-front architecture. I have no trouble ordering, even though there’s no English menu. And I feel relaxed, unrushed, and motivated – it’s a heads-down, get-it-done kind of morning.
11:45 a.m. / Hmm. Possibly you’re wondering what a heads-down, get-it-done kind of morning entails for this digital nomad. This week’s projects: copy revisions for a large university website, publishing an e-book, providing an estimate for a website content strategy project, and writing articles/blog posts for my own blog as well as several business and travel publications.
2 p.m. / I take the bus back to the house (where I am renting a room all month) to heat up leftovers and avoid the storm that seems to be brewing. I love buses in Belgium. They’re dog-friendly (did I mention that I travel with my dog? She’s been quietly sleeping under my chair at the coffee shop all morning), clean, and predictable.
2:01 p.m. / My timing is perfect. It is now officially raining. My ability to predict this further proves that I am becoming Belgian.
6 p.m. / Tonight my Belgian roommate and I are ordering pizza and watching movies.
Judging by the “what adventures did you go on today?” emails, most of my friends and family think that my life is very glamorous, that every day is filled with activities and adventures and sight seeing…but some days it’s just delightfully ordinary. Writing. Cafes. Pizza. Girl talk. Snuggling the dog. Going to bed early.
Day 2 & 3: Saturday & Sunday
Well, I’m sick. There’s one thing you don’t think about when you think about traveling full-time (or at least I didn’t): being knocked off your feet by some foreign bug. But it happens.
The weekend is spent, as you might expect, taking naps, watching an entire season of The Big Bang Theory, eating soup, and taking pills. Also, fun fact about Belgium: they don’t do hospital gowns here. Sitting on an exam table totally naked chatting with a doctor is one of the more interesting experiences I’ve had lately. But, honestly, I kind of like that the human body isn’t so over-sexualized here. It’s sexy when it’s meant to be sexy, but the rest of the time, it’s just a body.
Day 4: Monday
9:30 a.m. / This morning I start with a piece of chocolate (how very Belgian of me, I know) and then settle in on the couch to answer client emails and get a few other miscellaneous things done online.
2 p.m. / After a quick grocery run and a little packing, the dog and I head out with my lovely Belgian roommate to an expansive, lush park on a lake to soak up some sunshine.
6 p.m. / I’m back at the house and packing for Germany. Also, eating chocolate again.
8:30 p.m. / I don my newly purchased dancing shoes and we head to a trendy local café where Ghent’s celebrated swing band, Nomad Swing, will be playing all evening. One of my favourite things about knowing how to swing dance is this: there are swing communities all over the world. It’s an easy way to meet people in a new city and, in my case, develop a crush on a handsome Belgian man who loves to travel.
Midnight / Finally home, I slip into bed, exhausted after a lovely night of big band hits, dancing, and good company.
Day 5: Tuesday
8:30 a.m. / I wake up early, check emails, and get ready for the day, which is my last day in Belgium and is being celebrated with a girls’ day out in fairy-tale Brugge.
Noon / We settle into a charming café in Brugge’s main market square for some coffee, fries, waffles, and girl talk. This is one of my favourite things about Belgium: the locals really do eat chocolate, waffles, and fries. In fact, you can buy waffles in the checkout aisle at the local supermarket. That’s how much they are a part of everyday life.
2 p.m. / We’re wandering the art galleries now. My small group of friends, who all live in Ghent, are artistic, expressive people and they love to explore other people’s art almost as much as they like creating their own. We ooh and ahh appreciatively at interesting paintings of a woman in the rain and a man about to kiss a woman’s neck in the twilight.
3 p.m. / A friend from Brugge joins us for more coffee, chocolate shop browsing, vintage store shopping, and girl talk. She also takes us for a short walk through some of Brugge’s more historic areas, giving us the Cliff’s Notes on the history of cathedrals, hospitals, and mansions.
We compliment her on her perfect English and she tells us she dated a Brit and pillow talk makes for good language learning. (Mental note.)
6:30 p.m. / We return home, sleepy and a little emotional. I’m leaving tomorrow. And though I intend to return, saying goodbye is always a mixed bag of sadness and excitement.
10:30 p.m. / I finally retire to bed, packed, exhausted, and hopefully with all my ducks in a row for tomorrow’s travel.
Midnight / I’m still awake, humming with nervous energy. Moving onto a new place sometimes does this to me. I’m excited and nervous, not quite old hat at the full-time travel thing just yet, still a little like a teenager in love.
Day 6: Wednesday
8 a.m. / Teeth brushed. Backpack packed. Off we go to the train station.
10:15 a.m. / I board the train and strike up a conversation with a British backpacker on his way to Norway via Germany and then Denmark. He asks me if my dog is American and then how I’m able to travel with her. This is one of the nicest things about traveling with a dog: she is a conversation starter. While I was in Belgium I met several expats who said that meeting people in Belgium was tough for them at first. Not so when you have a dog. People talk to me at the train station, while I’m waiting for the bus, at cafes, at the park. A dog, friends, draws people in (well, if she is adorable and well-behaved).
Also, people think you are particularly glamorous and interesting when you travel with your pooch. Win.
1:30 p.m. / I am officially in Germany. The first thing I did (while changing trains in Koln/Cologne) was buy an enormous, cheese-covered pretzel. As usual, the top five things on my to-do list in a new country involve food. Luckily the rest involve hiking and walking, so I won’t blow up like a balloon.
4 p.m. / Uh oh. The train is stopped ten minutes outside Freiburg and the power has gone out. There are announcements being made, but only in German (which I don’t speak), so I haven’t got a clue what’s wrong.
4:30 p.m. / I arrive in Freiburg half an hour late due to some mechanical issues on the train. And…I can’t find my landlord at the train station. I wander around for a while looking for her, attempt (unsuccessfully) to call her cell phone from a pay phone and then from Google’s call service, and finally send her an email from a small café. She responds immediately, saying she couldn’t find me and has gone home and asking if I can take a cab to her house instead.
No problem, I say.
Years ago, when I first started traveling without organized tour groups, this is the kind of thing that would have rattled me. I would have wandered around that train station until I was exhausted, hot, sweaty, starving, and close to tears. I would have felt panicked and lost.
Not now, though. This time when I started to feel hot and tired, I ordered a drink, settled myself into a café chair, and opened up my computer. Because it’s 4:30, after all. I have all afternoon to figure out where I’m going. And relaxing with a cup of tea is a much nicer way to spend said afternoon than panicking.
6:30 p.m. / The view from my balcony is one of the best of any rentals I’ve ever stayed in. Dear god, look at that gorgeous forest!
7:30 p.m. / I am in love with the grocery store here, with its tasty fruit muesli and its giant meat counter and its gorgeous selection of yoghurts. Perhaps it’s a little strange, but one of my favourite things to do in a foreign country is shop – not for clothes or shoes (though that’s also a blast sometimes), but for groceries (Editor’s note: I totally concur!). I love the familiar items packaged in a different language. I love the new and interesting selections. I even sort of love the rookie mistakes I make (like the time I was supposed to bake the bread in store and instead I tried to just buy it raw, or this time, when I was supposed to get a bar code sticker for my fruit, but instead I just dumped it on the counter and the exasperated clerk had to go put the barcodes on for me).
10:30 p.m. / After checking emails, tweaking my eBook, and uploading photos, I’m feeling quite sleepy. Very soon it will be off to bed.
Day 7: Thursday
7 a.m. / I awake with sun streaming in through the window. Birds are singing and a gorgeous mist drapes itself over the Black Forest. I’m feeling very lucky to have found this apartment.
8 a.m. / After a few days of traveling and exploring, it’s time to catch up on work again. Luckily, there’s a chair on the balcony, so I can catch up and enjoy my gorgeous new surroundings.
10 a.m. / I decide to take a break: have a snack and then walk to the Black Forest for a short hike.
Noon / Okay, so the hike wasn’t so short. But it was lovely out there and coming back to work…well, I’d just rather stay out and work a little late tonight. So that’s the new plan.
6 p.m. / I spend the rest of the day catching up on work, Skyping with another traveling friend (who sustains her part-time travel by working for the airlines and taking advantage of their cheap travel benefits and who is currently in Ireland for a meditation retreat), and then unpacking. My bag is too heavy, so as I unpack, I carefully assess each item, tossing several things into a plastic bag to donate or leave behind.
7 p.m. / I have a simple dinner on the balcony, staring out at the Black Forest and the blue sky. I feel utterly peaceful.
Sometimes I can’t believe this is my life.
Gigi is currently in Colorado, after which she’s not entirely sure where she’s headed. She published a memoir about dating and love called And Also, My Palms are Sweaty: A Memoir in 64 Men on two continents and she’s available for freelance writing assignments. Check out her latest adventures on her site The Ramble.