Slovakian-born Londoner Nika Janeckova made the jump from big city girl to digital nomad living on a remote island. Janeckova opened up to TravelHacker about why she left her career for the unknown and unsure reality of a digital nomad lifestyle.
TravelHacker: Why did you decide to become a digital nomad?
Nika Janeckova: As a little girl I had a dream — to live on a small island and to work from a beach. It couldn’t be further from reality for me back then because I grew up surrounded by mountains in a landlocked Slovakia, where -20’C winters would make me freeze my ass off.
At the age of 19, I moved out of my home country to build my career, but after 10 years of studying and working in London, I got tired of city life. The routine, noise and overcrowded places, which made me feel rather lonely all added up and I began feeling frustrated. I missed real connections and craved the nature — ocean in particular.
I realised that I knew what my body and mind needed to feel motivated and productive — being able to travel and move around if I felt the urge to do so and living an active lifestyle — but somehow, that idea was incompatible with my way of life in London. I decided to chase that little dream of mine. I had nothing to lose because despite being very well settled in London I felt incredibly unsettled.
TH: How did you choose Siargao?
Janeckova: I first visited Siargao in November 2015 during my holidays and again in early 2016. I googled “surfing Philippines” and there it was. That’s how I found about it. I knew nothing about the island or how to get there, I knew no one who’d visited before. But, once I arrived, I instantly fell in love with the place — its unspoiled nature, the vibe, the locals and the ocean of course. I knew that my 10-day holidays wasn’t the last time I’d visit Siargao.
TH: What did you pack?
Janeckova: Bikini, meds, insurance and tech. Siargao’s climate makes it very easy when it comes to clothing. There’s no dress code, unlike in cities, and it’s hot most of the time. I can get away with pretty much just wearing a bikini, flipflops and a few summer dresses, t-shirts and shorts.
I did take some medicine with me just in case, because I wasn’t sure what was available in the island and I’d heard that the healthcare wasn’t stellar in Siargao. But most of the effort during my packing was directed at the technical equipment and stuff around it. The aim was to document my experience, being able to work remotely and staying safe. This meant packing my Mac, iPad, smartphone, GoPro, lots of spare cables, hard drive, portable charger and a few pairs of headphones.
I did spend some time choosing reliable travel, gadget and health insurance, installing security software and making back-ups of everything.
TH: Did the experience meet your expectations?
Janeckova: So far it did. My expectations were actually surpassed. I learned about myself and about life way more than I expected. Changing everything — the location, the way of working and the lifestyle — is like pressing a reset button. You’re starting anew.
That realisation is empowering but also scary. It’s like entering a new relationship. You go into it with a picture of what didn’t work before, knowing yourself a little bit more and full of excitement to work on new challenges — to get things right this time. But only compassion, patience and persistence will determine if things work out.
There are always compromises to be made. I think it’s about knowing what you need right now and tailoring your life around it — knowing what compromises you’re making. Same as you can get stuck living in a city, you can get stuck living in a surfers’ paradise. So, I’m trying to stay close to the ground and welcome the novelty that comes into my life every single day with an open mind.
Like in a relationship, the travel experience will change you, it’s about being receptive to what’s happening and being aware of the changes. Ideally, they’d be positive and enlightening.
TH: What was the highlight of your first couple months?
Janeckova: The people I met. Not sure if it’s the small size of the place, its remoteness or something else, but it has the ability to attract beautiful people. Both locals and expats in Siargao have inspired me and helped me from the moment I arrived.
I did expect the luxury of being able to jump in the ocean ‘on-demand’ and being able to eat fresh and healthy food, but I didn’t realise how much magic the Filipino attitude blended with surfer culture can do. I’m a people lover so this was a massive blessing.
TH: What do you wish you would have known before you left the UK?
Janeckova: There was nothing really shocking so far. I guess I made it easier for myself by visiting the island before moving here. To be frank I couldn’t imagine it differently — moving to a place I’ve never been before.
TH: Tell me about your blog!
Janeckova: Before leaving the UK, there was no one in my immediate circles who’d gone through a similar journey — moving out of a city to “downsize” their pace of life. But I knew a lot of people who were unhappy with their lifestyles.
When I began talking about my plans, people around me said that they wanted to follow me on my adventure. This made me realise that capturing my own transition ‘from big city to a small island’, which is how I often refer to my blog IntoTheReality.com, could be useful to others.
So I put up the website shortly before leaving the UK, changed my personal Instagram account to a business one and set up a Facebook page. By following me you’ll get a feed of stories from the environment in which I live, the adventures I experience, and some (hopefully) inspiring life philosophy contemplations.
I love juxtaposing seemingly different concepts and making them mutually beneficial. I’m gradually working on adding more professionally oriented content that will involve this passion of mine. Imagine, for example, the idea of innovation — what it means in highly developed western society vs. on a small remote island in the Philippines. Same with education, healthcare, government, media and other industries I’m passionate about.
TH: What’s your plan to generate income?
Janeckova: I’m going to try freelancing and see how I feel about it. The plan is to put some feelers out and see what happens. In my last job, I helped companies in different stages of product design and development process and I’d love to leverage my experience in this domain.
At the same time, I’m looking into opportunities to develop business locally, in Siargao. I have a Slovakian digital magazine as well, which has been running for over a year so that’s another venture of mine.
TH: Would you like to maintain a nomadic lifestyle for a long time?
Janeckova: For as long as it feels good and makes sense to me. So far, I haven’t felt the need to settle down. In fact, that idea of having one permanent home makes me feel uncomfortable. I like to feel the flow of things and that often means being able to pack and go.
In this day and age you really don’t need to fixate yourself on one place. There’re plenty of hacks to make things accessible anywhere you are. I also believe that the less you own, the less owns you and I live my life according to this right now. Before leaving London, I went through a process of minimising my life requirements just to see how little I could live with, if I could train myself to let go easier and to understand what were the most important things in my life.
It’s applicable to both material things, experiences, but also people. It’s actually a great exercise that prepares you for the nomadic lifestyle both mentally and helps you save money before you travel.
TH: Do you have any advice for aspiring digital nomads?
Janeckova: If you’re an aspiring digital nomad then you already know your reasons for changing your lifestyle. Why wait any longer, just make the move. You’ll regret it if you never tried. Worst case, you can always come back to where you are now.
Here’s my advice once you’re on the road — because that’s where the real challenges come in: open up. Open your heart and your mind to new people, new ideas, even new food. Nomadic lifestyle can be a very lonely experience. It is so because you’re not only changing your place of residence, you’re (most probably) becoming an entrepreneur, too. Both transitions can give you an incredibly alienating feeling, especially when they join forces.
You really need a lot of motivation every day. The thing I understood quite quickly was that when I open up to new friendships and new sources of inspiration, which can come from literally anywhere, I don’t need to struggle so much trying to self-motivate. Plus, there’s a lot of nomad communities that one can reach online. So my suggestions is to make use of social engagement opportunities both physically and virtually from day one. That’s what’s gonna keep your head above water when the darker days come.
For advice from a successful digital nomad, read Maarten Belman’s story here.
All photos are Janeckova’s own.