How I Launched my Digital Nomad Career in Zagreb, Croatia

Let’s rewind 11 years.

I didn’t set out to author a travel site and blog.  I hit the road after graduating from university and decided a blog was better than a listserv because then I wouldn’t be getting dozens of email responses from friends and family which would then require even more time sitting in internet cafes instead of enjoying precious time to explore and absorb these new corners of the world.

My blog started as a rather boring ticking off of facts plus a daily play-by-play, “…and then I got a banana, coconut, pineapple smoothie which was only 25 cents!”  Then a wonderful, close friend said, “I like reading your blog, but… uh… they’re kind of long.  Can you make them shorter?”  I took my readerships’ request to heart and started writing 50% for them, chopping out bits that would lead anyone but me the writer and experiencer to tears of boredom.

jema patterson who writes transformational travel blog half the clothes

Flashback: The intrepid 22 year old, racing around and gobbling up as much of the globe as possible in her youthful gluttony.  Oh what a decade will do to one’s perspective, hey?

Fast-forward eight years.

My partner-at-the-time and I had set off to travel, starting with a working holiday visa in New Zealand.  From there, we hopped to the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, Laos, and Cambodia.  We were real sick of sweating in the tropics by the time we headed to the Czech Republic, hitchhiked to Germany, and then worked on farms across Italy.  By the time we sought a quiet refuge outside the Schengen Zone, exhaustion consumed us.

We used Njuskalo – the craigslist or gumtree of Croatia – to find an apartment.  We sent messages in English to apartments that fit our budget, looked at two, and picked on in a little village on a hill overlooking the city with a nearby bus stop.

digital nomad start croatia

The Croatian living room where I spent many hours working on my first attempt at digital nomad life.

It had been several months since I’d sat sweating in a Bangkok internet cafe cobbling together a  thorough packing list to fill an unmet need.  I, personally, when packing for our adventure, could only find lists from people just setting out.  Now that I’d been on four international trips and currently on the road for nearly two years, I thought I owed it to the traveling community to tell people what I wished I’d been told.  The internet was filled with advice from other newbies, but no experienced traveler had taken the time to share.

Well, by the time we got to Croatia, my little site was seeing hundreds of visitors a day, up from the handful of friends and family readers that used the blog to keep track of us.  I felt vindicated that I had indeed filled an unmet need.  It didn’t occur to me that there might be a way – beyond ads – to make an actual income off the blog.  I spent a day slogging through forums and developer information to get ads to display on the pages visited by strangers.  Then I turned my attention to another project.

looking down the plitvice lake gorge

I took a few breaks from work, tripping outside the capital city to see some Croatian icons – like Plitvice pictured here.

One of the major ironies of my life is that I have a knack for writing excellent resumes, cover letters, and persuasive essays.  Ironic because I have no interest in the hoop-jumping to which said writing often leads.  I do not want a job.  I will probably never (formally) further my education.  Just so you know I’m not just blowing my own horn: I graduated debt free from a university education with the price-tag of $107,624.  I paid the bulk of it with merit 1work-ethic, grades, and persuasive writing ability based scholarships.  (The rest I paid by working 72 hours a week every summer at a blue collar job, working  a room-and-board job living in the dorms one year as a student leader, and cobbling together numerous small jobs… like volunteering to let cognitive psychologists read my brain waves while I reacted to screen stimuli in their experiments.)

Proof of resume/cover letter prowess: I’ve been invited to interview for every job to which I’ve applied.  Every friend or family member I’ve helped with these documents has been invited to interview to the job they applied.  I’ve written dozens of admissions essays for friends, and all of them have gotten in to the schools of their dreams.

The point of this horn-tooting is: as  I sat  in Croatia spending the tail end of my travel dollars, searching for a new cash source, vehement about not wanting a “job,” I thought about how how much I enjoyed helping friends turn out prize-worthy essays and resumes.  I’d never asked for compensation, but maybe I could start a business doing it for strangers?

And so began digital nomad attempt #1.

maksmir park zagrab croatia trail

The enormous and underutilized city park near my house. On these trails I worked on my other goal – getting my fitness back after nearly two years of travel.

The thing most digital nomads learn in hindsight is setting up a business is a huge investment.  I spent a month in my Croatian apartment learning Joomla, writing copy for my pages, figuring out how to get paid, and writing a business plan.  I even started marketing a bit before it was time to hit the road.  However, I realized after a few months that I’d made a grave mistake.  Yes, I was good at what I was attempting to do.  But I wasn’t passionate.  I loved helping my family and friends because I loved the people.  The actual process – that I happened to be very good at – didn’t really light my fire.  Kind of like a tall person may not actually enjoy playing basketball.

Eventually, I finally got up the nerve to monetize this site.   Since then, I’ve started a podcast and am considering launching another website, this time a niche site meant to provide deep expertise in a tiny area.


1 work-ethic, grades, and persuasive writing ability

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