My arms are starting to shake. We’ve been planking for at least a minute now, with no end in sight. Everyone else seems fine and, not wanting to be the weakest link in the class, I keep holding, although my hands have gone numb and this morning’s breakfast is starting to come up.
“Keeeep holding!”, screams Sandz, the affable Thai man running the class and the reason for my current torment.
I notice the mat around me is soaked. I wonder if they just cleaned the area, before realizing that I am planking in a swimming pool of my own sweat.
Right. It’s 34 degrees and I’m in a tropical country.
My Canadian upbringing has adapted me to blizzards, wind rash, and mild frostbite, but not to exercising in 75% humidity.
“Okay,” yells Sandz. “3 more seconds! 3… 3… 3… 3… 3… ”
I’m going to kill this guy.
I start to feel the oatmeal I hurriedly ingested less than an hour ago rising in my throat. I wonder how many times this class has caused accidental vomiting.
How the hell did I get here?
About a year ago, I moved back to Toronto, Canada, after five months of backpacking around Southeast Asia. Determined to become a “digital nomad” so that I could continue my travels with more financial stability, I only imagined myself stationed in this city for a few months at the most.
I had just gotten a job as an ESL Teacher with VIPKID, a company providing online private ESL lessons to Chinese students. So finally, I had my escape plan – a way to work and travel the world (or at least the parts of the world with a decent Internet connection).
I had heard from other teachers that they were fully booked within 3-4 weeks of being hired. But it took me 6 months to get fully booked consistently. This could have been due to timing – I got hired during a huge national holiday in China, when most students are away – and other factors. But in order to get out of Canada, I needed something else to sustain myself until I could start my journey abroad.
I found a part-time gig as a receptionist / administrator at a dance studio, and while the job seemed fine from the outset – friendly co-workers, free dance classes, flexible hours – it turned out to be a nightmare. My direct boss spent a good portion of my shifts reprimanding me and screaming at me, often in front of clients. It became so stressful that I started getting spontaneous nosebleeds and my hair started falling out.
Compounding the work-related stress, I also lived with an insufferable roommate. And because I was teaching in the early mornings and working at the studio late at night, I found myself constantly exhausted and sleep-deprived. I started to get bouts of severe anxiety from my tense roommate relationship and stressful work environment.
Although I had family and great friends in the city, I found most other people I was meeting to be overly concerned with finances and extremely status-oriented. The hated first question of any interaction with a stranger was usually, “So… what do you do?” – meaning: “What provides you with money, and how much of it do you make?”
Toronto was cold, in both senses of the word. As far as I could tell, most people spent their time getting ready for work, commuting to work, working, and complaining about work. People had no time for extracurricular passions or interests, and I was yet to meet someone who was truly excited about something – anything – they were doing.
And that weather! Why people decided to inhabit a land where it snows for half of the year and rains for another third is still beyond me. I needed to leave.
And yet, despite working two jobs, I found it impossible to save much. Toronto was just too damn expensive, and my goal of leaving seemed like it would never come to fruition.
But this isn’t a sad story. Stick with me – I promise it gets better!
Due to an unexpected tax rebate in the spring, I was finally able to save enough to buy my plane ticket to Phuket, Thailand and pay my fees at Tiger Muay Thai, the fitness and Muay Thai kickboxing training camp I keep returning to year after year.
I arrived in Phuket in September, and within a few days, the stress-related acne that had popped up all over my face and back while I was in Toronto, the acne that kept me looking like the “Before” model in a Proactiv commercial, completely disappeared. My hair also stopped falling out, I stopped getting spontaneous nosebleeds, and I slept soundly through the night. Apparently, all that was required to return to a normal human state was a dose of sunshine, a few intense workout sessions, and some freshly cooked pad thai!
Of course, changing homes, travelling semi-permanently, and being an online freelancer come with risks and downsides. There are no work benefits or job security, there are frustrating communication barriers when living in non-English-speaking countries, and moving every month or every few months can be stressful and exhausting. Not to mention, I’m far away from family and close friends.
But for me, the downsides are worth it. I train with some of the top Muay Thai fighters in Thailand. I meet dozens of people who inspire me and who have told me incredible stories of their adventures, goals, passions, and heartbreaks. And I have much more free time. I can focus on my health and my fitness / training goals, as well as the creative and personal pursuits I neglected back in Canada, where I was constantly hustling to make ends meet.
I step out of the Phuket International Airport on a humid September night. The air is wet and clings to my skin and clothes. I’m already sweating and regretting my clothing choice of a sweater, jeans, and hiking boots – my heaviest things, the things that would put my luggage over the airline weight limit.
A long row of Thai men and women lean on the gate and hold up signs with neatly typed names on them. They glance at each passenger, hopeful, before returning their attention to their phones. It is loud outside, and the sound of hundreds of multilingual conversations happening at once is disorienting.
I have two suitcases packed with boxing gear, climbing gear, salsa shoes, and clothes for all seasons. I have all of my teaching supplies, including a back-up laptop, two whiteboards, Frozen stickers, some camping lights, and Mr. Potato Head. I am ready.
I am home.
*This is the beginning of my story as a digital nomad. Follow me here, and let’s see where this story goes!