For the fourth episode of the DNQ interview series, I’d like to welcome Jon Narong, a web analytics consultant & digital nomad! After announcing my DNQ Interview Series, Jon contacted me saying he was looking forward to the weekly installments. I decided to ask if he would be interested in an interview because his story seemed intriguing, and he said yes! I knew he was a digital nomad, so I wanted to hear about why and how he chose this path. So without further ado, here is my interview with Jon Narong.
How Jon Narong Became a Digital Nomad
Sharon: Tell us about yourself!
Jon: Hi my name is Jon Narong, and I’ve been a web analytics practitioner for about 10 years. I’m from San Francisco, so I’ve worked for a lot of tech companies in the Silicon Valley. The end of last year was impacted by a post acquisition layoff, but it came at a good time honestly, because I was completely burned out.
Being a digital nomad was something I’ve wanted to do for years but was always just a pipe dream. I never really thought I would be courageous enough to take the leap (especially to leave a relatively safe place career-wise to join the unknown). During my recent hiatus from work, I traveled for about 9 weeks in Asia and stumbled upon the DNX Global Conference which totally inspired me to just go for it. I eventually joined a small distributed web analytics consultancy, and decided to take advantage of the independence and be nomadic. That’s my story in a nutshell. A lot of my “struggles” have been figuring out how to transition from full time to remote / nomad life.
Sharon: How did you come across the DNX Global Conference?
Jon: While I was in Bangkok, I think I stumbled upon news of it somehow happening the next day. I registered last minute not really knowing what to expect, and it turned out to be one of the most inspirational days in recent memory.
Sharon: So what did the DNX global conference consist of?
Jon: Mainly speakers that have been doing the nomad lifestyle for a little while, but they were also honest about many of the hardships. It was life changing meeting so many like-minded people and hearing about all the adventurous lives people were able to live outside of the standard framework of being on vacation. This could be normal life! I was hooked instantly, and after leaving that conference I knew I had to figure out a way to make this work for me as well.
Sharon: Awesome! I can totally relate to this. What were the first few steps you took towards becoming a digital nomad?
Jon: After the conference, I started absorbing as much as I could – blogs and articles, books, YouTube videos, and meetups. I was specifically interested in the challenges of a nomadic life, and I tried to figure out how I could plan ahead to make it more sustainable.
Some of these were simple ideas like slow travel. Others were more ambiguous sounding like being financially stable.
Sharon: How long would you say it took you to prepare?
Jon: It probably took a few months to prepare, with the bulk of it being psychological (was this really the right decision?) and tactical (selling things).
Sharon: If your friends didn’t offer you that position how would you have searched for remote work? Do you feel like you got lucky with that?
Jon: If the job didn’t fall into place right away, I was thinking about potentially starting my own consulting practice as well if nothing turned up soon. That said, I’m very glad things worked out the way they did. I definitely feel fortunate, but my overall philosophy with life and careers is that things don’t always happen by complete chance. For instance, I had years of building up strong working relationships and solid networking behind me. I do feel very fortunate, however.
Sharon: How hard was it to downsize to a minimalistic lifestyle?
Jon: Minimizing to a minimalistic lifestyle has actually been much easier and beneficial than I ever would have imagined. While in the process of downsizing, I remember thinking that I really should have downsized sooner, as it is amazing how many excess items we manage to accumulate. Holding onto things becomes too easy, and the way I’m living now really doesn’t seem all that different. It’s a remarkable feeling to no longer be held down by things. It’s the realization that your identity is not tied to your possessions.
Sharon: I agree! As I’ve been on this journey it’s crazy realizing I don’t really need much at all to live. I used to be sort of a hoarder but now I’m removing things from my life that make my suitcase heavier than it should be.
Jon: Totally! Actually was just doing some “spring cleaning” out of the luggage as well.
Sharon: What are your ultimate goals with this new life? Do you plan on being a digital nomad permanently? Are you planning to start your own agency in the future?
Jon: I really have no goals, except to try and make the most of every day. For a while now, I grew disgruntled with the state of corporate life, and the fact that everyone just seems to follow that way because that’s the way it is. I get great satisfaction around challenging what it means to live a “normal” life.
That said, it is currently very open-ended to how long I’ll go on for, but I’m set up to go relatively indefinitely. I’m not even sure where I’d want to end up. San Francisco has gotten a bit crazy. Even though it’s where I grew up, and it’s beautiful, life is too short to just settle with what you were given I feel like. I have an incredible opportunity to experience things first hand, and I want to play it out as long as I can.
Sharon: A lot of people want to know how much you need to save to take the leap. I know you said you went through a layoff and your friends took you in their agency. Did you still need to save a specific amount of money to start moving around? Did you move from SF to Chicago?
Jon: Having a financial buffer is definitely important. I feel like I have been very good on that front for a number of years, so I am fortunate. But I think having a few months worth of expenses is really important. One tactical way it’s been useful so far is housing costs. For instance, if you’re doing Airbnb, you have to pay when you book — so some months you are realistically paying in advance. Knowing and managing your expenses is that much more important when you’re away from the comforts of home.
Sharon: Are there specific things you look for for when you choose locations?
Jon: In terms of locations, there is definitely different criteria than when I used to travel for vacation. Some locations that seem absolutely fun can also be unnecessarily risky for work. I definitely look for places with solid WiFi (obvious right?) and generally warm weather (because who has room to pack jackets?).
Sharon: Have you gone through homesickness at all yet?
Jon: There are definitely times where you miss aspects of home, but I think it ends up being with people – friends & family, that you take for granted before, instead of actual things. But when I find myself missing the comforts of home, you have to remind yourself that the challenge of it all is also fun.
Sharon: Aside from the normal stuff – clothes, hygienic products, laptop – what is one random/unique item you feel you can’t do without while abroad?
Jon: They are both audio-related, but I’m very thankful that I always have my noise-canceling earbuds (Bose QC20) and Jambox bluetooth speaker with me. I’m constantly blown away at the way ambient noise can have in making you feel comfortable in a new place. Those earbuds especially have made travel so much nicer.
Sharon: Do you have specific resources you recommend for beginners to check out to begin their journey?
Jon: There are some great online communities where you can get completely immersed in many of the aspects and realities you’ll face both as a location independent worker as well as a digital nomad. Some of my favorites include the digital nomad subreddit, Remotive, Workfrom, and Nomad List. In addition, Jason Fried’s book “Remote” was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me.
Sharon: Great resources, I actually hadn’t heard of a few of those! So where do you plan on going next?
Jon: I’m going to Prague in a bit less than 2 weeks, trying to do the month cadence as well!
Sharon: Awesome. Any last advice?
Jon: If you want to do it, you just have to do it. There will never be a time that you’ll feel 100% ready to take the plunge. The timing is never perfect. But things will fall into place.
From speaking with Jon I realized that our journeys were quite similar, and it was cool being able to relate to his story. Before taking the plunge, we both had the determination to pursue a life of location independence, put in extensive amount of research, and endured the self-doubt that ensued. And it looks like ever since we’ve pursued this path, we haven’t looked back. It’s funny how universal the digital nomad thoughts and experiences can be.
Thanks again, Jon, for speaking with me!