Along with working as coach for global nomads living around the world, I also post an Interview Series on this website where I share the stories of global nomads who have moved abroad, are traveling the globe, or are transitioning to life back at home.
This week’s interview features Ali Marsland. A British country girl at heart, Ali was bitten by the travel bug 25 years ago. She has now travelled to 42 countries and divides her time mostly between Nottingham (UK) and Cape Town (South Africa), with frequent side trips to new places. She’s able to work remotely as she travels, running a business which provides extra support to communications teams. She is also setting up a new venture to help other people identify and live the life that’s right for them (whether or not travel is part of that).
When was the first time you left England and what was your life like before that?
I grew up in a tiny village in North Nottinghamshire, England. We lived in a huge house with lots of land in the middle of nowhere surrounded by farmland – a very tiny village with not even a pub. It was a fabulous, safe place to grow up. I can’t remember the very first time I ever left my home country as we often went on family holidays to Europe when I was young (travelling to Europe from the UK is cheap and easy).
When I was 14 my Dad got a job in Malta (the little island country by Italy) and we sold up and moved out there. That’s when the travel bug bit me.
We only stayed there eight months and then my parents separated and my brother, sister and I came back to the UK with Mum while Dad stayed in Malta to finish his work contract. Back in the UK we moved into Nottingham city and I went back to my old school in the same class with my old friends – except that now I was living close enough to socialise with them which, as a teenager, was perfect timing for me!
While we were living in Malta I decided I wanted to take a year out after school to go travelling before going to university. At that time a lot of teenagers’ magazines had ads in the back where you could pay a small amount of money, select countries and interests and get matched with kids abroad to write to and become pen-pals. When we got back to England from Malta I filled in a load of those forms trying to get pen-pals specifically in the hope that I could stay with them when I went travelling. (Yep, I was pretty focused!). In the end I did stay with two – one in Australia and one in the Philippines.
And when did you first leave England on your own?
The first time I really left my home country on my own was to start my year out – in Feb 1995 I went to Israel to spend two months living and working on a kibbutz. I loved it. I came home briefly afterwards and then set off on my ‘big trip’ where I flew to New York, got Greyhound buses across the US to LA, flew from LA to Auckland (New Zealand) and stayed with a family friend for about 10 days, then flew to Sydney and stayed with one of my pen pals, travelling up to the Gold Coast on my own for a few days while I was there. Then I flew to the Philippines and stayed with another pen pal in a tiny village (Ternate, Cavite) – the house had a corrugated iron roof and no running water; when it rained the men took showers in the street. While I was there we drove around in rickshaws and went to a couple of cock fights. Then I flew to Malaysia and stayed with other family friends not far from Kuala Lumpur. By now I was actually quite tired of travelling and didn’t do much exploring. I flew home from KL and I distinctly remember seeing the red roofs of English houses from the plane window as we approached Heathrow and feeling my heart just sinking and thinking that I really really didn’t want to be coming in to land. That hasn’t changed much ever since!
After a few weeks back home I went to Denmark and Sweden to explore and to visit a friend I’d met on the kibbutz, then I went to Bulgaria for a fortnight with an English girl I’d become very good friends with in Israel and who was doing the same as me – it was a last holiday for us both before we started university.
That was all when I was 18, and it did nothing to sate my travel desires; it only made me realise what a huge, exciting and fascinating world there is out there.
What’s the most difficult part about travel or living outside of your home country? How do you overcome these difficulties?
I think the hardest thing is the isolation and loneliness that can very easily go along with travelling. When I was planning my big trip after school several friends were keen to come with me – and I would have loved them to, but none of them got their act together to actually organise anything. I knew it was something I wanted to do – with or without anyone else, and so I went on my own. That’s pretty much been the pattern ever since. I’m quite single-minded about my travel ambitions and while it’s always great if anyone does want to join me, more often than not I go alone.
Depending on your preferred style of travel it can be easy or much harder to meet people. In 2012 I was taking my first steps towards remote working. I had made a conscious decision to change my business model to deliver our services remotely rather than in clients’ offices, and I was at a point where I felt that it should work in theory and I wanted to try it in practice. I decided to go and live abroad for a month to test it out. For this particular experiment I was looking for somewhere that met various criteria – I wanted it to be warm in the UK’s winter, I wanted it to be fairly easy to live there and to get around (so that I was focused on testing the business, not testing my ability to live abroad), and I also wanted somewhere with a dragon boat club.
And what exactly is a dragon boat club?
Dragon boating is a fantastic team sport and has many many benefits. You can read more about it on my website. I’ve been dragon boating for 15 years now and absolutely love it. I figured if I was going to put myself somewhere completely new where I didn’t know anybody for a month then if I could join a dragon boat club while I was there even if I didn’t speak to anybody else all week at least I would have those training sessions two or three times a week where I would be on familiar territory and in a friendly group of people who I could chat to.
I joined Mujaji dragon boat club in Cape Town for that first visit in 2012 and have now been training and racing with them every year since.
Anything else you’d recommend for making friends outside of your home country?
Since that first visit I’ve also become a big fan of MeetUp. Now if I’m planning to spend more than a couple of weeks in one place I sign up to any MeetUp groups in the area that take my fancy. As the whole point of MeetUp groups is to meet people it’s never uncomfortable rocking up to an event on your own, and more often than not only a few of the other people there know each other. It’s a ready-made social life and I’ve made some great friends that way.
WhatsApp and Facebook are also brilliant for keeping in touch with people wherever I am, and when I have a quiet evening (few and far between with all the dragon boating and MeetUp events in my diary!) I like to sit on the balcony with a glass of wine, enjoy the view of the sea or mountain and chat with friends and family online.
What’s the best part about travel or living outside of your home country?
The freedom! I just love meeting new people and find it fascinating to see how other people live their lives. As I travel I constantly pick up ideas and inspiration about the way I want to live my own life. After university I lived in Sudan for a year (teaching English) and while I saw and learnt many things there, one that sticks in my mind is how incredibly generous and un-materialistic the Sudanese people are. Many of them have very little but they will always share all that they have without a second thought. For example, one family I stayed with had one wardrobe full of clothes – there was no distinction between what belonged to whom; there was a supply of clothes in that wardrobe and if you lived or visited there when you needed a clean item you simply took one from the cupboard. That communal, sharing, unselfish approach was refreshing to me, and the lack of attachment to material items is something I have tried to take with me throughout my life. I would much rather spend any money I have on travel and new experiences than on the latest fashion, film or gadget.
What has living outside of your home country taught you about life, romantic relationships, family and/or professional ambitions?
Many things. A couple of things I’m now very clear about:
- There is no ‘right’ or ‘best’ way of life or place to live; there are many many different ways and places and all are good in their own different ways.
- This crazy travelling lifestyle that I now have is the one that’s right for me. In the past couple of years in particular I’ve had to think carefully about what’s important to me and I’ve made sacrifices as a result of my choices. Travel is fabulous and immensely rewarding, but it isn’t the easy option.
What are 3 things on your bucket list?
I’m actually very happy to say that I don’t really have anything on my bucket list; whenever I decide I really want to do something, I go and do it!
What advice do you have for people who are considering traveling or relocating to a new country, but are feeling doubtful?
Think carefully about WHY – is the desire to travel or relocate coming from you or is it someone else’s dream/plan? If it isn’t your own desire, what is most important to you about the life you’re about to step towards? What are the dealbreakers – the features/things/aspects that simply must be included in your new life? Will they be there? Can you put them there? If not, maybe this isn’t the right step for you just now.
I love travel; it’s a huge part of my life, but it isn’t without challenges. I would never push anyone to travel if it’s not right for them. And even if travel is the right thing for them to be doing, there are many, many different ways to travel. I’ve been travelling a long time and now know what does and doesn’t work for me, but only you can decide what’s right for you. Just because someone else thinks travel is great or pushes you to visit a certain place or try a certain style of travelling, that doesn’t mean it’s right for you. Try to really imagine actually being in the experience you’re considering; think about how it will feel. Listen to your gut. If you’re just not feeling it then maybe it’s not the right thing for you to be doing just now. It can be tricky sometimes to distinguish between feeling apprehensive and really doubting whether something is right. For me, I know that I love travel and that it makes me feel alive. If I’m considering a travel option, I imagine myself being in that experience. Sometimes when I do that I just don’t really feel any emotion – in that case I know it’s not the right choice for me at that time. Other times when I visualise the place/experience I feel huge excitement – and then I go and book a plane ticket.
Do you have a favorite quote, book, movie, TED Talk, etc?
Two favourite quotes:
“The purpose of life is to be happy” ~ Dalai Lama
“If you’re going through hell, keep going” ~ Winston Churchill
Thanks so much Ali for sharing your inspiring story of how you’re able to work remotely and travel around the world (and for introducing me to the world of dragon boating!). Want to learn more about Ali’s adventures? You can find her on her company’s website, her personal website and her Facebook page.
ABOUT MELISSA PARKS, THE FOUNDER OF INTENTIONAL EXPAT:
I moved from Seattle (USA) to Madrid, Spain in 2009 in order to work as an English teacher for a year. I soon discovered that when you accept the invitation to become a global nomad, life may take you in unexpected directions! This one year abroad turned into ten, and during that time I earned my master’s degree and PhD in Clinical & Health Psychology, lived in both Spain and the Netherlands, became fluent in Spanish, transitioned from an accidental to an intentional expat, and met my future husband, a fellow global nomad. I recently relocated back to Seattle and provide online coaching for global nomads, If you’re a global nomad yourself and want to be featured in a future interview, please get in touch!
Would you like to learn more about my coaching services for expats and global nomads? I offer a free 30-minute consultation for potential clients so that you can see if my coaching services are a good fit for you: