My First Job as a Nomad

seignosse, france

“And that was how I left Bergen” – Karl Ove Knausgaard

 I kind of despise the word “nomad,” because I feel like people don’t really know what it means. They misuse it. I misuse it.The dictionary definition is: “a member of a people having no permanent abode, and who travel from place to place to find fresh pasture for their livestock.”

However, the second definition is: “a person who does not stay long in the same place; a wanderer.”

And it’s this second definition that’s come into prevalence today. I don’t know many people today who call themselves nomads who actually keep goats.

The thing about being a so-called nomad, if you don’t have livestock (though that’s obviously the dream), is that you must have a job. I had my first nomad job back in 2014, when I started working for a company called ZeroChaos as an Ads Quality Rater in Spanish. What does this mean? We’ll get to that. First I’d like to mention a few other traveling jobs I had before my first “real” nomad job.

  1. Pizza maker in Puerto Varas, Chile (I was the assistant)
  2. Bed and Breakfast morning attendant in Puerto Montt, Chile (I washed dishes and talked to people from Argentina)
  3. WWOOFing (if you haven’t heard about WWOOFing it’s where you work five hours a day for room and board. I did it in Finland).
  4. Hostel jobs (mostly reception)

But then, in 2014, I got a job evaluating Google Ads based on search terms for a company called ZeroChaos. My friend Sonia had told me about the job. Sonia grew up in Rome and speaks (natively) English, Italian and Finnish, and also has a Masters in French. “It only pays $15 an hour,” she said. “But it’s easy.”

la push

Look at this emo nomad.

The problem with the job was that you weren’t supposed to leave the US while working it. I observed this for the first summer. I went to places like La Push, Washington (pictured above), making small trips and working a little while on the road. But I yearned to know: Could I somehow do it abroad? Could I be in a leafy plaza in Madrid in fall rating Google Ads and murmuring to myself, drunk on the sweetness that was nomadic life?

So I tried it.

First I went to Mexico. Los Cabos. And they didn’t catch me. I was devious. I used a VPN to make it look like I was in the US. Much later, however, I would realize that “catching” me probably had nothing to do with it. They just didn’t care.

By this time, a few months into the job, I was a seasoned ads rater. Here’s what the basic task consisted of: You get a search term, like, “Restaurants near Minneapolis,” and you’re shown an ad that may or may not be useful for someone who’s entered that search term. You evaluate it. You explore the landing page the ad links to. You evaluate it. You look around and realize you’re in Mexico City making what, for Mexico, is an insane hourly wage. You smile. And then you do it for six hours and kind of want to cut yourself.

la push

Rollin’ with the homies.

Not only was this job good for nomadic life, it actually encouraged it. Due to the relatively low pay and repetitiveness, changing up the outside surroundings was critical. I went to Cabo. I flew to Mexico City. I flew to Paris. I lived in Southwest France for three months, renting a room for $400 euros from a wonderful woman named Frederique. Every morning I’d get up, check the waves, if they were good I’d surf, and if they were bad I’d work, then go to the grocery store/skate park, work some more, and in the evening, chill. Then I walked the Camino de Santiago. Five hundred miles of walking, working the ad rating job every single day to pay for it. Then Morocco. Then home. Then back to Spain, this time San Sebastian, an hour away from where I’d lived in France. Again, a similar routine. Wake up, surf. Work. Take a break. Work. Have lunch. Work. Go to the skatepark. Chill.

I look back on those two months in San Sebastian with tremendous fondness. I lived in a four-bedroom apartment with two people from Spain and one girl from Ethiopia/Italy. None of us knew what we were doing in life. We were all in the same boat. We had a wonderful view of the ocean, and every morning I’d put on my wetsuit (in my room!), dash downstairs, run across the street, and within 10 minutes be in the water. At night we’d sit in the living room and roll cigarettes and laugh.

Anyway, the great thing about this job was the flexibility. I could work up to 29 hours a week but I only had to work 10, which meant if I found something better for a short time I could do that, like when I worked as a tour guide for El Camino Travel in Colombia and Nicaragua.

I also wrote my first book while doing this job. I flew to Belgrade and traveled overland through Romania, Ukraine, Poland, and finally into Germany. I wrote 1,000 words a day five days a week. After two months, I (sort of) had a book. You can buy it here. But don’t. It’s terrible.

digital nomad

Finally, after a year and a half of ad rating I decided to call it quits. No more ZeroChaos.  Now that I’m back in Mexico and struggling to get rolling I wish I could have this job back. Fifteen dollars an hour in Mexico means you’re a veritable Czar. But I’ve emailed ZeroChaos. I’m not even sure they exist anymore. Either way, they’re not doing re-hires.

What did I learn from this job? You either find a job that you love and that pays you and that’s your life. Or, you find a job you can tolerate that allows you to do the things you love and that’s your life. The first one is better. But the first one takes time and dedication. Which is what I’m working on now, one blog post at a time. One instant coffee at a time. One (proverbial) day at a time.

Have you ever had a nomad job?

Know of any good ones?

Let me know in the comments.

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