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Things I Wish I’d Known: TEFL Digital Nomads Talk Traveling and Teaching

TEFL digital nomads

When some people think of working as a digital nomad, they envision constant gallivanting and sleeping in rundown hostels around the globe, completely independent of location, relying only on a strong internet connection to complete their work. While that is at times the reality, there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes preparation when teaching while traveling. For anyone thinking of becoming a TEFL digital nomad, here are some helpful insights from those who have firsthand experience!

Earn Specialized Certification in Teaching English Online to master the skills you need to teach in the virtual classroom as a TEFL digital nomad.

ESL teacher

Rachel Story

Bridge grad and blogger Rachel, from the U.S., decided to become a digital nomad five years ago when she and her husband were teaching in Asia. Since then, she has taught English with online ESL companies and through online marketplaces while traveling and going to festivals around the world. She discusses what she wishes she had known before taking the leap and beginning her journey as a TEFL digital nomad.

I wish I’d known…

  • To slow the pace of travel when you’re teaching online.

As a digital nomad, you need more time to truly enjoy the place that you’re in and be productive. Otherwise, you’ll burn out quickly.

  • To be better organized.

I only recently started putting everything into Google Calendar and color coding everything. It has been a game-changer for my organization and productivity. 

  • To be adaptable!

When you’re traveling as a digital nomad, everything can and will go wrong, so you have to be able to adapt! Be ready for things to change at any moment and don’t be afraid to pivot. Always have a backup plan.

Read more about Rachel’s life as an online English teacher.

TEFL digital nomad

Anzhela Karamysheva

Bridge grad Anzhela, from Russia, has been globetrotting for the past 12 years and has visited 47 countries so far. With a Master’s degree in Tourism and Hospitality, she had worked for various industries before she switched to teaching English online when the pandemic started. She shares what she wishes she’d known before becoming a digital nomad and venturing into ESL teaching as a non-native English speaker.

I wish I’d known…

  • That choosing a place with good internet connectivity is crucial.

While being a digital nomad gives you a fulfilling experience as well as freedom of choice, not everything is as easy and bright as it might seem. One of the obstacles a digital nomad may have to face is when your internet stops working during your classes – the amount of stress is huge!

This kind of situation requires a sense of responsibility and critical thinking. When you choose a place to stay, you are fully dependent on the internet connection. That’s the first thing you check when you plan your trips.

  • That scheduling and taking time off matters.

Although every digital nomad is different, we are business owners, and everyone has many projects. This means that sometimes your work may drag on into the late hours or require you to get up early. However, even nomads should take time off from time to time.

In the end, you have to work – and there are busy periods and light periods. You can choose your own schedule to an extent, but sometimes, you realize that you are dependent on your students.

For example, when I lived in Mexico but was teaching Russian students, it was my schedule that I enjoyed the most. Because of the time difference between Russia and Mexico (eight hours), I woke up super early with the sunrise there, and by noon I was free to enjoy the rest of the day. Now that I’m back in Russia, I have my pupils after lunch when they finish school, and this breaks up my day right in the middle and doesn’t give me a lot of space for the rest of my routine. Of course, I can change it, but what if I fly to Asia next with the same schedule? Then, I’ll have my classes at the end of the day, which could be tiring.

Learn how to start your own online teaching business.

  • To not hold back.

I first went through fears and doubts about myself, thinking I wasn’t going to start teaching English because I’m not a native English speaker and that lack of experience might be an obstacle. Then, I began to realize that being a non-native English speaker actually gives me an advantage. I mean, ask me to teach you Russian, and I wouldn’t know how. But I’ve studied English and I know the struggles of learning it. Therefore, because I’ve walked in the shoes of my pupils, I know how to teach English.

Now, my only other piece of advice is to go for it! There’s nothing to fear but fear itself. Life outside of your comfort zone is too beautiful, and the world is too big to stay in one place. Just pack up your laptop, summon your courage, and go.

Read more about Anzhela.

ESL teacher from Russia

Vera Baranovskaya

Bridge grad and social media guru Vera Baranovskaya, from Russia, has been teaching English for nearly seven years. She has taught around the globe, in both her home country and South America. She has also used her platform on Instagram to host live English-speaking events and engage with potential students. Below, she shares what she wishes she’d known before becoming a digital nomad.

I wish I’d known…

  • That online classes are just as effective as face-to-face classes.

I’d started traveling before the pandemic began. It was exciting and scary at the same time to start teaching English online, but when I realized what kind of freedom it would give me, I just went all the way from Russia to Chile and then to Colombia. I’m going to Panama next week.

Check out 9 reasons to become an online English teacher.

  • That the work and travel concept is possible!

Let’s be honest, it’s not for everyone. I have to organize my trips, my classes, find a budget accommodation with internet, work on my school (Idioma Zone), organize my routine while moving every couple of weeks, and try to have some fun from time to time too. But, if you learn how to organize it all, you’ll be blessed to have this kind of life that everyone is dreaming about. It’s totally worth it!

  • To just let it go!

The year 2020, in particular, taught me a good lesson: Not everything depends on me. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, it’s just not going to happen. What do we do? Move forward! Relax, it’s fine, there are always many other options. Just look around, and try to stay flexible in any situation.

Learn more about Vera’s experience as a global ESL teacher!

ESL teacher

Mari Breedlove

Bridge grad Mari has been teaching English online for several years and has lived in four different countries. She currently resides in a small town in Scotland, just an hour away from Edinburgh. She shares what she wishes she’d known before becoming a digital nomad and how the pandemic has affected her job.

I wish I’d known…

  • That the more students you have, the harder it is to keep track of bookings.

Like many people, one of my biggest worries when the pandemic began was the effect it would have on me professionally. As things have progressed, my bookings while teaching English online have fluctuated greatly, but all in all, have never been negatively impacted by COVID-19. On the contrary, it has at times proved overwhelming to keep track of the number of students I have booked in a week.

Keep these tips in mind:

1. Stay organized — and make sure you are taking enough time for yourself, as burnout is real when you have the option of working so many hours.

2. Stay up to date on government and school regulations regarding openings and closings of the schools your students attend. This will change the hours your students will take your lessons.

3. Offer group lessons when possible to allow students to pay less for classes and help you retain your income.

Find out more about attracting and retaining students as a freelance online English teacher.

  • That I’d need to stay informed on travel restrictions.

The digital nomad lifestyle has allowed me to see parts of the world I had only ever dreamed of, all while still earning a living and having the added security of a steady income. Teaching English online as a digital nomad has been the thrill and challenge of a lifetime, especially this last year. Over the course of two weeks, I had one of my best months in terms of income in the last year and yet was stranded in Germany for five days with limited internet because of a faulty COVID-19 test.

There are unforeseen circumstances in every career field, but especially during a pandemic. Now that travel is beginning to become more accessible, remember these tips:

1. Check the COVID-19 testing procedures and guidelines for every single state or country you are traveling to. They do differ, and they will be very time-consuming when not followed correctly!

2. Call ahead to every hotel or hostel you plan to stay at. The pandemic has severely impacted the availability of some technical services. If you can avoid an “internet emergency,” do so.

3. Never put your “work tools,” like laptops, chargers, etc., in checked baggage. If travel disruptions occur, lost luggage is likely to become part of the nightmare that is delayed travel plans.

Read about how coronavirus has impacted teachers’ TEFL careers.

  • That being flexible as a digital nomad means so much more than just adapting to new surroundings.

More than any other time in history, we have seen firsthand how plans are, most of the time, a wish at best! After a year of dozens of canceled trips and yearly budgets that just didn’t pan out, I have become more flexible than I have ever been. For some digital nomads, their place of living changes with every season, so things like border closures and travel restrictions are not only inconvenient but life-altering.

While teaching English online has been affected by the pandemic, it has been mostly positive in terms of bookings, earning potential, and job security. The changes and restrictions that have become a part of our reality have affected the lifestyle we chose when becoming digital nomads moreso than our ability to perform our English teaching jobs, and that is something to be thankful for. Being flexible is probably the biggest lesson I have learned this last year and the biggest tip I could give someone who is thinking of becoming a TEFL digital nomad now or later on.

Read more about how online English teacher Mari has coped with the pandemic while abroad.

Dreaming of becoming a digital nomad? Read this next: How to Teach English Online as a Digital Nomad.

Our diverse, global community of contributors includes experts in the field, Bridge course graduates, online and classroom-based teachers worldwide, and Bridge faculty and staff.