becoming a digital nomad in new zealand harley bell

I Live as a Full Time Digital Nomad in New Zealand: Here’s What I did To Achieve This Lifestyle

Editor’s Note: 

Hi everyone! I would like to introduce you to Harley, our first guest writer and freelancer on the website. I’m always interested in hearing stories about people living unique lives, so when I met Harley, I was excited to hear his unique perspectives and stories, and of course, to have him onboard.

About the Author:

Harley Bell is a writer, poet and facilitator based in New Zealand. His background is in art and business. He is interested in the intersection of nature and mythology. He has been published in various journals and draws his inspiration from vast amounts of coffee.

becoming a digital nomad in new zealand harley bell

Hi, I’m Harley and I’m a full-time digital nomad.

I live in New Zealand and I’m currently sitting on the banks of the Takaka River. My feet are in the water and my laptop is securely balancing on a camping table. This is my office for the morning. I love the life of a digital nomad.

I haven’t always lived this way. I used to be a perpetually stressed small business owner. For many years, I owned and operated a café. But I needed a change, a new career. This is how I became a full-time digital nomad.

From Cafe Owner to Becoming a Poet


My story begins with the desire to do meaningful work in New Zealand. Having a community was an integral part of my café. I wanted to help and serve people. But in the process of filling the cups of others, my own cup became empty. 

During a summer of soul searching, I rediscovered poetry. Particularly, poetry about the landscapes that had been absent from my busy city life.

Long story short, I became a poet. I’m currently working on a poetry manuscript, titled Wild Altar. 

It is my heart’s purpose to write good poetry. But it is my organized mind that finds work that  brings in money. This is a perpetual balancing act, freelancing and poetry, mind and heart.

I achieve this balance by dedicating the early hours of the morning to projects of passion. But the rest of the working day is about freelancing work and hitting my business goals.

The life of a digital nomad is all about balance.

Becoming a Full-Time Writer

It was a big decision to change my life, from café owner to writer. It was only a thought, a fantasy. Until Covid forced me to change. It decimated the viability of the hospitality industry in New Zealand. It is often hardship that makes us courageous enough to make radical choices.

I didn’t immediately become a full time digital nomad. I went back to study for a year. I wanted and needed to transition my skill set away from hospitality. This was another big decision. 

What did I want to do for work?

What did I want to do with my life?

I did my research (and almost got scammed by a project management course but that’s another story) and finally realized I could pursue my love for the written word by studying publishing. 

Post study, I needed to find a job. Or a way to make money. I also wanted to travel. This is how I became fascinated with remote working.


Initial Challenges Working As A Digital Nomad 


One of the initial challenges was having my illusions shattered. The digital nomad lifestyle looks different to the dreams I saw on the internet.

I planned to travel New Zealand and work from my van. But the engine of my van died on the way out of the driveway. It was going to be an expensive fix. More than the vehicle was worth.

I sold the van for parts and downsized to a station wagon. My first lesson, be adaptable. Preparation will only get you so far. This lifestyle wasn’t about glamor but freedom. 

The next challenge was finding reliable spaces to work.

Co-working spaces don’t really exist in small town New Zealand. But libraries do. New Zealand is blessed with many, many libraries. There is one in every town, even the very small towns. They have free internet and quiet study zones.

I also organize my workflow into what I do and don’t need the internet for. This allows for working mornings at the river.

Day in the Life of a Full-Time Digital Nomad in New Zealand


I am the most creatively productive in the mornings. I like to time block around two hours for pleasure writing. 

This means poetry. Then I will kiss any frogs that need kissing. Emailing. Planning. Pitches. Submissions. Work, work, work.

My first freelancing client was through the networks I made during my studies. My first client was a colleague of someone I met in a meeting. You never know which conversations and connections will lead to work. It was a good reminder to keep putting myself out there.

Making money from poetry was another matter entirely.

I cannot remember how I made my first dollar from poetry but it was probably from my mum, bless her. Friends and family can be as important as professional networking. Especially when it comes to taking the first few steps in an unknown lifestyle.

The support they can bring will pay untold dividends. Emotional sustenance can be just as important as financial.

Right now, I am excited about my next project. Which is creating an online writing course for my website.

It will be a course about composing poems for the beloved. I’m challenging myself to document my creative process and to become a teacher. 

Realities of Becoming a Full-Time Digital Nomad in NZ


Source: Unsplash

The life of a digital nomad has many challenges. During winter, I wasn’t keen on being constantly on the road, especially when it rains heavily. 

So, I travelled from house to house, offering house (or pet) sitting services. House Sitting usually involves looking after pets. For me, this meant dogs. It was also a great way to save money on rent.

When the weather warms up, I like to spend much more time in nature. 

This means exploring campsites and going out to nature for walks and hikes. When I am on the road, I like to spend at least a working week in one place. 

This minimizes the amount of time spent searching for places to sleep, eat, refill water bottles. It can take a surprising amount of time to meet survival needs in new places. 

Another challenge is an ever-changing set of routines and environmental cues. Each new town has new places to discover. 

This can make it challenging to build and sustain habits. My diet has changed from living without a full kitchen. I eat more raw foods. 

Source: Unsplash

The ways I exercise have also changed. Often small towns don’t have gyms. I adapted by doing pull ups on strong tree branches.

Impermanence can also make it hard to connect with community. Especially if you tend towards introversion, like me. But it is good for me to engage with more people and strangers. 

This is an ongoing balance, especially when I am in a deep content creation phase.

Sometimes, I avoid people out of fear. I have been teaching myself to talk to more strangers, go to events by myself and stay through the awkwardness until it gets good. 

This is about knowing your cycles and seasons. When I was younger, I would get taken by surprise by the intense need to write.

Now, I recognise the symptoms and can plan accordingly for bouts of intense poetry. I also know when to put my head down and focus on paid work. It’s all part of the adventure. 

Practical Tips to Becoming a Full-Time Digital Nomad


Source: Unsplash

Let’s get real for a moment. If we are honest with ourselves, we often know exactly what to do in order to improve our lives. 

Maybe, we don’t know all the steps or technical details but those can be learnt. 

Maybe, we’ve given up before something has a chance to work.

I’m talking about the things we avoid doing for one reason or another.

Getting up an hour earlier.

Working an hour later.

Asking for help.

Quitting your job and trusting you will find a new, better one.

For me, this is cold calling and cold emailing. Things like proposals, grant applications, and pitches. I don’t like to admit it but I have an inherent fear of rejection. What if my work isn’t good enough?

But I know, all the good stuff is blocked by my lack of action. My earning potential would drastically improve if I approached more people. Herein I have already limited my growth.

Being a digital nomad means becoming a caption of your ship. Be honest. What is currently blocking you?
What is the one thing you avoid doing?

Being specific with your goals


Source: Unsplash

What are you willing to sacrifice and what are your non-negotiables?

Write them down and set your expectations accordingly. 

For me, I need electricity to keep my laptop charged. Without it, is very challenging to do my work. But I don’t always need a bed.

 I know how much and how little income I can survive on. This allows me to plan and balance between work and travel.

Hard work is the key to becoming a successful digital nomad. There’s no other way to say it.

So much of this hard work is invisible. I was fooled by the glamorous dreams of easy money and lush landscapes. I had to find my own definition of what it means to live beautifully.

Let’s get specific. Stay with your why. Why do you want to become a digital nomad?

These are some skills I recommend developing:

  • Organization
  • Networking
  • A platform for your personal brand. Like a website. This is a big part of finding new work.

Ultimately, being a digital nomad is about trusting your abilities. Especially your ability to learn. 

I have faith you’ll figure it out along the way. If you don’t, you’ll learn from that too. Everything, even the challenges, will make it an adventure worth living.

Thank you for reading,

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