Career Adventures Digital Nomads Location Independent

Choose Your Own Career Adventures with Alice Hannam

In my time as a freelancer I have taught English both in UK and Japan then online, set up my own Virtual Assistance business, worked as a freelance executive assistant, took a remote role as a project manager and have just pressed pause to become crew on a sailboat with my other half, a skipper and journalist.

From English Teacher, to Virtual Assistant, to Project Manager, and now a Sailor! 😉

This time, Alice tells us about her own adventures so far as she takes a step back from project management and freelance assistance to swap her life on land for one at sea for this coming year. We’re excited to hear more about her adventures ahead.

Thank you, Alice, for sharing your whirlwind career adventures which have now taken you out once again to sea. 🙂

Tell us about yourself

I’m Alice, I am 26 and I have been working as a freelancer for 3 years. I prefer to work for myself to enable more time to travel slowly and immerse myself in other countries; I like to be able to move around freely. I have just spent a long spell in Lymington, a twee Georgian town by the sea in the New Forest in the UK.

It’s the first time I’ve had stability since I left London in 2016 and I enjoyed having a base while learning to sail on the South Coast.

My favourite things include: sailing, surfing, walking, sunshine, tacos, fresh pasta, Lindt chocolate with sea salt, learning new languages, travel, dogs, forests, mountains, lakes, olive trees, Portuguese custard tarts, sushi and Spain … OK so basically, nature, food and travel 😉

In my time as a freelancer I have taught English both in UK and Japan then online, set up my own Virtual Assistance business, worked as a freelance executive assistant, took a remote role as a project manager and have just pressed pause to become crew on a sailboat with my other half, a skipper and journalist. 

What are you working on now? 

I have just ended an 18-month project management contract with a market research agency to crew on a sailboat. I found I was spending too much time in front of a screen, meeting crazy deadlines at all hours, eating everything in sight to make me happier about it and life was passing me by too quickly. I became freelance to have more control over my time, but the problem with the ebb and flow of this work is that too often it’s either too much or too little. In my case from the beginning it has often been too much, and I was losing sight of why I had quit the usual 9-5 where you get regular breaks, don’t take your work home with you and had the weekends off, despite the option of being able to work anywhere I could no longer see the wood for the trees. 

So, I have pressed pause on the business to re-adjust the balance, by taking a crewing job with my partner who is skippering a sailing boat this season. We have sailed down from Hamble in the South of the UK to Spain, Portugal and now the Canary Islands, where we will be for the next 2 months. In December, we will cross the Atlantic Ocean (around a 3 week passage) to the Carribbean where we will be sailing over the winter months. It’s great as I am learning so many new things and the work is mostly physical. I am however still practicing my organisational skills by running expense logs and keeping up with the dates and changing itinerary for the boat. 

Could you tell us about how your career adventure(s) started, about what experiences, challenges or opportunities you came across over the years that led you to choose your own adventure? Where has your career adventure taken you in the past leading you to where you are now? 

My ‘career’ began in the Houses of Parliament, as a Parliamentary Researcher. I didn’t go straight to university and it was at the time where fees were increasing in the UK, so I was looking at alternatives. I saw an Apprenticeship as a means to get qualified on a job and go out to work whilst learning and landed an apprenticeship role in an MP’s office. Following a year in the mad house, I took a job as a Parliamentary Researcher to the Government Apprenticeships Ambassador where I ended up writing reports to the Cabinet and the Prime Minister on what more could be done in industry to improve opportunities for young people. At the same time, I began a four-year part-time course at Birkbeck university, studying Japanese and Spanish. It was 2 evenings and week and every Saturday, so I had a full-on schedule working a full day and then studying around it.

After 4 years working in Westminster, the general election happened and my boss, along with many other MPs lost his seat. It was incredibly sad that he wasn’t voted back in after his hard graft for the constituency and for business, but it was the right time for me to move on. It would have been too easy to have stayed there for longer, they call it the ‘Westminster bubble’ for a reason. I took my redundancy and spent the summer travelling in Japan. I explored the country by local trains for 2 months and tried to really get to know it. This led me to my next job when I returned at a boutique travel agency specialising in luxury tours in Asia. I finished my degree a year later and left the role to return to Japan. I started teaching English but quickly realised both living there and teaching wasn’t as I expected, so I joined and taught online, setting my rates and choosing the times around my classes. This worked and I booked flights to Bali, left and started teaching remotely, whilst building up my website to become a Virtual Assistant. 

I came across a VA article on Facebook while in Thailand and met up with the author, Hannah Dixon, one random night in Bangkok, which gave me the confidence to drop the teaching and go full time on the business. Whilst travelling SE Asia for 3 months, I built up a client portfolio but it soon became apparent that being in Europe would be more beneficial. We moved back home and I worked solidly for clients including booking corporate travel and events for Bacardi. Over the past 2-3 years I have supported a variety of businesses from start-ups to families, events companies and bigger brand names. In the background my partner started writing full time for sailing magazines and we started house-sitting to see where we might want to set up a base to explore new places from. We dog-sat in Belfast, London, Malaga, Budapest and Cheltenham, making paw pals along the way but ultimately ended up in Lymington when my partner took an editing job at one of the magazines for a year.

At this point I came across the remote market research consultancy and joined them as a travel coordinator and project manager for 18 months. This was a remote role so I could still travel /work from home but the work was extremely demanding. I was managing research projects across 3-4 time zones, all over the world whilst handling budgets, booking complex travel arrangements and responding to crises (which were all too frequent!). It used my organisational skills in a different way and although I loved the challenge, I started to feel trapped and in need of a break. 

At this point, I had been building up some sailing theory knowledge and ‘learning the ropes’ so to speak. I was able to join my partner on a delivery of a yacht from the UK to the Canary islands this summer. Now we are here, I am helping him on a side hustle which we hope to launch. I’ll share details soon… We will then run the yacht for the owners in the Carribbean so I’ll be technically freelance ‘crew’ or ‘first mate’ or whatever nautical term fits.

What past projects or anything that you have worked on spark joy for you when you look back at what you have worked on?

Looking back now, I don’t have a specific project I enjoyed over others. I actually really enjoyed the process of setting up by myself and doing something a little alternative. The creation of my website and the effort it took to get it up and running was rewarding and fostering good relationships with my clients, one of which I have still kept in touch with now and have sub-contracted the project to another VA. This sailing trip has stood out as THE highlight since I’ve covered around 2000 nautical miles in around a month and seen some beautiful new places to discover along the way, including the Galician coast and rivers which are definitely off the beaten track. I would love to go back and do it slower.

How do you choose what to work on?

I go with what I am drawn to naturally. This tends to be organisation orientated – calendars, emails, accounts. I like creative work as well but I like to have an organised workload before I begin tasks which require using other parts of my brain.

What advice, practical or otherwise, would you give to someone looking to start a career adventure similar to your own?

When it’s hard to find clients/work/remote roles, don’t give up on it. Keep pushing even if takes you right out of your comfort zone. Where you can, even if it means living at home for a bit, or house sitting while you build your portfolio to save on rent and ease the pressure, eat beans on toast, etc  – all the cost-saving exercises to help you build something will mean you can then earn the independence you need to work and travel in combination. The amount of times it would have been much easier for me to go back to work in an office I have lost count, but the perseverance is what has kept me going to achieve location independence. I have seen others go back to the corporate grind after all the hard work of setting up freelance – but they ended up unhappier than if they had just persevered that bit longer and got the business going. The clients will come, and it takes a good year-eighteen months to get established. As soon as I took on the 40 hr+ week contract, I had 5-6 new clients approach me, it’s typical that as soon as you land something all-encompassing that you then have too much work and have to turn clients away – then when it’s quiet you can’t find anyone needing help! 

Use your network, most leads come from someone you know. Join co-working spaces to meet people and potential future clients and to avoid the loneliness that this lifestyle can create. 

Travel wise, I like to take my time. Spend a month or 3 months in a place and establish a routine before moving on too quickly, understand the place I am living in but easier said than done. Ideally I’d set up a ‘home-base’ a small flat and then travel for longer periods with work – but have roots to go back to and store your stuff.

Stay light-weight! You never need as much stuff as you have, cut back and then cut back again. It’s a huge relief knowing I don’t over-own on unnecessary things and can pack my entire apartment up into a storage container and lock it up for a year – no strings attached. 

Could you describe your day-to-day at “the office(s)”?

At the moment, I’m in a period of change and I don’t have a ‘day-to-day’. It depends if I am sailing or in a marina. Since we just got to the Canaries and have some time ahead of us, we will figure out a new routine. Recently it has been wake up at 8am, get up and get on with ‘boat jobs’. Usually these include cleaning the interior, exterior or fixing things that have broken (in my case learning and watching from the boys.) This can take most of the day. We just joined a gym so we have been trying to go there before having dinner – which is either in the town or on board. 

Previously, my day-to-day was to wake up, check emails and scroll, shower, eat breakfast, sit on the sofa and work until lunch. Grab something quickly or eat at my desk, and work until 6-8pm before thinking about any free time to go for a walk, exercise or binge watch series on Netflix. Weekends were always reserved for sailing, learning to surf (we’ve only had 3 lessons and can’t even stand up yet!)  or outdoorsy activities to make up for the weekday screen-time. 

Where do you feel you work best and thrive the most? (This could be ways of working or environments)

Warm countries!! I am unfortunate in that in winter months at home I have on average 1-2 colds per month. I catch everything going, I am constantly cold and then miserable. SAD (Seasonal Affected Disorder) is a real thing… since I left the UK in April, touch wood…I’ve not had a single cold since being in the warm. I also find when wearing summer clothes I want to exercise more to fit in them! and With no temptation to hide all the rolls under many woolly baggy jumpers. I am happiest in the sunshine and rooms with LOTS of light, all lift my mood. The only problem is I then resent being inside working 😄 So… working environments need to be preferably outside or include long breaks to capitalise on the daylight/good weather. 

What inspires and drives you every day?

This is going to sound SO cliche. But, knowing how short life is, not knowing what is around the corner and the deep need to do it all, see it all and make the most of it before my time comes. It sounds morbid, but a few people around me were not given that opportunity and it drives me every day to know that if my time was cut short unexpectantly, that I’d lived a full life, full of adventure and few regrets. My attitude to doing things follows this mantra, and I usually think/worry about the outcomes/financial side later when I *have* to – do it now and worry about the rest later. You don’t necessarily know you have a later. My boyfriend said to me once, very early on into our dating days, that he’d hope to slide into the grave feet first, hurtling along at full speed. It stuck with me and I love that – no time to stop and think or say no to things – too busy living. 

The other things that inspire me; geeky but I love watching YouTube sailing channels. SV Delos, La Vagabonde and Sailing Soulianis in particular. They all inspire me to live a life on board a boat, and do more for our oceans / world by giving back and living a fuller life (with less stuff, or less consumerism at least). I also like Casey Neistat and Dan Maces’ channels – they are brilliant film makers and have great work ethos. They inspire me to believe in a more alternative path and to chase impossible dreams. Casey always says ‘do what you can’t’ in combat to people’s attitudes of ‘you can’t do that!’ or ‘can you do that’? – Why not? I grew up not believing doing something creative was possible and my boyfriend has opened my eyes to all sorts of opportunities that I’d otherwise put myself down about and not gone for. 

What advice would you give to your younger self, knowing what you know now?

One that I STILL need to learn and am always telling myself but it’s so hard – but don’t worry what people think. The important people in your life will still be there and the toxic ones you need to delete sooner. As you grow older you’ll have a small handful of true friends, but those who are, will be 100% real. 

Work wise – don’t ever not apply for something because you don’t think you are ‘qualified enough’ or not good enough. Go for it anyway. The experience of applying, of putting your name out there and being potentially recognised for another opportunity or better still, getting the job because someone else DOES believe in you! The amount of times this happened to me….

You can read more about Alice’s work here or follow her sailing adventures on Instagram here!

Feel free to contact us if you have any questions about any of our career adventure stories. Come back soon to read more career adventures! Contact us here if you’d like to be featured here to share your own career adventures story.

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