Do you want to follow a different path in life? The non-traditional interviews showcase people who have chosen to make up their own rules and do something different. Today’s interview is with Gigi Griffis who is talking to us about full-time travel with a dog.
Where are you from?
I grew up in Virginia, but lived most of my adult life in Denver, Colorado.
Where do you live now?
Nowhere and everywhere. I’m a full-time digital nomad (full-time traveler) currently in Rome, Italy.
What do you do for a living?
I’m a copywriter and content strategist, which essentially means I write content for websites, billboards, advertisements, and all sorts of other business assets, as well as helping brands develop strategies for their online and offline content, answering questions like “What kind of information should be on my website?”, “How should it be organized?”, and “Who is in charge of creating and updating it?”
What do you do for fun/what do you love?
When I’m not working or in transit to my next location, you’ll probably find me eating my way around a new city, hiking up a mountain, cycling to the next town over, or just walking endlessly through new cities or down old country lanes to see what lies at the other end—all with my small dog, Luna, and my partner, Chad, in tow.
I’m also something of an introvert, so I do frequently stay in to read, work on my novel, or cook.
What do you hate?
Unkind border control agents, long bus rides, Colombia’s terrifying street harassment, American politics, and broccoli.
Tell us about traveling full-time and not having a home. What’s that like?
I love it! I think for some people, the idea of not having a home base would be stressful or feel unsettling, but for me it feels like freedom. I love having the freedom to go or stay, to choose where I spend my time, and to move on from a place when I feel ready, when it has lost its charm, or when I need new inspiration.
Of course, my nomadic lifestyle is a little different from what you might imagine. I generally travel slowly, staying for a month, two months, three months in a single place. I rent apartments and live in local neighborhoods. And I try to really get the sense of what it would be like to live in that place, not just travel there. So while I certainly do visit some tourist attractions, I also spend a lot of my time living like a local: walking my dog at the park, frequenting little local grocery stores and butcher shops and bakeries, going to local events, making friends, throwing dinner parties.
I actually think I live a pretty normal life, full of client projects and grocery runs and coffee dates with friends, except that I live that life all over the world, against a backdrop of Mexican beaches one winter and Mediterranean cliff towns the next.
And you travel with your dog…how does that affect your travel lifestyle?
Traveling with my dog has made this lifestyle a lot richer for me. For my first 3.5 years on the road, I was solo—just me and the dog—and it was so grounding to have her with me. It doesn’t matter where you are in the world, your dog still needs food and walks and affection and he or she is still thrilled to see you when you get home. Having her with me made me feel instantly at home anywhere I went. She’s also a great cuddle buddy and feeling her warmth snuggled up against my side at night helped stave off the inevitable loneliness of solo travel. Now, I travel with a partner, so he and Luna tag team snuggle me at the end of a long travel day.
Another way she helps ground this lifestyle is that she makes me seem like a local. Wherever I am in the world, locals treat me kindly, ask her name, ask to pet her. People assume I’m a local, a new neighbor, or at least someone on a much longer visit. And she’s a great icebreaker. Strangers talk to me all the time when I’ve got her in tow.
As far as the limitations of traveling with a dog go, there haven’t been many for me. The places I like to spend my time (mostly Europe) are incredibly dog friendly and don’t have any quarantine laws, which means traveling across borders is usually a simple matter of keeping her vaccinations up to date and filling out some paperwork with a vet before some of our border crossings.
Now, for someone traveling a lot faster, that paperwork might feel like a burden, but for me it’s a small price to pay for having my best friend along. And though there are a few places I’d like to travel to but haven’t because of dog quarantines (Japan and Iceland are at the top of that list), I also don’t mind waiting to do those once they either relax their dog restrictions (several places that used to have quarantines have dropped them in the past five years, so perhaps someday Iceland and Japan will too) or when I’m older. For now, I’m fully content to hop from Italy to Croatia to Bosnia to Romania with her and to wait on Iceland and Japan.
How long have you been traveling full-time with your dog?
I left Denver on a one-way flight (and train ride) to Edinburgh, Scotland, in May 2012, so I guess that’s about 4.5 years now.
What inspired you to leave your traditional life behind and become a digital nomad?
Honestly, it was complete and utter misery that drove me from my stationary life in Denver to a life on the road. I had been struggling with depression (later diagnosed as adjustment disorder) for years and in 2011 and 2012 it was hitting me particularly hard. I was tired all the time. I felt disconnected from everyone around me. And a series of difficult life events had left me feeling completely lost.
I had already quit my full-time job and started freelancing full-time. I’d moved to a new neighborhood. I’d forced myself to get out more. And I’d started seeing a therapist. But I felt like I was just treading water. Which is when I started wondering: could a change of scenery help?
My clients were already scattered all over the US. I was almost never required to be in an in-person meeting. And so I started talking to my therapist about the idea of taking a summer—four months—to live in four different cities in the Pacific Northwest and work remotely. I don’t think I had a real plan to deal with my depression and I was already doing everything I could think of, but I knew that I loved travel, that it invigorated me and challenged me and took me outside my own head. And so I thought a summer of movement might make some difference in how I was feeling.
My therapist, being incredibly wise and having known me for awhile by then, said she was behind the idea 100%…but she also wondered if the Pacific Northwest was really what I wanted. Was I thinking of going there because it was the place I wanted most to visit or because it was only a time zone or two away from my clients, because it felt safer than packing my bags and heading to Costa Rica or Paris or Bali?
“If you weren’t worried about anything—time zones, clients, anything—where would you go?” She asked.
And my heart screamed EUROPE.
Thus the planning, thinking, worrying, and figuring out began as a way to shake things up, get out of my head, and, honestly, to save myself.
From the time you got inspired to become a digital nomad, how long did it take you to actually leave your home behind, and what were the steps you had to take?
It took me about 8 months, I think, from the time—right there in my therapist’s office—when I decided to make it happen until I boarded that plane. In that time, I had to:
:: Sell, give away, or pack up and store my belongings.
:: Figure out what the requirements for taking a dog to Europe, crossing borders, traveling with her as a carry-on on planes—and then make sure I had all those requirements met perfectly.
:: Give up my lease.
:: Figure out what I needed to take with me.
:: Plan the first month of my journey (book plane tickets, find a room in a guesthouse, etc.).
I was terrified that I’d lose my clients, that the time zone thing would be an issue, that people wouldn’t like that I was working from abroad, so my plan was to only plan a month at a time, leaving myself room to return to the states if I needed to. But, of course, life doesn’t work like that. It’s not all-or-nothing. It’s not a thousand clients or no clients. Turns out, some clients didn’t care at all, some did care. Some told me to let them know if I returned to North America. Others kept working with me. And I picked up new clients along the way, including people I met while traveling.
Did you get any resistance or negative feedback when you announced your plans? How did/do you deal with that?
Even almost five years in, I still get negative feedback. I still get people who think my lifestyle is just something I’m doing while I’m young, a lark, a whim, a fancy. But it actually didn’t bother me much when I was leaving.
In part, I think this is because I have been dealing with resistance for many years. So many things about me go against what people think is possible or respectable. When I wanted to study writing, I was told to study computers instead. When I wanted to change my major from Journalism to English, I was told that I was heading toward a life of working in low-level service jobs. When I tell people I don’t want kids, they say all sorts of awful, insulting things. And so by the time I announced that I was going to travel full-time, the negativity wasn’t registering as much.
I also think this is because over the years I’ve surrounded myself with more and more people who are unconventional themselves. They’ve started businesses, traveled the world, lived abroad, adopted, lived out of RVs, cycled whole coastlines, walked pilgrimages…you name it. And when you announce you’re going to do something that sounds really nutty to most of the world, those are the people who won’t say “but aren’t you scared of terrorists!?!?” and instead will say “awesome. Can’t wait to see the photos.”
What’s the best part of being a digital nomad and traveling with your dog?
For me, the best part of digital nomad life is the freedom. If I want to travel, I can travel. If I am tired and want to live somewhere for awhile, I can stay (visas permitting, of course). If I need to be near friends, I can go live where they’re living. If I need solitude, I can find a secluded village and set myself up there. If I’m craving pizza, I can plan a trip to Naples. If I’m longing for French pastries, I can plan a visit to Paris. For me, that’s what this whole thing is about: freedom.
As for traveling with a dog, well, it’s just a gift, really, to have your best friend with you no matter where you go. And it’s wonderful to feel so accepted by the locals no matter where we are.
What have been the biggest challenges or problems you’ve faced along the way?
The biggest challenge is making sure I always have a reliable, fast internet connection. No matter how diligent I am about asking my landlords before I arrive, occasionally I run into a bad connection, which makes everything much more stressful. Usually it’s a solvable problem. I find a good café or a co-working space. I buy a new SIM card for the mobile internet device. I speak with the internet provider. But all of that takes time and effort and if I could change one thing about my nomadic life it would be that every place I went had perfect internet.
How do you afford to do travel full-time?
I work as a copywriter and content strategist while I travel and, as I would anywhere in the world, I strive to spend less than I make. I do this both by working enough hours and taking enough projects to make ends meet and by being thrifty as I travel, living like a local. For me, this means renting apartments instead of staying in hotels, staying for at least a month (monthly prices are far far cheaper than nightly), cooking at home often, splitting expenses with my partner (my accommodation budget is doing much better now that I’m with him), tracking my spending religiously, and spending at least some of my time in cheaper destinations like Eastern Europe.
What’s the weirdest or most common question you’ve gotten about traveling full-time or traveling with your dog, and how do you answer it?
The most common question is about quarantines. People seem to have this idea that any time a dog crosses a border, he or she has to be quarantined. This simply isn’t true. Some countries (like Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and Iceland) require a quarantine, but many countries do not. If you travel between countries with low instances of rabies (France, Mexico, the US, Canada, Italy, Germany, etc.), you don’t have to quarantine your dog as long as you meet the country’s requirements (usually an up-to-date rabies shot, an international microchip, and some paperwork from the vet).
The weirdest question I get is from the border guards, who always want to know if I’m planning to sell her (I know they ask because they have to, but it’s a weird question to get all the time; it’d be like selling a kid).
Do you have any tips for those thinking about becoming a digital nomad or traveling with a dog?
It’s okay to start small. As I said before, I only planned a month at a time at first because I was afraid it wouldn’t work out. Now I’m confident planning much farther ahead, but it’s totally okay to wing it, to give yourself an out whenever you need it. If that gives you the courage to take the plunge, do that.
As for traveling with a dog, the first and most important thing is to start researching the places you want to go. What are the rules for bringing a dog into their country? Can you take your dog in cabin on a plane? Can dogs ride the buses or trains in the country you’re going to? Etc. etc. etc. Pick a place or a few places and start doing some research. You might be surprised just how dog-friendly the world really is. Two good starting resources are Dog Jaunt and Montecristo Travels.
What’s next for you?
Chad, Luna, and I are currently in Rome hoping for some winter sunshine (despite the fact that Italy’s just gotten a major cold front) and some epic Italian cuisine. After this, we’re off to Croatia for two months, then probably Bosnia. We’d like to eventually find a place in Europe to have a home base of sorts, somewhere to return to time and again.
Bio: Hey, I’m Gigi—a long-time digital nomad, copywriter and content strategist, book author, and blogger. I travel the world with my pint-sized pooch, Luna, and my boyfriend, Chad. In my free time, I swoon over new foods, hike tough trails, take too many photos, and read a lot of books. When I’m online, you’ll find me on Facebook and Instagram.
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