Being a location independent therapist opens many doors, and among those is the opportunity to travel the world as a digital nomad. But what is the life of a digital nomad therapist really like? Read our interview with LIT Community co-founder Sonia Jaeger, a therapist with 9+ years of experience travelling the world with her practice, to find out!
How can a therapist become a digital nomad?
“I get this question a lot, and it’s worth mentioning that there really isn’t one way to become a location independent therapist. The journey will look very different from one person (or therapist) to the next depending on where they are in their life, career, etc.
We see this all the time with our members in the LIT Community and the different paths they have taken to get to where they are now. Some are full-time digital nomads, some are part-time, and others are location independent but prefer to stay in one place and travel only occasionally. But either way, they have each been on their own unique journey to location independence and/or becoming a digital nomad.”
And what was your journey to becoming a digital nomad therapist?
“As for my story, here’s how I became a digital nomad therapist. I had just finished my Ph.D. studies and decided to take a sabbatical from my career and spend ten months traveling the world. Then, I would return to Germany and set up a private practice – or at least, that was my plan at the time!
After spending several months travelling, eating amazing food, and exploring different countries and cultures, I knew that I loved the variety, excitement, and adventures of the traveling lifestyle. But I also realised I was missing the challenge and fulfillment of doing the work I love.”
What was the next step for you?
“At the time, back in 2014, I hadn’t even considered whether it was possible for a therapist to become a digital nomad. The first spark came during a conversation with a fellow traveller on a beach in Thailand where we were all camping. It turned out that she had continued to meet online with her therapist as she travelled the world. That opened up new opportunities and ideas for me and got me thinking about how I could make it happen, too.
So, I spent a lot of time thinking, researching, and trying to figure out if I could feasibly become an online therapist and continue to travel the world.
And here’s a spoiler! While it took a lot longer than six months to build up a successful, sustainable business, it definitely was possible, and I made it happen!
I took advantage of my free time during the rest of my (now extended) sabbatical to set up my website and find my first clients – all from a small island in Thailand. And I’ve never looked back since – I can still travel the world and do the work I love from wherever I am.”
What are the advantages of being a digital nomad therapist?
“For me, there are so many advantages of being a digital nomad. While it’s not for everyone, it’s a wonderful lifestyle for many – including myself!
I love to travel, and so naturally, that led me towards a lifestyle that allows me to travel instead of being tied to one location. In the past year, I’ve travelled in Australia, Asia, North America, South America, and Europe. I’ve spent much more time visiting family and friends all over the world than I would have been able to as an employee or even with a brick-and-mortar private practice.
But the benefits of being a digital nomad are so much more than simply being able to travel (although that alone is pretty awesome!). The freedom that comes from working for myself is amazing. I can choose when and where I work, the exact services I offer, when I take vacations, and more.
I also love the simple pleasures of working from a nice cafe when I’m catching up on admin, or staying in an Airbnb with gorgeous views.
And I’ve found that if you move onto a new place every few weeks, you spend much less time cleaning and doing chores. So, I can live a simpler lifestyle and spend my time doing the things I enjoy, which definitely leads to a better quality of life for me.”
Are there any negatives to being a digital nomad therapist?
“Of course, this lifestyle has some downsides – it’s not sunshine and rainbows all the time. If you’ve ever dreamed of working from a beach or poolside, you’ll probably be disappointed to know that doesn’t ever really happen (at least for me).
For one thing, bright sunshine, sand, and water aren’t a recipe for success when you’re working on a laptop. And if I’m by a pool, I’d rather not be working!
Occasionally, I’ll miss things like having a garden or exploring different hobbies. But by travelling slowly, I’ve found ways around these things. For the past few years, I’ve been dabbling in pottery and now, whenever I’m looking for a new location, I make sure to find a local pottery studio so I can continue my hobby wherever I am.
It can also be time-consuming to plan travel, flights, and accommodation, especially if you’re not a planner or you’re travelling quickly. And don’t forget that you’ll need to allow time to settle into each new location, too. Even simple things like finding your way around the supermarket or figuring out where your local shops and services are takes time. I thrive on these challenges – for me, it’s all part of the lifestyle and the adventure. But you should consider how you’ll cope with these aspects of the lifestyle.
You need to go into this lifestyle with realistic expectations to avoid disappointment or frustration. Of course, there will be challenges along the way. But if you want to travel the world while doing the work you love, the benefits far outweigh the negatives!”
How do you cope with being on the move all the time?
“I like to mix it up between visiting new places and returning to favourite locations. It can be exciting to explore a new country or region or do some fast travel from time to time. When I was in Japan recently, I moved locations every day or two for a few weeks and it was a lot of fun!
But you’ll soon get exhausted if you do that all the time. And that’s why I like to plan to visit some old favourites now and then. I have several locations that feel like a home away from home after spending extended periods of time there in the past, so it’s nice to go back to these spots from time to time. You can slot back in and don’t have to spend ages figuring out where to get your groceries. And as a bonus, I can catch up with friends from my previous trips!
I balance slow and fast travel, and I also avoid too many long-distance trips. When I plan my travel, I’ll aim to be in one region for at least 2-3 months so I can adjust to the time zone differences. Not only does this help my budget by avoiding too much travelling back and forth across continents, but it makes it easier and more consistent for my clients, too.”
What are your tips for aspiring digital nomad therapists?
“I would encourage them to go for it – but make sure to factor in their needs, preferences, and lifestyle choices. You could test it out with a shorter trip of 2-3 months to see how you like working while travelling, or you could jump in at the deep end. Like I said, the path to becoming a digital nomad or location independent therapist will look different for everyone, and you’ll find what works for you along the way.
But don’t do it all alone! Running a business can be hard work, and it’s often even more daunting when you’re doing it alone or from a new location where you don’t know anyone. I try to plan my travels around meeting up with fellow digital nomads or family and friends – although that can bring its own challenges if they’re on vacation and I still need to work!
Having the LIT Community is a real source of comfort and consistency to me, as I can tap into my colleagues’ advice wherever I am and join our online events for support and connection. (We host them across different time zones – so there’s something for everyone, no matter where you are).
If you’ve been considering becoming a digital nomad, why not dream big and make it happen? Make a plan and take it step by step – and maybe I’ll see you somewhere around the world one of these days!”
If you have any questions for Sonia about being a digital nomad therapist, feel free to post them below in the comments. We’d love to hear your stories about becoming a digital nomad too if you’d like to share!
Wherever you are on your journey – from just starting in your career to taking your practice on the road – check out the LIT Community for more support, inspiration, and connections with like-minded mental health professionals from all over the globe.