Digital nomads are sometimes perceived as simply opulent tourists. People often imagine them as young males enjoying themselves at the expense of local populations in developing countries.

While that is sometimes indeed the case, there are people who prove that being a digital nomad can actually be much different from that. Being a digital nomad can be about helping people regardless of borders and distance. And it can also be about learning a lot of useful things, professionally and socially, along the way.

To tell you more, we talked to Ann Davis. Ann is a brain cancer survivor now running an agency called Venture with Impact which helps you discover the world and yourself by helping those in need. We’re letting Ann tell her story in her own words.

Tumor Changes Ann’s Life Forever

Shortly after the New Year in January of 2013 I had returned from a much needed winter vacation.  I was working as a teacher in what had recently been a failing school, educating some of the most at-risk youth in the country.

A year earlier, I had been accepted into the Teach For America program, a prestigious organization that trains green college graduates to teach some of the lowest performing public schools in the country, with the ambitious mission of closing the achievement gap.  There were many times that year when I wanted to quit, however after returning from my holiday break that January, I was determined to work as hard as I could for my students and myself no matter the personal sacrifice.

A few weeks into the New Year I took a run with some friends on a Sunday afternoon.  Although it was winter in New Orleans, Louisiana, the sun thought it was the beginning of June. The only indicator that it was mid-January were the Mardi Gras wreaths hung throughout the neighborhood.

All of a sudden I remember feeling an electric shock run up the side of my leg, like I had stuck my foot into a toaster.  Bam! I was on the ground, body in convulsions, and was rushed to the hospital.

Two weeks later after a 12-hour craniotomy, I was diagnosed with brain cancer and my life forever changed.

After undergoing chemo and radiation treatment, I made a full recovery and have been in remission for over five years.  

Ann’s Life-Threatening Experience Makes Her Pursue Her Passion for Travel

I had experienced a wake up call – without this mind-boggling life event, I would probably never have had the guts to quit my full-time job and follow my dream.

After my recovery, I moved to New York and continued to teach and work for a start-up, but my health and work-life were my number one priorities.  

I began traveling every chance I had. The count is now over 40 countries in 5 continents.  And in July of 2016, I left my teaching career and moved to Perú. I decided it was time to launch my nomadic lifestyle.

How Seeing Her Friends Unable to Travel Without Sacrificing Their Career Led Ann to the Idea for Her Next Venture

During my time working in the United States I noticed that my friends and colleagues struggled between the desire to maintain careers that provide financial security and the desire to travel and work for the social good.

Travel and living abroad has shaped who I am as a person, and I believed that it could do the same for others.

This was the point at which the idea for my travel company, Venture with Impact was born.  I wanted to expose professionals to new cultures, people and ideas so that they may be more informed and empathetic world citizens, and in the process, provide a positive social impact.

My most valuable and fulfilling travel experiences have been when working in international development, and working with the local population – forming relationships and learning about their culture in the process.   

My co-founder and I started Venture with Impact because we, like many professionals, were torn between the desire to travel and make a social impact, while at the same time, maintaining a professional career.  Venture with Impact allows professionals to live for one month in a destination abroad, work remotely for their job back home, and make volunteer on a skills-based project with a local organization.

I believe it is incredibly important to give back to the community where you live and work.  This is especially true as a digital nomad, as your roots are not necessarily in one place.

Ann’s Tips For How You Can Plan a Remote Skills-Based Volunteer Project

Here are my tips on planning a skills-based volunteer project with a local non-profit.

  1. Identify Needs:  Approach a few local organizations that you would like to work with and meet with them to identify their needs.  It is important that their needs align with your professional skills.Create a project summary as well as SMART goals and deliverables with your partner organization.  SMART goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound.Some possible skills-based projects include, working with staff to create a 6-month digital marketing plan, assisting with financial projections, providing an HR training, etc.
  2. Maintain a Collaborative Relationship:  After creating a project with the partner organization it’s important to reflect on cultural differences, challenges and successes.  Many non-profits are strapped for resources, therefore miscommunication and scheduling changes are sure to arise. Anticipating any issues ahead of time, can allow for clear communication.
  3. Reflect on Your Project Status:  Check back in with yourself and your partner to ensure that you are meeting milestones, and adjust your schedule and plan if necessary.  Each week you should continue to revise your goals based on what you learn from your successes, failures, and feedback from your partner organization.
  4. Project Conclusion:  Did you have a successful completion of your project?  How can both you and the organization help sustain the results?  How are you measuring the impact of your project in the long term?

Through a carefully planned project and reflection, there is opportunity for great positive impact for both the local non-profit as well as your personal and professional development.