We’ve probably all considered for at least a moment, leaving our day jobs and living a life dedicated to travel. But actually making the decision to do that and dedicate oneself to that new lifestyle seems daunting, like a challenge that is just out of reach. But some people, like Nicola Armstrong, make it look easy.
Nicola is a travel blogger from the UK who quit her job in 2016 to live a life on the road. She comes from a graphic design background, and spent her first 13 months traveling around South America before arriving in China to teach English. We had a chance to ask her a few questions about how she was able to make the dream that many seem to have, her day to day reality. Read on to learn about Nicola’s journey and learn some useful tips to apply to your next journey.
How did you start your blog? What does “WE ARE NICO” stand for?
I started a blog a few years ago as a different creative outlet from my day job. Naturally, when I started exploring the world in 2016 I decided it was time to focus solely on travel and so I started afresh, with a complete re-brand and WE ARE NICO was born.
My target was to create the go-to resource for others who are looking to hit the road. Owing to my design background I decided to place a large emphasis on visual storytelling. Photos and video have been crucial in helping me convey WE ARE NICO’s message along the way.
Ultimately, WE ARE NICO hopes to show the beauty of travel whether that is the stunning sunsets and peaceful moments, or the gritty tales of adventure and loss on the road.
What inspired you to move to and live in China?
Having spent so long roaming town to town across the South American continent, I was ready to lay my roots for a while. China had always seemed an enchanting and faraway land and couldn’t have seemed more different from Latin America.
So naturally, I knew I had to make my way to China to find out more about all that had fascinated me since I was young – the ancient history, the varied regional cuisine and the ever evolving culture!
I had completed a TEFL course a couple of years previously which allowed me to find work as an English teacher – a job I love as it affords me the chance to work with amazing students and travel to many new places, both in China and in neighbouring countries.
Which are your three favorite places in China? Why?
Shanghai: I adore this mega-city — it is so cool and multicultural. I love the contrast in architectural styles between the old European buildings on the Bund and the super modern sky scrapers over in Pudong. Cliched as it may be, it really is the perfect blend of East and West.
Hangzhou: This city is renowned as being among the most picturesque in China, so naturally it was one of the first places I visited. The West Lake dominates the city and when the sun creeps low over the water there are few places in the world I would rather be. There are also some lovely attractions surrounding the city such as the Longjin tea fields which are a great place to take photos.
Beijing: Beijing was the first city I visited in China and it will always be one of my favourites. There is so much to see and so much history in this city. I love the vibe and the food here. I haven’t been in the winter though and I hear it gets pretty cold.
I feel like I have barely scratched the surface when it comes to exploring all that China has to offer.
I would appreciate some advice from your readers on where to travel to next — let me know in the comments below.
Where are you heading next? How do you decide what your next destination is?
My next trip is to Cambodia for Spring festival. This is an expensive time of year to travel, but I found very reasonable flights to Phnom Penh from Nanjing.
I am really enjoying my time in China and hope to stay here for the immediate future as there are so many wonderful places I have not yet visited.
When I do eventually decide to leave, I will head to Africa for a completely different experience.
What’s the most challenging part of traveling through and living in China on your own, as an independent woman?
The most challenging part is definitely the language barrier – it can be really challenging not being able to speak Chinese. I have learned enough to get by, but I wish I was able to speak more so I could converse with people. Travelling is quite easy as there are a lot of things in English and the transport systems are great. I get stared at quite a lot as I have blonde hair which can be a bit weird at times, but generally people are very welcoming towards me.
We recently discovered a group called GO Wonder which is geared towards women who travel. What are some of the differences between co-ed and women-only travel communities?
I love this group and I am an active member of this community. I think groups like this are great for women. Everyone in them is there for the same reason: they love to travel and it is a great place to get advice, discover new destinations and swap stories.
I feel it also offers a strong support system as it is all-women and I feel that some of the active co-ed communities don’t offer the same bond with others.
We love your tips for staying healthy while traveling. What are some of the most creative ways you’ve managed to stay healthy while traveling?
- Walk: This may seem like an obvious one, but walking everywhere you can really makes a difference. It is so easy, free and also the best way to see a new destination.
- Make food: I love food and luckily when you travel you can experience a variety of new tastes. Unfortunately not all of them are healthy and if I am staying somewhere for a little while then I try to use the local market to cook food. If you are going on a long bus journey for instance, preparing your own food beforehand is preferable to buying it along the way and will also save you money.
- Youtube: Youtube is an excellent resource. I like to watch Yoga videos and as long as I have access to the internet I can do a workout anywhere.
What are some of your go to recommendations for first time solo travelers? Tips to keep in mind for different types of situations?
I am an obsessive planner so naturally I love to do some research into places before I go which has many benefits. I’m able to maximise my time in a given location, and become aware of local scams so I am less likely to fall victim to them. I like to make sure I know where I am staying and how to get there so I do not seem like a target when I get off the bus or plane. I find the app maps.me incredibly useful as it allows me to download offline maps of different areas around the world so I can always navigate around new cities.
If you are carrying cash I recommend getting a security belt to hide it and split up your belongings in different places. Taking this protective measure can be helpful if you fall victim to an opportunistic thief — you will always have a backup elsewhere on your person.
When picking accommodation, cheapest isn’t always best. Make sure you read reviews and know the location so you know what to expect. I usually try and pick somewhere with a common area or bar as this is a great way to meet fellow travellers and make a new travel buddy.
Be sure to follow Nicola’s journey by visiting her blog, and any of the links below:
Make sure to check out our shop to get yourself a comfortable new pair of ballerina flats or knitted loafers for the next trip!