My story: from blogging innovator to a two-generation digital nomad family. 25+ years of making money online and traveling the world.
What You Will Learn
- The story of how I became the world’s first blogger
- The digital-nomad journey that took me from London to Sydney (and beyond)
- How you can become a digital nomad and change your life
To be honest, it didn’t look very impressive. The green text stared out from the black screen — a slab of plain text in one font only. No graphics, and no bold or italics. No choice of font sizes either — headlines were distinguished by putting them in all capitals.
The text told the story of how some geeky researchers were studying ant colonies and modeling their ‘social intelligence.’ The idea was to use the same ‘distributed brain’ to make telephone networks self-healing.
It was a warm summer’s day in June 1993, and I had just published what is probably the world’s first blog post. A Google search might tell you that the world’s first blog appeared in January 1994. But I beat that date by a good six months!
Here’s the story of how I became (probably) the world’s first blogger, and how this led to me pioneering the digital nomad revolution.
What’s the Internet?
My tale actually began three months earlier, in April 1993. At that time, I was a freelance copywriter who specialized in working with hi-tech corporates like:
One of my regular clients was BT, the leading telecoms provider in the UK.
Once a quarter, I would write a journal for BT’s research laboratories at Adastral Park, near Ipswich (east of London). This was originally a good-old-fashioned printed journal, which was expensive to produce and had a limited distribution. But it was the best tool researchers had for spreading news of their work.
Working on this journal was my favorite project, as visits to Adastral Park were always fun. The research labs seemed more like a campus university than part of a huge corporation.
Most of the staff were ridiculously overqualified (if you had just one Ph.D., you were barely qualified to make the tea). But they loved their research work, and their enthusiasm was infectious. The free gourmet food in the staff restaurant was fantastic, too!
One day in April 1993, I arrived for a meeting to discover that my colleagues were super excited. ‘We have a great idea for the journal,’ one of them said. ‘We’re going to put it on the Internet!’I’m embarrassed to admit that my response was, ‘what’s the Internet?’I soon learned what the Internet was all about. In those days, it was very primitive and only used by academics and researchers. But as that was exactly the audience we wanted to reach, publishing our journal online seemed like a great idea.
Better still, CERN had just announced that the technology behind the world wide web (which CERN developed) would be free and open source forever.
That was the catalyst that spurred my colleagues to put our journal online — they could see the huge potential for the world wide web (although none of us even dreamed of how big it would become).
So that was how we came to create what is most likely the world’s first blog. The term ‘blog’ didn’t exist in those days, of course. We called it an online journal. But it had all the important characteristics of a blog.
We had a collection of articles on a common theme (hi-tech research), which was updated with new content on a regular basis. The journal was accessible to anyone who could get online.
You know what they say…if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it’s a duck. Our ‘online journal’ certainly walked and talked like a blog — so I’m calling it officially the world’s first blog!
Publishing The First Blog
Publishing content on the world wide web was not easy in those days. Registering a domain name cost $100, and basic hosting cost over $100 a month. There were no content management systems, and every page had to be hand-coded in HTML.
After a few tech failures, I managed to upload the first article from my home in London, using a painfully-slow dial-up connection. A few moments later, I got an excited call from my colleagues in Adastral Park. They could see it on the world wide web.
The first-ever blog was live!
My nerdy colleagues had great vision in seeing how our pioneering blog would help them spread the word about their work. Interestingly, though, they had a very 20th-century view of how this content would be consumed.
It simply didn’t occur to anyone that people would read the articles online. The assumption was that you would scroll through the list of articles, and print out the ones you found interesting.
Then you would take the printouts to your office and peruse the content over a cup of coffee (OK, this was in England — so over a nice cup of tea).
If you wanted to share an article with a colleague, you would fax it to them. No email yet, and certainly no social media sharing!
Despite these limitations, the project was a great success. As well as cutting out the cost of printing a magazine, the journal now reached a bigger audience than ever before. And as the Internet started to grow, the audience mushroomed.
Although my nerdy pals knew the Internet was important, they refused to believe it would ever become a source of profit. The mantra amongst the engineers was:‘Information wants to be free. The Internet will never become commercial.”
How wrong they were!
Although I never conceived we would have Internet companies like Amazon and Google approaching trillion-dollar valuations, I did see that the Internet had real business potential.
So I started experimenting with new Internet technologies such as email and FTP — plus now-forgotten protocols like Gopher. My first email address was composed of numbers (something like firstname.lastname@example.org), because letters were not an option yet.
I created a primitive website to advertise my freelance writing services. It was ugly, crude and clunky, but by the standards of the mid-90s, it was just about acceptable.
The first client to find me through the website was Bechtel, a giant construction company that builds entire cities from scratch. The company became a regular client and essentially paid my mortgage for the next few years.
For me, this was proof that making money via the Internet was a business model with a future.
So now I was using the Internet to find clients and pay my bills. But I was still selling my time for money. I wanted to get away from that and create true financial freedom.
Creating an Online Business
Somewhere around the mid-to-late 90s, affiliate programs started appearing. This was an exciting innovation, as I could see the potential to make money online without selling my time. Instead, I would promote products and get paid a commission on every sale.
Most of the early affiliate programs were developed by companies in the finance sector — mortgages, loans, credit cards, etc. So my first affiliate website was designed to promote financial affiliate offers.
In the days before Google, Yahoo was the king of the search engines. Except it wasn’t even a search engine then; it was a human-edited directory and submitting your website cost a whacking $199.
Search engine optimization was easy (for a while). To get to the top of your category in Yahoo, you simply had to have the earliest alphabetical listing. So I submitted a business name along the lines of AAA-Financial.com.Nothing happened for a few days. Then I awoke to discover that I had made $211 overnight. Yahoo had finally approved my listing, and my site was top of the personal finance category.
People were clicking on my links, and visiting the merchants – and I was earning commissions.
It felt great. I had earned $211 while I was sleeping! This seemed like the best way to make money ever. Business was great…until someone else submitted AardvarkWriters.com, and I was pushed down to the second position!
The Internet was like the wild west in those days. Making money online was fun, but also challenging. Most websites looked like neon signs outside a Las Vegas strip club, plastered with flashing banners and garish colors.
Nevertheless, I was able to transition to making a full-time living. I moved up from affiliate marketing to running a membership-based website, which was a great success. Now I was able to quit doing freelance work — I was making a full-time living from my online business.
Better still, my income was location-independent. I didn’t need to be in London to attend meetings or receive packages from motorcycle messengers. I could run my business from anywhere in the world.
And that led to a whole new and exciting stage in my life…
The World’s First Digital Nomad?
The digital nomad revolution started (probably) on a wet afternoon in 1999 when my rusty VW camper van rolled off the Fishguard-Rosslare ferry from the UK and stuttered onto Irish soil.
With my suitcase-sized laptop stowed in the back, and my young family screaming excitedly in my ear, we set off to explore the land of the leprechauns. But now that I was running an online business, I needed to get online once in a while to keep my membership site running.
Today, that would be easy. Just buy a local SIM card, or log onto WiFi almost anywhere. But back in the 20th century, it was a different story.No WiFi and no mobile SIMs. The era of Internet cafes was just around the corner, but none had reached Ireland. Co-working spaces were not even a concept yet.
So every couple of days, I would knock on the door of random householders and offer them 10 Irish pounds (no Euros yet!) to borrow their Internet connection for half an hour. Some would take me up on the offer, and I was able to check email and deal with urgent website issues…but I had to be quick.
It wasn’t the easiest way to run an online business, but in 1999 it was liberating. Here I was, hundreds of miles from my home in the UK, and still running my membership site. It seemed magical!I had no idea then that I was most likely the world’s first digital nomad — or that I was pioneering a revolutionary way of living life and making money. But I did know it was the beginning of a fantastic time for myself and my family.
Having got a taste of the freedom my new business model offered, we started thinking about moving out of London. At first, we just thought we would move out perhaps 20 miles…or maybe 50.
We ended up moving 10,000 miles — all the way to Australia. My kids grew up going to the beach after school and having a lot of fun in the sun. We traveled extensively, taking long vacations and going around the world several times.
Being a digital nomad was getting a little easier, but still tough. Every time we moved to a new destination, I had to get a second phone line installed in our new home in order to get online. (The main line had to be reserved for phone calls — mobile phone calls were too expensive for regular use).
That was expensive and inconvenient, but it worked. Gradually, Internet cafes became more common, and moving around became easier.
Despite the technical challenges, it was a wonderful way to live, and a fantastic way to make a living. My online business was making good money, and I started investing in real estate to diversify my income. It seemed like nothing could go wrong.
And then the sky fell.
Crash and Burn
In 2008, America sneezed, and Australia caught a cold.
The Australian economy had been rocketing for the last few years, with real estate prices going through the roof. For a while, my real estate investments seemed pretty shrewd. But when the global recession hit, the Australian economy tanked — and real estate prices plummeted.
Now the real estate deals didn’t seem so smart. I had overextended, and our properties were designed for vacation rentals. When people started canceling their vacations to save money, rental income plummeted.
In the end, the properties were sold at rock-bottom prices to cut our losses.
The only way to avoid financial disaster was to sell my online business to clear my debts. But as that sold at a fire-sale price, too, I only avoided bankruptcy by the skin of my teeth. Worst of all, my marriage also became a casualty of the debacle.
So by 2010, I was single and penniless. I had gone from owning a $2 million home to renting a room on the wrong side of the tracks. I wanted to get back on my feet by starting a new online business, but I had no money to invest. Even finding $10 bucks to register a domain name would be a struggle. But I still had one skill that no court and now lawyer could take away from me.
I knew how to write words that sell.
Rising from the Ashes
I honed my copywriting chops until they were as sharp as a razor, and got back to creating offers that convert.
I worked with ClickBank Platinum Partners and other online marketers, writing everything from email creatives to long-form sales pages and video sales letters. Before long, the money was flowing, and I was able to start clearing the real-estate debt. I can’t think of any other skill that would have enabled me to generate so much cash in such a short space of time. Being a direct-response copywriter is a wonderful thing!
By 2012, I was in the black, back on my feet, and life was good again. And with my children now grown up and away at college, a new phase was opening up. I had the urge to start traveling again to see more of the world. The digital nomad within me wanted to travel.
I sold all of my remaining possessions, keeping only a few essentials that would fit in two suitcases. And then I set off on a new voyage of exploration — first to Europe, and then to the world beyond.
In 2014, I arrived in Thailand and knew that I had found the perfect ‘ground zero’ for my travels. Beautiful beaches, a low cost of living, lots of fun things to do, and a tropical climate. What more could you ask for?
Now I continue to travel the world — using Thailand as my base, but getting to explore many new countries every year. I love having the freedom to go anywhere, do anything and be anyone I want. Being a digital nomad is a wonderful way to live your life.
Second-Generation Digital Nomads
Now we have become a two-generation digital nomad family. Two of my children have gone on to create their own location-independent incomes, enabling them to live in dozens of different countries and enjoy lives of non-stop adventure.
When my oldest son, Ben, was 15, I helped him launch his first eBook on ClickBank. Now he has grown this teenage side hustle into a whole business empire.
He is a high-volume Platinum Partner with ClickBank, and now we have the pleasure of working together to create new digital products.
A recent highlight was our trip to the ClickBank Platinum Summit in Cancun. A whole lot of fun in the Mexican sunshine, plus lots of in-pool networking fueled by beer and Mojitos. What a great way to make a living!
My second son, Sam, has traveled the world for years, earning money and freelancing along the way. Now his freelance work with a fellow traveler, Cob, has grown into a fledgling digital marketing agency, poised for rapid growth: Good luck Sam and Cob! My other two children, Joe and Jess, haven’t got the digital nomad bug yet, but it’s still early days…we’re working on it.
Wherever I Lay My Hat…
It’s now over 25 years since my first blog post blinked and flashed into life on a green-screen monitor, and 20 years since my digital nomad adventures began.
The journey has been a roller-coaster ride for sure, but one with far more ups than downs. I feel privileged to have witnessed the birth of the blogging revolution and to have enjoyed the digital nomad lifestyle for so many years.I love the fact that I can travel on a whim to any part of the world, and still continue to run my online business.
All I need is my laptop and a few other essentials in my backpack. In this amazingly-connected world, I can arrive at a new destination on the other side of the planet, and still be in touch with my employees, freelancers, and business partners.
I have been able to meet up with family and friends in:
- New Orleans
- Chiang Mai
- Oulu, Finland
- Las Vegas
The year ahead will be even busier. So many places to go, people to meet, and things to do!
Over the years, my digital nomad adventures have gotten me involved in quite a few extraordinary escapades, including:
- Getting arrested for ‘smuggling’ a single banana (ouch!)
- Catching venomous snakes for a wildlife charity (scary but fun!)
- Motorbiking the 800 mountain bends from Chiang Mai to Pai (fun!)
- Destroying half a Buddhist Abbott’s worldly possessions (sorry!)
- Enjoying a rooftop spa bath in Budapest (great views!)
- ‘Flying’ in a ‘helicopter’ tuk-tuk through Bangkok (don’t ask!)
- Seeing the Space Shuttle launch from Cape Canaveral (amazing!)
- Getting soaked in the world’s biggest water fight (love Songkran!)
- A road trip along Route 66 (got my kicks!)
- Going on the run from the Vietnamese police (I can explain!)
After two decades of this 21st-century lifestyle, I am still enjoying it as much as ever. I am looking forward to new adventures in both travel and business.
Retirement? Forget it! When you do a job you love, you never need to retire. I intend to keep living my life this way until we become a 3-generation digital nomad family…and then some!
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