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About Me

About Me

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Hi, I’m Elaina and I want to help you live life on your terms, find a career you love, and travel as often as you want. 

 

I’ve lived, worked, and traveled to more than 60 countries, including some pretty off-the-beaten path destinations like Mongolia, Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Paraguay. I’ve also lived out of a suitcase as a full-time nomad for the past 4.5 years, ever since leaving my management consulting gig in New York back in 2013 when I landed an international role at a media company that sent me all over the world to work. You can read my full story here

 

What makes my story unique is that I’ve traveled AND built a professional career, working for companies like IBM and Uber over the years. I’ve also spent long stretches of time freelancing and traveling adventurously through South America, Asia, and Africa. I’m currently freelance writing, coaching professionals through career transitions, and working on a few small business ideas while splitting my time between Berlin, the US, and India. 

 

I write about self-development, digital nomadism, charting unconventional life paths, finding REAL jobs overseas, pursuing long-term travel, and living more purposefully in a fast-paced, confusing world. There’s simply no one-size-fits-all model for creating a life you love. I’m not a full-time digital nomad and I’m not a full-time corporate professional: I’ve done things a bit differently and I think it’s feasible for more people to live “off the beaten path” this way. I hope my blog lets you see that it’s both possible and practical.  

 

I started this blog because I want to help you find an exciting career, travel the world, break the norms, and develop yourself both personally and professionally. Read on or get in touch to set up a 1:1 session with me: elaina@lifebefore30.com.

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Reflections on 3 Months in Wild Mongolia

Posted on December 29th, 2013

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For the past several months, I had the strange pleasure of calling the world’s coldest capital home.

 

Ulaanbaatar is the polar opposite of Mongolia’s pristine countryside: gritty, gray, and dead-locked with traffic at all hours. Downtown bears the scars of a Soviet legacy through its decrepit Communist housing blocks and iconic central square.

 

Viewed from above, half-finished buildings and cranes dot the skyline, peeking through thick brown pollution oozing out from coal-fired furnaces of the city’s ambling ger districts, where one third of the population of Mongolia resides, former camel herders clinging to the edges of the only major urban center in their country.

 

Members of a distinctly Eurasian culture rooted in the legacy of Genghis Khan, Mongolians find themselves wedged between thousands of years of nomadic history and a modern world that urges them to become settled city-slickers. Perhaps because of this, Ulaanbaatar may be the truly wildest city in the world, life on the steppes transplanted into shopping malls and highrises. It is the pulse of a country that taught me just how much environment shapes existence.

 

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A Cavernous Urban-Rural Divide

 

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For starters, Mongolia is the world’s least densely populated country and I would argue that there is no nation on Earth with an urban-rural divide like it. Mongolia boasts one single city of 1.5 million people (50% of the country’s total population), which sits juxtaposed against the other half of the population who lives scattered across more than 1 million square kilometers of complete wilderness.

 

To offer a comparison, Mongolia’s neighbor to the south, China, has approximately 415 cities with populations over 100,000.

 

Ulaanbaatar is the sole escape from endless nothingness. Driving across the country, you see no more than one or two gers dotting the horizon every hour. Apart from the horses and camels and flocks of sheep in the distance, the infinite emptiness is astonishing.

 

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One story I will never forget came from my friend who served as an adventure tour guide in Mongolia. He once met a group of nomadic herders traveling for more than 2 months from Western Mongolia to Ulaanbaatar with hundreds of horses and camels in their caravan. Their plan, they told him, was to sell off their animals and buy an apartment in the city. They had lived their entire lives in the western mountains and didn’t know anything about the capital. The only thing they knew was that they didn’t want to be nomads anymore and were prepared to give up everything, to abandon nature and their livelihood to try to make it in the city.

 

Something about that story made me nearly burst into angry, hopeless tears.

 

Self-Sufficiency Through Nature

 

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Extended camping trips through the Gobi desert and weekends spent living with nomadic families on the steppes has made me painfully aware of just how much I, and the billions of the other city-slickers on Earth, fail at achieving any degree of self-sufficiency compared to Mongolians.

 

Out in the countryside, the Mongolian people spend their entire existence surviving in the harsh climate, in impossibly isolated territory, with nothing but their ger and animals. Whereas I am completely dependent on money and millions of other people to create every single thing I eat, wear, and use, there are at least 1.5 million people out there who survive through nature.

 

I will never look at the humiliating ease of walking to the store to buy groceries the same way ever again.

 

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The Princesses of Mongolian Business and Politics

 

In the same city where you can rub shoulders with camel herders who just spent 2 months riding across the country in pursuit of a capital they had only heard rumors of, selling every remnant of the only life they ever knew to join the modern hustle, you have a 31-year old woman who is Vice-President of the third largest company in the country, a conglomerate with operations in mining, aviation, retail, trading, petroleum, and real estate.

 

Daddy started the company when the Soviets left and now his daughter is taking over the enormous “family business.” In the adjacent office high-rise, you have another 28-year old running the country’s only five-star hotel and its largest TV station. Her father is the CEO of the biggest agricultural company and Mom is in the government cabinet.

 

A select few families (“clans”) in Mongolia own the vast majority of the nation’s wealth and wield its political power, a common scenario in many developing countries, but one even more evident and appalling in a country with such a small population.

 

Interviewing the foreign-educated children of some of these families has provided a fascinating insight into what it would be like if your future was decided for you before you were born, that would inherit the throne of one of the largest holdings in your country. In some ways, I would kill to be these women, but in many other ways it makes me deeply appreciate having to crawl, often blindly, to build my own success story.

 

Investing in People

 

Last but not least, I could not have asked for a better group of people to spend the past 3 months exploring Mongolia with. Thank you for being companions on this journey in such an obscure and isolating place on Earth.

 

It’s a sad truth that we may never meet again, but I do not regret investing the time, energy, and certainly the laughter.  

 

I have learned it is important to just love, whether or not there will be another chapter of the story.

 

Indeed, I have loved Mongolia, and I have loved sharing it with you.

 

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Liked this article? Please share on your favorite social networks below! Or write to me at elaina@lifebefore30.com and tell me about life lessons you learned from your recent travels.

 

Want to start traveling but just don’t know how to start? Visit my Coaching page and schedule a 30-minute session with me to get your plans in motion!

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About Me

About Me

IMG_5937

Hi, I’m Elaina and I want to help you live life on your terms, find a career you love, and travel as often as you want. 

 

I’ve lived, worked, and traveled to more than 60 countries, including some pretty off-the-beaten path destinations like Mongolia, Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Paraguay. I’ve also lived out of a suitcase as a full-time nomad for the past 4.5 years, ever since leaving my management consulting gig in New York back in 2013 when I landed an international role at a media company that sent me all over the world to work. You can read my full story here

 

What makes my story unique is that I’ve traveled AND built a professional career, working for companies like IBM and Uber over the years. I’ve also spent long stretches of time freelancing and traveling adventurously through South America, Asia, and Africa. I’m currently freelance writing, coaching professionals through career transitions, and working on a few small business ideas while splitting my time between Berlin, the US, and India. 

 

I write about self-development, digital nomadism, charting unconventional life paths, finding REAL jobs overseas, pursuing long-term travel, and living more purposefully in a fast-paced, confusing world. There’s simply no one-size-fits-all model for creating a life you love. I’m not a full-time digital nomad and I’m not a full-time corporate professional: I’ve done things a bit differently and I think it’s feasible for more people to live “off the beaten path” this way. I hope my blog lets you see that it’s both possible and practical.  

 

I started this blog because I want to help you find an exciting career, travel the world, break the norms, and develop yourself both personally and professionally. Read on or get in touch to set up a 1:1 session with me: elaina@lifebefore30.com.

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Previously in: Berlin

 

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Currently in: Malawi

 

 

Previously in: Berlin

 

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What’s Hot

Recent Posts

Coaching

Coaching

Step into my office!

 

Five years ago, I changed my whole life in 30 days. I scored the job of my dreams, quit my job in New York, sold everything I owned, moved to West Africa, and never looked back. Read about it here.

 

Now I use Office Hours to help my clients do the same.

 

Do you want to travel but are scared to quit your job?

Do you want to find a job overseas but don’t know where to start?

Do you wake up in the morning dreading what’s ahead?

Read more

Like Me on Facebook

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Follow me on twitter

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