Living as a digital nomad has its advantages, but it’s certainly not easy. Jess and I have been living abroad for almost 2 years now. For over 6 months we have been completely location-independent digital nomads. It’s been an amazing experience. I’d like to share with you what it’s like living as a digital nomad.
How We Live
We are continuous travelers, but we travel slow. Our income primarily comes from several online businesses I own and manage. This means I must continue to be focused on work while traveling. In order to manage this, we prefer to stay in a location for about 30 days at a time. This isn’t a hard rule, but something we try build into our planning. We pick a location as a “home base” and then plan shorter trips around that location during our time there. This allows us to focus during the week, while taking advantage of the weekends to sightsee and explore new places.
Over time we have begun to see big advantages to spending longer amounts of time in a single location. Everywhere we go we see travelers, but most of them just zip through a location with maybe only 2-3 days allocated to each place. There is nothing wrong with this approach, as most people are on a strict timetable. However, something interesting starts to happen when you stay at a place for longer. You begin to really get to know a place and connect with people. Those connections sometimes turn into amazing experiences, ones that cannot be bought through any tourist agency. These experiences are really the highlights of our traveling.
Connecting with people is a huge part of how we travel. We spend a lot of our free time making this happen, at the opportunity cost of potentially missing some “things to see”. We don’t create checklists of places we need to visit. We prefer to let things happen organically, and to be honest we have never been disappointed with this approach.
Challenges We Face
As I mentioned at the start of this post, this lifestyle is not easy. There are significant challenges to living as a digital nomad. We’ve learned to adapt and overcome most of the challenges as they arise, but we are still learning as we go. We know that many of the challenges are continuous in nature and they are part of this lifestyle choice.
Here are some of the challenges we have experienced:
– Reliable Internet: Access to reliable and fast internet connections is a top priority for us because of our work. In most cases, we haven’t had long-term issues with this. However, there have been times where it has become a very frustrating problem. While we make a strong effort to inquire and vet many of the places we stay, sometimes the internet just isn’t good. We’ve learned that “fast, reliable internet” is a very subjective term when looking for rental places. Occasionally we have had to forgo booked lodging in search of a better alternative. At times, I have had to work in hotel lobbies or had to hike down to internet cafes. Overall, the situation has been acceptable, but there has been a good amount of frustration along the way.
– Language Issues: We have spent nearly all our time in countries where English is not the primary language. Most of the time this isn’t a major issue. Thankfully we speak English, which is widely spoken around the world, if even at basic levels. For the most part, communication has not been difficult. Sometimes you have to slow down in speaking or speak in very basic sentences. Other times we have had to resort to a picture dictionary, but those situations are rare. The biggest challenge arises in situations where you are trying to communicate complicated topics, such as medical issues, complex travel plans, or intense situations.
– Money Issues: Thankfully we have a consistent income that allows for our lifestyle. However, there have been situations where we have lost our wallet (with credit cards, etc.) or our bank cards have expired. The logic of having our family members send us replacement cards can be complicated and stressful. In some instances, things were sent but they never arrived. Furthermore, it can take weeks for things to arrive when they do. We have always found solutions to these issues, but they are certainly challenging at times.
– Finding a Routine: This can be a HUGE challenge at times. Every destination brings new people, things to see, places to eat… many distractions… Finding a routine is a constant challenge, but something we focus on. We have found that our accommodations have a large impact on our routine. If we are staying in an uncomfortable place, we are much more inclined to find excuses to leave, even if we should be working. Over time, we have recognized this and place a priority on comfort when selecting a place to stay.
– Burnout: This lifestyle is full of uncertainty. Even if you enjoy that feeling, as we do, there is still ever-present underlying stress. The stress of the unknown. Add in the aggravations and frustrations from travel days and it’s pretty easy to get burnt out. To combat this we focus on traveling slow. We like to minimize full travel days. When we set up a “home base” we prefer to take smaller trips without our full packs. Sometimes we speed up and sometimes we slow down. Burnout is real and once you feel it, it is important to find a place to relax for a bit.
Why We Choose This Lifestyle
This lifestyle isn’t easy, but we feel it is definitely worth the effort. Here are a couple of reasons why we choose to live this lifestyle.
– We Love Traveling: We both love traveling. If we did not, we would not be living like this. This lifestyle gives us the flexibility to see all kinds of amazing parts of the world. We enjoy the process of change that comes with traveling. And when things go bad, we’ve learned to embrace the suck.
– Cost-Effective Living: Many of the places we choose to spend our time are significantly cheaper than in the United States. This price difference allows us to save money and have a lifestyle that is much better than we experience back home. Places like Romania and Thailand have been amazing locations, while also extremely cost-effective.
– Experiences Over Objects: Spending the last 6+ months with limited possessions has changed us. Back at home, I’ve had houses, cars, and toys… but I wouldn’t say I was any happier. Today I am limited to whatever I can carry in my 70L backpack. That limitation makes you think long and hard about the things you buy. Looking back at the last six months, I am fully content with the realization that we have invested in experiences over material objects.
– Life Is Short: Life really is short. I’ve seen many people get trapped into the idea of “one day I’ll do this…” and then the decades pass. Many people get caught in the rat race of jobs, houses, cars, and obligations. Today is a perfect opportunity to do what we are doing and we are thankful for that. Remember that life is short. Make sure to spend some time living your life before it passes you by.
When I think back over the past six months, honestly things are a bit of a blur. Some random experiences, conversations, and adventures. We’ve been to some amazing Greek islands. The hot air balloon in Cappadocia is still one of the highlights. We’ve met some great people and ate great food.
Do I have any regrets choosing this path in life? Hell no.