Hello! my name is Shamim and I have been a digital nomad for the past five months. What is a digital nomad you ask? A digital nomad is someone who travels around the world while working remotely. The idea is to be able to work and earn money needing only your computer whilst constantly traveling, not staying in one place for over three months. This means as long as you have a secure network and a computer, you can probably work from a hotel, an airbnb, a cafe, a cabin or even a van!
There are different terms to call people who work and travel. The most popular is digital nomads, however this term also restricts the definition to not having a home base as well as going where the opportunities take you. The more broad term would be location independent which means you can work while traveling without the need to be attached to a certain location. You can still choose to have a home base and a more stable lifestyle while still traveling very often. Digital nomads belong to the category of location independent people but the opposite is not valid. Location Independence is a more feasible option especially for those who have or want to have families or feel more comfortable having a small stable home base somewhere, but they also love continuous traveling as part of their lifestyle.
So back to my story, during this time of digital nomading, I’ve had some good days and some bad days. In this post, I want to talk about my experience, the challenges of a digital nomad life and also the beauties. I will also talk about the requirements and how we can improve our experience of travelling while working easier and more pleasant without sacrificing our careers.
Before we go any further, let’s get this myth out of the way that travelling is being constantly on a vacation. For a location independent person, that’s absolutely not the case! In fact, working and your job is a very critical part of your life as a digital nomad. Firstly, you need to provide for your lifestyle and your travels by earning money. Secondly, travelling if done right, gives a wonderful opportunity to create a big network of like-minded people who can help you with your career. Thirdly, after a while, you will learn to find routine in the new ever-changing lifestyle and then working will be more pleasant than ever as long as you work with people who support your travelling lifestyle. But we’ll talk more on that last one later.
It’s all about Happiness
Let’s face the fact that the new modern living is no longer built only around families, following our parent’s dreams or craving to fulfill the duties that societies have defined for us. Modern people are getting more and more concerned with finding their own passions in life, defining their own destinies and following their own dreams. But at the end of this tunnel, the truth is that we all want to be happy. And when we reach a point in our lives that we realize the consumer oriented living does not bring us happiness, we start searching for more. Curiosity and that urge inside our souls that want to know what’s beyond those borders push us to look forward and to take that next step. The fact that you are interested in reading this post tells me you also have that flickering light of curiosity in your soul, even if not shiny disco balls.
The reality is that a lot of people dream about travelling but that normally requires saving a lot of money. Not only that, you should also make sure you have enough leave dates available so you can travel. So, let’s get this straight right here, right now: If you can afford to be a digital nomad, you are already a privileged person. Now I don’t mean that you need to earn a lot of money to be able to work and travel because in fact a lot of digital nomads don’t even earn a lot more than they need to spend monthly. However, a lot of us who have the ingredients to do that, are hesitant to do that because it’s just scary to leave their safe and comfortable living situations for a lot of unknown. This makes perfect sense actually but like most other advantageous experiences in life, if you can get yourself out of your comfort zone, there are amazing things waiting for you to see, hear, taste and feel and a huge opportunity to grow up as a human being.
In the following sections, I’m going to talk about what you lose and what you gain in this lifestyle and some tips on how to improve your experience based on my own point of view. Of course, like every lesson in life, what works for me may not necessarily work for every other person. So please take whatever resonates with you and remember what I talk about in this article is not set in stone but can be a good starting palette for you to paint your amazing journey on if you ever decide to live a digital nomadic life for a while.
What are the biggest sacrifices when becoming a digital nomad?
As I mentioned before, a digital nomad is not a person on vacation. They need to maintain a life of work, social activities, health, etc. In my opinion, this is a key ingredient to successfully live a nomadic lifestyle. Here’s why: One of the most important things we first lose while constantly travelling is that sense of stability and security that we are used to when we live in one place especially if we are close to our families, friends and people who can support us in times of needs. The physical love and intimacy that we take for granted by being around our loved ones, that friend who we always call when are short on money, the fact that we know the rules of the place we live in and so many little everyday things that we simply no longer have access to when we are travelling. In the beginning, this may seem very exciting even but after a while, this sense of insecurity can create a big gap in our emotional wellbeing and it will gradually affect us.
I have a few suggestions to tackle this problem:
- Have a routine and stick to it but be flexible: A digital nomad is not on a vacation. This is your lifestyle for how many months or years, so you need to make sure your health, your work, your relationships and your social life do not suffer because of this. In my opinion, the most important routines are daily/weekly exercises, healthy eating, work routines and socialising. Every new place is different so you can’t expect to find the exact same food or gym or workspace but most of the time you can find cool, exciting alternatives. That’s where you should be flexible. If there’s no outdoor running space around you any more, go sign up to the gym next door or try Pilates. If there are no vegan restaurants around, start cooking your own food. Stick to your routines but be flexible on how to execute them.
- Visit your loved ones every now and then: No matter how crazy our families are, sometimes you just need somebody to speak your language or to hug you for no reason. Most of us have at least one person who gives us that sense of nurturing and unconditional love. Be grateful, cherish that and every now and then plan to visit them. It will reset your energy.
- Try and always have a plan B for the most important things: Some examples are to have savings for a few months in case something happens with your job. Or to have a place that you know you can go to in case you can’t travel for a while for any reason like your parent’s house or a friend. Really think about the most important things which are really only a few and then create a plan B for each one in your head at least so you get that peace of mind.
Transitioning from one sense of reality to another is always a bit challenging. Every time you go to a new place, it takes some time to get used to the new culture, get familiar with new surroundings and find your new normal again. This will get easier as you get more practice but what really helps is accepting that it’s inevitable and is part of your journey.
Another often difficult challenge is letting go of the environment we are used to for a while, the good food places we have found, our new lovely exercise routine we have gotten used to, the friends we have recently made and lots of other nice things we have found in a place we travelled to and now we have to move on from. Every person should find their own level of detachment. This is something very personal and only you can figure that out about yourself through trial and error. But in my opinion, the best travellers are those who can truly submerge themselves into new environments but when its time to go, gracefully accept, be grateful for the experiences and move on. It’s a very hard thing to do, for some more than others but you get a lot of practice in this lifestyle, so hopefully, it’ll get easier over time.
Thirdly, No matter where we live, there are always days that things don’t go in our favour. We may miss our flight, lose our bag, get our passport stolen, lose somebody we were close to, get fired from our job, break our leg, etc. It’s inevitable to have to deal with difficult people and frustrating situations. While travelling, the effects may amplify due to our modified sense of stability. For me, the key to handle such circumstances is to accept in advance that it will happen to you at some point and you have to deal with it! Have your plan B ready in your mind or on a paper and be forgiving and grateful and you can deal with those situations with less stress and harm to yourself.
If there is one thing you need to really think about in advance for this lifestyle is
how to communicate . This includes finding ways of efficient communication for your work including your clients, your colleagues, etc. It also includes communications with people in your new environment. Sometimes the language barrier is very frustrating and even dangerous. Not only that, but you need to make sure you have ways to contact your bank, your insurance, your family, etc. Also, don’t underestimate the power of physical human interactions. Many times it’s way easier to explain something face to face and mis-communications are prone to happen remotely!
As a digital nomad, I personally am on the hunt for new applications and new ways to improve my remote communications. But having new technologies at your disposal is not enough. Many workplaces and people aren’t still used to remote interactions and need training as well as education. If you don’t have that support from people you need to communicate with, you need to be extra patient about it. Keep in mind that not everybody understands, nor approves of this lifestyle which could easily affect their communications with you. So, if you need to wake up in the middle of the night to talk to your boss or you have to take an important client call on a Friday night when everybody else is partying and having fun, then you have to accept it. But you also need to try and educate people about your circumstances so they become more understanding. If your colleagues hold meetings in person, ask them to make those meetings remote-friendly. If your family complain about your absence, video call them more often. Be respectful and understanding of other people’s communication needs but also try to educate them about yours.
What are the biggest benefits of being a Digital Nomad?
Depending on what outlook you have to life, you gain different perspectives. If you are more of a philosopher type like me, traveling may help you broaden your spiritual horizons as well as curiosity. You get to visit new places, learn about their history, the people and their cultures and each visit makes you more and more accepting to others. I believe that is the most precious thing you get from traveling. Living as a digital nomad will change your perspective on your personal life and your work
Once you become a digital nomad, you get to manage your own time. Of course, this depends on whether your job requires you to be constantly on call with clients or in meetings or not but in many cases, you have more flexibility to manage your working hours. You can get so much benefit from only this quality. Imagine how efficient you can get if you don’t have to work when you feel emotionally off for example.
Your work efficiency can improve drastically if you have a proper routine. If you are tired, you can take a nap or change your location. If you are on a roll, you can concentrate and work for hours without the distraction of common workplaces. The trick is that you commit yourself to work certain hours every work day but if you have that flexibility around your work hours, you can mix your work hours with your exercise routines. Depending on your personal preference and what your job demands, you can work for straight hours or break up your timetable into multiple sections during the day and night. I personally noticed early on that my love for my job has increased exponentially since I am in control of my time!
Since you are more in control of your time and your efficiency is already increased, you may find extra time to work on your side projects and learn new things related to your job if planned right. Just be careful to make sure that you don’t take advantage of this arrangement. Time spent on non-work activities should be carefully planned, monitored, and communicated to others on the team do not feel that you are taking advantage of the arrangement or getting ready to explore another opportunity.
Travel to new locations
Travelling makes it possible to visit new places and new people. That is sometimes exciting and sometimes frustrating. It is challenging as well as thrilling and inspiring. But no matter what your experience, you will have no choice but to eventually learn to accept, love and move on. Travelling raises our awareness of our environment, other human beings and ourselves and I think that’s the best thing you get through living as a nomad.
Meeting new people
Travelling broadens your world, your political and cultural views based on your interests and what you want to focus on. But generally by interacting with new people, observing their traditions, eating their foods, trying to speak their languages, watching their ceremonies and participating in their celebrations, going to their museums and learning about their history, you raise your own awareness and understanding of their world. One of my favourite experiences was watching international football games with Colombians while I was living in Medellin for a month. It was amazing, I felt connected and I could not help but root for their team and be a part of their joy and their distress while watching the games.
Learning new things
Travelling gives you fantastic opportunities to learn. Some examples are new ways of cooking, new dancing styles, sports, languages, cultures and traditions, history and also politics. Also, there’s a big network of beautiful human beings living this lifestyle who can help you reach your goals and make careers out of your hobbies.
Learning about yourself
Digital Nomad lifestyles push your boundaries and although at times very challenging, it will help you grow as a human being having to deal with all that. A common example is having to deal with constant change and sometimes very different cultures that you may not necessarily find inline with your ways of thinking. I bet you have different judgements and reactions to similar situations compared to when you have lived as a nomad for a while. You will learn more about your triggers as a person and how to deal with situations that make you uncomfortable.
Learning to live minimally
Nomadic life makes it difficult to live an excessive lifestyle. You have to learn to limit the number of your clothing items, shoes and bags and even your tech essentials. You also need to prioritise what items will be most useful when you are constantly travelling and what items should stay home or be let go of, no matter how attached you feel to them. Although this may seem daunting for some, it gets easier after a while to accept that our belongings only exist to make our lives easier and more manageable and getting attached to them (except for a few sentimental items) can add heavy and unnecessary burdens. Releasing that burden or at least reducing it makes more room for efficiency, productivity and even sense of liberation in my opinion. At least it was like that for me.
Making new connections
Nomadic lifestyle gives you the chance to meet like-minded people from around the world. I find that fascinating. Not all of them will become your friends but you get an opportunity to have a big network of familiar faces. Some will help you and you will help them. There is a growing aspect of the community that exists in places, social networks and meetups for digital nomads which you can both take advantage of and also give back to.
If planned right, you will rarely get bored with this lifestyle. Museums and historical places, national parks, sports events, theatres, architectures and neighbourhoods, street life, restaurants, bars and clubs, meetups and recreational activities all provide opportunities to defeat boredom. Sometimes a simple change of scenery helps bring our mojo back. Of course if you plan to always travel alone, it may get lonely at times which you might be completely ok with but personally I think its good to plan some time to meet up with friends who happen to be in the same area or to visit family once in a while or to attend meetups that you are interested in. There are even programmes which provide facilities for people to travel together.
Gaining stories to tell
You will have lots of stories to tell even/especially when the universe is not working in your favour. As long as you survive, you will have a story to tell later.
Developing love for our little earth
This is not specific to nomadic lifestyle. I believe traveling in general opens our minds and makes us more sensitive to the events of the world.
You eventually realize how small and lovely our little Earth is and how similar we all truly are and there is nothing more rewarding to take care of the Earth and make it a better place for ourselves and the generations to come! ♥️
Are you ready for life on the road?
The life of a digital nomad is appealing to many, as it offers the opportunity to explore while still earning an income and continuing your career advancement. Making the switch to life as a digital nomad is one that should take some close consideration before diving in head first. With the right preparation, the nomad lifestyle can provide increased personal and professional development.
Buckle in for an exciting ride!