Upending our entire life and selling everything to live life on the road was one of the biggest decisions of our lives. It was three years ago that Brandon gave up a secure, 9-to-5 job he had been at for half-a-decade so that we could embark on this amazing global adventure.
While I had been working remotely for a couple of years before we left, selling everything down to two hiking backpacks and a carry-on item was a huge leap for both of us. Looking back, we can safely say it was one of the best decisions we have ever made. But what has life on the road been like? How did we prepare and how do we live our lives as digital nomads?
Minimalize Your Life
Let’s just get the word right out of the way. COVID-19 has upended the way the world works. While Brandon and I have been working remotely for years, the pandemic has thrust masses of workers into remote life. Companies large and small have shifted into a remote work environment and many will never go back.
Once travel begins again in earnest, expect to see people working in all manner of fields to choose the life of a digital nomad. If you can work abroad and see the world, building the life of your dreams and creating epic memories, why wouldn’t you? Granted, there are considerations – kids being the largest for some. For others it is the simple act of selling everything. Even if you do not own a home, downsizing to practically nothing is still an incredible leap.
And the leap is yawning from the start. The fact is, you’ve gotta’ get rid of almost all your stuff. For me, it wasn’t entirely difficult because I had left everything behind once before, when I moved from my hometown of Las Vegas to Portland, Oregon eight years ago to build a new life. Brandon, however, was born and raised in Portland, had roots there, and had to make a greater leap. Still, he did it! I couldn’t have been more proud. This guy went from a different pair of fly shoes for every fly outfit to one pair of fly shoes he rarely wears. By the time we left the states, we were both fully committed and were not even checking bags. We carried on two arms everything we owned. If you want to be a digital nomad, you’ve got to commit.
Obviously, we carry our essentials: clothing, shoes, and personal hygiene items. We do use travel containers. We bring medicine. Of course, our computing equipment is essential, two laptops, accessories and headphones. To be a digital nomad, one must be online and part of the digital goods community. A fast, reliable laptop is critical to that. Beyond that, we are slim. We have a portable speaker, kindle, camera equipment, a portable light, and Brandon’s Nintendo Switch, the most brilliant travel gaming machine ever. Currently playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Amazing game. But I digress… outside of those things, we have a few small keepsakes, a compass from our friend Carly, some printed photos of us, an arrowhead from Teotihuacan. Random things, but not many – and small.
If you want to be a digital nomad, be prepared to minimize your life.
Maximize Your Mindset
You will have had to change your mindset to get rid of your things, but now you have to do it again once you set out for life on the road. Critical questions remain. How will you stay productive will traveling? What kind of routine will you have to keep? How will you deal with the unexpected? These are a few of the many questions you will deal with.
Above all, allow your comfort zone to expand. Things won’t always go as planned. Over the past three years, we have traveled through dozens of countries and stayed in hundreds of different homes and accommodations. And if there is one constant, it is that things will go wrong. You must be adaptable, stay calm, and think on your feet.
I recall an AirBnB we got in Medellin, Colombia a couple years ago. We had a friend coming to town that night who was expecting a swank place. We check in and find the place is a wreck. There are ants eating food off the couch and the TV doesn’t work. Dirty building. We had to find a new place last minute. We’ve even taken buses to trains that don’t exist and getting caught in a crazy post-Soviet town in Bulgaria, unable to leave the country. We’ve had phones stolen out of our hands by fake Uber drivers. These are just a few examples of epic fails.
Brandon and I are fortunate because we have each other. Our love is super strong and we trust each other implicitly, so arguments are rare. We laugh because when asked what quarantine has been like, we say we have already been quarantined with each other for years living this life on the road. We are in each other’s faces every day. When we do argue or have disagreement, the sun never sets on it. We hate being mad at each other. It is almost a physical reaction we have to fighting with each other; a severe tightening of the stomach we have to loosen before bed. To live the life of a nomad, if you are with a partner, you have got to be prepared to not sweat the small stuff and communicate about everything. There are no secrets, no grudges harbored. You have to commit to it and each other.
If you are not traveling with partner, loneliness and the frustrations of the road can be amplified. Combat this by expanding your comfort zone and allowing people to get closer to you. Be safe, of course. You must always be safe on the road, but embrace one of the main reasons we travel: for the people. We love the places, certainly, but meeting so many amazing people of all cultures and becoming friends for life – you cannot put a price on it. For solo travelers, embrace this mindset. And hey, you never know, you may find the right person somewhere out there on the road.
Find Harmony Between Work and Life
Working remotely causes the line between home and work to fade away. If you aren’t utilizing a co-working space, it is likely you will look for accommodations with criterion like decent workspace and internet speed. You have to make these considerations.
Digital nomads usually work in fields like tech and marketing, so being on the computer, ready to complete the work, is important. Always remember what allows you to lead the life you live: your work. Unless you made piles of cash on Bitcoin or are a trust fund baby, et cetera, it is likely you are doing some kind of work to support your life, whether it is owning your own business, freelancing, or simply working remotely for someone else. Respect that responsibility.
Southeast Asia was real fun for us where work was concerned. We have to be on calls with clients in the United States at various times throughout the week, so imagine our joy when our shift suddenly turned graveyard while we were in the Philippines and Vietnam. Your calls go from 9:00am or 10:00am to 3:00am or 4:00am. Welcome to the late, late shift! And here is the thing, we were on all our calls. We did not miss one. You can’t let the glitz and glam of your world-travel life cause you to slack off. There are far too many digital nomads who make it look great on the ‘Gram, but they really ride the struggle bus. Don’t be one of them. We commit to working during the week and getting ‘ish done, and you should too.
We find that using co-working spaces helps a lot. Just like if you were at home, having a separate space for your work is important. We also work from coffee shops when we don’t have calls. It is so important to respect your work and stay diligent, even as you see the world and experience amazing things.
We definitely use calendars to organize our lives and plan our days. We still stick to a Monday through Friday’ish routine, though we do appreciate the flexibility of owning our own businesses. If you have no calls and a light day on a Wednesday, being able to take half the day off is nice. Just don’t make it a habit. You have to stay busy when you build your life.
Important Final Considerations for the Digital Nomad
There is so much to this life, to being nomadic. Many would say that a significant part of humanity is nomadic by nature. Is it not true that everyone has dreams of travel? Few are the people that do not want to see the world and experience other cultures. But to live it, one must, above all, be prepared, and smart.
Travel light and spend lighter. If you find you are about to use a credit card for something, don’t do it. Digital nomads are far too susceptible too debt when they are not responsible. Do what you can afford and relish in simply being in places. And when you consider finances, do not hesitate to ask for deals. Tell that AirBnB host what your budget is before you book and see if they can meet it. Learn the bus or subway routes instead of always taking taxis.
Find little-known things to do and don’t be afraid to ask locals. If there is one thing a traveler must do, they must become outgoing to some degree. Even the introverted traveler talks to someone. Take the opportunities you have when speaking with locals to ask questions. Not only might you find something amazing to do on the cheap, you’ll probably make a friend.
To be honest, we could go on all night. From getting regular exercise to exercising restraint – there are a lot of considerations when becoming a digital nomad. Above all, you must love the lifestyle and be willing to embrace the unknown. Is it for you? Only you can say, but it never hurts to try if the opportunity is there. Hopefully, the opportunity will be coming again soon as the world emerges from the wreckage of 2020 and gets back to normal. We’ll see you there for it!