Just as with any major life decision you make, there are certain risks and realities to confront when you become a digital nomad (aka DN): isolation, loneliness, getting sick and having no one to help you, culture shock and depression from struggling with strange languages and unfamiliar places, becoming addicted to wifi and your computer, exhaustion from frequent traveling and not having a stable home or community of friendly faces.
Still determined to be a digital nomad? Great! Because now you get the good news…
Whether you continue down the Road as a digital nomad for years (7 years somehow seems to be the max for most DNs that I’ve encountered), or you just try it out for 6 months, you will come away with unforgettable life lessons.
I’ve come across many people who are worried that they can’t make it as a DN, worried that something will go wrong along the way. Well, first of all, yes, something will probably go wrong, because that’s life! 🙂 But remember that just as you made the decision to enter into this lifestyle, you can also make the decision to leave it. And you will leave it with the knowledge that you tried, but it wasn’t a lifestyle for you. That’s a great feeling to have. It’s a win-win situation no matter what happens.
Here’s what you’ll start to realize when you travel the world as a digital nomad:
1) You need WAY less stuff than you think to live a happy life. Clothes, shoes, books, electronics, and even the kind and amount of food you eat—you will reconsider it all when you have to keep moving it around with you, when you have to drag it around on your back up steep roads or staircases on a hot day or any day, really. Treading lightly is the way to go when you’re a digital nomad. Give stuff away to a charitable organization, to your Workaway or CouchSurfing hosts, leave it with fellow digital nomads who are staying in town longer than you are and would appreciate reminders of home. But you will also realize that you don’t need as much MONEY as you used to need in your traditional lifestyle back home. That’s because you’ll have learned the secret that all digital nomads know: traveling long-term is cheaper than staying in one place.
2) You do not need a car, a smartphone, TV or Kindle to survive as a digital nomad. I say this from my own experience. I’m not saying you’ve got to go all old-school when you travel, but it can deepen and enhance your experience greatly when you simplify your lifestyle. Wifi is a must for your work, of course, but not having various devices or instant access to information when you move around means you explore and discover the world at a slower pace and interact with locals more. Getting lost is wonderful when you have nowhere to be.
3) Your instinct, intuition, gut feeling—whatever you want to call it—will become more and more refined the longer you stay on the Road. Because you will always be in strange places with strange faces, you will learn to trust your instinct when it tells you to leave or stay in a certain situation, like a bar outing with people you just met or an Airbnb apartment or a Workaway or a coworking space. Also, you may sometimes feel right at home in some cities or countries and not really know why. Just go with it and explore that feeling.
4) Facebook groups are ridiculously helpful. I can’t even remember how many times I discovered a wonderful event, had a life-changing experience or met some fantastic people just because I joined a Facebook group that seemed relevant and useful. For example, a couple months before getting to Tbilisi, I joined a group called “Georgian Wanderers” because I knew that I wanted to explore the stunning nature of the country through hiking and road trips. How perfect it was then that after only 2 days in Tbilisi, I came across a post by a girl from Tbilisi seeking 2 more people to share gas costs for a weekend road trip to the remote region of Racha (it’s been called Georgia’s Switzerland!) for some breathtaking hikes. We made some new friends and had an experience I will never, ever forget! Search Facebook for digital nomad groups in each city you travel to, join their meetups, ask questions.
5) The world is beautiful everywhere you go–but the longer you travel, the more you will realize that some places start to look the same to you. You may end up comparing an entire eastern European country to your hometown back in the U.S. It’s not meant to sound dismissive; it can actually be a positive thing for digital nomads who feel homesick and long for a familiar landscape.
6) You become a better cook, or at least more experimental. Even if you didn’t cook much before or you don’t like to cook in general, you will find yourself messing around at the stove. When you seriously crave a taste of home, you’ll start to pick up some local ingredients that are good enough as substitutes for what you’re used to. You’ll probably try to recreate at least one dish that you never thought you’d have to make yourself, like hush puppies! It’s also fun to introduce new friends to your favorite foods from the homeland–and offering to cook will help you make even more friends.
7) People are essentially the same all over the world, and they just want the same things: to love and be loved, to enjoy a life full of friends, food and good health.
8) You do not need GPS or a maps app on your phone to survive. In fact, you may not even get wifi or reception in many places while you are traveling. For the first 4 years of my slow travel adventures, I carried only a laptop (with Skype for work calls) and no cell phone. Paper maps and guidebooks still work just fine, and you can always stop and ask someone for directions. That’s how the world has always been and still is.
9) You are very lucky to be able to do what you do! Say thank you to the universe.