7 Lessons From 7 Years As A Digital Nomad
1. Finances fist
When Sarah and I first hit the road in 2016 we were broke…
Between the two of us, we had around $1400 per month.
At the time we felt like we had it all figured out. We had freedom, a location-independent income, and all the wanderlust in the world.
Obviously, $1400 didn’t go far 🤣
I’ve seen many people fall into the "Arbitrage Trap”
They start making some money online, move to a cheap country where their dollar goes further, and feel like they’ve made it.
But they become trapped in this location.
They can’t travel elsewhere and struggle to come back “home” where life is more expensive.
That’s not a life of freedom. You’re just trading one location jail for another.
So one of my biggest tips is to figure out your finances!
That doesn’t mean that you need to be a millionaire or even make hundreds of thousands of dollars, but don’t settle for a small income just because costs in Albania are so low.
These days you have so many options on ways to make an income online
Start simple, get a remote job, then hustle on the side to produce a higher leverage income stream like freelanding, coaching, consulting, or even selling a product.
I will be talking about this a lot more in come newsletters, so if you’re interested in learning how to navigate the digital economy mark Remote Insider as important in your inbox by clicking the little flag incon in this email
2. Community takes 2 years
The first year as a digital nomad felt extremely lonely.
I left a great group of friends back home and even though I was traveling with Sarah and meeting up with family in Europe, I still felt an overwhelming feeling of loneliness.
This is normal, and it will eventuall go away, but it takes time.
From my experience and from talking with a lot of other digital nomads it tends to take about 2 years to develop a nomadic community.
However, after those 2 years you will find that you have enough friends that no matter where in the world you go, there will always be someone you know that you will be able to meet up with.
We routinely meet up with friends we met in Europe in Mexico, or vice versa.
While 2 years is the general rule, there are ways to hack community building and speed it up:
Go to nomad conferences early on (check bottom of this email)
Travel with a group like Remote Year or Hacker Paradise
Start in the freshmen dorms → Chiang Mai, Bali, Playa del Carmen
One more note on building a community…
When you’re making friends as a digital nomad you don’t have the luxury to get to know someone slowly, if you want to build strong relationships you need to get comfortable going deep quickly.
Sarah and I have said that some of our nomadic friends know us better then old friends that have knowm us for years.
It’s because we don’t shy away from deep topics when we meet someone we like.
This creates trust and trust creates long term friendships, so don’t be afraid to skip the small talk and get to the good stuff quickly.
Enjoying this so far? Consider sharing it with someone you think may like it or get value out of👇
3. Slow and steady wins the race
It’s easy to fall in the trap of fast travel when you first become nomadic.
You suddenly have all this location freedom you’ve been dreaming about for years and you start collecting passport stamps like trading cards.
It makes for an exciting social media feed, but it’s also a great way to burn out.
If you want to be nomadic for the long term trust me and go SLOW!
Establish home bases for at least 3 months so you can find a routine, get quality work done, and make friends.
You can always take weekends trips from your homebase!
But make sure you pace yourself. I’ve seen tons of people become nomadic, and start changing locations every week or two. They never last.
You won’t be able to get work done (finances will fall apart), you won’t be able to make friends (start feeling lonely), and eventually you will burn out.
If you’re looking for a good starting homebase I highly recommend Budapest.
It gets plenty of nomadic traffic so you will be able to make new friends, it’s low cost so you can stretch you income, and it’s centrally located in Europe so you can take plenty of weekend trips to see the rest of Europe while maintaining a high quality work output.
Budapest on NomadList.com
4. Keep your identities loosely held
“Have strong opinions, loosely held”
It’s one of Jeff Bezos’ most famous (and controversial) quotes but it holds some truth in the nomadic world.
I see many people who become digital nomads and immediately slap it in their Instagram bio.
I know… I’m one of them 🙈
The problem here is that as humans we tend to hold on tight and defend our identities
*Que memories of that time you tried to argue politics or religion with your weird uncle.
Keep your identities loosely held!
If you becoming nomadic and then a year down the road you realize it’s not serving you anymore, it’s OK to drop that identity…
The scary thing is that many people see it as a core part of their identity, it’s what makes them special, and stay nomadic even if they deep down know it’s not serving them anymore.
5. Make space for your favorites
There’s this idea in digital nomadism that a prerequisite is to be a minimalist…
Don’t get me wrong, I completely get the benefits…
Having less things means less things to shlep around with you as you travel and change locations.
Traveling on your own with 2 full sized bags, a carry on, and a giant 40L personal item backpack sounds like hell.
But there is a middle ground here…
When I think about the truly professional digital nomads I know, the ones that have been traveling for 10+ years and show no signs of slowing down, they often make room for their favorite items.
Literally none of them are doing the turtle thing - backpack on front and back
Here are some of the items I know people who I consider pro-level digital nomads travel with:
27 inch monitor
It may sound crazy, but to each of those people the pain of transporting that item is less than the benefit of having it as part of their routine for the 2-3 months they’re in that location.
So don’t be afraid and make space for your favorite items.
You don’t have to start with an espresso machine, another friend of ours carries her own lemon juicer 🍋 because she hates the ones often provided in Airbnbs.
It takes up almost no space yet massively improves her day to day life.
6. Travel has diminishing returns
But did you know that for many years he was a digital nomad?
“I would say once you hit year three or four, the diminishing returns kick in. You've been to enough countries, you've been to enough tourist sites and seen enough cultures and you're not really getting a whole lot out of it anymore. And at that point, you should probably just go home.”
What Mark is referring to there is the Law of Diminishing Returns, and the basic ideas is that in certain domains, more isn’t always better.
Sometimes, the more of something you have the less value it brings.
The classic example is money…
You need a certain amount of money to live.
Making more money than that will have a huge effect, you can save, invest, remove financial stress and so on.
But after a certain point each dollar you earn will actually be worth less.
If you have $0 in your bank account, $1000 can change your life.
But if you have $100,000 in your bank account, that same $1000 doesn’t really have the same impact anymore.
Travel can have a similar effect…
When you start traveling for the first time it will completely change your life.
You will experience different cultures, meet people who think differently than you, and so on.
But the 10th country won’t bring as much benefit as the 1st.
I’ve found people continue to stack on more countries, looking to get the same “rush” they experienced when they first hit the road and the truth is they will never find it again.
In that case it’s often a good sign to chill out.
Go back to your favorite countries, set up shop for a little bit and focus on other parts of life.
You can always go back to full on nomadic life later and find that it somehow tastes sweeter.
7. Don’t put it on a pedestal
I know people who have wanted to become digital nomads for years yet have never been able to make it happen.
In many cases I find that those people put digital nomadism on a pedestal.
Think back to when you were a teenager in high school…
Perhaps there was that boy or girl in your class that everyone was in love with. Yet they were never in a relationship.
Often times it’s because everyone put them on a pedestal, thus making them seem “unattainable”.
These people do the same thing with digital nomadism and unless there is a shift in thinking I can almost guerantee that they will never make it.
I will wrap up with something I said at the start of this post…
It’s never been easier to become a digital nomad!
The days of having to convince your boss to let you be nomadic 4-Hour Workweek style are gone.
Everyone knows what a digital nomad is these days and are familiar with remote work.
So there’s literally nothing stopping you if you really want to do it!
Keep these 7 lessons in mind and I’m confident that you will have a much better experience as a digital nomad, and likely last much longer 😊