What it’s actually like to become a digital nomad

MY STORY, IN BRIEF: I left a job in management consulting in New York two-and-a-half years ago. Then I worked in a brutally demanding — and absolutely exhilarating — business development role for another two years, where I traveled to a new country to live and work every few months across Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. It was the polar opposite of a corporate 9 to 5: results-oriented, self-motivated, and entrepreneurial.

On nights and weekends, I hustled on my writing, personal consulting, and travel business and now have enough ongoing clients to make ends meet, which is the coolest and most satisfying experience of all time.

Recently I decided to leave my full-time position to be self-employed for awhile and see how it goes. I’m home for a couple weeks and then I’ll be heading to Southeast Asia, Nepal, and India for a year to travel, write, and flesh out my vision for a few new business ideas. I clearly love doing things unconventionally, but now that I’m actually becoming a real digital nomad, is it as great as I thought it would be?

Let’s take today for instance. I woke up at 11am (hate mornings) and migrated to the couch with a green tea and muesli, hammered out a deliverable for a client who I’m helping apply to graduate school, fixed lunch, wrote an article for one of the organizations who pays me to produce articles for their brand, showered, finished the honeymoon itinerary for a couple traveling to Italy in two weeks, met friends for dinner, and came back to my apartment to write this and do research for a pitch deck for a business I may want to start.

On one side of the coin, I love it. I’m utilizing so many of my talents, I believe I’m genuinely helping people, and I have ultimate control over my days and nights, weeks and wages. On the other hand, I have moments like these: Today I also walked into my best friend’s apartment in Williamsburg and saw (and felt) the physical result of a life she has successfully built for herself. Because I’m location independent, I don’t have a real “home”; I live out of my suitcases. She speaks fondly about her co-workers at the new start-up she’s working in — new friends that slid into the empty spaces I left. I strolled through Midtown East to pick up my visa to India and saw well-dressed corporates running to get coffee together, chattering a mile a minute, their camaraderie a visible aura. I felt a pang that could be classified as a rare breed of, well, cubicle envy.

Yesterday I went for lunch at Palantir in the West Village and saw 1,500 young, inspired, and mission-oriented people who work together, every day. See each other, every day. Who feel part of something, and serve as creative muses for one another, every day.

And I went back to my empty apartment, which is not even mine, and worked on my own ideas. And my own articles. And my own clients. The contrast was palpable. It was through these ordinary experiences, the result of living closely alongside an alternate reality that most people are a part of, that I finally realized the true trade-offs that come with being different. It’s like there are two very distinct parts of me: the self that loves being unconventional and living an entirely self-directed life, and a self who craves normalcy, community, tradition, and permanence.

The latter self realizes that there is a very raw and magnetic part of human nature that keeps us all more or less working together with a common, herd mentality. It’s the self that understands that people innately want to do what everyone else is doing. We want to be able to easily relate. We want to belong. And when we find ourselves on the outside, living life in a fashion that essentially separates us from the majority, we struggle. Or at least I do.

I have no firm conclusion to offer, only to relay my experiences and convey to all wanna-be escapees that a.) the grass is always greener and b.) you should appreciate all the wonderful things you enjoy by belonging to something pretty normal: close and consistent relationships, love that is physically present, community, your clothes on hangers, probably a steady income, familiar places, easy conversations, family in a nearby time zone, and a routine that still puts you in the top percentile of richest people on the planet.

I’d also like to convey that there can be some exciting middle ground here: everyone can — and should — make space to be more unconventional: to pursue a passion on the weekends, to negotiate a 4-day work week or additional vacation time, to travel somewhere unusual, to experiment with a new idea, to greet a stranger, to bring up a different topic of conversation, to approach a less familiar colleague, to ask for a big ask.

For the 9-to-5 escapees, we can — and should — realize that perhaps this lifestyle is good for a period of time but not as a permanent choice. It’s okay if we realize it wasn’t what we thought it was going to be, or it’s okay if we realize it’s even so much better than we expected. We can openly acknowledge our struggle with being different and maybe feeling lonely or isolated in our experiences, in addition to being proud of our courage and boot-strapping. We can embrace the satisfaction of working for ourselves or being part of a company with a unique workplace model. We can find creative co-working spaces and proactively seek out help or companionship with others experimenting with a similar way of life. We can try to help others passionately seeking a transition of their own. We can be as vocal about the challenges as well as the “sexy” veneer that sells books and makes our blogs go viral.

Life is imperfect yet we all spend a lot of energy trying to come up with an ideal solution. The point is, there is no ideal; there is only the ability to consistently self-reflect and keep our gratitude in check for wherever we are in life. No radical career change, no “leaving my job to travel the world” plan, no moving across the country, no “escape” or no “return to normalcy” will guarantee a happier us. The happiest outcome of all comes from nurturing a deep sense of thanksgiving for the miracle of being alive, for having more freedom than we even realize, and for possessing an innate ability to envision and execute change in our own lives and the world beyond.

That ability is a blessing and a curse, so we must employ it wisely.

This post originally appeared in a slightly different form at Life Before 30.

What is a Digital Nomad?

A digital nomad is a person who is completely location independent and uses technology to perform their job, whether with a formal company, freelance clients or while running their own business.

This lifestyle was made possible through the recent advancements in global Internet access, smartphone accessibility, and voice over internet protocol (VoIP) to connect with people anywhere in the world.

Digital nomads work remotely from their homes, coffee shops, co-working spaces — basically from any place that has Wifi. The affinity with this lifestyle stems from the fact that you can travel to different locations and work wherever you want and still make a decent, passive income — all you need is a reliable internet connection.

According to a survey by Buffer, up to 90% of remote workers plan on working remotely for the rest of their careers.

The truth is that many working professionals are getting fed up with their monotonous, 9-to-5 jobs, their over-the-shoulder bosses, and unrealistic revenue goals.

And oftentimes monotony, bad bosses, and stressful expectations aren’t the only reasons we leave our jobs.

For me, it was often things outside of my control: the structure of the department, certain teams unfairly more resourced than others, office politics, and a select few who make up for the mediocrity of others.

If the idea of bypassing this entire system sounds interesting to you, let’s discuss the steps to shift your traditional work-life into this remote lifestyle.

What or who is a digital nomad?

Basically, those are people who earn their money by working online. However, at the same time, they travel the world constantly and often change their location.

Usually, their work environment includes coffee shops, coworking spaces, public libraries or any other place they feel comfortable working from.

If this profession looks interesting to you, you should give it a shot and learn how to become a digital nomad.

You will have to master the balance between your online and offline lives, though. That is, you should learn how to travel the world full-time and finish all your projects on time.

Here to help you is this simple, but the detailed guide on how to become a digital nomad.

“But I Have No Marketable Skills or Experience” (or So You Say)

Overcoming negative thoughts

The idea that you don’t have the skills or experience to become a digital nomad is a common thought. It’s deep in both your subconscious as self-doubt, and in the words of people you love who are just “looking out for you.” Don’t listen to either.

I’m not going to tell you that you’re unequivocally the greatest in a particular field, but I will say that every person has some type of skill that makes them unique or is prized in the marketplace. However, it does take some soul-searching to identify those skills.

If I can do it, so can you

When I graduated from university with a double major in finance and music, I was thinking to combine a passion with something practical. Although I didn’t know it at the time, this intersection of enthusiasm, talent, and pragmatism is the ideal fit for a digital nomad. As I write this article from the foothills of the Southern Alps in New Zealand, I never dreamed that my random background, jack-of-all-trades resume, and sheer desire for something new would take me down this path. But here I am.

I’m a digital nomad telling you it’s possible if you apply yourself. Open up your mind to all the prospects available, and you might be surprised by what remote jobs you find and how much you enjoy them.

I can’t tell you how many writers, yoga teachers, bartenders, coders, IT pros, and other people I’ve met who made the transition to the digital nomad lifestyle. Now that they’ve done it, they wouldn’t have it any other way.

If you really want to be a digital nomad or become location independent, the first thing you need to do is start working toward that goal. You can get started much faster than you think. With hard work and a little luck, you can get started in just a few weeks and have a full-fledged business in one or two years.

With Location Indie’s digital nomad community and online remote work job sites, you have all the resources you need to get started and start adventuring. You have so little to lose and so much to gain, so get out there and start chasing your dreams.


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