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Reflecting on My First Month as a ‘Digital Nomad’

I did it - I moved abroad! After a year of building a freelance writing business, I finally moved to Thailand. Check out what it has been like working while traveling so far this past month and if all the fears I had were well founded or not.
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I left Atlanta on 1 December so it’s been about a month since I’ve taken my business on the road. I really wasn’t sure how it would go. For me, moving abroad was more a proof of concept than anything – I see so many people online making this lifestyle work for them but I won’t be convinced until I do it and see for myself.

So this past month, I’ve spent time both working and playing. I worked while in Boston, London, Bangkok, and Koh Phangan in addition to exploring, hanging out with people I was visiting, and relaxing. 

I took off the week from Christmas Eve to New Years Day because my clients weren’t working anyways and I wanted to enjoy some real time off (a hard thing to come by when you’re self-employed, as I’ve said before).

So here’s what I’ve gleaned from my first month as a digital nomad freelance writer:

I’m sort of self-loathing about my lifestyle

First thing’s first: you know you’re a digital nomad if you find yourself cringing at the term ‘digital nomad’.

Working as digital nomad freelance writer while in Thailand
Feeling like a cliche rn

Calling myself this makes me feel icky.

I was talking to Jordan about this self-loathing digital nomad thing and he said maybe it’s because the fact that this lifestyle even has a name and is a recognized Thing out there legitimizes it in a way we don’t want to legitimize it.

Like it wasn’t just one person’s unique idea of how to hack the system, but is a new lifestyle and culture in itself. Kind of like how hipsters don’t want to be called hipsters because in doing so they become the thing they’re trying to avoid being: the same.

I oddly haven’t met many other freelancing digital nomads yet but when I do, I’ll be sure to see what they think about this whole thing.

Keeping odd hours is kinda awesome

When I was freelancing and living in Atlanta, I worked a normal workday five days a week.

So far it’s more I work when I can, when I’m feeling the most productive, when I have a deadline, or during my clients’ work hours.

The sunset in Koh Phangan
Taking a work break to watch the sunset on Koh Phangan

I thought the insane time difference between Asia and North America would be a massive challenge. What it has actually meant is that it makes the most sense for me to work in the morning then go do stuff during the day then work a bit more at night.

This routine is wonderful because…

  • Thailand is quite close to the equator so it gets light around 6 am and dark around 6 pm basically year round. Mornings here are warm, sunshiney, and busy. It’s also hot and steamy as hell here so the mornings are the coolest part of the day.
  • I find my brain is the sharpest in the morning. I’ll do the more cerebral tasks in the morning then other stuff in the evening. It’s a cool thing to be able to go with your body and brain’s natural flow.
  • Being 12 hours ahead of the east coast means my email inbox and Facebook feed are both silent during the day. Honestly this is great.

Well, the early thing worked well when I was still jetlagged. We’ll see if it sticks. I do like my sleep after all… 😉

So far it IS hard to get motivated

Since “coming back from vacation” after New Years Day, I have struggled to feel motivated to do client work. Part of me thinks that’s the same thing everyone goes through after the holidays whether you live on a Thai island or not…and part of me is like yeah being in Koh Tao surrounded by divers and backpackers and beach parties probably isn’t the best for my productivity.

Swimming at Sai Nuan Beach in Koh Tao Thailand
Hard to get motivated when I could be doing this instead…And yes I know my tan has much to be desired. I’m working on it.

The thing is though, being in this situation is helping me see more of what I really really want to be doing and how I want to spend my time. When you strip everything away, what’s the thing that remains? For me, it’s my blog, writing, taking photos, experiencing, exploring.

Anyways, it’s only been a month so any/all of this can change at any time.

I’m not sure what I was so afraid of

If you get nothing else from this post, take this part home with you.

I was terrified of taking my work abroad. TERRIFIED. Of what? Well…

I was afraid of losing clients.

But literally, every single client has been nothing but supportive of the move. Like not just okay with it, but sending me well wishes and asking me travel questions about Thailand and following me on the ‘Gram.

I was afraid of running out of money.

Legitimate, but if something goes wrong, I just go home back to where I was before at my parents’ house. I’m lucky to have that as an option.

I was afraid of being lonely or depressed.

Well yes this could happen but it could also happen at home (and it has).

Most of all, I was just afraid to do something that felt different, that felt like a risk.

Run from fear sign in Tate Modern

This is a natural feeling and I’m not mad at myself or anything for feeling this way, but I just see now how leaning into that fear and doing this anyway was 100% the right move.

Now that I’m here, I have more perspective on all that fear I had built up inside and see that there was nothing to be afraid of.

I’ve learned this again and again over the years, but America has this f***ed up worldview that runs counter to the human spirit. You’re expected and pressured to achieve certain standards of the American idea of “success” and if you don’t or if you don’t even want that, you’re seen as an outsider, as weird, as unsuccessful.

The longer I stay in the States, the more I forget that these expectations about lifestyle and success and money are not okay. That I don’t have to live my life that way. I can value my leisure time. I can do work that fulfills me even if it means I can’t afford to buy a house right now. I can choose to identify as more than my job description, my age, and if I’m married or not.

The point is: I forgot I was free. And now I’m remembering.

My new digital nomad life: Hiking to Sai Nuan in Koh Tao

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4 comments

  1. michael hart says:

    Pretty much everyone I know who has made a radical life change, says something along the lines of “I thought it would be so much more difficult than it ended up being.”

    They mention this regardless of personal competence level or their previous experience with big changes…I don’t know what causes that doubt, but it seems nearly universal.

    • mishvo says:

      Totally. And still I never imagined I would be SO afraid of taking my business abroad. After all, I’ve traveled solo so many times before and have even lived in Thailand before (!) but was still so afraid to make the change.

  2. James says:

    I’m glad it all went well. This is somewhat inspiring. I’m scared to make such radical changes in my life…what then if it doesn’t turn out. I don’t think I have the heart.

    • mishvo says:

      Thanks, James! For me, it was worth the risk — the worst case scenario wasn’t much worse from where I was starting from!

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