I became a “digital nomad” in December 2017 when I moved myself and my freelance writing business overseas. It has been an incredible journey with a lot of ups and, thankfully, a lot fewer downs. One thing is for sure: I’ve learned more in the past nearly-2 years living this wacky lifestyle than during any other time of my life.
Every so often I reflect on what I’m doing and what I want. I previously wrote about what I learned after my very first month as a digital nomad. And now, here are some of the digital nomad lessons I’ve learned after nearly 2 years on this journey:
The only unchanging thing in life is change itself, and you have to be okay with that.
As a digital nomad, your life is constantly in flux. Even if you stay in one place, your friends will leave; businesses will turn over; exchange rates will shift; visa laws will change. Nothing stays and that’s both beautiful and heart-wrenching.
You fall in love with moments and you can’t get them back. I’ve learned to (mostly) be okay with that.
I think living a life of constant change forces you to become more grounded in yourself and how you define your identity. You decide what about you is going to stay the same across all those different environments and communities. Are you someone who likes to read? Exercise? Eat certain foods? What do you believe in and value?
You have to find inner stability amongst the chaos.
Digital nomad lesson: You can’t live like a backpacker. It’s not sustainable.
It was tempting at the beginning to make decisions as a backpacker would — as if I only had a limited time abroad and needed to YOLO it up. However, after around 5 or 6 months of this, I realized if you’re in it for the long term, you have to make decisions for the long term.
This means you must tend to your health. You must eat well, exercise, go for checkups, go to the dentist…You can’t put things off “until you get home” because, well, you’re not going home. There’s no “end” to your “trip”.
In addition, your routine or whatever it is that keeps you mentally healthy must be mobile. For me, this has meant getting a yoga mat and resistance bands for exercise. Getting a Kindle so I can read even in places without access to a wide selection of books in English. I journal, I call my friends who live in other countries regularly, I sing, I dance. I make sure no matter where I am, I can do these things that keep me healthy and connected.
You must find a balance between travel fatigue and ennui.
I have moved 37 times in the past year.
That’s a lot of effing travel. A lot of packing and unpacking, uprooting, learning the lay of the land…I’ve gone at a pace I feel comfortable with for the most part, though there have been days I’ve felt the unmistakable symptoms of travel fatigue and I’ve wanted to curl up in bed, watch Netflix, and order in pizza.
The antidote to travel fatigue? Settling down somewhere for a longer period of time (“long” could mean 3 weeks or 3 months depending on your usual pacing) and establishing a routine and friend group. This, however, can also lead to a different type of psychological struggle we can call ennui: A static life can become boring and give you itchy feet.
When you’re a digital nomad, you have to navigate between these two extremes and find a balance of pacing that works for you.
This brings me to…
Planning ahead will backfire; the biggest benefit of this lifestyle is flexibility. Use it.
This one surprised me, I’ll admit. It’s normal in a traditional lifestyle to make plans for the future: You may decide next year you’re going to go on vacation to Morocco or switch jobs or buy a house. But what I’ve learned is if you make plans as a digital nomad, there’s a good chance you will regret it.
I planned months ahead to spend 2 months in Sri Lanka this year but once it was time to go, I didn’t feel ready to leave Chiang Mai. The entire time I was in Sri Lanka, I just wanted to be back in Thailand.
So my solution was to plan to stay in Chiang Mai long term on a 6-month education visa after Sri Lanka. I committed myself to Chiang Mai, an apartment, Thai classes, the visa…and then rainy season came in and I was miserable and wanted to leave.
*facepalm*, I know.
The very best part of being a digital nomad is having the flexibility and freedom to go anywhere at any time. I’m always more satisfied with life when I leave room for flexibility than when I’ve tried to plan ahead, even if planning ahead saves me money.
A sense of community is key. Seek it out.
A common travel adage is “it’s the people, not the place”. As a digital nomad and long-term traveler, I can definitely attest to this. The magic of travel is almost always about the people you meet out there on the road. Feeling like you’re a part of a community or something bigger than yourself is key to staving off loneliness as a digital nomad.
I’m still not sure what it takes to create that sense of community. I’ve found it in unexpected places and, on the other hand, have longed for it in places I thought would bring me community.
There are so many types of people out there who have completely different brains and worldviews from you.
From the bromads to the influencers to the reclusive techy web developers, there are so many different flavors of digital nomad, so many different types of people out there. And even though we’ve all found ourselves pursuing a similar lifestyle, one lesson I’ve learned as a digital nomad is we have different perspectives, worldviews, values, and goals.
I’ve loved being exposed to all the different types of people I’ve met while on this journey, both the digital nomads and other long and short-term travelers. I feel like it has helped open my mind and serves as a counterbalance to my thought habits.
It takes time to adapt.
Because things tend to happen on a completely different rate when you are only living somewhere for a short period of time before moving elsewhere, you tend to expect everything else will follow this compressed timescale. But it takes time to adapt, and you must remember this when the impatience to have a quality friend group or good routine, etc. crops up.
Building relationships, whether with clients, friends, or new places, takes time, and that’s okay. It will come.
Digital nomad lesson: Just because you think you know something is going to end doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it!
That’s like saying “What’s the point in going on vacation to Thailand when I know it’s going to end in two weeks and I’ll have to go home anyway?” I mean in the grand scheme of things, everything in our lives is going to end at some point. Literally nothing is permanent. And by that I mean we’re all going to die someday. So does that mean we’re not supposed to do ANYTHING in life because “what’s the point?”
One challenge I’ve confronted time and again is the pain and frustration of seeing how people treat each other when they think their relationships “don’t matter” because they will be shortlived. I’ve learned it’s important to be kind to each other no matter how long you think you have with someone.
And don’t not do something because you expect it won’t last.
Well, how’d I do? What have you learned from your digital nomad lifestyle? I would love to hear your thoughts and digital nomad lessons!