It has now been over 9 months as a digital nomad, and a lot has changed since I started.
People I’ve talked to seem to think my journey is a mix of awesome and daunting. Some say they don’t know if they could be away from home for such a long period of time but that it must be an amazing experience. Others will randomly message me and ask how to pursue this lifestyle and what steps to take.
To be honest, I think it was easier for me because of my stops in Hong Kong, as my family was there and I occasionally met up with friends from home. It’s sort of my second home base, so I didn’t experience too much homesickness. Hong Kong was a good place for me to recharge, but it would have been much harder if I did the 1-year nomad journey without seeing friends or family from home.
Anyway, I wanted to recap on my journey now that it’s been 9 months, so here goes!
9 Months as a Digital Nomad
The Travel Feels
The other day, I co-worked and got pho with my nomad friend Mike. He asked how my travel and feelings have changed since I started. Mike told me he went from wanting to explore to wanting to establish his routine right when he arrived at a new country.
Along similar lines, it was so much more exciting for me when I first made the leap. I think it’s interesting how easily your baseline adjusts when you’re constantly moving around. Now, I don’t seem to have that extreme zeal when visiting a new country. It’s still fun, but it’s different. Since I had left home in May 2016, I’ve been on 20 flights. As I continue down this road, each flight feels more like a regular part of my lifestyle.
One of my early nomad snapshots in Naxos, Greece…I remember feeling guilty that this was my life.
The new excitement may be over, but life is still great. As a digital nomad, I’d be an asshole to hate on the freedom. I’m still extremely grateful for this type of life.
Mike and I were talking about how we missed the feeling of an actual vacation…that feeling when you’re sick of the 9-5 and you just want to escape. And you get on that plane and you’re thinking “yesss freedom for one week!”
But we also realized we can recapture those vacation feels when we force ourselves to leave our laptops and adventure out for a few days. When digital nomad life is a “workation”, the balance between work and play is up to you. For example, visiting Krabi, Thailand with my boyfriend was a total vacation. We left our laptops behind and did some island hopping tours and fishing trips. You just have to make sure you let yourself have fun while you’re hustling, which as weird as it sounds, can actually be difficult.
Even though this blog is about achieving financial independence and producing passive income, the funny thing is living abroad makes me care less and less about money. You would think that a life of travel would make me feel like I need more money to fund stuff like this. But seeing people in different countries living happily on small wages makes me prioritize money less and less.
It’s not like I ever desired things that much. Since I was young, I would never really spend much money and cared more about experiences over things. I admittedly had a few shopping sprees here and there, but my overall preference was to save over spend on stuff that wasn’t necessary. But even then, I would calculate my saved dollar amounts and place too much importance on the number.
If looking at 30-day intervals, I really only spent about $800-1,300 per month in countries like Thailand, Greece, Romania, Portugal, and soon-to-be Vietnam (you can see my spending reports here). I realize you don’t need much to be happy with life, especially when using geographical arbitrage…
If you’re struggling for survival that’s a totally different story. But if you have enough money to fund a life that doesn’t sacrifice happiness, what’s the point of striving for more and more, other than to use it on others?
That’s why I sometimes have those lulls in motivation when it comes to passive income. It’s weird and feels slightly contradictory when you’re striving to make money work for you, but at the same time you don’t care that much about earning more money. Now that I’ve reached a decent passive income flow, I sometimes ask myself “what’s the point in growing my businesses”? I have to constantly remind myself that a life of financial independence means not having to worry about money anymore no matter where I visit, and creating a life that’s 100% true to myself. That means a life focused on love, happiness, dreams, creativity, wisdom, inspiring others, and helping the world. If I want to reach my full potential and live life to the fullest, this is how I have to do it, no matter how hard it feels at times.
The Hustle (and the Exponential Curve)
Passive income growth/entrepreneurship is soooo exponential it’s crazy. There will be ups and downs. As Jay from FiFighter says, the path is never linear, but most humans tend to think linearly. It’s easy to want to get directly rewarded for how much effort you put in.
If you receive 0 output/reward after lots of input, it’s normal to want to give up. That’s where 99% of entrepreneurs drop off in the hustle.
But if you stick around for those small rewards, you’ll find they help motivate you to work harder and smarter, which is what sets off that exponential curve. These rewards can come in the form of your first online sale or your first client. And those wins give you assurance about your path. It also gives you more understanding of what works and what doesn’t so you can hustle in a smarter fashion. If you never start, you’ll never get those nuggets of motivation that keep you going.
For me, the journey from $0 to $300/month and to $1,000/month passive was extremely exponential. If I’m able to actually maintain this growth rate is another thing, but upon looking back, the reassurance of profits totally helped me move at a faster pace.
My friend Shannon and I were discussing the idea that hustling is all about discipline. She referenced Mark Manson’s book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck, about asking yourself “what are you willing to struggle for” rather than “what do you love”. Because when you’re willing to put up with those struggles, you’re experiencing true dedication and passion.
Having so much freedom, I have to constantly remind myself what I’m struggling for to bring me back to my “flow” state.
I really like my network now. Different people fulfill me in different ways, but I have so many people I can talk to now when it comes to digital nomad life, the hustle, music, dance, life, awareness, mental health, love, creativity, and more. I have people in my circle who inspire me to work harder. It is very true that the more you work towards your goals the more you’ll meet people who get you.
Seeking Wisdom and Awareness
I watched an Instagram story of an actor I follow (Justin Baldoni), and he explained that he was on a Bahai fast, coming on day 5. And around that time he had a realization, that when you place your happiness on something external, you place your worth in those external things and set yourself up for disappointment. The examples he mentioned included deriving happiness from wanting someone to like you or desiring things. If you keep placing your happiness on external factors, you’ll want more after you’ve achieved it. So rather, it is important to look internally for happiness.
I kind of had this knowledge before, but actually internalizing that and creating a solid mentality shift is another thing. After I watched the Instagram story I started realizing there’s a part of me that needs improvement…my spiritual/mental health. Even though the digital nomad lifestyle is great, I still find I experience some downs like I did before I left home. So like Justin mentioned, me thinking my happiness will come from quitting my job and starting my own businesses is a false pretense. It’s a normal part of life to have those downs, but I want to improve my mentality and reach that state of enlightenment/nirvana where I’m constantly at peace and solely focused on the good rather than the bad.
So my friend Sam and I were discussing internal happiness and how it’s easier said than done. I told him how I was going to try and take some Buddhism courses and things of that nature. Sam was telling me what he learned about the religion after visiting a temple in Taiwan. A prophet told a prince from India named Siddhartha (Buddha) that he would have to make a choice between being attaining everything desired as a king or attaining incredible wisdom. He decided to abandon his throne and choose the path of wisdom. So he went on a quest and had to shed all desires including sex, greed, power, etc. When he finally was able to get rid of these distractions, he attained “enlightenment” and started teaching his learnings to others.
Upon reflecting, this nomad journey has helped me strip away a lot of distractions. Society likes to pressure us to live a certain way. Social media likes to tell us we’re not good enough in different domains in our lives. Living abroad seems to have helped me resist living a life not true to myself. BUT – when I am thrown curveballs I find I am not as mentally prepared as I thought I was. When I’m faced with issues in my life, my mind that I thought was open becomes more and more narrow. I forget the smallness of my issues and my restricted focus becomes my reality.
For some time, I’ve been wanting to find enlightenment through visiting places like Nepal and Tibet and doing meditation retreats and training with monks. But since I know this can’t happen anytime soon based on my current travel plans, I’ve decided to sign up for a few courses and meetups around Buddhism and meditation, and hopefully I’ll keep up with it and progress in my spiritual and mental health. I realize this part of my life needs to be worked on to achieve self actualization.
I Need More Fear & Challenge!
For a while I’ve been feeling like I haven’t been pushing myself enough. As you know I constantly mention this in my posts…that I could be working harder. But I’m realizing that it’s not just that – I haven’t been doing enough next level stuff, the stuff that scares me. I have been too comfortable, and I need to start facing fear head on. This may sound strange and confusing, when comfort and stability can seem to be what people should strive for.
Mike sent me this article, and so much of it resonated. There were a lot of great takeaways, one notably about the line between boredom and anxiety.
In the past, humans were in constant fear for their lives as we were closer to the bottom of the food chain. When our survival was in question, our anxiety was at all-time highs, and for good reason.
As we’ve progressed and used our minds to our advantage, we started to make our way to the top of the food chain. Our lives weren’t constantly at stake anymore, and the more we advanced the more we could live a life without any real fears.
Now that we’ve evolved, we’re not faced with death on a daily basis. This quote is amazing – “Given this reality, humans worked incredibly hard to reduce uncertainty and volatility. The brain of homo sapiens developed to fulfill a primary role much like a lawyer’s primary role in a corporation: always looking for the worst possible outcome and trying to avoid it. For the majority of human history, this was adaptive. In the last century, it has become maladaptive.”
Our beings have evolved to turn away from danger, and for the first time this has actually become undesirable. We run at any sign of failure or fear. I think this resonated because I tend to view anxiety as a bad thing, but with a small shift in mindset, we could willfully run towards discomfort a little bit more in search of growth (as long as it isn’t life-threatening). Reminding ourselves what fear actually is in the evolutionary context can be a powerful thing. And rather than leaning towards one extreme or the other, the vacillation between anxiety and boredom is actually a healthy thing.
A Confident Yet Sometimes Confused Sense of Self
I’ve learned so much from traveling abroad, but the scary thing is it brings up so many more questions in life. After I removed myself from the 9-5 and took more risks, I felt my actions and goals/dreams align a lot better. On the other hand, with all the new time on my hands and with all the people I’ve met from my journey, I’m constantly asking myself questions and figuring out my sense of self.
Even though I feel like my life makes more sense now, living abroad makes you feel like you don’t know shit sometimes. All these realizations yet questions come up constantly. Like, there is no one way to live. And everyone’s going through stuff. Sometimes I think about the futility of money, status, and power. Other times I’m thinking about the concept of success being an external factor to place happiness on. And I might think about time, what happily ever after really is, and what the true purpose of life is. And feel bothered by why I’m so involved with my self perception of life rather than see life from an out-of-body perspective (if that even makes any sense…). I think I have an idea of my answers to everything, but I’d like to explore these questions further with more experience and discussion. When life events start questioning your perception of life, it can be liberating and confusing at the same time and require a lot of adjusting and understanding. There’s so much I don’t know and need to learn.
Having experienced 9 months as a digital nomad, I’ve learned so much about my flaws, about human beings’ flaws in general, about what I want in life, the type of people I gravitate towards, what I don’t know, what it takes to achieve self actualization, what matters and what doesn’t, and so much more.
After financial freedom, I realize I not only want to achieve my dreams and help others, I need to achieve self-actualization and find enlightenment…
It’s nice discussing and organizing my thoughts, but I want to make sure I take action.
I’m very grateful for my journey, and at the same time I’m also understanding how far I am from being the person I want to be.
Have any thoughts? Leave your comments below!