In May of 2016, I left to travel for a year as a digital nomad. Since I’ve been back everyone asks me how my travels were, and all I really reply with is “yeah it was awesome.” It’s hard for me to summarize my whole year in a conversation so I haven’t really discussed my travels much. I also feel like I have already talked about my journey throughout my blog posts so I get lazy about repeating myself. And whoever has read them should already have a sense of all the things I’ve come across and learned 😛
But now I’m going to try and recap as much as I can since people are curious!
My Recap of 1 Year as a Digital Nomad
The Digital Nomad Workation
Right now I’m back home, sitting in my bed typing out this post. When I think about it, it wasn’t hard for me to adapt to coming back to the bay area. It probably took me about 2-3 days for the weirdness to wane off. Since I spent a little over a month at each location, coming home was similar to adjusting to a new country and city every time I moved.
Hoi An, Vietnam
Being a digital nomad for a year versus backpacking the world for a year is EXTREMELY different. My solo trip around Europe back in 2014 was a huge contrast to my one year as a digital nomad. When you’re backpacking around the world, you’re probably staying in one location for a max of maybe 5 nights. You’re moving around constantly, enjoying the sights as you’re more of a tourist traveling. As a digital nomad, however, you’re living longer term in different locations getting work done. Rather than work in the bay area, I’m just working somewhere else. I’m not “escaping” or enjoying a getaway. I’m making new places my new homes. I’m working on businesses and experiencing the same feelings, thoughts, and issues as I normally would, but I’m also living life in different countries, learning different cultures, and getting a sense of people’s perspectives from all over the world.
The point is, being a digital nomad does not mean constant exploration. It means establishing your routine in different places with a sprinkle of travel whenever you please. Digital nomad life is pretty awesome, but it’s not exactly a vacation.
You Learn a Lot
I pretty much summed up my learnings in this post about my life, feelings, the hustle, and more and in this post about 2016 and 2017 (there’s a huge bullet point list in the latter post of all that I learned). When people ask me about new knowledge I’ve gained, the stuff I mention always sounds kind of cliche. I have to dive into examples to make my learnings sound more impactful. But it’s one of those things where being told something won’t give you the same realization as actually experiencing it in real life. And even when I say I’ve realized these things, it’s easy to go back to your normal “unaware” self if you don’t frequently practice gratitude, contemplation, and “letting go”.
If I were to sum up my learnings, they would be:
- Stay constantly grateful and aware of your privilege.
- Give less fucks
- Follow your gut/get out of your comfort zone for growth
- Look for opportunities everywhere (WORLDWIDE) and seize them
- Surround yourself with like-minded people and people who inspire you
- Find balance
- Absorb new perspectives
My Needs are The Same
When living abroad in different countries month-to-month, my needs were the same as my needs back home. Again, there’s no escaping – life is still life…
My needs included:
- A bit of a “routine” to keep myself sane. I tried to make sure I slept and woke up around the same time, walked around every day, and hit up cafes regularly.
- Friends cause it can get lonely if you don’t share connections beyond small talk. I made local friends who showed me around, but I still needed nomad friends to understand what I was going through.
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
These connections are built over time so I have a feeling nomading gets better as you meet more people doing the same thing as you. The more people you know in the space, the more you can be like “hey you’re in Korea? Okay I’ll meet you there!”
- Asian food – might just be me.
- A solid work ethic – aside from learning more about myself, my goal was really to attain financial independence. Visiting cafes to crank out work really helped as it would be extremely hard to get things done in my accommodations. I had to create schedules and lists to make sure I was on track for my goals. It’s easy to drop off and explore new places when you’re in a new country, but if you have entrepreneurial goals you need to have self control to meet them.
- Life outside the apartment – I’m pretty lazy when it comes to getting out of bed and doing things outside, but leaving my place and joining outside life makes me a happier person. The good thing is public transportation went a long way in all the places I traveled to, so it motivated me to want to get up and walk around (especially in Europe because it’s gorgeous). Back home or anywhere else – getting off my ass is a necessity!
Is Nomad Life Amazing or Crap?
Basically most bloggers talk about how either A) the life is freakin’ amazing or B) it is really difficult/depressing/not what you’d expect it to be. I feel like most of them are clickbait articles to be honest.
For me, nomading is a middle ground between “life is amazing” and “this shit can be hard”.
The Scary Part
While I was on the journey and even now, it doesn’t feel like I did anything that special for the most part. Yes, it was extraordinary in the beginning. It felt surreal for about 2-3 months after I left home to live abroad for a year. Then I got used to it and the excitement became less prominent. Moving around becomes normalized.
Nomading gets harder because the excitement wanes as you adjust to normal day-to-day life, plus you’re away from the comforts of a regular day job, your go-to foods, your friends from home, family, etc.
Even if you didn’t travel as a digital nomad, leaving your regular job to be a passive income/financial freedom fighter is already extremely scary. Some of you may not be doing this as perhaps you’re a successful freelancer or a full-time employee working remotely, but if you’re reading this blog you are probably interested in the entrepreneurial life. The fear of not being able to bring any of your online business ideas to fruition is debilitating and will constantly come to mind.
Then the frequent change you go through when moving around becomes difficult because you can only make yourself at home to a certain extent in these different countries. Unless you decide to move to the place you’re staying in, the impermanence can get to you. I didn’t have a huge issue with this part because I was normally ready to visit the next country on my itinerary as it got closer to that date. But this brought up the larger question of “what is the right path to take”? This is probably the hardest challenge of being a digital nomad, at least in my opinion.
You’ll face these doubts/questions/”who the fuck am I” type thoughts, including:
- What is home?
- What is my ideal life?
- What is the right path to take?
- Can I see myself settling down in any of the places I’ve traveled to?
- Do I want to settle down?
- Who would be my ideal life partner?
- Do I want kids?
- I love my friends from home – what if I continue nomading and the distance makes it harder for me to be as close to them and we lose touch?
- What if nothing I am attempting (especially financially) works out, and I end up just “wasting time” while everyone’s settling down, killing it in their 9-5’s, and finding the partners they want to spend the rest of their lives with?
- Everything is up in the air now and my life path is way more uncertain than it was before. How do I accept a life that isn’t fully planned out and feels a little out of my control?
- What if I go home and it feels weird? What if I want to leave right when I get home – but when I’m away I miss home? Will I become confused as to where I belong?
- What can create the most fulfillment in my life?
I did ask similar questions while at my full-time job, but I found that while you’re nomading you have so much time to contemplate that these questions will be faced more seriously. Especially since you’ll be aware of what awesomeness is out there, you’ll need to evaluate what is the right path to take. These are the questions I ended up discussing with my nomad friends a lot – some would have extreme fear about their age + the path they wanted to take.
The Bright Side
On the bright side, I feel like you’re bound to face these questions no matter what. For those who are thinking about nomading, knowing what’s out there does make it harder to determine the best path for yourself, but not knowing what’s out there is worse. If you didn’t step into the challenge of living abroad, away from your comfort zone, you’d be faced with an even WORSE question….”WHAT IF”. I know that if I stayed at my 9-5 and never had the balls to quit, I would regret it for the rest of my life. I would never know what was on the other side.
Another positive is, these debilitating worries and questions got me into some spiritual studies that I would have never come across if I didn’t challenge myself. I’m learning (through reading Buddhism materials) that us humans create this suffering for ourselves because we create concepts, and these concepts will be challenged because there is no clear “right” or “wrong”. When we create some strong opinion we create these binaries when there shouldn’t be. If we say something is right, that means consequently the other side is wrong. E.g. someone may think there is life after death while others may not, and though we’ll never know the answer we still create concepts to unsolvable questions. Or, we might say life should be this way, and when doubt creeps in or the notion is challenged, we may be faced with some sort of existential crisis not knowing what our purpose in life is (and if there even is any).
In the end, I’m trying to step back and become aware when I’m creating concepts. I’m learning that “letting go” is a better way to live life. I’m attempting to see the world as unified rather than divisive – and we create these divisions through our conceptualizing.
Wat Rong Khun, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Back to the bright side of nomadism – it’s obvious that the travels are a huge part of what makes nomading so amazing. I felt so much more free. I’m the type of person who likes to do things by myself, even eat at restaurants by myself, watch movies at the theater by myself, and explore places by myself, which is why this part of nomading was so great for me. I could do whatever I wanted to without thinking about what other people thought of me (which I should actually never worry about anyway). I could walk around if I wanted to without worrying about getting a day off work. I could work on the beach if I wanted to…(a bullshit digital nomad cliche, but I was able to do it a few times and it was pretty awesome, lol). This part of the nomad life is without a doubt, amazing.
Another part that’s great is all the stuff you learn, as listed in the previous section. You grow so much as a person, and I’m pretty obsessed with self-improvement. These learnings and improvements are not only from being self sufficient in all parts of the world, they are also through meeting people all over and learning their perspectives. You just get so much more appreciative and grounded, and you learn to realize there are so many different ways to live.
My last bullet point on the list of doubts and questions was “What can create the most fulfillment in my life?” I know that nomading and financial freedom are not my end goal. They will remove worries but they will not create a sense of fulfillment or induce happiness alone. In my opinion, fulfillment comes from something greater and happiness comes from within. I know that fulfillment for me comes from doing shit I care about, building things, and impacting the world positively whether that be on an individual level or on a global scale. I don’t know what exactly I’ll be doing yet, but my point is that you shouldn’t expect this journey to be your end goal. Instead, think of nomading as a great stepping stone to figuring out what that is.
I think everyone wants to know how much it all cost and I pretty much documented all my spending like a crazy person so I could show affordable it really can be depending on the flights you choose, the places you stay at, etc.
I tried to budget but I still ate out almost every day, went out, and took mini trips. I’m not counting my stay in Hong Kong (87 days) because I was staying with my parents, and I left to travel May 31, 2016 and came back home on May 9, 2017 (so 22 days before the year mark).
I’m also not counting most business expenses like my domains, hosting, and laptop purchase as well as other pre-travel equipment purchases like my GoPro, toiletries, backpacks, and more.
My total came out to be $11,366.98 – plus $400 for travel insurance which equaled to $11,766.98 for 256 days. This means I spent $45.96 per day, which would have come out to $16,777.14 for 365 days (the entire year). This amounts to about $1398.10 per month, which is basically the cost of rent in San Francisco with roommates!
Not bad, eh?
What My Future Plans Are
When I look back on photographs and videos it makes me super nostalgic and realize I have done so much.
With everything I have said in this post, I still want to pursue a path of location independence. To me, being a digital nomad doesn’t mean you have to be traveling all the time, but morseso that you have the freedom to. For now, I’d like to keep working on this location and financial freedom back home. I’ll be in the bay area for a few months slash visiting my boyfriend in Canada, and in October we will try to set off and see the world!
I want to visit home more often as it has been pretty enjoyable with friends, but if I will attempt to qualify for the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion I’ll need to be out of the states for 330 days of the year, leaving only 35 days to visit home. The good thing is this doesn’t have to be within the tax year so I can start the year whenever I want. So as you can see, I’m still able to be home for months right now while I can start the year for FEIE again in October.
And before I left, I had always said that I could envision myself being situated in possibly 3 home bases, and that I wanted property all over the world to rent out! Right now that’s about as long term as my plans can get, but I know things can change (especially if I wanted to start a family in the future). Who knows.
I hope this about sums up a bit on what my year was like! If you have any questions or feedback, feel free to drop a comment below :).