A Year as a Digital Nomad

15/07/2016

Time Flies

I can’t believe it has already been a year since I decided to take one of the biggest risks of my life: leaving London and stepping into the unknown to travel and work remotely as a “Digital Nomad” from different locations around the world; and what an interesting year it has been. Full of highs, lows, laughter, heartbreaks, learning, challenges, culture shocks, reverse culture shocks, near-muggings and new friends.

Ideas I have always had about the world have been dismantled, assumptions and expectations have been overturned, but I have seen that everywhere, beneath it all, people are pretty similar. In some ways I feel like I know less now than I did when I started, and I am having to re-think some things from scratch.

These last 12 months I have visited about 17 countries and about 27 cities, and it has not cost as much as one might think; I just try not to accumulate much and spend on travelling instead. Often travel can be pretty well priced too, especially if using services like BlaBlaCar’s carpooling network. Flying to Brazil cost a bit more, but I booked that well in advance and on new years day, so it was a good deal.

I have found that travelling whilst working is great in that one is able to meet and ‘do life with’ people from all different cultural backgrounds, as well as visit interesting places (when not working). However, it also comes with its own unique set of challenges and responsibilities: being extra organised is of paramount importance; effectively communicating with clients is essential (especially across timezones); and managing travel (and a blog) is sometimes like an extra job in itself! Moving on after settling into a new location can be hard too.

It has looked A LOT LESS like this:

7535082 - man using laptop by the pool side, woman swimming in the pool
(Which really doesn’t work well because of screen glare and sand/water not getting on well with electronics).

And a lot more like a 9 to 5 job in an office, albeit sometimes in pretty awesome cowork spaces:

Impact Hub

but usually with all the frustrations and deadlines that come along with that. My Instagram feed may suggest otherwise, but anyone who has worked in the same space as me will attest to the fact that I work pretty hard (I’m not going to be posting a lot of pictures of desks and printers right).

An Alternate Lifestyle

This time last year I boarded a plane to Lisbon to work in a Cowork space, as I had been doing in London. My idea was partially to ‘test’ for a month to see how ‘realistic’ a nomadic lifestyle was. I had a client for whom I was working and backup options in case it didn’t work out. A lot was unknown, but I thought it should work out fine, particularly because I had already digitalised most of my workflow and developed efficient (enough) systems for calendars, tasks and documents. Ultimately, it worked out well and I decided I wanted to continue working in this way for the rest of the year.

It has been anything but a year long holiday, and sometimes I have missed out on seeing or doing everything I have wanted to because of work, which can lead to feelings of guilt along the lines of ‘needing to make the most of opportunities’, but I have come to a point of accepting that there is simply not enough time to see everything in each city, and that is ok (I never saw everything in London and I lived there for almost 5 years).

Along the way, I have met some really interesting people including an inspiring digital nomad woman traveller/entrepreneur who recently did a TED talk about freedom and how events in her life changed what it meant to her; As well as others from whom I have learnt a lot and who have hopefully learnt from me too.

I am very aware of how fortunate I am to be from a country with a strong economy and never quite realised how lucky I am to have English as my first language, I am also working in a field which lends itself very well to not having a fixed location, but I have met plenty of other digital nomads not in this position and I think that this kind of lifestyle can be adopted by more people than think possible (nomadic barbers for instance). Also, with the constant development of new digital ideas and services, such as this app that allows people to trade skills for accommodation, it will be interesting to see how popular this kind of lifestyle becomes.

The biggest challenge I have found has been in regards to relationships. I love meeting and spending time with others, and it is always difficult to have to move on after sometimes just beginning to get to know people. The best times have been when I have spent up to a month in a city, and I think that even longer is better. Travelling too quickly is tiring, both physically and emotionally, and moving too much can be very isolating.

Even though I have travelled a lot before, travelling mainly in countries with different languages has made me feel (more empathetically) like I know something of what it is like to be an ‘immigrant’ or at least a stranger in a foreign land; it is not always easy, and I hope that we can all respond well when we meet those from countries not our own.

What Next?

My initial hope of being able to do this for a year has been accomplished and I now have to decide what is next and whether to continue travelling or to settle somewhere again for a bit. If I keep travelling, it will likely be for longer periods in different places, but yet to be decided.

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