When I first became a digital nomad — someone who travels nonstop while working remotely — I was worried about a lot of things. But none of them were the things I actually had to worry about. There are a lot of things nobody tells you about being a digital nomad, and figuring them out yourself is definitely a learning experience.
My journey toward becoming a digital nomad began long before I actually gave up my New York City apartment. Afraid of losing the stability, I hung onto it while taking week- and month-long trips to friends in other states and pet-sitting whenever my family members went on vacation. I was addicted to the trips, as mundane as they were. But the thought of having no home was scary. And having to think about where to stay all the time sounded exhausting.
Then, after a week in Ibiza last year, something clicked and I got braver. I'm not sure what exactly it was. Maybe it was falling in love with someone on the other side of the world and wanting an excuse to travel. Maybe it was getting more comfortable with new places and situations. Maybe it was just getting a taste of what my life could be like and not wanting to go back. Whatever it was, on my plane ride back to New York, I decided that I wouldn't renew my lease.
After that, the whole process was surprisingly natural. I spent a few weeks in California cat-sitting for a family member, a few months with my love interest (now boyfriend) in Germany, a few more couchsurfing with friends around the U.S., and another traveling through Europe for work, all with no major problems.
That's not to say there weren't a few minor ones. Here are a few digital nomad problems nobody really prepared me for, and here's how I found my way around them.
1Working With People In Different Time Zones
If you're traveling around the world, chances are you're going to at some point be in a different time zone from the people you work with. This can be an amazing thing (when I'm in Europe, I always get things to my American clients before they've even woken up) and an annoying thing (I also end up getting Slack messages during dinner). Most of my clients are on EST and require me to work certain hours, so changing time zones is definitely rough for the first few days.
But whether I'm waking up at 5 a.m. in California or staying up until 5 a.m. in Sweden, I always adjust surprisingly quickly. And then the upside is that I can go to bed at 9 p.m. or sleep until noon. So now, I don't turn down work just because the hours are weird. When you're a nomad, you rarely work normal hours, and you discover that your ability to work isn't as limited by the time of day as you thought.
Working from another country is actually surprisingly simple. For the most part, you don't really need to do anything to prepare. But occasionally, there'll be a mishap. Like, for example, a website redirecting to the UK version when you need to open a link in the American version. Or a video being "not available in your country." To solve those particulars issues, you can use a proxy or, as a shortcut, the Chrome extension Hola.
Using your phone can also become a huge PIA when you're constantly crossing borders. WhatsApp, FaceTime, Skype, and Google Hangouts will become your best friends. Now, I use those even to communicate with people in the same country as me. No matter where they are or where I am, I know I can reach them. For data, you should either look into an international plan or get a new SIM card each time you enter a new country. If your data runs out, don't freak out — you can usually get a card at a convenience store to refill it.
3Ending Up In Places You Did NOT Realize You Were Going
Articles and travel guides can only tell you so much. Also, who has the time to read travel guides? It's much more fun to end up in places you knew nothing whatsoever about. Except when it's not.
This hasn't happened to me, but it has happened to Workationing creator Kelly Chase. Once, she booked an apartment in a safe part of the digital nomad hotspot Medellin, Colombia only to realize her building was full of sex tourists. "No matter how well you research a place before you go there, you can never really know what you're walking into until you get there," she tells Bustle. But she does have one suggestion: If you're a woman, don't trust articles and online forum posts written by men, because they may be totally oblivious to the kinds of issues you'll have to to deal with.
Finding affordable places to stay is surprisingly easy in most cities, between hostels, Airbnb, and Couchsurfing. But occasionally, you end up with a mattress so thin you'd might as well be sleeping on the bed frame, a couch that's half the length of a person, a host who's not in a good state to host you, or one who actually creeps you out.
When you need to get out of these situations, you learn a really valuable skill: asking for help. This was hard for me because I'm scared of imposing on others. But there have been several situations when I've had to text a few friends to let me know I needed a place to stay, and they've never minded. There was also one time when I didn't know anyone and — after bad experiences with a hostel, Airbnb, and Couchsurfing — decided to just splurge on a hotel. That was a great decision. Minibars FTW.
I was always one of those people who never even thought about packing. I'd just throw some shirts, pants, and underwear into a suitcase and hope I could get a few outfits out of them. But when I started literally living out of my bag, I had to get more thoughtful about it.
Most of my stuff is at my parents' place, and I'll occasionally drop stuff off and pick stuff up when I'm there. But for the most part, all my stuff is in one backpack. I don't want to ever have to worry about checking a bag on a plane or lugging around a suitcase. So, I pack the most compressible clothing I can and almost nothing else (except a few sex toys, because #priorities). Remember, you can always wash your clothes — and you can re-wear them a lot more often than society tells you.
When you don't have your own place, finding peace and quiet can becoming a challenge. Kari DePhillips, Workationing's other half, has had to take work calls from bathrooms to deal with this. I've learned to take them from cafes and mute my end when I'm not talking (and I, too, have had several bathroom meetings).
If I've got a meeting about something I don't want everyone to hear about — which happens a lot as a sex writer — I'll try to find a park where there aren't a lot of people. I've also been known to talk about periods and sex toys in coffee shops, because sometimes, it's fun to push boundaries.
The single most annoying thing about being a digital nomad is having to figure out what to do with all the stuff you previously owned. For me, it's been a huge wakeup call to realize how unwanted my possessions are. Now, I tell people not to get me gifts because I hate the thought of something else to deal with.
When I first became a nomad, everyone told me to sell my stuff and my furniture, but I was scared I'd hate it and want to come back to New York, so I stored it. Bad move. It only took me two months (during each of which I paid a whopping $250 for storage) to realize I didn't want to come back any time soon. But since my stuff was in a storage unit in New Jersey that I couldn't even see and I had nowhere to bring it, I couldn't sell it. I also couldn't find anyone to take it as a donation without seeing it first. The storage company I was using, Makespace, is pricey but has the advantage of delivering your stuff. I found someone on Craigslist to donate my furniture to, and Makespace delivered the my other stuff to me while I was staying in New York. Then, I threw out or donated most of it and took the rest to my parents' house.
Moral of the story: Sell or donate your stuff. Even if you make little or no money off it, that's a lot better than paying money for it to sit there waiting for your return (which probably won't happen. Trust me.)
I just made being a nomad sound really complicated, but actually, it's simpler than you might think. As Chase told me, "It felt like I was doing this huge thing, but at the end of the day, all I did was get on a plane. And then you’re like, 'this is just a thing you can do.'"