What I Wish I’d Known Before Becoming A Digital Nomad
On July 5, 2016, I made a life-changing decision. I threw out the form I planned to fill out to renew the lease on my Manhattan studio. I really liked the place, too. But I had a bigger dream: becoming a digital nomad. A digital nomad is somebody who changes locations every few days, weeks, or months while working remotely. Most of us have a thirst for adventure, and we all have trouble answering the question “where are you based?”
“Nothing will turn your world upside down quite like becoming a digital nomad,” Kelly Chase, co-host of the Workationing podcast, tells Bustle. “While this transformation can be a really positive one, it's rarely an easy one. From maintaining relationships with people back home to dealing with visas, there are lots of unforeseen challenges that can come into play.”
The best way to face these challenges is to begin the digital nomad life with as much preparation as possible. Since this is a fairly new lifestyle that isn’t written about much, I didn’t have all the information I needed to prepare for all the strange things the digital nomad life would bring. So, to help you be more prepared than I was, here are some things I wish I’d known before becoming a digital nomad.
1. Travel Is Exhausting
“The thing that I wish I'd known before I became a digital nomad was how exhausting travel can be,” says Chase. “Every time you switch locations, you create a laundry list of logistical problems to tackle. You need to find housing, figure out the exchange rate, find the grocery store, figure out public transportation, etc. All of that takes up a lot of time and headspace, which can be an issue when you're also trying to get work done.”
This is really true. Figuring out flights alone is a headache, and factor in the time you’ll probably spend getting lost in each new place... no thank you. Plus, you don’t get to know a place or anybody living there that well after staying for less than a few weeks anyway.
2. You Should Get Rid Of Your Stuff
When I was getting ready to leave, I posted in a Facebook group for digital nomads to ask if I should get rid of my stuff or put it in storage. Everyone was like, “Get rid of it! Everyone puts it in storage and regrets it!” So, of course, I put it in storage and regretted it. I eventually realized that even if I decided to come back in a year, it would cost more to keep all that stuff there than to just replace it. Plus, I didn’t need all that stuff anyway. You feel lighter, literally and figuratively, when all your possessions fit in a backpack than when you’re anchored to your old home by some storage unit.
3. You’re Going To Be Working Odd Hours
When I first set off to Europe from the U.S., I considered quitting some jobs that would force me to work weird hours. But then I realized, I’m going to have to do that anyway. When you’re constantly traversing time zones, there is no such thing as work hours. You work whenever you and your co-workers can, even if that means having a conference call at 5 a.m. from a hostel lobby.
4. Using Your Phone Gets Really Complicated
When I first came to Europe, I got a SIM card in Germany. Then I realized that if I stuck with that one, I’d have to get a new one — and change my number — every time I went to a new country. So, I got one that worked throughout Europe. That one had to constantly be refilled, which required buying cards with instructions that weren’t in English and then calling a number with a recording that also wasn’t in English. So then, I got another one that was not much better but at least cheaper. A few months later, my phone broke and I had to get a new one, but I couldn’t recover my iCloud account because it was connected to my old number.
I haven’t really figured out a way around this, so I’m not sure what to tell you except: Get a SIM card that works in multiple countries and allow yourself time to deal with any issues it’ll inevitably have. And link your iCloud account to a number you actually have access to!
5. Don't Use Your Phone For Calls
Aside from the fact that your number might be changing a lot, you also want to avoid international fees. That’s what WhatsApp, FaceTime, Google Hangouts, and Skype are for. I truly believe these apps are the way of the future. You do not need calls or text messages. Apps will give you everything those provide without having to worry about communicating when you travel.
6. A Comfortable Place To Sleep Is Everything
Being the obsessively frugal person I am, I spent the first portion of my digital nomad adventure on couches on hostel beds. This really took its toll on me. When you’re surviving off four hours of sleep a night for a week, just thinking starts to feel like you’re dragging a thought over a huge brick wall in your brain. And when you’re always sharing a place with strangers, your vigilance system stays up, which can lower the quality of your sleep and make it impossible to relax. The $500 I spent on my first week in a hotel was the best $500 I’ve ever spent. You are nothing without a functioning brain.
7. Don’t Let Love Sidetrack You
Part of the fun of being a nomad is meeting a lot of people. But if what you really want is to meet a lot of people, don’t let one person you meet stop you from that. If you give up the lifestyle you want for love, you’re always going to resent your partner. I fell into this trap for a while. After staying with my partner for five months in a row with the exception of a few week-long trips, I was starting to resent him and crave more adventure. So, I’m blocking out more time on my own now. You can be in a relationship and be a digital nomad, and the right partner won’t try to squash your travel dreams.
8. It’s Not That Scary
In the lead-up to my nomadic life, I needed several emergency therapy sessions just to stop myself from freaking out. It was usually about small things, like what I would do with my stuff or whether I’d lose work due to some legal loophole I didn’t know about. What I was really freaking out about was the unknown.
But fortunately, being a digital nomad is becoming less and less unknown every day. And now that I know what it’s like, I’m telling you, it’s not that scary. It’s the same as your old life, just in more places.
I’ve met a lot of people who resent their permanent residences and 9-5s but nobody who regrets becoming a nomad. If it's something you're interested in, just ask yourself these questions, come up with a plan, and make peace with the fact that the plan can and probably will fail.