“So, what are you doing in Paris? Are you a student? Did you get a job here?”
“Neither, actually! Je suis un independente? I’m a digital nomad.”
“Oh….so, you have a job here in Paris?”
“No, not exactly….”
I have had this conversation, or something similar, every day for the past three months. Being a digital nomad is a funny kind of lifestyle, and it’s one I’ve realized not everyone understands. To get you up to speed:
Digital Nomad (noun) — A person who is location independent and uses technology to perform their job.
Makes perfect sense, right? You know exactly what I do every day! Chances are, you‘re still confused as to how I’m pulling this off. But I know what you picture.
Laptop on a beach, a new city every weekend, a life where every moment belongs on Instagram and you don’t have a care in the world. About that….let me lay out a few facts about this lifestyle.
- You still work full-time as a digital nomad.
This one is hard for people. I actually have met people while traveling who scold me for working on a bus or at a coffee shop because “you’re in Europe!!!” Do you think Europeans don’t work, ma’am? Because my co-workers can only handle an out-of-office response for so long, and I passed that quota 3 weeks ago. I still work 40 hours a week on average, sometimes more, sometimes less, just like any other stable adult. Haven’t yet mastered Tim Ferris’s four-hour workweek.
2. Your turn-ons are strong WiFi and good coffee.
When I see photos of people working with their laptop on a beach, it physically pains me. The sun glare on my screen, sweaty legs from my hot laptop, iPhone shutting off from overheating, weak wifi connection — that‘s a nightmare, not a fantasy. Sure, there are some really nice tropical patios where this vision is realistic, but in reality, I work wherever the WiFi is strong and the baristas still smile when you order a third cappuccino. And that’s not always so easy to find….looking at you, Dublin Starbucks.
3. City hopping is exhausting.
We’ve all experienced a “travel day” before. It’s that day where you’re so tired from flying, reading maps, and translating your questions to locals that all you can accomplish is finding something to eat and going to bed. Now imagine doing that every other day, and being expected to work and not sleep.
So no, I ‘m not trying to rack up my country total. I change locations every 1–2 months, and that’s still pretty quick compared to most nomads I’ve met, who prefer at least a 6 month stay in every new location.
4. We’re not all famous travel bloggers.
Before I left, I followed dozens of popular photographers and influencers on Instagram to get an idea of what this lifestyle would be like. We all follow at least a few of them. I thought I was going to instantly become one of these people, and I think some of my friends actually think my life is this glamorous.
If you don’t know what I’m talking about….
I mean, c’mon. Is that even real?!
It is for her, because she works very hard to build a fan-base, shoots with professional photographers, and partners with some of the biggest brands in travel. Which, as you can imagine, is a full-time job in itself, and is not designed for people who already have a job and are pursuing other passions. She spends hours editing, emailing partners, designing blog content, just like any other business owner. It’s her job to make you jealous. The big secret about travel bloggers? They make most of their money off of selling the idea of their life to people like you and me. It’s smart, but it’s just marketing. Don’t let your FOMO make you fall for it!
“So what you’re saying is it’s actually not that great?”
Now hold on. I want to be clear that I’m not complaining about my life, because, it is pretty freaking awesome most days. I spend most of the weekdays working on client projects, doing video meetings at all hours of the day to match timezones back home, writing, taking classes, and drinking lots of lattes with pretty foam art. On the weekends, I get to explore new cities and experience the joy of traveling alone.
But the thing about moving away from home and starting a new life is that you can’t leave yourself behind. Your relationship problems, your mental health issues, your struggles with your identity and your career — those don’t go away. You’re just experiencing them from a new perspective, and you’re experiencing them on your own. Being a digital nomad is the loneliest thing I’ve ever done, and yet, I’ve found power in the loneliness.
The best metaphor I have to describe my lifestyle is that I’m painting the same picture, but with bigger brushstrokes. I have had some of the best experiences of my life since I left, and I’ve also had some of my lowest points, all in the same week. Traveling puts things in perspective. If I can survive living on my own in completely foreign countries, what else can I do?
Right now, my job is to continue growing my business: I want to share the stories of the organizations I work with through great marketing and the support of our communities. I want to keep finding my voice as a writer — I’m blogging (hi), writing a YA fiction novel, and brainstorming new ideas for fellow marketers.
Most importantly, I have a full-time job in discovering myself, and feeling every high and every low that comes with this life. It’s not always perfect and that’s what makes it so incredible. If anyone asks, I’ll always happily take the time to explain my oddball lifestyle…. because I can’t imagine doing anything else.