Photo by Mimi Thian on Unsplash

Yes, I was a Digital Nomad. No, it didn’t work out like I thought it would.

Bram Adams
Sep 26 · 7 min read

Have you ever been curious about the Digital Nomad lifestyle? Have you seen pictures of laptops on beaches tagged: “#mondays”?

How twenty-something year old travel bloggers somehow move their entire lives to places like Bali to take advantage of the cheap rent and great weather?

Let’s talk a bit about being a digital nomad.

Check out those ergonomics tho

Disclaimer: this is written from the perspective of an American, technologically savvy, young individual. There will be blind spots and assumptions, but all I can speak to is my experience.

Because the Internet

The world is in an interesting place right now. Thanks to the proliferation of apps like Airbnb, Google Flights, Uber and Google Translate; travel has never been easier.

It’s trivial to book an entire stay in a foreign country from your couch, just to arrive and find all the amenities you would at home. For a much cheaper price.

my “office” in Mexico City

That was the allure for me at least. To be able to do the work that I do without needing to be in a physical office or an expensive place like New York City. To cut my expenses while imbibing in a new culture.

Then reality reminded me of why plans rarely pan out the way we hope.

I was in Mexico for a week

After I left my full time job in July, I decided that I’d like to live cheaper in order to create a more long-term sustainable lifestyle.

I signed up for a nomad site. I involved myself within the Facebook communities. I signed up for Meetups in the city, and planned my days around work and exploration.

I found Airbnbs for ~$400 per month in very desirable areas.

I even downloaded Duolingo again to work on my Spanish!

I took a quick pit stop to visit my cousins in Los Angeles, and then I grabbed a flight to Mexico.
Almost the very day I arrived, things went south (from LA! *ba-dum-psh*)

I got sick. Not like cough cough sick, more like, oh no my insides sick. The doctors were concerned enough to send me in for some of the more “involved i.e. intense i.e. intrusive” tests. What the issue was is not relevant to this post so from here on out it will be referred to as “medical issue.”

Thanks to “medical issue”, I spent most of my time in Mexico City lying in bed, trying not to throw up. This obviously sucks. I couldn’t even keep down Mexico City’s amazing food (and I tried). After my fourth day in the Airbnb, I raised my white flag of surrender and booked a flight home to recover.

Physical Health Trumps All

The body is a phenomenal machine, quietly ticking away most of the time. For many of us, our bodies are backdrops to the dramas playing in our heads from the workday, dreams and desires, the he said, she said of the everyday.

And this is good! It would be exhausting to constantly be in physical pain, to obsess over whether your left leg will work tomorrow or not (my heart goes out to those who do experience these problems daily).

However, there is the other side of the coin as well. Every once in a while, some bacterium will slip past the immune system’s defenses, or you’ll trip in a way that you can’t easily recover from, or some insidious tumor will be quietly growing in some corner of some organ.

That’s when shit gets real.

In my mind, the physical health of the body is the lowest level of the pyramid, the real driver of how comfortable our temporary stay is here on Earth.

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

Much like an actual foundation of a house, we rarely pay attention to it, because it’s easier and more efficient to focus on the things in your house than the things that compose your house.
And much like an actual house, if the foundation fails the whole thing comes down.

While I was lying in bed, staring at the ceiling or squirming to find a comfortable position to drown my pain away in a Netflix binge, I came to appreciate this fact. “Medical issue” had kicked my ass.

But I digress. Let’s talk about what I learned being a “digital nomad”.


The Pros of the Digital Nomad Lifestyle

For many, travel is one to two weeks of PTO outside their home country once per year. Some spend it in hotels. Others go camping. Others yet spend it glamping(glamour camping). Their interaction with the target culture may be minimal, and generally transactional in nature.

I’d like to talk about the benefits of the “digital nomad” lifestyle. I’m defining “digital nomad” as a concerted effort to spend 1+ months in a different country.

Pros of nomad-ing:

  • Different foods to try
  • Sights to see and awe at
  • Generally cheaper cost of living
  • New people to meet
  • New languages to learn
  • Planes are fast, and reliable
  • Becoming more open minded
  • Learning more about this big blue marble we live on!

These pros are awesome, and for the adventurous among us, worth pursuing. It’s a fun lifestyle for a reason, y’all. It’s just fun.

“All that glitters is not gold.”

The Cons of the Digital Nomad Lifestyle

All those pros said, being a digital nomad isn’t exactly a walk in the park, either. The cons of travel can be small or major, depending on your tastes and tolerance.

Cons of travel:

  • Being an outsider all the time. Sometimes you’ll be viewed as a novelty, other times your interactions with locals won’t be as…cute.
  • Having to reset all of your daily routines
  • The tension of staying in vs. going out
  • Your work still has to get done, even when you would rather be sipping margs out of that coconut
  • New laws (I can barely remember ours)
  • Packing and deciding which of your stuff is worth taking to your new life, and what is worth tossing
  • Starting at ground zero with friendships
  • New pathogens that your body is all like [[shrug]], I don’t know how to deal with this
  • Motivation either plummets or skyrockets depending on your comfort and anxiety levels

Tips for Wannabe Nomads

Let’s not cut corners here, becoming a digital nomad isn’t a sustainable option for many. These things will generally put you out of the race before you even start:

- a job that requires a physical location
- a family with kids
- a mortgage
- anything else that prohibits you from “peacing out” from the US for months at a time

If you’re curious about getting involved with the lifestyle, I’d like to offer a few tips.

1. Pick up a “laptop skill”, like coding, blogging, video editing, design. Something that doesn’t require your physical presence to work. Sign up for Fiverr or bother your network by sending annoying emails to find client work to do.
2. Pick up materials that are easy to travel with, but provide great quality of life improvements. Some that come to mind: a good external battery, portable laptop stand, Kindle, packing cubes(!)
3. Separate your personality from your stuff. The nomad lifestyle is well, nomadic. If you don’t like wearing the same four shirts, you’re gonna have a bad time.
4. Join nomad list, there is a ton of great resources there, and an active Slack channel.
5. Travel Insurance, passport holder
6. Check Visa requirements for the country you’re planning on staying in
7. Research the culture before you go! Remember, you’re trying to integrate, not vacay, so you’re going to have to make a genuine attempt at the language and culture of your target country.
8. A good budget, a good bank, and a good phone plan
9. A proclivity for adventure, and not minding being proved wrong about your world view

Conclusion

The US is expensive. $1000 USD goes much much much farther in Bali than it would in NYC.

Becoming a digital nomad to escape this reality is enticing. And thanks to the internet, it’s easy. Like, really easy.

But here’s the kicker. Your problems won’t go away by traveling to a new area. You’ll just find new ones to face.

When I was lying in that bed, staring at the ceiling, I had problems. It’s not glorious.

I asked myself, assuming the worst case scenario, did I want to be 2000 miles from nearest people I know?

Before you go, ask yourself:
- Why am I going to where I’m going?
- What do I expect to learn?
- What do I want to get out of this?
- Am I traveling for clout? To post on my social media and brag to my friends?
- How will I stay focused on the tasks at hand for my job?
- What is my contingency plan?
- How does this trip affect my 5 year plans?

But here’s the kicker. Your problems won’t go away by traveling to a new area. You’ll just find new ones to face.

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me. You can find me on Twitter @adams_bram

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