4 Lessons learned from my digital nomad experiment
When people ask me how my life would have looked like if I was born 400 years ago, I always answer them: “I’d be exploring the uncharted territories”. Ever since I’m young, I’m trying to create these feelings of terra incognita for myself. As a kid, I regularly dreamt up fictional countries and I meticulously drew out their geographical layout.
These days, when I go for a run, I’m continuously wondering what’s around the corner. It got out of hand a couple of years back when I had to call emergency services because I was miserably lost in a British forest.
So it doesn’t come out of the blue that digital nomadism began to appeal to me, once I started working as a freelancer. Why would I shackle myself to a physical location, whereas on my laptop, I’m roaming around the world digitally?
Since I believe trial-and-error is the only way to figure out if something truly fits you, earlier this year I decided to give it go. I set myself a goal: I’ll go to Taiwan for 30 days and I’ll try — so far as that’s culturally possible and desirable — to live the exact same life as I have at home.
I came back with 4 lessons learned from my one-month digital nomad experiment.
1. I can enjoy life more with less luggage
While packing for Taiwan, I realized very quickly that I wanted to bring as little as possible. I could very well imagine that being a digital nomad, you are always on the move, so redundant baggage is an extra burden. I ended up bringing only two standard size backpacks (26L + 14L) for the trip. I still think I crammed too much in.
It turned out to be the best decision made that trip. I experienced nimbleness and could easily hop from place to place. In transport, it also made me feel more like a local than a tourist.
Besides dragging along less physical luggage, the nomadic lifestyle enabled me to carry around less mentally as well. Since I had fewer obligations than at home, I could focus much quicker and better on getting my work done. Life felt like a breeze.
Generally, I reckon, cutting out the clutter is the best objective. I have more clarity if I only have just the essentials left. That’s why I actually enjoy moving because — when unpacking — it forces you to assess the necessity of this trinket or that knick-knack.
2. I can learn a language quicker
Every morning, when I stepped out of the door of my Airbnb, it imposed itself on me: ubiquitous Chinese characters. Yet I didn’t understand any of it. The first week I arrived, I was losing weight, as I didn’t know what to order at the street stalls.
Why would I put myself through this?
I set myself the goal to give a speech at my own wedding in Mandarin later that summer.
Immersing yourself in a language/culture, I think, is just one of the quickest ways to proficiency. This is definitely the case in countries where English is not the lingua franca (do they still exist?).
Because of this incessant reminder of my incompetence, during the day I would hone my first conversational skills with locals. At night I would use Chinese Skill with its spaced repetition technique to rote memorize the basic characters. It started to make more sense.
Did I succeed in giving a speech at my own wedding?
Well…we got married.
3. I can explore a country
While being in a new environment, one of the biggest advantages is that everywhere you go, it’s an adventure.
This can be a bit overwhelming.
What I found extremely helpful over the course of my month in Taiwan, is that through a common friend, I got connected with Miya, a travel-avid local. We would hang out regularly, she showed me around and in return, I helped her with her English pronunciation and some growth hacking tricks. Having her as my host was a great way of getting acquainted with customs in Buddhist temples and being introduced to Taiwanese food (stinky tofu!).
With regards to Taiwan, I found the island to be spectacular. Taipei is a true metropole (with ~7M inhabitants) and the tech scene is very vibrant. The artsy city of Kaohsiung in the south is a delight for every hipster and the eroded marble Taroko Gorge is a magnificent sight.
4. I become more open-minded
Lastly, I realize time and again that being abroad really tests my resilience and prejudice. Especially now, since my goal was to set up my life in another country in a similar fashion as before within only 30 days.
There was no time to waste on the little things; I had to push myself out of my comfort zone. Right off the bat, I attended some meet-ups, I visited a few co-working spaces and I tried two CrossFit boxes. I made my picks and settled in with my choices.
My last day in Taipei, I was on my way back to a café I’d been to on my very first day. I promised the owners to showcase them how much Mandarin I had acquired during my month on the island.
Coincidentally, a man on the street approached me — based on my looks I’m presuming — if I wanted to teach his girlfriend English. I said: “Sure, but I’m a little short on time”. He assured me that would not be an issue. “Here, this is how she looks”, he said. “And if you like each other, you can have casual sex afterward”.
I politely declined. I guess I’m not so open-minded after all…