Almost two years ago, I said goodbye to my corporate office, sold all of my possessions, and set off to travel the world full-time.
I had a small online business at the time, and more importantly, a lot of travel experience under my belt. Before taking the leap, I had visited over 50 countries and completed several two-month-plus adventures.
Nevertheless, full-time traveling was a different beast.
My digital nomad lifestyle started in Bangkok. I was reeling from a recent breakup, my business wasn’t making much money, and I didn’t know anyone in the Thai capital.
Every day presented new challenges. I needed to grow my income, learn the ins and outs of digital nomadism, and navigate the daily challenges of long-term travel.
A poor organizer before, I had to become a smart planner. A fan of side hustles with a comfortable day-job, I was now financially reliant on freelance writing and photography. And not a traditional “people’s person,” I now had a unique opportunity to become more social.
Thanks to a lot of trial and error, I made the lifestyle work.
I managed to build several income streams on the road and became financially independent.
I also found new lifelong connections, learned two new languages, and became fitter than ever before.
The journey, however, was long and arduous. Two years of nomadism changed my character, values, and cardinal principles.
As such, long-term planet roaming redesigned my priorities, and it clarified previously abstract lessons.
On this basis, here’s how full-time traveling changed my outlook on life.
1. Your first experience at something will always be special.
Lee Konitz’s quote: “a first love always occupies a special place” may sound cliché, but it applies both to full-time traveling and life in a broader sense.
The more you travel and the more places you see, the harder it gets to feel novelty and excitement about new destinations.
When I first roamed the hectic streets of Bangkok, it felt ecstatic. The atmosphere was infectious, and I believed that every Southeast Asian metropolis would provide the same thrill.
After visiting various other Southeast Asian cities, however, the novelty had worn off. I could never replicate that first experience in Bangkok. I realized that it was the moment that counted.
The excitement in Bangkok was mostly the result of my state of mind, not the city itself. If I had visited Kuala Lumpur or Manila first, the experience would have been similar.
Not that these cities are boring, but the first place you visit as a full-time traveler will always retain a special place in your heart.
The same goes for other areas of life.
If you’re an entrepreneur, you’ll always remember your first 100 dollars. You felt joyful, invincible, and motivated to continue.
A few years later, you’ll probably make that amount every day, but you won’t feel the same way.
Relationships, jobs, and sports adventures all fall into this category.
2. The journey matters more than the destination.
Looking back at my travels, I fondly remember experiences, not places.
Of course, the location of the event plays its part, but without experiences, places are neutral settings that don’t influence your mindset.
During my first two months in Asia, I lived in eight different Airbnbs. All of them were nice, but their interiors won’t stay in my memory.
Instead, I will always remember the party I threw in my apartment in Kyoto.
In that same vein, I will remember my army airport questioning in Montevideo, Uruguay — not because of the place it was in — but because of the scene itself.
All of these elements are part of the journey, not the destination.
After traveling nonstop for two years, I found the principle equally applicable in other contexts.
If you’re trying to better your physique, the habits you build in the process will ultimately serve your life more than your summer body.
If you’re starting a business, the route to becoming successful will change your thinking patterns, work ethics, and business systems forever.
And if you’re learning a new skill, the journey to master it will have a more substantial impact than the result.
3. A career is worth nothing without the right lifestyle.
Before becoming a digital nomad, I worked in finance. I had a cozy office, handsome paychecks, and a fancy business card.
I always thought that with a job like that, I would automatically have a fantastic lifestyle.
I would round off business trips with 5-star holidays, dine in fine restaurants with like-minded finance people, and drive a fast car.
After working 12 hours a day for two years, however, I realized that those elements were the tip of the iceberg.
The career seemed tempting on paper, but in reality, it didn’t come with a desirable lifestyle.
“We all have two choices: we can make a living, or we can design a life.” — Jim Rohn
After my first months on the road, I realized that the lifestyle you build matters more than your business card or bank account.
I was making less money than before, and I had given up my status in the finance sector. My lifestyle, however, had become close to perfect.
I never felt more fulfilled, and I never experienced a greater sense of purpose.
I was designing my ideal lifestyle — making me feel wealthy without millions in the bank and professionally satisfied without a shiny business card.
4. Social circles bring out the best and worst in you.
Digital nomadism comes with many sacrifices, but one of the most painful is not seeing your friends and family often.
In my hometown, I spend most of my time with the same group of friends. We’ve known each other since elementary school, and we have our fixed rituals.
When I became a full-time globetrotter, these routines disappeared.
I missed my friends on the road, but there was an even stronger realization.
My social circle had been a catalyst for both positive and negative evolutions.
When I wanted to take on a novel challenge, they supported it. In times of family drama, they offered a hand. And when I needed advice, they did their best to help.
However, as friends, they also accept negative character traits. They don’t want to hurt you, and they might not be willing to highlight your deficiencies.
Consequently, they don’t force change. They tolerate the status quo.
When you travel full-time, you meet new people almost daily. And those new connections won’t have the same reservations. Some might not be outspoken, but most will point out your failings in one way or another.
As such, I had to accept that I wasn’t the most sociable person — something my friends never lamented.
Full-time travel showcases your social circle’s effects on your character — how they improve you and how they negatively affect you.
5. Personal growth happens outside of your comfort zone.
Full-time travel smashes the barriers of your comfort zone. And this exit from familiar, comfortable routines will make you grow as a person.
Packing for long trips forces you to boost your organizational skills.
Not knowing anyone in your destination is the best way to work on your sociability.
And continuous discoveries fuel your curiosity and understanding of the world.
No matter if you’re traveling or not, you’ll become a better version of yourself when you leave your comfort zone.
6. Long-term travel changes your approach to risk.
I never considered myself a “risk-adverse” person, but full-time travel changed my perspective.
I had been flirting with the decision for around 12 months before finally committing to digital nomadism.
At the time, my biggest fear was the risk of not being able to re-enter the corporate world after a year or two of traveling.
A few months of pondering later, I decided to take the risk.
Without knowing, a switch had turned in my mind. Instead of asking myself what I was risking, I asked myself what I was missing out on.
This attitude cemented itself throughout my travels.
I visited dangerous places, worked up the courage to approach strangers, and forced myself to speak new languages.
All of those decisions came after questioning what I would miss.
Becoming a digital nomad had been the first risk-vs-safety decision in my life, but not the last.
I continue to use this risk-calculation technique today, and it has become an essential part of my decision-making process.
Without that first big decision and those two years of traveling, I probably wouldn’t see risk in the same way today.
7. Minimalism can change your life.
Finally, the last life-changing lesson from two years of full-time travel concerns minimalism.
I had been a moderate minimalist before, but digital nomadism took my minimalism to new heights.
Without a stable income and a permanent residence, I became intentional with my possessions.
Traveling with two carry-on bags meant that every piece of gear needed to be versatile and durable.
And finally, spending all my money on experiences shaped my values.
But there was more.
Because I had to be deliberate with my spending, I took prioritization a step further.
I learned how to apply the Pareto rule in many areas of life, filtered out relationships, and became mindful of my digital habits.
In short, full-time travel helped me adopt certain minimalist habits that changed my life for the better — on the road and at home.