Published: October, 26th, 2015
I’ve learned a lot over the last 24 months of being a digital nomad, living on the road. And many of these lessons are applicable to life in general, not just travel.
I left home over two years ago. I didn’t have a long-term plan. I still don’t. In the two years, I have bounced around to nine different countries but stayed the longest in three. That’s not much compared to many ‘digital nomads’ who eat countries like skittles. But that’s not my style. This brings us to #1 on the list.
You Can Create Your Own Style of Travel
Some like it fast; Some like it slow.
I’m with the fuddy-duddy, slow crowd. Maybe it’s my age (36). Maybe it’s my personality, but packing up every weekend is nauseating to even think about.
I do well with a few short trips here and there but couldn’t make that my full-time style of living. Instead, I’ve created the pace that works best for me…traveling slowly. I’m also a short-term nomad (I made that label up myself). I now nomad for a period of time, return to my base, rinse and repeat when I can and want.
Don’t Force Yourself to Do What Seems Trendy/Popular/Cool
For me, this applies to learning languages.
When I first became a nomad, I thought I’d learn the languages of each country I go to. Big mistake. I was forcing it and became frustrated. Everyone is different. I know have a specific language learning approach I take to overcome language barriers. Other than that, I don’t force it.
Make the Effort to Keep in Touch With People
My memories often feel like a carousel of distant people and countries. Most of which are part of the past, with little connection to the present. Sometimes I feel uneasy just thinking about this.
So, now, if I’ve made a genuine connection with someone, I make an effort to keep in touch, to foster the connection, and participate in growing that relationship.
Wherever Home Is, Go There As Needed
For some, home is the blank canvas, a place to write, a meditation corner, a prayer mat, a person or group of people, or something else. For others, it’s a physical place that’s comforting and familiar.
Home is a place to take off your uncomfortable shoes, strip bare, recharge, and release.
I have a few homes that include physical and spiritual places. When I’m feeling exhausted, I don’t hesitate to wander home and stay for as long as I need.
Pay Attention to Your Health
When we get busy or stressed (or both), we tend to sacrifice healthy habits first with a barrage of excuses. This is particularly easy to do when you’re on the road. There are so many distractions you can lose focus on your healthy habits.
Don’t do it. You’ll always regret it. Always.
Tarzan Isn’t King of the Jungle, Wifi Is
The internet is the tool I use to continue to fund my travels, my life. There have been times when my own poor planning messed me up royally (like the time I booked an apartment in Mallorca, Spain that I knew didn’t have internet and spent most of my days searching for stable wifi).
I do my work and communicate with friends and family back home through the internet. It’s that important. And so now I do thorough research on my next location to make sure I’m not wasting time and energy searching for stable wifi connections.
There Will Be Times It Feels Like Everything Is Going Wrong
Yes, everything. Like the time I had my credit card electronically hacked and then a day later, dropped and cracked my phone rendering it inoperable. Learning to cope with these unwanted occurrences is part of our growth. One piece of advice: make preparation your best friend. It comes with benefits.
Preparation is a boring, nerdy noun, but it will save your ass time and again. Do all the geeky prep before you leave. If I had been better prepared when my phone dropped, I wouldn’t have been so devastated. I now travel with a backup phone. An old phone that I can use if needed. I also have a plan in case I lose my bank/credit cards.
A Simple Smile Is a Valuable Asset
I’ve learned that when you are lost, frustrated, and exhausted, a smile can go a long way. People are always more open to helping.
People don’t smile much anymore. Maybe this is just my theory. Of course, this changes based on location. It’s funny how some cities are more smiley than others. Some days I count how many people smile back at me when I smile at them; it’s one of the weird games I play in my head.
Know What Matters Most
What matters most for you?
Seeing different locations?
Eating delicious food?
Learning new languages?
Earning More money?
Developing your spirituality?
What matters most in your life? Figure it out and make that thing -those things- your TOP priority. Be selfish if you have to. Ignore haters (hate that word), but don’t stray from your priorities (unless it’s an emergency).
You will encounter people and places that are outside of your ‘what’s-normal-and-acceptable-zone’ (like the temple in India filled with rats).
Get over it.
The more negative energy you spend focusing on things that are out of your norm, the less energy you have for your life priorities (see #9 above).
Making Surface-Level Connections With Many People Isn’t the Same as Connecting Deeply With a Few
You probably know the saying, ‘quality over quantity’. I think it was coined referring to relationships.
My aim when making connections is for depth, not breadth. This takes conscious effort when on the road. It’s so easy to maintain a constantly changing circle of superficial friendships (if you can even call them that).
Movement Doesn’t Necessarily Equal Freedom
The digital nomad community is filled with ‘freedom talk’.
Be free, travel the world blah blah blah. It’s inspiring, and I get it. In fact, all that talk inspired me to make my own leap into nomadism. But I don’t fool myself. This lifestyle is not my idea of freedom. In fact, when I am struggling to find fast WiFi, I don’t feel free at all. On the contrary, I feel chained to the internet.
This is just my chosen lifestyle, for now. I may settle somewhere and feel free in that one place.
Don’t get movement confused with idealistic slogans and ideas.
Be Grateful Wherever You Are
There Will Be Things You Miss That Cannot Be Replaced
There are some things from ‘home’ you’ll miss, and nothing will fill that void.
Family, close friends, your car, being able to express yourself without using a language translator, Reese’s peanut butter cups, Flamin Hot Cheetos. Okay, that’s my list. But the point is be flexible, adapt, keep smiling. There will always be things that are removed from your life -by choice or not by choice.
Then adapt some more.
Different Cultures Have Their Own Standards for Courtesy and Politeness
If it bothers you that not all people do things the way you think they should be done, you’ll have a hard time on the road.
You’ll also have a problem in most major cities where you (hopefully) interact with people of different cultures. The less you assume they ‘should’ behave a certain way, and the more you just accept them for how they are, the less angst you place on yourself. Again, this is wasted energy.
Don’t Book Tickets (Or Make Major Life Decisions) When You’re Feeling Down or Angry
I’ve been angry with someone or something that happened on the road and on the verge of booking a ticket out of there.
Most times, by the next morning, my head is clearer and I can see that packing up and leaving in a big huff would probably be a bad move for me (higher-priced tickets, not much research on the location I’d be going to, no time to say goodbye to people I’d befriended, etc).
There’s a funny thing that happens when you are emotionally down. That funny thing is a cloud of misjudgment and not-so-wise decisions. Give yourself as much time as needed to make these decisions so you avoid regrets later.
Wherever You Are, Be There
If I move around too quickly, my mind stays stuck in ‘where’s next?’ mode.
You are where you are on the road. And in life. There is nowhere else you can be right now. Accept it and so much of life gets easier. Try to be fully present right where you are in life (emotionally and physically).
Many People Won’t ‘Get You’. And That’s Okay
I meet people almost every day who ask what I do and why I travel.
Many are amazed. But many are not. In fact, some ask me if I “actually like this lifestyle.” Er, yes. I chose it. I don’t get offended when people don’t get me / what I do/ things I write. I accept it and keep moving (pun intended).
Remember Your Other Hobbies
I love to travel, but it is far from my only joy.
About a year into traveling, I realized I had given up some hobbies that I was missing. Skating is one of them. I finally got a pair of skates when I was living in Germany. It’s awkward as ever to travel with them but that’s just a sacrifice I’ve made. Skating is bliss for me. It’s my meditation on wheels. Remember the things you love. We get so caught up in the drama of life that we forget.
These things renew us and bring us joy. Don’t forget them.
Travel/Nomadism Isn’t Superior to Another Way of Life
When you do something that most people don’t (like travel a lot or become a nomad), it’s easy to put on a mask of superiority.
Newsflash: travel isn’t superior to any other habits or way of life. I don’t feel I’m living better than anyone. Just different. I hear conversations all the time with nomads snubbing people who aren’t location independent. This judgmental point of view is wasted energy.
Again, drop this attitude and life becomes easier.
Learn to Handle Being Uncomfortable
When you’re in a new place, you will feel uncomfortable at some point.
There have been times when I was lost, didn’t speak the language, didn’t know anyone, didn’t understand the menu, had no idea how to find the food/blankets/towels/shoes/kettle that I needed. The list goes on and on. I had to get comfortable feeling uncomfortable. Push yourself to step outside of the zone of cushy-ness. Outside of that space where everything -and everyone – is known and familiar.
Outside of that zone is where real growth happens.
Always be you. I’ve seen people on the road take on whole new personas. It’s easy to do. You’re in a new place and nobody knows you. But masks are heavy to wear, and they must come down at some point. Be yourself. Being yourself is true freedom.
Nomadic Living Doesn’t Bring Happiness
Nothing outside of you brings happiness.
If you have issues deep that keep you up at night or cause anxiety and sadness, those issues will be right there with you on the road. You’ll have a bunch of distractions to dull the pain, but they will not leave you.
Get to the root of those issues and never expect the outside world to be your happiness medicine.
If There’s Something You’re Thinking of Doing (Becoming a nomad/traveling/writing a book), Stop Deliberating.
Make a plan. Go!
I often wonder what took me so long to hit the road.
Don’t be like me. Envision it. Create a basic plan (even if it is just short-term). And go. Go where your heart calls you to. It’ll be scary and crazy and uncomfortable and AMAZING.
No matter what happens, you’ll learn. I certainly have.