Woman working on a laptop in a cafe

This Is What Really Happens When You Become a Digital Nomad

Home is no longer a place. It’s more like a feeling.

You can travel the whole world and come back to where you started, but you will not return as the same person. That is a guarantee.

The digital nomad lifestyle brings out the best and worst of life. With the endless dance of novelty and challenge, routine and risk, no day will be the same twice. As you change landscapes, your inner landscape will change too.

You’ll question the rat race

Not long ago, I lived in an invisible prison. In no uncertain terms, modern life told me exactly what it would take to make me happy. Plans, degrees, debts, ladders, networks, numbers. And things—lots and lots of things.

There was just one problem: I felt depressed. Suffocated. It was as if I was living a life that wasn’t my own. I couldn’t figure out when this character, Hilary, had signed up for this contract, but I wanted a do-over. The more I ambled towards the American dream, the more I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was just a well-marketed nightmare.

Now, as a digital nomad, I feel as though I can breathe again. It safer to shed what I was taught to believe about life and my place in it. The longer I travel and the smaller my list of possessions becomes (I’m down to just two bags), the more I realize the great hustle was empty. Maybe not for everyone out there, but it certainly was for me.

You’ll lose track of the days

What is a Monday when you work every day to fuel a lifestyle you love? What is a Friday when you don’t need weekends to recharge?

It’s not for everyone, but I would prefer to work four to six hours per day, seven days a week as a writer than go back to the traditional 9-5 lifestyle (at least for now).

If I’m blessed enough not to, I don’t see the point in waiting for the weekends to steal precious moments; I would rather infuse a bit of the weekend into everyday life, even if that means I don’t take as many days off.

You’ll migrate like a bird

When the weather gets too cold, you’ll travel south. When it picks up again, you’ll head north. If it’s too crowded, you’ll jet to the outskirts of town to be alone in nature. When it gets too lonely, you’ll head back towards people. Lather, rinse, repeat.

When strangers complain about the weather where they live, you’ll question why they stay. You’ll then remember how long you stayed—and be grateful that you had the chance to leave.

You’ll struggle to explain your life

Friends will often ask you if you’ve “made it” somewhere. Sometimes, you’ll answer with a simple yes or no. Other times, you’ll enter into an existential dialogue and posit an alternate perspective. Perhaps, as a nomad, there is no departure—and there is no arrival. It’s a lifestyle of continuous travel.

Your conversations might start to sound like this:

“Hey, where are you?”
“I’m in Texas.”
“Oh, I thought you were going to Florida.”
“I am.”
“When?” 
“I don’t know.”
“So you’re staying in Texas?” 
“For now.”
“How long are you going to be there?”
“It’s hard to say.”
“Where are you staying?”
“I don’t know.”
“Okay then.”

With a traditional lifestyle, we’re taught a Start/End paradigm. The vacation starts on “X” day, the vacation ends on “X” day. You will work for this many years. You will retire at this age. It is clearly defined. Some people prefer it that way.

But being a digital nomad means you’re okay with ambiguity. A linear model no longer feels relevant—it’ll start when it starts, and it’ll end when it ends. “Soon” takes on a new meaning. 

In my experience, that is stressful and confusing for some to understand. I notice that folks often worry about my plans on my behalf, not realizing that it’s the not knowing that allows for raw growth and opportunity. In that case, a simple “yes, I made it” will suffice.

You’ll be stretched beyond limits

Let’s say you only have a few hundred dollars left for gas and food. You don’t get paid for two weeks. Suddenly, your car needs a major repair and you’re in the middle of nowhere. (Your car is also your home, by the way). What do you do?

One time, during a particularly bleak financial period, I faced this exact scenario. I went into shock, had a good cry slash panic attack, then did what had to be done. 

I spent the last of my funds on repairs and sold my phone for food money. When that ran out, I fasted for three days, ate a little bit of food, then fasted for another seven days while I waited to get paid again.

A few weeks later, still stuck in the middle of nowhere, I was two sizes smaller, my productivity soared, and my sleep improved tenfold. I never got headaches or terrible hunger. I barely noticed I was fasting. I still can’t explain how, but it just wasn’t a big deal. It reminded me of a quote I came across in the book of John once: “I have food that you know nothing about.” Time and time again, I’ve witnessed that much to be true.

Human beings can survive on far less than we realize. For those of us who are fortunate enough to be born and bred into a society of excess, I’m convinced it’s mostly a mental game and you’re free to opt out at any time. Life on the road teaches you just how little you need in order to be happy.

So what if you run out of battery on your phone? WiFi? Clean clothes? Water? Gas? Savings? What if you get lost? What if you lose your wallet? What if you accidentally end up in a sketchy part of town? What if your car breaks down on the side of the road?

Then you’ll survive and live to tell a great tale. Your failures will be way less dramatic than you think they’re going to be. It will be tough, to be sure, but you will get through it, just like you’ve gotten through 100% of your worst days so far. These things have a way of working out.

You’ll change what ‘home’ means

People always ask me where home is. I no longer know what to say.

I hail from California, but I left for many reasons. On tough days, when I think to myself, “I just want to go home,” I realize that I’m referring more to a feeling than a place anyway. So home becomes…this article. This park bench. This rest stop on the side of the road. This laptop. This book. This car. This adorable pair of dogs with me every step of the way.

There’s a memorable scene in Titanic when Jack Dawson, a nomad, is trying to explain this same concept to members of high society. “Right now, my address is the RMS Titanic. After that, I’m on God’s good humor,” he says. “I got everything I need right here with me. I got air in my lungs and a few blank sheets of paper. Just the other night I was sleeping under a bridge and now here I am on the grandest ship in the world having champagne with you fine people. I figure life’s a gift and I don’t intend on wasting it.”

You have to admit, the kid had a point. Being a digital nomad means this town—and every town—is a little bit of home. This day is home. This moment is home.

Tomorrow? Well, we’ll just worry about that when we get there.

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