Making Nomadic Life Work
Unless this is your first day on the internet, you've probably seen a blog post about a young nomad traveling the world in blissful perpetuity whilst working from their laptop. These stories are everywhere. There's a catchy headline outlining eight steps the author took to break away from life in the office. Nine times out of ten the accompanying image features them sitting on some exotic beach, tapping away on their keyboard. They've seen forty 48 countries already and just turned 24.
You click. You have to click.
By the time you're done reading there are butterflies in your stomach. You're ready to quit your job and become a full-time travel blogger. You'll start in Thailand, then head to Bali, then hop a plane to Budapest and a train to Prague before making it to Munich for Oktoberfest. A foolproof plan. Time to get started.
But here's one massively important piece of information that's omitted from almost every one of those articles. The grind.
The grind is how the author got to that exotic beach. The grind is months of floundering in doubt and a to-do list that grows and grows. The grind is constantly planning your next move. The grind is adjusting to your life and work being one in the same, even if you are seeing the world.
Now, I don't want to dampen your enthusiasm. Traversing the globe permanently is the pipe dream of a good portion of the population. Most retirement accounts end up funding trips like this when they and their owners reach full maturity. If you really want it, stop dreaming and make it happen. Just consider some friendly advice before you set forth.
How they do it
There are many different ways to fund the journey. True thrill seekers pick up temporary gigs, hopping from country to country without much of a set itinerary. These individuals are living on the edge of their seat and not in front of a laptop. Serious props to them, but we're not all 24 and single. Some people have structured, remotely located jobs. They follow a weekly schedule, tethered ever-so-delicately to the corporate world from their keyboard. Others work and manage their own schedules, either by contracting for someone else or owning their own company.
The purists, though, are the travel bloggers. They make the journey their job and write about travel full-time to generate income through ad revenue and self-promotion. There may be are a few purists you’ve heard about from television or podcasts. These people started making their new living from a blog, each with their own spin on the experience.
If you're sitting in a cubicle dreaming of being a nomad, just know you'll likely be working harder than you are now once you venture out to travel. You’ll first need to find a way to get mobile, either by saving cash or landing a flexible remote job. Our resources page is a great place to start scheming your first step.
The point is, not all digital nomads and globe-trotters are created equal. They all share a couple common traits, though— the all-consuming obsession for exploration and a drive to work their asses off to see the world.
It’s true that jobs for digital nomads inherently offer more flexibility. It's also true that there is extra effort required to succeed in light of the continued uncertainty of their circumstances. Whether the nomad owns their own company or teaches English in southeast Asia, each demand significant investments of time and energy both in and outside of work hours. Even the travel bloggers, unless their income stream has graduated from active to passive, are working around the clock to stay a step ahead in a very competitive industry.
The most successful digital nomads are the ones who can stay focused when literally everything around them is new and exciting all the time.
Avoiding Travel FOMO
My wife and I have already run into this distraction. We call it travel FOMO. Keeping your eyes fixated on your laptop is more difficult than you may imagine. You’re probably thinking you’ll be able to handle it when you venture out, but so did I.
For instance, my wife and daughter would run off to a museum or a new Piazza in Florence for the day while I sat in our Airbnb. I drove myself crazy thinking about what I was missing, especially when the Snapchats and Instagram posts started rolling in.
A couple instances at the beginning of our new nomadic life, I decided to go out with them and search for a coffee shop to work in for the day. The plan was to stretch lunch a little longer than normal and see at least a few sights. Bad idea. The time lost scampering between cafes with bad wifi, no outlets, or no AC wasn’t worth the stress of the 45-minute vacation. I still missed out on most of the sightseeing and subsequently had to stay up until 2 AM making up work.
No matter how hard the travel FOMO hits, I have to sit in front of my laptop and kick ass at my job. It will always be the right decision. I still have the weekend and plan my days off, like I would with traditional employment, but now I’m already located where I want to vacation. Resisting the travel FOMO is worth it, even if I miss half the sights. Seeing some of Italy is better than seeing none of Italy.
After a while, the work-life balance becomes easier to manage. One thing you can’t control, though, is what others think of your choices. Some tend to judge digital nomads as lazy or think they’re escaping the “work first” mentality, but that’s a total fallacy. What we’re doing is living for a different purpose and a new life outside of work, but still using the same skills as before to fund it all.
Work to live
Taking control over my work and personal lives is a liberating experience. Not only is being a nomad freeing, but it grounds you as well. Financially, you can allocate money towards new goals of your choosing, not those chosen for you. You don’t feel pressured to purchase items you don’t really need in order to fill up a house you likely can’t afford anyway. But I digress. Back to work.
This lifestyle changes your priorities. It makes you work harder and smarter. You’ll quickly learn you can find that work-life balance most companies falsely promote in their job descriptions.
On the flip side, that traditional job you already have can be rewarding, so long as you have the right mindset. Love what you do and do what you love, right? Well, not everyone loves what they currently do and most can’t switch jobs in a heartbeat. What you can do is change your mindset, change your surroundings, or both.
You can’t have the right attitude about work if there is no escape outside of it. Life beyond work must be a positive experience, not merely an existence that perpetuates unhappiness felt in the workplace. I’ve had the same job before and after the jump. I can safely say I enjoy it more now because life outside of work is more fulfilling.
You’re probably reading this thinking “This is all well and good, but I need more money to do this.”
Time really does equal money
But time is money, right? It is, and that is an absolute truth. I’ve underestimated that cliche. When we began our journey, my solution to the money problem was to find extra work to fund our weekend excursions. The more time I invested, the more money I made. Simple. That was the plan, at least.
During our transition period, I hastily learned an important lesson when I lost out on a side gig. I didn’t manage my hours correctly, and I had unrealistic expectations. It was a tough pill to swallow at that moment, but it taught me another important lesson. Life is not all about the money. It’s about the time.
I wanted to wrangle in that side work so we could get more out of this nomadic experience, among other reasons. But I quickly learned that taking on too much would compromise the entire reason we set out on this journey in the first place — more time to explore with my family. We want to enjoy ourselves and new places together. With a full-time job and multiple attempts to generate extra revenue, I had fewer breaks than I required. It started to cause some problems.
No one can enjoy themselves if their blood is boiling over from stress. I tried to hide or subdue it, but there were moments it reared its ugly head. Yep, I couldn't turn off my work. I was underwater, and it took serious soul-searching to come up for air. But that’s just it. Life is nothing if not a search for balance, and the allure of money can knock you off the trail quickly.
The trick is to find a balance between the money you need and the time you want for yourself. That old cliche is true but becomes distorted in the manner it’s commonly used. I’m now working to earn time, and money is just the means to that end. This life makes me rich, and not because my pay increased.
It takes a few weeks or even months of trial and error to achieve balance once you set forth on this kind of journey. You'll find your groove. Rest assured, the nomadic life will swiftly teach you how to ignore the noise around you and focus. Above all else, you have to keep you and yours happy and healthy.
Work with a purpose
This new existence brings new meaning and clarity to every aspect of my life. Despite the inherent flexibility of my job, I have more of a structured schedule now than ever before. My family is a tribe of weekend warriors, and we focus on our growth and self-improvement during the week. Yes, we work hard but we travel harder.
This new life has sparked many revelations. We’ve re-learned crucial life skills, including how to stay focused even when constant change surrounds us. It has also, ironically, grounded us. I’ve realized that the desire to pursue more money once consumed me, but this was also a fabrication of my surroundings.
We used to work to buy useless things and save for short escapes from the reality we lived in. Now we own nearly nothing of monetary value. Everything fits in our backpacks, and it’s all we need. My job pays for our life, our retirement fund, our daughter’s college fund, and our family adventures because we’ve simplified and focused. I don’t pay for things that I thought I once needed. Honestly, I was tricked into caring about those things anyway. Maybe if you think about it, you have been too.
Nomadic work life is hard, but it’s rewarding. Whether you really plan to find a job like mine and travel the world or not, the least you can do is figure out how to make your work life work. It’s never too late to start. Maybe one day I'll see you on an exotic beach somewhere, tapping away on your laptop.