Lessons learned from 12 months as a Digital Nomad — can anyone do it?
One year ago this month, we handed the keys over for the apartment we’d just sold, put the last of our belongings into long term storage, and packed up our rucksacks and suitcase and headed for the airport.
(The suitcase was mine in case you were wondering.)
In the past 12 months, we’ve visited 10 countries, and we’ve taken all modes of transport known to man. Some visits were long term stays where we rented an apartment. Some were short visits, staying in an Airbnb. Some were a walk over the border and back. Literally.
What did we learn? And can anyone do it?
To give the full picture, we need to start a bit further back, so bear with me.
Bear with me through the cliche, of reading Tim Ferriss’ 4 Hour Work Week to and from work on the painful commutes, reading it last thing at night before we hit the pillow, exhausted — but more tired at the thought that we would have to wake up and do it all again tomorrow.
It was a fairly slow, 308 page realisation that maybe we weren’t actually consigned to full time jobs in corporate for the rest of our lives.
That we could take our time and our income into our own hands and be masters of our own destiny.
That we could do things our own way. (Maybe.)
I’m blessed that my partner and I are on the same wave length.
A lot of my friends and family aren’t. We hold different visions. And that’s ok.
But it’s going to present challenges.
So a million degrees of resiliency, self belief and self regulation are an absolute requirement. Which, by the way, knocks out a large portion of the population who prefer to play it safe, who don’t believe in themselves and they disguise it as not believing in you, and they won’t thank you for making that blindingly obvious.
Bu let’s not focus on the doubters. We had a lot to celebrate — we had started the digital journey. Our businesses were online.
And by this point, we’d also sold our house — so it was a case of walking out and not looking back.
Time to get to grips with being a nomad.
According to Wikipedia — these guys are workers who “often work remotely from foreign countries, coffee shops, public libraries, co-working spaces, or recreational vehicles.”
But not what we did.
In the first few months, we spent time in a co working co-living house. This was a great place to meet people and connect, to get some deep work done, have fun, and also waste a morning chasing down the person who stole my almond milk. I never found them.
We hired cars, went for road trips, hiked in the mountains and swam in various seas. We stayed in Airbnbs, hostels, hotels, apartments, homeswaps, home stays and farm stays. Fun.
But fun doesn’t necessarily make for a good business plan.
Here’s the problem that I ran into over and over again — I wanted it all — fun and freedom.
I didn’t want to compromise. Working hard wasn’t that fun, but freedom meant I needed to be in control of my own schedule, no one dictating my hours or my workload.
Freedom meant having my own business.
Working for yourself requires discipline, dedication, honesty, and courage. It takes time and commitment. It requires a vision that is rock solid, that you can cling to in the dark hours of the night when you’re in deep panic about whether or not this was a good decision.
So that wipes out another portion of the population who don’t yet have the courage to face their fears, or the discipline to manage their time.
Of course, these are skills that can be learned.
But perhaps not something to learn while you are chasing the Instagram dream — simultaneously navigating full time travel, encountering health issues in foreign countries, tech failures, visas, language barriers, finding accommodation, meeting people, being sociable, networking, finding clients, business building, admin, sales.
And of course also doing the ONE thing that you wanted to do that you gave everything else up for…
Many nomads that I met either had businesses already established, or were working remote jobs. Some were on glorified, extended gap years.
My advice to anyone is —
If you want a holiday, go on holiday.
If you can work remotely, do it. Your time off will be an adventure and your experiences will be with you for life.
If you’re starting a business, commit to it. Sacrifices are par for the course.
If you want freedom, create it in your mind first. Otherwise — you risk getting stuck in your own dream.
It’s not all sunset hikes and cocktails by the pool.
It can be hard graft. It takes perseverance. And you have to be prepared for it. Make a plan, stick to it with white hot focus, get advice, get support, and be prepared for sacrifices.
My first year as a digital nomad was also my first year in business.
It was tough. There were so many times when I wanted to give up, and very nearly did — but that isn’t what will see you through to success. Creating and building a business on the road was definitely a challenge, but I’m grateful for the experiences and the memories I have now. On the other side of this, going into Year 2 with some lessons learnt, I’m grateful I kept going.
ALWAYS remember why you’re doing what you do, and keep at it, persevere. Be resilient. There’s fun to be had on the way, but if you put the work in now, there’s a whole lot more fun to come.
And if you don’t have grit or aren’t prepared to learn it, then no. Being a self employed digital nomad isn’t for you.