Most people can understand what it means to ‘work at home’, but when you start talking about getting rid of your house/apartment, downsizing your possessions, and moving to different locations whilst still managing to score a biweekly paycheck, it can quickly appear to be a very strange ruse. Seriously, people who don’t understand the digital nomad lifestyle tend to get very suspicious very fast.
That said, we’ve gotten pretty good at explaining the ins and outs of our work, lifestyle choices, and overall motivation to travel without sounding too defensive.
So, first things first…
Digital Nomad (n.) – Someone who uses technology to work from any coffee shop, AirBnb, hotel, coworking space, or beach in the world. Generally speaking, digital nomads don’t have a ‘home base’ and tend to move between living situations as they see fit.
What do you do with all your stuff?
We’ve been slowly working to reduce our possessions down to the bare essentials since repatriating from Asia back to the States in 2015. When you have to move, it definitely gives you a good reason to see what you have to “deal with”. Of course, it took some inspiration to get us through the first round of purging unscathed. Luckily, Leo Baubata from Zen Habits has a great post that helped us get started.
So moving a total of 4 times, both together and separately, over the short span of 5 years has taught us plenty about what it means to ‘want’ something versus what it means to truly ‘need’ something.
Spoiler alert: We didn’t end up needing a whole lot!
What do you do about insurance?
Insurance is a tough topic especially today in the US. Here’s what’s worked best for us thus far…
- Traveler’s Insurance: We make sure that at least one of us is covered under a traveler’s insurance plan at any given time, even if we are just traveling domestically. We use Allianz but its competitors seem to offer similar levels of coverage at competitive rates. At the end of the day, the cost is pretty minimal– it’s one of those “the cost of a cup of coffee” expenses that has given us plenty of peace of mind.
- Health Insurance: Not going to lie, health insurance is a whole lot trickier. At the moment, the American healthcare system is simply not set up for folks to buy into individual PPO plans, which can leave a digital nomad in a bit of quandary. Obviously, HMOs aren’t helpful to people who are never at home– i.e. within their healthcare network– so it takes a bit of creativity to secure comprehensive coverage. Luckily, one of us was able to extend an existing plan through COBRA after leaving a job, which was pricey, but ultimately essential choice. The other ended up purchasing a health plan geared towards expats through Blue Cross Blue Shield called GeoBlue.
Where do you stay?
For our first 1-2 years, we are spending the majority of our time in the US and Canada, a decision that was rooted in our desire to explore North America after spending so much time abroad.
In terms of sleeping, our van functions as a great place to stay for a night or two of camping on the weekends. Otherwise, we have been able to spend some time with friends and family in a number of states along the way. The rest of our time has been spent at some great AirBnB’s and hotels by way of making effective use of hotel reward stays.
When are you going to get a real job?
Excuse us for sounding like a pair of first-year art students, but “What is a ‘real job’, anyway?” We get paid to follow our interests as we travel, and through this, we’ve both come to the conclusion that remote work is the way to go. Not only do we feel more productive working in this capacity, it’s hard to deny that remote work is the future. Both of us hold contracts with various companies, both big and small, that have placed their livelihoods in the concept, with much success. So, to answer your question: We will never get ‘real jobs’, thankyouverymuch.
Doesn’t traveling all of the time cost a fortune?
It sure seems like it at first. But, when you crunch the numbers and come up with a plan, you can minimize expenses enough to travel and work on a budget that should be lower than your expenses are right now. Of course, it takes sacrifice and a sincere love of travel to become a digital nomad, but we can honestly say that, for us, not much is missed in the way of material possessions.
We cover our base costs and get to travel the world, which is good enough for us. Sure, the idea of blowing 100 bucks on a night out may be tempting every once in awhile, but not enough to endanger the life we’ve worked so hard to build. Can you dig it?
How do you get stuff?
At times it can be a challenge, but we have been very happy with our domicile address — a service that sends us our paper mail once a month. As far as packages go, we always either have them sent to the next family member or friend that we are planning to visit, or if we need something sooner, we’ll pick up our item at an Amazon Locker. Obviously, in this day in age, we are never really ‘missing’ anything!
Why did you decide to become a digital nomad?
Here’s the fluffy answer: Freedom and living in the present moment. Being able to change consistently is the key to living a full life, regardless of where you live and what you do.
Here’s the practical answer: Seeing new places, towns, and people adds so much to what we do. We want to not just see the world, but live in the world the best we can before we settle down.
Another piece to the puzzle, which is both fluffy and practical, is that the two of us, speaking both individually and together, were ready for radical career changes which didn’t involve walking into an office at 9 am every morning. When the plan was first devised, so much of the momentum that kept it alive had to do with the desire to force ourselves to try something new. It was a bit of a “jump into the deep end” sort of approach, but it’s an inclination that we are so, so happy we followed.
How do you work?
In terms of location: Coffee shops, AirBnbs, guest rooms in the homes of our generous friends and family members, our van, coworking spaces, and finally, the beach. Yep, we’ve gotten our laptops sandy once or twice.
Hours: When traveling, we’ve found that it’s really, really hard to get more than 40 hours of work done per week. If we are touring a city, we try to keep it down to 30. When we are ‘planted’, we try to up to 50 or 60 in order to catch up.
Focus: This a tough one. Both of us experience bursts of productivity and both of us experience times when we’ve ‘lost our groove’, so to speak. We’ve found that this generally comes in waves throughout the day, which is why we try not to follow too rigid of a schedule. Sometimes we’ll get up and work from 9-5, other times we’ll work from 3-11, but most of the time we’ll do something like, 8-1 and 7-10.
Isn’t full-time travel lonely?
Yes, it can be. Even though we have each other, the digital nomad experience has given us a greater appreciation of that Bob Seger song “Turn the Page,” if you know what we mean.
Just the same, we’re constantly reminding ourselves to reach out to friends and family along the way, even if we’ve never technically met the people before. Dropping a line to people you barely know may seem weird– and believe us, it is at first– but the payoff is worth a couple of moments of initial awkwardness.
Hey–doing so lead us to bonding over lobster with an 80-year-old long-lost great aunt and uncle in a beautiful home in Cape Elizabeth, Maine…but that’s a story for a different time…
Aren’t you sick of not having x,y,z (a home, a closet full of clothes, etc.)?
Sometimes! Just like anything in life, there are drawbacks and there are advantages. It’s really nice to have a home base and somewhere to work and focus–and it certainly makes things more convenient to have your life centered in a single place. But, by downsizing and setting ourselves up to be completely remote, we quickly came to the conclusion that we can still eventually settle somewhere if we choose to work and live as we like. And that is something we would never have developed if we stayed in one place. So, simply put, ‘yes’ and ‘no’.
But mostly ‘no’.
Do you have any questions about our travel style that we failed to answer? If so, feel free to ask yours in the comments section below!