Ten years ago I had a dream. I was sitting in a coffee shop at a startup meetup. My longtime friend Linda had asked me why I wanted to be a programmer. I told her simply: I wanted to be free. To see the world, to experience new things. To experience life fully while I could. I don’t really trust all that afterlife stuff — we only get one shot at this. This is your life, tick tick tick…
To stay in one town your whole life is the global equivalent of being a crazy cat lady. Those of us blessed to live in this age of miracles should leverage it as much as we can. It turns out I didn’t need to be a programmer to travel. I got lucky, as I love programming but I could have moved abroad nearly immediately — and I wish I had.
I’ve tried to help my friends move abroad but it’s just too scary. They worry financially, socially, physically. They want to move yet their mind is so clogged with fear they become paralyzed. Perhaps this happens to you?
If you yearn for adventure, for growth, or for freedom — Let me help you.
We’re gonna do this in baby steps.
The things you own, end up owning you.
I remember watching Fight Club, and while Tyler Durden was crazy he was also right. The things you own do end up owning you. And the debts you carry in order to own them are shackles around your feet and a noose around your neck. To be free, you have to at least stop making things worse. You need to cut your life down to a size where you own it instead of it owning you.
When I moved abroad I had sold a ton of stuff. I got everything down to 2 roller bags, a backpack, and my trusty guitar.
Turns out I still owned way too much. That bigger blue bag — it’s in storage in Hanoi, Vietnam. I don’t even remember what’s in it, but obviously it wasn’t that important since I haven’t looked inside in over 2 years.
Anything you don’t use at least once a month — get rid of it. That horde of old books, those shoes you spent a ton on but only wear once a year, that totally sweet jacket that just doesn’t quite work, that spare camera you got because you wanted to do photography “some day”, that…. you get the idea.
Ditch it. All of it. Sell it, trade it, or give it away. I gave away something like $200 in booze that I had stored for parties. I threw one last party and then at the end whatever was left went home with the guests. Somebody enjoyed some very nice whisky on the house. I sold my photography equipment and my deluxe sandman comics.
Downsize your living space.
One of the things I’ve observed is that if you move into a bigger space you suddenly need more things. An empty room feels weird, so we feel compelled to fill it. We buy furniture, maybe a lamp, oh and now we need something for the wall…
A bunch of my millenial brethren complain about rent these days, and they are right, but most of them also have huge apartments. Not huge by American standards, but huge by international standards. You really don’t need much space. And besides, aren’t you going out to cafes, or the library, or the park? Use those spaces instead. It will be a good habit — the public spaces outside the US are just amazing.
If you’ve made it this far, you’ve ditched your stuff and aren’t spending as much on rent. This is just a good idea in general, but now it’s time to put up or shut up.
Road trip time!
If you are thinking about being a digital nomad, you should get a taste of what that’s like. It’s a different thing than immigrating and living your old life but now in a different language. You need to get used to the rhythm of travel, living out of hotels and AirBnB, and working under insane circumstances.
I did this by taking a road trip on my Harley. For a month, I traveled from NC to San Francisco (a worthy post of it’s own). Living off the back of a bike will help you understand minimalism. It will also teach you if this is really the thing for you. If after a month you are exhausted and want to be done — don’t be a digital nomad. If you wish the trip never ended, you know your true calling.
I wasn’t on vacation. I worked the whole time, stealing wifi where I could and using my phone or a Verizon mifi where I couldn’t. I slept in hotels and would work during the day from their lobby and move on after the work day was over. That meant getting up at 8am, working till 5 in the hotel or Starbucks, and then riding for a few hours to the next town. Then I did it again, and again, and again.
You don’t have to ride a motorcycle. A car or van is just fine. Take the bus if you have to. But you need to keep on the road for a full month. How you feel at the end of the month will tell you all you need to know about the lifestyle.
Spread your wings and fly!
If you passed the road trip test, there’s one more thing to check. That’s culture shock. If you have a job where you can road trip for a month, you can probably do the same thing but from somewhere time-zone friendly, like Mexico or Brazil (for the USA). In Europe, you might try Russia or the nicer bits of Africa.
Try it for a month or two and check your energy level. Can you keep working and survive without the language? Do the local customs annoy you? Are you ok without your regular creature comforts? What about social isolation?
Being a digital nomad means you must get comfortable with all of that. You won’t always be comfortable. You won’t have all your favorite comforts and it is often socially isolating. It’s also magical.
What’s holding you back?
For most people it’s all the little things. Tiny chains add up and then you’re stuck.
Start by downsizing your life. It’s impossible (or expensive) to travel or move if you have too many things. Then you need to trial the lifestyle efficiently — and road trips are a great way to do that. Plus they are fun!
Let me know what is holding you back and I’ll try and help. Or join our new group, which exists for successful nomads to help others achieve the same.