What I’ve learned in a year as a digital nomad

I’ve spent my entire adult life moving every few years, often from country to country. The longest time I’ve lived in one place since I was 17 was four years, and I was long past my sell-by date by the time I left. In 2014 I decided to take the plunge and become fully nomadic, which means that I no longer have a base or establish a regular household when I move. I am staying a few months at a time in different countries, a decision that is driven first by choice, second by practicalities (the limits for staying in countries as a tourist are generally 60-90 days).

In many ways, it’s like living a giant experiment. I am still discovering what works best for me, what I need to avoid, and what I still need to figure out. It’s been a fascinating process, because as the saying goes, “wherever you go, there you are.” The self-analysis part of the process is not something I foresaw being so central, but I have welcomed the push from the universe to make progress on figuring some things out. It’s certainly not always easy to go through processes like this, but the payoff is always worth it.

Here are some of most important personal realizations and observations from my first twelve months on the go:

  1. Technology is both wonderful and horrible. Don’t get me wrong – I am grateful for all that the cyberworld has to offer, and my current lifestyle certainly would not be possible without the Internet and my numerous gadgets. That being said, it’s hard to avoid becoming a complete slave to things that plug in. I would like to be better about scheduling complete cyber-breaks, even if they are just for half a day at a time. It’s important for my brain cells, my sanity, and my eyesight (which is rapidly deteriorating, I’m afraid).
  2. There’s no such thing as a right way. I generally prefer to follow my own path in life and have never considered myself much of a “follower.” However, it’s easy to start feeling like even unconventional lifestyles have certain rules that one should adhere to. Part of that might come from following the many bloggers out there who are (either explicitly or implicitly) promoting whatever decisions they are making for themselves as models. It’s important to draw inspiration and ideas from them, but then to remember that they’re not me.
  3. People add value to the equation, but it takes effort. Some places have many pre-made outlets for meeting up with likeminded or interesting people; others need more work. Many people think that the key is to be outgoing or extroverted, but I’ve found that it’s just as important to figure out what you’re looking for. We all belong to tribes that relate to different parts of our lives, and having a better sense of what those tribes are makes finding other members easier. But you do then have to put yourself out there.
  4. The things you like to do are the things you like to do – and you should do them no matter where you are. Yes, it’s important to take advantage of special opportunities that exist in a given location or set-up, but you also have to be true to yourself. Some days I need to lose myself in a book or indulge in an afternoon movie, which is just fine to do even if I’m in some exotic location. An adjustment I need to make is more gym and yoga time: these are things that have long been important components in my life, and I haven’t been giving them the attention they need. I miss them and need to re-assign them a higher priority.
  5. Don’t manufacture stress for yourself. Sometimes I think that stress has become such a big part of our lives that we are uncomfortable when it’s missing. I have found it incredibly easy to let stress creep in, even in relation to things that are totally within my control (such as my next destination). When that happens, I’m learning to try to figure out where the feeling is coming from so I can avoid putting myself in a similar situation in the future. I’m also trying to remind myself that flexibility and a positive attitude create an almost infinite number of B plans. If going here doesn’t work out, I’ll just go there. It’s all good, as they say.

And so the experiment continues. I am grateful for a truly magical first year and look forward to the adventures and lessons that will accompany the months and countries to come!

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From where I stand.