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This is a guest post by our friend Michelle Chang from Intentional Travelers. Michelle and her husband, Jedd, are two of our favorite nomads. In the past two years of knowing the Chang’s, Heath and I have learned so much about full-time travel, how to travel abroad, and why we should keep traveling before settling down in one place. Jedd and Michelle are currently doing a tour of Asia, including Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, and Japan. #goals Enjoy!
I first stumbled upon the relatively new concept of being “digital nomads” by reading blogs when we were Peace Corps Volunteers. I was instantly fascinated. After we completed our volunteer service, we spent the remaining months of 2014 testing out the digital nomad lifestyle for ourselves.
Eventually, we deemed that initial experiment a success. Today, the term “digital nomad” helps describe this unconventional life of ours.
Definition: A Digital Nomad uses online (or “digital”) tools to work from wherever they choose. This kind of work has also been referred to as “location independent.”
Why You Shouldn’t Live in One Place
The location independent lifestyle is still relatively unconventional these days. “Snowbirds,” who spend their summers in one place and their winters in another, are veterans of the multi-location life. But agreeable climates just scratch the surface of the reasons why more people are giving up the single-location residence.
There are many different breeds of the modern nomad and each comes with its roses and thorns. For us personally, these are some of the benefits that make Digital Nomadism so great:
1. Freedom and Flexibility
This is the big one for us. When you go nomadic – digital or otherwise – you take a big step toward living life on your own terms. We now have the freedom to determine our own daily schedule, allowing us to prioritize exercise, home-cooked meals, and time to be spontaneous. We’re also the primary authors of our annual schedule, with the flexibility to attend family gatherings, visit friends, or be available to help anyone anywhere in the world without having to request “vacation time.”
Here are some of the things our flexibility has allowed us to do so far:
- Attend a cousin’s wedding in France
- Stay with a Great Aunt in Florida to help her move after her husband passed
- Help Jedd’s parents prep for a big move abroad
- Work on awesome projects like World Domination Summit and starting a new college
- Return to our Peace Corps host country to visit friends and former co-workers
- Take two different month-long road trips through the National Parks
- Visit friends or family in Denmark, Vietnam, The Netherlands, Ecuador, Japan, and France
2. Save money
The concept of saving money as a nomad may surprise you because people tend to equate travel with vacation (i.e. not working). But when we say that we travel or live in different places, it really looks different than the typical travel most folks are used to.
Whether we’re living abroad or in Oregon, our schedules are often pretty similar – only the scenery changes. We exercise in the morning, work for a few hours, eat, go for a walk or see something new, work for a few more hours, eat, sleep, rinse, repeat. Our “weekends” happen whichever days we want them to. We don’t have to pack all our sight-seeing into one week because we can stay put for longer periods of time.
Additionally, because we don’t have a permanent dwelling, we have fewer bills. For our first year and a half as digital nomads, we actually didn’t pay rent at all. This, combined with our travel hacking hobby allowed us to visit five countries and ten States that first year while technically living at the “poverty line.”
How do we keep our expenses low? We do a lot of house-sitting, help exchanges, or stay with family and friends. We have less need for material things since we can’t take much along with us. As our income grows, we have more money to spend on experiences (rather than stuff).
We especially enjoy the ability to save money by living in places with a lower cost of living. Renting an Airbnb apartment for a month in Ecuador or Thailand is about 1/3 the cost of rent in our home town in the States. Food is much cheaper as well. In Ecuador, we ate out for lunch every day because we could get three course meals for $2.50!
3. Keep it simple
As I mentioned, the nomadic life means there’s less opportunity to accumulate and get bogged down by tons of extra “stuff.” For us, this simplicity feels liberating. There is less to take care of. Also, because we work online, we get to avoid the hassle of commuting to work (or having to wear stuffy work clothes!).
4. Explore and grow
Life in one place is comforting and stable, but it can also get stale. The location-independent life allows you to experiencing many new places. Not only does this variety keep life interesting, it also keeps your mind fresh and open.
We are learning new things every day, through the wide variety of work projects we do, to the new cultures and customs we encounter.
One #hiddengem in our #peacecorps host #community = #Bluefields, a beautiful but rugged coastal community just a fifteen minute bus ride away. Tourists are very rare, but Jamaican senior citizens get their exercise there in the mornings, and local families hang out at the beach on the weekends. #baphotochallenge #hiddengem #offthebeatenpath #Jamaica #ocean #islandlife
5. New Connections
In our first year as digital nomads, we went to 10 states and 4 countries. In almost every one of those places, we were visiting family or friends. Although we no longer interact consistently with our community back in Oregon, we’ve been able to reconnect with so many other people that we otherwise wouldn’t have visited. It’s a different way to do relationships. While giving up a stable community is certainly a sacrifice, the trade off is also worthwhile – at least for now.
For example: being able to see how our friends in Vietnam live, with our own eyes, has been priceless. Living every-day life alongside them for two weeks, we got a deeper understanding of their experience. Sharing lunches with their Vietnamese co-workers are memories we will treasure forever. And we can’t even count all the fellow travelers we’ve met, each with their own fascinating stories.
Choose Your Lifestyle Intentionally
So often we make life choices based on what’s “normal,” what we feel is expected of us, what we see others do, or what we’re in the habit of doing. We usually don’t think twice about these choices because we’re not in tune with the fact that another way is possible, perhaps even better.
The problem with doing things the normal, conventional, expected way is that it’s not always what’s best for you. I would never say that being nomadic is best for everyone. It’s not. But because my husband and I value time, flexibility, freedom, and travel over comfort, stability, and accumulating stuff, it’s been the right choice for us.