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Ask HN: Did some of you try the digital nomad lifestyle and not like it?
151 points by maxencecornet on Aug 12, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 86 comments

I've done it from 2013-2016, on and off.

What many people do is travel then think "this is it, I want to do this forever", then travel, isolate themselves from their home communities, live in cheap places, make some money, share cocktail by the pool photos on Instagram with a hashtag #nomadlife and then get clinically depressed. Then they return to their home countries after 3 years, but they've lost touch with their old communities. And everything is expensive. And it's cold. Now they're worse off than before they left! That's not the way to go.

The issue is that most people present the digital nomad lifestyle it as a black and white thing. You're either a 9 to 5 wage slave who hasn't escaped the system yet, OR you're a "broken-free" digital nomad and then you have to give up your home life completely, keep moving around from place to place for years and it'll supposedly be awesome. I did it, and it was fun for about a year until it got VERY tiring.

It shouldn't be black and white. Digital nomad stuff should show us that we can have more freedom in terms of location. That means, deciding "I want to live/work in X for the next 3 months". And going for it. Then coming back home. If you live in a cold place, you might want to skip the winter altogether. If you have a particular hobby you'd like to immerse yourself in, move to the place in the world where you can do that (like tango in South America or learn about sushi in Japan) for a few weeks. Then go back.

The feeling of being in a strange place is amazing. New smells, tastes, people etc. That's why travel is so exhilarating. I've been from Asia through Europe through Latin America. It's completely changed my personality and perception of reality for good. But it doesn't mean we need to do it full-time.

Balance is still something that has to arrive in the digital nomad community (and I'm in it).

I moved back home and use it as a homebase to fly everywhere. I like that I have the freedom to take a taxi to the airport and be there in 10 minutes, board a plane with my laptop in a carry-on backpack and fly somewhere random, work from there and stay there until I get bored and fly back. That's extreme freedom and it means I still can have my home life and friends + have amazing travel experiences.


> I moved back home and use it as a homebase to fly everywhere. I like that I have the freedom to take a taxi to the airport and be there in 10 minutes, board a plane with my laptop in a carry-on backpack and fly somewhere random, work from there and stay there until I get bored and fly back. That's extreme freedom and it means I still can have my home life and friends + have amazing travel experiences.

That freedom is the holy grail, and I think has more to do with financial independence than anything. It's cheaper to be a full-time nomad because no rent, but money is worth trading for comfort. It all depends on individual preference. Confidence in your goals will bring you where you want to be!

You raise an important distinction between the different motivations of digital nomads. Personally, I'm currently traveling because it's cheaper than living in a major US city, and gives me a longer runway to work on projects. Eventually I hope to have a similar arrangement to the one Pieter is describing, with a home base and maximized travel ability.

Financial independence is the goal. Digital nomading can help get you there by extending your runway, and it can also be a benefit of the independence once you achieve it.

If you leave you can Airbnb your place and mitigate that (and even make a profit).

True, save the areas where legislation disallows. But this is a consideration when I purchase/rent a place now, so your point is definitely valid.

You're essentially still paying the rent/mortgage costs of having a fixed home + any travel expenses. I thought the advantage of the DN lifestyle was that you didn't have the costs of a fixed home and could funnel that towards seeing the world.

You can easily mitigate that by just Airbnb'ing your place out when you're not there.

Or just make enough money that you can afford to pay your mortgage and travel at the same time.

Depends on your income, like anything else. The idea of being a digital nomad means different things to different people.

> What many people do is [...]

You've provided no sources or anything

I didn't have a bad experience, but just got tired of it after a while. Here are a few reasons:

When you're an expat you meet a lot of people, but it's hard to form anything but superficial friendships because everyone is always on the move. You can always become friends with locals, but cultural/language differences get in the way.

While it may not seem like it now, your digital nomad life will eventually become predictable and ordinary just like life at home. Especially if you're working. Work is the same no matter where you are.

And the big one for me....it's hard or impossible to do a lot of things while you're nomadding. For example, growing a garden. Cooking barbecue. Fiddling with electronics. Playing in a band.

That said, there's no reason not to try it. Just don't assume it's a rest-of-your-life choice.

Completely agree. It was hard to have an extended relationship with anyone. It isn't like being at camp where you will see that person every day. If you aren't a place for an extended amount of time, it can be limited to hanging out only a handful of times.

I wouldn't say I got "tired of it", but when the time came to come home and I thought about it, I realized how exhausted I was. Even though we felt like we took it easy, it was physically & mentally draining. I think the excitement masked it, potentially artificially, where I just didn't know I was so exhausted, but was. I've tried to think of things which might have been impacted by that.

Yeah, I don't get why a lot of people are locked into a binary view point about it -- the beauty of this lifestyle is that you can just pick a spot and settle. I like to think of it as a walkabout to see more places before I decide where I want to settle.

I think when "digital nomad" is mentioned, readers' minds generally conjure up a person who never stays at a place longer than 3 months. There's a notion of constant movement.

On the other hand, "expats" are people who are relatively settled on year-long contracts with a rented flat.

I'm not agreeing with the binary, but there's a common image that comes to mind.

I'm sort of in it now. It is a struggle to find a good routine, but when you do -- oh boy do I love waking up at 5:00 am to do a morning 3-hour hike in the mountains, come back for a killer second breakfast and slam into code-mode with the energy of Zeus, then spending evenings either working if I want, or doing things in town, meeting friends, exploring, etc...

That said, it's the most trying exercise in discipline I've had. I DO NOT miss my core-work block, noon-6pm every day no matter my geography or Internet connection. I can backup repos to my laptop and work from a tree if I have to, but I don't not work. I even work on weekends, but it's usually catchup or personal projects (a bit less stressful).

I think it's overall rewarding, and allows me to slow down time by experiencing more new things.

> oh boy do I love waking up at 5:00 am to do a morning 3-hour hike in the mountains, come back for a killer second breakfast and slam into code-mode with the energy of Zeus

If you're by chance in SLC LMK b/c I'll be there tomorrow morning starting that routine!

Hey, I moved to SLC from CA last month and I'm pretty much doing this :) Although for me it's more work in the morning, and then run/climb/bike/hike in the afternoon. Do you mountain bike by any chance?

I'm about 450 mi due East of SLC! We've got both sides of the range covered!

How did you get into that sort of lifestyle exactly? Seems wonderful!

It's not easy. I've been freelancing off-and-on as a web developer/hired code-hand for almost three years now, with the express goal of becming location-independent.

I still have debt (student loans, but no CC), so I keep my lifestyle expenses as low as possible. Exercise, good food, and near obsessive focus on the things I care about -- tracking data, writing code and improving my overall skills.

It took me two years of living at my parent's house, and in apartments with too many roommates while working jobs that weren't directly related to my new career, but since Jan 2016 I've been 100% independent, working in Ruby and PHP, as well as doing some dev ops. Every day is an adventure!

My advice? Keep pushing forward, keep your head over your heart, and keep your good friends close. Don't be a hero! If you're working too many hours to stay afloat, you're not making enough money per hour. Simple algebra. Keep yourself at least 10-12 hours of "personal time" a day, for sleep, relaxation, time to enjoy your slow food.

If you have family or other "tie-downs" I can't really help. I'm a free-bird.

I just enjoy hearing that it is possible for this type of career. I just graduated in the spring and have been working full time writing C# (I enjoy it), but I wish I had time to work on my own things.

The daily routine of waking up, work, go home, sleep - gets dull after a few months.

Get a remote job and take the leap.. What else is holding you back?

Not all remote jobs will be open to you keeping constantly changing and non-standard hours, right? I think freelance and self-employment would be more suited to this lifestyle.

That still perplexes me about "remote jobs", some employers still expect everyone to work synchronously. That seems to miss the point of having distributed workers.

I've done a few stints of 3 months nonstop on the road, and when I had an employer we typically had weekly & monthly milestones, and no Skype meetings. Our communication was asynchronous (email back then). They'd often ask for smaller things 'ASAP', but as long as everyone understands that could take up to 24hrs, it works fine.

[I would lean towards freelance & self-employment when doing this, though. My income was supplemented by products I sold myself online too.]

The point for the employer is access to a much larger pool of potential hires. Lots of people don't want to commute or move for a job. It doesn't always make sense to require synchronous work, but I can understand why some employers want a virtual 9-5 presence, especially if there's already an established synchronous team.

Aha! The part about widening the pool of hires makes sense. I didn't really understand why employers would want remote workers but then not then allow flexible hours. I missed that being able to hire outside your local area is a big upgrade for some businesses.

> That seems to miss the point of having distributed workers

Not wasting 5-10 hours per week in rush hour traffic is a pretty big perk, even if the working hours are pretty much set.

I would think you are correct, but I suppose it depends on the arrangement as well.

I've done it for 4 years now.. and love it.. for the most part.

We (my wife and I) do it in an RV around the US and I know that a backpack lifestyle would not be for us. We have enough of a "normal" lifestyle with our own bed, a full kitchen, 9-5 hours.. that it works extremely well for us.

There are plenty of downsides. I miss having a large workspace to do hands on (non computer based) projects. Friends are harder to have. Weather sometimes is a pain. Connectivity. (Camped out at Starbucks at the moment since the Airstream in the parking lot was too hot today).

My wife does a blog: http://watsonswander.com

Have you looked into visiting a hackerspace for the DIY projects? Most have some kind of short-term membership for people in your situation.

I love the blog, I definitely day dream about doing this once the kids are grown and moved out on their own. I love the idea of a laptop and some LTE connections being all I really need.

I tried it for a few years, albeit on and off, working when travelling about 6 months of the year. It was my goal, I built my life around that. While travelling made me experience amazing places and moments, I never managed to be truly happy while on the road for a long time. It became blend after a while. I think the main reason was that I ended up being disconnected from the reality of the daily life people I met, and family and friends back home, were experiencing. Sure it is cool to have the freedom to be and go wherever you please and people envy your lifestyle. But you don't build or cultivate relationships with substance that way. Arrive somewhere, meet people, stay for a while and then move on to somewhere else; it becomes a routine after a while, somewhat similar to the routine you wanted to escape from in the first place. I also found it difficult to really focus on my work: why spend time on something you can do later on when you have an amazing place to discover! I think that maybe the digital nomad lifestyle is simply not enjoyable on the long term for most people. It was fun for me for a while and I grew out of it. I think I am happier now living in a place I like with people I love and with some kind of a work routine that helps me get things done. I still travel as often as I can but I do not work then and I feel like I enjoy the places I go even more!

I did it for 3 years and enjoyed every minute of it but it is difficult. When people discuss being a digial nomad its similar to how people discuss sailing... it is glorified even though it is hard, we just don't talk about the hard times.

My experience is my own and can't be applied directly depending on what you are doing / where you are going but my experienced is based on:

- Being from the US and traveling South America - Working full-time for a US based company (not a freelancer)

The hard parts for me were:

- Internet is significantly slower in a lot of locations which makes your job extremely difficult. Especially if you need to do voice/video. A digital nomad needs good / fast Internet.

- Culturally there is a lot of adaptation that you need to go through. Sometimes things are slower or more bureaucratic in other countries. Banking was a nightmare, had my card skimmed twice, and sometimes shipments/deliveries never arrived or got stuck in customs for months.

- A lot of entertainment in the USA (Hulu, Netflix, etc) are not available in other countries which means you need to VPN to the US when you could already be on slow Internet.

- Working from a laptop 100% of the time wasn't great on my wrists, posture, back, neck, etc. A properly ergonomic chair and keyboard with a monitor consistently at the correct height for your neck is a wonderful thing!

- Not having my stuff. No extra electronic equipment, tools, furniture, etc. When you are traveling a lot you need to be a minimalist which means no collection of books, soldering irons, etc. Which is fun for a few months but the 3rd time you have to repair the plumbing in your rental in Chile you wish you had all those tools you collected in the US :P

All that being said. I would recommend anyone do it if they have the chance. Being uncomfortable, exposed to other cultures, and just doing something out the ordinary is life changing and you become (hopefully) a better person from the experience.

> - Not having my stuff. No extra electronic equipment, tools, furniture, etc. When you are traveling a lot you need to be a minimalist which means no collection of books, soldering irons, etc. Which is fun for a few months but the 3rd time you have to repair the plumbing in your rental in Chile you wish you had all those tools you collected in the US :P

I've always wondered about that when people talk about "leaving it all behind". Parts of "it all" include the box of thumbtacks I bought when I was 17 and carted around til I was 26 and finally finished off the box, or the power drill my brother gave me, which I use frequently to improve my living space with hooks and shelving. Tools give me a sense of independence and control over my world, and I'm not sure the autonomy of being able to pick up and move every day replaces that.

There's always hackerspaces!

Let me give a different perspective.

I used this lifestyle to build a remote team up to 14.

I slipped into this accidentally because my startups customers were from asia. I got hooked on the travel quick and did it whenever I could.

I also speak at conferences which helped as well.

1. relationships. Focus on a few countries not all. Switch it up between them. Otherwise you have the shallow relationships problem.

2. Have a goal. In my case it was just building my startup via hiring and sales.

3. Experience and learn the local culture. It helped shape not only my business model but also my outlook on a few things. Also learn what the locals feel is bad. Don't just look for the good.

4. Know when it will end. I made that decision in early 2016 starting this early 2015.

This has caused me to love the lifestyle moving from sf to tokyo.

Nuances: I had customers. My company also has funding. The customers abroad came before the funding. We are an open source company so not all hires were from approaching people I met abroad but it got us a few.

Hope this helps!

I have also done it for about 3 and a half years now and for the most part I wouldn't change it for anything. It has taken me all through Europe, Asia, North America and Africa in that time. It allows me to see do and experience things that just weren't possible not that long ago. For example I am in Canada currently and am flying to Greece this weekend mostly just because. I will never get tired of that.

However, as some have mentioned there are some downsides that I find.

The two biggest ones for me that come to mind are while the lack of a routine seems amazing at first, it can seriously impact your productivity if you don't manage that properly and to me personally that is a constant and ongoing struggle.

With my girlfriend I have been lucky to build out a low to medium 6-figure consulting business in that time but my head sometimes hurts thinking of where things COULD be with more and better focus.

How much that impacts you (or how much that bothers you) is going to vary a lot between person to person. I consider it more of a personal fault than anything.

The other thing that has begun to bother me a little lately is all these hobbies you might want to do that aren't really possible.

To give you two examples last year while in New York, I took a course of woodworking, I absolutely loved it. However, when you pack up and move every 3 months you would never go out and spend money on buying equipment. I had another experience recently with guitar, I would love to learn it but to carry that around all the time is a huge pain that I just don't want to ever deal with.

At the end of the day, if it doesn't fit in a backpack, you can't really bring it with you. That can take some getting used to.

Have you got any points you'd like to share about your consulting success? Seems like many people who consult or do digital sales do through SEO - do you think there is much appetite in the SME space for CRO/analytics?

I just got back from 6 months traveling Europe and working. I traveled with my Wife and two small children. No regrets and now that we are back (for a while), I'm ready to do it all over again. No matter how many photos of friends/acquaintances who have done it and their always smiling photos - its still real life. Not every day is rainbows and butterflys.

Routine (as others have stated) in very important to define. If you are traveling with others, it needs to be expressed as soon as possible and if at all possible, define the items which might allow you the chance to break it. When traveling, so so so many opportunities will come up that will test your resolve to sticking to the routine.

Try staying places for longer stints. We averaged about 3 weeks at each place we stayed. This allowed us to stretch out the activities over time and not feel guilty about sticking to the routine or letting the kids just chill. It doesn't have to be 'go go go' all the time.

If you know where you are going to stay, spend some time figuring out where you are going to work before you get there. For me, it was hard to work at our flat/apt/house because the kids knew I was there and wanted to hang out with me because it was great having me around - compared to before we left having the normal 9-6 work schedule. It isn't always easy finding a place that has good internet, seating, and won't kick you out for hanging out all day on a couple cups of coffee. Coworking places are in most major cities, but hours can be limiting and they aren't always around the corner.

Sounds interesting! And kinda exhausting. How old are your kids?

They turned 4 & 2 while we were there.

I lived nomadishly for about a year in Europe, and while I didn't not like it exactly, the way I did it wasn't as fulfilling as I had hoped:

* I spent a lot of time moving from city to city. Eventually, I learned that staying put in the same place for a month or more was the best strategy — but this was hard to do with Schengen travel limitations (as an American citizen).

* Finding housing was sometimes a pain (and expensive). Hostels were definitely a no-go: too loud, no personal space, impossible to get work done. Hotels were too pricy. Owner-listed rooms on Airbnb worked pretty well overall, but finding ones that weren't exorbitantly expensive ($35 or less a day) and that were rented out by people in the ballpark of my age required hustle. Longer house shares (often students living in a large house with a spare room) were the best bet, but finding them involved a lot of last-minute e-mails, phone calls, and even in-person interviews. (All this would have been much easier with a traveling companion.)

* Speaking of getting work done, I basically couldn't figure out a way to be productive. Towards the second half of my travels, I discovered that I worked best if the room I was renting already had a desk, chair, and window, and sticking to that requirement helped quite a bit. But even then, the temptation to go out and explore was often too great. Before then, I tried cafes, libraries, and co-working spaces, all without much success. I think I really need a stable place to call "home" to be productive.

* As a life-long loner, travel made my social life a whole lot worse. I barely talked to anyone during my travels, and neither hostels nor bars were of much use. I didn't really mind most of the time, but the fact that my only fulfilling interactions were over the phone did start to weigh on me after a while. (I felt the most social when I was living in house-shares with students, but those were only conversations in passing.)

I'd definitely travel again — it was a fascinating experience in the end! — but this time I would probably commit to staying in a single city for several months. I'd also try to find a large house (10-50 people) inhabited by people who share my age and interests.

I tried it out for a while.

I found that I crave a routine. Each day I need to get up and start with the same process.

Often that's difficult, depending on just how nomadic you are, and how you run your day-to-day.

I found that I ended up "settling down" in a location and then not going out to experience it as much as I might have liked.

I did enjoy myself, though.

I've since bought a rural property and "settled down" a bit and I'm enjoying that, as well.

I think in the future, I want my travel to be non-working.

I also think I would enjoy being a digital nomad a lot more if I weren't working a standard 40-hour job.

> I found that I ended up "settling down" in a location and then not going out to experience it as much as I might have liked.

I have made it a point to do the opposite of this. When I lived in a house I would think nothing of just "chilling" after work.. most days. Now I'm somewhere new and different. And tell myself "when will I ever get back to this place?, better go explore it while you can".

I did the digital nomad thing for all of 2012, 2013, and 2015. It was a blast and I loved the people I met and the places I got to see. I stayed in one place for 12 months, and otherwise moved every 2 to 3 months once a visa ran out.

The thing you miss is friends and community when you are moving that much. But, you save a ton of money, especially if you stay outside the USA for 330 days out of 365. The tax savings basically paid for all my travel and housing :). For 2015 my wife and I were traveling, it is def hard on a spouse to be isolated esp when she wasn't doing online stuff. But still fun :)

I just bought a house and I am settling down, and it feels good to have an office. I hope to still do 1 to 3 months a year living somewhere else.

I've been doing it since 2011, and I learned since then that slow travel is better than constant moving. I actually don't refer to what I do as being a DN since to me it's just an overhyped term (I just say I work remotely).

The downside? As user tastyface said in the comments here, "As a life-long loner, travel made my social life a whole lot worse. I barely talked to anyone during my travels..."

It hasn't made my social life worse per se, as there were ups and downs even when I was living in one place in the US, but it's amazing how long one can go being invisible (the effect is probably made worse by already knowing how to speak the local language). In actuality, I would say the invisible factor has more to do with modern city-living than being a DN. If one just sticks to the minimum, like answering "do you want paper or plastic?", "would you like something to eat with your drink?", etc etc, then it's totally possible to be invisible, so to speak. After a few days of that, maximum one week, I'm itching to get in contact with my friends or do something social.

A slightly more concrete downside is making lasting friends, especially if you tend to go for expat circles. Everyone eventually moves on, despite the time and energy placed into making those friendships. As for local friends, no matter what city or country I'm in, I hear the same thing: it's hard to make real friendships with the locals. As a remote worker, I usually make a small number of real friends (expats who, as mentioned, eventually move on) and a healthy sized number of 'have a beer' friends (both expats and locals).

I am a US expat living in Asia for the past 7 years. Being a digital nomad from my home here is great. But I dread taking trips to hotels, or working in coffee shops, or perhaps the worst place ever -- on a beach in Koh Samet Thailand. The problem with all these places is that internet connections can be spotty (at home I have 300 MB up) and the surroundings are distracting (who wants to work on a beach in Thailand anyways?).

I left Seattle in 2009 and spent about two years in Brazil, two years in Thailand, then eventually ended up in Belize for somewhat random reasons and have stayed here for 4 years (if you are doing the arithmetic, there were a few long trips back to the states in between). It was very lonely for the first few months in Brazil, but fortunately I had an acquaintance there that made some introductions for me, and I still have a few great friends that I keep in touch with on skype. The entire time I was in Thailand was extremely isolating, and I had a really hard time getting work done for my US clients given the time difference. It was a very challenging time personally and socially, but definitely a formative experience that I wouldn't give up. By the time I left Thailand all I really wanted was a place to settle down. Belize has been great; lots of expats in the 20-40 age range, no language barrier, beautiful nature, close to the US (2 hour flight to Houston, ~$200 on southwest airlines). I ended up meeting my girlfriend here, who is from Houston and owns a hostel here. To be honest, if I had to move back to the states, I wouldn't be too upset about it. Lately I've really been wanting access to a maker space, networking with other technologists and tinkerers, and easy access to electronics, which are extremely expensive here because of import duties. In the end, it really comes down to "wherever you go, there you are." It's wonderful to broaden your horizons, but you won't leave your bad habits or mood disorders at home. And wherever you are, your experience will differ greatly based on the company you keep. I was miserably lonely the whole time I was traveling, and I've only really been happy since I met my girlfriend and we got an apartment together. I don't know if there's a point to the story, but that's life I guess. :)

I think there are only really two ways to be happy in this lifestyle unless you are one of those people that really doesn't need any social interaction: have a travel partner, or have a home base that you spend 6 months or so out of the year in.

I've been contracting for 5+ years with the last 2 years as a nomad. It sucks if you've committed to full-time-ish hours on a project or If you're actually employed full time. In these cases, I don't really do anything different despite city changes - get up, coffee/breakfast/emails in a cafe, work for the day in a co-working setting, dinner, maybe a drink, bed. Anything except this would result in a loss of productivity.

However, when I only have small contracts, I love combining the novelty of a new location with the freedom of working on side projects or researching something new. It's most definitely a desired creativity catalyst.

My wife and I, and our 3 yr old son, got rid of most of our possessions, stored the rest, and went of for a 6 month stint of the digital nomad life.

We both have location independent businesses, so we could have continued indefinitely. But nearing the 3 month mark (which was the longest we'd gone in the past), it started to wear on us.

Constant novelty can be just as destructive as constant monotony. You need a balance, and only you can find what that is for you and yours.

We don't regret the trip at all, though. It made us realize what we really missed (family, green spaces, people who loved our son, and wouldn't mind watching him ;). As a result, we ended up moving back to a suburb closer to family, instead of the decidedly cooler city, 2 hours away, we used to live in.

Quite a pendulum swing, from digital nomad to suburb life, but really, as long as we have each other, and love our work, location doesn't matter that much. Which means, in the end, that being free to move around indefinitely also means you are free to stay as long as you like in any one place.

I'm not necessarily a DN. I did travel with my family for 2 years by sea. We've covered over 8000 miles and now we're back on land. We saved enough to where we didn't need to work. And it was a good thing. Not being tied to anyone else's schedule meant we could stay or go when we were ready.

Europe and North Africa have very good internet. But internet in North Africa is heavily censored so just be smart about it. As we moved further down the Atlantic it got less reliable. And once we got to the Caribbean it was hit or miss. But by then we were seasoned sailors and were far less about the DN life.

By the end of May I tied up our boat and settled into south Florida. I will say the one downside about DN living is that when you are ready to settle in permanently employers assume your just doing this temporarily. I had to really press HR to get that feedback. Now I bring my apartment lease agreement to job interviews.

I tried a month in Thailand last year. I wouldn't say that I didn't like it, but there's just pros and cons to the different places you go, and a lack of a "home."

Getting out of my comfort zone was really inspiring and made the trip easily worth it. I did get the sense that it would get lonely. In that area of the world there are a lot of expats who are moving around a lot, so it would be hard to maintain deep relationships. If that's important to you, then that's an item in the "con" list.

"Wherever you go, there you are." Moving to another country isn't very likely to make you happier if you're just not happy with yourself.

The post on this thread highlighting the revelation that you're most happy working on something you enjoy is spot on. If you feel you're contributing and are in the flow state, it doesn't matter where you are.

I feel like I am idealizing the digital nomad lifestyle, but I'm pretty sure it's not adapted for everyone.

So instead of a positive experience like I can read everyay on medium, do you have a bad experience with digital nomad lifestyle ?

Thank you for the link !

I traveled full-time for four years in a motorhome, then mostly settled into Austin or about three years, and then hit the road again a year ago in an old Avion travel trailer. Though I'm going slower this time, with long stops along the way (been in Eugene, Oregon for about three months, and will likely stay through the summer before driving again; there's a great co-working space here, called Fertilab, that's super cheap and friendly, so it's a good place to get caught up on work and launch a new thing I've been working on).

My first batch of travels took me from coast-to-coast a couple of times, and from Alaska to Chiapas, Mexico, and almost everywhere in between. This round of travels has been slower and far less ambitious; just sort of rambling through the US, stopping in pretty places.

The reason I stopped wasn't the lifestyle itself, though it was related. I lost both my dad and my dog to cancer within days of each other. My dog was my best friend for 14 years, and she'd always been with me on the road, so it was hard to go back to traveling the same way without her, so I didn't.

For a while after that I just couldn't handle any additional stress, and traveling all the time does include some stress. Normally, I'm fine with it: Get great insurance, get roadside assistance, get great health insurance, tuck away a little savings for emergencies, and just let the world happen. But, because I had trouble working productively for a while, my savings got slimmer and my business suffered, so stress just sort of piled up. Staying in one place was the best I could manage.

But, after a couple of years in one place, I got itchy feet again. I definitely wanted to get back on the road. I never feel more alive than when I know I can stow my stuff and drive to another part of the world within hours.

There are negatives to this kind of life: Making lasting friendships when you travel is difficult. Romantic relationships tend to be shorter and less serious. It's probably more expensive than the blogs have led you to believe (I spend about as much on the road as I spent while renting half of a house in Austin; though, admittedly, I have mostly traveled in the US, which, obviously has a high cost of living compared to some of the exotic international destinations some digital nomads choose).

I recommend everyone that thinks, "I might like that", to try it. You'll never really know if it's for you, if you don't. But, then again, if you're needing affirmation from others before you even give it a try, it may not be for you. It's definitely not for everyone, but I'm likely to live the rest of my life traveling.

I did it briefly for 3-4 months in 2014, mostly out of necessty (stuff was happening and thank God I was working remotely at the time).

My two cents: don't do it with a small-screen laptop: my ThinkPad X220 had served me good for me until then, but it has been a huge PITA to work at places with a 12.5 HD (1376x768) screen.

I would happily do it again, but now I have a 15.6" FHD ThinkPad W530.

If anyone is reading: I'd like to learn devops and I'm fairly well versed with Linux, bash scripting and stuff. If you'd like to get an apprentice/intern or something, drop me a line.

I did it awhile ago and lived/worked in Costa Rica for 6 months. It was an awesome experience with tons of ups and downs. There was a lot of stress involved in making sure we had decent internet and were available for skype chats and such. That was probably exacerbated by the fact that me and my friend moved to Costa Rica and pretended we still lived in the U.S. to our company, but they eventually found out and didn't care.

By the end of the 6 months, I was really happy to be back in the U.S. but I wouldn't trade the experience for anything

I'm curious what the median age is for people seeking this lifestyle. It reminds me a lot of musician-friends I've had who in their early 20s were obsessed with busking across the world.

From my data, it's mostly 25 to 35. So they leave after graduating college and presumably come back after 35 to settle. That might change though as it's only been a decade that people have been doing this (and only a few years on massive scale).

I did it for 3 years or so right after college and had similar experiences to the folks on this thread. I surf so a huge motivation behind wanting to "live anywhere" was to chase epic surf. I look back on these times and feel like I really learned a lot about what's important to me in my life. During those times I was earning great money, developing my career, had very little living expenses, and got to surf whenever I pleased. All of those things are awesome and look great on paper but I also know that I have never felt so isolated and disconnected.

Others have mentioned this but building more than superficial relationships with people is hard. Finding a mate who can and is willing to live the lifestyle is challenging. Staying connected with friends and family is very difficult. All of those issues can be remedied and I know many folks who do so successfully but for me it makes more sense to have a home base and travel 3 months or so of the year. Knowing where "home" is helps keep me sane.

I do, however, think that this lifestyle is probably more feasible and easily attainable now. My experience comes in 2008-2011 when working on the internet was a very different task. Nowadays I see new co-living places pop up all over the globe that cater to the people trying to make nomad life work.

Travelled 6 months of last year. I was ready to come home at the end. I could see my friends moving on with life and I felt like mine was standing still.

This was partly because of not staying in one place for long enough to build meaningful relationships, and also because at my stage of life many significant things require money, and the lifestyle was a tremendous drain on finances. I was in front of my laptop < 3 hours / day on a good day, because honestly, who wants to concentrate when cool tourist things are outside your door?

Best places for focus were Marseille (very little else to do albeit unbearably hot in our un-airconditioned apartment), Wellington in New Zealand (a beautiful country but Wellington felt very familiar and stable), and Dublin (some interesting history but not the classic tourism experience ... weather condusive to being indoors).

Amsterdam, Geneva, Queenstown (NZ), Prague were all just too exciting and/or beautiful. Prague felt like it had the best chance of working out once the excitement of tourism was done: low-ish cost of living + decent Internet.

In a way, and just posted somewhat related: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12277689

I enjoyed it for a while (worked ~75%, traveled ~25%), never really did both together, but I don't know if it's going to work out so well in the end.

I did it for ~20 months, 2013-2015. I wandered about ~9-10 countries in Asia over that period. I mostly talk from the perspective of doing it internationally.

There are a lot of factors to go into to decide whether it's for you or not.

- The reasons why you do it: I am an Indian citizen, who cofounded a company in SF in 2012. I couldn't get a H1B visa (2 years in a row), so I worked on my company remotely until I could figure out an O1A visa. I did it because I can't get anything done at my parents' place in the Middle East, or with the shitty internet in India. I did it because it was the best among a few poor choices.

- What you hope to get out of it: I went in with few expectations, and so I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would. All I was looking for was good food and quality internet. I got a lot of cultural exposure, interesting people, and a realistic understanding of what's important in life. Don't expect much pleasure and excitement from it, and you will be amazed by what you can find.

- Your financials/work: I was making a below-poverty-line SF wage, but not living in SF. I had way more disposable income than I did living in the Bay. Traveling is suddenly way cheaper when you don't have to pay a home-rent, and you're making American wages in Asia. Never had to stress about money. Eating into savings to travel feels scary and makes you not want to leave your lodging. If you are a contractor/freelancer, this is way harder to do I believe, as you have to synchronize with people who don't know your lifestyle or work patterns well.

- Your citizenship: This makes a world of difference in how pleasant and stress-free the experience is. I had to spend multiple weeks in between every set of countries procuring visas from India to go to the places I wanted to go. I had to write off destinations just because of the hassle of getting visas and not because of time or money. If you're EU/UK/American/Australian/Singaporean/etc, you can enter most countries without ever needing to go home, allowing you to conveniently hop around at your leisure.

- Diet: If you have dietary restrictions, I would honestly think this shit is not worth it. Maybe I value food more than most people, but if it weren't for the varieties of interesting and new foods that I could eat without fear or care for the ingredients, my travels would have been so much more stressful and so much less interesting and fun.

- Base cultural flexibility: Have you lived in multiple cultures before? Know how to not lord your culture as superior over others? Can take time to understand the realities of another country before you pass judgment about their morals and values? This is for the sake of both you and whoever you meet along the way.

I could go on forever, but if you have specific questions feel free to contact me via info in my profile. Also have written some small essays here:


Edit: Forgot to add my conclusion that, while I was right that it was decidedly better than my alternatives at the time, I grew incredibly lonely, tired and frustrated with the limitations of the lifestyle, despite the freedoms it unlocked. I grew a TON over that time, but it wasn't free. I highly recommend trying it out if you have the opportunity, for a year at least when you do, not because it's pleasant but for the growth.

I'm planning on working remote from Jakarta for a year after working in for Boston about 7 months (which has been… meh).

A lot cheaper, a lot nicer (plus more space) apt/amenities at my doorstep (pool/gym/tennis courts/malls & stores if I feel consumerist) and cheaper travel in asia for my visa runs every 30 days if I don't want to bother for a longer visa. My gf and her fam are pretty cool, so I kinda have "home" life. Traffic is shit, but gojek and uber make it not matter much. I feel like I'm getting more for less compared to in Boston. Though use of decriminalized substances in Boston wont result in penalties like death, I think its a fair tradeoff.

This works for me more than trying to travel so much which just sounds tiring both mentally and physically.

The main problem (and the reason I mostly stopped) was diet.

I don't like ethnic food and it was ridiculously expensive and time consuming to eat at Western restaurants 3-4x a day (rarely had access to a kitchen). Ended up clinically underweight and moved back home.

You don't say what ethnic food but it's easy for me to believe this. I was in Japan recently. Personally I love the food there and am generally a very non-picky eater [1]. But a bunch of us were talking at dinner one night about how difficult Japan (and really Asia generally) would be for someone who wasn't OK with eating a lot of unfamiliar foods, prepared in unfamiliar ways, when they would frequently not even be terribly sure about what they were ordering or eating.

[1] Well, in many respects, but I am fussy about general quality as I perceive it. I just don't generally care what cuisine the quality cuisine is from.

I was the Chief Technology Evangelist for a company and traveled full time for about 300 days in 2013/2014, while it was a great deal of fun and I made some life long friends, the lack of consistency eventually drove me a little nuts.

Something similar. I'm on track to hit about 130 days on the road this year and I was something similar last year. Combination of work and vacation with the two mixed together somewhat.

On the one hand, I start to get antsy when I'm in one place for too long and really enjoy meeting new people and seeing new places. But it's a lot of days of living out of a suitcase. And one gets to miss seeing people and going to events at home--and just miss relaxing at home and having access to the activities there.

This isn't what most people really talk about when they say digital nomad, to be sure. But there are a lot of similarities. In some ways, business travel is easier--expense accounts, decent hotels, a lot of structure. At the same time, you're constantly moving and often don't have an option to so much as put some snacks in a fridge.

I am currently doing it. Spent 4 weeks in Stockholm, two weeks in Cluj Romania, currently in Prague as I type this. Next up is Berlin. I am from San Francisco, and have one startup (https://commando.io) that has paying customers, and also working on a new company as well.

So far I love it. Though I will admit, it sometimes can be difficult to put in the hours when there are so many things to see, people to meet, and things to explore. Also, I am not exactly doing it like a backpacker/cheap either, which improves the experience.

Happy to answer any questions.

I'm curious about your stay in Cluj. Whereabouts did you live and work? How'd you like it?

Kind of. There were a few months where I was travelling frequently, but now I just live in Thailand (Chiang Mai). My wife and I signed a 12 month lease on an apartment (almost time to renew it), we bought a car, and imported our pet cat. Basically just like living anywhere else, except everything is cheaper and I think life is much better here.

But to answer your question, I didn't really like the digital nomad lifestyle very much. I do love living in Thailand and slowly exploring all of Southeast Asia.

A question about Chiang Mai: I had read (while reading up on DN stories) that for a few months a year, Chiang Mai (and the area of Thailand in which it is) get a lot of smoke and haze from annual burning of brush / forest cover. So some expats/people leave there for that period. Is that right?

I also heard from a friend that the same is the case periodically in Singapore and parts of Malaysia. I think he said the smoke comes from either Malaysia or Indonesia.

Yes, the burning season is terrible. We were away for most of it, but should have stayed away longer. I was also in Malaysia for a week when there was some really, really bad smoke from the burning in Indonesia.

So yes, one of the tradeoffs. Hopefully the government will figure out how to control it, but it keeps happening.

Thanks, good to have it confirmed.

1) Poor internet connection

2) Client timezone shift

3) Work vs. vacation visa challenges.

Issue 1 is fairly fluid. Telecommunications infrastructure is constantly being upgraded, so internet connections tend to improve over time.

Timezone shift is a challenge. Expect to take some late night calls with clients (or early morning).

I never overstayed a vacation visa, but the horror stories from digital nomads most often are related to securing and renewing a work visa. This is easily avoided by never taking income from the local economy, where taxes may be required.

I did it on and off for about 2 years and it came down to finding the right balance. I like slow travel, living in different cities for 3+ months. That said, I don't think I could spend more than a year remotely as I start to crave the stable environment of home where you can allow work, relationships, and the mind to flourish.

I found a happy medium in working remotely from a vacation spot one week a month. On months where I didn't want to take a week, we spent a weekend somewhere. This worked fine with two kids under four. Admittedly I was already in my thirties and perfectly happy with my life.

Where is your vacation spot? EG: you have a fixed one like a cabin or something that you always go to, or do you change it up?

How far is it from your non-remote location? I guess with a week you could spend a fair amount of time driving there without it being too bad because the drive time is aggregated over 10 days (presuming both weekends are at the vacation spot.)

Anyway, this is a great idea!

No fixed spot. We generally travel up and down the eastern coast of the US. Anything from Disney World up to New England. With young kids it's mostly driving within a 10-12 hour radius split up into an evening and a morning drive. Common example would be to leave Friday evening, stay at a motel that night if it was a longer drive, and finish up the next morning. Do the same on the way back the following weekend.

I went once to Chiang Mai, where there were quite a lot of digital nomads. Didn't see very appealing lifestyle to me. I prefer western comfort, infrastructure, culture and weather.

On the other hand, the positive sides are very concrete as well. Especially living costs.

What parts did you find not appealing?

Visiting family and friends as part of my nomad life was more enjoyable than random locations. Traveling around gets old but seeing spread out family and friends never does.

I went around Asia for a year as a digital nomad. It was fun for awhile, but quickly became tiresome. It's great to have a home/apartment you can call your own and Internet is sketchy in many parts of the world.

Most of the people you come in contact with will not be conducive to getting any kind of work done or anything that takes discipline. If you aren't careful, you will get sucked into this lifestyle and it will become very difficult to achieve any of your goals.

I travelled for 7 years doing iOS Apps. We would spend the visa limit amount of time in a country before moving to the next one, minimizing our travel days and maximizing our work days.

It was wonderful in a lot of ways, but there were a couple problems:

-- We still spent too much time getting acclimated and set up in the new place to work. For instance, we stayed in AirBnB places almost the whole time, but we kept having to buy office chairs because most chairs in rental places are not conducive to sitting for 8 hours a day.

-- It cost too much. It's hard to "go native" quickly and optimize your food and other expenses, so we would be spending more than we needed to even in poor countries eating like Americans either because we didn't know what a lot of the food was or we ate out too much. We were not earning enough from our apps business to cover our expenses.

-- Visas are a hassle, and border agents don't understand the concept of "I'm going to spend 90 days in your country and I haven't planned out all 90 of them, in fact, I haven't planned out any of them." Almost got refused entry to England when I wasn't able to name a lot of specific tourist things we planned to do. "We're gonna go to Bath and hang out, basically". Got chastised as if it was somehow rude for me to answer the question honestly. (Personally I think it was low class low income tinpot dictator with a beef taking it out on me for being able to live like this when she was stuck in her stupid job.)

There's a lot to recommend it, but it involves a nontrivial cost and effort.

One mistake we made: we would often spend the time with ourselves. It wasn't until we were in one country a couple years (got year long visas there) that we started mingling with the local groups where locals and foreigners would meet regularly (to practice language skills). That was a mistake- had a lot more fun once we started doing that.)

Airbnbs can really suck. I'm in one right now. I showed them proof that the owner is lying to guests and putting them in danger. They won't suspend his account.

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