For those of you who follow our adventures, you know our experience digital nomadding it over the last 1.5 years has been a mix of highs and lows. Below are some of the more life-altering experiences or realizations we’ve had since shedding the bulk of our belongings and venturing out into the great unknown. If you’re considering a life on the road, you can expect to experience each of these within months of venturing out…
1. You Can, In Fact, Live Out Of A Suitcase: Several months leading up to our first big European trip were spent downsizing belongings and matching up outfits, shoes, toiletries, work supplies, etc. into two carry-ons per person. This proved to be more chaotic for my wife Danielle than me, but I too struggled with consolidation. We managed to do it, however, just as we’d managed to downsize our 2 bedroom apartment into a 5’x10′ storage unit at less than $70/month. Now, over a year later we are still living out of our suitcases and routinely shed more clothes to make way for the few nicer, newer items we’ve acquired. In fact, I’ve gone full Steve Jobs, buying up 5 pairs of the same exact medium-sized black v-neck from MeUndies, two pairs of pants, 6 pairs of socks, 3 pairs of shoes, a leather jacket (purchased for Italian price in Florence) and a spring jacket. Basically, I wear the same outfit plus or minus a layer almost every day. It’s quite liberating!
2. Meeting And Making Lifelong Friends: There are digital nomads everywhere and communities of expats (U.S., U.K., Australian, other English speakers) looking to connect as well. If you’re worried about not speaking the local language, searching out expat groups, co-working spaces or other clubs is a great way to make instant friends. We discovered a huge expat group in Split, Croatia as a result of working at a coworking space that was founded by an American and Portuguese couple there. In Italy, we became fast friends with locals from Montepulciano in part because we were the only 4 regulars at the coworking space. We’re now returning to Europe in April to spend a month with them in Bordeaux, then a month in Italy, then a month in Spain and Portugal to visit the couple we met at the first coworking space!
3. Adapting To Change Becomes Intuitive: The first month was our biggest challenge. We were in a city during the off-season, which meant less tourist assistance and quite a few less English speakers. We also didn’t speak the local language (Croatian). Getting a local SIM card and internet connection was key for us. We then used Google to research grocery stores, coworking spaces, tourist offices, transportation, etc. Honestly though, once we got tied into the local community, that network became our lifeline. Need medication? Ping the Expats in Split facebook page and within minutes we had suggestions. Leveraging our network has been key in finding places to stay, the best travel routes between cities/countries, even getting more business. Often times now we don’t even know where we’re going to be next month, which scares the crap out of family/friends for some reason, but has just become a new normal for us. Change happens whether we want it to or not, we’ve just learned to react more productively.
4. You Can Live Cheaply Anywhere: A comfortable 1-bedroom place within walking, biking or bussing distance of town is really all you need. Shared living spaces can actually be a lot of fun too! Being mobile and having no big financial obligations is the ultimate freedom. Our costs, living more luxuriously in Croatia were about $3,000/month which included eating out for lunch every day, groceries for breakfast and dinner, rent, weekly 2-hour massages (for both of us), car payment back home, international health insurance, medication (so cheap!), transportation, trips to the opera and theater twice a month, eating out with friends on the weekends and a lot more. In Italy, our costs were relatively the same and since returning to the states for the last 8 months we’ve managed to stay at or below that number as well. We just get creative in where we stay and for how long.
5. What You’re Searching For Is Fulfillment, Not Achievement: When we landed in Croatia for the first leg of our European trip we had achieved a dream we’d set out on roughly a decade earlier. It felt amazing and euphoric, but the climax had happened and now it was time to resume life, work, etc. As the weeks passed on, many of the same stresses we experienced back home were still there. Fears about money, health, safety, relationships, no matter where you go your crap is still with you. Over time though, we began to have the most incredible experiences, the kinds of events that remind you why you left your desk job in the first place. Day hikes up into the mountains, coffee at the marina with new friends, seeing famous paintings up close that most people will only ever see through a computer screen. We’ve learned how to share moments with people that don’t speak our language, eaten exotic foods (grilled squid and ink), went to carnivals, concerts, even enjoyed a classic Italian dinner cooked by an Italian mama. None of these were achievements. They were fulfilling moments, food for the soul, and we continue to search for new experiences like them everywhere we go.