A year ago I officially left my job and departed from the corporate world. October 29th, 2014 was my last day at the public-listed company where I worked for seven years since graduating from university.
A lot of fun, travel and hard work with many interesting people, but after all the years I craved some exploration and felt the time was right to get away from the clock and my comfort zone. The day after my last day in the office I had a big clean out of my apartment in the city which was my home for the previous eight years, and on 31st October I was officially nomadic.
Where did I go? What did I do? I needed to visit Thailand to see the nomad-famous Chiang Mai and all the pretty islands. I spent a month over Christmas and New Year in Denmark, the land of Borgen and The Killing. I spent seven weeks in Napoli trying to learn some Italian swear words, eat authentic pizza (almost every day) and passionately watch football. I spent a month in the USA experiencing the 4th of July celebrations. And more.
What did I learn? How can others do it too? I may have dreamed about this and prepared for it for a while, but some lessons you cannot learn until you actually give your notice and get on the road on your own. This is my obligatory post on quitting my job and travelling around the world with the lessons I’ve learned since becoming a digital nomad.
1. Don’t do this at home (not today at least)
What you do while on the job will help you shape the path of your nomadic and freelancing career. Don’t just jump into it, don’t just quit your job today.
Save some money while you’re getting a regular income by spending less than you earn. Work on building a side business. Having a side income to supplement your savings can make your nomadic time more relaxing, flexible and enjoyable.
While having a full-time job, it is a great opportunity for you to meet new people from different companies. Some might be looking for someone like you, and you might just be able to get yourself a new and more flexible gig where you can choose your working hours and place of work. Do not underestimate the value of connections and the power of networking.
2. The force is against you. There’s always something
So how do you know when the time is right to quit? I had the idea of leaving my job and doing something on my own for a while, but it is not an easy decision to make. It’s actually much more comfortable to hold off making that decision.
There’s always something. I need more savings. I need to build a stronger side business. I need more experience. There’s a big project at work. Bonus time is just around the corner. My boss promised me a raise and promotion with more responsibility that will look great on my CV. I’m just too tired to take such significant steps.
This is the “one more” syndrome. Have the bravery to set yourself free. Set some clear goals and timelines. Depending on your current lifestyle and situation you might need a longer period of time but that is fine. Do everything to achieve your goals and when they are all ticked off then the time is right for you to go for it. Close your eyes and click send on that “notice” email to your boss.
3. Don’t run when the stray dogs chase you
I’ve seen people wonder how they can take their three cats with them on the road. I’ve heard people say how they really need two large computer monitors in order to work productively.
Having too much stuff that you don’t need nor use with you on the road is a burden. Carrying big luggage on crowded streets or hot sandy beaches is not pleasant.
You need to prioritize. You need to learn to be flexible. Get rid of as much as possible in order to travel as light as possible. I sold some of my unnecessary stuff and donated most of the rest which allowed me to pack all my possessions in one bag only. You may not want to live out of one bag for the rest of your life but while on the road it is such a great benefit.
Be adaptable too. You will experience a lot of new, different and unusual things compared to what you are used to. People eating “strange” things. Inequality and the wide gap in living standards. Stray dogs chasing you down in small city alleys in Thailand.
Be curious about the new and different, and not annoyed, threatened or afraid by it. Lack judgment. Postpone criticism. Keep your eyes and mind open. Be welcoming and smile (or bow when you’re in Japan). And in the case of stray dogs chasing you – don’t run.
4. Doing laundry is harder than you think
Moving from Northern Europe means that traveling almost anywhere in the world is so much cheaper for rent, food and other basics. Your savings last longer while you get to see the world. You experience places you’ve watched on TV, read about in books or admired on Instagram feeds.
It’s so great that I can go to any city and any country in the world but still feel comfortable thanks to a mobile phone and the different apps and tools. Google Maps and GPS on my phone are tools that I cannot live without when on the road. Apps like Foursquare (which no longer is about annoying check-ins spamming your Twitter feed), and sites like WikiTravel and TripAdvisor are great for finding things to do or places to eat. Tools like Skype and Telegram allow you to stay in touch with your loved ones. Start Googling.
Having the road as your permanent home has its downsides too. You don’t think about these activities when you’re settled but simple chores such as doing laundry can take so much more time when you don’t have a washing machine. For me, it was about finding the minimalistic balance with the need for new and fresh underwear. I’ve settled on a week to ten day’s worth of clothing.
In some places when you don’t have a kitchen it can get difficult to eat real, healthy food. It’s even harder for those of us who don’t eat meat, but there are the HappyCow app and Asian Buddhist temples that serve amazing vegetarian food.
5. Without a purpose, you may just be a tourist on a vacation
Suddenly you will have a lot more time on your hands. It is a very different experience when you can wake up and not need to hurry to dress up and go to work. It might take you a day, a month or a year to find out but you need to have a purpose with your time in order to lead a more fulfilling life.
Find a partner who you can travel with. Traveling can be done solo too but having a partner that likes some of the same things in life can help you have a nicer journey. Have a project to work on. Having a project to put some of your time and energy into helps you feel more productive.
6. From never having enough time to the infinite number of possibilities
I don’t count hours and days until the next public holiday anymore. I don’t have Sunday night or Monday morning blues either. The stress and anxiety levels have gone down. I used to feel overwhelmed, that I never had enough time to do everything I wanted to do. Now it’s up to my imagination, inspiration and motivation to figure out one or more of the infinite number of routes and possibilities I can take. Every day is a good day.
Being nomadic blogger is still a job. You can wake up anytime you want, you can go wherever you want to go, whenever you want and do whatever you want to do but you still have a job to do. The biggest difference is that you are on your own, and you are responsible for making all the decisions. There’s no boss or teacher looking over your shoulders telling you what to do anymore. Each day is a blank page. You need to get yourself together, be self-directed and decide what to draw.
Set your schedule in order to work on your priorities. Some days there are not enough hours in a day. Having the written goals will get you focused on accomplishing the important tasks as otherwise, every day could just be about touristy things.
You can be more productive travelling than working in an office. Without the morning commute and all the meetings and other office distractions, you can actually achieve a lot in a day. It’s like having an ad-blocker activated, but for work annoyances instead of banner ads.
7. Two become one, and you find yourself always at work
Some evenings I used to switch off my Blackberry (Yep, we used them at my former workplace) after leaving work and not look at my notifications until the next morning. As a nomadic blogger, it is so much more challenging as life, play, and work quickly become one.
Just as you need to have the self-discipline to do focused work every day you also need to limit the time you are spending doing work as otherwise it will be all work and no play. Your mind and body will be happier with a better balance.
Leave your phone behind. Block Facebook notifications. Stop checking email. Stay in the flight mode. Save your eyes and combat the eye fatigue that you get from staring at the screen whole day. Decrease the brightness. Look away from your screen for 20 seconds every 20 minutes.
8. Memento mori, carpe diem and all those Pinterest quotes
Look up. Walk out of your front door. Do stuff. Nurture your body and mind. Discover the world you live in. Be a wanderlust king, get on the road. Move. Walk. Travel without a schedule. Be at liberty to wander the streets with no particular place to go. Explore another city until your feet ache.
Be astounded. Listen to the birds. Say hello to the ocean. Feel the warmth of the sun on your skin. Watch a beautiful sunset. Taste the spices. Eat real food. Drink water (or tea if you prefer). Sip wine in the moon. Read. Listen. Talk. Be happy. Laugh uncontrollably. Say silly things. Go ten days without saying a word. Be a learning machine. Grow, develop and improve. Practice Mediterranean yoga (aka siesta). Do nothing. Allow all the experiences to change you.
Life is short. Memento mori. Carpe diem. Seize the day. Ichi-go ichi-e. Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow you may die. Remember all that stuff from the motivational quotes that you read on Pinterest and just go for it. And wow, what a ride it will be!