I tried the digital nomad thing and, I won’t lie, it didn’t exactly work out as planned – and I’m okay with that!
Failure may be a bit of a harsh word, but the fact of the matter is: I set out chase adventures, was unable to make it a reality, and I ultimately decided to return home. I sit here writing this post from my mom’s spare bedroom in my home town (thanks, Mom!), not some mysterious and remote campsite like I had imagined for myself. Despite this, the dream of traveling full time as a digital nomad is still very much alive. My first attempt may not have been flawlessly executed, but I can take what I learned and apply it to my second attempt. It’s like that famous Winston Churchill quote – “Success is walking from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm”. I guess at least I can say I’m enthusiastic (albeit a bit tired). So, here’s a few confessions from my first attempt at life on the road.
Driving is often the easy part, it’s the stops that are challenging.
This one might not be true for everybody, but it was true for me. The driving wasn’t the challenge, it was everything in between. I can easily cruise along on the road, listening to music or a podcast, and enjoy the changing scenery. However, figuring out where to pull off, making sure I had enough supplies, pumping gas in an unfamiliar place, taking care of my dog, and picking a campsite before sundown all proved challenging. You’d think it’d be simple to coordinate stops ahead of time, but even the best laid plans can go awry. Every cross country drive I’ve embarked on started with a plan… then quickly derailed from said plan. Regardless, having some sense of direction helps. Which brings me to my next truth –
I like to wander, but I don’t like to be aimless.
In my time on the road I learned that I need a balance somewhere between “woman on a mission” and “wayward wanderer”. When I’m driving purely for the sake of getting from point A to point B I feel a bit uninspired. The journey loses its magic and becomes more of a task than an adventure. However, when I’m driving with no destination at all, it feels a bit pointless. I anxiously wonder where I’ll stop next and my mind wanders to the cost of gas or what the heck I’m doing in the middle of the desert at 3:00 on a Tuesday. The perfect balance is somewhere right in the middle. Not aimless, but not too focused. The type of trip where you can take your time, enjoy the journey, but still have purpose in your direction.
My mental health struggles without routine and basic comforts.
This is a biggie and I know it’ll vary greatly from person to person. For me, my brain loves thrill, novelty, and adventure. I get such a rush of energy and feel so truly alive when I’m on the road. However, that fades very quickly when I haven’t showered, haven’t eaten, my dog is uneasy, and I don’t know what to do next. The physical discomfort, lack of routine, and days (or even months) of social isolation can take a huge toll. I found that going back to basics can make a world of difference. Get yourself a good meal, not just fast food. Treat yourself to something comforting like a hot drink or a cozy outfit. Call a friend to have a long talk. Find a place to take a hot shower and get a good night’s sleep. Do what you need to and don’t feel ashamed.
The first time I got a hotel instead of camping I was so embarrassed. I felt like I wasn’t doing it “the right way” or like I was “weak” because I wasn’t roughing it. Throw that mentality out of the window. There are no trophies for wearing yourself thin and suffering needlessly. Being honest with yourself and taking care of your basic needs will enable you to be 10x more badass in the long run. Protecting your mental health will be so crucial to truly enjoying your adventures.
No matter how much you’re willing to “rough it” – you’re gonna need money.
One of my biggest mistakes was thinking I could minimize my expenses to next to nothing. This connects a lot to the mental health portion. Suffice it to say, suffering needlessly is not fun. I’m not a high maintenance person and I don’t need fancy things, but from time to time you will want to have spending money. Whether it’s for a nice dinner, a hotel room, or an emergency – make sure you have the funds available. Traveling broke was stress inducing to a level I had never experienced before. Every mile filled me with dread that something could go wrong and I’d be unable to fix it. Not to mention the inability to treat myself to simple comforts like a nice coffeeshop latte or a beer with my lunch. I thought I wouldn’t want such frivolous things, but damn it, I did (and that’s okay!)
I didn’t do the money portion of this right, and, ultimately, this was the biggest reason I had to give up (for now) on the digital nomad lifestyle. It boils down to establishing reliable income before traveling. I hit the road with a brand new LLC having only been in business one month. I had no website, no social presence, and no client base. In the future I’ll make sure not to travel until I have steady, reliable, income and emergency savings. If you have a 9-5 that’s fully remote, you’re already a step ahead of me as you likely have reliable paychecks from your employer! Honestly, life on the road wasn’t that much cheaper than life in my apartment. Expenses just switched from rent to gas, from utilities to gear, and so on. Lesson learned.
Some supplies are optional, others are damn near essential.
Whew, the theme of “I thought I could just rough it” continues. I’m not gonna lie to you, I didn’t have much in terms of gear. I built my sleeping platform, bought a propane stove, used a tiny 6-can cooler from Walmart, and borrowed a friend’s sleeping bag. I really believed that everyone with super fancy digital nomad setups were just lavish. Honestly, I thought I could do what they were doing without all the frills. Some of it is luxury, sure… but I quickly learned that some things are crucial.
For example, I desperately needed solar panels and a power bank to be able to run my laptop and work (to earn some dang money). That solar setup ended up costing me $800 on a Black Friday sale and then couldn’t be shipped to my P.O. box. It took me nearly 2 months to get the package due to shipping issues and in that time I had to work in coffee shops or using a generator for power. So, while you may not need that super cool gizmo you saw on instagram, you might want to make a list of essentials and buy yourself the minimum before you head out.
Taking pictures in public is embarrassing, but do it anyway.
Set up the damn tripod and take the photo. A year from now, when you look back at that picture, you won’t care that some grumpy dude looked at you funny when he walked by. Or, if you’re traveling with a buddy, ask them to take your photo. I’m sure they won’t mind and you can pay them back by returning the favor. I was always sooo nervous to take photos and now I wish that I had more. I chickened out of so many amazing photo opportunities because I was embarrassed. Most people only live as a digital nomad for a few years. Having beautiful pictures of the scenery is one thing, but one day you may want a photo of yourself in that scene. Document your travels carefully, save mementos, and don’t rush.
Mistakes aren’t just normal, they’re expected.
Things will go wrong. You will mess up. Plans will shift rapidly. All of this is totally normal and brings this story of mine full circle. I am entirely at peace with the fact that my first attempt did not work. The word failure doesn’t scare me because I’m not afraid to try again. You need to be able to adapt and grow through challenges in this lifestyle. If that’s not your cup of tea, that’s totally okay! But then this might not be the best path for you. I won’t lie, there were many times while chasing a digital nomad lifestyle that I felt nostalgic for the reliability and consistency that comes with “normal” living situations. If you can channel your frustration into determination, laugh in the face of chaos, and get back up after being knocked down you’ll be more than fine.
My name is Mackenzie and I'm the founder of Eunoia Design Co.. I help business capitalize on the power of authentic identity through personalized, strategic, design. Thanks for checking out the blog! Don't hesitate to reach out - my inbox is always open.
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