Recently, an article on becoming a digital nomad caught my attention. The article seemed to focus on the financial aspects only, advising the readers to save on meals by not having lunch at restaurants or coffee at bars.
I have read many similar articles lately. It seems that being a digital nomad is all about saving money so you can travel the world instead of enjoying mokas at your favorite Starbucks.
I completely disagree.
Personally, I eat out a lot. Actually, I probably have lunch and dinner out five days a week average. I am a digital nomad. How is that possible then?
Even though saving money and leading a humble lifestyle are two good pieces of advice, I think this approach completely misses the point.
It’s NOT About The Money
I find these articles completely misleading. For me, it is not a question of how you manage your finances or how much you save in coffee or restaurants.
Being a digital nomad is a lifestyle and, ultimately, a mindset.
Of course, unless you earn a lot of money, you should not be spending like you were a millionaire. Then again, you shouldn’t either if you have a steady job at a cubicle.
On becoming a digital nomad
In my mind, being a digital nomad has to do with three main elements: courage, freedom and a smart lifestyle. Of these three, the only one having something to do with how you spend your money is the last one.
I would like to explain them if you have a minute.
Traveling the world on a regular basis requires courage. Let me tell you a story.
By the end of 2012, in Spain, I was working at a cubicle. I had a steady, 9 to 5 job with a decent salary, pretty good in fact.
However, I hated my job, and hated my life.
I had to go to the same gray office to do the same gray tasks day after day. It did not represent a challenge for me, I was learning nothing, and I was exchanging my time for money.
Trust me: time is the most precious asset you’ll ever have.
My parents were both government employees. It was part of their lives, of their culture, of their education. As a result, they raised me to become a full-time employee on a big company or -ideally- at a governmental office.
The whole Spanish educational system is focused on generating civil servants. We are taught to be afraid of change, adventure or entrepreneurship. We are taught to get the best degree in order to join a big corporation and spend there 40 years of our lives.
Taking The Leap
One day, I decided I’d had enough. I quit my job and became a freelance developer.
I was utterly scared, I had no savings, and no concrete plan. However, I just knew I could not work and live in a cubicle any longer.
Looking back, it may seem like an impulsive decision. Spain has never been a fertile background for freelancers or entrepreneurs. At the time, the unemployment rate was above 25%, the highest in Europe.
Quitting a well paid, steady job did not look like the most intelligent option.
Necessity Makes You Push Your Limits
Guess what? It worked.
Since Spain was not the best place to find customers, I started looking for them everywhere else, specially in Europe and the United States. I was working on a very sought-after market (mobile app development), but also a highly competitive one.
I had to work hard to grow a portfolio, get more customers and constantly improve my skills to build my reputation as a high-profile senior developer.
Five years later, I live as a digital nomad. I still do freelancing work for startups all over the world. Nevertheless, as a micropreneur, I have my own businesses and projects.
A digital nomad lifestyle is not only a natural consequence of all this process, but also requires that initial spark of courage to leave your comfort zone and break the chains of your steady job.
No house-cooked meals will help you do that.
Here, “freedom” means being able to live wherever you want while working remotely in something you are really passionate about. Something that inspires you.
Of course, you will need to work hard to achieve this goal. The good news is: all you need is a laptop, and a skill you can offer to others remotely or a business you can manage online.
In that context, “freedom” also means getting rid of the chains that tie you to a steady life. Some of these chains, like physical possessions, give us a false sense of security or comfort. Others are our family and friends. Finally, the most powerful ones are the fears we have to overcome to embrace a nomadic life.
This freedom is not something that is going to be granted to you for free. You will have to earn it.
I have talked about the decluttering project and how I got rid of all my stuff. I found it really hard to let go some of that stuff, especially my Yamaha piano.
However, I now realize that I am more free with less things. I can relocate to a new city as easily as packing my clothes and laptop, and taking a flight to my next location.
I have also learned to overcome my fears. Yes, they still haunt me sometimes, but I have discovered that the world is not that scary after all. Most of your woes disappear when you are forced to confront them. And know what? When you do that, you grow as a person.
No amount of money saved on coffee will help you do that.
Last, but not least, it’s important to be aware of what it means to be the architect of your life.
If you could live anywhere in the world, and work on the stuff you really love from you computer, would it make sense to live in an expensive city like Paris or Copenhagen while working for pennies for an Indian company?
Of course not.
The world is full of absolutely stunning places where you can live at a very low cost. I am not talking just about Asia and South America here.
Eastern Europe, for example, is full of beautiful cities like Riga, where the cost of living is affordable, yet you are enjoying a vibrant European environment, including an amazing startup ecosystem, a high standard of living, restaurants, bars, an intense cultural scene… all you might need.
Conversely, you should focus on providing highly qualified, quality services to customers in Europe and North America. Those clients will allow you to earn a decent salary without sacrificing your life.
Thus, my suggestion is: find affordable places to live, spend wisely, and specialize in offering something that truly makes a difference for your customers, something amazing they are willing to pay for.
Live Your Life. Enjoy Your Time.
Ultimately, your goal should be leading a healthy lifestyle that allows you to balance your work with the rest of your life.
Time is the most scarce resource you’ll ever own. When we are young, we are not really aware of how much time we spend on things we don’t enjoy. However, as we grow older, we come to realize that no amount of money can really buy this time back.
You are the ultimate architect of your life. Build yourself a life that you can enjoy, a job that you love, and spend the time with people that bring you joy and happiness. Discover new things, explore the world, and grow.
That is, in my opinion, the real value of becoming a digital nomad.
In this post, I talked about what becoming a digital nomad truly means to me. Many times I have seen this discussion focused only on the economic facets of living abroad. This, in my opinion, misses the most interesting aspects behind this lifestyle.
There are many reasons why you might want to become a digital nomad. This way of living is, of course, not suited for everyone. However, if you work hard enough, overcome your fears, and really believe in yourself, I think there’s nothing you cannot achieve.
If you are thinking on becoming a digital nomad, I hope this post inspired you. If you already are, don’t hesitate to share your experience with us in the comments below.