More than a year ago, I began seriously considering changing my life and becoming a digital nomad. At the time I had a cool full-time job and lived in the highly sought-out neighborhood of Williamsburg Brooklyn.
From the outside, I had it all and my life was great. But on the inside, I wanted more; I wanted something else. I felt stagnant and lost. Settling was never and will never keep me engaged and content. I couldn’t move forward with a life that was predictable and on autopilot. That’s just not the kind of person I am. Plus, having lived in NYC for four years, it was starting to grow stale for me. Noisy, smelly, crowded, expensive? No thanks.
At the time, digital nomadism was on the rise and becoming more and more feasible. I knew some friends who traveled constantly and who had already made the jump into the nomad lifestyle. So in late 2015 and early 2016 I began seriously planning for my own jump.
If you’re not sure what “digital nomad” means; it’s a person who works and earns a living remotely from their laptop via the internet, and uses that opportunity to live abroad/traveling/on the road. People make this feasible by getting rid of expenses and things that tie them down to a specific place, like full-time jobs and mortgages.
I was able to consider this lifestyle as a viable option because I’m young — 22 — and these next few years are probably the only years I’ll have uncommitted to a spouse, kids, or mortgage. I was financially stable and romantically unattached. It was the perfect combination to be able to take advantage of this rare opportunity to explore the world and create a more enjoyable meaningful life.
The digital nomad lifestyle stood out for me mainly because I knew it wasn’t so far out of reach. Most questions I see online about the lifestyle pertain to work and how to find jobs that allow for a remote lifestyle. My job at the time was very pro-remote work. I got to practice working remotely from coffee shops, my apartment and other countries.
I ultimately decided that the best move for me would be to go out on my own and be an independent freelancer (front-end developer and product designer) instead of having a full-time job. Freelancing was not new to me; I had done it off and on in the 7 or so years prior, so the transition into freelancing and remote work wasn’t that difficult.
Granted, being a successful freelancer and remote worker is an entire ballgame of its own and requires a lot of planning ahead and networking to get new work. Being able to manage your time, cash flow, legal and financial matters is a part-time job within itself.
The Apartment and Stuff
The 18-month lease at my apartment ended August 2016, and I would not be renewing it. In the months prior, I didn’t buy any new furniture, decorations, or clothes. In the summer I began selling off whatever I could, mostly new clothes and shoes that I had never worn.
The last few weeks before my move out date were brutal. Posting furniture and electronics on craigslist, coordinating pick ups, donating or throwing away whatever I could. Trust me, this is harder than you think! I had way too much stuff, and it was both emotionally and physically exhausting to sort through everything, deciding what should go and how it should go. I ended up donating many bags and bins to Goodwill and to The Bowery Mission.
In everything I did that year, getting rid of my stuff had to be the toughest. In the last few days and hours, I ended up throwing away so many boxes, worth hundreds of dollars worth of stuff that was left unsold. I just wish more of it ended up in the hands of people who would appreciate things like a brand new set of Netrunner and nerdy Photoshop magazines!
Once everything was said and done, I ended up with a few bags and a box — currently stored at my moms house. Even though it was tough, I look back and am really happy I got rid of most of my possessions. I didn’t realize that the stuff was weighing on me, and now I feel so free to just get up and go wherever without worrying so much. I am now more mindful of what I purchase — mostly because it has to be carried with me when I travel and I’ve got nowhere to store useless stuff.
After moving out in August, I brought my belongings to Florida. It’s where I’m from and my new “home base”, so I spent a few weeks there — establishing residency, registering to vote again, getting a new ID, setting up a PO box, registering a Florida LLC, and getting new health insurance. Some digital nomads really do become homeless, but it seemed so drastic. I am lucky to be able to have a place to send my mail, to come back and rest for a few weeks before leaving again, and to spend time with family.
Being a Nomad
As a nomad, I live out of carry-on luggage and Airbnb’s. In the months since I left New York, I have spent most of my time in Mexico and doing the conference circuit in the states. This nomadic lifestyle is isolating; no more weekly meetups in the city, no dinners with friends, no running into twitter nerds at events. So because I am not necessarily getting as much face time on a day to day basis, I make an extra effort to attend tech conferences.
I could talk about Mexico all day and still have more to say. It’s such a beautiful and culturally rich country, that I think most Americans take for granted. From the beautiful and warm sandy beaches of Tulum, to the bustling majestic Mexico City, I find new things to love about Mexico every day that I am there. For instance, in Mexico you are constantly surrounded by passion, empathy and respect for the arts, human beings, animals and the earth. It’s nothing short of inspiring.
Part of what makes it so enjoyable is that when I come to Mexico, my mom usually comes with me! She is an independent graphic designer / illustrator and does a similarly nomadic lifestyle part time. We spend half of our time working and the other half exploring Mexico, and it’s really fun.
Honestly, looking back I am so happy that I made the decision to change my life and go after what I really wanted. The stress and anxiety I used to have is now drastically reduced, and I am more happy generally. Travel is opening my mind in ways I didn’t realize were possible, and I feel more free to pursue my goals, live my life with authenticity and enjoy my time with more passion and energy.
In 2017 I will continue on traveling until I can’t anymore! I’m still freelancing independently, eating tacos, and looking for nerds wherever I go. If you’re into the digital nomad and freelancing lifestyle, I’d be happy to connect online or IRL if our paths cross. This summer I’ll be doing to conference circuit again, and this time I’m hoping I’ll end up in Berlin/Europe.
TLDR; I sold all of my stuff and now I live out of carry-on luggage and work remotely as a freelancer. It’s awesome.