Why I Quit Being A Digital Nomad (And Moved Back To The US)
Last week I spent all day packing up a small U-haul trailer with my belongings, preparing to move to Los Angeles, California. It felt a bit surreal after 7 years living as a digital nomad.
A bed. A couch. A TV. A desk. Cat toys. A cat (no, he’s not going in the U-haul). Pulling it all behind a new Jeep. I haven’t owned this much stuff in years!
What the hell happened? When did I stop being a full-time vagabond, traveling the world while living out of a backpack?
Well, it’s a long story. And it’s about time I shared it with you.
Becoming A Digital Nomad
So if you’ve been following my journey for a while, you’ll know that back in 2010 I decided to save some money, quit my job, sold most of my belongings, and started backpacking around the world, blogging about it as I went.
It was a super scary decision at the time, and I had no idea what the future would bring. My guess was that I’d travel for a year, run out of money, then move back to the US and get a “real” job again.
What actually happened? I managed to build a successful business from my travel blog, and continued to travel almost non-stop for the next 7 years.
Working as a digital nomad from my computer anywhere there was a wifi connection. It was a relatively new kind of lifestyle at the time, and everyone thought I was crazy for attempting it.
During those 7 years without a home, I visited over 50 countries. I lived for months at a time in places like Thailand, Mexico, Turkey, Spain, Nicaragua, and South Africa.
Everything I owned fit into a pair of backpacks — I was completely nomadic. Working for myself. An expert vagabond (hence the name).
I was living the digital nomad dream!
But then my dreams began to change. As they often do over time.
Digital Nomad Burnout
I started noticing a change after about 5 years into my fully nomadic lifestyle. Constantly moving from place to place came with it’s own set of problems that became increasingly annoying as the years went by.
Traveling around the world and making money online sounds incredible, I know. And it is in many ways! I’m not complaining. This lifestyle has been very good to me.
However there are also downsides to being a digital nomad.
THIS LIFESTYLE IS EXHAUSTING
Many digital nomads hang out in a country or city for a few weeks before moving on to the next. But you can’t earn money if you’re not working, so now you’re trying to cram work & vacation into a short period of time.
Just when you get into a comfortable routine, it’s time to move and start all over again. Packing up, navigating your way around a new city, a new culture, and all the challenges that go along with those things. It gets tiring!
THIS LIFESTYLE IS LONELY
Yes, you get to meet all kinds of cool people around the world when you’re constantly traveling. But because everyone is always coming or going, it’s tough to form a meaningful connection with anyone.
I missed having a regular group of friends to hang out with. I missed being so far away from family. And unless you plan to date fellow digital nomads, relationships are complicated when only one of you can travel freely.
THIS LIFESTYLE IS UNPRODUCTIVE
Well, I should say less productive than it could be. Sure I managed to build a business while traveling, but it wasn’t easy, and I think I could have grown faster if I worked from a home-base instead of hostels & coffee shops.
Trying to juggle a normal work routine when you’re also trying to figure out where to sleep next week just isn’t ideal. Often, I never wrote much about the places I was living because I was too busy catching up with work after months of traveling.
Nothing Is Perfect
Basically, there is no perfect way to live. By becoming a digital nomad, you simply trade one set of problems for a completely different kind.
Maybe, like me, you won’t be bothered by these things for a few years — it was still far more exciting than my previous life in the rat race! But eventually the problems amplify over time… and you’ll have a choice to make.
Moving Back To America
As the negatives piled up, I began renting apartments for 3 months at a time. Eventually I signed a year-long lease in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. I was slowing down, taking trips that lasted 1-3 weeks, and enjoying them more.
It was nice having a base, a place to call “home” for a while.
However as much as I loved living in Mexico, I soon felt an urge to return to the United States. To spend more time with family & friends. To pursue more lucrative business opportunities there.
And, to participate more fully in my own country’s democratic process, no longer content watching from the sidelines as the United States seemed to spiral into a depressing (dangerous?) abyss of ignorance & hate.
But where to go? Moving from Mexico with my girlfriend Anna, we decided to try Boulder, Colorado for the summer. We’ve been living there with our new cat Poofy (yes, he’s on Instagram!) for the past 5 months.
Boulder was pretty, but not exactly what we were looking for. It was kinda small, very homogeneous, and full of families & students. With our unconventional lifestyles, we felt a bit out of place there.
So now we’re off to California to give Los Angeles a try.
Plus We Got Married!
Surprise! It’s been a busy year. I first met Anna in 2015 at a travel blogging conference called TBEX in Florida, where travel personalities and companies come together to network.
We hit it off right away, with a common love of travel, cats, and working online. The city girl and the adventure guy, both taking risks & working hard to pursue our dreams.
Anna is a remarkable woman. Originally from Poland, she’s been traveling the world for longer than I have. She holds degrees in International Law, Journalism, and Fashion Marketing from multiple universities (including Harvard). She’s fluent in 5 languages, and has lived in places like Mexico City, Cape Town, London, Miami, and LA.
Soon after we met in Florida, Anna came down to Mexico, where we began dating. Eventually we moved in together, using Mexico as a base to travel from. It was one of the happiest periods of my life, and I fell in love.
After a year and a half of dating, living, working, and traveling together, I proposed early one morning at a remote mountain cabin in Colorado. We eloped in Las Vegas a few weeks later at the famous Graceland Chapel!
It was spontaneous, non-traditional, and fun, just like our lives up to this point.
Are You Giving Up Vagabonding?
Yes and no. Yes, I’m giving up on the pipe-dream of constantly moving from place to place, living out of a bag for the rest of my life. What initially sounded romantic, adventurous, and free has become a burden over time.
My goal for this wild experiment has always been to experience as much of our large & diverse world as possible NOW, while I’m relatively young. Not stuck behind a desk working to make someone else rich.
Sharing my travel experiences to help and inspire others, while earning a living on my own terms.
The freedom to do as I please. No approval needed. No bosses to report to. Following my passion and making a living through adventure travel & photography.
Well, I’ve achieved these goals. I am completely location independent. I work for myself, setting my own hours, traveling when and where I want to. I’ve also been fortunate to make a great living doing what I love.
Am I just getting older and feeling a need to slow down? I’m 36 now. Have I simply become financially independent enough that I’m no longer forced to live in cheap backpacker destinations in order to get by?
I think these may have been factors in my decision too.
Choosing Location Independence
I wouldn’t trade the last 7 years of my life working as a traveling digital nomad for anything else. It’s been a wild ride, and the experience has taught me so much about myself and the world in general.
However I now realize that I prefer location independence over fully nomadic living. Because there’s a difference.
Location independence simply means you are free to choose where you live, not stuck living somewhere you hate because of a particular job. Being a digital nomad means you’re always traveling, with no real home.
We spent the summer in Colorado. We’re planning to spend 2018 in Los Angeles. Maybe after that, we’ll decide to move somewhere else. Italy? Spain? Iceland? Kansas?
With location independence, all our options are open!
The important part, is the freedom to choose my location, and the ability to update that choice at any time.
For those of you who are interested in becoming digital nomads, I don’t want to completely discourage you. The lifestyle does have plenty of benefits, and I’m not saying you shouldn’t give it a shot.
However after 7 years living as a homeless digital nomad, I personally no longer think it’s sustainable (or healthy) on a long-term basis.
I’m not the only one who thinks this way either — it seems to be a common choice after a few years on the road:
- The Beginning Of The End – Nomadic Matt
- 9 Years Of Legal Nomads – Legal Nomads
- Leaving Is Easy, Fighting Is Harder – Adventurous Kate
- The Dark Side Of The Digital Nomad – Mark Manson
- My Nomadic Lifestyle Comes To An End – Ottsworld
- After 70 Countries, Why I Moved To Portugal – Neverending Footsteps
Honestly, not much is changing. I’m still planning to travel a ton, about 6 months every year. The only difference is now I have a wife, a home, and a cat to come back to once my trips are over!
Sometimes Anna & I will travel together, sometimes I’ll be on my own. I’ll continue sharing my wild travel adventures with you from around the world through blog posts, YouTube videos, and travel photography.
Having a home-base simply means I’ll be more productive, creating useful travel guides, sharing fun travel stories, and teaching tips & tricks I’ve learned after 7 years working as a professional travel blogger & photographer.
After moving to Los Angeles this week, Anna & I are researching the possibility of TV and media appearances while continuing to build our businesses here in the United States.
Having LAX airport as our travel hub will keep flight costs low, allowing us both to travel often. We have friends here, and more pass through all the time.
There is a wide variety of epic coastline, mountains, deserts, canyons, and forests within a day’s driving distance from the city if I want to get outside into nature for a while.
I know some of you may be disappointed in this change. Those who romanticize living on the road out of a backpack. It’s one of the reasons I’ve been putting off publishing this blog post for so long… I was scared.
Unfortunately there’s not much I can do about what other people think. I’ve lived as a vagabond for years, and don’t regret my choice, but my passion for constantly moving began to fade.
When you stop loving something, it’s time for a change.
I don’t spend my life trying to make everyone else happy with my choices, if I did that, I’d never be where I am now.
So onwards! To the next chapter of my life — I hope you’ll continue to follow along on my travel adventures, wherever they may lead. ★
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Have any questions about the digital nomad lifestyle? Could you live this way? Drop me a message in the comments below!