One of the things I’ve been hearing myself tell people over and over these past few years is that ‘there’s no right or wrong way of being a digital nomad’. And I truly believe this. I’ve seen so many girls write things like “I’m not a real digital nomad because…[insert any random reason]’ and it bugs me. Not because it’s sooo important to be a ‘proper’ digital nomad – because hey, that’s really just made-up concept – but because I don’t want anyone feeling they’re doing something ‘wrong’ or that they’re living their life ‘wrong’. After all, we’re all creating lives for ourselves that we want to live. That we’ve dreamt about living.
This whole topic is especially frustrating and ironic because I’ve been beating myself up for months now for feeling like I’m not a ‘proper’ digital nomad. Crazy right? I mean, deep down I know there’s no such thing.
But let me explain. You might already know my story. The short version is: I used to be a chemist, then decided to ditch research in exchange for a round-the-world trip, and after nearly 2 years of backpacking and working holidaying (is that a verb? it is now…) my boyfriend and I took the leap and rocked up in Chiang Mai to try our luck at digital nomading. We had no clue how to, he became an online science editor and I started a challenge to take any freelance jobs I could find. I freelanced for about 1.5 years, travelling around 9 countries in Asia and Europe, working as a social media manager, translator, writer and website designer. All the while I was running DNG as a hobby before I decided to turn it into a business. Phew, that’s the short version.
Now once we’d travelled and worked basically non-stop for 1.5 years (and travelled for nearly 2 years before that) we were exhausted. Like “I-don’t-ever-want-to-move-again” exhausted. So we decided to make a home base for a little while to chill out and so I could focus on DNG without moving constantly. It was a great idea, settling down, living cheaply, enjoying sunny Las Palmas, enjoying the nomad scene and community here, and building up my business.
Fast forward 1.5 years and we’ve had a home base for all this time. Sure, we travelled a bit, but mainly for conferences, retreats and to visit family and friends. No ‘real’ travel. And during this time I started feeling like a total imposter. I mean, ‘who am I to run a business called Digital Nomad Girls if I’m not moving around at least once a month?’ and other helpful destructive and untrue self-criticism like this.
It got so bad that I actually started feeling disconnected from DNG and the community, which really sucked and felt horrible. Here I was running my dream business, totally location independent, but feeling like I didn’t deserve it. That I wasn’t being a ‘good enough’ digital nomad.
The crazy thing was that, from the outside, everything looked great, like I was doing all the right things. So when people talked to me about DNG and told me they loved what I was creating, I didn’t feel proud, I felt like a fraud. It really sucked.
But why am I sharing all of this with you? Because I realised two things:
First, there’s an incredible amount of pressure in the digital nomad world.
We might not realise it immediately, but after a while, it creeps up on us. We left the social norms and pressures of our ‘old lives’ behind, the white picket fence and 9-to-5 pressure, just to put a new type of pressure on ourselves. Now we need to be crushing it. We need to have constant adventures every day. We need to make a minimum of six figures or we’re undervaluing ourselves and basically failing. We need to constantly strive for more personal development.
What, you don’t have a morning routine yet? Ugh, you’re not a ‘proper’ digital nomad. You’re not making any passive income? Oooh, better work on that if you ever want to live the Four Hour Workweek (disclaimer, I don’t). And make sure you share your perfect life with everyone on Instagram to prove that you made the right decision to leave the ‘normal’ pressure behind.
It can be exhausting. But when did this become our focus? We wanted to live simpler lives, be in charge of our days, spend time doing things we love and helping people while travelling and exploring the world. Where did this pressure come from (I have a feeling there’s another blog post following about this soon) and why are we playing along?
And the second thing I learned was this: if I am feeling this way, there must be others out there who feel exactly the same. And isn’t that what DNG was supposed to be all about, and why I started the Facebook Group in the first place? To connect with others who were going through the same process, who had questions and were looking for answers? If I don’t get honest and real about my feelings about doing the whole digital nomad thing ‘wrong’ then how can others who struggle with the same issue start feeling better about themselves?
So, it all comes back to this:
There’s no right or wrong way to be a digital nomad. Full stop.
And I’m not talking about the type of work you do (don’t even get me started on that, more will follow on this topic). I’m talking about how you travel. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve got a home base and only travel for a month every year, or whether you travel carry-on only or drag two 23kg trunks around the world with you. It doesn’t matter whether you hang out in Bali or Lisbon, or in Munich or Manchester. There are no minimum air miles you have to accrue over a year. The only thing that matters is that you’re living a life you enjoy and that you’re not harming others and the communities you visit.
It’s time that we start sharing the good, the bad and the ugly of the digital nomad lifestyle.
I don’t mind whether your Instagram feed is a messy mix of pictures of burritos and selfies with your new friends from around the world or glamorous shots of you in a ball gown on a mountaintop, but I applaud you if you have the courage to share real photos of the digital nomad lifestyle (#nomadtruths). Don’t get me wrong, I’m as guilty as the next DNG of taking pics by the pool and reposting drool-worthy Insta pics on my feed. It’s beautiful, it’s colourful, it’s fun. And it can also be real. But it’s just one part of the reality. One side of the coin. The lonely days, rough journeys, and frantic wifi-searches are also important parts of the picture.
This isn’t to warn others away from this lifestyle, but to make sure they know the reality of what they’re getting themselves into. Often it means working 12 hours a day in your pyjamas instead of 4 hours a week by the pool. And that’s ok. You’re not doing anything wrong. You just do you. And keep tweaking this life. If something sucks, talk about it, share it and improve it. But don’t expect perfection from the start. Everyone’s different and everyone’s nomad journey is different. And that’s what makes it awesome.
So, for me that means that I will be sharing muuuuch more stuff like this. I’ve been wanting to do it for ages and have been holding myself back, because it doesn’t fall into the shiny Insta-perfect grid of nomad expectations. But it’s part of my journey.
Do you feel a lot of pressure to get the nomad life ‘right’? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!