In December 2017 I packed up my London flat and London life and started my journey working from anywhere. I’d love to say that I’d spent a great deal of time prepping for it, but the truth is I’d only really planned for part of it. I’d made sure that everything was in place work-wise, but I had not actually given much thought to how I was going to feel or what impact this would have on my mental health and wellbeing. That my friends was my downfall.
If you’ve read my last article London Resident to Digital Nomad in 60 days, you will have a grasp of what I focused on. It was all the super practical and essential stuff. Things you can put nicely in a list and tick off. The emotional part I completely neglected to consider.
As we stand today, February 20th, 2018 between giving up my flat and now ( 2 months) I’ve packed and unpacked 10 times, even though I’ve only been abroad once, and that was to spend a month in Gran Canaria. That’s a lot of moving about, and a lot of hauling (unnecessary stuff) around the UK to see friends, family and have meetings for work. Had I thought about that much in advance? Not nearly enough.
I arrived back in Cardiff (Hometown) mid-Feb to see my mum, exhausted depressed and wondering what the hell I was doing with myself. It’s supposed to be a fun adventure, so how did I go so wrong, and how can I not repeat the same mistakes again.
To help both you and me elegantly weather what is an emotional and as well as a physical journey, I’ve listed out a list of considerations to think about before you hop on your flight:
1. Digital Nomad Burnout
I can safely say that I have done the absolute opposite of living the dream since I gave up my location dependant lifestyle in late December and became a nomad.
I should not have expected any less of myself since I could be named as a global leader in how to burnout. If there were exams in how to burn out fast and get massively overwhelmed in a short space of time I would get 100% and distinction with honours. As my co-living Flatmate Rachel Korznak ( who I lived with in Gran Canaria), who quit her demanding management role in LA and now advises people on how to start their dream businesses through her Zesty World and Sweet School business said.
“Zoe, you have swapped one nightmare for another “
She watched me spend all day working on my client work, put that down then spend all the evenings and weekends working on my blog and newsletters. If I was not writing, I was on social media, trying to desperately dream up ways to get some traffic. In my mind, I had set myself the task of getting 1000 visits a month, so I was going to bloody well do it if it killed me! What was supposed to be a fun way of tracking my journey, improving my writing and digital marketing skills, very quickly transitioned into a mad race to get thousands of blog visits a month, for no other reason, than hitting my vanity metric?
I simply could not help myself turning it into a mammoth work project, meaning that after 2 months of the blog, plus the prep months of getting ready to travel left me completely burnt out and exhausted. Not what I had planned at all, but again according to Rachel and the people she’s met and travelled with over the years, it’s very normal and way too many people start blogs and get burnt out and bored with them.
What to do instead
I shall be forcing myself to set up a strict routine, which will just be a slightly altered version of the one that I used to adhere to at home. There will be times for work and times for play, and this blog will go firmly back to fun for me. I will start to force myself to take time off on weekends and to stay away from social media. And release myself from the drive of having to achieve the numbers. I have also forced myself to stop looking at certain sites and have put a blocker on them, using Stay Focused. An app recommended to me by Steve, who I met at Restation, Coworking in Gran Canaria, who is a huge fan of habits and routines for productivity.
2. Faking the Dream
It’s very easy to make people think you are living the dream, travelling and working. You just go out while on your way to the supermarket to buy water or on your way to your co-living space to work and there you have some snaps. Get a taxi to a nice location for an hour to wander and you have another 20 snaps and a video. The rest of the time you are on your laptop working like crazy, trying to make it look like you are having a good time.
Meanwhile, everyone hates you because they think you are living the dream in some fancy pants high-end hotel when in reality you are staying in a flat, that’s no better than when you were a student. That’s the reality, unless you decide to stay somewhere for a long time, or want to invest huge amounts of money in living in luxury.
What to do instead?
As you can see here I’m being honest and vulnerable about the situation. There are enough bloggers and people in the world that are selling the social media fake dream. Of course, we can show off the fun, but we don’t have to be fake. I am not going to repeat the running to the beach for literally 5 mins to get the perfect picture and then running back to my laptop. What’s the point? If I don’t take time to sit and have a coffee or a have a proper break ever, then I’ll just get bitter from my insta beautiful yet actually crap experience.
3. You & Yourself
You won’t automatically change, just because you have changed the location. Travel doesn’t mean that you will automatically be happier, better looking, more productive. It’s you, just in another location, and changing it won’t make things automatically okay. In fact being in another location can actually amplify any issues you may have, as you have additional stress on top. Nothing is ever as easy as at home, as you know how your location works and where everything is.
There are things that will disrupt your flow of living, and that can contribute to stress. All these things of course I know, as I’ve lived and worked abroad a lot and have equally travelled abroad a lot for work, but somehow I forgot all that. That’s probably the downside of visioning and vision boarding, that when you actually do it, in real life, without the rose-tinted spectacles it never matches up!
What to do instead?
Spend more time relaxing and work out how to live effectively on the move. How do you relax? Do you even know? I know I find it really really hard. I also know that I spend way too much time on my phone and that it’s not really relaxing for me. I recently worked out that I was not reading enough fiction, so I bought myself a kindle. Writing I do find really relaxing, especially journal writing, so it’s key I keep that up. Even if I burn my journals, as I can’t travel with them! Yoga and meditation I also find very relaxing, so learning a sequence when I can’t get access to the internet or don’t want to would really work for me. Key is to keep trying new stuff and to schedule in relax time and time for meeting people and just hanging out.
I had read the weather reports and looked at all the blog posts and Gran Canaria was supposed to be the warmest place in Europe in the winter. What actually happened was that they had freak cold weather. So that basically meant that there were no real beach days (I managed 30 mins one day only). The rest of the time was windy and cold, and as there was no heating, it was so hard to get warm. I spent most of the time freezing and wearing the same 3 warm items over and over. I used maybe 1/10 of what I brought with me.
What to do instead?
Layers, layers, layers & scarves. It’s so much easier, plus loads of plain tops that you can Just wear under dresses if it gets chilly. I always buy mine from H&M, but m&s do some good ones as do Uniglo. This I did well, but I should have checked the weather and I should have asked the people who were over there already in the travel groups, as that would have saved me arriving with a suitcase and all the wrong clothes. What I really did not need at all were shorts, t-shirts, evening clothes and sandals. What I did need were comfortable clothes, warm clothes and jackets and an umbrella.
My suitcase was also ridiculously heavy, which meant that I needed to get taxis all over the place as I could not pick it up. I’ll be working on scaling my clothing right back and I’m defiantly investing in a higher quality suitcase. I’ll write a more detailed post on the ideal packing list once I become a little more experienced.
You should realise before you go, that the imagery that you will see and what the locations are actually like in terms of coworking & co-living will not be the same necessarily as you see in the pictures.
What to do instead
Know that the locations in Europe, are not always of the best quality for the price. The coliving space I stayed in, had bathrooms older than me, and my room was absolutely tiny. I actually was grateful to have my own room in all honesty as the week before, I’d been sleeping in a blow-up bed in my friends beautiful, yet open plan flat, so I was very happy to have some privacy, but still, the actual quality vs the price was low. Since everyone knows each other in the Digital Nomad communities, I realized quite quickly, that there is not always a lot of honesty. People are forever recommending spaces or places, that they have never actually been to or are giving reviews that are not completely honest. Scale back what you think it will be like and you will feel a lot better about it when you arrive.
6. Other peoples jealousy
People are always jealous, that’s a fact. All throughout my life I’ve dealt with people who are jealous as I’ve lived and worked abroad a lot and have also had many opportunities. I personally hate the word luck, as I know that I’ve worked very very hard to get these opportunities, so I would rather be “grateful” personally. However, I stopped posting all that I get up to on social media a long time ago, as I struggled with the people that would come out with the most ridiculous and hurtful comments.
What to do instead
I am actually not sure that I have the best answer to this myself. This is something that I am working on dealing with. I would rather learn to block it out as it’s their problem and not mine. Do let me know if you have a good tip on this, as it’s something that I have a weekly battle with, in my head.
7. Living in the 9-5 corporate world
You will meet people from all walks of life, doing different roles and doing things to achieve this lifestyle. The people are I met are judging their success, more by the amount of time they can not work, than anything else. This is a stark contrast to the world that I come from and how I live my life, but this lesson is the most important of all for me personally. As life should not revolve around work only!
What to do Instead?
Be open-minded and try and leave your judgements at the door. It’s very hard to do, but if you embrace your community and hang out with people, you’ll get a lot more value out of it. Most of the people I met, had been Nomading a few years, so they had helpful tips and advice. I learnt so much about so many diverse topics, as I hung out with lots of people and was social. Also, listen in to how they create time, it’s fascinating stuff (at least to me).
8. Working Alone
Many of the nomads were extremely generous with their time and help. They gave back to the community by giving useful presentations or giving up their time to offer certain skill-sets. This is often to be found in start-up communities too. I’ve spoken to people in other industries and they find this strange. I must say that it does take some getting used to, but collaboration is something that I think we can all learn from.
What to do instead?
Find ways to offer some of your skills. You may not want to offer your main skill, but there may be others that you have that people would find interesting, useful or fun. I’m learning tarot cards, so I did quite a bit of tarot reading, which was fun and my new friends really liked it. it was a great way of bonding with people quickly I found. I also had great plans for offering a short course on “How to get the best out of linked in”, but I fell ill, so that plan was wiped out I’d like to have one set up for the next time so that I can give something useful back. So it’s worth thinking about your skill set and what you can offer.
9. Fitness and Travel
I booked a personal trainer before I got to Gran Canaria, PT and that was a brilliant decision (until I fell sick). I really enjoyed getting up and working out, especially by the sea. It made me feel really good while I was doing it and my trainer Ivana was brilliant. In Gran Canaria, there was the option to work out right by the beach as they have a lot of outdoor gyms there. However what I did not plan for was the time in-between. The nights you stay with your friends and family or at a hotel. That’s the part that let me down. As soon as I was out of my schedule I totally let my fitness go oou of the window.
What to do instead?
YouTube has a lot of different trainers where you can work out literally anywhere only using your own bodyweight. I used to do these at home, it’s just forcing yourself to do it on the move. I’m a big fan of Yoga, so I’ll be using Kelly Brooks Videos, who I like training with in real life. For bodyweight work, and power yoga I like Sean Vigue. There are loads on there, just find the one you like. And depending on where you are going, being more organised and prioritising your fitness.
Your pastimes will change, as you nomad, it’s inevitable. I used to really like shopping for clothes, bags, stationery, jewellery etc. Now I’m living out of a suitcase (which is packed to the brim) there’s no room for anything new. I am a forced minimalist, which if you read my post called 60 days to nomad, you’ll know was not an easy feat. My mum came to stay with me in Gran Canaria and that’s always been one of our shared pastimes so she persuaded me to go. Window shopping is very boring so I found out.
What do instead?
Under normal circumstances, I would have been at the beach or outside in Las Palmas Gran Canaria, but due to the terrible weather, we were resigned to being inside. Make sure that you have things to do to entertain you, just in case the weather turns bad or your location is a lot more boring than expected. The girls in my coliving space went out and bought paint and fun creative stuff to keep us entertained.
Don’t set yourself too many plans for the first few weeks. It’s actually pretty tiring getting to find out where everything is, your way around town and all that jazz. Especially if you don’t know the language, you’ll find that you get quite frustrated as everything just takes longer and you don’t have your normal set up, which for me is literally buy everything I can on Ocado and if it’s not on there Amazon.
11. Realise you won’t be working on the beach
It’s also highly unlikely you’ll be working outside. It’s too sunny for starters, so you can’t see your screen and beaches have sand. Sand and tech devices do NOT mix, so don’t even try it. It’s highly likely that you that you will be working in some sort of indoor space and if it’s anything like where I was in Gran Canaria, the view is not up to much either, so don’t get sucked into “the insta dream”. Having said that I’ve been told that locations like Bali and Thailand offer these dream working spaces, so once I’ve been I’ll let you know.
What to do instead?
Mentally prepare yourself that work is work and it may not be in the most idyllic location. Then make real time for play. Many of the digital nomads I spoke to worked their days to fit in with sports they did or time they wanted to spend at the beach. So 8-1 at work and then 4-6 at their desk. If you are working remotely you are flexible. You are not chained to your desk, so make the most of it! ( i’ve been telling myself that for 7 years and I’m still chained. It’s a lesson I need to learn more than most!
12. Discount Coliving as an option
You may have lived alone for a while, or only lived with a partner and friends, and thought that you are past sharing your space or living with other people. I was actually of this opinion before I left for my first trip. I actually only booked a coliving place as an experiment, and so I could write a blog post or two about it. The funny thing was that the coliving turned out to be the best part of my first month Digital Nomading along with the extended group we met at Restation.
What to do instead?
Be open to new types of living arrangements as what you think you would never do at home, turns out to be the best fit for you in a new place. Maybe you would never consider setting foot in a hostel at home or on a friends holiday, but if you are travelling to a new country on your own, it may be the very best place to meet people! Sometimes having company in a less fancy environment is really worth a lot more than the loneliness of a hotel room or AirB and B.
12. Fall for the quick and easy money making online
I am literally astounded by what I have seen on a myriad of travel and digital nomad Facebook groups. People quitting their jobs and believing that they can make money doing something online with little to no prior experience. Making money online is really really tough. Affiliate marketing, drop shipping, trading are all roles that need real skill, dedication, time and experience to make money. There is no overnight success. There’s a lot of pseudo salespeople/influencers/coaches out there ready to take your money and sell you their get rich quick course. Of course, that’s how they are making money = off you, not off their “business” that they claim to have. Be very very careful before you quit your role with no backup plan, give money to some “influencer”.
What to do instead?
If you have a skill or something that you think you could do while travelling, then starts practising that immediately alongside your current role. Just an hour a day every day will start to get you closer to your ultimate goal. Or look at how you could transition your role into a remote role? It’s not always possible but if you have the desire and dedication and imagination you can do it. Do have a read through the ladies that I’ve interviewed about their lifestyle redesign, as many of those have transitioned from jobs that didn’t work for them, to completely new ones.
I hope my list was useful for you. I will certainly be using it to make my future trips more productive, more healthy and certainly more relaxing. If you are a seasoned nomad, I’d love to know what you think I missed out… and if you are looking for photos of Gran Canaria head over to my Instagram, where you’ll find plenty !
12 comments On How to survive your first month as a Digital Nomad
Great post on the realities of the lifestyle, thanks! One suggestion – when you wrote “Even if I burn my journals, as I can’t travel with them! ” No need to lose your journaling! As much as I like journaling by hand with pen and paper, when I took off to be a full-time nomad 3 years ago, I switched to journaling on my “notes” app, then emailing myself each days journal with the heading “Journal” and the date. This way I can delete the note if I want, to save space, and can access my journal notes wherever I am, on whatever device, by going to my email – no worries about ever losing them 🙂
Lynn, thanks for commenting. I probably should consider that. The reason I write on paper is that I’m literally on devices all day and the journaling was a ritual that I started every morning to get away from them. I really enjoy writing on paper. I might keep writing and use the Cam Scanner to scan and save. It’s trial and error I guess, but I am really wanting to use my devices less.
Maybe you could find a way to post them back to the UK? I’m sure your mother would be happy to hold on to them for you?
Hey Matt, I’m sure she would love to read all my innermost thoughts, but i’m keeping those for myself 🙂
Good dose of reality there, I like that approach. As for jealousy, I get that sometimes. I point out that it is a lifestyle choice, and I don’t own such ‘luxurious’ things as an apartment or a car. If people want to do what I do, they can! I’ll even help them!
I fill about a notebook a month with notes, which gets digitized afterwards (I type it in, which also gives me the opportunity to review the content), so I only ever carry 1 or 2 notebooks. Emotional stuff: habituation to challenges does happen, I’ve found. The challenges offered by this lifestyle have made me stronger, more resilient and a better problem solver.
Thanks for reading LJ, I really appreciate your comments. I like that approach on the luxury, it’s a good response. On the notebooks, that is a good idea. I actually know an author that writes like that. That’s definitely a better way of doing it and perhaps it might encourage me to write better journals if I know I’m taking the time to type it up. I’m looking forward to looking back in a year to see how much I’ve grown. I learnt heaps the first time I travelled long term.
Thanks for this post Zoe. Sorry to hear that the first months haven’t been fantastic but it sounds like an incredible learning experience. I am planning to do a nomadic work month in August so will be coming back to these tips lots! Missing you at HKT!
Thanks for reading Karina. We live and learn, hence why I wrote the most for myself, as much as for everyone else. Next time I’ll do a better job! That sounds really exciting I am looking forward to hearing all about it. I will try and come back in May again and hang out ( well work!) I am missing you too and all my Huckletree family. Much love Z xx
Been looking for ages for a realistic depiction of the nomadic lifestyle since beginning working away in Cardiff and spending a several hours travelling on train and living in hotels, and certainly you’ve touched on a few very important points! Firstly they are relevant to any commuter or someone who works a lot away from home but certainly you paint a more realistic picture than the beaches and smiles and it’s a breath of fresh air to hear that realism for a change :). Keep up the good work!
Thanks for commenting Gareth. I am actually from Cardiff originally, so I do hope you are enjoying it. And that was the whole point of me writing it, as there’s way too much of the fakeness on-line. I feel your pain as a commuter. It’s not pleasant at all. Thanks for the encouragement, I took a rather long sabbatical from writing, but when I see people like you take the time to read and comment, that gives me a boost to keep writing. Thank you 🙂
Been doing Nomad for 3 years myself as well and I consider myself very lucky simply because I am from a developed country even my country is a lot less richer than yours. I am sure you have worked hard to reach where you are but if you imagine if you are from one of the poorest country, it might have been a lot more difficult. So I think you are lucky enough.. Thank you for your article, I enjoyed the most of the part! 🙂
Yes, Chorizo I totally agree with what you say. I understand how important it is to be grateful for what I have. Many things I took for granted until we had Covid so that in its own way was a gift to me. Thanks for your reply. Apologies that I took so long to reply.
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