11 min read

My Reflections on Being a Digital Nomad

My Reflections on Being a Digital Nomad

If you aren't one of my long-time readers, you may wonder what a digital nomad is and why I became one.

“Digital nomads conduct their lives in a nomadic manner while engaging in remote work using digital telecommunications technology." - Wikipedia.

You might already be living the digital nomad lifestyle if you work online and don't need to be in a specific place at a specific time. But, just like anything else in life, being a digital nomad comes with its own perks and tradeoffs.

A Brief Bit about My Nomadic Journey So Far

For the past five years, I have explored my way throughout Southeast Asia, the Caucasus, the Balkans, Eastern Europe, and Southern Europe—and now I am moving slowly toward northern Europe.

Here are just a few highlights from my journey so far:

  1. Working remotely since 2018
  2. Running a community for Chinese readers (currently 690+ members)
  3. Building a remote business to help people live a borderless life
  4. Setting up a home base in Istanbul during the pandemic
  5. Making my own NFT smart contracts from zero tech background

Curious? Read on to learn more about my adventures and how they’ve changed the quality of my life with enhanced freedom.

2017: My First Taste of Freedom

After graduating from university, I began work in a great consulting company. It was basically a well-paid job with lots of exciting events and fun parties. I still remember that my classmates were jealous of me because none of them found good jobs right after school. But deep inside, I knew that I was not happy. I wasn't passionate about my work and certainly didn't enjoy boring meetings, long commutes, and traffic.

My wake-up moment came when I was sipping a $2 avocado smoothie in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. I was texting with clients at the same time, and the exciting part was they didn't even know where I was 👀

I LOVED waking up every day and being able to do whatever I wanted. Every day felt like a new adventure instead of doing the same thing again and again.

By the end of 2017, I started writing, and this decision changed my life.

I followed a few interesting people, and they helped me realize the charm of building a personal brand—leveraging the internet to attract serendipity, and you only need 1000 true fans to make a good living too.

I started to document my journey, and I posted my first article in 公众号(public accounts on WeChat, which is basically like Facebook in China), but barely anyone read it. At that time, I didn't know what I wanted to write or how to write... not a fun start.

2018: Quitting and Starting from Scratch

I started to travel on long weekends and met a German travel blogger in Singapore. To my surprise, he told me that he had never worked at an office job, had been traveling for the past seven years, and was making all his money online! Many people are doing the same, and these brave souls are part of the growing digital nomad lifestyle.

Back home, I continued my work as usual, but I googled as much as I could about this lifestyle and read other nomads' life stories. I needed to know if earning a living online was doable for me. I began tinkering around with different things on the side, then I did a test run on my first online booking service. It worked!

“Some birds aren't meant to be caged.” —Stephen King

Eventually, I quit. I never felt fulfilled. I realized that working for others was not suitable for me. You do most of the work yet only get a small cut of the reward, which didn’t seem fair.

It felt like I was restarting my life—like actually living and breathing for the first time.

The first thing that came to my mind was building my blog, and I managed to create it by watching videos! OMG, this was a surreal moment, I had never experienced this level of excitement working for others—the freedom to get my hand dirty to explore whatever interests me instead of being told what to do and actually learning valuable skills!

my blog1.0

For the first time since finishing school, I was without a steady income. Living in a big city was expensive, and I found it challenging to write without doing anything interesting. I decided to fly to Saigon, Vietnam, where things are much cheaper there, and I could explore different cultures and food. Such a win! After reading the book The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferris, I realized this is called geoarbitrage.

But my writing journey hadn’t gone smoothly, and frankly, I hadn’t made much money. I wanted to quit at one point, but then I asked myself if I could return to my former work life and those soul-crushing meetings—NO F** WAY.

Then, around July, one of the articles finally picked up some traffic. It felt fantastic! I knew that my writing still needed some work, but it seemed people DID want to read authentic content. As an ISTP, I am certainly a good fit for that!

I then tried different topics, facing one of the many common struggles of content creators: Do you want to write things that people want to see or stay true to yourself by saying something that you want to say? I chose the latter, as I don't want to write short-lived eye-catching content.

I want to write something of real long-term value and personal meaning.

this was how long it take for me to reach 1k audience

2019: When Nomading Began to Get Dull

I went to the famous nomad base in Chiangmai, Thailand. I liked it there and learned a lot from other nomads, but it was challenging to relate to, as they were mostly white male techies or marketers. However, I was also just so happy that people were willing to share their stories and show me what skills I should develop—and I was hungry to learn!

Due to visa restrictions, I flew to Myanmar after three months of learning in Chiangmai. And weirdly, I felt more excited to test my newly learned skills than to explore the country 🤔 Later, I flew to Turkey and the Caucasus, as I Iike to explore hidden gems that might not be on the radar of most digital nomads.

Moving around and working started to get exhausting, and traveling began to feel like travel for the sake of travel. Fun fact: by the time you have been in over ten countries, you have passed the exciting stage where everything is still fresh and new. You start to see patterns in every country—novelty fades away.

One of the most exciting things about being a nomad is meeting some really interesting people. However, it always ends in saying goodbyes... I started to question everything at the end of 2019. What is the point of this so-called freedom if I can't be around them? And the whole nomad thing even begins to seem like a routine too. Landing... cab... Airbnb... exploring... dating... eating... departing and then the same routine again.

I ended up flying home to China to see my parents for the Chinese new year. But then Covid19 happened, and everything changed.

2020: Setting Up a Home Base During a Pandemic

I felt something was wrong in early January. You can find more stories and my thoughts about Covid here.

Then the whole world went into lockdown, and it became more and more challenging to travel,  not that I was crazy about traveling anymore. So, I made use of the lockdown to redesign my blog and launch my new venture: Geoarbitrage—helping people to maximize their freedom by banking and gaining residencies in different countries.

Originally, I wanted to build a platform to connect, helping people solve the problems I experienced. I made many common first-time founder mistakes, and I will share more of these learned lessons later.

As adventurous as I am, I didn't enjoy the uncertainty during this time. I knew I needed a home base. I ended up choosing Istanbul, Turkey as my home base, which turned out to be a really interesting experience. I had to relearn many basic things I took for granted about life in another cultural setting. I didn’t speak Turkish, nor did I have many friends there. But my curiosity helped me solve many problems and find lots of hidden natural goodies: from skincare (rose water, black dust, and natural soap) to organic farm food.

Turkey is underrated

It reminded me of this quote from Naval Ravikant:

“I like to think that if I lost all my money and if you drop me on a random street in any English-speaking country, within 5, 10 years, I'd be wealthy again because it's just a skill set that I've developed, and I think anyone can create.”

Nothing is more comforting than knowing that I can live well even in a non-English-speaking country. I’m not afraid of moving anywhere in the world now, even to places most digital nomads would not be likely to visit.

2021: Exploring from Outside to Inside

As the business grew, I started hiring and grew a remote team. But I slowly realized that I don't enjoy managing people—not everyone is self-driven, which ended up clashing with my natural working style and creating more unnecessary work. I began to see that I had picked the wrong business model for myself.

I stopped writing for a while to THINK about what I wanted. I enjoyed exploring and sharing, but most of my energy was wasted on dealing with unnecessary and intellectually unstimulating tasks.

Meanwhile, the lockdown encouraged me to turn my explorations inward, and surprisingly, I found this far more rewarding. Maybe traveling was a distraction? I realized that All I CARED about was personal growth, which can be done anywhere.

2022: Self-Discovering and Occasionally Traveling

Welcome to my blog 3.0—a minimalist version, the one you are reading right now. Here’s what I am currently working on:

1. I am pivoting the business with web3 tools, especially with NFTs. It seems like I’m finally able to do things the way I wanted.

2. I am exploring my second home base in Europe. I’ve narrowed it down to a final list of five countries I’m considering being based in.

3. Building up new skillsets such as biohacking, cooking, and coding. I realized that self-mastery is easier than trying to master the entire world.

The Ugly Side of Being a Digital Nomad

I have found that many nomads only talk about the positive aspects of being a digital nomad, but I’d also like to share the ugly bits too:

1. It becomes challenging to engage with typical 9-to-5ers

Not everyone has as much lifestyle freedom or thinks outside the box as much as you, so meeting interesting souls could be difficult. It’s harder to talk or care about the same things “normal” people do because your lifestyles can be so different.

2. Moving around all the time is mentally and physically tiring

Creating a more balanced lifestyle could solve this problem, like having one or more home bases. It’s less mentally draining to spend longer amounts of time in a familiar place than to constantly move around.

Hot tip: Istanbul is an excellent place as a home base for nomads, and I will share more insider details in the future.

3. Loneliness

I am a female Asian nomad and an entrepreneur (but I prefer to call myself a builder). Sometimes it seems everything I am doing is pretty much against what my home society wants from me.

But I asked myself: Do I want to do what everyone else is doing? Get a steady job, find a husband, get married, and have kids in my 20s? The answer was no.

“Only dead fish go with the flow.” —Andy Hunt

4. It’s hard to sustain long-term relationships

Yes, you meet many interesting people, but it's challenging to maintain healthy relationships without being in the same location for long.

Q&A

1. Is living as a digital nomad right for everyone?

I don't think it is for everyone, but it should be an enjoyable experience for those with self-sufficient and curious minds.

And don't be blindly sold by marketers. No, you don't work on the beach with your laptop, and you really need to work HARD too.

2. Is it worth trying?

Yes, especially if you are young. Try EVERYTHING. I am happy that I took the red pill in my early 20s, as I had nothing to lose at that time.

3. How can you make money while being on the road?

It depends on your personality and skillsets. Some people work remotely by creating content, running a business, or even investing (as you have way more first-hand real-world knowledge knowing what is actually happening on the ground, compared to people who wear navy blue suits.)

Then again, it's about understanding yourself and finding your ikigai: The Japanese idea of something that gives you a sense of purpose, a reason for living.

Nothing feels better than getting paid to do what you enjoy doing.

Takeaway

1. It is not about living the lifestyle; it is about getting control of your life.

I didn't enjoy constantly traveling, nor did I enjoy staying in one place for a long time. I found myself preferring a balance of having a base and occasionally exploring.

2. These explorations lead to self-awareness.

I am thankful for all these nomadic experiences that made me realize what kind of cultural setting I enjoy living in, what kind of people I enjoy spending time with, and what I CARE about.

3. Life is about solving problems.

I believe we are here to explore, learn, and build up different skill sets to solve deeper problems while having fun along the way.

Part of the fun of being a digital nomad is that it requires you to constantly solve problems on the road. My adventures made me feel alive, and I loved it—until it got boring…

One of the things I missed during the pandemic was meeting interesting people, so I am trying another approach: meeting more self-driven and creative thinkers via the internet.

Thanks for reading! Feel free to say hi to me at mail@nataliamok.com or subscribe.

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