If someone told me more than 12 years ago that I’m going to continuously travel the world and someday even work remotely full-time, I’d probably given that person the biggest hug. I mean what an incredible life! Today, I can look back at so many memories, so much self-development and so many digital nomad life lessons learned.
My Digital Nomad Life Lessons
In case you want to become location-independent and travel the world, too, have a look at the following list to see what you can expect and how your life is going to change as a digital nomad!
1. You don’t need much to be happy.
Over the years I’ve learned how to travel for months and months in a row with only a hand luggage backpack. Being a minimalistic traveler has not only practical advantages, such as you don’t need to carry around heavy suitcases.
It also shows you, that you really don’t need many materialistic things to be happy. You don’t need to have 15 pairs of shoes, a massive makeup bag, or tons of fancy electronics.
You can easily get by without all of that and live an extremely happy and fulfilled life.
2. Digital nomads are normal people. Just happier.
Admittedly, this is the best case. But I’ve often noticed that fellow nomads seem to be happier and more balanced.
Don’t get me wrong. Digital nomads have to work hard to make money, too. They feel lonely sometimes, argue with their partners, friends, or families, have health issues, and face many disadvantages this lifestyle brings.
What makes the difference is that they live on their own terms. They decide where they want to live, what job they want to do, and when they want to work. You get to take responsibility for your own life.
This level of self-determination, freedom of choice, and independence has a huge impact on your happiness.
3. Memories are far more valuable than souvenirs.
We are all tempted to buy fancy souvenirs at local markets around the world. But instead of buying the 72nd bracelet that you’ll never wear, save the money and spend it on memories.
- Make new friends and have a fun night out.
- Go on a bike tour.
- Stay with locals.
- Go canyoning.
- Do a cooking class.
- Go on a multiple-day hike.
- Go diving.
- Do a craftsman workshop.
- Go skydiving.
- Do a language class.
- Go speed dating.
Those memories will stay with you forever. So make sure that you don’t spend all of your money on random things but spend it on experiences that you won’t get anywhere else.
4. Your gut feeling is smarter than you might expect.
Another digital nomad lesson that I have learned is to trust your gut feeling. That is important for both the travel part, as well as the remote work part.
If you have a bad feeling walking into a dark and narrow street, don’t do it! Go the way around it to be safe.
If something feels off with a new potential client, stay clear. New opportunities always show up. It’s not worth the hassle.
Learn how to listen to your gut and how to interpret the feeling the right way. Your instinct is smarter than you might think.
5. Taking risks is part of the game.
Sometimes you have to leave your comfort zone to see or learn something new, develop, or even to bring your business to the next level.
I’m not exactly the most risk-loving person. But even I learned to sometimes push myself to take a calculated (!) risk. And so far, I haven’t regretted it a single time because either my plan worked or it didn’t. In which case, I’ve learned something new which helped me in the long run.
If you don’t take risks, you might always stay where you are right now.
6. There is ALWAYS a way.
No matter how hopeless a situation seems, there is always a way.
- Your accommodation got canceled last minute and now you are standing in the middle of nowhere at 8 pm, without a phone, or any idea where to spend the night?
- Your website got hacked, data was deleted, and you feel like giving up?
- Your clients suddenly canceled your contracts, you’re running out of money, and have no idea how to pay your next rent?
No matter what happened, you will ALWAYS find a way. Sounding very spiritual here, but there is always a tomorrow. Life goes on. As long as you stay positive, you will find a solution to any problem and can later be proud of how things went.
7. Your problems are smaller than you think.
Especially when traveling and meeting new people and experiencing cultures, you realize how lucky and privileged you really are.
- For one, there are always people with much bigger problems than you have, making your issues look like nothing.
- And two our world is so freaking beautiful, so big and so full of wonders. Your client is an idiot? Not worth spending a single worry. Just find a new one!
No matter what kind of problems you are currently facing, when looking at the bigger picture you realize that you can and should be incredibly grateful for all the good things in your life.
8. Making new friends is always worth it.
At a certain age, you might feel like you’re done making new friends. Especially, when you’ve traveled extensively for a while and met new people on a daily basis, having the usual chitchat.
But meeting new people, getting to know who them, and building a connection is one of the best parts about traveling and living the digital nomad lifestyle.
Even if you only spend a few months or weeks together, it’s the people and their stories that can inspire you and that you are going to remember.
9. People are better than you might think.
Yes, you are likely going to make a few bad experiences while traveling and working online. But overall, people are much better than you think.
I have to admit that I often expected people to be fake or deceitful. Only to find out later that they are actually super nice and only tried to help without expecting anything in return.
I found myself being too judgmental many times throughout the years. I was proven wrong most of the time and found that people are much better than I originally thought.
10. Being open to new experiences and cultures is essential.
No offense, but if you are not completely open to new cultures, people, and experiences, you shouldn’t become a digital nomad. You could, of course, still be a remote worker and work from home.
But traveling will most definitely not make you happy.
One of the beauties of travel is not only seeing new places but also experiencing new cultures and traditions. If you are not open and not willing to look at things from a different perspective, you are going to have a hard time (plus you miss out on countless amazing things!).
11. Hanging out with locals makes the difference.
One of the best ways to get to know new cultures and learn how locals live is by hanging out with them. There are many ways to do so:
- Go to local restaurants instead of tourist places
- Stay in homestays
- Volunteer in local charity projects
- Teach English at a local school (check visa restrictions beforehand!)
- Chat with the taxi driver, hotel owner, waiter, etc.
- Go to local sports clubs or events
- Book local tour guides
The most interesting information about a city or region often can’t be found in guidebooks, but while talking to locals.
12. Everyone has their own unique story to tell.
Similar to the latter digital nomad life lessons, I’ve learned that each and every one of us has a unique and interesting story to tell.
Do you think that the lady at the reception has a rather unspectacular life? You might be surprised what she has to tell – her upbringing, her family, her relationships, what type of music or movies she likes, her dreams.
Never get tired of listening to people and you will be surprised how much those stories can inspire and impact your own life.
13. Travel buddies stay in your heart forever.
Especially when traveling full-time, you will meet new people all the time. And you also have to say goodbye to them again.
But no matter how much time you’ve spent with them, some people are going to stay in your heart forever. Strangers can easily become friends for life even if you won’t see them again.
The experiences you made and the memories you share are always going to be there and connect you.
14. Talking to strangers can be life-changing.
As just mentioned, strangers can become some of your dearest friends. You might hear the most inspirational story from someone you’d normally not get in a conversation with.
Don’t hesitate to talk to strangers! You never know what this might lead to.
A friend of mine met her now-husband on a street in Vancouver. She was lost and stopped him to ask for the way. They exchanged numbers, met for dinner, and now more than 10 years later they are married and have a beautiful son.
15. Smiling is the universal language.
I don’t need to tell you about the power of positive thinking or the law of attraction or anything like that. But one thing I’ve learned over the past years is that a smile always gets you much further than a grumpy face.
It doesn’t matter if you are lost in a city and need help or if you have an interview via video call and really want to get the job.
A smile doesn’t only improve your mental state but it makes your counterpart feel much better, too.
16. Body language over actual language.
My language skills are limited to English, German, and a tiny bit of Spanish. The good thing is that this was never much of a problem while traveling.
Sure, there were situations when speaking the local language would’ve made things much easier. But overall, I got along quite well in any part of the world.
Never underestimate how much you can communicate with gestures or facial expressions only. So don’t be afraid to travel if you don’t speak the local languages.
17. You never regret traveling.
Seriously. I don’t regret a single trip that I took in all those years. And I don’t think that I’ve met someone who did.
Sure, not all places or trips will work out the way you thought they would. But even if they don’t – this probably teaches you a lesson, something that you can remember forever, and that helps you grow.
Just as the quote says:
“The only trip you will regret is the one you don’t take.”
18. Taking care of your body is a priority.
Okay, this is probably not only a digital nomad life lesson but something that is important for every lifestyle. But as a digital nomad, it is very easy to forget about self-care.
After all, there are so many other, much more exciting things, to think of. What country you are going to stay in next, find accommodation, explore the region, growing your business, finding clients, reporting to your boss – the list goes on.
But especially with all of those new impacts your body is weaker and more prone to get ill. That’s why it’s important to take your time when traveling. Don’t rush from one place to another. Give your body and mind the time to settle and rest.
Do your exercise, eat healthily, take breaks, meditate. Make sure you know the signs your body is sending you and react accordingly.
19. You do you. Always.
You don’t need to do what everybody else is doing. That goes for the traveling and the remote work part.
When it comes to traveling I can tell you that the most popular places in a country are terribly crowded and often lost their magic due to all of the tourists. Try to wander off the beaten track. Find gems that you can’t find in a guide book. Connect with locals to find lesser-known alternatives. Be adventurous.
When it comes to work, you don’t need to do one of the popular digital nomad jobs. You don’t need to start your own online business only because everyone else seems to do so. Find a way to make money online that feels right for you.
Don’t feel pushed to live in a villa on Bali and write a travel blog if you’d rather want to travel through Alaska in a van and work as an account for your current company. You do you.
20. Breathing gets you farther than worrying.
When traveling, things will not always work out as planned. Trains won’t be on time, accommodation will be canceled, visas won’t be granted, the internet won’t work although you have an important meeting, etc.
These are often things that you can’t control. And these things will go wrong all the time.
Get used to it. Learn to let go of frustration and worries. Take a deep breath and focus your energy on finding a solution instead of being angry.
21. Flexibility is key.
As a newbie digital nomad, you tend to be super excited and jam-pack your upcoming weeks by exploring many new places and try to squeeze in as many activities as possible.
Unfortunately, that takes away much of your flexibility.
Try not to pack your days completely with plans and to-dos. Allow for enough time and breaks, just in case something doesn’t go according to plan.
Also, don’t make the mistake of rushing through a city or country. Take your time to settle in and explore the region like a local, not like a tourist who’s on a tight schedule.
22. Adapting to local cultures is fun.
Once you have settled at a new place and are truly open to the new culture, you will be surprised how quickly you will adapt to local customs and habits.
- No need for shoes or bras when you live right at the beach in Eastern Australia.
- After a few months of living in Berlin, you find yourself with a mustache, Harry Potter glasses, and hipster shirts, sitting in a run-down café, drinking Kombucha.
- And of course, you will be riding your scooter to the beach in Canggu to go for a quick morning surf, followed by a delicious smoothie bowl, and a short work session in one of the popular coworking spaces around town.
Ok, some of these habits might not be local but more common amongst nomads or expats. But the point is, you will probably adapt. You will go with the flow. You learn new ways of living and expand your horizon. And you will love it.
23. You never regret writing a journal.
Whatever you want to call it – journal, diary, travel book – writing down your daily experiences will pay off later!
When I started traveling more than 12 years ago, I also started to write down what I did every day, where I went, the people I met, the stories I heard. All of the details.
Over the years, I forget most of these things. But when I now open the journals and read through all of the experiences that I made, I get goosebumps (and often tears, too).
Remembering these moments shows me again how lucky I am and how much I’ve grown.
From all of the material possessions I own, these journals and the photos from my travels are probably the most valuable things.
24. Moments are more important than photos.
Of course, you should take photos, too, when traveling. Of the places you see, the people you meet, the parties you join.
But sometimes it’s more important to put your phone or camera away. To just soak up the atmosphere. To see something with your eyes and not through a lens. To enjoy the moment without having to worry about the next perfect Instagram pic.
25. Digital nomads are no backpackers.
I’m not talking about the luggage here. Especially many young people who want to become a digital nomad think that this is the typical backpacker lifestyle. But it is not.
Digital nomads don’t stay in dorms and party every other day. They don’t travel to new places every two weeks.
If they did, they’d soon burn out and realize how hard it is to combine this type of “hardcore” travel with remote work. As a digital nomad, you need to work either full-time or part-time.
Routines help you being productive. And the longer you stay at a place the more you can learn about the local culture and the healthier your work/life balance.
26. You need to make friends with other nomads.
Of course, you can keep your old friends and you will make plenty of new friends that have a “normal” life. But nothing beats making friends with like-minded nomads.
People, who work online, too. Maybe they run a business like you, maybe they are freelancers like you or maybe they are a remote employee just like you.
It feels so good to exchange thoughts and issues with others who are in the same boat. Your friends and family back home can often not understand what you are experiencing right now. So try to meet other digital nomads whenever you can.
27. Being a digital nomad is awesome but can be exhausting.
As much as I love this lifestyle, being constantly on the road and living out of a backpack can get tiring. After a while, you may grave for a home base. A closet. A place to come back to after traveling again for a few months. A circle of friends who are living near you and won’t be moving any time soon.
And that is absolutely okay! As I’ve explained in detail in my blog post “Why the Digital Nomad Life is not Sustainable”, I believe that many nomads get tired at some stage and want more stability.
You can still work online and stay location-independent. Just because you settle somewhere doesn’t mean that you won’t get to travel anymore.
For me personally, I’m currently not traveling full-time but I’m happy to have settled for the time being. In Berlin, by the way, drinking Kombucha ;)
What Are You Waiting for?
As you can see, I’ve made quite a few digital nomad life lessons during the past couple of years. Some are travel-related, others are remote work-related, and again others are more on a spiritual level.
Each of these lessons, good or bad, helped me learn and grow. I’m happy that I made the decision to change my life in this direction. And I’m grateful for all that I’ve learned.