Making the conscious, methodical decision to switch lifestyles is often a slow and bumpy process. You may hear popular hashtags like #travelgoals and #vanlife circulate in conversation, but how often are these ideals fully accepted? Living a rootless existence, whether temporary or permanent, may seem thrilling to some and awful to others. Both perspectives are okay. The friction begins when an individual’s choices are scrutinized by those whose opinions they value, or by the society they are born into. And this struggle is one that most digital nomads are all too familiar with, including me.
A Solo Woman Abroad
As much as I try to be an independent individual, I can’t deny the weight that people’s opinions have on my heart. As a woman, these opinions are amplified into a new stratosphere when you make a shift into solo travel. The fears that are ingrained in us as young girls are meant to protect us, but often hinder our explorations for the threat of the unknown. My first experience outside of the country was at 18, on a one-month journey through Europe (when the travel bug really took it’s permanent hold). Before that, I hung a map up in my dorm room of college and used to stay up late staring at it and researching different itineraries between cities I’d never been. The subconscious worries of the people I told about my dreams formulated into speculations akin to the familiar, “But aren’t you scared to be taken?”, “Why would you choose to go alone?”, and the uniquely poignant, “How will you meet a man if you’re gone all the time?”. These thoughts created a riptide effect, sweeping me away into dark waters that made me second-guess if staying on the comfortable shore was the better choice.
> Read more: How to overcome your fear of traveling solo.
Coping with Doubts
So how am I able to combat this barrage of both internal and external second-guessing? For me, it doesn’t really feel like a choice. The invisible grip pulling my heart to new places isn’t something I can control, I just know it’s when I am happiest in life. The pressures of getting married and starting a family, saving up for retirement, and owning property are still always present.
But as a digital nomad, your experiences reshape what the epitome of a successful life looks like through seeing the thousands of ways other people around the world live theirs. It’s okay to be afraid of what you might be risking. However, the time between now and the future will still happen. You can make a purposeful decision to have amazing experiences driven by your passions in the meantime. Or you can wait, in the hopes that the other parts of your plan will happen for you. The difference is that one of these choices is out of your control, the other is not. Either way, the time will pass. And so, I left again after college.
Learning New Lessons
This time, it was another month long journey abroad with a partner (not including the smattering of state side trips in between). I waited and saved, deep down wanting to continue on longer, but the restrictions my partner had meant that we needed to return home sooner. Fast-forward several months after we returned, and the relationship had ended. So there I was, in our shared apartment alone and reshaping my future with a newly found freedom I hadn’t expected.
Trying to find my footing, I left briefly to experience a work exchange in Amsterdam. The trip ended abruptly when an old back injury resurfaced, but it was useful in deepening my understanding of sustainable long term travel funding. Hence, I decided to shift to online English teaching, and booked a one-way ticket to Portugal two months later.
The rewards involved with the digital nomad lifestyle can be plentiful, but they do come with a hefty load of risks to overcome, and lots of giving. Many of my material possessions, for example, were no longer present. The process of the switch can be tiresome and daunting. Even for me, who lived in a one-bedroom apartment. I sold my things bit by bit, and threw away anything that wouldn’t fit into my car. Seeing my home with bare walls, one chair, and a bed was scary.
The days of frivolous spending become a battle of wills. As a traveler in my mid-twenties, this became especially difficult. The time for socializing with your friends becomes glaringly sparse as we age, and therefore more precious. The missed concerts, dinners, and nights on the town become a sacrifice for your dream. It’s not always something that people understand, and those relationships can become regretfully strained.
At 24 (and fast approaching 25), the pressure to find a partner becomes more apparent in society and in your own family. As a traveler, making those connections becomes fleeting and usually surface level. I have lost several meaningful partnerships to follow my nomad path, and the decision is painful every time. *Que the panicked visions of arriving home for Christmas alone at 40 while everyone is surrounded by their partners and families*. More painful than this though, was waiting for my partners to be ready to accompany me. Waiting to chase your goals and heeding your drive for another person often leads to resentment and regret.
When I admit to people in my midwestern hometown that I travel on my own often, they sometimes don’t know how to respond. Finding a way to connect with people on shared experiences can become difficult. The best way I’ve found to counter this is don’t over share with people that don’t have interests in these passions, because it can cause you to become unrelatable. Instead, I opt to reserve those more in-depth conversations with the people I’ve met on adventures or even in online travel communities. Because while the world around you may seem small, there’s a sea of people just like you out there who share the same visions and precious moments in their hearts.
For those readers that don’t know, I was born an American. From my earliest memories and even more so in recent years, a patriotic attitude has been showcased as the epitome of virtue. When I say patriotic, I mean the idea that your country is the best. That our freedoms outmatch all others freedoms, and that we are a powerhouse to be admired. As a traveler, I’ve seen first hand the privileges and downfalls that my society is built on in comparison to others. Digital nomadism aims to create a sort of autonomous profit for one’s self, which benefits whichever country we are doing our consumer spending in. Battling with these points of views can be difficult when you are questioned as to why you don’t just stay in your place of origin, and spend money in the community you were born into.
> Read more: Digital nomadism: A generational problem.
Digital nomadism has no doubt become wildly popular in recent years. However, as a young person, you may still be ridiculed for having a lack of responsibility or stability. Even though I’ve worked continuously since I was 15, my age comes with a connotation of ignorance. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been asked if I just enjoyed taking vacations, if I actually paid for my experiences or used family money, or if I had ever had to pay bills / had to work full time. While hurtful, these assumptions are not your responsibility to debunk.
A person’s preconceived notion of your gumption (or lack thereof) will not be changed if they are committed to their way of thinking. Instead, know that you worked hard to get here. Know that the decisions you have made came with great sacrifices. And know that the passion inside you wasn’t put there for no particular reason. If you are strong enough to fight against all of these obstacles, you deserve every ounce of thrilling travel experiences that await you!