1 Year Ago We Became Digital Nomads —and It Changed Everything

Updated: Jul 27, 2021

Top 10 takeaways from our life on the road

Photo by averie woodard on Unsplash


Have you ever wondered what it would be like to step away from the life you’ve created to get some of your freedom back?

To press pause on everything, to go out exploring without limits?…

This year, we decided to run the experiment for ourselves, and we got more than we bargained for. I want to share with you what we’ve learned along the way.

 

1 year ago on November 23rd, 2019 we decided to radically change our lives. We took a huge chance. We let our apartment lease expire, gave away practically everything we owned, and moved into a 300 sqft RV. We became modern-day nomads.

I could write multiple articles about how and why we ended up in the RV (and probably will), but suffice to say that the sedentary life wasn’t checking the boxes that we wanted our lives to. There was no way I’d be happy living the lives we’d created for another 50+ years. We knew that something had to give.

We spent a few months ideating and prototyping everything we could think of, until we landed where we are today. We’ve gained so much more than the ability to travel as we please. It’s simplified our lives tremendously and helped clarify what we want for the future.

Our home lit up by a sunset in the Poconos


Top 10 Takeaways from our life on the road

10.) You’ll miss your friends and family, but that doesn’t mean you have to stay put


It’s easy to get really busy with exploring new places, but there will always be moments when you’ll miss those that you love. We haven’t seen that as a reason to stop traveling, we simply take it as a cue to spend more time talking with them and video chatting. In fact, now when we catch up, we’ve got a ton to talk about.

We’ve even tried to convert a few of them into joining us on the road in the future so that we can have some of our favorite people around to experience everything with us. Not sure how well that’s working, but only time will tell on that one!

 

9.) Our society isn’t set up for nomadic living


We realized this before even getting into the RV, but we felt it once we were living this way. For a species that’s been nomadic for approximately 99% of our history (with some groups that still are), it’s shocking that we don't really have much infrastructure built for this lifestyle.

Things are set up by default to assume that people are going to be living in an area for a prolonged period of time, which means that being nomadic comes with some logistical challenges. Can they be managed? Yep, it just takes some extra planning and know-how.

Some common (and mundane) issues that we’ve had to actively think about this year:

Taxes based on your “home location”, a permanent mailing address, the billing zip code for all of your credit cards, stable & reliable internet for work, unshared maintenance records across dealerships for your vehicle, insurance based on your zip-code, Doctor & Vet appointments that need to happen at regular intervals with the same providers, and subscriptions based on your location…just to name the ones that easily come to mind.

 

8.) When you know you won’t be somewhere for a long time, it’s easier to love it for what it is

For most of my life until I was in high school, my family moved every 6–12 months…I hated it. Then we stopped moving and I was bored out of my mind and practically grew to hate it there until I left for college. There wasn’t enough to do, and the people didn’t seem to grow or change. I felt suffocated.

In our new life on the road it pays for us to move every 2–3 weeks, and that’s actually made me love every place that we’ve been to.

As we drive into our new spot the views are novel, and there are plenty of places to explore, experience, and eat at. It all feels so adventurous. As you begin to settle in and get cozy, it’s time to move again — and we always feel a little sad to be leaving. Although that might sound a bit depressing, I think it’s a great indicator that we’ve been moving at the right pace.

My theory here? When you know you’ll only be somewhere new for a small chunk of time, you can prioritize finding the things to love about it rather than worrying about whether it can meet all of your needs forever (a tall order).

The requirements for the place to be entertaining for a few weeks vs. a few years are drastically different, so moving often allows you to enjoy a place for what it has to offer rather than growing to hate it for what it doesn’t have.

 

7.) Things will go wrong, and you’ll become more resilient because of it

Living in a home on wheels that moves frequently means that you’re always juggling logistics and re-planning for the unexpected. Whether it’s dealing with something that breaks in a move or switching around travel plans on a tight schedule, it’s all come up.

This year, the pandemic and the fires on the West Coast meant that a year-long itinerary that I’d researched for 6 months had to be completely canceled. Rather than stew in self-pity for our loss (for too long at least), we rallied and planned a route all up and down the East Coast instead. I’m happy to report that we’ve been surprisingly impressed with the outcome.

In terms of things breaking, we’ve had to fix our own stove, do dishes in a public restroom, and shower in an unheated building while it snowed outside. We’ve had sites that were so uneven that I had to design our own leveling system to carry around with us on top of the one we already had, we’ve been drenched while we set up in the dark at a new spot, and we’ve almost clipped the wall of our kitchen off on a tree as we were backing up.

The takeaway? The more things that can go wrong, the more things that will go wrong. The choice we’ve made is to learn to roll with it and not waste time lamenting over it. Roll your sleeves up, and get it done.

 

6.) Being nomadic is the best kind of minimalism

We didn’t get a chance to linger and contemplate minimalism, it was a necessity. We downsized from a 900 sqft apartment to 300 sqft. RV, and I was initially pretty worried that we’d feel deprived of everything that we had to get rid of in order to fit. Turns out, I didn’t need to worry at all. Humans adapt, and I’d say that most of us have way more than we need without even realizing it… I know we did.

Today, I’d say that we still don’t use about 25% of what’s in here on a regular basis — Which would have been shocking to me a year ago when I thought we were definitely down to the bare essentials when we moved in. We also really don't find ourselves out shopping when we already have more than we need in our small space. Not only is that good for keeping things de-cluttered, but it’s also kept our bank accounts happy.

I always thought a walk-in closet was the dream. Turns out, clothes aren’t actually that important to me when I’m out living my dream life. My experiences are what consume me, and keeps me happy and engaged…not what I’m wearing during those experiences.

It seems that when you’re in a larger space, it’s easy to want to fill it, whether you need it or not. When you’re in a small space that you have to pack up every 2 weeks, you really question what you want and need.

 

5.) You’ll learn what your real priorities are

With few possessions to clutter up your life and your mind, it’s easier to focus on what actually makes you happy and what you want to fill your time with. Now that we both work remotely from the RV we get so much more time together. We love having breakfast, lunch and dinner together every day. We take mid-day walks around whatever new location we’re in, and a random nap every once in a while if we feel like it. It sounds simple, and it might drive some couples insane, but these are the things that make each day that much better than the ones spent in the office. I would have never known that was my 20/80 before this year. Our relationship is better than it ever has been because we’ve got the time and energy to give to it, rather than it getting the leftovers we’d previously been able to give it.

 

4.) You grow to deeply appreciate the basics

Every time we move, we have to plug in all of our own utilities. So when we’re on the road and stop to make food, we get to experience our home without any of them. No A/C, heating, water, or electricity. We even have to level our home every time we get to a new spot. So you can’t take a level floor for granted either.

The point I’m making is that there’s no way for us to separate ourselves from constantly thinking about these luxuries that would so easily fade into the background if we lived in a standard house. It’s made it second nature to be grateful for the basics, something that many of us in developed countries don’t often stop to think about.

 

3.) Being a nomad can drastically increase your savings rate

Turns out, the standard American dream of chasing a huge house with a ton of cars is actually really expensive and hard to keep up with. Traveling the US full-time has turned out to be so much cheaper than that stationary box close to the office dreaming of travel…it’s shocking, I know.

We were already pretty frugal people, focusing not only on saving money but also on making more. 3 years ago I switched into a job in tech and tripled my income, which took care of the income side of that equation. This year, becoming nomads took care of the other side, our savings rate.

In 2018 we were averaging a savings rate of about 25%,. This year, we’ve hit between 70% — 80% every single month without increasing our incomes. The funny thing about it is that we now spend all of our time in the best restaurants and booking the best excursions in each new location. I never thought I’d be living so well on 20% of my income…but here we are.

 

2.) Financial freedom is freedom from more than just your financial stress

Now that we live off of 20% of our income, we don’t live paycheck to paycheck anymore. We own everything we have, our traditional retirement is being well-funded, and we don’t have to spend extra money to travel…it’s just our lifestyle now.

Without those financial stresses, money has become more of an ally in the game of getting closer to our goals rather than the stressor I knew it to be growing up. We rest easy, we plan for our future with hope and belief that we’ll be able to make it happen, and I’ve been able to overcome generational poverty.

 

1.) Being an adult doesn’t have to be as bad as everyone’s made it out to be

To be honest, the lives of adults seemed extremely dull to me as a child, and I dreaded growing up for that reason. Turns out, it doesn’t have to be as bad as it seems, not really. Housing doesn't have to be so prohibitively expensive. You don’t have to settle down to have meaningful relationships, you don’t have to grow apart from your partner over your careers, and you can be free and still have a job.

Now that we have so much of our income freed up, we don’t hesitate to book the best experiences in every new location we get to. We make a point to look into the best things to see, do and eat…and then we do them all.

In January, my partner is taking 2 weeks to get paramotor training from the best school in the country. We have a spot booked for our home right next to the airport he’ll be training at. He’ll be able to live his lifelong dream of flying wherever we are, with the unexpected benefit of taking in the beauty of every landscape around us as we travel.

This is the adult life our younger selves would be proud of living, not one they’d dread.

Photo of Chris during training, by @https://www.instagram.com/gillsphotographs/

 

Our big takeaways from this past year

Being nomadic this year has turned our lives upside down in the best possible way. We’ve had some great experiences, grown to be more patient, grown in our relationship, and have opened our minds to more alternative forms of living. We’ve been given the clarity to make decisions based on a totally different framework. One that I think could serve many people well.

A new framework

  • Figure out what your ideal life would be, and then design a lifestyle around that.

Rather than:

  • Living the default lifestyle and trying to fit yourself and your dreams into it.

We know that we’ll always be iterating. Being in new locations while living very well on 20% of our income has taught us that what we want to buy more of, is our time. We’ve got a few ideas on that in the coming years. What’s clear, is that this year has changed us and how we view the lives we want. We originally started this to travel more, but we’ve gained so much more than just location independence. We’ve discovered the promise of a life worth living again, like the ones we dreamed about as children.


Thanks for reading! I hope it's inspired you to work towards creating your very own dream life!

 

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