The digital nomad lifestyle. No permanent home base. Working online with freedom of time and location. That’s what we signed up for.
December 2018 is when we started house sitting full time. We sold or got rid of most of our belongings with the exception of our outdoor gear, some kitchen supplies and our bed.
We’d been working up to this for over a year now. We quit our full-time jobs in Denver, started a blog and found work online to make ends meet. In this process we discovered a platform called TrustedHousesitters. It’s an amazing platform where you can house and pet sit for people who are travelling. Travel and stay for free by house sitting!
For us, what started out as a great way to stay for free in the Midwest while visiting our families, turned into over a year (and counting) of house sitting and working online all over the country! And now into Canada, for our current Calgary house sit.
There are certainly perks to being a digital nomad (I’m looking at you no rent, electricity or internet bills), but this lifestyle also has its challenges. Here are 10 lessons we’ve learned after 12 months living as digital nomads.
1 - Work-life balance is still challenging
Working online can free up your schedule (you don’t necessarily work 9-5) but that doesn’t mean you don’t work. Some people need their desks, others prefer coffee shops and kitchen tables (that’s us). But with this lifestyle, it’s easy to fall out of “life patterns”.
There is a lot of self accountability and discipline to get your work done even when you’d rather be exploring a new place or hanging out with family and friends. It’s all about priorities and learning to manage your time so you can get your work done and explore exciting new places.
Here's Dalton hanging out with our favorite bunny!
2 - Traveling doesn’t equal vacation
Though we’re traveling around, we are definitely not on some permanent vacation. We generally try to keep a consistent schedule of working in the morning and early afternoon, and many times late into the evening. But this concept can be hard for others to understand. Especially so when we’re visiting family and friends.
We’re still learning how to navigate working while visiting others, by learning to set boundaries and expectations. We always make sure to tell family and friends that we still have to work. We make an effort to intentionally set aside time to spend together, rather than trying to do both at the same time (hint: this doesn’t usually work very well).
3 - There’s still work, taxes and planning for the future
Many people think living as a digital nomad just means leisurely traveling around, sitting on beaches and drinking cocktails. This is pretty far from the truth. Being a digital nomad is a lifestyle, not a profession. Though your family and friends may think you’re on vacation, you still have to work, make money and pay your taxes.
We still have bills to pay and retirement to save for, and both personal and business taxes to pay. Anyone who has a small business will tell you running a business is no easy feat, and especially so when you’re moving around 100% of the time.
4 - Minimizing is key
We got rid of a lot of stuff, like most of our furniture and all those items we just didn’t actually need. We pack as light as we can, which has certainly been a learning process. Over the past year, we’ve learned what we need, and what we don’t need. Though it also depends on if we’re flying or driving to our next destination.
When we fly, we don’t have the luxury of packing our extra photography equipment like the tripod or vinyl backgrounds, so we aren’t able to photograph quite as readily. We usually try to work ahead and photograph before we leave.
When we drive, we have the luxury of extra space, though we still try to pack fairly light. Driving means we can pack that photography gear (tripod and backgrounds) and our kitchen essentials.
When we’re traveling from here to there all the time, it can be challenging to maintain a zero waste lifestyle, so we often pack some essentials that are harder to find without packaging. But striving for zero waste is all about planning ahead - a skill we’ve honed over the past year.
We look for bulk stores and stock up when we can, planning meals around foods that don't come with packaging. We also pack essentials like towels that can be used for cleaning or in the kitchen, some glass food storage containers and a few handy silicone bags. Though it’s much more difficult to practice low waste while traveling, these tools help us reduce our waste no matter where we go.
5 - Use your resources
There are tons of resources out there to make this lifestyle possible. Here are some of the resources that we've leveraged so far on this journey.
Making money online: Platforms like Upwork and Fiverr can be a great place to start doing your own freelance work. Put your skills to work as a freelancer - Can you write? Do you have computer skills? Have some graphic design know-how? What about data analysis? There are tons of jobs available on these two platforms alone.
Also look for 100% remote positions. Check out Indeed or Monster and filter by remote positions.
Stay for free with TrustedHousesitters. Okay it’s really more like $119/year, but that’s not a steep price to pay in exchange for months of free housing.
TrustedHousesitters has been a great way to move around while living rent free. The platform connects home & pet owners with house sitters. A great exchange of services! Pets can stay in the comfort of their own home, while house sitters get to explore new areas and meet plenty of new animals along the way. We’ve spent time with dogs, cats, fish, and the cutest rabbit in the world. These days I often find myself working with an animal in my lap...
It’s also an awesome platform for all you fellow animal lovers out there! Most house sits come with at least one animal, so be sure to consider this when looking for house sits. TrustedHousesitters has been wonderful for us - beautiful homes with great homeowners and awesome pets to hang out with wherever we travel. That’s a win-win.
Keep in mind that finding a house sit with TrustedHousesitters is a little different than picking an Airbnb. Availability depends on who needs a sitter, when they need one, and where the house is located. So depending on your location of choice, a flexible schedule is a must.
Though sometimes we stay with family and friends, over the past year we’ve stayed in house sits for the majority of the time. Dalton has become a pro at finding sits and stringing them together like puzzle pieces, sometimes booking us out over 6 months in advance.
6 - Invest in experiences, not things
Being open to new experiences will open up a world of possibilities. For us, new experiences seem to slow down time, and they’re the things we’ll always remember.
We make a point to explore (at least a little) wherever we are - especially when it comes to coffee shops and breweries. We try to do what the locals do - like surfing in San Diego, skiing in Vail, and cracking open fresh crab on the pier in DC. And we skip unneeded souvenirs (we don’t have any room for them anyway…) and invest in memories that will last a lifetime instead.
Oh and we take lots of pictures.
7 - Things don’t go as planned, so go with the flow
Flights get delayed, accommodations fall through. You have to adapt and be flexible. We can’t control everything, and that’s an important lesson to remember. We’ve learned that we may not be able to control the situation, but we can control how we respond to it.
I’ve learned to just say “it is what it is” and keep moving forward.
To add on to this, nothing ever turns out the way you think it will. You can plan and picture how things will go, but they won’t turn out quite the same and that’s okay! Go with the flow and enjoy the journey.
8 - You have to prioritize yourself
It’s very easy to let self-care fall through the cracks when traveling about. Eating out every day, skipping that meditation, not showering for a couple days (especially when you’re working from home). But you won’t feel great (or last very long) by doing this. You have to take care of yourself even while traveling.
For me, I make a point to meditate twice a day. We also cook at home most nights, which saves money and provides a steady flow of fresh vegetables. 🙂
When we drive, we always bring our appropriate gear for the season. Yoga mats, climbing gear, skis, running shoes, hiking boots, you name it. We always plan our travels around activity. Where can we hike? Rock climb? Ski?
Practicing self-care is even more important while traveling.
9 - It’s not all sunshine and rainbows
The digital nomad lifestyle comes with many pros and cons, and it’s certainly not for everyone. It’s awesome to see and experience new places, be able to spend more time with family and see new things, but there’s a lot of planning ahead and brain power that goes into permanently traveling. Finding your next place to stay, finding suitable work spaces, balancing the exploration of new places with getting work done and making money.
This lifestyle can also be somewhat isolating and lonely. You likely won’t have a group of friends or community everywhere you go. We often work from home and may not leave the house for several days, aside from our daily walks. At these points, just getting out of the house to grab a few groceries can be a treat.
Go to where the people are. It’s helpful and refreshing to work where other people are - places like coffee shops, breweries and co-working spaces. You might even find a local meet-up with your fellow digital nomads!
Lastly, you know that feeling of going home after a trip and remembering how great it is to be home? Yeah, you don’t get that with this lifestyle. So you have to find the little things that make you feel at home.
For us, it’s a fan at night (we often use a white noise app), watching a familiar movie and cooking dinner at home. We’ve learned to make our own home wherever we are.
10 - Feel the fear and do it anyway
New paths evoke feelings of nervous excitement and the above saying has become our life motto. It can be scary, stressful, rewarding and exciting to be traveling and living as a digital nomad.
Our 12 months as digital nomads have certainly been an adventure. Taking us coast-to-coast, we’re free to roam in search of the next WiFi charging zone.
I’ll leave you with one last nugget… Dalton’s favorite quote, and another life motto.
“If the path before you is clear, you’re probably on someone else’s.” - Joseph Campbell
So how about it? Do you work online? Are you a fellow digital nomad? We’d love to hear your story. What tips and tricks have you found in your travels and adventurous experiences?
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