Why Are We Digital Nomads?
When we started Brent and Michael are Going Places, we wrote about why we decided to become digital nomads in the first place: why we decided to sell our house in Seattle and travel indefinitely, moving from country to country while working remotely.
We’re on our second year now, and Michael and I both emphatically agree that this is the best, smartest thing we’ve ever done, and we’re not going “home” anytime soon.
Why do we like it so much? Here are the reasons, from least to most important:
It’s way cheaper than living in the United States.
I’ve written before about how surprised and delighted we were to discover how cheap the digital nomad life can be. And since I wrote that first post, we’ve spent time in much cheaper countries — in Asia and Eastern Europe. That’s driven our yearly costs even lower. We didn’t become digital nomads to save money — we were both very lucky to have established online careers. And we plan to continue visiting “expensive” cities and countries from time to time (like Switzerland, where we’ll be in July).
But if we wanted to, we could easily live very well on $30,000 a year, maybe less. And it’s nice to have this option, since we’re living in a time of political and economic uncertainty.
Life is way better.
Because the cost of living is so much cheaper, we don’t deny ourselves much. We can eat out as often as possible, take any tour, choose pretty nice apartments to rent.
But those aren’t the only ways life is better. It wasn’t until we left home that we realized how America’s priorities are really, really screwed up, at least according to Michael’s and my personal values. Americans are really good at making money, which is why being incredibly busy is a status symbol. But the places we’ve visited seem to place a much higher priority on community, leisure, and, well, life.
I think every American knows deep down that our health care system is a total disaster, but you don’t really realize how much of a disaster it is until you travel literally anywhere else. Health care is cheap and available for all, and you’re treated like a human being. (For what it’s worth, we gladly pay all the appropriate local taxes.)
And don’t get me started on transportation. Americans think freedom means having a car. In reality, freedom means not needing a car — because you have access to a fast, affordable, efficient public transit system.
I could list a zillion other examples — better public spaces, more cohesive families, a better appreciation of food, more emotionally intelligent children — but you get the point.
Life is way more interesting.
We never stress about money now. Which means we do more stuff.
But there’s also more stuff to do. We lived in Seattle fifteen-plus years, and while it’s a vibrant, world-class city, after fifteen years we’d pretty much seen and done it all.
Now we’re in a new city (and usually a new country) every two-to-three months. So there is always more to see and do. Every place we’ve been, we usually see the highlights, but still leave thinking, “Oh! We need to come back again some day so we can do XXXX.”
And we’ve discovered something unexpected: the most memorable aspects of the places we visit are never the things we expect — the “attractions” you read about online. My favorite aspects of the last year are the picturesque night ferry rides in Malta; the two-hour lunches in Italy; the ancient forests in Bulgaria; the amazing fruit shakes in Thailand; and the fascinating rice fields all around our apartment in Vietnam.
Here’s a profound truth: if we didn’t like the people we were meeting while nomading, we’d probably go back to Seattle, despite all the things I’ve written about above. Because — let’s face it — everything in life is worthless without someone to share it with. We have great friends back in Seattle (and we miss them terribly . This is easily the one aspect of the digital nomad lifestyle that has been very difficult).
But since we began our journeys, we have met so many wonderful new people.
Most are digital nomads. I’ve said many times, “There are very few digital nomad assholes.” Because the people who choose this lifestyle are, almost by definition, very in-sync with our vales: tolerant, thoughtful, passionate, non-materialistic, and very open to new experiences and new friendships. Who wouldn’t want to be around people like this all day?
We’ve also been surprisingly lucky to meet at least a few local people everywhere we go. And one of my favorite things in the world has been seeing things from a new perspective (even if it’s a challenging one) — and also learning that, ultimately, humans are, yes, way more alike than we are different.
It might sound strange to some, but by leaving home to become digital nomads, it feels like we found our true home.