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How I Survived My First Year As A Digital Nomad

You need friends on the road, just like you would in the office.

How I Survived My First Year As A Digital Nomad
[Photo: Jeremy Bishop]

“Did I forget anything?” Clothes–check. Laptop–check. Passport–check. Friends . . . emotion washed over me as I zipped up my suitcase and braced myself for another day of red-eyed goodbyes. I was about to leave Seoul, right around when I’d started to feel like I was finally settled in.

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Fourteen months ago, I packed up my life in New York City and hit the road to start my own business as a digital nomad. Learning to navigate each new city’s metro system and overcoming international travel snags has gotten easier, but saying goodbye is still just as hard. With over a year under my belt now, here’s how I’m learning to cope with the peaks and valleys of my newfound career.


Related: What I Wish I Had Considered Before Becoming A Digital Nomad 


1. Find A Few Constants When Everything’s Changing

Seeing the world this past year has been amazing–I feel really lucky. There were many moments when I felt as high as a kite, but there were also plenty of times when the constant instability took its toll. In my first few months of traveling, I’d drop my bags at my new city’s accommodation and race out the door to see all the sights. It was fun, but being constantly on the move soon started to burn me out, and my work suffered.

Now, when I get to a new city, I unpack my bag, sign up for a gym, find a nearby grocery store for home-cooked meals, and get my life as close to “normal” as possible. Putting some kind of routine in place helps me be as productive as possible for my company, no matter where I am geographically. I try to stick to a normal workweek and leave exploring for the nights and weekends.

Fellow digital nomad Casey Rosengren, the founder of Hacker Paradise, a traveling community for developers, has learned the same lesson I have. “I think the most important thing is having a routine and prioritizing it wherever you go,” he says. “I will call gyms up in advance when I’m switching locations to make sure they have the gear I’m looking for, so once I land, I know where to go. Staying places longer and finding places with a kitchen goes a long way toward staying healthy.”

2. Opt For Longer Stays

One mistake I made when I first started traveling was to bounce around from place to place. That wasn’t just draining after a while, it often left me feeling lonely and disconnected. I quickly realized that spending a week or two in a new location wasn’t enough time to make strong connections.

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Many digital nomads say that coping with loneliness is a real stumbling block to making the lifestyle work. We’ve all experienced it at some point in our journeys. “If you’re single and always on the go, it’s very difficult to form the bond and find someone lasting to date,” Anita Dhake, founder of a blog called The Power of Thrift, points out. Dating while nomading can be next to impossible. Elaina Giolando, who set out on a globetrotting career in her early 20s, recently told Fast Company that being single was a prerequisite: “I’m not necessarily single on purpose, but it definitely makes it easier to accept jobs that people with partners and families can’t.”

But there are lots of ways you can still make crucial human connections. After spending three months in Korea, I felt comfortable. I knew my way around. The local kimbap restaurant knew me by name. I met a group of great people who quickly went from strangers to friends I felt like I’d known for years. Korea is now a second home that I’ll be coming back to in the fall.


Related: Six Tools I Can’t Live Without As A Digital Nomad 


The key was just extending my stay. Not only does staying put in one place give you the time to make stronger bonds, but it also helps you be more productive. “The hardest part of digital nomadism is to strike the right balance between working and traveling. There are some months where I need a lot of focus, and having to find a place to live and work in a new country can be very stressful,” says François Grante, founder of the email lookup tool Hunter.io. “If you need to focus on your work, it’s essential to not take flight every week.”

3. Draw Support From Other Digital Nomads

When I started traveling, I had never even heard of “digital nomads” or considered becoming one. I was just trying to save money to launch my business by living in Spain. After learning more about the digital-nomad lifestyle, I took to forums and Facebook groups to connect with others who were also traveling while working. The friends I made from these communities are worth their weight in gold, and they’ve been real saviors when the road less travelled got rough.

When going to a new city, I recommend using platforms like NomadList to connect with others like you, or even just searching Facebook for “digital nomads in [chosen city].” From dealing with grief to rough patches in the business process, certain challenges are best faced alongside friends who are also trying to balance work, travel, and everything in between.

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4. Trade “Goodbye” For “See You Later”

Though my Instagram feed might have featured a beautiful cityscape before taking off from Korea, what it failed to disclose were the preceding hours, which I spent blubbering in bed to John Mayer ballads, sad to be leaving. Despite the weepy day, I found solace in having had the opportunity to meet such great friends, and I am left with beautiful memories for life.

Goodbye magical land of dog cafes, cute socks, kimchee and fun. ???? ???????? Merhaba Turkey + Hola España! ✈

A post shared by Arianna O'Dell (@ariannaodell) on

“You meet so many people in transition,” says journalist Foo Conner, which makes saying goodbye such a struggle–especially when you’ve got to do it again and again every few months. “We make deep connections and lose them overnight. The sense of loss really hits when you’re crossing paths and strike up a wonderful conversation. You know it’s temporary, but imagine canceling tickets and plans for that extra tea that day.”

This couldn’t be more true. Still, I’ve found comfort in knowing that the gift of digital nomadism means I can always revisit the amazing friends I’ve made around the world. When you don’t have a 12-month lease on an apartment waiting for you to go back to, there’s nothing stopping you from booking a return visit to a city where you used to live. My past 14 months as a digital nomad have been a roller-coaster ride, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. And in the process, I’ve learned an incredible amount about myself and the world around me.

See you on the road?

About the author

Arianna O'Dell is the founder of Airlink Marketing, a digital agency that helps hotels, restaurants, and travel destinations attract and retain clientele. When she's not working with clients or traveling, you'll find her making fun gifts at Ideas By Arianna.

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