I have been a nomadic digital freelancer for six months now.
First I’m going to bitch about it, then I’ll tell you how fun it is.
I left my rented space in Washington, D.C., in January 2014 and have not paid a rent payment since. (That’s been kind of nice.) But this life is not cheap or easy. People say, “Oh, lucky you, traveling all around!” And I won’t lie: There has been lots of awesomeness in my life over the past six months, for sure. But there have also been some not-so-fun parts. Here are a few:
Getting from place to place (planes, trains, buses, or gas for your car) is just one of the major costs of a nomadic lifestyle. Remember also that every night, you have to sleep somewhere.
When you rent a room, an apartment, or a house, or you own a place—like a “normal” person—this isn’t something you ever think about. You just go HOME. For example, if you pay $800 a month for a one-bedroom apartment, you basically pay $26 each night to sleep there.
As a nomad, someone without a home, you start with the expectation that each night will cost you some dollar amount—ideally $26 or less (again, if we follow the example). It requires hard work to reduce as many of those nights as possible to $26 or less. I have capitalized on the generosity of friends and family. I have couch-surfed. I have worked as a house-sitter. I have slept in tents. I have stayed in hostels. I have slept on overnight trains. I have slept in the back of a truck. I have rented spaces on AirBnB. I have paid $130 a night for hotel rooms.
All of this takes planning—usually pretty careful planning:
Okay, I can stay with my friend Sarah until April 23, but then Will doesn’t get back to Austin until the 27th, and the train is cheaper on the 26th because it’s not a weekend, so I should really stay somewhere in New Orleans for those two nights…
I spend a lot of time on the Internet planning for the basic necessity of shelter. Sometimes that shelter is a black leather couch in someone’s loft, with a roommate who brings her boyfriend home and has noisy sex at 4 a.m. So there’s that. But sometimes that shelter is the extra bedroom in your best friend’s awesome San Francisco apartment: #winning!
The added twist is that I can’t be without Internet for more than a couple of days, or I lose my ability to earn money, since I work from my laptop.
Managing Work & Play
I’ve discovered that it’s counterproductive to spend any less than a full week in one place, at minimum. If you’re only in a place for two nights, you’re either working the whole time and don’t actually see any of the place, or you’re out doing stuff and meeting people, at the expense of not working or earning money.
When you are perpetually traveling, sometimes you have to remind yourself to slow down and take a breather for a couple of weeks every once in a while. As I said, I’ve discovered that a week is my minimum. Less than that, and I’m either losing income, going over budget, or both. Better than that is two or three weeks in one place. Not only do you have time to work and play, but you have time to feel the rhythm of a place (and maybe do some laundry). After all, the time it takes to travel from one place to the next keeps you from doing anything else at all: working (a.k.a., earning), spending time with friends, exploring a place, or taking care of necessary tasks like paying bills.
Yes, I still pay bills. I have insurance and a cell phone and credit cards. My mail goes to my parents’ house, and about once every week or ten days, my mom calls me to “do the mail.” She reads out each piece of mail over the phone, and I tell her to either toss it, scan it and email to me, or file it away. That’s a fun ritual. Bless my parents for putting up with it, honestly. (If you don’t have parents as willing as mine, look into Earth Class Mail as a mobile/remote postal mail solution.)
And I won’t even go into the annoyances of living out of bags long term, but suffice it to say that if you don’t develop a system—put the same things in the same places, always—you will quickly go insane and/or own five toothbrushes because you keep forgetting where you put yours.
(Here’s the part where I gush.)
The past six months have truly been the most amazing adventure. I am doing what I have always been saying I wanted to do: Traveling the world, working as I go, seeing old friends, making new friends, feasting my eyes on fabulous landscapes, eating delicious food, and exploring the nooks of crannies of cities and places that have beckoned, haunted, or surprised me.