Two years out and I still know less than Jon Snow.
Last year, I wrote a post detailing 7 unexpected aspects of living as a digital nomad. I published it on the first anniversary of my moving out of Finland despite the fact that I could barely qualify as a digital nomad: I was still working in a hostel, spending more time looking for translation work than doing it, and planning future trips more than health insurance and co-working spaces.
One year later – two years since I moved out of Finland – I am fresh out of another hostel job, still looking for more real work, and only now moving to my first (well, second) real digital nomad destination to live a bona fide remote worker life.
This year has included a lot of recalibration of my values and goals as well as shaking myself by the scruff of my proverbial neck like a badly behaved kitten: what do you want in life?? Get your shit together!! Why are you on a mountain in Egypt right now when you should be working???
With that preface, here are seven more life lessons I’ve learned in the last year of being the worst digital nomad in the world.
1 Being a digital nomad sucks
“How great that you can work while you travel!” Yeah, but it would also be great not to have to walk 900 kilometres through Spain with a laptop in my backpack. It would be great to go sightseeing for a day without having to worry I’m going to miss an important work e-mail. It would be great to get a full eight hours of sleep after I’ve already been pulling five-hour nights for the past week but I can’t because there was an urgent job that has a deadline tomorrow at noon and I really, really need the money.
Living the dream – how many times I’ve heard that? I don’t want to sound ungrateful because certainly every difficulty I face is my own fault for choosing this lifestyle and also making my own life more difficult by insisting that I should, still, walk 900 kilometres through Spain even though technically I’m still working at the same time. I don’t want to sound ungrateful – but it is exhausting. You’re always balancing multiple things, and then when you add the extra pressure of having a social life (friends? what are they good for?), suddenly you see all your time and energy drained.
2 I suck at my work
It shouldn’t have come as a surprise. In university, I’d attended a lecture by a professional literature translator who said that it took him 15 years to start feeling like he was an actual professional in his field. Still, imposter syndrome raged: my friends’ LinkedIn descriptions had them as “language professionals” and “communication experts”, while I was out here struggling to write a coherent sentence for a cover letter. I’ve got rejected. A lot. Sometimes it’s the nice “sorry, we don’t need new freelancers at the moment”, sometimes the harsh reality that I couldn’t pass their translation tests.
I finally found a few agencies that wanted to work with me, and I was happy. I was doing it! I was being a freelance translator! Amazing! (Last year, I even got to invoice my first ever travel articles. Can you imagine! Money! For travel writing!)
Then I got some customer feedback. Mean, at that. It was for a safety manual I‘d done so of course I first worried that I’d written wrong information that could actually put someone in danger. But no – instead, it was an awkward choice of words. Not wrong nor ambiguous, just a strange, clumsy choice of words. But the customer had apparently “laughed at that with the whole office”. I felt terrible for about ten minutes until the agency sent me the corrections the customer had made themselves, and I noticed they themselves had made a very simplistic comma error. So who’s laughing now. (Probably only me because only linguists care about commas.)
I guess it’s normal to suck at your work when you’re first starting out.
3 Actually, the place matters
The first destination I chose as a real travelling translator was Tbilisi, Georgia. It’s an up-and-coming destination, leaving some of my newly found digital nomad friends a little disappointed at the small community it offered; but for me it was a paradise.
I’d never been anywhere where meeting other people living the same lifestyle as me were so easy to find. It helped that I’d made some friends through Instagram and blogging groups even before getting to the city; but it was undeniable that Tbilisi hosted a community of people that I could relate to and who could relate to me, and suddenly this lifestyle didn’t feel so crazy anymore.
I know, I know – a year and a half into my digital nomadism and I’d never been anywhere where other digital nomads actually go? My fault. Again. What have I been doing with my life??
4 Dating still sucks
But watch out, hot guys with abs on Bali who do yoga, I’m coming over!
5 Your parents will possibly never get used to this
I keep dealing shock after shock to my poor parents. They’d barely got over the fact that I loved backpacking solo in (what my mum thinks of as) dangerous places when I announced that I’d be moving out of Finland and probably never coming back. Adios cold and dark! Hello sun and not being constantly seasonally depressed!
But I don’t think my parents will ever fully understand why I don’t want to live a conventional life. At this point I’ve at least managed to get my mum to quit sending me job advertisements for non-remote translator positions; but recently I mentioned that I wanted to improve my Swedish, and she was a flash of lighting in suggesting that I should go back to university for a semester. In Finland, of course.
I know they support me and that they’re proud that I’m doing what I want, but I know they also worry about me being so far away and that they don’t fully understand what drives people to be location-independent. That’s okay – I’ll just have to keep explaining to them that even though I said I wanted to find a more permanent home in a few years, it doesn’t mean I’m looking for a husband and three children in the next town over like, right now.
6 Suddenly, travelling is also Bad
Brushing on the first point I’ve made – I’ve suddenly realised that I’ve been travelling way too much to be a good digital nomad.
It’s strange. I already knew I get exhausted travelling for long periods of time; and last year I had all the intentions of taking it slower. But somehow, almost accidentally, I ended up making it one of the most prolific travel years I’ve had, visiting over a dozen countries. After I left Granada in April, the longest time I ever spent in one place was six weeks in Israel at the end of the year. In the meantime, I burned myself out.
I still love travelling more than anything but there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Travelling makes it almost impossible to keep routine office hours. It has you working in the most uncomfortable places from long-distance buses to beanbag chairs and hostel beds, and it grants little opportunities for fulfilling social life and routine work outs that would both help get this horrible knot off my neck. It has even at times impacted the quality of my work when I’ve had to translate when I’m tired or in a rush.
I know that in order to be a good digital nomad, I need to travel far less.
7 I’m still not sure where I’m going, but I’m going somewhere
Over the last year, I’ve had to face some realities about my lifestyle and about myself. I’ve noticed that I don’t enjoy travelling as much as I used to if I do it too much and all by myself; which is strange since everything I’ve ever done for the past 10+ years has been in the benefit of being able to travel as much as I can. But I’ve realised I’ve got a little tired of it – of traipsing around without a purpose, flinging myself from country to country until I’m too tired to really even care where I am.
Over the last year, I’ve had to do some recalibration (also “recalibration” has become my favourite word and I use it ALL THE TIME. Someone save me.) I’ve had conversations with myself and figured that it is, in fact, okay to change your priorities and want things. That if I want to make money, I need to work harder. That if I want to make lasting friendships, I need to slow down. That if I want a relationship, I need to actually tell that to the people I’m trying to date instead of just wildly flinging myself into people like ‘CATCH!!!’
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my future plans – something I haven’t really done much before. I’ve visualised where I want to find myself in the future and how I want my life to shape out, and even though I’m not on a deadline – I mean, maybe I’ll have a little apartment in Spain in like, three or five years? – I have a direction, and I think that’s what my life has been severely lacking.
Some stability in life is good. Who the fuck would’ve known.
Bonus: At least I have travel insurance now
When I first moved out of Finland, I lost my travel insurance that I had through my bank because they were confused about my going abroad. And then I was like, ‘I’m sure I’m not gonna die it’s fine I’ll just not die.’ I went over a year as a digital nomad without insurance.
Now I’ve got SafetyWings that’s not gonna do shit if a Balinese monkey runs off with my laptop but they’ll probably airlift me out of a ravine and zoom my body back to Finland if I die so that’s nice.
Is it still worth it?
Last year I wrote this in conclusion:
‘Since I last visited Finland, I’ve watched my best friend get a puppy, my university friend group plan and celebrate countless parties, my parents renovate my childhood home and my sister start at a new job. Life passes on for them like that, every day, and even though these changes might seem tiny and commonplace, they are steps towards the life they are building for themselves that I’m not a part of anymore.
Sometimes it’s hard to sit by and see life move past me. It’s ironic; I’m living the kind of life a lot of people dream about with all of its adventure and excitement and I still sometimes crave the normalcy of a night in with Netflix and getting white girl wasted with my friends like I did when I was 20. There’s no denying that.
And I guess travelling can be a selfish choice as well. I know (I hope?) that my friends and family miss me too and wish that I could be a bigger part in their everyday lives. Instead, I’m just doing what I want.’
In the last year, this normalcy is what I’ve found myself craving more and more. I want to find a purpose and be a part of something meaningful. I still can’t imagine myself settling down completely but I know now that I want the illusion of a normal life wrapped inside this abnormal one. Like a little bacon-chicken roll.
Every life has its own problems; mine would have different ones if I was living a conventional life back in Finland. And right now, the problems I have are far smaller than the benefits I get from doing the damn thing I love, living in amazing places and meeting like-minded people.
So no, sorry mum – I’m still not coming back to Finland.
Thanks for reading!
Hope this was helpful or relatable if someone else out there is or is planning to become a digital nomad, and if not, hey, you got to catch up with me! What’s up? How are you? What’s going on?