Isn’t it amazing how life will always make you eat your words at some point?
A few years ago I wrote a post on how I wouldn’t live a nomadic lifestyle, yet here I am doubling-down on that lifestyle more than I ever have.
This week marked the beginning of (at least) a 6-month nomad trip, more likely a year or so, with slow-travel between some major US cities.
Over the past few years, I’ve moved around several times, averaging 6-9 months in a location. Having done so while also working remotely the entire time, I’ve learned a lot about being productive without necessarily having the same routine or location day-in and day-out.
As a result of becoming a better remote worker, I’ve also become a better traveler. I can get more done while I’m moving around, and find it easier to mentally separate work and play when I don’t have a physical location or routine breaking them up for me. I’ve also changed the way I travel a bit to cope with some of the issues I had on previous trips.
Time Spent in a Location
One of the biggest problems I found doing shorter trips while “testing” the nomad lifestyle was the feeling that I wasn’t getting enough work done.
First, dedicating time to work was more difficult that I’d imagined.
This was because I couldn’t separate the time between work and play. I felt like I wasn’t doing either one well. The lack of routine while traveling proved to be a distraction for time spent on-task.
Now there are set hours in the day that have to be work hours, and I give myself some room to make up a couple hours in the evening on some days. This gives me the freedom to maybe check out a place for lunch or brunch once or twice a week, but also keeps me in the right mindset while I’m trying to get stuff done.
I also found that thinking about work distracted me from enjoying the city, and that the fact that I was in a new and exciting place distracted me while trying to work. The result was that I was half in to whatever I was doing at the time…
This was the crux of the issue; I was halfway into what I was doing at a given time, and I hate that feeling. I wasn’t doing a great job at working, and I wasn’t doing a great job at enjoying what I did outside of work.
So how to solve this? Longer time spent in a location.
When you’re only in a city for a few days, it feels like you need to make the most of that time. That feeling doesn’t really seem to go away unless you’re going to be in a place for longer than a couple of weeks.
During this trip, we’ll be staying in most cities for about two months. We’ve got two long stays planned, and one more city that we’re considering next to round out the first 6 months. We will be driving through a couple cities on the way across country, so we have at least a few days planned in each so that we can hit one or two neighborhoods to scope the city out for a potential future visit.
Creating Work Space
We also found that we didn’t like being away from our dedicated work spaces at home.
This was a big issue for me on earlier trips. I miss the desk and display a lot when I’m trying to do certain kinds of work, so not having those on some trips made it tough to get into the work state-of-mind.
While I don’t feel like I need a display as much anymore to be efficient, it’s still nice to have. The compromise here was to just bring it with me — we’ll be driving the entire trip, and will also be renting desks or office space when we’re staying in smaller apartments that don’t have a good workspace. This is where things got exciting.
Sell All The Things
Almost everything we own has been sold. We are lean and mean and fitting most of our possessions in one singular sport utility vehicle.
Max and I were pretty minimalist to begin with, but whenever you live in a place for at least a few months, you tend to accrue new “home items”, purchase furniture, and, in general, accumulate stuff. We’ve now cut down what we own to:
- whatever can fit in about 4 by 10ft of storage space in a unit we share with a family member (kitchen supplies, office chairs, some keepsakes, etc)
- whatever fits in the SUV with the back seats folded down came with us (clothes, shoes, 2 displays, backpacks, 2 pillows, my guitar, a box of miscellaneous toiletries, books, and other items)
Sofa, TV, Xbox, tables, etc — all sold via Craigslist. No worrying about a place at home, no packing for travel. Everything we need came with us. Rather than feeling like we’re “visiting” a city, it feels more like living in one.
The First Stops
So where to? Current location isn’t too far from “home” (where family is). We’re starting in Pittsburgh, PA, and will be working our way west across the country later this summer:
We’ve visited friends in Pittsburgh often, so it’s fun to start in a city we’ve already loved, but felt like we never got to explore fully. It also helps having some tour guides in our first stop.
If you want to check out photos as we go, I finally caved in and started an Instagram account: chewbeka14
Fellow nomads and travelers: Any tips as we start out? Favorite US cities you’d recommend visiting?
Settled friends: In any of these cities? Would love to meet up, or get some advice on your favorite places smile
Nice to read about the start of your adventure Beka!
I want to share one thing I’ve learned from 1.5 years of digital nomading (yes it’s a verb now :).
Even though being a nomad implies that you can’t have too much stuff, I’ve found that in some areas it pays to actually bring more stuff than what’s essential.
Work setup. I do perfectly fine with just a laptop. But having a laptop stand, keyboard and mouse makes it more comfortable and makes me more productive. Plus it creates a familiar environment to work in, no matter where you are working from.
Another thing was to drag along my coffee maker. Preparing my daily coffee in the same way no matter if I was in Brazil or in a remote village in Indonesia gave me sense of familiarity (call it home on the road).
I know it sounds weird but now I’m a minimalist in some areas and a maximalist in a very select areas where I really get joy from.
Heya Dennis! Thanks for sharing these thoughts :) The tips on work set up are definitely appreciated. I did pick up a laptop stand for when I’m in a place for a shorter time period and don’t want to get “completely” set up, using the keyboard / mouse is absolutely worth it!
Bringing a coffee maker isn’t something I thought of, I do miss the morning ritual in some places when I don’t have a proper setup (just doesn’t taste the same when you’re forced to do a pour-over!). Something I should probably look to add :D
A wonderful approach IMHO. Ever read anything from Ramit Sethi? He takes that approach with personal finance, definitely makes sense in a lot of areas, though — make room for what’s most important and ruthlessly cut everything else.
Killer Beka! My wife and I are planning to do this with our family in a couple years, just live in different places for a year.
I’d love to hear your suggestions of places to go, we are trying to get a list going.
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