Each week, I blog about our most unique experiences as we make the world our home. We have the rare opportunity to really dig deep into each country we visit, and love nothing more than to provide firsthand recommendations to help inspire your upcoming adventures – this is the best part of being a digital nomad 🙂
I recently met a fellow wanderluster who hasn’t had the opportunity to travel as much as he’d like. We chatted about sustainable ways to support a nomadic lifestyle, and I shared with him our indefinite globe-hopping plan. He told me I was inspiring… wow. What a lovely thing to hear! It makes me so happy to know that my small and (recently) very simplistic life could be an inspiration. There’s no doubt that what we are doing does sound dreamy on the surface… “leave the stress of the corporate world behind and explore the world!” I’ll admit that this opportunity has been a dream come true for me. BUT (yes, a big fat BUT) it’s not all sunshine and rainbows!
It seems appropriate that I provide a ‘Behind the Scenes’ update every now and then, for those of you who are curious about our crazy lifestyle, and want to evaluate the pros and cons of becoming a digital nomad.
As some of you may know, this lifestyle was a HUGE change for us. There was a time, just a few months back, when I woke up every morning around 5AM, put on makeup, stuffed my poor feet into heels, threw on a suit coat and left for a full day of meetings and networking until late in the evening. I envied people like Bryan, whose position provided the ability to work from home (aka from anywhere!), but his day was just as busy of course. We were able to spend time together in the evenings, a few nights per week, and on weekends. We were both working hard to travel (our escape), in-between frequent business trips which often made the thought of boarding another plane, even for pleasure, seem overwhelming.
Sometimes it’s hard for me to believe how drastically our lives have changed in such a short time. But here we are! And here I am… already trying to remember what it was like to put on makeup and how I ever managed to walk in stilettos.
We rented our condo and sold most of our belongings to support this dream. My closet is now a 50 pound suitcase with no heels or suits to be seen. That’s right ladies, I am living out of a 50 pound bag for the foreseeable future, so don’t judge when you see pictures and I’m still wearing those same damn jeans, despite the ripped knee from my recent battle with an Amsterdam bicycle.
We’ve been on the road for 3 months. We left the US in May, got hitched in Barcelona, and haven’t looked back. There’s nowhere to look back, really. We can only move forward from here, and it’s exciting to wonder where in the world we may end up ‘settling’ if we ever get tired of life on the move and find a spot we can’t imagine leaving.
We started our journey in Greece, just after a small celebration in Barcelona with only our immediate family members, who are nothing but supportive and excited for our adventure. While scooting around the Greek islands, we stayed in each spot no longer than a week or two, and hotels made the most sense based on the length of our stay. The upsides of staying in a hotel, like having maid service and various property amenities, do not outweigh the negatives when catering to a lifestyle like ours. For me, hotels feel like vacation, and cater to vacation.
Lesson Learned: Hotels are not ideal for two digital nomads trying to work and live together.
A friend asked me recently, “does it feel any different being married”. I had to laugh. Since we were married, our lives are DRAMATICALLY different, but I don’t think that has anything to do with the ‘I dos’ at all. It probably has something to do with leaving everything behind, running away with the one you love, and sharing more than just dinner or weekend experiences, but everything… even an office!
Let me paint a picture for you. We are in a small, but nice, hotel room on a beautiful Greek Island, with a bed that fills most of the area, a mini fridge, and small terrace. It’s midnight and most people on the island are partying – we can hear the bass from the clubs and chatter echoing from the town below – but we are working US hours and the day’s not over yet. The wifi is completely unreliable, so we’re both darting around the hotel room trying to find the best reception, which leaves us both crammed in the very corner of the terrace, where we sacrifice our legs to gangs of mosquitoes for a steady signal.
A month in Greece taught us that having a reliable working environment is a top priority for the life of a digital nomad. Additionally, having enough space to feel comfortable living and working, without having to yell over each other on business calls (the joys of sharing a home office!), is clutch. Our time in the islands was absolutely incredible, and I would highly recommend the hotels we stayed to anyone who needs a vacation, but I’m learning quickly that we have certain needs that go beyond those of a traditional traveler, stopping by for a relaxing visit, as we make the world our home.
After a month we left the heat of the islands, and the land of scooters and ATVs, with a tan, wearing t-shirts and flip flops, to arrive in Belgium, where I instantly needed a jacket.
Lesson learned: Dress for where you’re going, not for where you left.
The grey skies of Belgium were a perfect ‘welcome home’ from Greece. We were lucky to have family living in Brussels, Bryan’s Aunt and Uncle, who were nice enough to open their doors to two weary travelers. Our week in Brussels was a time to recoup and readjust. Even our bags needed an adjustment. Packing for this trip was hard, but surprisingly I’m finding that I don’t even need as much as I thought I did, and prefer my bag not to be stuffed so I have room for a few souvenirs along the way. Bryan and I both left a significant amount of clothes, toiletries and other nick-knacks behind – things we thought we needed on day one. I wonder how many layers will be shed as time goes by. It’s incredible how an exercise like this can change your entire perspective when it comes to what you ‘need’ to be comfortable.
Lesson Learned: I don’t need much anymore, and home is where Bry is.
Exploring Belgium was refreshing. We spent our days walking the city, sipping coffee and beer in the cafes that line the streets and fill the squares, exploring the markets, and taking easy day trips by train. We spent our evenings relaxing in a the comfort of a real home, with stable wifi and a proper kitchen! Let me assure you, a home cooked meal can bring you to tears when you’ve been living without a kitchen for a while. Bryan’s aunt also happens to be a fabulous cook, and treated us to nightly feasts including all the flavors we were missing in Greece.
Have you ever felt like you needed a vacation after your vacation, because you failed to actually ‘relax’? We spent every moment in Greece exploring, filling each day with new activities to experience, saving our evening hours for ‘office’ work. We were finally able to relax in Brussels, for a while, at least. The week went by quickly, and once again we were on the move, making our way further north to Amsterdam.
Ahhh.. Amsterdam. I feel I may have a filtered view. We enjoyed three weeks of beautiful weather, perfect for enjoying the lush parks and exploring the city by boat. Part of me thinks we could end up living here…. in a world of never-ending summer, of course. I fell in love with the way of life. We rented an apartment in Amsterdam, one with enough space to live and work comfortably, and with a kitchen fit for home-cooked meals. Our neighborhood was on the West side, right by Westerpark and far enough from the touristy commotion of downtown to enjoy a local way of life, and a peaceful working environment.
We were lucky to have good friends stop in for a visit, making exploring the city even more fun! When you’re used to a life of entertaining and regularly socializing with close friends, leaving it all behind and moving to digital contact only can be quite a drastic change! At this point in my life more than ever, I’m completely reliant on technology to regularly connect with friends and family.
Biking is the main form of transportation in Amsterdam, and this was new to me. The people of Amsterdam grow up on bikes, from the time they are born – coasting through the city, strapped to a seat on their parent’s handlebars. It’s been years since I’d been on a bike, and I’d never biked through a city before. Given these two facts, I had an intimidating first experience, peddling through a sea of seasoned Amsterdam bikers on busy streets interlaced with canals, shared with cars, scooters and trolleys… oh my! I had one hard crash in the middle of a busy intersection, when my tire was caught in a trolley rail, resulting in a terrible skinned knee. I’ve now added some character to the deep cut on my right leg that I acquired during our short time in Barcelona, the result of a falling Champagne bottle that shattered and sliced me, requiring three stitches and a visit to the emergency room on the night before our wedding! I have a feeling this adventure will result in many scars, all with a story.
One important highlight of our Amsterdam stop was the length of time we chose to settle. On average, we had been changing locations on a weekly basis. Amsterdam was our first ‘long’ (3 week) stay, and it was much needed.
Lesson Learned: Traveling as a way of life is exhausting! It’s important to take breaks, settling into a city and finding a routine.
Finding a schedule can be tough when you’re always on the move, changing time zones and cultural standards frequently. In Spain and Greece we were able to eat late, with restaurants open until midnight. Our first attempt to dine out in Amsterdam ended with grabbing gyros to-go at the only place open at 10PM. Time to alter our schedule to accommodate for an earlier dinnertime!
I was sad to leave Amsterdam. It felt as if we were finally settled and comfortable in our neighborhood when it was time to leave. We rode our bikes to the Bakkerswinkel every morning for fresh croissants and coffee, and enjoyed daily walks and picnics in the park. We cooked often as there was a fabulous market just down the street, but also joined friends for long, relaxing meals on the water. Amsterdam has an amazing community of expats, and we made new friends, developing a small social circle of incredibly interesting people from all over the world. Bryan even found a group to play soccer with a few times a week, and I found a yoga studio. Life in Amsterdam was beautiful, and sometimes it’s moments like these that make me wish we didn’t plan our travels a few months ahead so we could simply stay as long as we feel like it – a tactic that we may shift towards as we continue moving, especially if we start to wear down.
Our next stop, Copenhagen did not impress me at first glance. I blame the fact that my head was still in the Amsterdam clouds. We arrived in the evening, realizing a significant change in temperature. It was cold and windy! It also seemed lonely as we wandered aimlessly, unfamiliar with our surroundings. This is something I’m starting to get used to – throwing myself into a new environment and felling lost until right before we leave, then starting the process all over again. I can assure you that my perception of Copenhagen changed quickly – just after I acquired a bike with a basket, fully equipped to explore!
Copenhagen is an amazing city, divided up into a few different neighborhoods. It takes a few days to get to know the various areas, and find a style that fits your vibe, but there does seem to be something for everyone. We spent most of our two weeks here enjoying the beauty and relaxed, hippy vibe of ‘Freetown’ Christiania, a self-proclaimed autonomous neighborhood in the middle of the city, and the most unique place I’ve ever experienced. We also enjoyed Copenhagen’s luxurious side with a few fancy dinners and spa experiences, as well as the chic nightlife, which doesn’t get going until well after midnight!
The bridges over the lakes are beautiful, and we enjoyed many evenings watching the city lights reflect off the water. On one such evening, a questionable individual started an odd conversation with us, one we now realize was a distraction as my purse was missing just a few seconds later. A good, Danish samaritan found my purse in a trashcan the next morning, without phone and camera, and brought it back to me.
Lesson Learned: Never leave anything in your bike basket, even if you bike is right beside you.
At this point, three months into our adventure, I appreciate every obstacle we’ve encountered as part of our new lifestyle. Even the painfully frustrating challenges have added to our experience and teach important lessons.
The time has come to leave Europe for a bit (our 90-days are up!) and move on to Israel. I have a feeling we are about to encounter a whole new world. With every hop we made in Europe, further and further north, we experienced slight changes in the city, the architecture, the culture, the climate… until we were experiencing what seemed to be a whole new, Northern European world. I can’t even fathom how different this world will be from our new, Middle Eastern home.
I often wonder how far we’ll go and where we’ll end up. We are currently scheduled to hop back to Europe after time in the Middle East and Balkans, staying through the end of the year, with plans to change hemispheres and move to Australia/New Zealand in early 2016. It’s an interesting feeling, traveling the world without an end in sight. Sometimes I wonder who I’ll be at the end of this journey. It’s a pretty deep thought to ponder. We’ve already experienced so much in such a short timeframe that has helped us acquire new skills and gain new perspective. Immersing yourself in new cultures opens the mind to new ways of living, thinking… being. What do you think would be the result of consistently changing your surroundings, altering your way of life, and constantly meeting new people with drastically different backgrounds? I guess I’ll have to let you know 😉
We have a long road ahead, but one we’re playing entirely by ear, so there’s really no other way to live but in the moment.