I’m a professional psychotherapist who is starting out in this lifestyle and I’m curious to hear what specific psychological struggles people had to overcome while making the transition to life as a DM. Also, what do you do to stay mentally healthy while traveling to foreign lands. I’m interested in hearing any insights people may have, especially since I am working on a book on psychological resilience and I can’t think of a more stressful transition than moving from a static to a nomadic lifestyle. If you’re not comfortable putting your experiences on a public forum, feel free to PM me.
Hi Aaron! It’s interesting you brought that up. Although I’m a online career coach and help others figure out ways of having a happy career, I’m always struggling with the questions that come along this journey like “what are you looking for”, or “are you traveling to celebrate freedom or to run away from something you don’t like” when is it time to settle again", “am I too old for this”, “where should I go next”(this one nomadlist really kinda helped me with), "how long should I stay(this one the visa limits kind answer for itself), “what is home for me”, “is it possible to have a family with this lifestyle that I’ve learned to love so much”, and many more. Those are the ones that “visit me the most” during my everyday daily mediation sessions. It would be nice to hear other DN thoughts on this, so if you do have some research on this as a professional counselor, I’d be very interested in reading or exploring it further because this community is growing exponentially and I’d like to figure out some ways to deal with these questions in a productive way. Many of my clients in Brazil who are becoming DN will struggle with this as well so I want to be able to help them out, too. Thank you!!!
Meditation is a great start I believe. Although no research on digital nomads and mental health exist. The studies on the work/life benefits of the various types of meditation (from mindfulness, to sitting and walking styles to yoga) are numerous. Also, knowing exactly why you are choosing this lifestyle seems to be important factor on a person’s psychology as well. You bring up the issue of negative thoughts, e.g. “am I too old for this.” This is a common issue that everyone struggles with and is a popular topic of cognitive behavioral therapists. Thanks for replying to my post and I hope others chime in!
I don’t know that this lifestyle is for everyone. At the end of the day, moving to a new place can be very lonely - especially when you first get there. It helps to know that this is always just a phase of moving anywhere and that, eventually, you’ll get through it and meet people.
I’ve learned that one way to curb the loneliness is to find places to live where there will be people around. Hostels are great because there are lots of other travelers coming in and out. City centers will have places to go that are within walking distance and opportunities to meet people. Coworking spaces are also good ways to quickly surround yourself with a group of like-minded people (if you’re lucky enough to be a developer/designer/entrepreneur/ etc…)
When it comes to meeting people, I’ve just found you’ll be at the extremes. You get to have conversations with people that are MUCH more different than you would if you never leave your comfort zone. At the same time, sometimes you spend friday night drinking a beer alone and reading a book. It isn’t good or bad, it is just the trade you make. For people who value “interesting” conversation, this is fantastic. For those who value deeper, more intimate conversations, you can still find them, but they’ll be more rare.
In general, I think that most people would agree that there are some things that the lifestyle forces you to develop that are rewarding.
The first is minimalism. We’ve all given up a lot of physical crap to get here and, from what I’ve experienced and read, most of us don’t miss it. It clears our minds. Everything that I own can be carried on to a plane which means everything has been thought out and selected on purpose. I understand the word “need” in a different way now. I place higher value on things like “experiences” and “conversations” than I do on items. Even most of the items that I do obsess over are tools like my camera or exactly how much computer stuff I need to do my job. I don’t celebrate them for what they are, but what they enable me to do.
Second, for those of us who work on remote teams, we learn to be a lot more focused. Our schedules don’t align with our teams and we depend much more on written communication. We train ourselves to concentrate more, be more productive for shorter periods of time, and express our productivity to others (because they don’t SEE us every day, so our presence needs to be known in other ways). Similar to the way we manage physical objects, this means we have to be a lot more deliberate and conscious of the work that we do.
We also learn - because we have to - to go with the flow. The simplest things are hard when you don’t speak the language. The internet will stop working and you don’t know why. You have to pay attention to the locals to know where the safe and unsafe areas of town are. Stuff isn’t open on Sundays. Every little thing is a challenge and some things take a lot longer than the “should.” We learn to roll with it - we appreciate the journey because it will always be an interesting story later.
In general, I think that some people are more driven by new experiences and this is a rather extreme version of that. I know that I, personally, get board easily and this satisfies that problem for me.
I’m also incredibly lucky to be currently living in places with a much lower standard of living than I am used to. When I have conversations with the locals, I’m daily reminded about how lucky I am to be where I’m from, to make what I make, and to have been raised in such a peaceful and stable place. When your Uber driver tells you about starting his life over because of the violence in his home village, you start to see your own life from a different perspective.
I’ve become a lot more introspective since I started travelling. I read more. Write more. Contemplate things more. When I walk away from wherever I’m staying my phone no longer has internet - anyone who wants my attention will have to wait until later. I can sit and read at a restaurant without interruption.
Personally, I spend less time with “junk food,” like netflix and facebook. I still fire them up when I’m feeling home sick or want to relax, but it becomes a treat once every week or two rather than a staple of my evening. I can walk outside and find something interesting - I don’t have to rely on my computer.
So, at the end of the day, I would say that you adjust to the lifestyle and learn to become more open to experience and more introspective - both of which stretch your independence muscles. It helps to consciously recognize how lucky you are to experience things that most people don’t get to experience. It feels good.
Personally, I find that’s actually a reason to travel to foreign lands. I remember my extended stays in Berlin and in Hawaii as some of the happiest times I’ve ever had, happier than day-to-day life at home. I woke up in Berlin every single day feeling incredibly lucky & grateful for the opportunity I had.
One trick I had in Berlin if I felt slightly below 100% was to go and sit in the train station for a while and watch all the people going by. Inevitably someone would ask me for help with directions, and it felt great to help someone & practice a foreign language at the same time.
I don’t find life on the road terribly difficult. I bypass the ‘loneliness’ by trying to attend events & conferences in the places I travel to, which helps me build a network of friends worldwide to meet with as I travel.
What is difficult is a transition to life back home. Family & friends at home will be more focused on ‘smaller’ things, because they’re living within a smaller world. They will be more interested in gossip and what is on television, which feels very difficult to deal with when you’re used to meeting new people everyday from all over the world. I don’t have a solution to this, besides planning another trip to look forward to and accepting that I’ll be grumpy on my return home for several weeks. Though I also try to treat my home city as a tourist when I return, exploring and noting the changes & trying to find unique things to appreciate.
The transition back to ‘home’ and interacting with family and friends who stayed behind and the difficulty this creates for some people. You raise a great point I haven’t thought about until now. I worked with a few Peace Corps and other international volunteers in the past, while in the Washington, DC area and they struggled with this same issue as well. Especially when many of them were improving the lives of villagers or working with war torn refugees and now they are listening to their friends and family complain about nonsensical issues (i.e. “First World problems”).
I don’t really have a lot of issues with loneliness or being away from friends/family. I’m a real introvert and make my money writing so the isolation really suits me. I’m at my most productive when I have uninterrupted periods of time to get into a flow state.
The hardest thing for me to cope with when transitioning to a new location is the mental overhead of things like learning a new transport system, shopping for food in a different culture/language, etc. The every day things that become more difficult. It’s not so much a stress thing but that it pulls me out of my work focus.
At the moment, I’m in Tokyo. I’ve spent a lot of time here previously so there was no settling in period which has increased my productivity significantly.
Thank you all so much for your thoughtful and introspective replies so far, I am really enjoying thinking about them…
Tokyo or Japan in general is a good place inspiration for creative writers You are in one of the best backdrop, setting for your next material!