‘Life as a Cosmopolitan’ is a guest blog section in which digital nomads or expats answer a few questions about their adventures abroad. Get inspired by their stories and get ready to start your own adventure!
In our first article we would like to introduce you to Albert who was born in the USA but raised in Colombia. He has been living as a digital nomad for about two years in many different countries.
Who are you?
I’m Albert, I was born in New York, USA but taken to Colombia very young. I was raised in Colombia most of my childhood and that’s where I consider I’m from. I do have dual citizenship at the moment which has helped on my travels. I’m 35 years old and I have been working while traveling since November 2016, so a little bit over 2 years now. At the moment I’m in Mirissa, Sri Lanka, a beautiful beach in the south of the island. I never thought growing up in Colombia that some day I would be traveling the world seeing the things I’ve seen.
How did you become a Digital Nomad?
To be honest I don’t consider myself one (“digital nomad”) or I try to distanced myself from that term. When looking at the current use of the term “digital nomad” and seeing the people that identifies themselves as such, most of the times they look like a group I wouldn’t like to be part of. I know is a new term and that there’s currently a broad spectrum of subcultures that can fall into that category. I’m guessing soon we’re going to start seeing a whole new set of subdivisions and branches that will derive from that term and have a complex taxonomy like society has done many times before with similar situations.
While growing up I was lucky enough to be traveling and living in different places in between USA and Colombia. Once I graduated from the university I got a job that relocated me to Uruguay and those experiences gave me a taste of living in different places, learning about different cultures so once I got a job that allowed me to do it remotely I didn’t hesitated to take the leap and start traveling full time. In big scheme plan I figure to go as far as possible (New Zealand) and work my way back traveling through most of the continents until I get back to the continent of America and finish my travels there. Now that I’ve been on the road for a couple of years, I’m not sure if I want to stop traveling. Someday I think I’ll continue to do so until I fall in love with a place or a person so much that it’ll make me feel comfortable enough in that place to stay there.
Which countries have you visited while being a Digital Nomad and how much time do you spend in one place?
Before I started to be fully nomad I traveled to some places closer to my home (Medellín, Colombia) and worked from there for a month. Places like Santiago de Chile, Aruba and Puerto Rico but always returning to my home base. These were like my test subjects to see if I could stand the working and traveling.
Afterwards that I decided to be fully nomad, and I wasn’t going to be returning back to a base place, I have visited: New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines, Taiwan, Japan, India, Sri Lanka, Belgium, Ireland and The Netherlands. I usually settle a month in each place, so in countries like Vietnam, that I stayed in 3 cities I stayed 3 months, but that’s just an average, I settled in Sydney for almost 3 months, 2 months in Bali, etc.
What kind of work do you do to support your Digital Nomad lifestyle?
I’m a software developer, .NET full stack developer with a lot of recent work in UI. I work for a Lebanese company that has most of its clients in USA. I have full time contract with a steady fixed paycheck that specifies that I have to work between 30 and 40 hours a week.
What does the Digital Nomad community look like in the country/city where you are? Is there a community or not at all?
Here in Sri Lanka I haven’t seen that many digital nomads and there are little or no friendly places to “our kind”. There aren’t places with the correct set up to work (comfortable chairs to work long hours, no plugs to connect laptop, fast and reliable wifi). From forums and groups in social media like Facebook I can see that some are indeed around here, but not like communities that you can find in Chiang Mai, Thailand or in Da Nang, Vietnam for example.
What is the best part of being a Digital Nomad?
That I can really “live” in a place. I can submerge myself in the culture, explore the place, learn really how the people live and “try” to become one of them for a little while. It’s all pretend, I will never be completely considered as one local, but I can try. The length of stays allows you to do so, you’re not a tourist traveler with a checklist of places that you need to check in a couple of days before departing to another place or going back home.
Are there any downsides to being a Digital Nomad?
Yes, there are plenty: you’re taking yourself out of your comfort zone all the time, you are going to places that are not your own, where you might not know anyone, you’re proving yourself whenever trying new food, new experiences. Some can be rewarding some can not. In a sense is a good thing, but sometimes it can be really stressful, dissatisfying and frustrating. For me for example one tough thing is the language barrier: I can speak English and Spanish fluently, but around Asia trying to interact with people is difficult. You end up having trivial conversations about simple stuff and never really be able to connect in a deeper level. That being said it can get really lonely sometimes. You get to meet people here and there, but you know it’s only temporary. In a few weeks, months you’ll be leaving and that person that you met you might never see again.
3 Tips for people who also want to be a Digital Nomad.
Don’t travel too fast. At the beginning I was doing just a couple of weeks per place, is too exhausting to be moving so fast.
Do your research and try to determine how long to stay in a place. It should never be less than 3 weeks or a month. I know sometimes you get there and hate the place. I have been in situations in Manila or Jakarta that I thought I wasn’t going to make it, but it’s all about taking that bad experience and making it something good, a learning opportunity. If you travel too frequently you’ll burn yourself out and think about stop traveling completely.
At least once or even more use public transportation in wherever you stay. It doesn’t matter if you have the money to Uber yourself around or whatever excuse you can come up with. In a sense when you use public transportation is the way to connect with the locals and “be one of them” even for just a moment. Same goes as of trying local street food, don’t hesitate.
Live in moderation, yes I know Vietnam, Indonesia, Latin America are cheap, but that doesn’t mean you have to spend a lot of money and rent private villas, have a personal chauffeur and eat in fancy spinning top floor restaurants. Yes, if I’m in a place I can afford it I might do it for a weekend getaway or a fancy meal once a month. The money you save can help you the next time you go to Tokyo, London or Paris. Besides when you do that you’re distancing yourself of living the real experience of the place you are and the people around you. I’m sick of seeing people behaving like spoiled brats because they have more money than the locals, don’t ever think traveling makes you a better person, you can still be a dick no matter how much you travel.
Do you live as a digital nomad and would like to answer the same questions as Albert did and inspire other people to take the leap of faith? Please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.