I Failed As A Digital Nomad.

Failing as a Digital Nomad
Failing as a Digital Nomad

I failed. I failed as a digital nomad. I’m packing it up and heading home.

Before I continue, let’s set some things straight:

1. I am NOT blaming my failure on the digital nomad lifestyle.
2. I am still 100% committed to both travel and creating a life I love, on my terms.

I am heading home to re-strategize, learn from my mistakes, and get back out there.

So, what happened? What were the mistakes I made as a digital nomad, and how can you learn from them?

Remember at the end of my first month of being a digital nomad? I wrote a post about one month in the life of a digital nomad. This is an excerpt from that post:

“My current work/life balance isn’t sustainable. I was working every minute of every day when I was at home for the summer in Syracuse, NY. Once I left to travel, I obviously couldn’t do that anymore. But now I’m not making nearly enough money to survive. Ugh. I still haven’t figured this one out, but luckily I built up enough savings working all summer and living at home that I have some time to get my shit together.”

Wanderlust Wednesday Poland and the Baltics

Well, I didn’t get my shit together, folks. In fact, I would argue that I haven’t had my shit together in a very long time. To put it simply: my finances are a complete mess. I am in debt. I’m not making enough money each month to survive on, let alone save for the future. Hence the debt.

Before you call me a hypocrite for not being 100% authentic like I preached about in my post about blogging, why didn’t I write about my financial struggles here? Besides the above sentence about how I needed to get my shit together.

The honest answer is that I was in denial about my financial situation. I have never been good with numbers, and creating and sticking to budgets has never been something I succeeded at. Combine that with an impulse-control problem (seriously, how many times have I insinuated that I was powerless over a cappuccino or delicious meal on this blog? I wasn’t even exaggerating either) and you have a recipe for financial disaster.

I briefly spoke about debt in my post on how I saved $10,000 to travel the world. I was in credit card debt when I decided to travel around the world, and I didn’t know how I was going to eliminate my debt in order to be free to travel. You can see the exact steps I took in that post, and it’s all true. I reduced my debt, saved $10,000, and then…promptly got back in debt. Huh. Funny how patterns tend to repeat themselves, right?

Digital Nomad

So in the spirit of helping fellow digital nomads (or hopeful digital nomads) avoid going down the same path, here are some of the mistakes I made:

Not getting to the root cause of my money woes

I have always been a hard worker. I’ve been working, in some form or other, since the age of 12. I have even been a dedicated saver at other times in my life. But throughout it all, I’ve also been a prolific spender. Before my first credit card, which I got at the age of 21, I was limited to spending the money I actually had. And I usually spent all of it in a given month.

Once I got my first credit card? I tried to be responsible. I really did. I like to think of myself as a responsible person, and could never fathom how people got themselves in thousands of dollars of credit card debt. To be honest, I’m STILL not sure how I got into so much credit card debt (For reference: SO MUCH to me isn’t that much in the grand scheme of things. And I’m still using my trick of transferring the balance to a 0% APR card, so I’m not spending any money on interest) but here we are. I have just under $6,000 worth of credit card debt.

Solo Travel is The Worst
I’ve always been a “Treat yo’ self” kind of person..To a fault.

Knowing that I had a problem with credit cards, I got more of them

I thought it would be good for my credit score to have more cards (True. You do get points on your score for holding more lines of credit. But that doesn’t really matter if you have a high balance on those lines of credit). I wanted to play the credit card rewards game. And I succeeded at first! I was able to fly from New York to London for $5.60 and get a few other flights for free as well using points.

But then instead of cutting up the card or canceling it, I kept using it. It was easy. It was a habit. If you can’t see the money you’re spending, did you really spend it? Well, yes. But I was convinced that I was helping my travels by using credit cards when I could. I was “earning points!” And yes, I have gotten free travels through using points, but in the end, it’s nowhere near equivalent to the amount that I’ve SPENT on these cards! If you can’t be a responsible credit card owner, there’s no reason to play the points game. Take it from me!

Wanderlust Wednesday Poland and the Baltics

I had some bizarre notion that credit card debt didn’t matter.

It wasn’t “real.” And, okay, what is money actually? But semantics aside, credit card debt DOES matter if it prevents you from creating a life you love. And I am consistently being held back by my credit card debt. I may not think about it more than once a month when it’s time to pay the bill, but it’s still holding me back. It’s a constant reminder that I am not responsible with money.

I am a privileged Millenial Brat/Snowflake/Insert Derogatory Term

This isn’t anything I can actually help but I’ve always had a safety net to rely on. I am endlessly grateful for the support, love, and, yes, financial help my parents have given me over the years. They’ve gotten me out of tight situations when I needed it. And, up until this year, I’ve always been able to pay them back (whether or not they let me is another story). I’ve always known that I had a safe, loving home with a family to go back to. How freaking lucky am I?!

That doesn’t mean I haven’t been hustling my ass off to make my dreams come true, but there hasn’t been a *need* to make it work. I could always go home. I did last summer, and now I’m doing it again. And I don’t see that as a bad thing! In families, ideally, you support each other. I support my family, not financially (yet), and they support me. In many communities that I observe around the world, family is the most important part of life. Many people are baffled that I would choose to 1. leave my family and 2. not start a family of my own. And the more I travel, the more I get it! On a deep level, I miss that support when I’m not at home.

Eva Explores December
My family is just as strange as I am!

A lack of support

I was traveling too fast. I’ve said it before, and I will say it again. Slow travel is IT! If you are currently, or want to become a digital nomad, you better slow yourself down. Like way down. Most of the time since I left home in August, I was moving around every 5 or 6 days. When I stayed in the same villa in Ubud for 14 days that was the *longest* I had been in ONE accommodation in a year of traveling. 14 days! When you’re constantly packing up and moving, stability is hard to come by. Then you have the lack of community. I’ve met some awesome people on my travels. But the nature of travel is transient. My advice to you? Pick a place. Stay there for at least 3 months.

First Time Solo Travel

I was half-assing everything

I traveled half-assed. I worked for WeTravel half-assed. I worked on this blog half-assed. I was a half-assed friend. You get it, right?

I have BIG dreams for my life. Call it a by-product of being a Millennial, being told anything is possible. Call it whatever you want, but I am called, again and again, to create a life I love. A life that doesn’t feel like work. And in order to do that, I need to whole ass something.

Remember when I wrote about leaving New York City, and how the city was the reason I couldn’t create a life I loved? Well, maybe it’s me. Maybe I need to examine the ways in which I consistently hold myself back. Financially I hold myself back by getting into debt over and over. Career wise I hold myself back by over-committing to other people, and under-committing to myself. And forget about my personal life. I haven’t been on a date in over a year. Maybe it’s time to admit that in order to start making headway on my goals, I need to cool it on the travel for a bit.

Should I Start A Blog

Trying to do it ALL

Travel or career growth. You have to pick one. I have been reading lots of posts on failing as a digital nomad lately, and the common thread is this: you can’t have growth in one area without sacrificing something else. Now, I’m not saying to get all “spartan” and focus on one thing to the detriment of all others. But you have to have balance.

Travel has been and continues to be, my greatest teacher. I wouldn’t be half the person I am today without it. I know you may be thinking, “didn’t you just LEAVE to travel? Aren’t you giving up rather quickly?” And maybe you’re right. But here’s the thing: I am not giving up. I am so deeply committed to travel that I want it to be a part of my life forever. And in order for that to happen, I need to figure some shit out first. The world isn’t going anywhere. I think reading a few too many “I quit my job to travel around the world for a year” posts got to my head. I thought I had to see it ALL and I had to see it NOW. But what if I could create a life that allowed me to see the world at whatever pace feels right for me?

Solo Travel is The Best

I needed to reframe the way I thought of “digital nomad life”

I already discussed how I was moving around too fast and too much. But what if I had a home base and traveled only occasionally? For a week or even a weekend at a time? Maybe I could travel for 3 months out of the year and spend the rest working away at home? What if I lived as an ex-pat for one year, traveling locally, and then moving on the next year? There are SO many ways to make travel a part of your life. The “all or nothing” mentality isn’t the way to go. And it’s all about experimentation. You have to see what works for you.

When you start to look at it this way, maybe I didn’t fail at all. Maybe I’m exactly on the path that I’m meant to be on. Maybe moving back home at the age of 27 isn’t failure, but a new beginning.

Do I wish that it had turned out differently? That I had “succeeded” at being a digital nomad (whatever that means)? Well, I won’t say there won’t be some nights of me tossing and turning in my childhood bedroom wondering what the HELL I’m doing with my life. But haven’t we all been there, regardless of how much we travel? It’s a crazy, beautiful world we live in. We are all doing the best we can at any given moment. If nothing else, this experience has given me even greater compassion for the multitude of different ways to live a life.

Digital Nomad

Whether you’re a fellow “failed” digital nomad, never traveled outside of your hometown, working 9-5 in an office, raising your family at home, taking care of your parents who need your help, or a successful entrepreneur #Girlboss, I honor you. I respect the way you live your life. I may preach about creating a life you love, but that does not have to mean traveling around the world. Or being a digital nomad. Or even being “successful” by any standard societal measure. Whatever way you choose to live your life, just know that I am here rooting you on. And I hope you’ll do the same for me.

Further Reading:

Some of the blog posts I’ve been reading lately that allowed me to feel comfortable living my truth of being a “failed” digital nomad:

Why The Nomadic Lifestyle Can’t Last by Leah of The Sweetest Way

Nomadic No More: Why We’re Giving Up Full Time Travel by Amy of Two Drifters

Why I Chose Not To Be A Digital Nomad by Monica of The Travel Hack

What’s Next?

I am finishing out February in beautiful Bali, and on the 1st of March, I will be making my way home. VIA TOKYO!! I couldn’t go back home without adding another country to the list, could I? Thankfully I still had some credit card points left that are getting me all the way from Tokyo back home to Syracuse, NY. If you have ever been to Tokyo, please leave me comments below letting me know what I NEED to do in 48 hours!

Happy Exploring, Wherever You Are!

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29 comments

  1. Hi Eva, thanks for this eye-opening post. My boyfriend and I have considered being digital nomads for a long time now and we think the key is a substantial course of secondary income, wise money management and slow travel. I wish you luck in the future!

  2. You seem pretty young, still, so don’t beat yourself up too hard. I’m just learning the same lessons at 40 as I prepare for a career break thanks to a stockmarket windfall. If I can figure out how to be a digital nomad before the money runs out, great, if not, I’ll be back in a cubicle this time next year. Such is life 🙂

  3. Hi 😊 such a refreshing read. Thank you for sharing. This is a very tough gig and each person needs to travel on their own journey to find themselves. Good luck for the future.

  4. You haven’t failed babe! You’ve been on an incredible journey and learned a lot about yourself along the way, one thing travel is great for. If you’d never tried you’d never know, and always be wondering “what if?” Now that it’s out of your system you can get excited for a new chapter of your life, and that doesn’t have to mean giving up travel, or location independence. Like you say, it’s about living a life YOU love, whatever than is at any given time. You’re an inspiration for people out there who are still growing the balls to do what you do and I’m looking forward to reading about what happens next 🙂 x

  5. I wouldn’t call that a failure – more a learning curve! And there’s nothing wrong with moving home at 27 – I just did the same thing (and at 25 and 20!). I was an expat for three years and freelanced in TV whilst travelling around from a base, which was marvellous fun – I thoroughly recommend it! Enjoy Tokyo and hope you can sort those sodding credit cards out when you’re back in NY.
    LC recently posted…Seven Lessons Expat Life Will Teach YouMy Profile

  6. This is such a refreshing post! After all the blogs I’ve read about people quitting their jobs to travel, I really appreciate your honesty about the other side of the coin and financial worries. What I will say though is that this experience has clearly taught you a lot, so you haven’t failed at all. Just think – if you hadn’t embarked on this, you may still be thinking “what it?” I genuinely hope you get a life you love some day!! 🙂

  7. I think you’ve made some really important points here — yes, that there are certain things about yourself and your habits that need adjusting, but also that being a “digital nomad” is not one narrow existence, but rather a broad spectrum of experiences and lifestyles.

    Good luck with whatever you decide to try next. I’ll be rooting for you!

  8. I totally applaud your honesty. I’m in my 8th month of a year-long solo RTW trip and have definitely been struggling with the same things.

    I constantly feel torn between work and travel and am definitely guilty of moving too fast. I made sure to schedule month-long stops every few months, but in between those, I totally burn myself out.

    I think I didn’t commit to being a digital nomad soon enough – I left home thinking my year-long trip would be just that. Travel for a year, work as needed to get through it. At first I didn’t have enough client work to meet my goal, then suddenly I was making double what I planned each month and realized location independent maybe was a possibility for me. And that has been super overwhelming. Everything has been such a departure from what I first planned – from leaving a year sooner than originally planned, not selling enough of my stuff in advance, not changing my travels enough based on my financial situation.

    Just all of the things. I’ve really been struggling with figuring out what comes next for me and how to get there and I do not have enough focus at present.

    I don’t think you’ve failed. It is impossible as a travel writer/blogger to ever feel like you’re doing enough.

    1. Danielle, thank you so much for commenting. I completely get where you’re coming from. I had all these pre-conceived notions and plans when I first set out to travel (I was planning a similar round the world trip while saving money, but changed my mind once I lost my job unexpectedly). I think we get so bogged with what we see online of what that perfect RTW trip should look like (at least I did) and we forget to factor in ourselves. Everyone is different, and everyone travels differently! Just know we’re all in this together, and no one has shit figured out even if it looks like they do! Something that really helped me come to these conclusions was that I stopped traveling really once I got to SE Asia. I just took some time to do less and got quiet with what travel had taught me so far and where I felt like I was meant to go next. That ultimately led me to staying in Bali for most of the past few months. It’s hard to get clear on what you want when you’re running around all the time! I know everything will work out exactly how it’s meant to for you! Even if it looks nothing like you thought it would 😉

  9. Good Luck with your next endeavour!
    I really appreciate your honesty in this post. Whats life without our setbacks right? I think we’re always evolving and reinventing ourselves.

  10. All the 💖 In the 🌎 For You! The only failure is not trying and so you have not failed, rather you have lived and inspired from wherever you are!

  11. We TOTALLY understand where you are coming from. This almost exact scenario happened to us when we were traveling in Europe and had grand dreams of traveling and becoming digital nomads. And guess what? We crashed and burned from pretty much the exact reasons you did too. But you know what? It was an amazing learning experience and while it’s tough to look back and see what is in our eyes a failure, it helped us refocus and figure out exactly what we wanted. Now ten months later we are back on the road again but refocused and with a more central purpose for our lives. All of life is a learning experience and we are sure that this trip will help you figure it out! Just know you are not alone!
    Ashley and Alex recently posted…Eat Local in Tulum – A Guide to Eating Locally in the Mexican RivieraMy Profile

  12. Thank you for this post! I think it´s the way alot of use feel right now. It takes time to figure out this whole digital nomad thing, but it will come 🙂
    Enjoy your last days until returning back home and good luck on creating your dream lifestyle. You can do it!

  13. Definitely not a failure! Most people just blindly do whatever they’re told they need to in careers and life, so the fact that you took a tremendous risk to travel, start a blog, be a digital nomad…those are things that most people never do at all. And you already did! So huge props. I know it might not seem like a big deal when you’re (and I say the collective you with myself included here) surrounded virtually with other bloggers that are all doing the same thing and making it appear effortless. But you’re still in the huge minority here! So give yourself a little more credit 😉

    That being said, the fast-paced digital nomad life is definitely not for me either. It’s just not sustainable and not productive. I absolutely loved housesitting for 3-4 months in a spot, but I think I love being an expat even more. Like you said, it’s the perfect situation for getting to know another place intimately and being a base for travel within the country as well as neighboring ones. Since being in one place we’ve been able to put way more work into our site but also build a community here. I just got back yesterday from a week in Berlin and I loved exploring the city but also it was so nice to come home and get back into a routine. In Berlin I got a lot of freelance work suddenly piled onto me and I even felt the work-travel balance just in that short week! Honestly I don’t know how you’ve managed to keep it going so long! Kudos to you and excited to see what you get up to next! Also, have ALWAYS dreamed of visiting Japan, so can’t wait to live vicariously through your photos =D
    Sam | Alternative Travelers recently posted…A New Yorker’s Guide to Cheap Vegan Food in BrooklynMy Profile

  14. Tokyo is the BEST! Check out Izakaya (Japanese pubs with food) and do the Tokyo Bike Tour to visit all of the touristy places and enjoy the beautiful city. I’ve got plenty more here: http://www.neverendinghoneymoon.net/top-ten-budget-friendly-tokyo-japan/
    And, don’t be discouraged! You’re young and that’s the time to be learning what you want from the world and what you have to give the world. What you’ve done and tried is beyond brave and has clearly been the perfect learning curve!

  15. “Maybe I’m exactly on the path that I’m meant to be on. Maybe moving back home at the age of 27 isn’t failure, but a new beginning.” You said it yourself here, Eva. You’re not a failure at all. Not everyone lives their life on a cut and dried path of certainty. Don’t beat yourself up that your life is taking a few more twists and turns. I think owning up to yourself about your financial struggles is the turning point and once you get this under control you’ll find you’ll be able to travel in a much more sustainable and stress free way. Good luck to you and your new chapter!
    Meg recently posted…So You Want To Be A Thirty Year Old Backpacker?My Profile

  16. Preachhhh!

    I’m just starting my digital nomad journey, and all of this speaks to me so much. I decided after my trips last year that fast travel was definitely not for me– I need somewhere I can park my life for months at a time and that place needs to have doors that shut.

    And I feel you on debt. I got my first credit card at 23, and it’s been a struggle being financially sound. I’m living at home now as I build up a freelance portfolio and as much as I want to get on the first plane to somewhere in SE Asia, I KNOW I need to put that money towards paying down my credit card and loans while my parents are still kind enough to offer free board.

    Looking forward to reading about your game plan from here! Failure, while it sucks in the moment, is overall a great teacher.

  17. You are still two years younger than Bill and I were when we decided to move our whole family in with my parents. At the time, we thought it was for a few years while he finished his CPA and we recovered from the financial loss from our lousily timed home purchase. As you know, our multi-generational household ending up being the best thing we never planned. Now I’m here at 49, having just lost my position when the company moved to only full time employees and tossed contractors. Instead of looking for an other contractor position, I find myself starting two (very different) businesses. Maybe you want to come spend some time here and help me? Your skills could be useful in both opportunities, which could include distance work once they’re set up. Plus, we would love to see you.

  18. This hit really close to home. About two years ago, I did a RTW trip with a ton of credit card debt without fully understanding the implications. I ran out of money that summer while in Croatia and quit traveling (I was 22 and totally oblivious to budgeting, especially factoring in credit card payments). Two years later, I’ve payed off my unsecured debts, have a remote job, and a healthy savings accoutn. I lived with my parents after flailing that summer, and was determined to make sure I would never be so irresponsible again! It sounds like you’ve learned a valuable lesson, and I have no doubt you’ll get back out there. Thanks for sharing so openly!

  19. Such an honest post and about something that I wish gets talked about more within the travel blogging community. I can definitely relate to this as a year ago, I had also “failed” as a long-term traveller and came home with my tail between my legs. But now that a year has passed, I have learned so many important (and sometimes difficult) things about myself and I’m able to use that self-knowledge and those lessons learned for the future. Mistakes can be great opportunities for lessons learned 🙂 Thanks for being so honest & open!

  20. I’ve just found you for the first time via Richelle of “Adventures around Asia!”

    I don’t see you as a failure at all. In fact, it takes a brave person to take a huge step, go home, and start all over again! And that’s exactly what you’re doing. You seem to never give up, but are trying to find the best way for you!

    Everyone’s different, and by the looks of it, you have a great warm and supportive family. Why would you want to leave them for too long? They seem hilarious!

    I’ll be following to find out what you get up to, as you sound like fun! 🙂
    Victoria @The British Berliner recently posted…So is it worth going to ITB Berlin? Yes! It most certainly is!My Profile

  21. Such a beautiful post! As a beginner travel/study abroad blogger I really appreciate such an honest look on the life as a digital nomad. I do not aspire to be one as I know it would not be suitable for me. Right now I live abroad, but I change places every 6-9 months, which is a perfect way for me to travel. Like you said, living as an expat and travelling locally. Thank you for being so honest and writing such an inspiring blog post.

  22. Hi Eva,

    Thanks for being so transparent 😉 During my early days circling the globe I could relate to many of these.

    Here in Chiang Mai we hear all types of digital nomad stories. Ups, downs, all in between. I have been a digital nomad for 6 years. Wild ride in the beginning. After 3 years I created Blogging From Paradise, devoted to folks who wanted to circle the globe through smart blogging.

    For me, the difference maker was blogging with love, predominantly for fun. Changing my energy helped me cover digital nomad living authentically. The wins and losses, funny stories, nasty sicknesses, facing down death, how to build a sustainable business on the road, sharing local culture, slow travel, house sitting. I intend to share the REST of the story so my feed is not just Instagram shots of the beach where I am working for the day. Things came together when I shared value, when I helped out others, made friends and became transparent about traveling responsibly and including all the crazy crap that happens on the road, too.

    I’ve been blessed to be featured on sites like Virgin, Forbes, Fox News and Entrepreneur for sharing my digital nomad insight because I intended to be authentic in relaying how this DM life proceeds. That is one secret to succeeding with this lifestyle or with anything in life.

    Fabulous post Eva 🙂

    Ryan
    Ryan Biddulph recently posted…7 Tips for Writing Successful eBooks Quickly (Amazon eBook)My Profile

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