How We Became Digital Nomads: Part 1
In two weeks and two days, Corey and I will be boarding a plane bound for France with no return ticket in our pocket. 100 days, that's how long we hope to make it.
The most common responses to this: Are you crazy? How can you afford this? Why? and Can you pack me in your suitcase?
I have to ask myself some of these questions too (besides the suitcase one), especially when it comes to my sanity. But when I think about how and why, it really isn’t a straight answer, no direct connection from A to B. Before I get to our one-way tickets, moving out, leaving my job… I need to start at the very beginning.
So much life planning has happened on our crapped out Ikea couch. One of the first conversations happened in November. Corey mentioned an article he had read that day, some listicle-type thing Top 10 Cities for Working Abroad or Top 5 Places to Live and Work, you get the idea.
“Amsterdam was on there, apparently it’s pretty good for expats,” he said.
Me: I would do that
Him: We should do that
Me: Like seriously, I want to do that
Him: I know
Him: Let’s do it
The conversation was simple. The motivations felt complex, but probably were simple too. I'd lived my entire life in one place. I wanted to go somewhere new. And Amsterdam felt right. It had been six months since I had graduated and gotten a new job, but in that span of time a feeling of discontent had begun to settle on me like dust.
I jumped into planning like it was my second job. My first job was as a copywriter at an agency. It was exactly what I thought I had wanted to do after graduation. Now, I was spending my nights thinking about another future and working towards it. In the following three months I gained a basic proficiency in Dutch, kept an eye of all the listings on “Nederlands” Craigslist, and applied to about 100 jobs based in Amsterdam.
And I waited. I woke up early every day to refresh my inbox, sometimes in the middle of the night when I knew it was office hours in Amsterdam. But my inbox remained empty. The big plans for my future were resting in someone else's hands.
But then it happened. Someone wanted to interview me. A big somebody.
Their website advertised a plane ticket to Amsterdam, visa sponsorship, and temporary housing for me, Corey, and our cat Monty. In my mind, I was already there.
The Phone Interview
I was sitting cross-legged on my couch going over practiced answers in my head before the Skype session. But I wasn’t prepared for the first and only question they would ask me…
“Do you have a valid work visa?”
As it turns out, getting a Dutch work visa isn’t as simple as finding a company that wants to hire you. Before companies can even consider hiring someone from the U.S. they have to spend at least six weeks interviewing all the other qualified candidates from the EU (they must prove that they did this to the immigration office.) So what's left to do when you're not better than every single copywriter candidate in Europe?
I knew this plan had failed. After months of getting over the small hurdles, this one just seemed too impossible to surpass.
We were beaten down, trying to consider the other options. We knew we needed to get out of Richmond and do something, anything new.
I had a test I was trying out. I asked locals to recommend a few great restaurants, bars, parks, or other fun/interesting settings in the city. If they mentioned a place I hadn’t been to, I might be able to survive another week. They never did.
Desperation drove us to D.C. that weekend in search of a different type of Saturday. We chatted in the car on the way there about the possibility of moving to the West Coast. That would be new, exciting. Neither of us had loved California, maybe Seattle was a possibility.
We checked into a newly built boutique hotel and spent the weekend pursuing a list of recommendations from friends. Check. Check. Museums. Check.
We ended up eating dinner at the hotel that night, which was silly considering all the places in DC we’d never been. But it all just felt like more of the same anyway: the meal I had to try, the exhibit I had to see, the show I just couldn't miss.
Amsterdam had never been about having new things to do every weekend. It was the idea that we could be immersed in a completely new country, a new culture. I had imagined the times I would decide to take the train to Paris or fly up to Copenhagen. All of these experiences I'd always craved had felt vivid and alive only days ago. It couldn't just be snuffed out by something as simple as rejection. Right?
“I can’t let go of Europe,” I told Corey.
Digital Nomad. That was the term that kept cropping up in the following stream of google searches. “Travel + Work” “Make money while traveling” “traveling + not starving,” you get the idea.
Here is a definition of Digital Nomad from Investopedia:
I spent almost an entire night reading through blogs of people who had actually done this. Many of these people were developers, photographers, writers, and designers. Writers and designers… that’s what we do. You could almost reach out and grab the light bulb above my head. This might actually work…
Read Part 2.
We’re leaving for our adventure in a few short weeks. Between now and then, Corey and I are launching our blog with a few stories on how we planned this move, what we’re doing to get ready, and other tips for people who want to travel and work on a budget. For more information, check out one of the first digital nomad blogs we ever read at www.nomadicmatt.com.