How I Failed at Being a Digital Nomad

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For those of you who have been following me for a while, you might know that I've been running this blog since 2010. It started out as a hobby, but eventually became my full-time job (at the end of 2015).

However, what you might not know is that while I AM a full-time travel blogger, I am NOT a full-time traveler. While I do travel a lot, I'm happily married and own a home in northeast Ohio.

Marblehead Lighthouse on Lake Erie
It's not really a difficult place to live.

I've written several articles over the years about how I don't think you have to quit your job in order to travel, and how I believe you can take advantage of the vacation time you DO have in order to travel more.

BUT, in the early years of my blogging career, I fully expected that one day I would become a full-time traveler or “digital nomad.”

Travel blogging: the early years

When I started A Dangerous Business back in 2010, I was working full-time as a copy editor at a small newspaper in Ohio. I started the blog solely as a creative outlet, and decided to write about travel because I had spent a semester studying abroad in New Zealand and thought it would be fun to tell all my travel stories.

Flowers at Aoraki / Mount Cook in New Zealand
I had so many NZ adventures I wanted to write about.

I soon discovered, however, that travel blogging was actually like… a JOB for some people, and that you could actually make money doing it.

This was back in the days when “making money” from a travel blog was very loosely defined, though. Most people who were making income from travel blogs back then were cobbling together very small salaries by selling links and sponsored posts and doing freelance writing that didn't pay very well.

But they were also living in exotic locations and traveling the world, so the trade-off kind of sounded great.

Long tail boats on Pranang Beach in Railay, Thailand
Pranang Beach in Railay, Thailand

Within about a year of starting my blog, I started dreaming of living the location independent digital nomad lifestyle, too. I dreamed of backpacking across continents and meeting up with other digital nomads and bloggers in exotic places (at the time, everyone seemed to be living in Thailand).

When I quit my newspaper job in 2011 in order to go back to school, it was with the seed of an idea already planted to eventually find a way to give the digital nomad life a try.

Dipping my toes in to location independent life

I went back to school in the fall of 2011 to get my master's degree in tourism management. I knew by that point that travel and tourism was what I was passionate about, and figured that if I couldn't find a way to make the whole blogging thing work, at least I would have something solid to fall back on.

During my 2 years in grad school, I found ways to grow my blog and my overall business – you know, all while going to school full-time and working an assistantship, too. (Yes, some days I do really miss the motivation I had back in those days!)

Amanda in Syros in Greece
So. Much. Energy.

Along with writing my blog, I was also picking up freelance writing and editing gigs on the side in order to save up some extra money. These didn't pay great, but you learn to survive on pretty meager paychecks as a grad student.

In the summer of 2012 (halfway through my grad program), I decided instead of looking for a summer job or internship, I would plan a 2-month trip around Europe.

Up until that point, I had never traveled for a stretch any longer than two weeks (study abroad semester not included), and was still fairly new to the whole solo travel thing, too. The summer would be my trail run, I decided.

And that summer was one of the BEST summers I've ever had. I went on a tour in Eastern Europe, explored Istanbul, traveled up the coast of the Adriatic, visited Scotland for the first time, and even went to the Olympics in London.

Amanda on the Isle of Skye in Scotland
This was the summer I began my love affair with Scotland.

I came home absolutely in love with traveling and blogging and having the freedom to do both of those things whenever I wanted. I was basically broke after a summer in Europe, but I was nevertheless convinced that the digital nomad life WAS for me.

Digital nomadism, here I come

After my summer in Europe in 2012, I latched on to the idea of becoming a digital nomad and doing a full round-the-world (RTW) trip. I wanted to spend more time in Europe, then travel to Southeast Aisa, and maybe pop down to Australia and New Zealand again, too.

Fast forward to the summer of 2013, and I was ready to make the dream a reality.

My blog was 3.5 years old at that point, and I was working with enough brands and bringing in enough money through sporadic ad sales and freelance work that I was confident I could make it work financially.

Working remotely in Barcelona
Working on the road? No problem, I thought.

I moved out of my apartment in early summer, stored everything I owned at my parents’ house, said goodbye to the guy I had been dating (who I'd been up-front with from the beginning that I was planning this trip), and headed off to Europe for the second summer in a row.

That summer was filled with more amazing memories. I traveled around the continent on a backpacker bus for a month, visited cities like Paris and Berlin and Amsterdam and Venice for the first time, went island-hopping in the Greek Islands, re-visited London to declare it my favorite city, and celebrated my birthday in Ireland.

The original plan was to head to Southeast Asia next… but I didn't go.

Because, by the end of September (almost 3 months into my trip), I found myself increasingly stressed and burnt out.

Amanda crossing Abbey Road
I was still having fun – but I was also really burnt out.

Falling out of love with digital nomad life

The thing that a lot of travel bloggers who also identify as digital nomads don't tell you often enough is how much time they actually spend NOT traveling.

Bloggers (and now influencers) are really great at highlighting all the cool and positive parts about travel. But they leave a lot out when it comes to what the reality is actually like when you're trying to travel AND work at the same time.

I've always suffered a bit from FOMO (before it even had an official name), and this definitely influences how I travel. I want to do and see everything possible; I don't want to miss anything or have any regrets. But this also sometimes means that I travel fast and pack a lot in.

On a short 2-week trip, this is fine. But trying to keep it up for three months was not sustainable.

Pretty scene on Ios in the Greek Islands
It turns out that trying to have travel adventures every single day for months gets tiring. Who knew?

I struggled to balance my desire to do it all with the need to actually stop and get work done. Had I known then what I know now, I would have allowed for designated work days in my schedule, opting to stay longer in some destinations in order to things done.

(Spoiler alert: most “digital nomads” actually set up shop in a temporary home base when they're off living their location independent lifestyles; very few are actually traveling all the time!)

I was also facing struggles that most freelancers back then knew all too well: never really knowing when I was going to be paid.

My breaking point came in September in Warsaw, when several outstanding invoices and late payments from clients meant I didn't even have enough money in my bank account to pay for a train ticket and had to borrow money from a friend.

Warsaw Old Town
Warsaw, where I had to admit I wasn't having fun anymore.

Much of this was my own fault – for packing too much into my itinerary, for not saving up more money before I left, for not being more aggressive when it came to tracking down late payments for work I'd already completed.

But I also just wasn't dealing with the overall lifestyle as well as I had hoped I would. I was tired of living out of a backpack. I was tired of only being able to afford cheap hostel rooms. I was tired of stressing about whether the wifi would be strong enough (or even work at all) in the next place I would stay.

And I was especially tired of stressing over money. Making money as a travel blogger or freelancer back in 2013 was ALL about the hustle. If you didn't make time to pitch stories or follow up on sponsored post requests, then you didn't make money. And that hustle left me in a constant state of anxiety.

The digital nomad lifestyle, as it turned out, just wasn’t for me.

Working remotely in Istanbul
It still looks great in photos, though.

I ended up buying a flight home in October after my birthday, and wrote a whole blog post asking whether this meant I had failed at the “dream life” so many bloggers were extolling.

But of course it wasn’t really a failure. It just wasn’t right for ME.

Post-digital nomad life

I came home and started to set up a home base in Ohio. I got back together with that guy I’d been dating, and we moved into an apartment together (spoiler alert: it was Elliot, and we’re married now!).

I got a part-time remote job with a software startup so I'd have a slightly more steady income. And I kept going with the blog, which 2 years later turned into my full-time job.

My short stint as a digital nomad taught me a lot – about working for myself, about running a fledgling business, about what my travel style actually was – and I'm really thankful that I had the opportunity to try it out, mistakes and all.

Amanda and Elliot on a beach inPuerto Rico
My travel style, as it turns out, is much better suited to shorter trips!

My life looks a lot different now than I expected it to back in 2013 – but I actually think it turned out better! I get to have the best of both worlds now. I technically CAN work from anywhere – but I don't have to. I can travel in a way that works for me, and then come back home to get the real work done.

While living abroad for a while certainly isn't off the table for Elliot and I, the desire to truly live the digital nomad life is firmly out of my system now. It works for many others, but it didn't work for me.

There's no moral to this story other than to let you know that there's no one “right” way to travel or run a digital business. Being a digital nomad doesn't have to be the end goal for every travel blogger or travel-lover – unless it's what you actually want to do!

And if you decide to try it and realize it doesn't work for you, either, there's no failure in that.

Have you ever dreamed of living the digital nomad life? Could you?

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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9 Comments on “How I Failed at Being a Digital Nomad

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  1. Being a nomad is something I’ve thought about many times since becoming a blogger in general. But, with a husband with a full time and really good job, and our plans of staying in Minnesota for the summers I knew it wasn’t a dream that would come true. However, being a travel blogger, and now with a husband who just retired, and us traveling in our RV for the first time this past Jan and Feb… it has awaken something in me and now I want to keep researching new and fun USA places to stay in the winters in our RV, while learning and growing my blog to where I can make a steady income from travel blogging.

      Sounds like you have a bit of newfound freedom, and I’m sure you’ll have some great adventures in that RV!

    I totally follow your thoughts here. Digital nomad-ism is presented as a dream, but it wouldn’t be for me. Some of us love to have a stable base without having to worry about where we’ll be sleeping next month. And at what cost. Recently, the van-life is getting a lot of traction for similar reasons and it all looks very cool. But is it really? We only get to see the good stuff of course and even when the bad is talked about, we’re still not really experiencing it. Glad to hear you found your base!

      Yeah I’ve done a campervan trip before and enjoyed it for a short time – but permanent van life definitely would not be for me! And that’s fine. I enjoy reading others’ stories about it though.

    I’ve taken advantage of my right to work in Europe (RIP that) to work my current job in other locations – especially when I had big writing projects to finish up, somehow cafe hopping in Brussels was more “inspirational” than sitting in my office… I’ve also enjoyed being able to travel for work, and spend periods of time in other countries doing research or teaching.

    So “remote working” appeals, but the “digital nomad” lifestyle in its traditional form absolutely does not appeal. Plus I’m too nervous about visas and legality – I know loads of people get away with doing it on a tourist visa but the small risk of permanently damaging my right to travel to places because I’ve got caught working on the wrong visa is just a deal breaker for me (though covid does seem to have pushed some countries to review distance working rules and bring in new visas, which is really positive).

      It would definitely be nice if the new remote work visas stick around/catch on even more. I agree that the legality part of the traditional digital nomad lifestyle is another thing that would have stressed me out, had I lasted much longer.

    I’m dreaming of the nomad life one day but I know there’s certain things I can’t do. The hostel style is not for me. I see myself setting up a base for a year and then making short trips throughout that region during that time. The biggest question has been where do I want that base to be and making sure we have the income to support it before we leave. Otherwise, I’d already be gone! I agree, there are many ways to do it. You just have to really know what you need and figure out what’s best for you.

      Definitely a lot of planning that goes into a leap like this! But it sounds like you’re well on your way. I think picking one base for a while is an excellent idea.

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