Becoming a Digital Nomad

I had known for a couple of years that I wanted to live like a nomad and travel around for a longer period of time before settling down somewhere. When I was already saving money for that and planning it in my head, I found out about the Digital Nomad Movement. Digital nomads are people who earn their money online. Since they basically only need wifi to do their work, they are free to travel and live anywhere they choose.

I quickly knew that I also wanted to become a digital nomad. It seemed perfect: I already had the right mindset, a digital background through my studies and work as well as the travel experience. The reality looked a little different though and I still haven’t found the best way to achieve this lifestyle yet. But I’m getting there! 😉

Mindset

Of course, there is no “right” mindset. Everybody is different and has their individual mindset. Yet there are certain traits that many digital nomads share and that make living this lifestyle successfully more likely.

Friends and couchsurfers in different costumes celebrating carnival in Cologne, Germany

Happy times in Germany: Celebrating carnival in Cologne with friends and couchsurfers was always a blast. This picture is from February 2017 and before I got dreads (I’m the one on the right ;).

First of all, it is important to note that traveling nonstop is not the ultimate solution to find happiness. I had a happy life in Germany and I always knew that I would eventually escape the thing, which made the most unhappy: the cold. Since happiness comes from within, it doesn’t make much sense to look for it somewhere else. Changing the lifestyle or any other part of life can only increase our happiness to a certain degree. It doesn’t only depend on one single circumstance but on many different factors. Even the most positive change becomes normal after a while or new problems arise. Then it’s easy to fall back into dissatisfaction. One of the best ways to find happiness and inner peace is definitely mediation. There are multiple different practices and many can be done anywhere anytime.

The pictures and stories of my travels might be nice, but it’s not an extended vacation. I’m sure many people would not even enjoy the way I live, but for me personally, it’s the best lifestyle. Through my travels and experiences in the last years, I found out how to arrange my journey to be happy. My plans naturally don’t always work out, but that’s part of traveling. Besides that, I just can’t live the common 9-5 lifestyle. Although I worked in an office for 2,5 years and really liked my job and colleagues, I knew I couldn’t do this for the rest of my life. In the end, everybody has to find what’s right for them.

Money = Freedom?

For a long time, I thought I would have to make lots of money to be able to travel as much as I wanted. In order to have a career and work my way up, I would probably have to invest the next 5-10 years of my life working a lot and not traveling that much. And then? Maybe I would work 50+ hours and earn $500,000 per year, but only have a couple of weeks each year to do what I really love. If I made $30,000 as a digital nomad and have the work-life balance that fits my personality, wouldn’t I be much freer? It’s not important to be a millionaire but to be able to afford the lifestyle, freedom, and flexibility that makes you happy. I really like this statement by Mark Twain:

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.”

Other important characteristics include the willingness to do things differently and live nomadic, respect, curiosity, kindness, resilience and an adventurous spirit. In order to work as a freelancer or to start an own company, you should also possess an entrepreneurial mindset. I already achieved some of these characteristics, while others definitely have to be improved. 😉

Travel Preparation

Although I had left Germany several times before, I completely underestimated the preparation this time. So I ended up having a couple of really stressful weeks. I didn’t finish my To-Do lists and couldn’t keep the deadlines I had set for myself at the beginning of 2017 (e.g. the launch of this blog).

Besides the preparation I needed to do, I had also planned some last travels with family and friends. I worked full time in my office job until the end of July. Then I went to Greece for a week with my dad. Afterward, I spent two more weeks in Cologne before traveling to Poland for a festival. Then back to Cologne for one day to hand our apartment over to the landlords. And finally, I went to my hometown Kassel to spend the last days in Germany with my family before I left in September.

Sisters at flea market on bank of Rhine in Cologne, Germany

I attended five different flea markets to sell my clothes, shoes etc. This one took place on the bank of the Rhine in Cologne and my sister Caro kindly helped out.

Getting Started

I had been planning this journey for a long time in my head of course. And all my previous travels and experiences have helped to prepare me mentally. The first small actual step towards achieving a location independent lifestyle was probably in January 2017. I took part in an online congress that I found while researching digital nomads, called Hello World (in German). Two digital nomads interviewed other digital nomads on how they became and worked location independently, what qualifications one has to have and what different kinds to make money exist.

Afterward, I was very motivated, joined several Facebook groups, signed up for newsletters, got some ebooks on the topic and saved it all on my laptop – for later evaluation. In the following months, I followed some digital nomads on their blog or YouTube channel and continued saving important information. The first serious step was to quit my job in March. But it was with the prospect of working until the end of July because of my period of notice. It was a relief because it brought me closer to my goal. At the same time, it was a little scary to say goodbye to a steady income without knowing how I will make money in the future.

Will I Ever Get Rid of All This Stuff??

In May, I terminated my shared apartment which made leaving Germany even more final. I also went to my first flea market and started selling some clothes, shoes, accessories etc. that I couldn’t take with me. There was so much stuff accumulated over the years that I went to four more flea markets in the next months. At the last one, I even put signs with “Everything for 1€ !“ and still couldn’t get rid of everything. Of course, I also asked all of my friends to take anything they want.

Nonetheless, there was still quite a lot left at the end of August. I started putting my furniture on eBay in July and could sell most of it even if not for as much as I had hoped. A few things I couldn’t part with like pictures, old school yearbooks, and my favorite (winter) clothes, I stored at my mom’s place.

Glasses, games and other household goods for sale in kitchen in Cologne, Germany

During our “open house” we put everything we didn’t need anymore on the kitchen counters and tables. As you can tell- we liked drinking, puzzling and playing games in our shared apartment. 😉

Just Take Anything, Please!

Apart from my own belongings, there were also many things I shared with my two flatmates. We had to get rid of everything because they also moved to new places. So we held an “open house“ twice where we put everything to sell on display for anybody to come. Although we had hoped for more visitors it was a success, we made some money and also gave some things away for free. Everything (shared and personal stuff) that was left after that we just put on the street with a big sign “For free“. To our surprise and delight, all was gone at the end no matter how big, small, valuable or crappy!

This part of the preparation was definitely the most time-consuming. I had not expected how long it would take to go through all my things, decide what to do with them and then to try to sell them. Being a person who finds it rather difficult to part from things prolonged the process even more. It was also hard for me to give them away for little or even no money knowing how much I paid for them. But now, I feel very happy about not owning so many material things anymore and hope I won’t accumulate again in the future. 😀

Rasta girl painting wall in room in Cologne, Germany

I had to paint several times over the red wall in my room. But in the end, it was white again.

There’s More to Do

Getting everything out of our apartment wasn’t the end of the work though. In order to get the deposit back that we paid when we moved in, we had to make the rooms look like they did six years earlier as much as possible. That meant painting the walls white, closing holes caused by nails and screws as well as cleaning of course. Especially our hallway proved to be a pain in the ass (you can see a part of it in the Carnival picture). Our friends and we had written with different pens and markers all over the wall and the ink came through the fresh paint. We had to buy expensive specialty paint and go over it many times before we could call the wall completely white again. Thankfully, we were helped by good friends. And our hard work paid off in the end because the landlords luckily had no complaints.

Of course, there was also a lot of non-material stuff I had to take care of. I ended all of my contracts, got a new passport, an international driver’s license and a second credit card (Santander, I primarily use DKB though) just in case. After a long research, I found a suitable health and luggage insurance. (If you are German and planning a long trip check out STA Travel ;). I also scanned important documents and went through my laptop and old external hard drives to put everything on new hard drives. One was for me and one for my sister to keep safe in case mine gets lost or stolen. That might be a slightly outdated solution, but cloud storage seemed too expensive for me.

The Most Difficult Part of Traveling

The saddest part of leaving was saying goodbye to family, friends, and colleagues. A couple of days after my last day at work I organized a farewell party at our office (party) kitchen. One month later, I had a second farewell party at our apartment for my friends. Of course, both parties needed preparation and then cleaning afterward. They were a lot of fun, but of course also really sad. I tried to meet the friends and colleagues who couldn’t join either party one more time which unfortunately didn’t work out with everybody.

Room in Cologne, Germany, full with furniture and empty before moving out

After painting the red wall several times until it was white again and moving all my stuff out, the room seemed much bigger.

Leaving Cologne on the 30th of August and saying goodbye to my flatmate and friends was very emotional. The last days with my family were the most difficult and most tearful. I had planned to spend a nice time with them. But sadly, there was so much left to prepare that I didn’t have as much time as I wanted for them. Something that made the preparation phase especially towards the end even harder was my sleep. I don’t have the best sleep anyway, but during the last weeks, so many thoughts went through my head that it was difficult to fall asleep and I often woke up during the night not being able to go back to sleep.

What About Working?

Most of the above would have been necessary for any kind of long travel. So coming back to the preparation I started in January to earn money as a digital nomad. Since all the other work took up so much time, I wasn’t able to go through all the information I had saved. I wanted to create this blog and a YouTube channel but also knew this would not be my source of income for the first years. But failed in launching either before I left Germany.

The only things I could manage to get done were buying a domain and learning the basics of how to use the cutting program for my videos. Everything else (designing the logo, writing these texts, creating the blog with WordPress…) I had to do while I was already traveling.

Besides that, I also sometimes look for a job in the places I visit. In Jamaica, I found work in return for accommodation, food and scuba diving. The first destination of my journey brought me closer to becoming a Digital Nomad though. I went to Lisbon, Portugal, to attend the DNX, a conference with talks and workshops by successful digital nomads about how to effectively live this lifestyle. It was very inspirational, I met many cool people and got new ideas, both for my (future) business and life in general.

In Imbituba, I finally got closer to my goal of earning a living online. In order to do so, I created a page of my professional profile, applied to various jobs and joined different Facebook groups. By the end of June, I had a couple of awesome clients from Germany that I really like working for.

See More Pictures of My Preparation

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