I was born and raised in France, but my mother comes from Finland. My grandfather from my father’s side traveled to over a hundred countries. I studied international business in the United States.
My wanderlust always grew with me.
What excitement when I discovered entrepreneurs who created online businesses that allowed them to travel the world!
I dreamt of imitating them by launching my own business. I would leave for Asia. It was only five years later that I had my first “digital nomad” experiment with my wife Keïna.
What is a digital nomad? Someone who only needs a computer and an Internet connection to work. The digital nomad takes advantage of his mobility to travel the world. Most start by visiting regions where life is less expensive (Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, South America).
So is this the dream life?
Let me tell you about our adventure.
Becoming a digital nomad for the first time
At the end of 2016, we left France for 4 months to travel to Southeast Asia. We focused on three countries: Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam.
Choosing the countries for our itinerary
We split our time between 3 countries: Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.
Thailand: We spent 2 and a half months between the beautiful beaches of Phuket, the big city of Bangkok, and Chiang Mai in the North of the country (the “paradise” of digital nomads).
Cambodia: We followed Timothée Paton across the country for 3 weeks. Timothée dedicated 19 years of his life to street children in Cambodia. Being with him allowed us to discover the country differently, by moving away from the tourist route.
Vietnam: We stayed 10 days in the capital, Hanoi, for visa issues. We took the opportunity to discover the magnificent Halong Bay.
Finding our housing as digital nomads
We rented Airbnb apartments for the vast majority of the experience. Rates were under $400 per month for Thailand and $5 per night for Vietnam.
In Cambodia, we were following our friend Timothée Paton. So we stayed in the same hotels as him. We couldn’t book apartments as we had to be mobile.
We also knew how to treat ourselves to beautiful hotels. For example during our visit to the temples of Angkor in Cambodian and for the last days of our trip to Bangkok. We found the hotels through Booking. We then contacted the hotel directly and got a better price 50% of the time.
Budgeting and working as a digital nomad
I continued to work for my clients from Asia. I was managing the online communication of several companies. My wife helped me with certain missions.
Before departure, we made some reservations with our savings: our Europe/Asia tickets, a few local flights, and accommodation for two months. The rest of the expenses were paid with my monthly revenue.
I will show you how we organized ourselves; But first, let me talk about the advantages of being a digital nomad.
And precisely, the advantages are numerous!
The upsides of the digital nomad life
Discover new countries. I spare you the clichés about discovering new cultures and new horizons. But whenever I spent time abroad during my life, I always grew and improved my understanding of the world and myself.
Live great experiences. Experiences is what makes you happy. My most intense memories are unique moments of my life. I don’t remember much what I bought myself at the time. I would recommend you to visit the paradise islands of Koh Phi Phi, Halong Bay in Vietnam, the temples of Angkor. Our best memory was playing in the mud and water with elephants.
Take a step back. Seeing your life objectively is easier when you are far from all your usual benchmarks. We left a few days before our second wedding anniversary: it was perfect to avoid settling into our comfort zone. During this trip, I decided to quit alcohol and start reading every day.
Take advantage of the jet lag. Having 6 hours in advance helps to satisfy your customers. I loved the feeling of getting up, working in the morning and finishing my day before my clients even arrived at the office. They had everything they needed as soon as they turned on their computer. I was then drinking a coconut milkshake.
Have fun but pay less. Choosing the right countries for your itinerary can save you a lot of money. We have experienced unforgettable evenings in restaurants by the water in Phuket or on the rooftops of buildings in Bangkok… for the same price as a basic restaurant in France!
Stick to the essentials. Being mobile means traveling as light as possible. This is an opportunity to reflect on what is important and what we really need on a daily basis. In fact, we plan to bring less video equipment for our next adventures.
But beware, the life of a digital nomad also has its drawbacks…
The dark side of the digital nomad life
I loved this time living with my wife on the other side of the world. But there are downsides that I hadn’t anticipated or considered. Here is the dark side of the digital nomad that I will be more prepared for in the future.
You will miss family and friends. It’s obvious and I don’t have a cure for homesickness. The best advice is to make the most of your time when you are away, and the same when you are with your loved ones. Just be present.
Neither a vacation nor an expatriation. Being a digital nomad means traveling, but also working. So you have to find the right rhythm. You can neither work well nor discover the country well by changing places too often. Our solution was to distinguish periods of work (living more slowly) and periods of leisure (living more intensely).
Keep routines. The key to success is having good habits. Keeping good habits is more difficult when you change your environment regularly. Today, I have clearer criteria for apartments and locations to live in. To maintain our routines in terms of work, but also workouts, creative projects, sleep and food.
Choose your bank wisely. Fees add up quickly if you travel abroad. We had met with our banker before departure and his help was more of a DIY than a specific offer for this kind of project.
Plan a bigger budget. You think you can settle for X dollars for activities, accommodation or restaurants. But the reality is quite different there. You will be on the other side of the world. You will tell yourself that it does not happen so often. So you will take out your credit card (especially if everything is cheaper than in your home country). Paying in another currency can also make you lose your valuation of money. My advice is to make your monthly budget and multiply it by two, just to be sure. At best, you will have savings available.
Don’t cling on novelty for novelty’s sake. New is not necessarily better. The first few weeks we wanted to do everything possible. Little by little, we refined our desires. Our to-do list was shorter but gained in quality.
You don’t have to become an Instagram influencer. This trip is for you. Do what really makes you happy. Do what you would do if there was no “audience” following you on social media. The danger is to become an “Instagram influencer who travels the world” and ending up making choices based on likes. Worse still, you could start comparing yourself to others and losing sight of what’s important to you.
So how do you put the odds on your side and have a great digital nomad experience?
How to have a great digital nomad experience
Before leaving, I put all the chances on my side to make our life as digital nomads as pleasant as possible.
Have wifi. A good internet connection is a matter of survival. As a digital nomad, chose hotels with high-speed Internet. You can also find some hipster coffee shops. If Maslow were a digital nomad, he would have put the Internet on the base of his pyramid.
Gain flexibility with your clients. The more effective the communication, the less superfluous exchanges there are. The key is to learn to listen to the needs of your client and to satisfy them. Everyone wins if you do your job without needing 10 back and forths for each decision.
Notify clients in advance. A client will be thrilled if he understands that being abroad will not affect your work and will even be beneficial to your mission! It is up to you to identify the possible barriers and to remove them. It’s up to you to find the advantages for your client and present them to him. Communication is important in every relationship.
Travel light. Having less and living happily is just as true when traveling! The lighter your suitcase, the more mobile you will be, the more money you will save, the more relaxed you will be, the more you will enjoy your life as a digital nomad.
Have all your documents available. You have to hope for the best but prepare for the worst. I had all the necessary documents well organized and available in several copies: on my computer, on the cloud, on one USB key per suitcase, and in hard copy. Identity papers, visas, travel insurance, health documents, tickets, reservations.
Know what you want. As with travel, there are a thousand ways to live your digital nomad experience. Over the weeks, we discovered what we really wanted to experience and what interested us less (in terms of experiences, comfort, daily routines, budget). And following trends on the Internet is not necessarily what will maximize your happiness.
Start your digital nomad adventure
The digital nomad experience will take you out of your comfort zone. In an extreme way sometimes, since it is the combination of freelancing and traveling (two projects already challenging by themselves).
But these four months in Southeast Asia are among the best times of my life. You will always remember the good moments. And even setbacks eventually become good memories.
Without looking for the extraordinary or the flashy, the simplest experiences are enough to grow and live a magnificent adventure.
Going far allowed us to review what we believe and value. Being a digital nomad allowed us to make life choices that suit us. I wish you the same.
Bon voyage my friend.