How to Become a Nomad and Travel in the Digital Era
As a photographer, becoming a digital nomad empowers you to see the world as a native, not as a tourist. It’s helped me take better photos, boosted my creativity, and given me more time to dedicate to photography outside my day job. You don’t need to wait till you hit the road: you can start becoming a digital nomad now before you ever sell your house.
A few years ago I started the journey to becoming a digital nomad.
Many landscape photographers have adopted similar remote-friendly lifestyles to devote more time to their craft. I’m inspired by Elia Locardi and Dave Morrow’s dramatic transitions to location independent lifestyles.
Particularly as a photographer, becoming a digital nomad empowers you to:
- See the world as a native, not as a tourist
- Dedicate more time to your craft outside your day job
- Experience a region in various seasons, especially off-season
- Travel to more remote spots that tourists won’t see
- Take advantage of last-minute flight deals without hesitation
- Flex your plans on the spot to accommodate weather
It’s helped me take better photos, boosted my creativity, and has given me more time to shoot by trimming the fat out of my life. I probably wouldn’t have stumbled upon spots like these cabins under the Sass de Putia, which capture the mix of Swiss, Italian, and Austrian influence throughout the Alpine region:
Practicing a nomadic lifestyle can help you discover unique perspectives that aren’t found in a travel guide.
Sold? You can start becoming a digital nomad now before you ever sell your house.
What is a digital nomad?
Global nomad, perpetual traveler, backpacker, location independent — there are many flavors of digital nomadism, but they all have a remote-friendly lifestyle in common.
In a nutshell, digital nomads are people who leverage technology to work from anywhere.
That leaves the spectrum pretty wide: it’s not all or nothing. To adopt the digital nomad lifestyle, you don’t have to:
- Sell everything you own
- Stay in AirBnBs all year long
- Dress like a vagrant
- Always wear a backpack
- Be a blogger
- Grow a beard
So don’t let impostor syndrome prevent you from starting a new adventure!
Even before I “became a digital nomad,” the mindset helped me nail packing so I could comfortably explore regions on foot, like the hill town of Brunate, Italy.
Should you become a digital nomad?
Since being a digital nomad isn’t about AirBnBs and blogging, why would you become a digital nomad? Ask yourself if:
- You want to see and experience the world
- You are a perpetual learner
- You prefer new challenges over an established routine
- You want fewer things to dictate your lifestyle
- You value experiences over possessions
If a handful of these made you think, “Yep, that’s me,” then a digital nomadic lifestyle pretty much checks all the boxes!
1. Start adopting the mindset
Digital nomadism is more about the mindset than it is traveling perpetually. Long before I started traveling frequently as a photographer and speaker, I started embracing the digital nomad mindset.
I initially struggled with a few cognitive biases, a.k.a. “brain bugs”:
Sunk cost: I held on to unused (but perfectly good) possessions because it seemed like a waste to send them on their way, especially after the time and money I had invested in them. I allowed the sunk cost — my investment — to influence my decision. Ironically, those possessions only brought frustration, stubbed toes, and moving fees.
Well-traveled road effect: Despite a self-professed desire to experience new places, I tended to get stuck in ruts like taking the same route. Because it was familiar to me, I perceived it as the most efficient way of accomplishing my goal. I had to invent ways to ensure I explored more of an area, like turning on the “Avoid highways” option in Google Maps to take back-roads.
2. Focus on results, not effort
Working a job on the go erodes the concept of time, making traditional measures of “productivity” irrelevant. So before you hit the road, practice focusing on measurable outcomes — a.k.a. “results” — and celebrating those outcomes, rather than how much time or effort you invested.
Avoid qualifying your goals and to-dos in terms of time or an activity. Instead, pick measurable results that move you towards your end goal so you can see progress over time.
Here’s an example: if your goal is to shrink down your wardrobe, you might have a to-do item like this:
“Spend an hour going through my closet today.”
This is not measurable or moving towards your end goal of shrinking down your wardrobe. You’ll likely waste an hour getting rid of a few things, then be disappointed when you step back and see how little you accomplished. Instead, your to-do could be:
“Consolidate my wardrobe to fit into a duffel bag.”
If you are trying to become a travel blogger, you might have a writing goal:
”Spend 30 minutes a day writing.”
Habits are great, and this one is measurable to some degree, but it isn’t directly tied to becoming a successful travel blogger. Instead:
“Finish outlining a 500 word post.”
That’s a result you can measure, work towards, and take pride in completing.
In the end, no one cares how much time or effort you spent on your work, and neither should you! Optimize your time by focusing on activities with measurable results, and use as little of it as possible.
3. Get comfortable with less
Unsurprisingly, an important component of nomadism is culling down possessions to a bare minimum, so start practicing results-oriented de-cluttering (here are 12 things to ditch, and 12 to keep) and digitize everything. If you’re already a minimalist, it’s straightforward to continue your trend.
But it’s just as important to minimize the comforts you depend on. We rely on so many conveniences — air conditioning, laundry facilities, a private vehicle, a spacious kitchen — that may need to be left behind. It’s one thing to tolerate a life with minimal comforts, and another to embrace it.
It will be a rude transition if you aren’t already practicing, so start applying a minimalist mindset to vacations and day trips. Do you feel like you’re “away from home” because you “absolutely need something?” Try going without items, find alternatives, and modify your routines. Do you always feel like you’re missing something after packing? Take notes for next time so you can discover your actual essentials and fit them into one suitcase, then a duffel bag, then a small backpack.
In other words, live like you’re already on the road!
When I tacked some landscape photography to the end of a business trip in Portland, my packing regime needed just a couple alterations. After arrival, unusually heavy snow prevented me from visiting my intended region, but it was straightforward to completely re-plan my itinerary since I lived out of one backpack. I ended up at Washington’s hidden Spirit Falls:
As you practice minimalist packing, you may find you dread certain aspects of travel; I always stress out at airports and on long flights. When you get uncomfortable or anxious, take notes for next time! I have found that lightweight clothing, a particular plane seat, ibuprofen, and certain meals help me immensely.
Start living like a digital nomad today
Since my first international conference in Scotland in 2014, I’ve traveled to 13 countries for landscape photography projects and speaking engagements — perhaps a small feat, but for someone who five years ago had never been on plane and unreservedly hated traveling, it was totally unexpected.
That first trip helped me realize that travel wasn’t what I dreaded: it was dealing with my flabby lifestyle. Ultimately my love for landscape photography persuaded me to adopt a better lifestyle — one that would enhance, rather than hinder, my photography.
If you want to enjoy the benefits of being a digital nomad, you don’t need to sell everything or wait till you hit the road. Like fitness, location independence is not a destination, but a journey — and your life will be enriched no matter where you stop.
So start the process now to adopt one of the most empowering lifestyle changes out there for photographers.
Ready to nerd out on gear, travel tips, and all that? Next time, we’ll cover how to nail effective packing.
Lead image by rawpixel.com via Pexels.