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Lessons From One Year Around the World as Digital Nomad

365 days, 35 flights and 12 countries later, I officially completed a one-year trip around the world meeting makers pro !

From Berlin to Istanbul, Casablanca to Tokyo, Goa to Bali and many many more, this year as a location independent (or digital nomad) for MakingSociety was a great adventure.

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One of many early flights we took this year.

In an open way, I would like to share with you how me and my boyfriend made it happen and what I learned from it. If you have any questions, leave a comment!

The Idea

The idea of living and traveling abroad always seemed exciting. After spending years in San Francisco, we started dreaming about more freedom and adventures. We were both working from home and thought we could do it from anywhere.

My US visa expiration date pushed us to act on it. It took us about 5 months to get our things in order. On my side it was pretty easy since I was living in my suitcase for the last 4 years and work only remotely. My boyfriend quit and became a contractor as well, working for his former company. As a result, we didn’t use our savings but actually made a living while traveling.

We sold or gave away everything we owned that was not useful for the trip: clothes, furniture, bike, car, even my 3D printer…

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10 bags of clothes ready to leave for Goodwill. Freedom feels lighter!

We left our apartment in the Mission (maybe we should have sub-rent it?), got ourselves a carry-on luggage each and carefully selected the few essential items we needed for real. Idea was to be free and light.

Here is what my life bag contains:

  • 1 medium-size packing cube with: 4 pants, 2 leggings, 1 dress, 2 skirts
  • 3 small packing cubes with: underwear, 6 t-shirts
  • running gear: 2 shorts, 1 quick dry t-shirt, 1 light running jacket
  • shoe bags with: city shoes, running shoes, heels shoes, flip flops, sandals
  • toiletry bag
  • electronics bag: adapters, hard drive, USBs, microphone, headset, cables
  • a folder to keep important papers
  • a small jewelry bag for fun

It’s now been a year using mostly these belongings and it worked well.

One extra item we found very useful: a vegetable peeler and chopper! It helped us eat more veggies and cook more instead of always going out.

The Cost

How much does a one-year trip around the world cost? Good question!

Let’s look at the transportation expenses first:

We bought a round the world ticket with Star Alliance. It costed us about $4,500 each, with 5 stops: San Francisco, Berlin, Mumbai, Bangkok, Tokyo, San Francisco.

In between these stops, we bought 21 low-cost regional flights, 2 bus tickets, 2 train tickets and a few rental cars, costing us overall an extra $1,800 per person.

Transportation for one year = $6,300 per person.

We had the goal of spending no more than $800 per month for 2 people on lodging, making it a $26 per night in average. This goal ended up pretty hard to reach while being in Europe. Thankfully, amazing friends hosted us for two full month in Berlin!

This year, we slept in 38 different locations: 9 AirBnB (usually for a full month), 2 private apartments, 1 boat, 15 hotels (usually for a few days only), 2 hostels, 2 bed and breakfast and 7 friends and families’ places.

Our bamboo hut in Goa for the week

Our bamboo hut in Goa for a week.

 

Overall, we spend about $12,000 on lodging this year for 2 people, making it an average of $32 a night. It’s $2,400 over our budget, which I consider very good for the amazing quality of comfort we had most of the time.

We also like to compare it to our rent in San Francisco, which was a solid $2,000 per month, which means we saved $12,000 in rent this year while living in dream locations all around the world!

Showing off in our pool in Ubud, Bali.

Showing off in our pool in Ubud, Bali.

I don’t know exactly how much we spend in food and activities. We cooked from home most of the time, buying fresh veggies in farmer’s markets for cheap. A little bit of partying here and there but nothing that really counts as massive spending.

Since we were mostly working during the week, we tried to embark on a special experience in each location. We flew in a hot air balloon at sunrise in Cappadoccia, went to see Unesco protected amazing lakes of Plitvice, did a 2 days boat cruise in Halong Bay, spend 2 days in a fancy riad in Marrakech… Cost of these activities is included in lodging.

The run of a lifetime in Cappadoccia, Turkey.

The run of a lifetime in Cappadoccia, Turkey.

Total cost of living/working around the world for one year (for a couple) = about $13,000 per person.

The Locations

We picked our locations based on multiple criteria:

  • following the sun
  • meeting makers pro
  • having a good enough Internet connection
  • live in dream places
  • being safe

We started the trip in Europe: Paris, Berlin, Barcelona (for FAB10), Roma (for Maker Faire Roma and the Open Hardware Summit), Croatia

Then moved further East: Istanbul (lots of great makers there), Morocco (and its outstanding craftsmanship)

In January it was time to move to the sunny part of the world: Goa, Vietnam (check their maker scene), Bangkok

And enjoy paradise islands: Bali and Japan

I came back just in time for Maker’s Week in San Francisco, enjoying MakerCon (a few learnings here) and Maker Faire Bay Area!

The Practicality

For lodging, we primarely used AirBnb and Booking. Everything else was more expensive and less user-friendly. In countries like India it’s better to just walk around and ask for accommodation than booking online.

For Internet, we made sure to ask hosts if they had a high-speed cable Internet connection before booking. When arriving at the airport, we took the habit of getting a 3G card right away with as much unlimited data we could get. It was usually not too expensive and worked very well.

Colin enjoying a mint tea in Marrakech

Colin enjoying a mint tea in Marrakech

We tethered 3G from the phone to the computer so we could work with 3G only when WiFi was too bad such as in India or Bali.

During the trip, I had to give up on the MakingSociety podcast because I could never have a good connection and silence at the same time. The podcast should be back this Fall.

For actually working, I’m not the best at focusing for hours so I was a bit doubtful of the whole “working anywhere anytime” idea. But it was actually much easier than expected since we stayed in places for weeks or month at a time. Also, the lack of routine made it more fun to create goals and follow them (“I need to write this book before we leave Vietnam”).

The time difference is definitively an issue to take into consideration.

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Working at the airport somewhere.

For laundry, we tried to book places with a washer as much as possible. We also bought a great maker product called Scrubba that lets you do handwash laundry in no time.

For social life, we met fellow travelers in hostels, bars and couchsurfing events. I connected with local makers (usually after an exchange through email/Facebook/Twitter). We met old friends, friends of friends, and sometimes also their families. It was easy and fun!

What I learnt about Myself

It’s easy to adapt to change. The brain and the body adapt very well to change. New food, language, currency, weather, driving styles… It takes no more than a few hours to switch to a new place and feel at home.

Travel truly leads to more personal introspection. Thanks to the people we met and experiences we put ourselves in, this trip ended up being a very interesting personal journey. Leaving my daily routine, a few repeating patterns became obvious, allowing me to move forward in learning how to live a happy and fulfilling life.

Context and comfort matters. Where you live truly has an impact on what you think and do. Living in the jungle surrounded by smiling people like Bali brings peace of mind, living in a clean business-oriented city like Tokyo makes you get things done (check the guide I launched at this time). It may seems like a simple idea, but creating a work environment you enjoy will make you more successful and happy. Also, easier said than done.

Just a regular day walking back from the supermarket in Ubud, Bali.

Just a regular day walking back from the supermarket in Ubud, Bali.

We are all different. Before this trip I thought cultural differences were mostly a postcard thing. I actually discovered how each place on Earth has its own culture. And how family is so important around the world. It made me appreciate better the fact that I’m French and that I actually miss my family.

A Personal Revelation on the Maker Movement

Craftsmanship is alive and well. In Turkey, Morocco, Vietnam, Indonesia… artisans and makers are everywhere. In fact, it’s so completely normal to know how to hack, fix and create with your hands that no one would think of giving it a specific name.

In Europe and in the United States, people are interested in the maker movement because it’s a new take on long-gone crafts traditions. This huge contrast between popular practices and ways to talk about it questioned me.

I came to the understanding that being a maker comes down to survival. No matter where you’re from.

In countries where craftsmanship is prevalent, making is a physical survival skill. You need to know how to build, fix things and be creative with what you have if you want to have a roof above your head, food on the table, clothes and ways to move around.

In countries where being a maker is mostly a hobby, it’s about mental survival. As makers we escape the cubicle and the processed world. We want to know where things come from, want to have fun and be creative again, connect and learn from each other.

And it seems that these 2 makers’ worlds don’t know each others that well.

 

If you have any question about traveling and being a location independent, write your question in the comment below and I’ll do my best to answer!

See you,

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4 Comments

  • Thank you Mathilde for sharing that amazing and deep experience you had. You rock, you know that 😉
    Also thanks for the Scrubba, I need that, definitely! I’ve been looking for going around as well, for a long time… But perhaps cycling around the world, I would LOVE that! So my question would be about packing and size mostly: do you think you can actually carry everything with a few bags attached to the bike? Did you see any cool projects linked to biking on long distances or traveling as a nomad during your trip? (the Scrubba and the likes). Thanks again and happy to talk about it whenever!

    • Yes, I think you can but I’ll have to be extra minimalist. We didn’t meet anyone doing that but we didn’t look for them neither. I’m sure it’s a pretty massive community. Did you see the website The Next Challenge? It’s a database of long distance cycling trips that seems interesting: http://thenextchallenge.org/ldcj/

  • Great article Mathilde,
    I’ve always dream of wanting to travel the world. Thanks for the summary as it gives me a picture on how to get started. (I would expect a world trip to cost more than $16000 a person a year.). How were you able to overcome language challenges? Do you have any tips for people who can only speak in English?

    We hobby makers do take many things we have here for granted and can definitely learn a lot from the ‘survival makers’.

    Once again, awesome article!

    • Hi Eddie,

      You should do it !

      In most countries English was enough. A little bit of talking with your hands or showing pictures on your phone, and you’re set. For us, Vietnam and Japan were the most challenging for communication but we met locals who helped us out (even though we’re are still pretty unclear about the whole recycling system in Japan!)

      We tried to learn a few words for fun in each countries. It makes everyone laugh and be instantly friendly.

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