By: Sarah Stone
Today I have officially been a nomad for six months! I love this life, and I’m so excited about where I’m going next. That said, becoming a digital nomad started out with anger, and has had oddly painful moments along the way.
I shared a life with someone for a while, but we grew apart – our personalities didn’t mesh at all anymore, and he found someone he got along with better. One night six months ago we had a short discussion about it, and the next morning, I moved out, leaving him with everything we’d owned together, save for a suitcase of my clothes and toiletries (and later, books and a couple pieces of office furniture I’d bought for myself). I’m fortunate enough to have family in the area, so they picked up my things and put them into storage. I’m also fortunate enough to have built a business that lets me work from anywhere in the world, and I earn enough to support myself wherever I go.
I don’t own a car, I don’t have a mortgage, I have no debt, and if we’re getting real here, I built my life around a bug-out bag. Becoming a digital nomad made immediate sense, and I am glad I was able to set myself up for it.
I spent six very angry weeks in Montreal after leaving my apartment. Breaking up with someone, even when it’s the absolutely right thing to do, is tough. I was pissed about all the things I wanted to say afterward and never would get to, because I figured if he’d broken my trust so completely – to the point where I never wanted to speak to him or see him again – there was no sense in having the last word. I went for two-hour walks around the city every day just to get away from my computer and keep myself from emailing or chatting something I’d regret. I stayed away from alcohol for fear of self-medicating or drunk-dialing.
I needed to be alone and I needed to stay healthy – venting doesn’t accomplish anything for me, so being able to work, to not wallow in anger or frustration by talking it out with someone, and to eat a predictable and healthy diet was what I needed to do.
Here’s my favorite photo from Montreal – sorry it’s not a gorgeous cityscape or a photo of the beautiful fall leaves! This is a fortune from a drink I grabbed at Starbucks in mid-October:
Near the end of my stay in Montreal, I went to an Imagine Dragons concert. They’re my favorite band and I was so excited that they were in the area, especially because I’d originally hoped to go see them when they were in Florida, where I’d lived previously. I was having a really rough few days, so was looking forward to this concert more than anything else.
It’s exactly what I needed. Halfway through, Dan Reynolds talked for a few minutes about depression, about getting stuck in sadness and anger, and getting out of it or finding support through it. I was not depressed, but my heart hurt and I needed to hear that message, and I started crying and couldn’t stop for the rest of the concert. That’s when I started to feel better about everything.
Bonus: My best friend just bought tickets for us to go see Imagine Dragons in West Palm Beach this August!
I hung out in Virginia for a few weeks at my brother’s house, and then headed off to Portugal for two months. I’d never really considered going to Portugal, especially for a longer-term trip, but Porto kept popping up on Nomad List as an awesome destination for female solo travelers looking for a large enough city to explore for a while, but also save money on living expenses. If I was becoming a digital nomad, I needed to get out and explore more.
So I booked an Airbnb for two months and loved every second of it! Something I didn’t know about before visiting was how much gorgeous street art there is in Porto. I studied art history in college and my favorite courses were about street art and outsider art – so while I started off taking crappy pictures of buildings and bridges, I quickly focused in on street art instead. (Click a photo to embiggen).
There also are a lot of street cats! Here are a few I made friends with:
As is my style, I got antsy after a month in Porto and on a whim, booked a five-day trip to Paris for the New Year.
I fell completely, madly, unbelievably in love.
I didn’t know what to expect. My ex hated France, and I’d heard from many friends about how mean people can be there, or how touristy Paris could be, and so on. But I still wanted to see it for myself.
With unsure expectations, I traveled to Paris and was absolutely in awe from the second I got off of the plane. I checked into my hotel, dropped my bags, and walked to the Eiffel Tower. This is cheesy as heck, but all I could think was that it’s the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.
I don’t know what people are talking about when they say French people are jerks or that Paris isn’t worth visiting if you’re a backpacker type (which I definitely am). Everyone I met was super friendly, I had an AMAZING New Year dancing and bar hopping with new friends, I ate delicious food, and I got enormous blisters on my feet from walking around everywhere, all day, every day.
I’d kept the ring from my ex on my keychain, but felt weird carrying it around. I didn’t know what to do with it, and didn’t want to just leave it in storage.
The morning of December 31, I went for a walk and stopped halfway across Pont de l’Alma. I put my hand in my pocket to grab my phone and take a picture, but found my keys instead. I thought at first, hey, wouldn’t it be funny to go get an Eiffel Tower keychain?
Then I noticed my ring. I took it off of the keychain.
And I chucked it right into the Seine.
I wasn’t sad or angry anymore after that.
The only downside of Paris was my broken tooth. As I stood under the Eiffel Tower that first night, eating a nutella crepe, some sugar seeped into a crack in a molar that I’d broken the night before or sometime that day without realizing it.
So I stood there silently mouthing “Fuuuuuuuuuck!” while staring at the beautiful light show and deciding whether it was worth taking another bite. (It was. I ate the whole thing, no regrets.)
Once I got back to Porto, I booked a visit to a dentist that specializes in emergency care for travelers. And I got this one fixed without numbing it.
To be fair, the dentist said it would only take about 30 seconds to fix the painful part.
So I said “Ok, sure, let’s do it,” but then immediately hated that decision when the assistant grabbed my head to hold it in place. The dentist quickly ground away at the tooth, in what was the most painful 30 seconds of my life.
But tooth pain is weird – I instantly felt fine once the filling was on, and texted a friend about street art as I waited for my receipt at the front desk. Here are a couple of pictures I took that day:
A New Job
So for the past couple of years, I’ve built a small but mighty web development business. Since it’s all online, I can work from anywhere in the world as long as there’s wifi.
But my background is actually in volunteer travel: I built a directory of volunteer abroad programs in college that ended up being a full-time enterprise later on, I worked at Peace Corps headquarters for years, and I researched, wrote articles, and collaborated in working groups about responsible travel. Since about 2012, I’ve been working with the team at Volunteer Forever as a writer and editor, and last year, they looped me into bigger and longer-term projects – including the launch of their new platform, Abroadly.
A few months ago, we started discussing me transitioning over to work in a bigger role with Volunteer Forever and Abroadly, which, to me, was a more difficult decision than the one I made to leave everything behind in September. I would have to scale back on a business I worked day and night for two years to build, a successful business that was growing incredibly quickly and that I loved very much.
But this offer was pretty cool – I would get to build relationships with partner organizations around the world, seeing their programs in action, attending events, and telling stories from travelers who are doing good and making new friends in communities that welcome them.
I’m leaving on Sunday for my first site visit.
Bonus: read my epic guide to ethical volunteering abroad.
Dawn is Coming, Open Your Eyes
A few years ago, I traveled to London for a working group on responsible travel. On the flight there, I watched The Secret Life of Walter Mitty for the first time. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, so I watched it again on my flight back to the US. And then when my ex picked me up from the airport, I told him “When we get home, we HAVE to watch this.”
I can’t tell you how much I love that movie, how important it is to me, and how much of an impact it’s had on my life. I think The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and The 4-Hour Workweek are the two biggest influences on building the future I’ve dreamed of and that I love so, so much – these were the two most inspiring things in my journey to becoming a digital nomad.
So to celebrate my new life, I did one last painful thing (other than the requisite vaccinations for the more exotic destinations I’m visiting this year): I went and got a tattoo.
While I have four other tattoos, I’ve made sure to get them in spots I can cover easily – and as a result, that I don’t often see. But I knew this one had to be in a place that I would never miss, that I would look at every single day, and that would remind me to get up, do something awesome and productive, love where I am and where I’m going, and if not, to go change it. This is in my own handwriting:
It’s the phrase “Dawn is coming, open your eyes” from the song Stay Alive, by José González. This is played at the end of the film:
So I’m heading to Costa Rica this Sunday, and then to Panama, and then probably Guatemala. I love not knowing exactly what’s next. To me, becoming a digital nomad is about being completely in control of my life – and that means being able to pursue opportunity and adventure, not shy away from danger or uncertainty.
I’ll try to write more often as I have good stories to share, but in the meantime, if you would like to contribute a story about your travels, Frayed Passport is mainly community-driven! Check out the guidelines and send me an email about your adventures – I’d love to hear from you!
And just for fun, here’s an excuse to post the Imagine Dragons song I’ve been listening to on loop lately: