This is a combination of actual philosophy and practical tips that help us keep perspective and sanity on the road. They may or may not work for you. Each digital nomad is unique, after all.
So, without further ado, we present our digital nomad philosophy in its most basic form.
Life Is Suffering
This is a direct quote from Buddha and often rendered as “life is pain” too. There is a movement of, mainly American, writers who start talking about this quote by saying, “What Buddha really meant by this was…”
What he meant was “life is suffering”. It’s an acknowledgment that we all feel pain, that we all feel lost, we all feel lonely, we all feel sad, etc. that this is the essence of what it is to be alive.
This does not mean that you are forced to suffer all the time. The purpose of this revelation is not to leave you depressed but to give you hope.
When you recognize that suffering exists, you can start to ask how to handle that suffering, how you can minimize it and there are many possible answers to those questions.
Becoming a digital nomad does not free you from suffering, though it may change the problems you suffered at home into new problems to suffer elsewhere.
The practical tool that Buddhism offers to alleviate suffering is meditation. In fact, meditation appears in other cultures and philosophies as a tool to relieve suffering too.
The evidence is constantly growing stronger to show that people who meditate are less stressed, less unhappy and have a greater sense of purpose in life than those who don’t.
Some Buddhists will argue that if you meditate often enough and long enough, you can eventually free yourself of all “attachment” to the world and thus all of its suffering. This is, in fact, the moment when someone becomes a Buddha themselves.
We’ve never met anyone who even comes close to such a state. However, we know that many people have benefited from meditating – including us. You can find our simple guide on how to meditate as a digital nomad here.
Believe That Most People Are Acting In Good Faith
We see a lot of angry people in expat forums and digital nomad forums, who are convinced that the world is out to get them.
They bang on about a market trader selling bananas for a few cents more than they would have done to a local. They see cheats, thieves, and liars on every street corner.
They don’t seem much happier for this.
We see the same in people’s interactions with each other online – more and more they’re conducted under a veil of suspicion. It’s not an exchange of ideas but an “attack on my values”.
This is a miserable way to live.
We’d encourage you to try something much easier and simpler – treat the world as though everyone in it is trying to do their best to be their best selves.
This won’t protect you from crooked banana sellers or the occasional cheat, but it will make every interaction you undertake more pleasant and somehow, expecting the best of people, often brings out the best in them.
Forgive People Who Do You Wrong
If you drag each insult or slight against you around the world, you’ll soon be carrying a bigger chip on your shoulder than the average Norwegian tourist’s backpack.
Anger is a useful response in a situation where you are being used or abused. It has no purpose in your day-to-day life. It will just drag you down and it will drag everyone around you down too.
People are human. Everyone mucks up at some point. It’s best to recognize that and whether or not someone offers an apology or not – just forgive them and move on.
You’re not required to forget what happened and it’s absolutely rational to try and avoid a similar situation in the future, but forgiveness is as much for you as for the other person.
Don’t Be A Bully
The most common form of bullying in modern life is a pile on. It is where you (or someone you know) decides that somebody else has said something disagreeable and you round up a posse to go and shout at them.
If the other person were 5 and in school, you’d recognize this for what it is, immediately. It’s bullying. An argument doesn’t become stronger because 20 people shout at 1 person. In fact, it suggests that the argument of the 20 people must be very weak, indeed.
The “digital nomad community” often likes to encourage this sort of behavior. For example, I witnessed a Facebook group pile on somebody on Medium because they’d dared to say they didn’t like the digital nomad lifestyle. It happened again when someone spoke up, again on Medium, against Airbnb and it’s unpleasant aspects.
So what, by the way? When did you become so insecure that you need some random person with no power to endorse your way of life? If you feel like that, therapy is always an option.
Don’t do it. If you feel strongly about something, of course, you should speak to the other person about it but don’t go and get your friends and go in mob-handed. You’re not creating a better world when you do – you’re just a bully.
Life Begins Today
I’m in my mid-40s and for most people who get to this stage in life and nearly all men, there’s a tendency to start looking back on your life and start wondering what might have been.
“If only I’d done XYZ, life would be better now.”
I get that. I’ve done plenty of that myself.
Yet, here’s the truth.
You cannot change your past. It’s fixed and it’s done.
You can, however, change what you are doing now. You can choose at any point in your life from now until the day you die – to be a different person.
You can learn new skills. Achieve new things.
Life truly begins today. If you want things to be better tomorrow, today is the time to start making it happen.
This is brilliant, by the way, it means you can live with any mistake because there is always another chance to do things better in the future.
This goes along with “life begins today”. Forgiveness is the most powerful tool in our mental armory. It exists because otherwise or guilt and sorrow would eventually overwhelm us and lead us into bleak despair.
You are human and human beings make mistakes. In the average life, the average person gets far more wrong than they get right. Sometimes, they know it and most of the time, they don’t.
If you picked up a stone every time you got it wrong, then there would be a time when you’d no longer be able to move forward at all. It’s the same with guilt, anger, sorrow, etc. the more you carry, the harder it is to progress.
Forgive yourself for your mistakes and earnestly resolve to do better next time. It’s all you can do, in reality, and you will feel better for it.
Happiness Is Yours For The Taking
We keep seeing these miserable articles about “why I quit being a digital nomad” which allege that it is impossible to travel and work and be happy.
Sure, it’s impossible to insulate any life from problems and your problems can become overwhelming anywhere at any time in life. But it’s not impossible to be happy anywhere too and it’s not impossible to be happy even when things are at their worst.
Happiness isn’t, precisely, a choice. If you could just choose to be happy at any time, I think most of us would.
However, you can work to be happy and you can maximize your chance of being happy as a digital nomad. We’ve put some tips together on this subject here.
You can either choose to be a victim of your circumstances or you can be the master of your destiny. Those who take control of their lives and situations are normally much happier than those who sit around and complain about things.
Connect With The Cultures And People Around You
Travel can broaden the mind but getting on an airplane, arriving somewhere cheap and then working in a coworking space with a bunch of people from “back home” and then going to get drunk with them every night (or worse, hang out in vegan cafes with them every night) is not travel.
You’ve moved halfway around the world in order to stay at home.
Get out and meet the people around you. Go to museums (even if you don’t think you’re that kind of person). Check out live music. Attend art exhibits and poetry readings. Go to cultural displays.
Learn about the new world that you’re in. That’s the only way that travel really broadens the mind.
Deep insight into a place is far more impressive than a picture of you stood outside the Pyramids. You’re a digital nomad and not just another tourist.
Once you adopt this practice; you won’t want to go back. Even in my, now mainly forgotten, youth when I traveled with friends to go and drink in cheap bars and enjoy the occasional herbal cigarette in places where that was completely legal – we went to check out what made a place tick.
Sure, some museums suck but if you ride out that feeling of “boring!” you soon come to appreciate a great museum for what it is and to learn to love the bad ones for trying hard and failing. And very occasionally you will be blown away by the brilliance of some little museum that barely makes the tourist guides.
The Oub Kham Museum in Chiang Rai, for example, is possibly the best museum experience I ever had (certainly more interesting than the White Temple and the Black House which the town is more famous for).
It can also help to remember just how lucky we are as digital nomads. You have the freedom to see the world. To dictate where you work and how you work.
This is the kind of freedom that almost no-one could have dreamt of 50-60 years ago and it is possible that in another 50 years, taxes on emissions may be so high that no-one can dream of this lifestyle ever again.
Megan and I have our good days and we have our bad days too but we both know that we are among the luckiest people ever to walk the earth. Our problems, when put in perspective, are not so big a deal as we think they are at first glance.
We are grateful for each other, for our chance to travel, for the people we meet, the places we have been to and for the hope of a better future too.
I don’t believe in endless positivity. I fact, I think it’s a con. It’s an empty philosophy that solves no problems and which (when you look closely enough) is not healthy at all.
That doesn’t mean that I am a pessimist. I’m not. In fact, I’m a natural optimist. I believe anyone who wants to succeed as a digital nomad, can succeed.
I believe you can be happy and that this can be a huge amount of fun. So, I am grateful to be able to share our digital nomad philosophy with you – maybe it can help you succeed too?