Never Normal Newsletter

What should we call ourselves? (and leaving America)

I’ve noticed over the last few years that, as the term “digital nomad” has become more common, so has the resistance to being labeled as a digital nomad.

I still use the term, because I don’t think there’s a better, more succinct way to describe the same idea. But I do worry that it can give the wrong impression.

People hear “digital nomad” and they imagine a 22 year old strapping on a backpack and hopping to a new country every few weeks.

But you don’t have to be 22 years old to travel the world or move to a new country. And although traveling constantly can be fun for a while, most digital nomads I know tend to slow down at some point and spend more time in each place.

Slowmad Life

Steve Tsentserensky is a perfect example. He was recently profiled by CNBC’s Make It:

Since 2019, I’ve lived as a digital nomad — working as a freelance writer and video producer from wherever I can find internet.

I’ve visited more than 65 countries and countless cities, but nothing has felt quite like Zagreb, Croatia. So when Croatia announced it was offering one-year residence permit to digital nomads in 2021, I decided to go for it.

Does settling in Zagreb for a while mean that Steve is no longer a nomad?

For me, being a nomad (digital or not) is all about having the freedom to live in a place you love. To live in place that serves you well in your current stage of life. And to pack up and move on when it no longer serves you.

The grass is always greener on the other side

A friend of mine asked me the other day, “So why don’t you live in America?” (a strange choice from his perspective, given that he’s trying desperately to move there).

I explained to him that I think living in America can be great, but having grown up there myself, I’m just more excited about living in and exploring other places.

Derek Sivers wrote about this recently too:

So I forced myself to leave America. Leave my comfort zone. I considered finding new perspectives inside America, living in Texas, Louisiana, South Carolina, New Mexico, and Alaska. But why the artificial boundary? Why not Turkey, Nigeria, Finland, Indonesia, Israel, China, and Brazil?

Places have a living philosophy. I wanted to understand these different approaches to life. I wanted them to also feel like home.

The money used to be greener too

My parents immigrated to the U.S. at a time when the American economy was by far the strongest in the world. There were more jobs, more opportunities, and more money there than anywhere else. And back then, if you wanted to take part in that economy, you had to live there.

But we don’t live in that world anymore…

Now it’s possible to live in one country and work in another country. You can earn U.S. Dollars, Euros, Bitcoin, or whatever you prefer working from wherever you want — if your work can be done from a computer.

Most people know this already (even if they’re not doing it themselves), but it’s still not “priced in” globally. In other words, salaries and prices around the world haven’t evened out.

As a result, if you work online and live in America, you’re competing for your job against people from all over the world, most of whom have a far lower cost of living.

At the same time, you’re “competing” in the real estate market and at the grocery store with some of the highest earners in the world.

On the other hand, if you can make money online and earn those same dollars while living overseas, look what you can get:

Steve (from the CNBC profile above) pays $680 per month to live in a newly renovated, two-bedroom apartment, in the center of Croatia’s capital, Zagreb.

I’m about a 15-minute walk from Ban Jelacic Square, the center point of the city that’s lined with shops and cafes, as well as the jumping off point to Tkalčićeva Street, Zagreb’s main hub for nightlife.​

My gym is a 10-minute walk away, and the nearest café, grocery store and bakery are all within a stone’s throw from my building.Almost everything I want to do — going to museums, restaurants, bars — is within a 30-minute walk from my apartment.

An equivalent apartment where I used to live in Washington, DC could easily cost over $3,000 per month (forget NYC, LA, SF, or Miami).

Two bedroom apartments in DC on HotPads

As I sat down to write to you today, I saw a post from a friend on Facebook that caught my eye. Dmitry writes:

Each time I come to Thailand I feel like I’m home. Despite I never had long term homebase here. And after few months I’m bored again.

I know this feeling well. I feel the same way about Thailand and Japan too. I didn’t grow up in these places. I’ve only spent a few months at a time in each one. And yet, I miss them dearly when I’m gone.

My first trip to Japan was in 2013. I loved it so much that I went back three more times, staying for weeks or months each time. I often wonder, visa issues aside, could I really live there?

I guess there’s only one way to find out.

That’s all for this week! More soon…

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I write occasional emails to share what I’m thinking, learning, and doing. It’s all related to the idea of breaking free from the “default plan” in life.

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