People often ask me what life actually looks like when one lives abroad and works for themselves.
I know: sometimes it seems like one big exotic pool party.
But in many ways, I assure you it’s not.
I’ve wanted to write this post for a while, but something about discussing my “process of living” struck me as extremely narcissistic and shallow, even though I noticed an ever growing number of people curiously asking me. “So…is it all fun and games? Because it looks like you’re living the stuff of dreams.”
This post is my answer to all that. It wasn’t until a writer that I deeply respect wrote about her day from waking up to bedding down —a post that I found incredibly intriguing and helpful—that I decided to finally jot down my experience, for you. There’s a lot of bullshit out there touting this idealized “living the digital nomad dream” or “living the solo entrepreneur dream,” and I can tell you from experience that a lot of it is a facade.
Let’s be honest—most people’s lives online are only the highlights reel.
Anyway, when it comes to my life, every day is different. Depending on what country or season I’m in, strikingly different than any other. But one thing is certain: some days are decidedly fantastic—and some days definitely suck. In my effort to give a balanced view into what might look like a glamorous life of jet-setting and creative output, I’ve compiled a series of experiences into an honest portrayal of life as it’s been during the times I’ve hit the road: the good, the bad, and the disastrous.
One more note about all this: Yes, there are bad days—but I’m completely aware of my privilege and fortune, things that I’ve never earned and were bestowed upon me through many lucky turns of events (like being brought up middle-class in New York).
As well, I’ve worked my ass off to get where I am.
Just so we’re clear.
Wake-up time: 9:30am. I wake up with a massive headache and a sore tummy; it’s from food poisoning that I dealt with from the night before, and the remnants of dengue fever that I’m still recovering from after being hospitalized for a week. I think about how old this is getting: I tend to be sick 33% of the time in developing countries. I stumble into the bathroom to pee and grab some bottled water.
10am: Back in bed, I check my email. A guest post I pitched has been rejected and two prospects have turned down my proposals for cheaper alternatives. I feel glad that I’ve made a point to save for times like these. It’s slow season, so I’m not too bogged down with work, but I’m also up against a deadline…one that’s going to be really hard to finish with the state I’m in.
10:30am-1pm: Putter around the house because I’m too ill to leave. Order delivery but can’t keep anything down.
1pm: Try to work. Can’t work. Head pounding. I start feeling a small pang of homesickness. I miss my NY friends, their laughter. I’ve been questioning my decision to live so far away for a while. I go back to sleep.
3pm: It’s hot in my house I can barely breathe. The power has gone out, taking the internet and the A/C along with it. I text my landlord but he blames it on village issues. From past experience I’m aware this is going to last, on average, at least 2 hours.
4pm: I go to my favorite cafe and try to attempt to work again. I just end up going on facebook and pinterest. I worry about falling into a depression. An acquaintance stops by to say hello, but is only interested in talking about himself. This is a definite trend with certain expat crowds. The acquaintance speaks condescendingly to the local waiter and I’m not surprised at his gross behavior. I feel shitty that I’m part of this wave of people who go to other countries and bring their neo-colonialist attitudes with them. I want to dig into this dude’s psyche and show him the error of his ways, but I’m too exhausted, so I get the check and excuse myself.
5pm: Back at home, the power is still out and the sound of construction outside pummels my brain. I break down. I feel incredibly lonely in my experience, and the rambling thoughts about how I’m an inevitable failure crowd my mind. I feel lost in my business and wonder what the fuck I’ve done with my life. Nothing feels worth working for anymore. Every creative thing I write is either stuffed into a drawer never to be seen again—or, having made the light of day, rejected by someone who thought it wasn’t good enough to publish. I’m constantly having to protect my boundaries with a current pushy client, and it’s exhausting. I think about every other pursuit or life path I could have chosen and I silently freak out, wondering if I’m made a shitshow of my life.
6pm: I cancel my workout session with my trainer but feel guilty because I feel fat. I get some plain white rice to sooth my stomach and finally can keep it down. I take a shower but continually spit when I get water near my mouth because the water here is toxic.
7:30pm: I realize I’m in a pity-party and try to do yoga savasana to chill out. It works to some extent.
9pm: Talk to family back home and get strung up by a guilt trip. Questions about when I’m coming home and why I have to be so far away are waged against me. I’m inundated by news about who’s had a baby and who’s gotten married. Nobody asks me about my business or pursuits. More painful still is how other members of my family are distant: if I don’t call or Whatsapp them, I will not hear from them. Period.
I’m lonely as fuck. All of my friends in this country are on visa runs or home visiting family, and all my friends back in the States are asleep. Go on facebook to the local community forum and find out that yet another single woman has gotten robbed in her villa. Now my heart is racing and I go check to make sure the doors are all locked.
10pm: Feeling scared, alienated, and far from my own center, I fall asleep knowing that I’d better feel healthy in the morning—lest I miss my deadline.
Disconnection & Alienation:
The feeling that I’m far from anyone or anywhere that intimately knows me.
From everything I’ve lost or given up in pursuing an entrepreneurial and nomadic life.
For being a Westerner that’s benefitting from the inequality of the world, for being far from family, for not living in society’s pre-determined definitions of what one is “supposed” to do, be, and have.
Because sometimes when you move somewhere new alone, it can be hard to make friends. Because your family back home have a hard time understanding your life choices. Because your friends at home are understandably busy with their own lives, and take a while to get back to you.
That I’ve made a huge mistake and should have done something else.
Wakeup time: 8am Rise to rolling rice fields and a view of volcanoes; meditate with my feet in garden grass, and ground into my center. Journal a bit.
8:30am: Long and intense workout with trainer followed by deep stretching. After so many years dealing with physical injuries, I’m grateful that on this day, I can walk and move comfortably. There’s a knock at my door: it’s my local chef. She makes me a few days worth of delicious food for a fair price.
9:45am: Check email: client loves the work I’ve done for her. An article that I’ve pitched has been accepted. I’m beyond moved that my efforts to publish are finally coming to fruition. A respected copywriter has referred work to me. A friend from home has written me about her life. My parents both text me and tell me about their lives. Things are well with them.
10am: Jump on my motorbike to grab brunch with a writer friend. It’s delicious and safe to eat. We discuss our current works, life as expats, and create a plan on how to connect with the local community we’re a part of. I’m excited with the new like-minded friends I’ve been making.
12pm: Get to work at co-working space. Make major strides in projects I’m working on. Feel incredibly good about a new conscious business venture I’m taking on. I’m aligned and feeling purposeful, like my values aren’t being compromised by being involved in the dark aspects of traditional capitalism. High-fives all around.
2pm: Take an ice-tea break and do a bit of creative writing—poetry & fiction. Drive home the back way, through rainforests with a volcano view. It’s absolutely glorious. When I get home, I jump in my deep, cold pool. Chat with my neighbors and best friend poolside. Feel deeply lucky to have found some semblance of a life that makes sense to me.
4pm: Eat some homemade food from the fridge and then get back to work to finish up on a deadline.
5pm: Call with business coach. I inform her I’ve doubled my income since last year. We discuss a strategy for managing so many projects. Even though I’ve got a lot going on, I feel incredibly fulfilled and excited. I have energy like I’ve never had before.
6:30Pm: Dinner with a dear friend and local festivities. Tonight is a major religious celebration that’s open to everyone, including expats. I feel deeply moved to be a part of something so intimate and timeless.
9pm: Time to reflect and renew in front of my altar. Light candles and incense, silently give thanks.
9:30pm: Support group call via Skype. The emotional support I feel helps me feel like I’m on the right track.
10:30: Bed down and read fiction, then drift off to sleep.
I’m feel that things I hope for…for myself and the world, are possible.
I’m doing good work that doesn’t compromise my value-system, and it has meaning.
I feel deeply content and grateful for the beauty around me.
I’m healthy and feel well enough to do my work.
I’m connected to that which I’m made of and which simultaneously holds me: the great Spirit(s) of this Earth, the ascended masters, my guides and my own soul.
So there you have it. The truth.
That life is both challenging and full of mystery.
That life can be heartbreaking and endlessly lonely.
That life can be hopeful and productive and healthy.
That life lived unconventionally is scary at times—and beyond blissful.
That to get here I’ve had to go it alone…but that I stand on the triumphs of those before me who made it possible to get here: everyone from Susan B. Anthony to my own mother.
That none of it is ever simple.
Luckily, these days I have many more of those blissful days than the shitty ones. But even more than that are days in-between—lived with the complexities of life.
The let-downs and the bright-eyed moments of inspiration.
The sorrow of the world and the deep connection with possibility for change.
It’s not instagramable. And thank Goddess for that.