The last day of September 2015 I left the Netherlands for good to follow my dreams and escape an unfolding nightmare of endless unemployment and financial cutbacks that were happening in my life. Time to change things for the better. And I nomad lifestyle would fit that change perfectly.
I had read numerous stories of digital nomads, prepared myself for 2 years and practised digital nomadism in my won country by working in cafe’s with people having a good time around me, in restaurants with screaming kids running around, testing if I could stay focussed and work under all circumstances.
And I had proven to myself I could do that
Now it was time to close the door in the Netherlands for good and head for Asia, the Philippines to be precise. Although I started travelling at my 17th, roaming around in South America and after that all over the world, I had never been to Asia before, I was excited, to say the least.
I knew my fair share of poverty and dirt that I had faces in other countries, I travelled developing countries before and I knew what I was getting myself into culture shock wise. I braced myself and told myself to not fall too hard from the dream into reality.
It hit me in the face, the dirt, the smell, the pollution, everything
Being for a short period of time in a country for vacation, with a home to return to is far more different than knowing this is your land now, that the ground you walk on will be your forever path. Nothing I could have done during the preparation could have saved me from the feelings I had in the first few months.
To see an amazing country with nature so gorgeous going to hell under the pressure of cheap tourism and pollution, it hurt me to the bone.
Nothing you see on Google Images or YouTube prepares you for the endless piles of garbage everywhere, the plastic piling up, the one sachet shampoo and coffee consumer mentality and the poverty of living in a nipa hut without a proper floor together with the chickens. And air pollution? While living in Dumaguete or Cebu, my snot was always grey-ish. I developed a habit of covering my mouth and nose each time a truck passed that could leave me in complete darkness because of the exhaust gasses.
I am ashamed to say that you get used to it
You have to get used to it, otherwise, there is no life. You have to learn the ability to overlook pollution and ignore it, for I am not there to save or change a country. My solution focussed mind was in overtime in the beginning but calmed down when I, again, found myself at the end of a flooded dry creek during rain season while half a village passed through in garbage.
I remember I rented the cliff house, it had a private little brook that was dry most of the year. But when it rained and water came rushing down from the mountain, I could pick out backpacks, flipflops, clothes, plastic bottles, plastic bags, dead animals, and god knows what that rushed right into the Boghol sea in front of my house.
But you learn to ignore it. you really have to in order to survive. If you shiver each time a rat passes your way or a person sits in the gutter to poo, you have no life.
Rip-offs, delays and corruption became a part of my daily life
I am so obviously Dutch, blond hair, my body posture everything about me screams FOREIGNER, and that comes with a price tag. How deep that went I discovered when I had a Filipino lover to do the negotiations for me and I saved tons of money. I do not mind to overpay a little, like taxi drivers and tricycle men, they do not have the smartest business plan in the world especially when the rent the vehicle, but to pay 200 instead of 20…that is insane.
It happens everywhere, all the time, prices would rise within a few seconds on the market when the customer before me left suddenly the tomatoes doubled in price. Or the fish became scares and I had to pay a huge price for a fish worth pennies.
Bad Internet connections the curse of every digital nomad
Every person that works online dreads a bad connection. And in the Netherlands internet is good and fairly reliable, we complain about nothing there when we bother the internet provider about speed and down-time.
When you experience more down-time than up time or so many brownouts that your router has trouble starting up again, you know how vulnerable your income is when you depend on solemnly online income.
Uploading a video of one minute to YouTube can sometimes take up to 2 hours. And let’s not even start with video calls and downloading stuff.
I only started the video call products in Mexico for in the Philippines it was not reliable to offer a service that would be down half of the time. There are huge parts in that country that do not even have telephone coverage.
Delhi Belly, skin infections and athletes foot
I never knew about Delhi Belly, well, I knew food poisoning and travellers diarrhoea, but I never knew it had a name to make it sound more exotic.
You learn to live with it. Sometimes you know the moment you take a bite you will regret eating the stuff, sometimes it happens, like shit happens to all of us. But when you travel as I do it happens more often. I had never ever taken worm-pills on a regular base and Immodium is standard equipment. You learn quickly that blue Gatorade stops your frequent toilet runs and you get selective where to eat. Multi vitamines become a daily thing and sometimes even pro-biotics to keep your body in shape.
And my antiseptic cream, I have a photo of the brand I prefer. Insect bites, little scratches, coral rocks that cut your skin, you name it, it gets infected. Much more so than in a colder climate. You become your own doctor and nurse within the first 6 months because you cannot run to a first-aid clinic each time you have a skin infection or some other travellers discomfort.
You learn the power of antibacterial soap, and you get a nose for good street food and what to avoid.
Loneliness is your best companion
Missing out on best friends, and for some even family is very hard. Special days like Christmas when all your Facebook connections are busy doing family stuff, you head to the beach and soak in some sun while the beach bar streams Christmas music.
You have to be able to be content with yourself. If you need constant contact you become one of those annoying travellers that always franticly look for a companion or an opportunity to talk to someone. I have a neighbour at the moment, he feels so obviously lost, every time I open my door his head pops out his studio for a chat.
Some travellers flock together in tribes formed in hostel dorms, they travel together for weeks or even months, form bonds and friendship that last two plane tickets. So not my style. I can be alone just fine. Every now and then it gets to me, like during the COVID-19 lockdown in Playa del Carmen, man, I felt so lonely and isolated. But you grow into it, it happens and you have to deal with it.
I sometimes like to have a lover. At the moment I am rethinking my love relationships. To make them fit my needs more and be less faithful to my conservative upbringing so I can have more fun and passion in my life. But there are days I really dislike to connect to people, and that feeling is sometimes so strong I start to wonder if I grow emotional unavailable.
But I doubt it is that. For a do feel. And because I feel so much I shut down more. Because I cannot change all the misery and suffering in this world.
Life on the road is good, but you have to be realistic
Way too many nomads show young laptop owners only the pleasurable side of Nomad life. It makes many kids to eager to follow in our footsteps.
Nomad life is a different breed of people. We love being alone, different, we colour outside the lines and are loners. We have no problem to bent the rules a little for visas or to work for a free meal, we work under all conditions and have a high self-sustainability when it comes to solving and dealing with problems.
We are not endless vacationers, we work, like anybody else in the world to pay bills, we have different bills but we do pay for them, so we do have to earn an income. Okay, we also have a lot of freedom, but that comes with its own set of challenges.
But so far…..this is a pretty good life. Will you follow me through my next 5 years?
Jeanette, a Dutch female nomad, started to travel the world at the age of 17. Walker of beaches, shell searcher and iPhone photographer. Writer and owner of two websites
Currently, she lives in Mexico.
She is an emigration coach and works online.