What I learned from 4 months of Digital Nomading in India

Home is the here and now (Buddhism)

Six months ago I decided to quit my job and see the world. Well, the decision came a long time before, but six months ago I started the adventure. I'm still hoping it won't end soon. I finished my math bachelor degree and my girlfriend just finished her summer project of managing a summer camp. So, we were both without any tasks on our hands and we decided it was the time. In this article I am going to outline my overall experience and things I learned from digital nomading in India.

(On my computer in Dharamshala)

How it started

I didn't plan to make it the centre of my trip, but I decided to buy a laptop to accompany us. I was so used to having one with me everywhere, it felt natural for me to get one (as I had returned my old one to the company I worked for). This decision did impact my trip, as I started developing the idea of becoming what I later found out is called a "Digital Nomad". When I bought it I just thought that I would use it mostly to watch movies in our room, stay updated with news in the tech industry and start working on some ideas I had for apps.

On August 4th, three friends and I boarded a plane to Madrid. We were on our way to the Boom festival in Portugal. We rented a car with all the camping equipments we needed and went on a road trip. We passed through Sevilla and Cadiź,and then through some camping sites in south Portugal. We had two blasting weeks in the Boom and its 3-day after-party. The month passed pretty quickly and as you can imagine I didn't touch the computer once. Even when I arrived in Amsterdam I didn't find time to use it as that was when I met Renana, my girlfriend, for the first time in 3 weeks. So, we were busy enjoying the first vacation together.

Travelling to India

Renana and I left Amsterdam for Delhi, India on the first day of September and started a new part of this vacation, one which would last for the next four months. But I only started playing with the computer after a week in Leh (Leh is the capital state of the northern province of Ladakh, one of northern cities in India, close to the borders with China and Pakistan). It didn't take us long to get into the Indian way of life (at least the tourist Indian way of life) – sitting in a coffee shop for the larger part of the day, talking, reading a book, playing games and, for me, open my computer from time to time.

(Leh from above)

Inception of my blog

I started working on FreeCodeCamp projects - building a tribute page, portfolio webpage, and other projects. FreeCodeCamp is built from front-end projects in the beginning, to back-end project and then a final part of full stack development. Although I was by definition (and experience) a full stack developer, I decided to go with the front-end projects first as it seemed easier to me. I somewhat regret it now, because front-end doesn't really interest me and I don't really see my future in it. It took me the most part of the last 5 months to finish and I would have probably enjoyed more and got more usable experience if I had focused on the back-end projects.

After playing with FreeCodeCamp by myself for some time, I came across a forum post by some guy going by the name of @tropicalchancer who was starting a cohort of people going through FCC. He opened a slack team for us and we started connecting. I'm not sure how many we were at the beginning, but since then we grew and we have over 6 groups vs the first initial group he intended opening.

It was a great opportunity for me, to talk to fellow members working on different parts of the challenges and helping each other. In addition to working on FCC, we also started working on different projects. One of the was "Humans of FCC" project, which was a site aiming to introduce the different people working on the FCC curriculum. @tropicalchancer wanted me to write something for the project and tell people about how I travel and program. So, I answered him and that inspired me to open a blog about the subject. A blog about the adventures of a digital nomad in India.

I was planning to call it "The travelling programmer" or "The programming traveller" but both didn't click for me. So, I started googling these terms and found the term "Digital Nomad".

From Wikipedia:

"Digital nomads use wireless internet, smartphones, Voice over IP, and cloud-based applications to work remotely wherever they live or travel. Digital nomads also often use co-working spaces, cafes, house sitting agreements, and shared offices in major cities around the world."

So, I named my blog "The digital nomad". This term appealed to me because that exactly what I want to be. To find my home anywhere and have the ability to open my computer and start working, when I want and where I want.

Interacting with others and maintaining relationships

I came across many people from the tech industry while travelling. Some of them were on strict vacation, some were, like me, digital-nomading. The questions came along – How do you do it? How can you find a job working remotely? Is it even possible? Don't you get lonely? Does your girlfriend like it? How do you build a relationship? How do you meet people? I asked these questions and got asked in return.

Currently, I'm not working, and I didn't find a job while travelling. I am still planning to find something that will let me continue this. For now, (as I am writing this from Amsterdam) my top priority is to find something that will let me work in places where the sun actually shines ;) But I do know there's a huge community for digital nomads. There's at least one subreddit, there is nomad-list which give a lot of information and tools, and also has a website that helps us, digital nomads, to find work doing what we like.

Finding people to communicate with is also not a big problem. Nomad-list gives you the platform to connect to people who are staying in the same place as you. My biggest tip for you in that regard is to find a good coffee shop that people work from. Digital nomads are mostly friendly and always like to talk to each other, that's one of the reasons we sit in coffee shops. I do find myself missing my homebound friends and family. I haven't seen them in six months and I'm really looking forward to seeing them again.

(My cat Dosit stays in Israel and she can't join me either)

As with everything in life, the biggest question so far is about relationships. How to maintain one while travelling? Is it going to be a long-distance relationship, or does my partner joins me? If she does, what can she do? Part of being a digital nomad means you should work. Even if I get paid enough for both of us, she needs to do something. As I'm working, I need to be bound sometimes to the same place, sometimes for longer periods. What can she do while we are there? Is she staying with me in the same place? Will she travel around, while we meet once a week? Once a month? I don't have an answer to these questions. And it only seems like they get more complicated. Suddenly, it's not only me, but she also starts missing her friends and family. This is a big open question to which I would love to find an answer.

Internet Connectivity

As I started travelling and programming (AKA DNing), I came across a big problem I hadn’t thought of before. India is not Israel and there isn't an internet connection everywhere. In Leh, there could be a few days in a row without any internet connection, and when we went to the villages around we found many ones that didn't have it. And although, as we went south this became a lesser problem, the connection wasn't always stable and it almost never was fast. I remember our happiness when we arrived in Amsterdam at the beginning of January and found a good internet connection. Forget about my programming needs. I almost never used YouTube or other music apps in India, and we were mostly restricted to the music and tv-shows I downloaded before we arrived in India.

For this, I did find a few solutions. The first one was to learn how to work offline. Which means downloading the articles you are interested in (Pocket app is my friend) and API documentation (DevDocs), teaching your package managers to install from the cache instead of using the online registry (--cache-min Infinity on npm and the offline flag on yarn). I even cloned the whole FreeCodeCamp repository to be able to work on it while offline, which proved useful and allowed me to contribute some code to the repository.

Another solution was buying a sim card with 4G data. They don't have full coverage but it is good, and when you have a connection it works really well. I used that for some part of my trip, but I actually stopped using it when I started feeling too connected.

Maintaining a balance

This section brings me to another question. Am I on vacation or working/studying? When you have a regular job, the schedule basically goes like that – working from Sunday to Thursday (changes from country to country) from 9 am to 5 pm, relax on the weekends, and having a work-free vacation from time to time. But when I was in India, digital-nomading, I found myself opening the computer on Friday and Saturday, and in the nights. I didn't have a strong schedule to work around and for a few times I actually forgot everything around me and was stuck with my face inside the computer for hours and hours.

Lucky me I was with Renana, and she made me stop. She forced me to realize that I was on a vacation and that I do want to enjoy it. We did argue about whether I am wasting too much of my time on the computer, but looking backward, she might have been right. Most of these 4 months I wasn't sure whether I came to India either to find a chill place to work at, or to find a place to chill at.

Conclusion

All of the above get me to the last question. Does this way of life suit me? Should I go back to being an office worker (something which I have never really done)? Should I settle and find a concrete base to my life?

My plan for the near future is to find a job that will let me continue digital-nomading around the world. I was never good staying in one place for a long time. The best thing about digital nomading is that you can also do it from your home. You don't have to travel, but you can. Currently, my plan is that we find a job we like and that will suit a remote worker. We will settle in one place until Renana feels like she's ready for another adventure somewhere in the world. Back to India? Sri Lanka? Philippines? Europe? U.S? Costa Rica? It doesn’t matter - I just need to choose.

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Georgina Grey's photo

Nice story, although I find the title a bit misleading. This is story about traveling, since you stated you aren't making an income online yet, which is basically the minimum requirement to be a digital nomad.

I try not get to caught up in what a DN is or isn't anyway, the concept has been too romanticized to a point where people have this tendency to look at it even as a career, it is not. I like the word 'location independence' better.

A cornerstone in the digital nomad scene is infrastructure, all of those problems you mentioned, we research before making a move to a new location. So it DOES matter where you go, not just because of the infrastructure, but because there are also visa restrictions that can be harder to tackle depending on the passport you hold, even if you don't require one to visit a country, you will still have a limited set of days to stay there legally.

Then there's time-zones, if you're working for a company where its majority of people are working from a fixed place, if you're not careful about choosing time zone friendly countries you might face a lot of slow communication issues or you'll find yourself working at strange hours.

My unsolicited advise always goes along the lines of, secure a healthy online income before pursing the digital nomad crusade, being location independent comes with its own struggles, you don't want to be worried too about your financial status and overall well being on a foreign country miles away from home.

Show +6 replies
Chetan Kantharia's photo

Hi Chaim Lando !

How was your experience at Dharamshala and is internet connectivity an issue over there ?

Chaim Lev-Ari's photo

Chetan Kantharia I had a very slow connection there, as much as I remember. But I stayed in the villages around (Dharamkot), maybe in the city is better

Emil Moe's photo

Nice story Chaim Lando and exactly my situation too! Let me know if you want to stay in touch, I have been through all the same. I do agree with Georgina Grey about financial and health related advices.

It has been my dream to be location independent for about 10 years now and it has become even stronger over time. In the past 4 years I have been doing a lot of travels and dreaming about the ability to continue in a way that will also progress my professional life. At that time I had an easy job paid by the hour and very flexible hours. I could easily take one month off, work like mad the next and so on, but it didn't add a progress to my life, which I think is an important factor. Therefor a wanted to do it a different way, where I still can travel a lot but use my profession to earn my money and keep developing my own skills.

A little over a year ago I rented out my apartment, moved from Denmark to Phnom Penh, Cambodia to stay there 7 months. I had a few projects with me that wasn't any guarantee for income, but it would give me something to do and I had my savings to rely on. Also Cambodia is an extremely cheap country $800 is plenty for a month.

As you experienced, in these developing countries the internet isn't always the best, but I did learn where I could find coffee shops with great wifi (and great aircon was important too when the temperature went crazy 50 degrees celcius !) and buying 4G cards as an backup at least. The thing is that many developing countries has an excellent coverage of at least 3G because they can never make it up with cable and it's something everyone wants. Cambodia has 12 mio residents but about 18 mio 3/4G subscribers.

I did also try to find co-working spaces, but I did not find anywhere that impressed me. Unfortunately nobody seemed very talkative in these places I went to, it might have been the wrong days though. The worst part however was that they charged $8 per day and also charged around $1 for coffee. The coffee would be okay, if the facility wasn't at that price. I know they have to balance the expenses, but some sponsors or something should be possible. I couldn't make myself pay $8 a day or about $1200 a month to sit in a working office when a charming cafe would only require me to buy 1 maybe 2 cups per day $1-2 each. Also in a cafe I got to experience local life a lot more which I appreciated. But I really did miss meeting fellow programmers and making a professional network, I never networked with any developers which was a shame.

Since I have come home I have been eager to go on such a trip again, but I'm not sure it's necessary to see it as one or the other. I'm now living in Copenhagen about to buy property. I have had many arguments with myself about if it's the right idea to buy an apartment if I want to do this travel life. I think it's important to remind yourself that it's not forbidden to rent it out and if it's someone you know, just charge whatever your own expense is that way it's cheap for them too.

Another thing which might only be related to Denmark, is that the common travel insurance which only costs me $100 á year will guarantee me any medical and hospital help in any foreign country and pay all the cost in the event of emergency return ticket, these tickets can cost up to $100,000. But this is only valid if I set my feet in my home every 60 days, which is a good reason to have base to return to.

I would totally do this again once possible, but make sure you have the economy balanced. If it wasn't for the 60 days rule I still feel I would choose to return every 3rd month to keep connection with family and friends. A travel around the world is only 24 hours these days, I made a trip from Cambodia to Denmark and back with only 4 full days in Denmark - it's not black and white :-) This is probably the most amazing way to experience another country, to stay there many weeks, get a local network, learn their culture and habits and have a daily life which will make it even easier for you to make a network as they don't see you as just a tourist.

Miljan's photo

I have started my trip around the world January 2016 in Bali and visited most countries in Asia. Now I'm enjoying Hawaii, before visiting Peru. After that going back to Europe where considering to settle down in Tenerife, an tropical island with all Europe commodities (or at least is what I have heard) that would keep me warm but in good position to keep travelling.

I didn't had it all figurate out before the trip, but I did had in place an online business that provided the necessary income. I learned my self through programming at the point important companies are willing to hire me, but being my own boss and escalate my own projects was always my top priority. So, I sold what I had and left to the unknown. The best decision ever.

I found love, wisdom, sadness, happines, troubles and all kind of experiences. Its not easy, but being out of your comfort zones is the only way to grow.

People think I am lucky. But I say we are all lucky, lucky to be living in this era where we started to understand that we can achieve wonders, if we just dare.

Chaim Lando, take in consideration all the wisdom from other comments and be smart, put high goals in your life. Eventually, you will achieve them all and only regret about not aming for higher ones.

Emil Moe's photo

How do you avoid getting lonely on the way? That's the hardest part in my opinion. I solved it partly by having a laptop I can use for gaming, so I can bring my hobbies with me :p But it's harder to bring people with you.

Miljan's photo

You can't, which is not bad because forces you to leave your laptop aside and be social. But it's not about the traveling as you can feel lonely in your home town having a birthday party. Anyway, if you are looking for a long time companion that shares your new life style, don't settle down and keep looking while improving yourself. We attract in our lifes what we are of if you prefer, what we are ready for.