Why Selling Your Home To Become A Digital Nomad Is The Worst Possible Thing You Should Do

Posted by | February 18, 2015 | Traveling Tips | 9 Comments
Don't Sell Your House

You’ve been reading blogs by other travelers for the past couple/few years. Oohing and Aahing over their photos and videos. You’ve filled your head with flights of fancy, delusions of grand adventures in foreign lands while living a carefree lifestyle unburdened by debt or a high cost of living. You’ve taken to the “free travel myth” hook, line, and sinker. And now you believe it’s a good idea to sell of your house, all of your possessions, and head out to travel the world on a whim, with nothing but your backpack, laptop, and the wind at your back. 

You, dear reader, are the most irresponsible and naive person on the planet. Because if you actually believe a fairy-tale life of endless travel with not a care in the world exists, you’ve bought into every marketing gimmick ever produced by Western marketing geniuses in the past decade spinning tales of four-hour work weeks and toes-in-the-sand-sipping-mojitos-while-your-empire-produces-thousands-of-dollars-per-month.

The truth is that while, yes, it is possible to live a carefree lifestyle unburdened by debt or a high cost of living while exploring grandeous adventures in foreign lands, it absolutely is not possible by simply deciding one day to run off and go galavanting about the globe. Instead, it takes careful planning, because even though you can be a budget traveler and stretch that money over long distances, you won’t be able to travel forever on your nest egg…nor should you want to deplete that fund in the first place.

There are two ways to go galavanting without a care in the world: win the lottery or be otherwise independently wealthy and part of the 1%. That’s not the vast majority of would-be travelers. Hell, that’s not even the majority of actual travelers. Instead, most of us who travel for a living have made a career out of this…and it’s a job just like any other. One that requires just as many office hours as any other job on the planet…and just as much planning and forethought if you want to keep on the road without running out of money.

You don’t need a lot to enjoy a middle-class lifestyle in the vast majority of developing countries on the planet. As a general rule, a thousand bucks a month (per person) can get you by well enough just about anywhere. If you slow travel and don’t take a lot of plane flights in between, instead spending long durations of time in destinations renting long-term accommodations.

You can lower that cost by house-sitting or earning sponsored travel. But guess what? Neither of those options comes easy. In both arenas you’ve got to earn your way up from the bottom, and you are competing in a fierce environment against tens of thousands of other travel bloggers and retirees and pensioners and the like who already have credibility on the house-sitting sites, and have already built up a reputation with DMOs and hotels and sponsors over the years.

So your dreams of getting a free place to stay at the drop of the hat just as you are getting started on the road as a digital nomad? Yeah, that’s pretty much a myth. Instead, prepare to spend at least a couple of years earning your way up the chain, building your reputation on various sites, building your audience on social media and your blog, and getting experience in the fields of social media marketing and media relations/publicity/publishing.

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Want to guess what you are doing during those two years? Spending money out of your own pocket on plane tickets, accommodations, food, transportation, tours, and all of the gear/equipment needed to document all of this stuff in the first place, so that you can earn your way up the ladder. Just as a restaurant has start-up costs, so does your new lifestyle as a globe-trotting digital nomad.

Unless you’ve got a financial plan in place, that money will eventually run out. And if you’ve sold your house back in the home country, you are well and royally screwed should something go wrong along the way. Like running out of money. Or getting deathly ill. Or breaking your back, which recently happened to Dave from over at The Planet D while on an adventure in Peru.

Rather than sell your home and bail, you are far better off renting the home out while you are off wandering. Set up an Airbnb property and find someone you can trust to act as the landlord/manager; brother, sister, best friend. Give them a cut of the earnings and set yourself up with a nice cushion that can either mitigate your traveling costs, or cover them completely.

And, should bad shit happen along the way, you’ll still have a home base to fall back to in the case of emergencies. Such as those listed above. Or, in the random case of someone who can’t hack the travel lifestyle, keeping a back door open just in case you end up actually not liking life on the road as much as you thought you would before actually embarking on your journey.

Start small. Take a three month trip somewhere. Preferably somewhere where English isn’t spoken so that you can get a feel for what it’s like to live in a place where you are an absolute and total stranger, with no lifeline back home other than a plane ticket. Actually experience life on the road.

Bad weather, shitty taxi drivers who try and rip you off, angry Eastern Europeans over 50 who hate anyone from The West because they grew up being brainwashed by the Soviets (the same thing on the other side of the pond; anyone over 50 in the West has an instilled distrust of anyone from Russia/Eastern Europe), corrupt police and immigration officers, lions, tigers, and bears, oh myyyy….

Because you’ll come across all of those and more on your journeys. If you can make it three months and you still want more, go a little deeper. Try a six month stint somewhere. Repeat the process over a couple of years. Then see if you actually want to take the plunge.

It’s even more important to do things in small stints if you are in a serious relationship with someone. See if you can both handle the stresses of the road before you take the ultimate dive in. You dated to get to know each other, right? Well, now you are testing the relationship under different paremeters. Seeing how you both fare in bad weather with a 50 pound pack when you can’t find a taxi and one of you has just been pickpocketed and the landlord didn’t give your deposit back and no one speaks English and the cops don’t give a shit.

But whatever you do, don’t be one of these wannabes who sells everything off at the drop of the hat and just “takes off” with some romantic notions of how the adventure is going to turn out. Because it won’t be anything like what you thought it would be like.

And while a rare few actually make it out the other side with a wanderlust that keeps them on the road, there are a hell of a lot more who have said “screw this!” and retreated back to the comforts of their home base, never to uncover the true beauty that life on the road actually has to offer once you get past the little things that make you appreciate it so much more when you’ve finally “made it”.

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About T.W. Anderson

T.W. Anderson is the founder of the Marginal Boundaries brand. He is the writer, editor, videographer, photographer, and social media guru alongside Cristina Barrios, the other half of the brand. In his spare time, he is the creative director of the Saga of Lucimia, a forthcoming MMORPG from Stormhaven Studios, LLC.

9 Comments

  • @Jeff: Rock on, brother! Sounds like an awesome start and plan :)

  • These are all great points T.W. At 40, I left my job, stuff and APARTMENT (not house) to work and travel. Personally I don’t anticipate doing this forever. It was a way to break free from 22+ years of 9-5 living and stop to consider other forms of living. I can see myself settling somewhere in a handful of years if not sooner, BUT with the freedom to travel when i want, vs. 2-3 weeks of job paid vacation time.

    My first location is Goa, India (from the U.S.), not the best for a nomad, as the Internet and infrastructure sucks. I came mostly for the fun, but many health issues presented themselves upon arrival AND I’m living in a $16/day HUT with no A/C or hot water. It’s the deep end. I only planned to upkeep my personal blog, but ended up accepting an eCommerce Consulting client which pays my time here, plus puts money in the bank. At the end of the day, I can see building/buying one of those under $50k houses on wheels and parking in the Pacific Northwest, renting out when traveling and having no debt.

  • Manfred says:

    Great article, and I fully agree with what you’re saying. It can be very stressful traveling when you don’t have any back-up funds and have to find work to keep going. I think many are starting to realize this though. I didn’t sell my house to travel and wouldn’t advise anyone else to. A house is usually a great investment over the long-term, so it makes more sense to keep it than sell it.

    If you want to become a digital nomad it’s probably better to get your business up and running before you start traveling. That way you already have a regular income before you start. There are many stories out there of people traveling on limited resources but assuming their blog will star making them money soon. Most just seem to give up and go back home when they realize that it’s much harder than they thought it would be.

  • There’s all sorts running off to become digital nomads, Phil :) This article is targeted at one group.

  • Always best to be financially responsible first, Natalie, and get yourself established before going “full retard” in terms of travel =P

  • Phil says:

    The headline is catchy but a somewhat false picture of who these people actually are. The vast majority of people running off to be digital nomads don’t have a home to sell. I don’t disagree with the gist of the article, maybe it is just a marketing tool to get folks to read it!

  • Natalie says:

    This is an incredibly refreshing blog post! As a semi-new travel blogger, I’m constantly pummeled with this idea that I’m less than a real travel blogger because I have a house that I like and I actually live in it when I’m not on trips. There’s absolutely no right or wrong way to travel–though, as you point out, there are more and less financially responsible ways to do so. While those first few months of completely nomadic travel might be carefree, I’d start spazzing about the financial part of it very soon into the process, which (of course) ruins any good carefree nomadic travel buzz you’ve got going on. It’s definitely possible to live nomadically, but it definitely does not come easily–unless you’ve just won the lottery!

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