What I learned in 7 years of traveling and digital nomadism

What I learned in 7 years of traveling and digital nomadism
Io con bambini di villaggio in Cambogia

If 7 years ago you had told me that today I would still be always with a backpack, at times a trolley, to wander around the world, I would not have believed it. Years ago it was not an ambition because it was difficult to even think it possible, just as not to be able to embody a desire. But things happen without our realizing it.
The time has passed quickly, in January 2017 I will be celebrating seven years on the road but also 7 years of digital nomadism.
84 months working from so many places in the world totally entrusting myself to wifi networks and a computer.
Traveling for years, how to work exclusively online, has radically changed my way of being, the manner in which I approach myself to travel and life, working and not, more than, perhaps, would not have happened anyway if I had continued to live where I was.

This journey, begun unpretentiously, has never finished. It has changed.

In the same way in which the events occurred, without my being fully aware of them.
It has slowed down, sometimes with stops, few, but certainly more frequent than the first 3 years, it has changed, step by step along with me, that, in the meantime, maturing and approaching a new phase of life, that of becoming thirty, bringing with it the changes of priorities, perspective, new interests, passions but also new fears and just as many doubts.

 

Arcipelago di San Blas
Arcipelago di San Blas

The adventure,unwittingly, began in January 2011, when I left the job in London to live six months traveling in Central America.

Luck had it that someone would offer me a remote freelance job, paying just the right sum I would have needed for my monthly expenses, the beauty of 650€ per month approximately.
While remaining in the digital nomadism ambience in the last 3 years I have been devoting my energies on a project of my own, that I have lived more as a bet on myself than that of an outlet to continue to live traveling around the world. I have never really thoroughly believed it, at least, until 2 years ago.

Summing it up, in the meantime, that time passes quickly leaving a trail of memories, quite vivid, which seem to have occurred just the other day, I got to thinking critically about all that this period of time has taught me, in life, in the journey and work.

Some changes in perspective, perhaps, occurred because of age that confronts choices different from those of 10 years ago, that, involving my life in full, revolutionizing it and, taking it today about 10 months a year to discover new horizons in line with my changing mood.

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I think I must make an introduction to anticipate comments and opinions due, rightly, of those, not knowing what I do for a living, will launch in attack accusing me of being a daddy’s girl, or worse still, because if one is a spoilt brat, at the end good for him, the not to think about my future.

I’m not a daddy’s girl, I have not depended economically on my family since before finishing college, although I have always had the moral support of my parents that have never made me feel WRONG, but rather, have always supported me in whatever decision I have taken. They have always had faith (or maybe not, but at least they had the decency to never tell me so, rightly disagreeing occasionally as every parent should).
I have been working since I was 16, I have always worked and studied, being brought up according to strict rules that were aimed at teaching me to become independent.
So whether I was in high school and worked in the summer or during college and worked weekends or in an office, this choice has always been the more obvious because the rules at home have always been: we will give you what you need, for the extras learn to earn them.

I have always done it this way taking full responsibility of my choices. Even those completely wrong.
To subsidize the early months of travel (supposedly from January 2011 to July 2011) I saved money for a year by cutting unnecessary expenses (pubs, shopping, restaurants etc).

In the while I was traveling, I was lucky enough to be offered a job in remote, earning little, just enough to support the travel costs, but working just as little so as to have so much free time to travel without much worries.
In recent years I have invested on my online project that allows me to work from anywhere in the world, implying at the same time also more working hours and a consequent slowdown in shifts.

In this course, surely contributed by a fair amount of luck, good karma calls good karma, but nothing of what happened was not planned or otherwise weighed with thought for long periods.

No one has ever given me anything. I’ve never made a free trip and have never been paid to travel, I have never had any sponsors nor external financial help, I have never stopped working, not even when I resigned and would have wanted to give myself six months without having to check an email . I decided to throw myself into an adventure, I learned to be minimal despite having clear in mind that in three years I wanted to have enough money to be able to guarantee myself an adequate style of life and be able to put money aside for a future still uncertain.

Today, I dedicate half of the money I earn to travel, and the other half I put aside to be able to have an economic foundation for the future (there is also the part that I pay taxes with).

I continue to backpack travel, I try to limit the travel budget and, more than what I did not do six years ago, I always keep an eye open on the future being very careful how I spend my money. Perhaps even with more attention than in the past, because, although it may seem that I live today for today, in the truth I live my today with the prospect of tomorrow.
So: I work, earn, pay taxes like all of you. I just do not have a desk and an office where to go 5 days a week.
Period. Now I can go on.

Punto. Adesso posso proseguire.

laurea
Me and my family

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I have written about what I have learned during the years of traveling on other occasions, in this post I will not repeat the same things; you make so many friends, the world is good, etc etc.
For these first things I refer to the following post –  Seven years traveling.

In this post I will list the further evolution that has taken place over the past two years that, for most of the time, I spent in Africa where, with a new mode of travel, a different understanding of the relationship between me and the world has been reached.

In 7 years of traveling I have learned that: 

 

Not all destinations are worth the other

The curiosity and the desire to do everything, especially typical of those who are in their twenties is wonderful, stimulating, exciting. We are never tired and we want to try everything.
I was lucky enough to experience a series of lucky coincidences that gave me a chance to try everything I wanted, today I have no regrets, and the ones I have are justified by the way of travel that had not given me the chance to do all that I would have probably desired. I learned to choose.

And in choosing, because of money I had little which meant I could not go wrong, I realized that not all destinations are worth the other, and not because it objectively is more beautiful, but simply because sometimes it happens that some are more similar to me and my mood, or curiosity, before others.

I did not think I could one day go to the Balkans. Then I read a book and 3 weeks later I was on the bus to Bosnia to be interested in a country that, until then, had not had any attraction for me.
I learned how to choose the right place at the right time. Making my travel experiences more rewarding and motivating, than to going somewhere just for the love of going. A real interest inspires my choices and not the greedy desire to get to any place.

 

Io con i boys del ristorante a Marrakesh

 

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The more we prolong the journey the less we spend

Possible? It is, if you think in this way.

Having time means you have the chance to choose, select or wait for the right opportunity, the chance to move when the offer is better, than to have the dates fixed in which a route must, of necessity, follow a certain pattern.
It also means spreading the costs over a longer period, give yourself the time to decide if you really want to make a certain experience or not.
During the years of travel in Latin America, the destinations over budget that particularly attracted me were two: the Easter Island and the Galapagos Islands.
At the time I did not have enough economic resources to afford both. So I stopped in a city where I knew that I could fly to Easter Island and thought.

Chatting in the hostel and meeting those, instead, had come from the north and had also known the Galapagos, after many and various changes of mind, I decided that between the two I preferred the latter.

A week in the Galapagos at the time costed like two months in Bolivia, so, in an economical hostel in Quito, I waited, spending very little, working very hard, putting money aside each day, and, after 1 month of waiting, I left.

 

tartarughe galapagos
Io con la tartaruga gigante, Galapagos

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Hostels are not dirty places and only for the very young

 

Just a few days ago, back from a two-month trip to the Balkans where I slept pretty much always in the hostel, I remember I am 36 years old, I ended up reading  a post in which hostels were described as the most meager choice and of the wretcheds.

In the same way there was talk about those who opted for this option, so myself included, as the most filthy people of the world, without taste and without any resource. In short, one of those people that was better if they stay at home rather than to go around living the life of a ragged person.

I cannot but contradict whoever wrote that post also because I doubt that to travel for months, or years, one can afford to pay even only $50 for the night.
Those same standards are not acceptable even for those who work, or simply for those who do not plan to spend 100/150$ per day, which in my case, being away 10 months a year, would mean $3,000 per month or $30,000 in a year. Even more, so because I know that I can spend one third if I only opt for different solutions.

 

But let’s not make it even just a matter of money.
At the ripe age of 36, I continue to sleep in hostels when I leave on my own for long journeys and, unless a given country is very cheap and for that same amount I can have a private room, after 7 years of this life and having seen hostels in most of the world I can say that:

  • Most of the hostels I’ve been to were much cleaner than many hotels I’ve ever stayed in
  • That it is true that you will meet many young people, partly because they have more time than those age thirty or more, but that you will meet people of all ages
  • That traveling solo, even if one is older, hostels are always an interesting place to meet and exchange, as well as a source of great inspiration

Having to choose whether to extend the trip or reduce it, because I consider that a shared bathroom and a bedroom are unacceptable and absolutely under my standards, personally, I prefer to extend the trip or at least prefer to spend money on activities rather than on a private bathroom.

In photo, hostel in Granada, Nicaragua. Not bad, right?

ostello granada

 

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You do not have to be rich to travel, but you need some money

I have never supported nor encouraged to drop everything and leave or to leave without having two pence to rub together. I know that there are those who have done so but I cannot say the same about me because I have always had a budget, and I like to have some, even if a few, certainties.
On the other hand, I cannot agree with those who believe that to travel you have to be rich or you have to have an account that would make Scrooge McDuck envious.

Money is necessary, mainly if you do not want to work in exchange for lodging or you do not want to stop and work for a long time in a place that. In any case, this is something other than traveling.

Having traveled the world, and having done so for three years with a monthly budget of €600, I believe it can be said that with about €8000 and a spirit of incredible adaptation, sleeping in the cheapest places and only eating street food or taking the buses of the lowest category, one can live wonderful experiences that, indeed, will put you in front of a yourself that perhaps you do not believe to be.
In photo, with Modesta, the Bolivian cook among the Lagoons.

bolivia

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The tourist spot is not necessarily to be avoided

I think if a place is very much visited, hence touristic, it is because it has the characteristics that justify the amount of people that reaches it and going there is not a craze.

Also, I do not believe that the search for non-tourism necessarily means facing a better trip.

We will go to Peru but we will not pop over to Machu Picchu? Or Rome and skip the Colosseum because we know that it will be overcrowded by tourists? The not going to tourist places, will not make us a more “cool” character than others, the categorically refusing to skip them is a choice taken more for one’s ego than by any genuine motivation.

A tourist place is not necessarily to be avoided, especially if the only reason is that of believing to lose status. That of the traveler. That, for me, lies in how you do things and not in where you go. And beware of those who insinuates otherwise.

machupicchu

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A tent can save in a tight situation

I’m not a born camper, I remember the first time in a tent like a nightmare, Australia in 2012, the heat of the early hours, I like to sleep late because I’m a night-bird, the fear of snakes, the discomfort of the mat and that space too small for a big me.

But I learned to make virtue of necessity, and I carry along a tent, I’d rather lighten the backpack loading it with less clothing, but this mobile home has saved me from spending too much during the months between Namibia and Botswana where instead of paying $100 per night, I paid $6 for the camp.

Capanna Hamar e la mia tenda
Pitching my tent in the Hamar village – Ethiopia

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The backpack must be light. Indeed, very light

The first six months of my trip, my backpack weighed about 16 kgs. A weight that gradually became less by giving away things, I realized, I was not using but which had become a nightmare.

I learned to travel for 6 months, a year or two weeks with the bare minimum, a maximum of 10 kgs and I am committing myself to carry even less.
The back is grateful, especially in the face of the fact that after the first few weeks the desire to unpack the backpack every day and then pack it up again the next morning is as attractive as hell, and rather than losing yourself in 20 t-shirts, you will opt for the convenience of those 4 that you know where to fish out without messing up what had been packed 24 hrs ago.

backpacking

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There is no one best traveler, there are many

Traveling is a state of mind, it lies in how you deal with the experience, no matter whether you are doing it alone, in company, by public transport or with a guide.
Nor will the backpack make of us travelers when we are not able to live this experience for what it is.
I have met travelers with trolley, or one with a backpack of 5 kgs, there was also the one who had just the toothbrush. It is not necessarily the minimalism that makes a traveler better than the other (although in some cases it is an interesting indicator), it will not be the traveling alone that makes you better than those who travel in pairs, it will not be the having visited 50 countries in 10 years that make of someone an explorer of the first category.
As long as we will discuss on what rather than on how, we will be discussing the wrong argument.

 

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Going on an organized tour is not belittling the status of the traveler, and if you believe so, you are missing an opportunity

If I had not gone on many organized tours I would have missed out wonderful places.
From Bolivian lagoons and the Salar de Uyuni, to the tour to Machu Picchu, or to Lanquin in Guatemala, or again, climbing the Franz Joseph Glacier in New Zealand, not to mention the safaris in Tanzania or Danakil in Ethiopia.

Among other things, in general, whenever I arrive in a city I am happy to take part in a guided tour in order to get an introduction to the place I am setting out to discover.

To take part in an organized tour is not belittling your independence but rather, will enrich your travel experience.
The refuse to do them as a matter of principle is, on the contrary, a risk that could make you lose a beautiful place or give you the keys of interesting access to local communities.

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The backpacker is not necessarily an ethical traveler

The backpacker is ideally identified as the one who travels with a backpack and little money. The one who spends little for sleeping, eating, maybe thumbing for lifts or asks hospitality for a place to sleep. To have a better contact with the people, they say.

While, on one hand, this is true, I have hitchhiked because there was no alternative, I have slept in people’s home because invited, but never because I did not have the money to pay a hostel, on the other hand, I have noticed that some, in this way of traveling, because of lack of resources, take advantage precisely on those people who, to live, might be in need of help and not of one more mouth to feed.

I have seen backpackers, or presumed such, negotiate, taking to exhaustion the guest houses owners, to have lower prices, others who pay the amount they decided that for them was the right price, others spending money on alcohol and drugs, but then haggling for a discount with those people for whom the insignificant discount demanded would be a great help instead.
Ethics is also in these details, to consider who you are dealing with and to turn a blind eye if you’re paying those 50 cents more, when you know that if for you it is less than a beer, for them it might be an extra meal, actively contributing to the preservation of traditions, environment and culture.

bus kosovo

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Top Travel stories have to do with those I meet and rarely with the place

From chaotic markets, from the toilets which are holes in the ground or from the slow and ramshackled minibusses. They are where my stories and memories of the most important journeys come from.
From the nights at home with Monica in Maun, Botswana or hosted in the Chechi hut, at Gunau in Namibia, or still by Silvana, my friend in Galapagos, or Mr. Conrad of Portopalo Capopassero or Alem in Harar or Mr. HOTHOT of Pangani and I could go and on.

And it is with them that I associate each place because it is with them that I lived, and, although some places are not the most beautiful in the world, for me, in some way, they have become.
Mbeya market

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When I lose the ability to surprise myself, it’s time to go

It has happened to me on several occasions, the first time that I felt that something was not happening as it should have anymore, I made an effort to continue because I thought it was impossible to get tired of traveling.
Yet it did happen, and when I realized that I did not feel excitement even when faced with amazing sights or meeting special people, I knew it was time to go home.

Travelling without limit slowly wanes off enthusiasm and, I fear, flattens out the perception of the world with the risk of not giving the right value to what is around us.
About this topic I wrote: Could you spend all your life traveling?

young monk
Giovanissimo monaco buddista a Bagan

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Do not listen to YOU MUST GO TO / IN

There are no “MUST” when it comes to traveling, but only “want”.
This would be the sense of when traveling on long period.

Whenever I decide to go in a particular country the slew of comments sent to me to go somewhere else, because I MUST, makes me smile a bit and, I think nicely, I always reply that at least in these choices I would not have duties but only pleasures .
“I must do” does not exist, there is only what at the moment inspires us, calls us, and for which we are willing to invest time and energy. Otherwise you risk to make of the pleasure of the journey a kind of race to win the Guinness Book of World Records.

Victoria Falls microflight
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Travelling makes you feel helpless

Traveling excites us in front of the beauties of the globe, but strips us to the bones in front of the ugliness of the world. It makes us feel powerless in the face of injustices giving us more questions than answers.
Travelling teaches you to think before judging the unknown and to think in a different way, proactively and generously. It teaches to understand what motivates others to behave in a certain way making us feel almost guilty to be more fortunate and so in compulsion to do something.

 

solo travel africa

 

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Traveling is not dangerous but it teaches prudence

I do not belong to the group of people that feels that the whole world is Home, I rather believe just the opposite. There are destinations safer than others and I am surprised when people navigating in this world claim otherwise. In Central America I keep my eyes more open and take more precautions than in Asia, for example.

I have seen many youths beaten or robbed, especially in Latin American cities, and the reasons why these events took place all lie in the same mistake, believing they can behave as if they were at home, for example, walking the night alone in the big city or getting drunk and returning at 4 am alone and on foot to not spending $1 for a taxi.

When I travel, I change a lot my habitual behaviors, I’m much more careful when I go out at what I do, with who I go out with, where I’m going and how I move. If, when I lived in Berlin I came home walking at 5 am, I would not do the same thing in Cape Town or in Buenos Aires.
I’m not saying that necessarily something bad must happen, but it’s easier that you can be robbed in certain places rather than in others.

The world is dangerous if you do not take the right precautions, then it is equally true that some things can still happen anywhere, but at least you will never have the doubt to have sinned of little zeal.

harar

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In 7 years of digital nomadism I learned that  

Travel and work, seriously, in the long run is not possible

As you know, or maybe not, I do not work as a travel blogger, or, at least, I haven’t done of my travels my job.
The hours I spend working in addition to those that I dedicate to write posts like this, to which I devote a lot of hours for the pure pleasure of sharing, hoping to provide useful information for those who want to plan their adventure, are a lot. That’s it, there is no business behind it.

I work exactly like those who go to the office every day, with the only difference that I have no office. I would also add that my project, just because it’s all mine, requires commitment and effort and presence availability and 7/7.
That’s why I came to the conclusion that, if you traveling in the long term itself is tiring, combine it with a full-time job, even if flexible, makes this  experience even more complex.

Being location independent doesn’t mean that I am perpetually on vacation.

50% of the work I do makes make money, the other 50% doesn’t, like reply to emails to give advice, manage social networks, that I don’t use as commercial channels that I, actually, also use pretty bad, write informative posts about my travels most of which do not tell about destinations I work with etc.

But I like to do it, so I like spending a lot of time writing posts and finding out more information about it for the sake of sharing!
Clear enough to understand that my trips, all routes, the times I spend on each destination, depend a lot on the commitments that i have to respect that, of course, have priority.

I worked hard to find the right balance between traveling and work, doing everything possible to prevent them from ever becoming a unique thing. Because when a pleasure is inextricably work then I feel it like an obligation I can’t longer choose to accomplish or let it go.

 

Freedom has a price

Related to what is written above, this freedom of movement and extreme flexibility has a price to be paid.
The other day, talking to my cousin Debora who lives in Mendoza, Argentina, and who,like me is a freelance, I have come to the certainty that this freedom of movement and of time has a price to be paid, the endless work and the impossibility of being away even for a few weeks.

For us freelancers, not to work a few weeks means losing customers, which means losing money as well as credibility with those who contact us.

The price to pay in order to live where you want for as long as you want, for me is worth doing for as many renunciations. Also not to have holidays that can be defined as such at 100% and the economic instability, earning today 4000 and tomorrow maybe 500.

 

mercato mbeya

 

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Will is power but a plan is needed

Among those who are surprised by the direction my life has taken, I also include myself. If, for the first three years I have traveled with little money and without a real plan, if not that of going back to Europe and finding work in Berlin as soon as I got there.
Once back I realized that I was holding something on which to develop a project and that this something was something unique.
Having lived in the Galapagos has made me become a specialist in this very elite destination, and on this I began to apply myself more seriously.

When I realized that I would have to invest time and also money to develop the idea, I tightened my belt again, and dedicated my efforts, which lasted two years, to create something that represented me even when I am still, which I knew I could do well having low competition (I wanted to make life easier not complicate it), and that would allow me a period that I hoped would be another 2 years, to pay other people to join me on this journey that did not suit me to do alone anymore.
I was moved by the desire to give the same opportunity that was given to me in 2011, a bit of confidence to be able to do a task, to others.

Will is power, true, but like the question of passion, to have the will is not enough. Passion and will aren’t enough, we need more.

We must act and have a plan, a project, focusing on a few simple questions: WHAT DO I KNOW WHAT TO DO THAT OTHERS DO NOT? WHAT NEEDS CAN I SATISFY? WHAT CAN I OFFER THAT OTHERS CANNOT?

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Conclusions: Traveling is not the answer; but rather, it puts you in front of endless questions

The frenzy whipped up by messages hammering us daily that deal in nomadic lifestyles, without points of reference, for many has become the lifestyle to which they aspire, is attractive. Shocking.

We are willing to do anything to get there. Turning away from a fixed place, itineraries without expiry dates, to stop thinking about tomorrow because, in any case, we will not be receiving the retirement pension.
Still, after seven years on the road, as a counterstrike, having lived fully what everyone wishes to do so nowadays, makes me review many positions that I had thought were right at the beginning (egocentric stage, I have been through it too).

I do think about the retirement pension, and if it will not be the state to give it to me, then I will start to gear myself up by putting money aside each month. To a place that can be considered home I have thought about, just as I think about recreating a life of routine and affections, family and friends, who play an important role in my life.
Traveling and going away is not the answer to the doubts and problems that we have today and in which we feel trapped.

And perhaps, after a while, the Pandora’s box will open, and will reveal to us that the problem was not the world, that we were running away from but how we were facing it.
Traveling is definitely therapeutic, a symptom, a reaction to the desire of rebellion at a time when maybe we are doing something that we do not like and that we would like to change, an important moment when we start asking questions and putting in doubt what has been done and thought of before and what we will do and think later.

Three years after the departure, my fears have suddenly reached me again a thousand miles away from where I had escaped three years before, and materialized again.
When the journey became routine, even this had become obvious and represented normality, and had brought me back to the same starting point, I realized it was time to face them and I had to do it in a field that I knew and with which I wanted to confront again.
I could have continued to travel and instead, I packed my backpack and I came back, nearly 1,000 days later.
Only after having a face-to-face with my problems and my anxieties, exactly one year later, was I able to pick up my backpack again and leave.
I had made peace with the torments and I was ready to take a trip in the company of a new Giulia.

 

Hope you enjoyed the reading! I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment and tell me what your thoughts are about it! 

Giulia Raciti

Esperta di Africa e Latino America sono in viaggio perenne dal 2011. Ho fatto un giro del mondo in solitaria durato 3 anni. Mi occupo di realizzazione viaggi personalizzati e su misura in Africa e Sud America

Questo articolo ha 2 commenti.

  1. Dominick santariga

    I absolutely loved reading this entire article, I am actually going to re read it after this comment . I am leaving for my 3 year world travel in October, traveling 8 months, that returning homE to work for 4 months.this was very inspirational. I would love to email with you. My name is Dominick santariga, I am 26 and I live in new York.

    1. Giulia Raciti

      Hello Dominick, glad my story can be inspiring! Feel free to write me anytime! Cheers from India! Giuli

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