Crushing it During Quarantine: Why Digital Nomads are Thriving during the Pandemic

As i'm writing this, it's been 22 days since quarantine started. I haven't been able to leave the house  most days, expect for twice a week to get groceries. I'm sure many of you reading this have been in a similar position, and have had a chance to reflect on life, freedom, and the choices we make. Some of us have been bored out of our minds, some  have fell apart, others have taken the time to self-reflect. A few have used it to be ultra productive, and many have been panic flying around the world trying to find somewhere else they should be instead. It's gotten me to really think about my personal life choices of living overseas and traveling full time with no permanent home, and has forced over digital nomads to do the same.

For me, I could hardly believe that it's been almost a month since I've been locked in my apartment. I would hear other people say things like "Quarantine, Day 25" and I'd assume that they were exaggerating or just counting back from when they first heard about social distancing or stay at home recommendations that weren't yet actually being enforced. Even the word quarantined is being used incorrectly by 99% of people, myself included, and it's diminishing to those are locked up under medical supervision and really have it hard. But now taking the time to sit down and write this has forced me to reflect on what has really been happening, in my life, and around the world. This post is going to bring you deep inside the mind, physical and mental state of a digital nomad under quarantine and the choices I've made so far to have gotten me here, both good, prudent and potentially terrible ones as well. 

We Chose Freedom

The reason why most people I know quit the jobs to work online and live overseas as digital nomads was simple, it was for freedom. With this new life we could go where we wanted, see new places, experiences new cultures and turn our dream lives into reality. Many of us did it to get away from social pressures of normal life back home, whether it be family, work stress, long commutes, high costs of living, comfornity or materialism. Being a digital nomad has forced me into a life of minimalism, especially since I started traveling with carry on only luggage, and it has diminished my desire to buy and spend on things. It's been an incredible journey, and even making just $1,000 a month has allowed many of us to live in cheap places like South East Asia, and enjoy a relatively care free life of happiness.

However, the Coronavirus pandemic has forced us to face the downside as well as the dark side of all the independence and freedom we've traded normal life for. Even during good times, many digital nomads would yearn for stability, certainty, through having a home base, or a more permanent place to live. I know as I've been through the same dilemma for years now and have long considered buying a  apartment in BanskoChiang Mai or Lisbon, and putting down roots for a permanent home base. The idea of having a place to call home, a place to store my things, and a house to go back to would fulfill the sense of longing and fill the void of uncertainty. This is why so many digital nomads I know have put down the money to get Thai Elite visas, or invested in real estate to buy property in Spain and Portugal to get their Golden Visas, simply so they could stop worrying about moving around so often and put down roots somewhere.

I think that during this pandemic, even more digital nomads who have been comfortable with traveling full time now yearn and wish they had a place of their own. Making them question their entire lives and what's important to them or not. However, going back to their home country, has not been the solution for a lot of people as once they got there they remembered why they left in the first place. For me, I'm luckily that by going through Date With Destiny I've figured out for myself what really makes me happy and how to balance the need for certainty and stability along with the adventure and excitement of travel. For me it was a strange mix of minimalism through traveling carry on only which has forced me to have less clutter and things in my life, all while traveling slower and spending 2-3 months in each location rather than moving quickly.

Quarantine Life Today

I'm very fortunate that even though it's been over 3 weeks since I've had the freedom to leave the house whenever I'd like, that i'm safe, healthy, calm and actually quite happy. I think that a big part of it was writing down rules for myself during the Start of the Coronavirus scare over a month ago when things weren't actually that bad yet and I was still calm and rational. I had written down a set of rules for myself and part of it was not traveling or panic flying anywhere if things got worse, which they did. I knew that changing locations and flying would only cause unnecessary stress on myself, but also risk both COVID-19 infection and spread by going through airports, buses and airplanes during this time. The reason why I was able to stay calm and feel both safe and comfortable staying put for an indefinite amount of time however, is heavily due to the fact that I make home wherever I am.

Instead of constantly looking for new exciting places to go, or traveling to new countries just to check them off a list so I can say I've been to 100 countries or whatever the magical bragging number is, instead, I like to go back to places each year that I've been to before and get them know them even better. This is why I've gone back to Chiang Mai Thailand each winter for the past 7 years now and  spend 3-6 months there on average. It's also the reason why I came back to Sri Lanka for a second year in a row now, and am staying again the same beachside town of Weligama that I've been to before. The fact that I've not only been here two years in a row, but also the fact that I was already here for over a month before the pandemic started made it really easy to know I'd be safe here long term. I've already gotten to know the city, many of the locals, where everything is, and had found and moved into a really comfortable apartment where I knew I what to expect.

If I had been in a random new country during this time I would have had little to no certainty and would have been tempted to panic fly "home" back to the USA, or somewhere I knew from previous travels. But since I had already been here for over a month, I knew I'd be fine where I was and there was no need to panic or fly anywhere. In fact digital nomads have coped better during quarantine than most people.. Below is a video showing what my daily life and routine is like here in Weligama, Sri Lanka during the coronavirus lockdown of the country and the world.

Listen to Episode 246 of TLAB

Valuable Lessons Learned

Watching others breakdown emotionally trying to get back "home" or to another country and seeing their struggles of canceled flights, rushing to the airport, and the stress that it took on their minds and bodies, I'm really glad that I didn't put myself through that. Even constantly looking for flights and planning an escape only to get the flights later canceled or re-routed has been a nightmare for many. But what I learned from it is that it's all been a choice, It wasn't a choice for any of us to be in this pandemic, but it has been a choice on how prepared we were for bad events and especially how we later would respond to it. Some people I know chose to fly to Thailand, Vietnam, Bali or back to Europe during the outbreak, and some decided a few weeks later it was a bad choice and flew somewhere else, each time adding to the stress of themselves, everyone around them, and adding to the possible spread of COVID-19 around the planet.

The majority of people, even ones on vacation or traveling the world, have little to no savings to get them by even for a few months in case of emergency.  Many of them don't have health or travel insurance either. I used to be one of them, as for the first five years of moving to Thailand and living the good life on the cheap, I too was completely broke and living month to month. I honestly never knew any better as during 2008-2013 everything was so new that there were no digital nomad blogs, youtube channels, or books aside from the 4-hour week and vagabonding to have followed. I'd like to think that if I had a path, and could have taken the advice from others who had done it before me that I would have done things differently, or taken less risks. But then again, maybe these are lessons that we just need to learn for ourselves.  

Now more than ever I am grateful to have taken the past 4 years to learn about investing and to have saved up enough to both have a year's worth of savings in an emergency fund to keep me financially afloat as well as the knowledge of what to invest in and what stocks to buy or sell during this crisis. This is really the first time I've ever been through a tough situation not having to stress about money, and it's comforting knowing that I'm in a position where not only will I personally be okay, but I'm also able to send my parents money each month as well as donate to local charities around me to help feed those who are less fortunate. At the end of the day, we all had choices that we made during the past 10 years of economic boom in the world. Some of us chose to save, while others chose to spend.

But even though all of us in the Financial Independence Community have lost a lot of money these past weeks during the recession and stock market drops, at the end of the day, we're still in a better position than if we hadn't chose to lower our living expenses, save more money, or buy investments during the last few years. As if we had done it correctly and have 6-12 months of savings in an emergency fund and didn't panic sell any of our stocks while they were down, we'll get through it and be back on top when it all ends.

Taking Personal Responsibility 

Perhaps the biggest lesson I learned during this time is everyone thinks their situation is different, unique or special, and that if you talk to each person individually, you'll tend to have sympathy and understand their situation as as humans it's natural to have compassion for others. But in reality, we're really not all that different. Some people have it harder than others, but for most people reading this on their expensive smartphones, laptops, and iPads, while surfing the internet in your comfortable home, our situations really aren't as bad or tough as we like to think they are. At the end of the day, the quote that

"If don't come out of this crisis with new skills, knowledge, or a business started, you've never lacked time, you lacked discipline" applies to most of us.

I sent out an email newsletter (sign up below if you haven't already) the other day with this quote along with a caveat that even though this applies to most of us right now, that if you need to take this time to rest, or find security or help to do so. But otherwise, if we're not actually in danger, and we're really just scrolling through social media and the news media all day putting ourselves in unnecessary panic while binge eating a week's worth of snacks each day while watching Netflix, then we need to get off our asses and stop feeling sorry of ourselves as it's not helping anyone.

I've had a ton of people regurgitate the phrase "Some people are suffering and it's okay to just survive during this time" without even first watching it. The problem is that for every 1 person who is truly suffering and needs help, words like that hurt the other 99% of people who really just need to get off their lazy asses and do something productive. If everyone had spent the past 5 years figuring out how to prepare for their futures and take personal responsibility to move forward from their pasts, instead of dwelling on the victimhood of it, most of us would have 6 or months of savings and be able to get through this crisis without help.

We don't have a time machine to go back and remake our choices, but we do have the future in our hands to decide if we're going to come out of this crisis better or worse off than we came into it. We can blame the world, society, our past, or others for where we are today and make excuses for both ourselves and others, or we can move forward, and make the most of what we have. I choose to do the latter, and hope that you do as well. Watch the video below for more context.

Random Lessons Learned

During this time of isolation I actually started really appreciating being home and being alone. I used to be the type that needed to get out of the house first thing each and everyday and couldn't stand staying home for long periods of time. I would also need to be around people everyday as I always assumed I was an extrovert and even tested as an ESTJ while taking the Myers Brigg personality test. But I think as I get older and especially now during this long stay at home mandate, I've actually learned to really enjoy being alone and being at home. Maybe it's a case of Stockholm syndrome where I'm slowly falling in love with my captors and staying at home, but even when we were let out the other day to go to the store or for a walk, I almost didn't want to go.

I've started really appreciating the quiet of not having cars on the road, busy streets and people around, and think that even after this crisis ends, I'll be spending more time at home alone. Physically I've taken this time to learn how to do handstands on my own without a partner, and it's been something I probably never would have taken the time to learn and practice if it wasn't for the lockdown.

Content wise one of my goals that I've always wanted the time to do was to make more videos for my Youtube channel, and with the new found free time, I've managed to make one almost every other day since the lockdown started. It's been a good time to sit down and really focus on the projects that I've always wish I had the time to do, including studying a foreign language again and taking the time to learn Russian everyday on my own.

I'm curious what new skills, projects or challenges everyone else has been taking on during the stay at home, shelter in place curfews. You can follow what I''m doing everyday live on my instagram stories by adding me at JohnnyFDK on IG.

Final Thoughts

I don't know how this crisis will end, or if the decisions I've made would have been the right ones or not. All I know is that I'm not going to waste this opportunity that we've been given complaining, or being stressed, angry or fearful of things that are out of our control. I don't know when or how the coronavirus pandemic will end, and what the world will look like when it does, but I do know that both good and bad will come out of it. There will be innovations, new ideas, new businesses and a new way of life that will sprout from the ashes of all it once the dust settles. A lot of money will both be made and lost during this time. People will use this opportunity to either self-reflect and come out of this with more knowledge, skills, or be physically stronger and flexible, or they'll come out of it even further behind than they came in. 

It's been really interesting hearing from 7 different digital nomads from around the world in episode 244 of travel like a boss podcast and making all the content of my youtube channel this past month. For me, I'm trying to make the most of the abundance of free time that we've been given as this is a once in a lifetime opportunity where we have a seemingly unlimited supply of it. As I mentioned in the blog post above as well as in the video, if you are truly in a bad place, need help, or are suffering, take the time to rest, and don't be afraid to reach out for help, as there's a lot of people and programs willing to do so right now.

But if you're reading this on a laptop or smartphone with wifi, a comfortable couch or bed, you have food in the refrigerator, internet access, and aren't in immediate danger of dying, realize that we're really fortunate to have everything we do, and that it's up to us to made the most of a bad situation. 

I sincerely hope everyone is well and appercaite you taking the time to hear my thoughts, watch the videos and follow my blog. I take the time to write it both to reflect and formulate thoughts from my mind onto paper, but also to share the lessons I've heard as well as the mistakes I've made so hopefully others won't have to do so themselves. Wherever  you are and whatever situation you're in, realize that you're not alone in this. I've record a 2 part series on the Travel Like a Boss Podcast with interviews with 19 different digital nomads, mostly who are stuck in other countries right now to see what their lives and situations are like during the Coronavirus Quarantine, if and how they are still earning money during this time, as well as what they are grateful for. 

My Savings Backstory

Below is a video where I tell the story on how I went from not having any savings and living cheaply in Thailand, to deciding to set a goal for myself to create stability and certainly for myself by saving up my first $30,000. If it wasn't for that initial goal, I would never be as financially comfortable as I am now to not only continue supporting myself, but also my parents through this time by sending them money each month and paying their property tax as well. The truth is, during these past 5 years when the economy has been doing well, it was a hard sacrifice to be frugal, not buy the latest computer or smartphone, new clothes or shoes all the time. Or even spend it experiences or travel.

It's a story that was told inside my second book Life Changes Quick, so read that if you want more details, but it really was the start of everything I have today and it's the stepping stone many of you reading right now will benefit from taking.  It's one that I am truly grateful for taking and I hope it inspires all of you to do the same next time things are going well or if you have a surplus even now.

If you've enjoyed this post, please leave a comment below, and share this article with a friend, in a facebook group, on your social media, or wherever else you hang out online.

Stay healthy and  stay in touch. Leave a comment below so I know you read this far.

With love from Sri Lanka,

Johnny FD

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Post a Comment

  1. You should check out Grammarly :P

    1. Haha thanks. I normally go back and re-read the post and fix the run on sentences and grammar mistakes after publishing. But I tend to get carried away when writing as I just want to get everything from my mind onto paper quickly and authentically.

  2. good post, give the motivation to take action. it is really the monent to define what we really want our life to be :)

    1. Thanks! I'm glad you liked the post and took that away from it!

  3. Yes I read that far down haha 👍Johnny take care of yourself!

    - Carlos & Cristina from CM

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting, best of luck to both of you Carlos & Cristina!

  4. Good points and advice. I've been letting discipline wane during this time, but need to get back to setting a routine and sticking to it - even while social distancing. Been wasting too much time - time to get to work!

    1. I'm glad you're getting back to routine and work!

  5. Hey man, looks like you are dealing with the isolation pretty well. It's both a brave and smart move on your end just staying put. I was scheduled to start a 6 month journey in Thailand during mid April, had to cancel the whole thing until further notice.

    Hope everything get's better soon.

    Cheers and stay safe!

  6. I read the whole post. Hope things are okay and continue to be so :)

  7. Thanks for all the brutal honesty here Johnny. My plans to travel to SE Asia/ Thailand have been put on hold. Glad you have been so upbeat and making the best of this situation. Still hard for me to get through all these changes and not knowing how much longer. Stay well.

  8. Hi,

    Such a positive write-up. Focus on the present, is more practical and realistic.



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