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With the whole world under lockdown, planes grounded, and airports shuttered, one of the biggest questions on my mind is “is this the end of nomadic life?”
One of the things I love about our lifestyle is that we can live anywhere in the world. Any passion projects we choose to work on can be done via our laptops and an internet connection. Our community is scattered all over UK, Europe, USA, Canada, New Zealand, and Asia. As a result, we’ve been able to simplify our lives down to 2 backpacks and the past 5 years travelling the world has been the best years of my life. Needless to say, I can’t imagine giving it up.
I decided to reach out to my friend, seasoned digital nomad and founder of the “Nomad Summit” conference, Johnny FD, to find out if this was, in fact, the end of nomadic living.
Meeting Johnny, like many aspects of our unusual life, came serendipitously.
Last year, I was planning to head back to Chiang Mai to escape the cold in Europe, and after hearing from other travellers about a time period called “smoky season”, during which northern farmers burn their fields to clear the land for planting, I decided it would be a good idea to avoid this period. I didn’t know the exact timing, so typed “smoky season Chiang Mai” into google.
This was the video it recommended to me:
Not only was Johnny FD’s video super informative (I now know to avoid Chiang Mai between Feb 20 and April 12th and go to Taiwan or the Thai islands during that period instead), he’s got this easy going, fun nature about him that just made me want to be his friend. Plus, if you love Chiang Mai, there’s a good chance we will get along swimmingly.
That ended up with me clicking over to his blog and going down a rabbit hole of reading everything he had to say about the digital nomad life and tips about Southeast Asia, where he’s travelled extensively.
Now, here’s where the “serendipity” comes in.
I came across this post:
I have to admit, I did a bit of a double-take. Before this, none of the digital nomads/travellers I’d met in the past 5 years knew anything about FIRE. This is first time those two communities have collided! And if you scroll down in his article, you’ll see that the #1 book he recommends is “The Simple Path to Wealth”. I immediately thought, this guy loves travel, Chiang Mai, and The Simple Path to Wealth, how can we possibly not be friends?
I just had to meet Johnny FD. As fate would have it, I quickly discovered the “Nomad Summit” on his blog, a 300+ attendee conference that he founded and guess where it was taking place?
I booked tickets then and there, and I’m so glad I did because not only did we meet new friends from the nomadic community (whom I’m still talking to today), some of them even recognized us and were already FIRE enthusiasts!
And not only that, through sheer coincidence, I booked the exact condo that Johnny stayed in his “smoky season in chiang mai” video! I didn’t even realize it was the same one until I recognized the rooftop patio from watching the video again just now.
Crazy. This is why I love Chiang Mai. So many serendipitous things happen and you just never know who you’re going to meet.
So, without further ado, here’s Johnny FD!
Is this the end of the nomad lifestyle as we know it?
Absolutely not. Digital Nomads are resilient and the benefits of location arbitrage, low costs of living overseas, endless summer, tax incentives of being out of our home country, and the lifestyle in general are just too good to ever give up. Even right now with world wide travel bans, many digital nomads are still living overseas and taking advantage of the above benefits and many of them are coping better than people back home. Listen to Ep 246 of the Travel Like a Boss Podcast for a discussion on why digital nomads are doing better than everyone else during this pandemic.
Why did you pick Sri Lanka to hunker down from the pandemic?
I’ve been in Sri Lanka since February 1st before the pandemic started and had many chances to leave, change countries, or even go back to California but chose not to. I knew it would be socially irresponsible to travel and risk getting infected and bringing it to another country during the flights and airport changes and I didn’t want to add to the world wide problem. But mainly it’s because I knew I could survive here, and that I can pretty much survive and even thrive anywhere that has internet. Here’s a blog post I wrote about the decision to stay in Sri Lanka during the lockdown and how I’ve coped with COVID-19 as a Digital Nomad.
Which countries besides Sri Lanka would you have picked and why?
I would have stayed wherever I happened to be at the time. And now looking back it’s easy to see which countries handled it best, or had the lowest amount of cases. But if you asked me mid March where I would have wanted to get locked down, I would have said on an island in Thailand as it was relatively isolated while still having good infrastructure,great weather, and hopefully still access to the beaches along with low costs of living. Or I’d want to be in a nice big apartment in Tbilisi, Georgia as they have excellent food delivery options, ultra cheap apartments, and fast internet.
Do you worry about overcrowding in the hospitals or food shortage while you are under lockdown in a developing country?
No, because places like Sri Lanka grow a lot of their own food, and people are civil and don’t horde. There has been toilet paper available the entire pandemic as people buy a couple of rolls at a time, or just use the spray gun and forgo it entirely. There have been long lines at big grocery stores, but I just go to smaller markets and buy fresh fruits, vegetables and eggs instead with no wait. And as for the hospitals, while I know that public hospitals may get overcrowded, I also know that I can just pay a bit extra to go to the more expensive private ones as they are seldom full as most locals can’t afford the higher costs.
What are you doing about health insurance?
I have travel insurance for major evacuations or emergencies, but since I’m always in countries where cash payments for medical are actually affordable, I never use it or need health insurance. Instead of paying $400+ a month for Health Insurance, I save and invest that money, and now have saved over $40,000 in the 10 years I haven’t used insurance to pay out of pocket if I ever needed to. Here’s what I do about insurance as a digital nomad.
Does this crisis make you question your lifestyle and want to settle down?
It’s given me a lot of time to self reflect, and has actually made me grateful for my life choices and decisions. It doesn’t make me want to settle down as I know that even if I was in a big house back in the US, my life wouldn’t be any better right now, if anything it would be much more financially stressful as my expenses would be higher and I’d have to deal with the panic of others back home.
What’s it like self-isolating as a single person? Do you ever get lonely?
Here’s a video of my day to day life self-isolating completely by myself:
I honestly really enjoyed the break from everyone and everything. I’ve always assumed I was an extrovert my entire life, but during this past month, i’ve really enjoyed the other side and the benefits of being an introvert.
But to make sure I don’t get too lonely, I make sure to have a video call with a friend or family member each day or some type of social interaction like recording a podcast interview over Skype.
You have a series of online businesses as well as investment income. Has the pandemic impacted your streams of income at all?
The great thing about earning money online and location independently is that while many others have lost their jobs or income, mine has actually gone up. Over the years I’ve built up 14 streams of income and while a few of them have taken a temporary dip, the others have increased. Also with the new amount of free time I have to stay home and be productive, I’ve actually grown my businesses during this time.
What advice would you give to other travellers or future travellers about how to get through this difficult time?
If you’re in a bad spot, location wise, or financially, take this time to reflect why and ask yourself how you could have prevented it. Most travelers that I know who have been stressing during this time put themselves in bad situations by panic flying trying to find a better place, or couldn’t afford to rent a private comfortable place for a month to wait it out. Always have 6-12 months of savings in a cash savings account for emergencies like this, no one should already be out of money in month 2 if you had prepared. For future travelers, I would advise to travel slow and not rush. If you spend 2-3 months in each location like I do, not only will you save a lot of money and stress, you’ll be a lot more comfortable settling down even during difficult times as you’ll know the area, people and culture well enough to get through it. Here’s an article on what a real digital nomad is and why traveling too fast is a bad thing.
What do you miss the most about your home country? What do you miss the least?
The only thing I miss is unhealthy things like Popeyes Delivery, 2 day Amazon shipping or having a big kitchen full of things like an Air Fryer and an InstaPot. But what I don’t miss is the high costs of living and how easy it is to overspend and not save. If the choice is to live in poverty back in the USA just to be able to have a 50% or higher savings rate, or be able to eat out 21 meals a week while living out of hotels or serviced apartments while aboard and be able to save even more, i’d much rather do this.
Do your parents and family members worry that you are in a foreign country during this crisis? How do you alleviate their fears?
My parents know that I’m actually better off here than I would be back at home where everyone is panicked and scared. They used to be worried about me all of the time when I first started living overseas. But the fear all ended a few years ago when I proved to them that not only could I take care of myself financially while traveling, but I could also take care of them. Since 2015 I’ve been paying my parent’s property tax each year for their Christmas present, and sending my Mom $1,000 a month so they could finally retire. Each month when they receive a check in the mail, they are reassured that I must be doing okay if have enough left over to be sending them money.
There you go! What do you think? Do you think this pandemic means the end of the nomadic life? How has it affect your nomadic plans?
If you want to find out more about Johnny FD, check out his blog at JohnnyFD.com.
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