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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:
F.I.R.E. – Financial Independence, Retire Early
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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42 thoughts on “Covid-19: Is this the End of Nomadic Life?”
Thank you for sharing Johnny FD’s story! I’m bookmarking his YouTube videos to watch over my lunch hour. I wasn’t concerned that ‘the Rona’ would be the end of nomad life, but thank you for alleviating any hidden fears that might be in the back of my mind and giving me a resource to point people to if they have the same concern 🙂 . I hope you’re well!
Hope you enjoy Johnny’s videos 🙂 I had no idea how pretty the beaches were in Sri Lanka until I found him.
“the Rona”–is that what they’re calling it now? 😛 Glad your fears have been alleviated. Hope we get to meet somewhere in the world once travel restrictions are lifted.
Yeah – I’m loving the videos! And lol – I call it “the Rona” just because if I say “Corona” I start singing “My Sharona” and if I say “COVID-19” I’m doing it to the tune of “Come On Eileen” so I had to switch it u 😉 . And yes indeed – I’m looking forward to it!
How do you sign up for his blog? I searched everywhere but cant’t figure it out.
If you’re on desktop, scroll all the way down to the bottom of his website (johnnyfd.com) and then scroll up a little bit. You’ll see a small popup in the bottom right corner that I’m assuming puts you on his email list. Hopefully he’ll stop by himself and give a better answer.
Hey Darcy, thanks so much for trying to help me. I followed your instructions but none of the links take you to a sign up section. I think the only way to sign up for his content is to buy one of his courses or books. I see no other way. This must be part of his strategy.
There’s a small popup window when you scroll to the bottom. If it doesn’t show up, click the arrow with the square ato the bottom right corner. There’s a textbox on that popup that lets you enter your email.
Thanks! I just realized my computer was blocking the pop ups on his site. I signed up!
I discovered Johnny FD’s blog and YouTube channel a few months ago. Definitely recommended. I really like the fact that he is super grounded with his financials and is bridging the gap between the communities.
Awesome, Backpack Finance! I’m curious. How did you find him? Were his videos recommended to you via youtube?
I planned to move to Thailand just as the crisis started. Was searching for people who actually did it and found Johhny’s videos. Absolutely loved it.
Who knows, we might meet in Chiang Mai or one of the islands 😉
Of course the nomadic life is not over. The nomadic way of life is driven by technological innovations that aren’t going away–in fact they are accelerating. This moment is more like a massive pause (sadly a brutal one for very many).
People, the world isn’t ending!
Well put. Once upside to this whole shutdown is that company will learn to let their workers work from home. Hopefully that will inspire people to become location independent and book a bigger gap between their earnings and savings. If you no longer need to live in an expensive city for work, that’ll be huge in terms of savings.
Thank so much for this post!! My kids schooling had been a big reason holding me back from exploring a nomadic lifestyle, but now that our feet are wet with distance education I’m honestly doubting if we’ll ever be back. I’m already location independent and opening up to new options … waiting patiently for some borders to reopen. Very curious to see what the rest of this year will bring. It would be great to hear more from some of your other friends who may be working and quarantining with kiddos abroad, and keep us posted with your life in 2020. !! Cheers from a Peruvian in Las Vegas!
Wow, thanks for sharing your perspective of self-isolating with kids. I’ve always wondered whether this will help world schooling become more mainstream as a necessity rather than a fringe movement.
Can you share some tips on how you adapted to distance education? Are you doing the teaching or are they learning through remote sessions from their school?
In theory, it should be easier for people to live the nomadic lifestyle. With many people now suddenly working remotely, and some companies now seeing how a physical office isn’t necessary to keep the business running, more and more businesses/people will be operating in a non-traditional fashion. Therefore, it may be easier for someone to be able to earn enough money with a remote job to live a nomadic lifestyle.
We don’t live a nomadic lifestyle technically, but we travel a lot, splitting time among 3 locations where we own properties, and my wife’s business takes us to other interesting places a few times a year. Now with international borders closed, and consulting work drying up, we are in one place for the foreseeable future. Yes it might take some time for things to ‘go back to normal’, perhaps even 2 years, but once things go back to normal, we are set up to resume our way of living/travelling.
My thoughts exactly. There are so many jobs that require zero physical presence in an actual office setting. It makes total sense to ditch the office space, and save money on that line item. Letting employees stay where they like also saves them a lot of stress by not having to deal with traffic. I think the presence of online jobs will grow from these factors. There will still be employers who require physical presence, but the demand from employees for less time at the office will hopefully shift things. If you stop to think about it, moving businesses online will likely be the largest factor in improving the environment as well. A definite plus!
Very interesting! Which 3 locations do you split your time between?
I agree that the way we work is changing out of necessity. Maybe companies will now be more receptive to people working from home and workers can now use location independent to widen the gap between their earnings and spending.
We now primarily split our time between New York City (our historic home base) and Jacksonville FL where we have a few rental properties, and we also spend 1-2 months per year in our Costa Rica condo, that is listed on AirBNB when we are not there.
Its funny I know being a digital nomad and being FIRE are two totally separate things but at the same time I see so many similiarities and believe many digital nomads do want to become FIRE as well. I reckon it would surprise you how many more follow FIRE concepts and have read the Simple Path to Wealth, The 4 Hour work week and also Quit like a millionaire!! One good friend of mine I met travelling 10 years ago (He’s still on the road) has set up a lot for digital nomads around the world from webworktravel blogs, books etc. But one thing I really love that he set up was NomadCruise. Relocation cruises from Europe to South America and vice versa twice a year where all sorts of people who are retired or work online or do stuff nomadically do talks and get to meet each other. Definitely not your regular cruise either. The reason I mention this is because I got onto Johnny FD’s blogs through my friend Johannes after seeing some of the nomadic summit in Chiang Mai! Loved Johnnys talk at it and how he got started. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sQ-JachOxD4 this is my buddys talk at the summit where he talks about the cruise. I feel its something that might even be cool for a Chautauqua style event sometime.
Yeah, I remember the NomadCruise talk. Very inspiring! I especially love how he talked about his failure and how he grew that business from just 1 person showing up in the beginning.
I found that the digital nomads and FIRE people have a lot in common in terms of outlook on life. We don’t like to follow the herd and get the exact same flack that we do: “oh how can you not own a home and travel the world? That’s irresponsible!” or “you’re screwing up your kids by setting up a bad example and not working a 9 to 5 job”, or “you’re going to be broke and crawl back to work in a few years”. Etc. etc. etc It was only a matter of time before the communities synergized. They’ve taught us a lot about flag theory and taxation minimization by living overseas, something we never thought about before.
Flag theory and taxation minimization by living overseas, now that would be a great idea for a future article!
Noted 🙂 Will put it on our queue.
Thank you for introducing us to Johnny FD! Travel in Chaing Mai looks incredible and that Beach in Sri Lanka…. wow!!!
I know right? Sri Lanka wasn’t even on my radar until he told me about it. And Georgia too.
We stayed in the same condo building in Chiang Mai in November 2018! What a popular place. I recognize the roof top and pool as well. We watched the lantern festival fireworks from that rooftop. I miss the Chiang Mai food…
Thanks for sharing JohnnyFD’s website. Some good information on there.
Ha ha. So funny we all ended up at the same condo. It’s not even that easy to find either. I picked it because it was one of the few places that allowed month-to-month rentals and had a sauna.
Why did you pick that condo?
We were only there for a week and had a lot of options to choose from. We liked the location between Nimman and the Old Town and the pictures of the condo and pool. The roof top was nice but we didn’t take advantage of it enough.
Great read, thanks. I think that D.N’s already on the road are going to be fine. I don’t think this will change things too much so long as people can sustain themselves financially and maintain social distancing, flight prices will rise for sure, so people might stay longer in one spot with fewer side trips. The tough thing is when you’re stuck in a country with closed borders and it’s nigh on impossible to get out. We had one-way flights booked for our family to move to Spain in August which have been cancelled. Our borders (New Zealand) will remain closed for some time so although I know it’s a really good place to ride out a pandemic, I’m gutted that we’ll need to push our nomad life plans back a year.
Sorry to hear about your nomad life plans being pushed out. Yeah, you’re right that you could be stuck in a country with tight borders. That’s why it’s so important to pick the right country–our friends stayed in Taiwan and it worked out great for them. Taiwan didn’t even shut down their economy. But pick the wrong one and it’s going to feel like a stressful game of musical chairs.
Please read about this Johnny and all his gang.
I don’t know anything about drop shipping so can’t comment, but in my experience, I’d rather meet something in person to assess them rather than reading reddit threads about them online (I’m sure all the bloggers have hate comments about them on media or reddit at some point). From what I know from meeting Johnny, reading his articles, and going to Nomad Summit, he seems like a pretty decent guy.
Very inspiring post IMHO. We’ve been following Johnny FD’s since late 2019 as you guys actually mentioned his conference to us. I really enjoy his stories on Instagram and his fun nature.
As for the nomadic life, I would split into two groups of people. The “digital nomads” that rely on their online/remote business to fund their living expenses and the “long term travelers” – like us – who have reached financial independence and see nomadic travel as a cornerstone of their life.
For the digital nomads, I’m pretty optimistic that these people will actually thrive in this crisis if they are able to prepare for the opportunities that this crisis is bringing their way. With everyone having to use online services and trying to make most of their lock-down time to learn something new, I can imagine plenty of (new) business opportunities these people can take advantage of. Anticipation is going to be a great power for them to use. For the long term travelers, the major change I can see coming is in the way we travel. We are already seeing some airline companies implementing new processes to allow large groups of people to travel together. It might be possible that slow travel (https://www.nomadnumbers.com/slow-travel/) will actually become the new normal. Especially if countries start to require quarantining for foreigners entering their border as a way to protect its population from being infected by existing/future outbreaks. It is still too early to say what the “new normal” will be though.
As for us, since we are currently in Taiwan, we are grateful for being part of the “1%” of the world population that can still experience life nearly as it was before the pandemic (as we explained on our blog: https://www.nomadnumbers.com/taiwan-safe-heaven-for-nomads-during-covid19). We are trying to take advantage of the opportunities that Taiwan is offering us. Like reducing our cost of living through heavily discounted AirBnB rentals, exploring the beautiful & uncrowded sights of the island, meeting up with other ex-pats, learning the local language, checking out the local cuisine without having to wait in line / making booking weeks ahead of time. We’ve even been reaching out to like-minded nomads through the pandemic (https://www.nomadnumbers.com/tag/interviews-covid19/) who are seeing this crisis as an important time to reflect on what is essential and a temporary pause to their travel.
Jealous that you guys get to live your lives like normal in Taiwan! If it weren’t for the family emergency we’d be there with you.
Yeah, I think slow travel is the way to go after the restrictions are lifted. I’ve found that the hopping around every 2-3 days is only good in the beginning when you don’t know which places you like best.
This is exactly the type of article I needed this week. I opened up three new tabs of Johnny’s posts for continued reading. His perspective is a breath of fresh air amid all the craziness these days!
Yeah, I like how he tells it like it is. Can’t wait to check out Sri Lanka and Georgia when all the travel restrictions are lifted.
I just wanted to pop in and say THANK-YOU!. Also Because of your book I now have about 2 months savings/building to 6mo and my self-directed investment account which I never would have figured out on my own is in the green having been able to start my investment journey during the dip in the markets. Your material has given me a finish line that’s a lot closer than typical retirement and for that I’m grateful. Take care and hope to see you at Chautauqua eventually!
Aww, that’s awesome, Harks! Thanks for sharing your success story with us. If you enjoyed our book, would you considering leaving us an Amazon review so many readers can find it? Thank you! Hope to see you at a future Chautauqua!
Thanks so much for this story. You saved the best part of your interview for last [IMHO] What a guy for paying his parents’ tax and 1k per month he sends. Really made my read. Thank you!
I know right? What an amazing son.
You guys are back? Will you be doing any book signings while your in Toronto? The circumstances suck but if you are doing any public speaking gigs please let me know? My wife and I would really like to get our books signed.
As a former owner of an AirBNB I’m so glad I sold at the right time. Municipalities even in Muskoka are really making it hard for vacation rental owners and I know a few that are just throwing in the towel.
Immigration is slowing and work visas are up in the air?
I do see a bright side that people who are afraid to get on a plane or cross a boarder will maybe stay in Canada to vacation? We saw this a few years back when the USD raised in value and we had waiting lists for our Muskoka cottage.
Overall I see this housing market unsustainable and will be going down but I fear for the landlords that are overstretch on their HLOC and own multiple properties. 30% of Americans did not pay their rent in April.
Question? Are you changing any of your ETF’s or changing your portfolio allocation during this crisis? I’m thinking the VUN.TO will take a real beating as the losers drag it down. Even Buffet changed his mind on the airlines.
You guys are awesome and Im glad you freak’n killing it even living in one of the most expensive places on earth to live.
Thanks in advance.
Nice knowing Johnny and his blog/youtube videos. I think that he is an inspirational guy on the nomadic lifestyle. Such lifestyle coupled with FIRE mindset will make a perfect lifestyle for one. I cannot say for others. I can only state that it suits me well.
Thks again for your post.