Asians do exist in the nomad community—we’re just more sparse
Within the nomad community, Asians are harder to find—perhaps it’s due to the strict ties we have to our culture of guilt, needing to be filial and close to one’s family, or straying away from what looks like a “successful career.”
However, this particular lifestyle has recently become more normalized to our community. Acceptance happens when we see others being able to pursue their passions so openly, acting as a beacon of hope and inspiration to push against the Asian values and family expectations we were raised with.
The qualities we were expected to have included moving up stable careers, excelling in one field and staying there, buying a home, having children, and being near family for filial piety. Not to generalize all, but many of our own parents veer on the conservative and traditional side, coming from the immigration experience, having to learn a new language and adapting to a new culture; they mostly just want a life that is comfortable for us and that comes in a stable job, an ambitious job title, and mitigating risk. The whole nomad life is full of risks and it’s been fascinating watching myself and others navigate this journey.
Perhaps it’s because I’ve started my own community of Asia female nomads, solopreneurs, and remote workers, that it seems like there are infinite more of us these days. To me, it seems normal to be taking the leap to pursue your interests, or at least be in the transition of. I forget that we are just a subset group in this massive world. It dawns upon me when I speak to strangers who’ve never left their hometown, which is neither good or bad (just different).
My personal nomad journey started in 2020 when I left San Francisco to experience Singapore for what it was—a thriving global city, a mecca of delicious foods and culture, and a place with lots of potential.
I decided to find a job abroad with the support and encouragement of my brother-in-law who spent his early career in the Bahamas and Asia as a lawyer.
In 2020, I left for Southeast Asia and when I got stuck there during the pandemic, I used it to my advantage and relentlessly interviewed for tech jobs, finally securing one in media. My mother was terrified and texted me to come home every day. I would calmly say no, and continue to look for jobs in Singapore.
This leap of faith ended up being three years in Singapore and perhaps I was just intrigued by another way of life outside the Bay Area—the people who lived there were so interesting. Many of them had global backgrounds, living in different cities growing up and some building remote businesses while traveling. There were third culture kids, expat kids, and all had such innovative, entrepreneurial insights.
I’ve always been captivated by people who went after what they wanted, even more so by people who didn’t care what others thought. I appreciated those who had passions and were unafraid to live fully, whatever that may look to them.
In 2022, I quit my stable job in fintech and decided to jump fully into being a solopreneur. I held $10K in my travel fund and ended up getting Nomad Insurance with SafetyWing for health after my benefits ends once I quit. It was important to take care of my physical health first, while traveling the world.
I joke around that this was my own angel investment in myself. If people could spend hundreds of dollars on photography, tennis lessons, skiing classes, and more, then why couldn’t I apply financial investments towards myself? It was the same concept.
Everything in my retirement fund was to not be touched or used. I decide to work for myself, though I wasn’t sure how that would look like. It’d come in the form of content creation, consulting, and writing.
No one ever talks about the grey fuzzy area after you’ve made the jump. It’s a terrible, lonely mental battle I endured for three months straight while worrying about money.
A lot of it was fear-based, and while I’d like to say I’m risk taking, I like control and I didn’t feel in control at all. I had proven my theory back then, that I could make money outside a 9-5 but my income streams were not consistent. I made money through content video partnerships, which the paychecks would range from $500-1000 USD for one project.
But I did miss the steady paycheck and the self doubt was just poison, spreading into my thoughts and questioning my own move. I don’t know if everyone else feels that way, from making a steady, good income to an income that was baseline low and almost worse than my starting pay.
It wasn’t a good feeling so you can imagine how much mental fortitude I’ve built during those couple of months.
I can’t recall when these feelings of doubt started to ease away, but most likely when I started making more money from consulting a startup based in New York. I had secured that stable income stream, while I scrambled to work on other projects and boost my income levels to a place I felt comfortable.
I also started to strategize more: instead of taking small one-off projects, I wanted to take larger projects.
In between, I hopped from place to place, staying at friends’ homes, crashing in their guest rooms, and living in lower cost of living cities.
I jumped around from Hanoi, Bali, New York, San Francisco, Taipei, and then now I’m on my phone notes app typing as I fly back to California.
That being said, I want to share my personal pros and cons of this digital nomad lifestyle. My job here is to share insight on what your life could look like, without glamorizing it with unnecessary bells and whistles like they do on Instagram, and offer my insight on how to make this lifestyle sustainable while being ambitious and enjoying life.
Pros of a nomadic lifestyle
- If you thrive well in environmental changes, you’ll love moving from place to place. Your identity shifts and changes each time in a new place—you can be whoever you want to be and that part can be fun.
- Your perception of the world changes and you’ll never be the same person again. I like to think people become better human beings after traveling more. You become more open minded and well educated. Also, I generally think you become a more interesting person.
- The world is your oyster and you can work anywhere! If you want to move to Portugal the next day, or hop on a flight to Japan, you can do all of that. Depending on your work schedule, you can also have more flexibility. Assuming you have the funds to do so though.
- You’ll have made friends around the world, expanding your global network. Perhaps you’ll even have places to stay when you travel again. Some of the stories of the people I’ve met while on the road are just so far away from the kinds of people I meet in San Francisco. It’s fascinating.
Cons of a nomadic lifestyle
- Keeping in touch with people gets harder when you’re older. Finding a stable community is tiring when you’re constantly on the move and starting over.
- Freelancing disadvantages. My biggest complaint is that projects will end, so you need to be on the lookout for new projects or make sure you can pay the bills with whatever income you’re making. A steady paycheck is something I missed in the beginning. Also, freelancing doesn’t come with health insurance.
- If you’re making less abroad and decide to move back to the states, you’ll suddenly realize your dollars that you’ve made don’t go that far. Imagine you’ve been getting by in another lower cost of living country, but once you move back to the states, you have to upkeep an “American life,” tip for meals, and figure out how to cover certain costs.
- Work from anywhere drawbacks. This could include always needing to find a good space with wifi, outlets, seating, and taking calls. There’s plenty of coworking spots around the world these days, but the costs add up and there’s a lot of decision fatigue on changing your situation each time.
- Dating can be difficult. Since you’re always moving around and everyone’s intentions are different, you may not be able to find a partner who holds similar values or intentions—it was hard for me, but I have friends who successfully found their partner while on the road.
Coming home? What is home?
The one thing that’s helped me keep sane is remembering that my life is controllable. So if you find that you actually hate this lifestyle, you can always go home. Simple as that.
That in itself is not failure, it’s redirection.
As I personally near my 30s, I realize I want to have a home base, like an apartment I can come back to. I want to decorate it and often travel out for a couple weeks or months in time. I’d do house swaps or just venture out when it is possible. I’d rather have that than live out of a suitcase and move from city to city like I did the past 3 years.
The most valuable lesson I learned while being location independent is that you will need to learn how to make a home within yourself. You are your most consistent person and the home you embody. You are the person you need to come home to, and to love.
If you cannot be happy with yourself, you won’t be happy anywhere.
We exist in our own minds, and that is the most important first home.
So wherever you want to end up or be, your decisions will change and unfold with new seasons of life. That’s the beauty of having a nomadic lifestyle—you have the optionality to change and move as you please.