What is it like to be a digital nomad couple?
It’s a common fantasy, I think, if not usually a serious one: quit your job and travel the world, take your laptop from beach to beach, be your own boss, and make money doing work you love.
For the growing number of digital nomads, that life is a reality (at least the broad strokes). It became my own reality a few months ago, when my husband and I sold most of our things and left our jobs in academic research and our apartment in Boston to travel indefinitely and pursue work as freelance writers.
But while more and more people are making similar choices, most of them are single. They travel solo, work independently, and spend their time with people they meet on the road. Of course there are other couples doing similar things, and we’d been inspired by their stories before we left, but we – the married nomads – are definitely in the minority.
For a couple, one of the many benefits of this lifestyle is the ability to spend more time together. Back when we lived in Boston, I was busy with work, constantly stressed, and increasingly unhealthy to boot. I was far from my best self, and my husband and I didn’t get that much time together. Our plans to leave were driven largely by desires to travel, work for ourselves, and pursue creative careers. But we were also drawn to the idea that we could have an even better relationship in this new life, one where we’d be less stressed and more fulfilled.
Now, a few months into our travels, we spend most of our time together, whether we’re exploring, working, or simply living. We’ve been in Southeast Asia for nearly three months and have visited three countries in that time, usually spending one or two weeks in each destination before moving on. We’re seeing many of the things we dreamed about, and have gotten to visit places anyone would consider paradise.
But contrary to what many of our friends and family probably believe, we spend a lot of our time working. Freelancing means constant hustling, and on top of the work we do for clients, we also spend a lot of unpaid time on marketing ourselves, networking, writing pitches and applications, and dealing with less exciting things like taxes. I think most digital nomads would agree that one of the biggest misconceptions of this lifestyle is that it’s just one big vacation – or in the case of a couple, one big honeymoon.
Not unlike before, we deal with things that can strain our relationship, only now it’s things like the discomforts and frustrations of traveling in developing countries and the overwhelm that can come with constantly being in new places. And we still deal with stress related to our work, not only around deadlines or difficult clients, but also decisions about what jobs to pursue, what rates to charge, and the general uncertainty that comes with freelancing. Our living costs are minimal compared to what they were in Boston, but given that two people starting out as freelancers aren’t in a terribly lucrative position, we worry a lot about how much we’re making and spending. My husband and I also work collaboratively on a lot of our projects, and we love working together, but it’s not always easy. We benefit from keeping each other accountable, but we have to be careful it doesn’t turn into nagging or being overly critical of one another’s work.
I’ve always believed that being able to enjoy spending time apart is part of a healthy relationship and part of being your own person. And that’s definitely true for us now. Fortunately, we both enjoy solo travel and find a lot of value in it, so we appreciate the opportunity to travel on our own from time to time. Even when we’re traveling together (which is the vast majority of the time), we’ll sometimes spend a day or a half-day apart, exploring, working out, meeting people, just relaxing, or sometimes even working alone. Just like at home, it’s always nice to come back together in the evening and talk about our day and the things we did and saw while we were apart.
We don’t know what the future will look like or when or where we’ll “settle down,” but we’re both trying to remain open to all sorts of work and travel possibilities. Some days, it feels overwhelming to have no idea what the future holds, but it’s worth it to us to be on this adventure and pursuing our dream together
About the author
Jen Ambrose is a freelance writer and editor who’s passionate about making travel a force for good. Originally from Montana, she served for two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Rwanda and has a Master’s degree in International Development. She has traveled extensively in the U.S. and abroad, and is currently backpacking through Southeast Asia with her husband. Their blog, Passions and Places, focuses on responsible travel, outdoors adventure, and getting off the beaten path.