Our Raw Experience of Being First-Time Digital Nomads in Thailand
I’m going to start a series about just writing about the stories of being a digital nomad, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Mostly for selfish reasons, but also so I can document for myself what really happens on the ground without the picture perfect moments.
Thailand is special for us because this is where we started our nomad journey, we’ve done our research online and most signs point to Thailand, and it didn’t hurt that it was close to Australia, our home base. If you’re curious, the site we usually check on is https://nomadlist.com/, this site is a godsend for aspiring nomads, and was built by one of the veterans of the lifestyle. Of course, there is also Bali Indonesia, where some would argue is better, but we’ve been there before as tourist and recently it has become a lot more mainstream (meaning more expensive as well), so we opted for the place we haven’t been on.
Saying that jumping into the nomadic lifestyle was a big culture shock is a huge understatement, but not in the traditional sense. You see, we (me and my wife) grew up in the Philippines and so living in non-western countries is something we are both used to, we live and breathe third-world country even after living in Australia for almost ten years. The shock ultimately came from our expectation of what being a digital nomad is versus what it actually was.
Our expectation was that we were going to be jumping around different locations, meeting alot of people, doing awesome things right from the get-go. As part of the preparations we made prior to flying, we booked 3 locations on our first month, which later we found out would be a big rookie mistake, it’s actually much better to stay at one place longer as you get to know people around you and form microhabits that make the life sustainable but we didn’t know anything about that so we made a lot of stories to tell instead.
This was our first ever hostel we stayed in, it was for almost a week in Old Town Phuket. It looks a lot better in this photo than it actually was, especially at night. Essentially, it was just a bed and nothing much space left for you to do anything else, forcing you to almost always be outside. It was depressing at night, as it almost felt like prison, so there was alot of going outside and hanging out at cafes.
It was a fun at the beginning, exploring the new city, but what you don’t realise is it becomes a bit awkward staying in cafes for more than 2–3 hours at a time, especially as a foreigner. People working there start giving you awkward looks the longer the time passed you were there. Unless that cafe is especially built for co-working space, then it was a different story altogether. The cafe hopping and moving around every day was fun but it’s not sustainable long term, not for months or years on end.
It didn’t help that we didn’t know what we were going to do, you see when we decided to become nomads, we also decided to become entrepreneurs. We didn’t want to become stuck at our traditional 9–5 jobs and so we dove in with both feet with completely transforming our lives. With things still up in the air and being uncertain what we were suppose to do, we were always eager to jump into the next location hoping it would become much better. Later, we discovered that this had become a sort of escape mechanism for us when things were uncomfortable, we didn’t know it back then but during the time it made sense.
New Place, New Perspective
The next place we moved to was closer to the beach, again this was just the second week in. It was exhausting, from settling in Old Town Phuket to completely change the environment again instantly in two weeks, and this was on top of moving out of your home recently. We should’ve alloted more time to acclimate to the new country before even thinking about moving to a new place or new town. We didn’t cater how exhausting it would be to learn how to communicate with the locals, figuring out way of life here, and even just figuring out what are food that we can eat. It wasn’t the same as becoming a tourist and staying in fancy hotels, it was more actually living like a local without all the prior knowledge and experience locals have. An example that comes to mind is crossing the road, it’s not something you would give second thought to, but if you’ve been to Vietnam then you will know what I’m talking about.
Our next place was close to the beach, relatively. We can walk to the beach but it took around 15–20 minutes to get there but we had to go through uncivilised roads and middle of the forest just to get there, it was not an average leisurely walk to say the least. This was in Rawai Beach, an up and coming place for nomads in Thailand, supposedly.
It was picturesque, yes but it felt isolated, there wasn’t much foreigners around that it made it feel like you were out of place. On a weekday, being on the beach by yourself, you get odd looks from the locals, it just made me uneasy. Maybe it was the timing of it all, this was all post-covid where people were just starting to get back to travelling and we were one of the first ones here, or maybe we were just picking the wrong places. We didn’t learn about nomadlist yet back then.
What I ultimately learned is that do not underestimate the feeling of isolation especially in a completely different place and culture from your home. Thoughts of doubt start to kick and the sense of “what am I even doing here” sinks in.
Feeding off Energy
The third place we stayed at was in Patong beach. We stayed in a party hostel. We didn’t choose the place with the intention of partying but that’s when things start to picking up. The natural vibe and being surrounded by people of different parts of the globe was refreshing, it made us feel like we weren’t alone, and that started giving us energy to do what we came here to do in the first place. It could be very well be us finally acclimating to the new surroundings, being able to figure out our daily routines, being able to communicate well with the locals, and basically being able to do normal every day essential things that we had taken for granted. Whichever it was we were able to start picking things up and getting momentum on things we wanted to pursue, after a month in it finally felt like we’ve started becoming a digital nomad.
My wife is pursuing becoming a content creator, while I am pursuing building my own tech startup. It finally started to feel right. Had we stopped and turned around and decided to quit early on, we would’ve never met the interesting people we’ve met, the awesome food we ate, and the wonderful sites we visited. Like all things worth anything, it takes a bit of time, and we needed to be forgiving of ourselves in order to truly appreciate what this lifestyle had to offer.
It has been quite some time since our first landing in Thailand, but that feeling of dread and fear is still vivid in my mind and I believe that it will stay with me for a long time. One invaluable lesson I learned from the rollercoaster of emotions that we went through in that first month is that anything truly worth of value is really at the other side of our comfort zones.
I am experimenting on a new form of blogging, a more raw format than what I’m used to. If it’s something you like or dislike please do leave a comment and I do appreciate and feedback. I’m on twitter too, I’d love to connect.
Watch us in our YouTube channel as we document our nomad travels: https://www.youtube.com/@aeyandmel
Golden Visa, a groundbreaking book that explores the intersection of entrepreneurship, global citizenship, and the nomadic lifestyle. This book provides invaluable insights and practical advice for individuals looking to embrace a new way of living and doing business in today’s rapidly changing world.
© Melchor Tatlonghari. All rights reserved.