In 2021, on August 25th, we left our comfy, safe world and hit the road. Just like that, we became digital nomads, or rather slowmads in our case. Since then we have lived in 5 countries and 10 cities, seen many beautiful places, learned some useful skills and discovered many life lessons. In this post, we’ll share with you a little bit of our story and thoughts on a year that turned out to be quite revolutionary in our lives. Ready? So let’s start.
Two things worth noting:
- Although Poland is our home country we will treat it as any other place we’ve been in. We don’t have our own place to stay there, and we did things the same way as everywhere else since the beginning of our slowmading journey.
- Throughout this post, you’ll find answers to various questions people asked us on Twitter regarding our nomad lifestyle. Some of them that we haven’t found a proper place for, are located almost at the end.
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Retrospective on the first year of living as digital nomads
Let’s get to know some numbers first
We like numbers. So let’s take a quick look at them before we move to nitty-gritty details. During last year we:
- drove 13941km by car
- walked about 1259 km
- lived in 5 countries: Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, France, Poland
- visited 7 countries: Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, France, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Poland
- lived in 10 different cities: Amsterdam, Benicassim, Benidorm, Mijas Las Lagunas, Tarifa, Albufeira, Ponte de Barca, Thonon-Les-Bains, Gliwice, Wrocław
- spent on average €1300 per month for 2 people
- took about 20k photos & 2700 videos
How did it all start? Our short digital nomad history
For a long time, we always felt like something was off and that we don’t fit in as “normal”, “proper” polish folks. There was always some kind of force inside us that was pulling us toward other countries. It was always a great pleasure for us when we saved a bit and were able to fly away and see other places for the first time, roam free in a rental car to check out all the beautiful places on our own terms. But that was always only for a short period of time. One, max two weeks, and then back to “normal life” and to earning money to be able to do it again.
During those waiting periods, we were following various digital nomads, travelers, and van lifers on the internet and always imagined how awesome it would be to just do the same. But we always thought that in order to pull it off we would need to have a ton of money and totally different personalities than we have. We couldn’t be more wrong. Later, it turned out to be that the only thing that was stopping us was the fear of the unknown.
After some time we got to the point in life where we felt that we are stable financially and are ready to pull the trigger. For a brief moment, we wanted to try out the van life. We did some research and ultimately decided that it would be too big of a change in our lifestyle and that we need something more similar to what we already know. You know, up until this point we rented only two places for ~6 years each. So a jump from a small apartment to an always-moving van would be too much for us at that point in life.
The alternative was to do a smaller step and use what we already tried and knew. We decided to combine the fact that we were accustomed to living in rented apartments with the ability to move freely by car. We ended up with what we are doing for more than a year now. And it even turned out that it has a name – slow traveling.
So, we made a decision to leave sometime in 2019. At first, we wanted to start our adventure during the summer of 2020 but Covid stopped us. In retrospect, it actually might have been a good thing, because we used that time to prepare better, and restructure our business and we like to be prepared. We completely reorganized our lives and finally, at the end of the summer of 2021 we packed up our things, got into the car, and set off into the unknown.
We didn’t have any clue what to expect, and how we’ll find ourselves in this new lifestyle. Up until then, we traveled fast, max for 2 weeks each time, with a fully packed everyday schedule. But to be honest – we got tired of it. So taught by the experiences of previous years we knew we didn’t want to rush and be in a new place each day. We didn’t want to feel exhausted and annoyed again. We wanted to feel happy and relaxed. And what’s maybe even more important: we wanted to get to know each area better, and feel connected to it. That’s why we chose to become digital nomads.
Interested in learning more about preparing for slow travels? 🐌
What did our slow traveling look like for the past year?
How did we travel?
We were traveling in Europe by car, our Honda Civic VIII, a reliable and economical car. For us, it’s a very convenient way of traveling, especially since we are dependent on our work schedule, which often expands to late evening hours. With a car we are free to travel whenever and wherever we want, not worrying about any time schedules.
For how long did we stay in one place?
We stayed in each place for 6-8 weeks, but usually closer to 6. The longest we stayed in Spain – we spent there whole 6 months in a few different places.
What did our daily schedule look like?
As we mentioned before, we are digital slowmads, which means we combine remote working with slow traveling. For the last 12 months, we worked remotely “from 9-5” from Monday to Friday. During the weekends and free days, we explored the areas more precisely. We keep a fixed schedule for the day, we try to not distract ourselves in any way, to not ruin our work-life habits. The remaining time we were, and still do, spending on improving this blog and everything related to it.
One year living as digital nomads – retrospective
Because we work in IT, we know plenty of techniques that help us to learn from the experience. One of them is the 4Ls retrospective technique. 4Ls stands for: Liked, Learned, Lacked, Longed for. We thought that it would be great to show those four areas in a simple and clean way. So let’s take a closer look at our year as digital nomads through those 4 lenses.
Liked – all the things that we liked
- Being together, working together – we really like each other’s company.
- Living on our own rules, freedom in choosing places to live in.
- Having a remote business that allowed us to, well…, work remotely.
- Living in different places, having the opportunity to get to know other cultures.
- Visiting more places in one year than in all previous years combined when we are traveling together (11 already!).
- Spending autumn & winter in sunnier and warmer places, with less air pollution.
- Fulfilling our goal of trying to live outside Poland.
- Tasting various foods from different countries and regions.
- Downsizing – we significantly reduced the number of our possessions.
- Feeling much safer than in Poland – luckily in no other country, we have experienced any kind of bullying, dangerous situations or intrusive people. Walking at night also seemed much safer anywhere else.
- Not feeling judged: people outside Poland seem to be less nosy and less interested in how you look and what you are doing with your life.
- Learning new skills and various life lessons (more on that later).
- We also liked that thanks to slow traveling we didn’t experience travel fatigue.
Countries we liked most:
Places we liked most in…
- Spain: Tarifa, Cadiz, Ronda, Estepona, Calpe, Altea, Peniscola, Benidorm
- France: Annecy, Chamonix, Evian-Les-Bains
- Portugal: Marinha Beach, Tavira, Silves, Guimaraes
- Switzerland: Geneva, Vevey, Lausanne
- Poland: Wrocław, Kraków
The food we liked most:
- baguettes, cheese, and wine in France
- pastel de nata & vino verde in Portugal
- swiss chocolates in Switzerland/France
- fresh citruses, avocados & turron in Spain
- fish & chips, good beers in Gibraltar/UK
- pizzas, pasta, and Korean food in various restaurants in Wrocław
We also loved tasting different flavors of… Pringles! It’s awesome that each country has its own flavors to taste.
Learned – all the things that we’ve learned
- The world is good and most people are kind and helpful despite what the media sometimes are trying to push on us (but of course, there are always some rotten eggs to watch out for).
- There is no such thing as one good/proper way of living – every country’s culture is different and we can’t judge that. Instead of this we can be open-minded and find something worth learning and implementing in our lives.
- Living in the same place and going on trips/holidays once or twice a year can be as expensive as living as a digital slowmad.
- We don’t need that much stuff, all we need can be packed in backpacks and squeezed into the trunk.
- Learned or improved our skills like photography, photo editing, new languages, marketing, adjusting to ever-changing circumstances, quick decision making, creative thinking, problem-solving, thinking outside the box, and plenty more.
- Even with huuuge language barriers, it’s possible to communicate well enough. And smiles and gestures sometimes mean more than a thousand words.
- Because we paid a large amount of money for data roaming while being in Switzerland for like 1 minute (!) now we double-check the rates and keep an eye on it while crossing the borders outside the EU. Data transfer limits, both on devices and on the mobile provider level, are truly money-savers.
- As we were driving by car the whole time, we learned that each country has its own toll system or even multiple not-connected systems that look almost the same (thanks Portugal!). So be aware of how you need to pay for driving on the highways, especially those with automatic payment systems.
- We discovered what places we could potentially live in the future (geographically and building-wise), what we like and what we don’t like, what we need and what we don’t need, etc.
- We also learned that we don’t want to make our home in Poland, that we don’t feel really good there. At least for us, there are so many other better places. We’ve seen plenty so far, but there is so much still to discover!
Lacked – all the things that we were missing but given the nature of things we couldn’t have
- Sometimes we missed the home office with a proper desk and office chair to get the job done in a healthy position.
- Polish foods like crispy bread and rolls, a really wide choice of vegetarian food (both in supermarkets and restaurants), herring in sour cream or lentil chips.
- Allegro & InPost services – Allegro is a Polish shopping website, like Amazon, but way better designed UX-wise. InPost is a courier offering amazing parcel lockers that can be found literally on every corner of Poland. Combine the two and you’ll end up with a killer e-commerce combo that we are yet to see that well executed outside Poland.
- Good cinemas & films in VO (Version Original). We really enjoy going to the cinema with proper audio and comfy chairs and sometimes it was very hard to find a proper place.
Longed for – all the things we were missing, would like to see improved and we have an influence on
- While outside Poland we longed for our favorite restaurants in Wrocław. Really, so far nowhere we’ve found that many good restaurants.
- Sometimes we missed big city life, especially while living in the countryside. The closeness to all facilities, shops, restaurants, etc is really convenient.
- Sometimes we longed to stay even longer in one place but we were limited by pre-booked stays.
- More free time during weekdays. We are still mostly working for someone during the week by selling our time by the hour.
So yeah, there is that. All the things we’ve experienced over the past 12 months expanded our thinking and taught us a lot about the world and ourselves. The main reason behind that growth would be the ever-changing environment that we placed ourselves in and because of that, our brains started working in a different way than before. We highly encourage you to do a similar thing if you want and if you can.
Discover 20+ reasons why we think it’s worth experiencing slow traveling 🐌
What are we planning to do next?
We learned and understood a lot during this year and these are our conclusions and plans for the coming months:
- Still want to live digital slowmad style and discover the world
- We need to monetize this way of living so we can continue to do it full-time without relying on “normal 9 to 5” jobs
How can we afford a digital slowmad lifestyle?
Our main source of income comes from providing consulting services for IT companies. A small percentage of earnings also comes from our mobile games studio – Crazy Oyster Games. Not that long ago we used to make mobile games for the App Store and Play Store, we wrote mobile games marketing ebook, and also earn a bit thanks to the affiliate program on our website.
What surprised you?
In the beginning, many things were quite surprising to us. Starting with people respecting Covid restrictions in other countries and taking it seriously (like simply wearing face masks), small cultural shocks, local quirks like boiling water in a pot only, etc. To learn what surprised us in Spain the most you can check out this post.
What you shouldn’t have packed?
At first, we packed too many and during the last 12 months, we compressed probably to 60% of what we were starting with. We definitely should have left behind:
- normal towels – ultimately, we changed them to those made from microfibre, and 2 big and 2 smaller ones take up as much space as a one standard towel
- majority of clothes – if you are working remotely there is no need to have a new t-shirt, pants, or socks for each day of work. And if you’ll use merino clothes you can limit it even more. Usability over looks.
- cups & bowls made from ceramic/glass instead of a metal
- daily handbag was a bad idea too – small backpacks are so much better and comfortable
Accommodations which we stayed in, things that accommodation must have?
We always look for a whole place for ourselves. It has to be fully equipped, with great Internet, with a place to work and must have a parking spot (private or on a street) as we are traveling by car.
How do you make sure to stay focused and not get travel FOMO?
We think a fixed daily/weekly schedule helps. We know that we have to work from Monday to Friday (and during that day we can only visit the closest area) and visiting other places is reserved for the weekends and free days. Having a plan of things you would like to see helps as well. After some time you’ll be able to tell how much you are able to fit into the schedule.
How do we care about health?
We didn’t change our eating habits and still eat very similar food (as long as local food allows). For many years now we eat (mostly) healthy, we are flexitarians (99% of the time vegetarians, but sometimes we try meals with meat). We also go on regular checkups while back for a moment in our home country. During travels, for emergencies, we buy travel insurance + also have EHIC cards. Unfortunately, this lifestyle negatively impacted our workouts as we dropped them all together but we do daily walks and we are pretty active during the weekend with all sightseeing and other travel stuff.
Where do you pay taxes?
In our home country where we have a tax residency. But don’t treat it as tax advice as it highly depends on your situation. Please consult your tax advisor for more details on how to handle your situation.
Was making the leap difficult?
Growing to make the decision to just do it took some time but the transition itself went very smoothly.
Is it worth the hassle of setting up an office?
Depending on which one of us you ask. Wojtek likes to have a separate place for working/daily life. Sonia doesn’t really care and can work from the sofa, bed, desk, floor…
First Year Of Living As Digital Nomads – Summing up
Ufff, that was quite a lot of looking back, distilling what to do next, and answering your questions. But one thing is sure – we are not stopping just yet! If you are up to it let’s meet on the road somewhere during our travels. And even if you can’t, let’s meet again in one of our posts. See ya!
Our story continues! #season2 retro
Discover all the things that we liked, learned, lacked, and longed for in season#2 of our journey! Check out the second part of this post here: Retrospective On The Second Year Of Living As Digital Nomads. 🚀
Want to know more about slow traveling?You may also be interested in these posts:
- Retrospective On The Second Year Of Living As Digital Nomads
- Driving In Europe - Everything You Need To Know
- How to work remotely and travel long-term?
- Best Well-Paid Remote Jobs For Digital Nomads
- Travel Slow Or Travel Fast - Which One Is Better?
- How To Prepare For Full Time Travel As A Digital Nomad?
- 20 Reasons Why You Should Experience Slow Travel
- Slow Travels With Remote Work: Challenges, Myths, Pros, Cons
- What Is Slow Travel? - 101 For Beginners