Five Years as a Digital Nomad: The Good, the Bad, & What’s Next

So much has changed in the year since I wrote the year four wrap-up. I was just rereading it and all of those feelings of dread and loss seeped right back into the pit of my stomach.

But I finished the article with a ray of hope that I think I’ve done pretty well to carry with me this past year.

“I know I have a long road ahead. It’s sort of like I’ve gone back in time business-wise, but I’m starting to see this as a blessing in disguise.

I’ve had the time to step away and see what my life might be like without this business and I’ll be honest, I’m not into it.

I know now more than ever that there is no alternative and I will do everything that I possibly can to fight for this business and the life it has given me in the last four years.”

And so I did. 

I have spent the past 12 months adjusting and changing, writing and rewriting, building and editing and filming and sharing and researching, and growing both personally and professionally. 

I have changed so much this year I don’t even recognize the person who wrote last year’s wrap-up article.

San Jose del Cabo Mexico
Calling San Jose del Cabo home for a few months was a highlight of the last 12 months for sure!

The Good

I spent the rest of last summer trying to figure out what I wanted Eternal Expat to look like and trying to fit that into what was capable of actually happening due to the pandemic. I spent many long days and nights worrying about whether or not this business would ever get back to where it was in the before times.

But from September of 2020, things in the travel industry started to change and I then started to change or maybe it happened the other way around.

We rented an apartment in my favorite neighborhood in Mexico City, Roma Norte, and I made videos several times a week. I worked on my updated Mexico City guidebook. We ate at new restaurants and tried out new cafes. We ate pastries and tacos and drank pulque and mezcal. We went to museums we’ve never been to before, despite calling CDMX home for over four years. 

We spent two glorious months walking to Mercado Medellin to buy groceries, stopping by Meche y Rafael for a quick carnitas taco. We walked down Alvaro Obregon to Parque España and stopped into Blend Station for strong cold brew coffee and strolled around Calle Amsterdam under the shade of the trees. 

mexico city building
After being away from the city for a few months, I came back and had a totally renewed sense of love for the architecture and loved just walking around snapping photos.

Then at the end of October, I got the opportunity to work with a few companies around Mexico. We decided to leave Mexico City.

We stored our belongings with a friend and hit the road traveling around Guadalajara, finally hiking through Chihuahua and taking the famous El Chepe through Copper Canyon. We spent a few weeks at the beach in Mazatlan and then headed to New York to spend Christmas with my family.

Business was picking up. My YouTube channel had quickly hit over 10,000 subscribers. I no longer needed to dip into my savings to live anymore. My blog was picking up and I was so close to finishing my Mexico City guidebook. 

When we left Mazatlan in December of 2020, we were certain we’d be back in January. It was an affordable spot with great beaches, nice walking paths, delicious food, and a fun party atmosphere that we’d barely scratched the surface of during our few weeks there.

But we just couldn’t find a rental. Airbnb prices had skyrocketed since we’d left and all of the contacts we had said they were totally booked up through February.

So we started looking elsewhere. Maybe back to Puerto Vallarta or down to Oaxaca, we thought. But one part of the country kept calling me to it and I felt like it would be the perfect place to explore for a few months while we waited for Luke to be able to go back to coaching. 

So we packed up one suitcase between the two of us with absolutely zero winter clothes and we booked a flight to La Paz.

san jose del cabo
Moving to San Jose del Cabo for a few months was truly one of the best decisions I could have made at the start of the year.

Moving to Baja California Sur turned out not only to the best decision we could have made for our mental health, but also a pretty astute business decision, too. 

We spent a month living in Todos Santos where I made two videos that alone paid our rent for several months (this one and this one in case you’re curious). We then visited Cabo San Lucas and eventually settled in an apartment in San Jose del Cabo

My business went from strength to strength as I began making more content about Los Cabos, La Paz, and Todos Santos. I decided pretty early on that I would write a guidebook for this region and so for several months, I researched as much as I could on the internet. I mapped out where we should visit. We rented cars, took buses, took tons of tours and cooking classes, and did tequila and mezcal tastings. We tried random restaurants that I found on Google and some more popular ones that people recommended to us.

For the first time since 2019, I felt back in my element meeting new people, learning about the history and culture of a place, and sharing it as concisely as I possibly could across my blog, social media channels, and through YouTube videos.

I also worked really hard to improve the quality of my YouTube videos. It’s an obvious statement, but the more popular my videos became, the harder I wanted to work on improving them (and the more feedback I received from followers, both positive and negative, the more I understood how to improve them even more).

Back before the pandemic, I never put my time or effort into video creation because it seemed too hard. “I’m a writer” I kept telling myself, “video will just get in the way of what I’m best at.”

But I feel like I’ve found a way to marry my passion for writing and traveling and researching and learning with video. I like how much making these videos pushes me creatively and how much there still is to learn.

But what I’ve discovered above all else is the amazing community that you can create through video. My blog often receives one-off traffic. There are some people who come back again and again to read more about Mexico or a few people who are interested in living the digital nomad lifestyle, but not many people stick around long-term.

With YouTube and the sharing of videos in general,  I have been able to build a community of caring and kind people in such a short period of time. I have met up with so many of them, shared stories with them, shared meals with them. Many have even opened their homes to us during our time in Baja California Sur.

It’s one of the best things to come out of the last year and a half and I’m so grateful for it.

eating a tamal in the plaza in san jose del cabo
Working hard sampling all of the best food around Baja California Sur. For research purposes only of course!

The Bad

When I compare how I feel this week to how I felt 52 weeks ago, it feels almost ludicrous to even have bad things to share. I have so much to be grateful for, but no life is perfect and I want to be transparent about this lifestyle as a digital nomad, because it’s not all pretty Instagram photos and good times.

Being without a home

The last 12 months have been unsettling. We have been without a home for the first time in five years. There were times when I felt so incredibly happy to be on the road, hopping around to places in Mexico that we have wanted to visit for years. But there were also times when I felt utterly exhausted. Most of what we were doing in the last 12 months was a combination of work and play and every few weeks we were packing up our suitcase again and looking for a new bed to sleep in.

A lot of people think that this is just the way that Luke and I live, but it really isn’t. For the last 11 years, we have almost always had a home base. We lived in Christchurch in New Zealand for a year while we traveled New Zealand. We had apartments in Sydney for two years, taking time off to explore other parts of the country. We lived in a small town in South Korea, where we taught English and traveled the country on our days off. 

For four years we lived in the exact same apartment in the suburbs of Mexico City. Sure, we spent weeks at a time exploring the Yucatan or a few weeks island hopping in Belize. But I always knew at the end of the trip that I was going back to my apartment, my bed, familiarity, the home that I had created there.

To be without a home for a year, not knowing when or where we might have one again hit me harder than I thought it would. I was often stressed without knowing why. I felt so unmoored, so lost, so worried about the future and it was hard to shut those things off and try to live in the moment.

museum of fine arts in mexico city
We did so much traveling in the four years before the pandemic, but we always came back to CDMX.

Dealing with negativity

When you grow your audience on the internet, it grows with all sorts of people. Mostly kind and generous people like the ones I mentioned above, but also a few people who perhaps aren’t so kind and generous with their words. Or perhaps they are indeed quite generous with their words, they’re just not the sort of words you’d like to hear.

I’ve dealt with a lot of negativity in the last 15 months. A lot of it has made me stronger. A lot of it has made me better at my job, even if it wasn’t delivered in the kindest way. Most of it has made my skin thicker.

Some of it got below the skin. Some of it has been like a sucker punch to the guts. Some of it has kept me up at night thinking about whether or not I want to keep making videos for the internet. Some of it has made me cringe. A few times, it’s made me very angry.

I’m learning how to deal with it better. With every new comment, I’m learning how to use it to improve myself and my business. I’m learning to let it go quicker and not take it so personally. I’m learning that it’s simply part of this industry and if I want to fight for this business as I promised myself I would back in July 2020, then I’m just going to have to keep learning how to cope with negative feedback.

lithuania park
I took this photo in the park behind our house at 9:30pm last night!

What’s Next?

Business-wise, I still feel like I’m back at the beginning again. Now it’s not because of the pandemic, but because of our location. When I announced that we were leaving Mexico, most people were incredibly supportive. Many said that they were excited to follow along with our journey.

But many silently (and some not so silently) left. People unsubscribed from my Youtube channel, many people unsubscribed from my newsletter.

I completely understand. I actually expected to lose a lot more followers than I have. I prepared myself for hate comments and angry emails. Most people know me solely as the Mexico expat who writes all about this beautiful country. So it came as a shock to many people and I understand that Lithuania isn’t exactly on everyone’s radar. 

So now I start again. I will likely be focusing much more on my blog again. Now that Americans can travel to Europe more and more and Mexico is still so popular and no doubt always will be, I need to get back to my writing. I have a lot of catching up to do since most of 2021 was spent writing and researching my guidebook.

YouTube will still be a huge part of this business. I really enjoy making videos. I really love being able to create such a wonderful community and I believe YouTube is the best place to do that going forward.

Where are we?

The question I’ve been asked most in the last few weeks.

In case you missed Sunday’s video or this week’s newsletter (you can sign up for it here!), Luke and I have moved to Lithuania!

I’m sitting in my new apartment in a small town outside of the capital city of Vilnius. When I look out the window in any direction it’s so green. If I walk behind my building, there is a park where I’ve been going running in the evenings. It’s light until after 10 pm at the moment.

If I cross the street in the other direction, there’s a lake where people bring their kids to go swimming. It has a path that goes all the way around it. There’s a stage on one side and I can hear the bands playing music from my kitchen window when I’m cooking dinner.

When Luke and I left South Korea back in 2015, we felt so strongly that we would do anything to work in careers that we loved. For Luke, that was coaching football (soccer). For me, it was writing (if you can’t tell from this lengthy blog post that is now almost 2,500 words).

Mexico brought us back to life after working jobs that we felt stripped us of so much joy. Mexico is a place that will always be our second home. Unlike countries we’ve lived in in the past, Mexico is a place we plan to return to again. Maybe not to live, maybe not for a while, but we’ll be back.

lithuanian food
Our first Lithuanian meal! It was filling and delicious.

But it feels good to be in a totally new place again. It feels good to be challenged. We are learning Lithuanian, a slow and arduous task. We are trying foods we’ve never tried before. The other day we had a soup called Šaltibarščiai. It’s made with beets, kefir, cucumbers, and dill. It’s served cold and since it’s been about 85 degrees Fahrenheit (30 C) the last few days, it’s been the perfect lunch option. 

We have a home again. An apartment of our own. We moved in a few days ago and unpacked our suitcase. I feel calmer than I’ve felt in a long time. Maybe it’s all the trees. Maybe it’s because I don’t have to repack that suitcase again unless I want to. Whatever it is, I’m grateful for the sense of peace that’s been lingering over me these past few days.

I can’t wait to share this new adventure with you all.

23 thoughts on “Five Years as a Digital Nomad: The Good, the Bad, & What’s Next”

  1. Laura,

    Best of luck to Laura,

    Best of luck to you and Luke! Wishing you peace and happiness. Thank you for making my “Covid year” far more enjoyable! We took your advice and spent two amazing weeks in SJDC. Trip of a lifetime!

    Reply
  2. re negative responses. It’s hard not to take it personally. In my working life I was a professional speaker and realized no matter what I did, fail or succeed, 10% would criticize, 10% would love me and the rest just got on with their life… unfortunately, as you see, the anonymity of the internet allows expression by a lot of seriously sick, dysfunctional people, to which I way, in the Southern way, Bless Your Heart. What you have going is easy to read, fun and useful. Best wishes for monetization!!!

    Reply
  3. Good for you, for following your heart and your spirit! Looking forward to learning about Lithuania, and so happy that you can now unpack for a while!!!

    Reply
  4. This was an amazing and inspirational post. We’re so excited to see what you get up to and also to learn about Lithuania through your writing and videos. It’s so nice to hear you’re settling in well after such a big move. What a crazy year!

    Reply
    • Thanks, James. That means a lot coming from you guys. It has definitely been a wild year, but yea I’m excited to be in one place and be able to share what we learn here! Now get over here with that van of yours!!

      Reply
  5. Tom and I (Ellen) met you in San Jose for coffee in April. We loved spending time with you and just because your not in Mexico we will continue to follow you and are happy your both happy 😊
    Cheers to your new adventure 🍻🌮

    Reply
  6. Dear Laura,

    I am sorry to hear that some people have been unkind in their comments to you. My mother always said that if you don’t have anything nice to say to someone don’t say anything at all. I really wish everyone lived by those words of wisdom.

    My wife and I love your videos and appreciate all that you and Luke do to provide them. It allows us the opportunity to see places that we may never see in person. I turn 60 in 21 months and we plan then to retire and live the nomad lifestyle (at least until we cannot). I’ve been in over 40 countries but always coming back never traveling forward.

    We look forward to seeing all of your new adventures and learning about other cultures and ways of life.

    Happy travels!
    G&R

    Reply
    • Thank you so much for your kind words, Gene! I’m so honored to be able to show you some of these different places around the world. Thanks for your continued support, it means so much!

      Reply
  7. Congrats on your move. I am sorry that you have received ugly comments. I followed you because my husband and I live Mexico. I will continue to follow you because I love watching your experiences and learning new things about places I have not been to. Enjoy your new adventure and I look forward to seeing your YouTube videos!

    Reply
  8. I’ll follow you wherever you go,
    It is a learning experience and your writing is amazing. Love your channels.

    Reply
  9. Congratulations on this new and exciting chapter! Vilnius and its surroundings are really interesting. I can’t wait to follow along on your Eastern European adventures 🙂

    Reply

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