Today I returned from one of the highlights of my Morocco explorations–a visit to the Sahara Desert, where we rode camels for five hours and camped under the stars with a nomadic Berber tribe in the middle of nowhere! It was absolutely amazing. And the perfect prompt to reflect on my past nearly 3 months as a budding digital nomad.
The desert was so vast, and so serene. Nothing except the shuffling of sand and occasional grunt of a camel broke the almost trance-like peace as we traveled, enjoying sunset on the way to the camp and sunrise on the way back. I haven’t had to wake up at 4 AM or only get 3 hours of sleep since I quit medicine, but I didn’t mind it at all.
Our camp was surprisingly very advanced. We had expected to rough it, so it was an extremely pleasant discovery that there was water and electricity. They even had private bathrooms with showers and a kitchen, where they cooked us a wonderfully hot meal of chicken tajine. It reminded me of the simple pleasures of life, and how lucky we are if we’re able to have some of these luxuries. People just decades ago certainly did not, and many still do not.
It was refreshing to be unplugged from technology during this time. The Berber group also showed how they spent their Wifi-free spare time, playing drums, sandboarding, and sandskiing. Berbers, considered a minority in Morocco, face prejudice and are unwelcome in some parts of the country. The desert is a refuge for them, and many have become completely nomadic, as there is plenty of space in the desert to set up homes. Though the conditions were harsh and it already was exceeding 100 degrees in May, they had mastered the art of scheduling their days around the sun.
I was excited to meet other nomads and to learn from them. I feel more legit calling myself one now that I have lived abroad for nearly 3 months. I feel that I am finally growing into this skin. As I lay there in that vast desert watching the stars and galaxies into the wee hours of the morning, I was reminded again that I don’t need much to experience true joy and contentment. My days have consisted of spending time in nature to feel connected to the Universe, listening to my body and feeding it and moving it as it desires, learning from others and giving when I can, and meditating and reflecting on my place in this vast world and how I can help it be a better place.
It has felt so wonderful to have my mind, body, and soul all be in alignment, and to work on career goals I feel intrinsically compelled to do rather than ones I feel forced into. Though I have not yet found a way to fund this new life forever, I know I’m getting closer with each day. I’m also becoming more okay with where I’m at and being a work in progress. We all are, and anyone who says they’ve accomplished everything they’ve ever wanted probably is lying or finds that life has lost its meaning. “Progress, not perfection” is my new mantra, and I’m learning to be kinder towards myself for taking steps in the directions I want to go when it’s so much easier to hide in a safe corner.
I know I am extremely lucky to have the luxury of no debt, which allowed me to save up aggressively during residency to be able to take my time figuring out how to make the financial pieces work. I met a kind soul who believed money is just energy, and I’m increasingly seeing it as such as well. An exchange of services for money, or the currency to put it towards another service. “We are alchemists,” he said. “And each person can choose how he/she wants to create. We are all just going to die anyway.”
What mark do you want to leave on the world? If we compete against each other to have the bigger house, the nicer car, the better reputation, the bigger bank account, all those don’t matter once we die. They distract us from focusing on what’s really important in life, which is how others who matter to us will remember us and have been/will be impacted by us, whether it be from a new invention we created or a loving memory of how we gave to them and made their lives better.
I’m also proud to say that I definitely don’t miss any of my material things that I had left behind in the US. In fact, I even downsized from a big suitcase to just a backpack when I arrived in Morocco and knew I would be making a loop back to Tangier to take the ferry back to Spain at the end.
There is so much truth to those recommendations about de-cluttering your home in order to organize your mind and boost your mental health. When you don’t have that many things, de-cluttering is simple. There’s just not as much of a mess you can make. I feel lighter, both physically, and mentally. I only carry the few things that bring me true joy, as Marie Kondo would say. If I feel emotionally overwhelmed, I just need to spend 5 minutes of organizing my things (which covers all of them!) to get back to a good space.
My wallet also thanks me as I’m less tempted to buy things since I’ll have to consider that they take up space and weight in my bag. I enjoy browsing and taking pictures of interesting items, but at the end of the day, I don’t crave holding them in my hands. Studies have shown that experiences and memories bring more joy than material things, and I have found this personally to be so true. Even before departing on this journey, I prioritized experiences and learning new things to treat myself rather than buy myself something that I’ll soon forget about amidst all my other “stuff.”
Of course, do what works best for you. Some people can treasure a material item for a long time, even forever. Though I do think that at some point there is a threshold for their mental capacity for keeping track of everything they own, and that’s how things end up collecting dust. I hypothesize that since memories are fluid and changeable, you would less easily get “bored” with reminiscing, which brings more joy and satisfaction.
Perhaps this minimalist lifestyle doesn’t work for everyone since I don’t care much about fashion. I prioritize comfort and function over appearance, when it has to be a choice. I love versatility and finding multiple functions for a single item, so I own many dresses, which are still stylish and some of which can pass in professional settings. I enjoy the pleasure of being able to wear comfortable clothes every day, and it feels empowering to be able to hand-wash and air-dry them myself anywhere and anytime, so that laundry never feels like a giant chore like when it was piled up for weeks in my previous life. Many places do have washers and some dryers, but in Morocco when I downsized, I only had 3 shirts, which I was easily able to wash while I showered, which did not add more time.
Speaking of chores, another big perk of the digital nomad lifestyle is no need for cleaning! I don’t mind chores at all, but there’s something nice about being able to free up more time for other, more enjoyable or productive activities. We only have so many hours in a day. If you’re interested in how I streamlined my chores and necessities while working 80 hours a week in residency, I’ll be writing a future post about it.
As for meals, many AirBnB kitchens are stocked for cooking or include breakfast. I just carry a bit of oil and salt in my bag just in case, but they can be easily bought at each place as well. I’ve found that when I learned to live with less and even eat with less spices when cooking, my tastebuds adjusted and I can now better appreciate the natural tastes of food. Of course, as a big foodie, I do still do my share of eating out, especially when I’m craving a particular cuisine and its characteristic spices. There are increasingly expats from all different countries all over the world, so I can almost always find somewhere for my Chinese, Japanese, or Mexican kick.
I’ve heard from some people that my blog is inspiring to them. Thank you so much for reaching out and for your kind words!! I want to encourage you that you can do it too if you want to!! There are fewer things stopping you than you’d think!
If finances are a concern, I’d like to share that I’ve only spent about $2500 so far in these past 3 months, and it could’ve been even less since I splurged on food and sightseeing and occasional nicer AirBnBs. So many countries have much lower costs of living compared to the US!! You can find rent in Spain with housemates as low as $200/month, though I had not heard about this until I was heading to Morocco. There are very cheap flights to Europe (not counting my hiccup repeat flight I had to buy which I did with my credit card points thankfully), though if you can afford the initial one way flight to Thailand, it is possible to live well on as low as $200/month! There is even an annual digital nomad conference there every January to network and meet other like-minded people, which I plan to attend this coming winter.
If you’re nervous about downsizing your things, don’t worry, it was hard for me too. I definitely brought way too much with me and have only needed about 10% of it. You can try living with just a backpack and have more things shipped over, or bring more and try out backpacking while storing it and ship it back later if needed.
Modern technology allows this minimalist lifestyle in a way it hadn’t before. I’ve met many digital nomads on the road already, and the numbers are only increasing! You can accomplish so many things now simply with a device that can connect to the Internet. So many online jobs are available, bosses are more flexible about letting you try out working remotely, and you can access endless hours of entertainment even with just a phone, though I choose to carry a laptop to make working easier. You can also add a streaming USB to your repertoire or even a small projector if can’t live without a big screen.
Most accommodations have everything you need, but I personally like AirBnBs as you get to experience a new style of home and way of life as often as you choose. 2 weeks in one place has been my maximum so far, but I plan to try out a month since there are often 50% discounts on a month-long stay anyway. AirBnB is fantastic; if you still have never tried it, you should! Click here for a free $40 off your first stay!
My ultimate goal is to have everywhere feel like home. We are all human, and we have so many more similarities than differences. After the initial first few days of adjustment, I have honestly forgotten about which country I’m in, since I’ve been so comfortable. In just these 3 months, I have learned so much, met so many people from so many different countries, and made friends who have welcomed me to stay with them if I’m ever in their area. I welcome anyone to stay with me as well in any of my (temporary) homes!
I am proud to call myself a digital nomad. The desert experience inspired me to finally come up with a fitting logo. I am open to telemedicine and online consulting, but I do hope to never have to use a stethoscope ever again. Now that I’ve tasted the freedom of this remote work life, there’s no going back!