4 Years as a Digital Nomad Lawyer

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“What causes you the most stress?” a friend asked.

It’s an insightful question, asked by a lawyer friend we met up with in Tokyo.

Mostly we get the same questions over and over: What are your favorite places? What’s in your luggage? How do you pick destinations? We’re always happy to answer, but we rarely have to think about what we’re going to say because we give the same responses so often.

The stress question, though–that one stopped us cold. We had to think about the answer.

Only one thing truly stresses us out

The answer, when it popped into my brain, surprised me. But I had it right. When I heard the response come out of my mouth, I knew it was real. I’d actually found the most stressful piece of our lives.

I have to admit that it’s trivial. The reality is that our nomadic lifestyle isn’t particularly stressful. It’s easy compared to our old life in the suburbs, where the air conditioner had to be replaced, the kitchen cabinets were falling apart, and the teenagers might get arrested. Just taking the cat to the veterinarian could trigger a tick in my left eye as I anticipated the coming invoice. Suburban life requires mad coping skills.

It’s seemingly trivial but it’s actually stressful

Stress is, I suppose, part of life. And if one’s life isn’t particularly stressful, then even the most trivial stressor can generate a negative reaction. I have to confess that I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that this is the most stressful thing happening to us as we keep moving. But here we go:

The biggest source of stress for us at this point is having to show up on time. That’s it. Being punctual is stressful when you don’t have much else creating stress.

I apologize for complaining. But that friend asked, so we answered. And now, for your reading pleasure, I’m going to justify my stress, even if it is objectively trivial.

Being on time is easy for you. It’s hard for me. Seriously.

Being somewhere, at a prescribed hour, is simple when you know the way. It’s straightforward to estimate the time required to get there, park, walk, whatever. You’ve been there, done that, and have a pretty reliable sense of how things work in your area. You move about with ease.

Lost without a clue

But for us, getting nearly anywhere is a new experience. We’ve never been there before, we’re likely to encounter the unexpected, the transit system probably won’t work the way the last one worked, and it’s usually organized in a language we don’t understand.

We’re on an obstacle course and it’s very challenging to predict the specific time at which we’ll cross the finish line.

Of course, technology helps. I can’t even imagine having to do what we do without Google Maps. It saves us nearly every day in one way or another. It’s amazing that we can show up in almost any city and find our way to a hipster coffee shop with a single click. Truly amazing.

But when we’re hunting for coffee and it’s just the two of us, we can arrive when we arrive. There’s no pressure. The only constraint is getting our caffeine fix before it’s so late in the day that we’ll have trouble sleeping that night.

Throw in other people and the stress level rises

When we’ve agreed to meet someone, like our friends in Tokyo, we’ve got a deadline. These appointments are pretty much the only hard deadlines we face. These small events get loaded up with all of the stress we’ve got.

We felt it in Tokyo. We feel it when we’ve got to get to the airport or train station to move on to the next stop (we go really, really early). We felt it when we flew to Berlin to get vaccines at a clinic. Even a restaurant reservation causes a little tension. We’re never quite sure if we’re going to make it on time, and if we’re late, we might have to negotiate in the local language to get ourselves squeezed back into the schedule.

But, lets get real … who cares?

Yeah, that’s our big source of stress at the moment. And realistically, we don’t bump into the issue very often because we don’t have that many meetings. It’s pretty rare for us to have a deadline involving logistical challenges.

Thankfully, we do get to meet friends as we travel. We’ve met quite a few other nomads in the last few years, so we often cross paths with those folks. Sometimes one of our old friends or colleagues from the U.S. happens to show up where we are, and that’s always a real treat for us. A few times a year we get to spend time with friends and family who decide to come to meet us in a particularly interesting destination. We love all of the opportunities we get to connect with people. It’s pretty awesome.

So we’re not complaining about the mild stress of a time commitment. We’re happy to have the chance to get lost, be late, and catch up with the people we get to see. Any stress we feel as the blue dot on the map spins in circles pales in comparison to the joy we get from meeting up with friends, or getting on a plane to explore a new country.

Update on our movements

My last nomad update was written a year ago in Montenegro. Since then we’ve been to Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Russia, Italy, Lebanon, UAE, Oman, Ethiopia, South Africa, Namibia, Senegal, The Gambia, Morocco, Portugal, and Spain.

Latvia was probably the most eventful stop. We got a speeding ticket, plus we got to ride in an ambulance and Lisa spent the night in a hospital. She’s fine.

We loved the food in Latvia (although not at the hospital), as well as in Russia, Lebanon, Ethiopia, Morocco, and Spain.

We loved the scenery in Norway, Lithuania, Italy, South Africa, and Namibia.

We loved the people in Ethiopia.

The other places are more complicated. It’s not easy to label our impressions of each destination. But each place we visit is a place we’ll never forget.

Now we’re in Peru, where the mountains near Machu Picchu are so beautiful that it feels like I’m cheating when I take a picture. It’s just too easy–iPhone photos shouldn’t be this stunning.

One big change over the past year

If you skim the list of places we’ve been over the course of the past year, you’ll find that we moved quite a bit from as far north as Russia to as far south as South Africa. Even so, we barely changed time zones.

Sure, we moved backward or forward by an hour from time to time, but mostly we stayed in the same general time zone. That made adjusting to traveling easier.

This year (and we think of our years as June to June with a visit back to Raleigh to see family and doctors at the end of May) we’ll stay in South and Central America. Again, we’ll stick to a tight range of time zones.

I’m not quite sure how we happened upon this approach (which likely means Lisa thought of it) but it impacts us in ways other than avoiding jet lag. With shorter trips from one location to the next, we’re able to fly during the daytime, which is easier, and we’re able to book shorter flights. Those shorter flights tend to be less expensive and easier on our creaky bodies. This system has been a big improvement.

I’ve got to stop calling myself a lawyer

These updates started off as year one, year two, etc. as a digital nomad lawyer. But then, I sold my law firm. Now I’m not practicing law, and I’m handling the work here at Rosen Institute full time.

I’m finding it a little difficult to stop calling myself a lawyer. But, it’s time. I guess I’ll change the headline for the fifth year of my nomad reports. Letting go is tough. Being a lawyer is way more, for most of us, than just an occupation. It’s an identity. It’s how we think of ourselves.

Being a lawyer, while traveling the world, worked well for the first three years. The law firm more than supported me and my family. There’s zero reason to think that you can’t make practicing law as a nomad work out for you, if that’s your vision for your life. It’s not nearly as challenging as you might think. I did it. You can too.

But now, I’ve moved on from the day-to-day practice of law. I had a great run. Now, I’m loving this new work and it’s even easier to do while traveling. Yep, it’s time to switch up the identity.

Acceptance of the challenges

There are things–normal things–which become a challenge, depending on where we’re living at the moment. Buying dental floss is rarely easy. Lunch can quickly turn into a comedy, as things I didn’t realize I’d ordered show up at the table. You’d be surprised how often housekeepers open the door as I stand there naked, getting dressed. I know they’re certainly surprised.

But this is just the way we live now. We don’t even think about the fact that we have to use Google Translate on five different toothpaste boxes before making a selection.

There’s an acceptance now; we’ve (mostly) stopped resisting the challenges. I accept that communication is awkward and sometimes difficult. I accept that there won’t always be a power outlet where I’d like. I accept that certain things, like negotiating taxi fares, are an annoying part of my life.

It’s different than living in the suburbs of Raleigh, North Carolina. But it’s what we do, it’s how we live, it’s the choice we’ve made. We love it. If we didn’t, we’d stop.

When will we stop traveling?

We’ve made friends in places I couldn’t have picked out on a map back on the twenty-third day of June in 2015 when we started this life. Even if it’s just a “like” on Facebook, it’s still pretty cool for me to know I have a connection with people around the globe.

The longer we live this life, the more I realize that there are few strangers. There are just many (many!) people we haven’t yet met. We’re always open to meeting someone new. That’s something I didn’t anticipate enjoying quite so much when we set out four years ago.

Of course, in addition to making friends along the way, we love meeting up with old friends as we go. If we’re crossing paths with you, we’d love to get together.

We’ve been on the road for four years now. At this point, this lifestyle is our life. It’s normal for us. When we pass through an airport we’ve been through before, it feels a bit like coming home. It’s just the way we live now, which sounds like it should be weird, but it feels entirely normal. It’s hard to imagine living in one spot. We’re having way too much fun.

I’m pretty sure, assuming our health holds up, that we’ll be living this life when I report in again in June of 2020. There’s no reason for us to stop, and there’s every reason to keep moving forward. We’ll continue exploring the world until something changes. For now, we’ll just keep moving on.

Other Digital Nomad Lawyers articles –

One Year as a Digital Nomad Lawyer
Two Years as a Digital Nomad Lawyer
Three Years as a Digital Nomad Lawyer
Four Years as a Digital Nomad Lawyer
These 11 Truths Quickly Transform You Into a Successful Older Nomad
11 Road Warrior Essentials for the Nomad Lawyer

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