My experience as a first-time digital nomad in Europe
Travelling has been my dream for so long now. I didn’t just want to take vacations – I wanted to write about them too. As a 13-year-old teenager, when I flipped through vibrant travel magazines and read articles written by ‘travel writers’, I wondered if I could do it too. 10 years later, I am writing about everything under the sun and getting paid for it.
While I’ve been working for about 5 years, 2022 was my first attempt at mixing travel and work. Indians aren’t familiar with the concept of digital nomadism or remote work. The pandemic-enforced ‘work from home’ policy overwhelmed many due to the visible lack of boundaries in society. We don’t say no to our relatives and we don’t say no to our bosses. Instead, we work late, wake up in the middle of the night and start our mornings with mini anxiety attacks. I was terrified of it all – going to the office, counting my casual leaves and sitting in cramped cubicles every day. I got lucky because most of my internships were remote and I found NomadGao at the right time. Working with them not only helped me hone my professional skills but dared me to dream beyond societal boundaries.
I thought I was ready to work from Europe. I’d met enough people, travelled plenty within India and managed work in every space imaginable. Think working on phones in public spaces, tutoring kids while out on a walk, whipping up a blog in between classes and reviewing it on the toilet seat. As long as you have a device and internet, nothing can stop you from giving your best. And I did. Until I landed in Paris and moved to my collocation in Bayonne. I was working with about 4 clients and had to work 12 hours a week in local schools. While this was not any different from the usual amount of workload I had, every day felt like a drag. I spent hours feeling low and wondering if I’ll ever get things done. The only thing that pushed me to meet deadlines was the fact that I owed it to my clients. I’d hate it if someone else’s project was ruined because I didn’t feel like it.
Moving to a new country is no joke. You need to figure your entire life out from scratch. This means you have to make new friends, open a bank account (if you are staying there long term), get insurance, figure out groceries, wonder why anyone would eat a boudin, work out transport and so on. In between all of this, there are those empty spaces of crippling loneliness that threaten to drown you. I have a wonderful network back home and as I am writing this, I have come to know plenty of people who’d always be up for a drink here. However, between now and then, there is a lot of waiting that you have to get over.
And yet, I’ll say that the last three months have been the most invigorating. I’ve bought scented candles, travelled to Spain and Portugal, experienced the Basque country, encountered so many new cultures and planned more trips for the future. It does get better every day, but here are some things that helped me start as a digital nomad:
Facebook Groups/ other social events
Every region will have expats. All you need to do is find them. See if there are any Facebook groups for your city and get in touch with the members. I found a social group and a co-working group for the BAB region in France. Apart from that, language labs, Erasmus connects and other volunteering organisations are also easy to find online. Having a community is crucial to finding balance in a new country.
As a first-time digital nomad in a new country, you might need all the patience you can muster. The weather can be challenging, everyone might not be nice and picking up a new language isn’t easy. So take it slow. I found comfort in binge-watching old shows, being kind instead of feeling guilty for not showing up and just doing my best to make it to the end of a bad day. I scheduled walks, meals and even naps to spend my time the best I could.
Find things to do
I made it a point to go out every weekend and explore something new. If I was broke, I’d just walk around my village and see where it goes. Apart from that, I did some research on the sports available around me and I found a pool I can hit whenever I feel like it. I follow the social accounts of the cities around me in case there are any events I don’t want to miss.
Finding those cafes/coworking spaces
Going out has always made me feel good. Switch your scene and work from a park, a cafe or a coworking space instead. A good cup of coffee tends to stir up new conversations.
I’ve been lucky with a steadfast support system that has my back. I was on the verge of quitting two months into my stay here. However, Mayur and Shahzada, my colleagues (bosses, really, I think) at NomadGao shared their experiences as digital nomads with me. They went through similar transitions and told me to not give up just yet. My friends are there to listen when I want to and I couldn’t be more grateful. However, it might not always be possible that you have someone to push you to keep going when you don’t feel like it. So I’m sharing this story, hoping it lets you know that you’re not alone.
Being a digital nomad is exciting. However, as a first-time digital nomad, things do get overwhelming. The key is to be kind to yourself and do things that push you towards feeling better every day. Take a break from work if you have to and figure out where you are and where you want to be. Take it one day at a time and I promise you, in the end, it will all feel worth it.