5 Things You Don't Know About Being a Female Digital Nomad

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The first time I left the country in 2008, I felt as if my eyes were opened for the first time. As full and vibrant as my life was in the United States, there were thousands of other full and vibrant lifestyles out there to learn about– and I made it my mission to learn about as many as I could during my lifetime.

When I got back to the US after spending a semester abroad in Sydney, Australia, I knew that I had to get out and explore as many different cultures as possible. The only problem was that I was still in university, and after living in Sydney for 4 months, I was flat broke. The remedy?

Teaching English in Asia.

After teaching in South Korea for a year and a half, I went on a backpacking trip around South America for 5 months before returning to the US to begin a “normal life.” I thought for sure that after taking 2 gap years (it was originally only supposed to be one) that the travel bug would finally be “out of my system.”

But just like so many of us, I never lost the urge to travel. Just because many people eventually feel the need to “settle down” after a year or two of traveling doesn’t mean that is what was right for me. After being in the US for just a few months, I already couldn’t wait to put on my backpack and hit the road yet again. My solution was starting a marketing business that I could operate from anywhere in the world.

It’s now been only 6 months since I felt strong enough in my business to hit the road and explore Asia. After 5 months in the Philippines, I am now settled here in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. There are lots of digital nomads here in Vietnam, but one thing is obvious: most of them are men.

As a female entrepreneur, I feel that my journey has its own unique set of challenges. There is a growing number of us women living and working on the road, and having their support and friendship means a lot to me. But the fact is that, at least for the time being, it’s a male-dominated field. Here’s what I’ve learned along my journey so far.

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1. It can be lonely on the road.

Saigon is considered one of the top destinations in the world for entrepreneurs. People come from all over the world to stay here networking with other business owners and grinding on their projects.

But even in bustling Saigon, a city of more than 7 million people, it can sometimes still feel like you’re all alone. Some days, you feel like the luckiest person on earth. Other days, you feel intense loneliness. It’s as if there is no one else in the world who knows quite how you feel.

During the first real rough period in my business, I didn’t have any coworkers or peers in the same situation. It was I alone who had to make it through, making those important decisions that are directly consequential to my livelihood.

Overall, I feel incredibly lucky to have the lifestyle that I enjoy. I find it helps to take it one day at a time, settle for Skype dates with your besties back home, and treat yourself with a massage when you’re having a bad day.

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2. You have to hold your own as a female traveler.

You and I both know that we are just as capable as the men we meet out there on the road. But when it comes to travel, women undeniably have more safety risks than men. Regardless, traveling is something that I feel compelled to do no matter what risks, dangers, or challenges come my way. The other independent female travelers I meet abroad feel the same way.

But with greater risk comes an even greater reward. I’m in awe of the opportunities I’ve had during my travels, and as a woman I gain insight into areas of cultures that men sometimes don’t have access to. Perhaps most rewarding are the messages and emails I get from others who have said that my journey has inspired them to begin their own.

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3. You’re not doing what you’re “supposed” to do.

In almost every conversation I have with people who are not familiar with the digital nomad lifestyle, I have to answer the same elephant-in-the-room question: “So when do you plan on settling down and having kids?”

While I have many male friends who are entrepreneurs, I’d venture to guess that none of them are asked this question as often as I am. After all, men are “supposed” to explore and succeed in their careers, while women are “supposed” to get married and start a family. I’ve developed a plethora of methods to diffuse that conversation when it inevitably happens.

Anytime you are breaking the mold, you will meet resistance. All that matters is that you are doing what makes you feel like the luckiest person on the planet. And considering that’s how I feel 95% of the time, it’s safe to say I’m on the right track.

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4. You have to learn to blaze your own trail.

Ho Chi Minh City is packed with entrepreneurs. Ask them where to have pages added to your passport? Got it. Ask the best place to find a replacement charger for your Mac? No problem. But if you need to know where to find a good replacement for your beat-up clothes that you’ve been wearing every day for a year, or help on how to deal with different cultures’ perceptions of gender roles, the answer is a little less clear.

When I first arrived in Ho Chi Minh City, I needed a haircut, and STAT. But previous communication problems in other country had resulted in too many hair disasters. This time around, I was determined not to lose more inches than I intended. The male entrepreneurs I know could give me answers to just about every question I had about living in this city. But when finding an English-speaking salon, I was on my own.

Sometimes, solutions are simple. Other times, it’s a big game of trial and error. But no matter where you are or what you’re doing, no one has it all figured out. We’re all living and learning together. Do your best, and don’t sweat the small stuff.

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5. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Despite the ups and downs, the challenges traveling sometimes presents, and the occasional bad day, I wouldn’t trade my life as a digital nomad for anything. I recall the sinking feeling that I had when I got back to the United States after two years of traveling. I had to tell myself, “it’s time to grow up and settle down.” But all the while, I was heartbroken that my adventure had come to an end. Now, my whole life is one adventure after another. I couldn’t have imagined this in my wildest dreams.

No matter where you choose to travel, there are always interesting people to meet, friends to make, crazy stories to hear, amazing places to visit, and unusual situations to navigate. Sure, I’m always in a new destination, but I’m always exactly where I want to be.

What do you find most difficult about being a female living on the road? On the other hand, what’s the best part?

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Anna Wickham is a digital nomad running a location independent business from her laptop while she travels the world. After spending the last 5 months in the Philippines, she’s settled in Saigon, at least for the time being. She blogs about travel, running a business, and the location independent lifestyle at The Worldly Blend.

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