21 Dec A Survival Guide for Digital Nomad Couples
Today’s guest post is by our fellow intentional travelers, Dorene and Troy from Travel Life Experiences.
There is really nothing that can teach you more about yourself and your marriage than changing your home, business, and lifestyle all at once, and then living that new life together 24 hours, seven days a week. We are one of those couples who are crazy enough to do it.
We are Dorene and Troy. And we had enough of our past life. With support and courage, we made massive lifestyle changes. We left our careers in our 40’s, when we were at our highest income earning years, not to retire, but to live and work. We downsized and we sold everything we owned – our house, car, furniture, and all of our possessions – in 12 months. We paid off our debts. Then we left our home country of Canada to pursue a location-independent lifestyle. This way of life is also referred to with the term “digital nomads.”
It has now been almost two years.
To even explain how different our life was back then compared to what it is now, it’s best to share how a typical daily scenario used to look:
Each weekday, we would negotiate who would hit the shower first to start his or her work day. I would bike to work to my marketing job at an advertising agency not far from home, while Troy would work in our den on various TV and video editing projects for clients. I’d get home at 7pm, and we’d start our surface level exchange that went something like this:
Dorene: “Hi Honey, how was your day?”
Troy: “Not bad. Hey, what do you want to do for dinner tonight?”
Dorene: “Ah I don’t know, let’s order something,” I’d suggest, fixated on an e-mail from a client, which was clearly my priority.
The night would continue with eating our dinner on our laps while on the couch, exhausting a bottle of wine and probably binge-watching a series on Netflix.
Consumed by our weekdays, the cycle would continue the next day.
We no longer recognize this relationship or these two people anymore.
Shifting to today, two years later:
We see each other every day, all day. We run a business together. We often work in the same place, eat our meals together, and when we head out to work with clients, we still do it together. We made this choice, which we practice in different parts of the world. Sometimes we are in India, or Colombia or Thailand or somewhere else in the world. Wherever we are, we make it a point to travel and experience new sites, while we also work and live.
Living and working in Medellín, Colombia
In fact, the lion’s share of our waking hours are spent together.
Maybe it seems like a dream life, but we didn’t anticipate that moving to our dream lifestyle would be so hard.
Our friends and family were envious of our courage to re-set our lives. Little did they know (until they read some of our posts), how difficult this transition was on our marriage.
It took a year to figure out how to reset our relationship from just marriage to become marriage/business partners/travel companions/roommates. We learned a lot about our relationship, but to get there we had to understand each other.
Our top Digital Nomad Couple survival take-aways:
1. We are more different than we realized, but now, we use this knowledge to our advantage.
We literally see the world differently. For instance, we will be in the same conversation, and yet recall completely different memories of these conversations. Talk about having a varied point of view, and having our focus on different parts of the conversation. Maybe we didn’t notice this before in our past life because we didn’t work together then.
Most of our squabbles are related to how we process information. I need to talk things out head on, while Troy needs to be alone and think things through. I have also learned to pick the right time to engage with Troy. I know better now to bring up our daily priorities or anything business-related before his morning coffee, a run or meditation. This sacred time is off limits, which is perfect for me, then I don’t waste any energy doing it.
Troy’s sacred coffee hour
Those differences have become our greatest strengths, especially in our business. We remember varying perspectives when working on a project, which makes the project more holistic with input/creative touches from both of us. As for working, I can discuss business details issues, build marketing strategies, and create scripts and business materials for our clients while Troy can talk through the creative process of photography and videos. We have now become a team working towards a common goal.
2) We focus on what IS working instead of what ISN’T
We have gone through a difficult change as we moved to this new life. Family illness and deaths and finding the courage to change in our 40’s have led to a hyper-focus on thinking about gratitude. It took us time to focus on what was working – instead of what’s wrong with each other. Using a gratitude journal to start the day is the ideal way to shift towards approaching life better and working harmoniously together.
3) We learned to adjust our communication styles toward each other
Yes, our lifestyle was redesigned, but how we talk to each other also needed an overhaul. The biggest thing, we realized, is HOW we give feedback to one another. For example, if Troy offers feedback, I need him to give suggestions and rationale. I was used to this way of working from managing staff in the business world. This is how I am wired. When I give Troy feedback, I need to curb my tendency to talk like I am speaking to a staff member, such as giving direction or speaking in marketing language, and I have to be careful about creative feedback. Our best analogy is the CEO shouldn’t be telling the Creative Director why he should change his video edits, so I have to change my style. Our feedback mechanism now is made while being conscious of each other’s perspectives.
4) Your spouse becomes your best friend – for all your triumphs and dirty laundry
You know those little conversations you have with your friends? I used to have chats with girlfriends about hair tips, or wardrobe malfunctions or complaining about work. Troy had get-togethers with his buds about Fantasy Football pics or finding a new piece of technology. Our relationships with friends have changed as a result of distance, but we also value more meaningful relationships.
Now we schedule Skype or Facetime calls back home. Our conversations are deeper, more grateful, and our talks are about life. We are fully present, and we cherish the connection with them. As for our conversations together, well, we appreciate that sometimes we just need to vent, and we are a sounding board for each other.
5) We see each other at our worst
We now see each other’s bad moments, from the stress of missing our train, to every hunger pain, and the effects of a short fuse from stress and lack of sleep. With that, we recognize we have different thresholds to particular problems. For instance, I am not up for a negotiation when I am tired or hungry, and Troy needs completely uninterrupted space to focus on a video editing project. The key here is understanding our body language cues: that now is not the right time!
6) We are forced to manage our resources and think about it regularly
This may seem crazy, but we used to manage our money completely separate. Even after eight years into our marriage, we had separate bank accounts and credit cards. We came to realize we had one goal – travel more often and live anywhere in the world – and that required complete financial collaboration. Now we manage our money as one pool: our investing and living account. Any of our money decisions are discussed together; this is the only way to fully align ourselves to our new lifestyle.
7) When issues strike we mobilize and just figure it out together
We couldn’t run away from a problem when we were horribly lost in the middle of the night in a foreign country and scared out of our minds. We had no idea how we were going to find our way to our hotel, but we knew we needed to collaborate. What is amazing is how we’ve managed to gain some calm and figure out how to make decisions together in the heat of the moment.
After this dissection of our new relationship would I recommend this kind of lifestyle for your marriage?
Yes and No.
Yes: We know each other better now than we ever have before. We work towards common goals with the same set of values every day. Sometimes our respective approach is just different. That way of living is completely fine with both of us.
No: We need to deliberately spend more time apart. When we are settled in a particular location we have an opportunity to separate and go out with friends. We also work out and exercise separately. We have started to pursue some diverse interests and activities so we can reconnect and spend better, quality time together.
This is our new, lifestyle-redesign journey, and despite its ups and downs, we wouldn’t change it for the world.
What are your experiences with living, working and traveling as a couple? We’d love to hear about yours.
Get our best tips and resources for transformational travel
Subscribe now to get our free Checklist for International Travel, plus other exclusive content about how to travel more, save money, and enjoy transformational experiences around the world.