Tech & Travel
From Silicon Valley To A Digital Nomad: A Software Engineer Journey
Two years ago, I made the transition from a Tech engineer in the Silicon Valley to a digital nomad roaming the world while working remotely. Here is how my journey to the digital nomad life began.
So long as my memory takes me, I always pictured myself that I would travel the world, experience new cultures and uncover new dimensions to life. I promised myself to fulfill this desire as soon as the opportunity allows.
After my graduation in 2015, I started out as a software engineer with a major tech company. Within my first year, my desire to travel was getting stronger by the day. Because I frequently looked up places to travel in my free time, a lot of ads were showing up about remote work packages whenever I surfed the internet. These programs were enticing because not only you get to travel with with a group of people for a year, but also hop from one country to another each month or so without having to worry about logistics. Since I wasn’t on a remote job, I couldn’t join any of these fully remote, duration-extended programs, but that didn’t prevent me from pursuing remote work every now and then. I took these rather short trips which were undoubtedly great, but if they did one thing, they invigorated my desire to travel and explore even more.
In 2017, I joined a remote job as a Cloud Consultant, while I was living in the Silicon valley at the time. Pay seemed decent, but at the same time rent in San Francisco was sky high and living expenses took a big bite off of my monthly paycheck. This made sense for what the city has to offer, but it was another reason for me to move forward with my plans; I decided that as soon as that I’d get the hang of my new role, I will get rid of my rent and from then on and embark on my digital nomad journey.
Soon enough, I was getting outstanding reviews for my work. It was one of these late night aha moments that I decided that “it’s about time”. I left a message that night to the landlord telling him that I’m leaving by the end of the month! The next day, I started packing and storing my things in my car trunk. Anything that did not fit in, I donated to the nearby Goodwill store. My strategy was to remove any roadblocks such as rent and having to pay for extended car parking by leaving my car at a friend’s house where possible and that helped me funnel those unnecessary expenses and use them instead towards my travel.
I didn’t have any well laid out plan in advance and in retrospect that kept things interesting for me. At first, I started traveling within the US, since I had few friends living in several states. It was a good idea for me to visit them and tag along for a few days and in the meanwhile I get to see new cities with their help. Being with my friends meant having to worry less about working out a reliable internet connection since they had everything set up. I started out with a stop in L.A, then spent a couple of months in between New York, Colorado, Wyoming, Arizona and Oregon and I ended my trip right back where I started — San Francisco.
When I came back, I was free from any rent commitments so I thought to myself — why not explore the San Francisco Peninsula better. So I stayed for few days in each city from north to south, west to east of the Bay Area. Then I kept moving further south to cities like Santa Cruz and Monterey and further north to the gorgeous Napa valley. Apps like Airbnb and Booking.com were really helpful to quickly find a nice and affordable place for the day wherever I went. Obviously not all spots were ideal for a digital nomad and a software engineer but by large the combination of my unlimited mobile internet, WiFis in local cafes and Starbucks or back at the hotel or Airbnb allowed me to do my work uninterrupted and be accessible to my organization. At the end of the day, traveling should not come at the expense of your work.
Few months of moving around in the region, the traveler in me was itching to grow my travel plans internationally. I considered the options I had. Europe and South East Asia were popular destinations for remote workers but I thought maybe a good idea is to start with countries that are closer geographically and time-wise to the United States. This made sense for me since I am a consultant at base and the majority of my clients were in California and hence I was bound by the Pacific Time Zone work hours. Some online jobs offer the flexibility to work regardless of specific time zones and so it’s easier for those who have this option to travel the word and maintain some normalcy for their day-to-day habits.
Working outside the American continent meant I have to work night shifts. and that’s how the rational to stay within came in. Latin America seemed to me the heavenly destination. Not only, It puts a check mark on my timezone requirement, it also boasts the ultimate array of attractions that one can imagine. From gorgeous landscapes all-over to crystal clear water and white sand beaches and a pleasant climate year-round, there is always something for you there. This is all while being in an affordable place and a few hours flight to and from the U.S and thus I was sold on the destination.
Digital nomads usually travel on a limited budget but I wasn’t. Having lived for almost two years in San Francisco cultivated in me the perception that wherever I visited a new place (including touristic destinations), they felt inexpensive, even though they may not be that way. As someone whose earning six figures, traveling in Latin America meant that I can rent places with the best views of the city or the beach and still be saving money. I crunched the numbers and found out keeping my lodging expenses below 85$/day meant I was saving money. I booked a flight to Monterrey, Mexico that weekend and from then on I was bouncing back and forth between different coastal and inland cities in the US, Mexico and Costa Rica.
Currently, I moved to San Diego after canceling my travel plans to Brazil and Colombia due to the unfortunate COVID 19 global pandemic. I’m looking to resume my plans in 2021. This time around, it won’t be a solo trip as, a group of my friends who had turned into remote work will be joining me.
In closing, I am sharing my story to show that digital nomad life is not impossible and simply begins with a decision and following on it with actions. One doesn’t have to sacrifice work over traveling or vice versa. Craft a vision for yourself and let that vision guide you forward. So far, I have seen numerous places and went on several adventures and made countless friends along the way. This has been a marvelous journey and its still the beginning!