My plan to be a digital nomad and slow travel for the rest of 2021

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As I sat in the freezing dark for hours earlier this month, lit only by candlelight, a crisp and salient thought began to form: fuck this.

My windows were covered in condensation that made puddles on the window sill. I put towels down and tried to wipe it up as best I could. My power came back in flashes and I ran around charging everything and trying to heat the place. Over the course of a week, I paid $700 for what little electricity I got. In the middle of the week, my lease expired.

I didn’t want to renew it, nor did I want to move elsewhere in Dallas. So, I called to give what I thought was my 30-day notice. But noooo, it’s a 60-day notice. They’ll “try” to get it rented sooner. Oh and keep the power on until the last day, they reminded me.

digital nomad

Lovely

So this is how it ends – talk about a whimper.

I picked the date, called my brother, and reserved a U-Haul. I’m gonna throw my stuff in a storage shed and live on the road for a while.

First stop next month: Memphis.

Digital nomad life

I was shocked how simple it was to undo everything. I mean, all it took was a couple of phone calls to the apartment office, my brother, and a storage facility.

I’ll have to pay all of March rent and most of April, so I chose to leave at the end of March.

Even though it came together quickly, the thought had been forming for a long time. I’ve known I wanted to get out of Dallas since the pandemic started. I was actually on my way out when the first lockdown happened. So what is that – a year? 

A year of hanging on and sticking around and staying put. But when this storm and my lease expired the same week, that was all the impetus I needed to rip the cord.

And just like that –

Goodbye, Dallas.

All the “lasts”

The last Costco trip. The last time at the grocery store. At the neighborhood bar. Walking in the dog park.

They hit rather profoundly, these lasts, reminding me of life’s inherent impermanence.

I bought a condo here in December 2015, then officially moved in June 2016. I sold that condo in June 2020. So… about five years here?

I wanna say it’s flown by, but it hasn’t. The experience feels like every one of its five years.

And I wanna say it’s been awesome, but that isn’t exactly true. A lot of hard stuff happened while I was here.

A few relationships and subsequent breakups. A traumatizing experience with my HOA. The worst work-related burnout I’ve ever had. Made some friends, lost some friends. Life stuff.

I also got a huge start on my journey to financial independence. Made a little from the condo sale. Got closer to my friend group. And, before the pandemic, got to travel to some incredible places. DFW is an amazing airport for getting around.

digital nomad

Dilly Dally

It was also a nice calm-down from my time in Brooklyn. The city was wearing me down, and Dallas felt positively provincial by comparison.

By now I’m used to Texas heat, driving in my car, and this new version of city life. So you know what that means. Time to shake it all up again.

How I untangled

First, I found a job that allows me to work 100% remotely. I tried the office thing again, and I can definitively say the office isn’t for me. Not full-time anyway. I would consider a hybrid model where I go in once or twice a week, or a rotation schedule, or some other arrangement. But not every weekday in the office. I’m pretty sure that’s dead now, anyway. GOOD.

I’d already sold my place in anticipation of leaving. So I rented a little apartment around the corner and gave my notice. You know how these management companies are. There’s always some “gotcha” in the lease agreement. So I’ll have to pay basically double rent in March and April because of the 60-day notice. That sucks, but it’s the price I pay to get out of here.

I got a storage shed with month-to-month terms near my mom’s house in the Memphis area. So my stuff will live there for a while.

Then I booked a U-Haul, called my brother, and booked him a flight to DFW. I’ll drive the U-Haul back and he’ll drive my car.

Finally, I booked an Airbnb for a month in Memphis. So that will be my first stop.

Slow travel

I’ve had a long relationship with Airbnb. Mostly as a host, but now as a traveler. I compared Airbnb listings against other sites like VRBO, Craigslist, and a couple more. None had the amount of listings and the price point I’m going for. That said, I’m open to learning about other ways to book slow travel.

I do like how Airbnb codes as travel on my credit cards, so I can use them to earn extra points on my “rent.”

I’ll take it

Plus, I can click through Acorns when I booked to get 1.8% cashback invested. It’s one of the methods I wrote about in 5 Easy Ways to Earn Points for Airbnb Stays (Updated 2020).

I thought about using Airbnb gift cards via MileagePlus X – but you can’t use them for longer stays. (So glad I read the T&Cs before I bought one.)

I figure Memphis will be a great place to use my training wheels. I’ll be close to my storage shed if I need anything and I’ll get to hang out with my family for a bit. After Memphis in April, I was thinking:

  • Nashville (May)
  • Knoxville (June)
  • Asheville (July)
  • Providence (August)
  • Maine (September)
  • Vermont (October)

The last time I was in Maine, I was this old

I was also thinking at some point:

  • Philadelphia
  • New York
  • Florida
  • Chicago
  • New Mexico
  • Austin
  • Arizona

These are all in the US because Covid. Internationally, I’d love to visit:

  • Toronto
  • England
  • Mexico
  • Chile

I also wouldn’t mind staying near National Parks and exploring them after work or during the weekends.

I’m gonna try to stick to Eastern or Central Time as much as I can as my job is on the East Coast, so I don’t want to be too far off from that. Not at first, anyway.

Logistics

I don’t know what’ll actually happen once I’m out on my own. Or how much stuff I’ll need (like knives for cooking, my blender, dog supplies). Or what to do with my plants or how to shop for groceries. All I know so far is I’m using my mom’s address to forward my mail to, and my gramma’s address for work/tax purposes (Tennessee has no state income tax, like Texas).

I don’t know how long I’ll need to get between places or if I’ll need to take a day off work for driving sometimes. Also, what happens if I need a car repair? Or if I want to go away for a weekend trip?

Will definitely have to hit up Fenwick Island! (My dog’s name is Fenwick and he’d love it)

So many unknowns. Also, I don’t want to end up spending more on the road than I do right now. I’m sure I’ll want to eat out more, visit local breweries, and stuff like that. So I’ll have to watch my budget and balance fun stuff while also keep everything from cutting into my work time. Speaking of which, I’ll definitely want to bring my extra work monitor. My little car is gonna be so full.

These are things I’ll have to figure out as I go – part of the adventure! Oh yeah, and I’m taking my dog with me. #roaddog

Bottom line

Soooo yeah! That’s my plan – to be a digital nomad and slow travel for at least the rest of 2021. I have no idea what will happen or how it’ll play out.

I might last a month and just end up getting another apartment in Memphis. Or I might try to go a few months. Or who knows, maybe I’ll be doing this a few years from now.

All I know is that my soul is stirring and I’m restless. Because of Covid, not traveling for so long, and feeling generally in a rut/over my current situation for a while.

My goal is to keep my spending right around what I’m spending now. That means $1,500ish for a monthly place (give or take), plus food and gas. I’ll try to make meals at “home” as much as I can. But really- I don’t how any of this is going to look. I’ll have to form new habits and routines.

Throughout everything, I still have 25% of my check going into my 401k and I’ll steadfastly save/invest as much as I can each month.

So, I’m going to give it a try and see what happens. Maybe these are famous last words or maybe they’re the beginning of a long journey?

Will keep y’all posted. I haven’t been posting much on Instagram lately, but I expect I’ll use it a lot while I slow travel, so if you’d like to keep up, follow me there as I’ll use it as my mini-blog throughout everything. ✨

Is this totally bonkers? Have you slow traveled or experienced digital nomad life? Any tips on where to book long-term stays or anything to make things easier? 

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About Harlan

Digital nomad living on the road and working toward financial independence.

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  1. Kudos on this life change! Do you plan to get the vaccine? For me, I’m still working from home but once I get the vaccine I plan to travel while working remotely. I just hope I’ll find Airbnb’s with strong enough internet.
    Good luck on your new adventure!!!

    • I would *love* to get the vaccine. I’ve been on the waiting list for months, but Dallas County has managed the rollout so poorly. But now that I’m leaving, I won’t have time to get the two-dose vaccines. I’m hoping I can get the new one-dose J&J vaccine at some point. That’s another thing I’ll have to figure out.

      And omg you’re doing the same thing? Will you keep your place in NYC? Sounds like you’re going on adventures, too – cheers to that!

      Always good to hear from you, Joey! <3

  2. It’s interesting for sure. I think you could have moved a bit slower on the whole apartment thing. Not taking advantage of free lodging that you’ll pay for anyway seems like a bad financial move in hindsight but I get it. I would suggest re-evaluating what you are storing. You may be holding on to stuff you either don’t really need or stuff you will never use again. There is actually a great Youtube episode of Kara & Nate where they go back to their storage shed after like two years and don’t want any of the stuff which might motivate you to get rid of even more stuff. Less is more when it comes to being a nomad. Good luck.

    • Totally agree. If someone told me their plan included paying double rent, I would’ve said the exact same thing.

      Then I thought about how money is really just a tool, and sometimes you can use it to move things along or get out of a situation. It doesn’t have to be constantly optimized. And the thought of not leaving until nearly May – I just couldn’t. So hopefully they can re-rent it and I can avoid those extra charges. Fingers crossed.

      And yes! I will definitely take this opportunity to get rid of as much stuff as I can. I’m getting the storage shed mainly for my big king bed and all my artwork. And a couple of dressers that I like and my rowing machine. I think those things are all worth saving. The rest, I’ll donate or toss.

      Hear you about the less is more. Going to keep that in mind over these next few weeks. I’ll have to get down to a handful of outfits and the bare basics. Seriously can’t wait!

      Thanks for the tips, Dan! Good to hear from you! <3

  3. Just wondering how you think your dog will handle the change. Would love to buy an RV and do something like this! I also never want to go back into an office full time, I’m doing once a week and good with that.

    • He LOVES riding in the car and exploring new places. What I’ve learned about him is that he’s totally fine as long as his daddy is there with him. And if it gets to be too much, well… my mom has a house with a big fenced-in yard and he can hand out there for a while. But I think he’ll be fine and probably love it. He loves adventure more than I do!

      And heck yes – 1x a week sounds perfect! I *do* want to see and be around people, just not all day every day 5x a week. That’s wayyyy too much. Cheers to getting untangled!

  4. Congrats on the exciting journey! Just closed on a MEM loft three days ago and am also staying at an Airbnb (near the loft in South Main) for a week. Will be doing a bathroom renovation before moving anything in but will be back and forth. Would be great to reconnect in person again. Thanks for the tip about Acorns. I always use the DL Airbnb link, which isn’t particularly lucrative but is better than nothing.

    • OMG that’s awesome! I’ll be staying off Central in Midtown – let’s meet up! I get there late March and will be there most of April, too. How exciting!

      Re: portals and Airbnb. I almost used the DL link but then decided to get cash instead. I haven’t used Delta miles in foreverrr and have plenty of MR points if I ever want to. Plus, I’m hoping the cash will grow – will be fun to see how much I can accumulate in free money through booking these long-term stays.

      Will be in touch – congrats again on your new loft!

  5. Wow, this is huge! Sounds like a very exciting adventure, and I look forward to following along. I don’t blame you for getting out of Dallas after that storm!

    • Hey Nancy! I didn’t realize you were in the Dallas area, too! Very much looking forward to the next adventures – thank you for following along! And yes, that storm was a doozy. Woof.

  6. That sounds awesome, Harlan! I’m feeling inspired…

    And re the rent, I totally get it. There’s a line from Sex and the City that I recall now and again- “Throw some money at the problem and move on”.

    I think that about covers your situation.

    • That made me laugh! Mostly because it’s so true. Only three weeks left in Dallas and excited to get out and start exploring. Hopefully by summer/fall, Covid will be less of a thing. Sooo glad I made the decision and stuck to it. Now all I gotta do is load up a truck and drive it 7 hours and then I’m freeee!

      Hope you’re doing well, Audrey! Love hearing from you – thank you for the timely quote (SATC references are always welcome)!

  7. I’m glad you finally took the leap to nomad life. Sometimes it’s what you need to move forward, and I get it. I’ve got tons of stuff floating around my head that could be useful to you. Shoot me an email if you have questions about any of this, as we did the nomad life for the past almost 3 years. You can get a digital mailbox to mail all your stuff to. This was most likely the best thing we did. We’re still using it today even though we do get a PO Box on base.

    I don’t think I told you yet, but Kim got a job with the Navy as a trainer and we just arrived in our new home of Japan a few days ago. So if you ever make it to Tokyo we’ve got a guest room with your name on it.

    • That’s amazing! I saw Kim’s vid on FB and that y’all were quarantining before getting out and about. One thing I’m 100% sure of is that I will get back to Japan at some point. So glad y’all are there – I remember how much you loved it. <3

      I think I'm gonna use my mom's address in MS for my mail and my gramma's address in TN for work stuff. I looked into those mail services, but I might not need them. We'll see what shakes out once I get rockin' n rollin'.

      I'm mostly concerned about cooking/grocery shopping, washing clothes, taking care of the dog, and being a good employee lol. And I guess, finding places to stay each month that have good internet and are close to stuff I'd wanna do.

      I'll write to you and get some ideas - could always use some tips! Only a few weeks left in Dallas and wow are my feet itching to go!

      Congrats on the move! So happy for you! Talk to you soon and see you in Japan hopefully sooner rather than later!

      • I forgot about Fenwick, so pet sitting won’t be an option for you. Still plenty of options for you if you’ll be working. We weren’t, so we were severely limited. Where will you have your ID? It’ll have to match a mailing address somewhere or you’ll run into trouble. I don’t know how some people can go 30 years in the same house. After a few years we’re itching for a change.

        If you ever make it to Japan you’re welcome to stay with us, we’d love to have you. Just hope we survive quarantine, find a good place to live, and covid goes away ASAP. Tokyo is off limits right now so we can’t go till things calm down.

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