- Back in 2017, I was really depressed.
I actually ended up on the phone with a suicide hotline.
I had a full-on existential crisis of what is the point of my life?
What's my purpose?
I got a degree in psychology.
I'm working a job that I thought I wanted and I'm not happy.
And after I told my bosses that I was suicidal, they fired me.
To think that I was so dispensable and replaceable, made me realize that I wanted to do what I wanted to do.
- Annette and Daniel are digital nomads.
Workers without a permanent home, who make their living entirely online.
This trend has increased dramatically in the last few years, with more than 10 million Americans now identifying as digital nomads.
- Because the amount of hours digital nomads work can vary wildly, it's hard to pin down an average income.
However, a large majority say they are satisfied with their income.
This is likely because digital nomads are less concerned with money, than escaping the demands of a conventional job.
- One of my biggest fears when Annette had brought up the idea to me, was the fact that I was going to be leaving my career, which I had A, just gotten a job running emergency rooms, and that like carries a title, it carries a certain amount of pay.
I was worried that I wasn't gonna have a retirement, that I wasn't going to have a stable paycheck month to month, but ended up coming around to the idea maybe what?
Three months later, four months later?
- Yeah, so we got married in October and his boss asked him to be on-call for the day of our wedding.
- I was pretty much like, no.
We can't spend the next 40, 50 years of our lives doing this just to save up enough money so we can then go travel.
So here we are, selling our couches to our neighbor.
This is part of the process of us selling all of our stuff.
So that way we can go travel the world.
- I mean, there's no going back now.
We have no living room furniture, no bedroom furniture.
What did you think when we first told you that we were going to sell everything and start traveling?
Like what was the first thing that went through your mind?
- I thought you guys were a little crazy and I thought no way did they really just say that.
My gut went blank.
And I thought, let me give myself some time and let me give you guys some time to make sure that this is really what was going on.
- What they really tried doing was convincing us to take the money we had saved and put it on a down payment on a house.
- Home ownership rates in the US have been steadily declining, especially amongst younger generations.
Bolstered by economic factors like rising house prices and student debt, Americans are increasingly valuing experiences over things.
And spending a higher proportion of earnings on travel, music and food than they did in the past.
Some worry this could come at the expense of future stability.
- My mom's literal words were, you're Alice in Wonderland.
And she hung up the phone.
And so we didn't talk for a couple months after that.
You know, my family grew up in Guanabacoa, which is a slum of Cuba.
They had nothing.
The house that my parents built was made out of stolen bricks from a neighborhood warehouse.
And so I understood where my mom was coming from.
I think it was hurtful to her not using all of the opportunity that she sacrificed for to the fullest.
I figured, you know, the worst case scenario is we travel for a year.
The best case scenario is we make a lifestyle out of this.
- We've been everywhere from Italy, France, Germany.
- Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Australia.
- Indonesia, China, India.
- England, Cuba.
- We've done everything from freelancing to teaching English online.
- Graphic design, or video editing, or even YouTube thumbnail creation.
- With the online space and the way that the pandemic has changed work for people, there are countless opportunities.
And I couldn't, like I don't believe that the online market is ever going to be too flooded.
- And we have made it to Cebu.
I think with just enough time.
- To grab a taxi and then make it to our ferry because our ferry leaves in an hour and a half.
- And I have to submit a project because I just realized we're not going to have internet the next like day and a half.
- Woo hoo.
So working from a laptop and doing it overseas does come with quite a few challenges.
Now the WiFi's not loading the page.
All right, I'm going to go wander and see where the WiFi is stronger.
There are times where you have to worry if you're going to have strong internet, or if you're going to be able to find a cafe that you can really post up in and have the focus time you need.
- [Annette] Daniel is actively driving in the rain down the mountain to drive to a 7-Eleven to see if we can get at least some data.
Another thing that I would say is a big difficulty and a stress really, is having to play legal jump rope as a digital nomad.
There aren't specific laws in many countries that are written for digital nomads.
You have to be really careful about the laws and whether you're allowed to work there or not.
The most stressful process to get here, probably ever.
- Immigration law tends to lag far behind technological innovation, making the legality of digital nomad work a bit hazy.
Tourist visas in most countries prohibit visitors from working.
But since digital nomads aren't usually contracted to a local employer, work visas are also not a good fit.
Most governments tend to look the other way because tourism revenue can be good for local economies.
Digital nomads like Annette and Daniel often work as much as possible in countries where remote work is allowed.
And live off savings where the rules are less clear.
Operating in this legal gray zone may sound stressful, but the upside is the dramatically lower cost of living.
- The US dollar carries some good weight around the world.
It's provided us a lot more opportunity.
For example, when we spent this last, I think it was four months in the glass palace.
We called it the glass palace because it was a fully glass house overlooking the ocean.
And that cost us 500 us dollars.
That factors in how much we work also, in a normal life you have to work what, 40 hours a week, or 50 hours a week?
Depending on what your job is.
I maybe work 10 hours a week.
- You know, just a casual day at work.
Chillin' in a waterfall.
- We look at the lifestyle that we want, and then we generate the income that we need for that lifestyle.
It's not the other way around.
- It's great you guys are having this great life, but we're back home, kind of stressing it out.
When you guys got into your motorcycle accident.
- Oh my gosh.
- Part the motorcycle like stuck into your foot and Annette passed out.
And then to find out she was pregnant.
There's a baby in here.
I was depressed when I found out that I was pregnant because I felt that my life was over.
- We had to have a conversation, like, do we keep traveling?
Because before it was the two of us and we can make money anywhere, no matter what.
But now we have this little being that is reliant on us and our resources.
And so we had the conversation and we were like, is our digital nomad journey over?
- Okay, well if we go back to America, we definitely can't afford a house in America.
I don't want to live in my childhood bedroom and bring a baby into my childhood bedroom.
You know, we couldn't even afford having a baby back in America.
- And when we did the math it was going to cost us like 18,000 US dollars in our home state without insurance.
And we were like, well, in Thailand, you can get VIP service for four grand.
(women speaking in foreign language) - It's no secret that medical costs in the US are disproportionately high, even relative to GDP.
While many digital nomads carry some form of travel insurance, it's not uncommon for them to forgo comprehensive medical insurance and pay out of pocket for much cheaper healthcare abroad.
With proper research, the medical risks are low.
Though language barriers and cultural differences can make an already stressful experience less comfortable.
- If there's one thing I could do over, is not give birth in Thailand.
Being in the hands of a medical team that doesn't speak your language and isn't able to communicate things in something that's already so unknown, so foreign, so scary.
That is something I 100% wouldn't wish upon anyone.
I would go straight home.
My name is Annette.
I'm a world traveler and mom as of a few hours ago.
- [Daniel] That is our baby.
- [Annette] How crazy?
Does that feel good?
- We're definitely planning on staying in Thailand for a while longer.
I mean, we had the money in the bank and we had, I think the most perfect setup we've ever had with housing.
And so we were like, we're going to kick it here for a while.
But then my parents' health kind of took a turn for the worse.
- I don't think we should.
- No, I agree.
- That's it.
- It is so surreal leaving Thailand after a year and I think three months that we've spent here.
We have loved every second of it.
We love Thai culture, we love where we've lived, we loved all the amazing people we've met and befriended.
It's just crazy to be closing this chapter in our lives.
- In about 40 minutes we'll be landing in Miami.
My mom, I'm sure, is already itching to get her hands on Apollo.
She actually works at the airport so she's already there.
(baby crying) To come back to a country that we love, but that we don't feel necessarily as emotionally tied to is hard.
There's quite a bit of culture shock.
Especially when there may have been resentments and disagreements and things left unsaid over our decision to have a baby abroad.
(baby crying) (Daniels family cheering) - Life didn't stop for them here while we were traveling abroad.
- I missed you.
- And so we came back home to really different family dynamics.
- Who are we in this dynamic?
How do we fit in?
- If this were a typical nine to five job, but let's say that that nine to five job moved you to Switzerland, families in the West are typically way more understanding.
They're like, oh wow, your work is making you to move to Switzerland?
Well, man, you have no choice.
It is totally different when you're a digital nomad.
And then you're choosing to not go back.
It's still seen as rejecting the family.
It is something that we can put a bandaid on.
- All right, let's get you in.
- But I'm not too sure if when we go back out traveling this next time, it's going to rip those band-aids right off.
- Do we sometimes feel cheated or like, oh my gosh, we wouldn't be able to, you know, to experience more life with you guys, right?
But at the same time, as parents, you also want your kids to do what makes them happy.
Honestly, I think my own experiences in life and in careers has really taught me to relax a lot more.
Things will work out.
- While 34% of digital nomads say they expect to give up the lifestyle within a year, more than half plan to continue traveling and working remotely for at least two more years.
The trend may be too new to judge its impact on child rearing, but nomad parents point to the developmental benefits of international travel, and the increased free time they have to spend with their kids.
- As more companies become comfortable employing remote workers, and workers come to expect more flexibility and freedom from their employers, the digital nomad lifestyle is expected to grow.
- [Daniel] We're feeling very confident about traveling with a child, whereas I was terrified beforehand.
I was worried that, you know, we're going to have this baby screaming in the middle of a flight.
We're not going to be able to travel as cheaply as we did before, or as quick, or as convenient.
- I have to give little Apollo major props.
He was born to be a traveler.
(Daniel humming to baby) You know, we might not be choosing traditional school.
I might want to homeschool him.
I actually want a world school him.
I have been more worried about the social aspects of Apollo and traveling nomadically.
It's honestly even something that us as adults have struggled.
We're always looking for community.
But at the same time, I am someone who is actually much happier without anchors in my life.
I mean, it's probably really hard for our families to hear.
Because we love our families.
It's not our families.
It's that feeling of home.
When we have a plane landing in Thailand, I start crying because I feel like I've made it back home.