How Becoming Digital Nomads Destroyed My Marriage

(Last Updated On: February 3, 2016)

It was over a year ago that my husband Sean and I sold our home, quit our jobs and began traveling full-time. We were thrilled with the prospects ahead of us but very naive about the events that lay ahead. And the consequences they would have on our relationship. But, let me back up a little here.

Before embarking on this journey we had been married for 14 years. We loved the life we built in Southern California with our comfortable house, private pool and little convertible car. What we didn’t love was how hard we had to work to maintain all of that stuff. Sean was traveling for his job up to 6 days a week, and I was working some weekends at my job. It was a hectic pace. To offset the stress we would plan elaborate vacations for up to a month at time – which is expensive.

The decision to ditch the life we had worked so hard to build didn’t happen overnight. We had a huge whiteboard in our office that we would use to sketch out plans. How much do we think we could live on? Would we be happy on that? Where would we go? Would we need to sell our house? Meanwhile the emotional questions began swirling around. Would we be happy living in small apartments and not having a home? What it be like to spend that much time together? And the biggest one – Would we be giving up everything we built together, and ultimately lose the thing that was most important to us – each other. Big gamble. But we jumped, and now, here we are.

Walking Away
Walking Away

We knew that traveling full-time would change us, and reflecting back now I’m surprised how quickly and how much. Driving away from the house for the last time felt like being a yo-yo tossed in the air after forgetting to tether the string to a finger. Out into the world with no way back.

We had sold all of our things. How did we acquire so much stuff? I learned that I actually owned 2 blenders when I finally penetrated the back of my pantry. Really? And plenty of clothes that didn’t fit, and that I really shouldn’t be caught dead wearing even if they did. It took several yard sales to divest ourselves of our stuff – some of it painfully so.

And now? I don’t miss any of it. I think sometimes I used to shop just to fill a void. The loneliness of missing Sean when he was away so much doesn’t exist anymore. And believe me, the desire to buy stuff can be easily cured by living out of a carry-on bag. I used to love to shop for things to bring home to remind me of my trips. Once I bought 6 french soup bowls that Sean carried all around France and Italy for me. On the train, off the train, on the bus, to the airport. I can’t even imagine that now.

Before we left I was worried that I would become resentful of not being able to buy things. Having “stuff” felt comfortable and I could afford all of the things I wanted. Now, I’ve swapped things for experiences and it was a good trade. We get to discover new places, restaurants, people, and cultures every day. I can’t put that in my suitcase but it does fill my mind and that is so much better.

And what would it be like to spend so much time together? What would we have to talk about now that we weren’t complaining about our busy schedules, raging against spending so much time fulfilling goals in our job descriptions that weren’t important to us or scheming away to start our new lives? With all of that noise gone what would be left? Turns out, quite a bit.

Temporary office in Costa Rica, not bad
Temporary office in Costa Rica, not bad

We travel from place to place after staying for about a month at a time. That gives us enough time to explore while at the same time having plenty of room for working, cooking for ourselves and – so important – doing laundry. But there is still a lot of planning for each move and learning to do when you live in a strange place and don’t know the language. It’s made us a better team. Because we’re sharing this experience we are very in tune with the challenges we face every day. And we celebrate our successes and forgive our errors because we make most of them together.

I’m not going to say that this life isn’t stressful. Consider the many times we end up in a strange place at an odd hour – a great way to save money is traveling on off times – but they are cheap for a reason! We’re tired, don’t know where we’re going, don’t know the language and are climbing into a cab with a broken meter (why is the meter always broken in cabs at the airport?). At these times it’s pretty easy to look at the only other person you know in the world and turn on them with a vengeance. And of course this helps no one and could lead to you being left on the sidewalk by yourself.

Here’s where rule #1 comes into play. After the before mentioned events have occurred during previous trips that we will not dwell on…..we came up with the rule that has saved us time and again. DON’T be a bitch. It works. And while violations still do occur, we’ve gotten pretty good at staying within bounds. And it really makes a difference.

The last gift in this life of travel has less to do with our life on the road, and more to do with the freedom it has given us having a location-independent life. My father became ill this year and we were able to go and spend several weeks with him before he finally lost his battle with cancer just after Thanksgiving. I don’t think that would have been possible if we were both working full-time to afford the things we gave up.

During those weeks I would sometimes look around for Sean, and find him sitting alone with my father, holding his hand. In those moments I experienced at the same time an unspeakable sadness for the man I was losing, and an enormous swelling of love for the man I had.

This year of travel has been profound in many ways. And it did destroy the marriage that I had – one with many nights of loneliness, filled with all kinds of material things, and yearning for something different. When we got married we said that our love for each other was our home. More than ever, I can say that this is true.

Sean – Love you with all my heart.Venturists

 

 

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58 thoughts on “How Becoming Digital Nomads Destroyed My Marriage”

  1. I sit here smiling and watering up a bit. What a year it has been for you two: letting go of all you had in San Diego and embracing a new life together, richer and more meaningful.You are open to change and in fact seem to love it. I’m so pleased that it has so far turned out way better than you had imagined.

    • It was a little tough to press the “publish” button on that post for me as it was a bit more personal than I tend to be in this space – glad you liked it!

  2. Hi Jen,
    It amazes me how many couples — both young and old — are traveling the world after ditching all their possessions. And they discover how fabulous it is.
    If anyone is just thinking of making this change, and reads your post, they would surely be encouraged to get out there and do it!
    I’m so glad you two did.
    Wishing you safe and happy travels,
    Josie

  3. Good for you! Tom and I have worked together all our married days and then some. But out quarters always seemed larger than what we have now on the road! It’s great to learn there are times when it’s best to just shelve it! I also appreciate this:”And believe me, the desire to buy stuff can be easily cured by living out of a carry-on bag”
    Have fun!

  4. Whew! What a relief that it destroyed the “old” marriage and out of its ashes arose the phoenix! You’re so right about ALL THE THINGS that we occupy our minds with in a conventional situation which only deplete the meaning that is possible once our focus changes. I’m grateful for the opportunity to look back at all the stuff we used to care about so much and realize it was a complete misappropriation of energy.

  5. What an amazing story! It brought tears to my eyes! I’m so happy for you guys. And I’m so sorry for the passing of your Father but I’m sure he’s very content knowing you have another wonderful man in your life. Just what every Father needs to know for his daughter!

  6. I’m so happy that this story turned out good in the end, I was a bit worried by the title! I agree that travelling is great for relationships…it’s the one time hubbie and I manage to find ourselves again after long days working and not seeing each other very much, yet we never argue (mainly because he does what he’s told :-)) and feel so much stronger for our experiences. Love this post!

  7. I hear you loud and clear on this one. We left home 12 months ago too and our relationship is goong stronger than ever. safe travels

  8. Oh my I thought this was going to be a sad post! It is quite the opposite. Thanks for the honesty, it was really nice reading how you guys followed your dream!

  9. Ohhh very sweet. We agree completely – the decision to leave our ‘past selves’ behind and venture out into the world, just the 2 of us, was the best decision we ever made. We’ve been on the road for almost 2 years now, and while every now and then i miss having a selection of pretty dresses to choose from, I wouldn’t go back to a life of ‘stuff’. You just don’t need any of it – just each other!

  10. One of your most heartfelt and revealing posts. I feel people will like the honesty and the great leed in headline. Way to go, another great post.

  11. I am so glad you guys are still together. And I am sorry for your loss. My mum god diagnosed with cancer before I set off to travel the world…And I postponed the trip with 1 year until she got better, she is fine now :)) But I am sure it wasn´t an easy decision to make leaving everything your fought for behind and also being together 27/7 for the first time in many years. I´ve done it too and I know it is intense – you eat, sleep, shit (sorry) together, meet the same people…basically do everything together while travelling and that could be too much sometimes, especially at the beginning until you get used to each other again…But looks like you found the balance :))) Keep it that way!

  12. Sigh. This was just so beautiful. As a married part time traveller, I understand only too well how tasking it can be, trying to juggle demanding careers, a home, each other and wanderlust. For now we’re happy doing this, because we do take comfort in our home. But who knows what the future will bring!

  13. I searched a keyword “giving up my marriage to be a digital nomad” and found your site. I work and earn online and discovered digital nomads living all over the world. I made the decision on 25 December 2014 to book a trip to Thailand for a minimum of 6 months stay. I scheduled my trip to leave in March which is fast approaching. Travelling has always been a dream for me, and after reading Tim Ferriss’ book, the Four Hour Work Week, and discovering people like you, I realised that I was not getting any younger and that I could no longer wait to do the things I wanted to do.

    Needless to say, this is not going down well with my spouse who is a “safe, secure, job” type of person, and so this decision may cost my my marriage. Its highlighted to me how important it is to make sure that your partner in life wants a similar life to you. How your goals need to be aligned. Im not saying be the same. But having the same passion for travel, adventure and facing your fears is a deal breaker. Thanks for a great post Jen.

  14. Such a nice post to read. Travelling as a couple changes the dynamics so much, with just each other to rely on in so many different places. Steven and I joke about what we’ll do when we go back to Canada and have to spend time apart! lol.

    • Yes, we really learn what our strengths and weaknesses are as individuals (and as a couple on the road), and each new place can be a new learning experience!

  15. Totally agree with this! Though the first month of travelling together was a big adjustment for us once we pushed past that we are stronger and happier than we’ve ever been! We literally spend 24/7 everyday now and we love it 🙂

  16. Jen, this is a lovely post. Modern, urban life does push us push us toward filling our needs with stuff…stuff we can’t live without, at least until we get it home! I miss Pete, as I know you do, too, and I’m happy that Sean is there with you. He has big shoes to fill, but he’s doing a great job.

    Happy traveling to both of you!
    Love, Cherryl

    • Thank you for your thoughtful comment. It’s been an interesting year of highs and lows, but in the end the things and people that are really important have really come into focus. No matter what I’m happy about that. Hope to see you soon…

  17. I love this. I just found your blog because you favorited a twitter post of mine. I love that you guys did this and found a new appreciation for each other. It is our goal to do the same one day (hopefully sooner than later). Congrats! Can’t wait to read more of your posts!

    • I’m glad you like the article! Good luck as you get ready to “jump.” We’ve been at this for about 2 years now and I can’t imagine every going back to the way things were.

  18. Great article! We returned a year ago after 18 months on the road and our marriage is only stronger for it! Although I am sad we aren’t still traveling (hubby wanted to be back into a more conventional lifestyle FOR NOW). I’m just grateful he was and still is open to trying new things in life and not working so hard anymore.

    As for me, quitting my Corporate job gave me the courage to not go back in to that workaholic life. I am trying to start a digital business so we can do it again!

    It’s funny though – I think our hardest times were the first few weeks on the road until we figured out our ‘roles’.

  19. What a beautiful post. Thank you for your honesty. I’m so happy that you have found a deeper, stronger love through the ups and downs of such a shift in lifestyle. Also sorry for the loss of your father. It’s wonderful that you got to spend time with him. x

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