In mid-October 2023, the fourth month of his global travel, Harold spent his 28th birthday in Chiang Mai, a city in northern Thailand. This article serves as a midway review of the gap year, looking back on the experiences, gains, and confusions along the way.

1. Why set out

In January 2023, I was celebrating the Spring Festival at my aunt’s house at the foot of Huangshan Mountain in Anhui Province. Watching a group of fluffy chicks trembling across the chicken coop and jumping down the steps under the warm winter sun, a strong impulse swept through my heart. Lai: I want to live the life of a digital nomad, and my annual theme in 2023 will be to explore the life of a digital nomad!

This seed was planted in 2020. That year I resigned from my first company after graduation and came to live in the ancient city of Dali for two months. I saw a brand new way of life and another aspect of life. One possibility is that that year I first met the group of digital nomads.

I don’t like the 9-to-5 busyness in the reinforced concrete city, the crowded but silent loneliness in the subway, and the depressing feeling in the office cubicle. When I came to Dali, I finally saw that outside the mainstream narrative, there was a group of people living a free, romantic and simple life. Simplicity is what suits me. I sat on a wooden bench with a bowl of Yirantang’s 5-yuan vegetarian buffet, watching the sunset put away its brilliance among the clouds on Cangshan Mountain. The peace in my heart at that moment was extremely precious. I also like to watch my senior brother reading a book while basking in the sun on the deck chair of the vegetarian restaurant. I also like to stand alone under the century-old cedar tree in front of Wuwei Temple and feel its quiet and solemn time-traveling. I prefer simple freedom to refined restraint.

At that time, I saw the possibility of another way of life, but how to reach this possibility, I didn’t know yet.

More than two years later, suddenly this seed broke through the ground, its voice clear and strong, and I had to do something.

During the Lantern Festival, I stayed at a temple in Shanwei, Guangdong for two nights. Before leaving on the last day, everyone sat in a circle and everyone told their own story. I saw the views of life held by people from different professions. trauma, confusion and hope; in February, I joined the “Digital Nomad” writing class of the Sandwich Writing Community, read Lin An’s “Only Working, Not Going to Work” and Tim Ferris’s “4 Hours of Work Week”, and wrote about my understanding of digital every day The thoughts of homeless people; in March, I signed up for the fourth character interview course by Yilan, the host of “Dali Haozai”, to learn more skills of deep connection with people, and completed my first character interview; in April, I read Fu The true Southeast Asian travel diary “The Boat of Disconnection” and the novel “Zebra” collect travel notes in Southeast Asia; in May, I sent a resignation email after May Day, and participated in the offline sharing of Lin An, the founder of the Free Living Room, in Shenzhen . I went to Guangzhou for a Philippine visa interview and participated in two offline activities of 706 Guangzhou. I received a small request to use code to process art project data .

When I shouted my desire clearly and strongly in my mind, all the relevant information came to me like the echo of the universe. All I needed was to grab them, act decisively, and explore how to achieve this possibility. .

Shaxi Ancient Town

I decided to quit my job and start a new adventure. Since there are few opportunities for remote work in China, let’s look abroad. Since you can’t always take action at home, put yourself in a foreign environment. So I decided to start an overseas gap year trip. For more than a year, I didn’t think about finding a job at all. I just focused on exploring the lifestyle of digital nomads and collecting relevant information while traveling abroad.

2. During the trip

In June, I resigned from my second company after graduation. In July, I arrived in Boracay Island, Philippines to learn English. In August, I walked in the rice fields of Bali, Indonesia. In September, I tasted Fujian food at the night market in Penang, Malaysia, 10 I came to Thailand 🇹🇭 in Chiang Mai to experience the digital nomad atmosphere here. In November, I went to Bangkok to participate in a 10-day Vipassana meditation retreat. Then I went to Laos 🇱🇦 Luang Prabang, and returned to China 🇨🇳 to apply for a US visa in mid-December.

That’s the plan for the first half of the interval. The cities chosen in the plan, except Boracay for learning English, are all selected from the Nomad List as the most popular (and inexpensive) cities for digital nomads in Southeast Asian countries.

Nomad List

I am not a person who particularly likes to travel. I am not very keen on historical sites and internet celebrity attractions. In comparison, I am more interested in people. That trip to Dali allowed me to experience another way of traveling. I loved the possibility of spending more than a week immersing myself in an unfamiliar environment and building deep connections with strangers. Everyone is like a book, I pass by them, read them, talk to them, we see each other.

So I will stay in each city for a month, hoping to establish deeper connections with local people.

Travel is not expensive. Many people have the impression that traveling is expensive because most of the time they travel during the holidays, when air tickets and hotel prices double. The holidays are short, so most of the money is spent on transportation and accommodation. Once the travel time is extended to more than a month, and you choose to stay in a homestay or youth hostel that is friendly to the people, and only have one long-distance transportation per month, then the monthly expenses will be the same as the monthly living expenses in Shenzhen (for these 4 months, my Expense accounting confirms this).

I will record every expense, such as buying long-term medical insurance from Alipay for 22.13 yuan per month, or buying a banana at 711 for 1 yuan, and choose how much food to eat every day according to the budget to prevent myself from relying solely on my feelings. Too much money was spent.

3. Harvest

The most obvious thing is that I have had the opportunity to fully practice English. By reading a lot of English novels, listening to English podcasts, and recognizing words in daily life scenes, the door to the English information world has opened to me. In order to buy commonly used toners in China, I went to the supermarket three times in Bali. The first time I bought the deodorant Deodorant (I almost put it on my face), the second time I bought the makeup remover Micellar Water, and the third time I bought the makeup remover Micellar Water. I bought Body Lotion, but it wasn’t until I went to a supermarket in Penang that I bought the toner I wanted, Water Lotion. (At this stage, we have also encountered new bottlenecks in English learning, which will be discussed in the next part)

On the way, I met people of different ages, different life stages, different majors, and different countries who were also on the journey. I believe meeting them will plant new seeds in my heart. What kind of fruits will they bear? Unknown.

I am getting closer to independent development. I learned the story of Nomad List developer Levels from listening to podcasts, and gained a very careful summary of independent development experience from his blog and podcast. In Chiang Mai, I reunited with Ren, a programmer I met in Dali, and Daniel, the co-founder of Dali Hub, who helped me embark on the path of independent development.

4. Confusion

How to communicate with parents

I told my parents about my intention to resign three months in advance. Because I know I can’t hide it. If they find out that I have resigned, they will be very panicked. I hope to tell them in advance so that they can slowly accept it.

When he heard for the first time that I was resigning again, my dad’s face changed instantly. He was silent for a while and couldn’t speak. When he spoke again, his voice was as tired as a patient who had not recovered from a serious illness. He didn’t say much. He hung up the phone after saying that. After hanging up the phone, I started crying.

My parents and I have very different ideas. I can only open the channel, slowly explain my thoughts to them, and listen to their advice and uneasiness. Keep the lines of communication open and allow time to soothe emotional excitement.

Bottlenecks in English Learning

Although I am now inputting English intensively with increasing intensity, the output is still very difficult. I cannot write an authentic English article fluently, and I often still get stuck when expressing myself in spoken English. Although I believe that a large amount of comprehensible input will eventually lead to incredible breakthroughs in output, I am not sure how long this will take.

The lack of fluency in English communication is also accompanied by the inability to integrate into Western activities. Of course, there are also cultural differences. I often can’t find anyone I can talk to at dinner parties with Westerners, so Chinese-speaking circles attract me more. But because I was speaking less Chinese and more English, I sometimes drifted outside the two circles. This not only reduced my exposure to the Chinese circle, but also made me unable to integrate into the English circle, which increased my sense of loneliness. In Chiang Mai, I live in the Chinese-speaking community 706 Chiang Mai , and I also go to participate in offline sharing in MuChiangMai, an international community with many Chinese people. This may be a good balance.

Exploring what I want to do

Six months before leaving my job, my daily tasks were to play guitar, learn Spanish, and write a 300-word daily journal every morning.

Playing guitar for half an hour after work allows me to switch from the world of work to the world of music. When I can keep up with the metronome to finish a piece of music, the music seems to guide my body to flow. Music is that mysterious spiritual world. The energy in the music, and I connected with this energy by playing the music.

Learn Spanish in preparation for a trip to South America.

I started writing to join a community and meet new friends. Later I found that writing can help me think and summarize better. 4 months of continuous writing helped me put my annual wish of being a “digital nomad” from idea to action.

When I arrived in the Philippines with a ukulele, my daily routine couldn’t continue. The ukulele is not as fun as the guitar; daily recording in Chinese interferes with the formation of my English thinking. So I gave up on those two items and formed new ones: one was morning meditation and the other was to start reading English novels. I was still learning Spanish, but I stopped learning Spanish shortly after arriving in Bali.

When I was in transit at Manila Airport in the Philippines, I had some trouble understanding the English spoken by the staff at the baggage check-in desk and the airport announcement, which made me determined to improve my English listening skills. After arriving in Bali, I spent more time watching unsubtitled English-language TV series on Netflix and reading English-language YA novels. I have spent so much time learning English since I was a child, but I still cannot listen and speak fluently at my current level. So how long will it take me to learn Spanish to a level that I can communicate during travel? ? So I took a break from Spanish, and my English was enough for me to travel around the world.

During the month I was in Bali, I was still writing an English diary every day. I put it on the Internet and asked native English speakers to help me revise it. It took me a month to revise it. This process was not fun, so I stopped writing when I arrived in Penang.

After arriving in Penang, I started listening to a lot of English podcasts. When I left Penang, I was sitting at the airport. When I heard the airport announcement again, I found that I could understand most of it.

My daily routine at this stage is typing in English podcasts and novels, trying to develop independent projects, and meditating. These are things that, after a period of iteration, I found myself interested in doing over the long term. But these things have not yet formed a project that can be used as a career. I want a profitable and interesting project that allows me to continue my nomadic life for a long time. As it stands, if my independent development project can be profitable and cover my daily expenses, I will have achieved my goal.