Digital nomad: Let me tell you what it’s like to live anywhere

Philis Kiragu, 29, a software developer and a digital nomad. The photo was taken while in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Photo credit: Pool

What you need to know:

  • According to a recent statistic by two tickets anywhere, there are 35 million of digital nomads and if we could form our own country, we would be the 41st biggest country in the world.
  • I do not have a house back home. I gave away all my stuff before I started travelling so when I visit, I stay at my siblings’ houses.
  • The most important things for me are my passport, credit card, laptop, my phone and power bank

“I am currently in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. From my balcony, I can see the suburban houses from afar, and a children’s park sits in the middle. If I look further afield, I’ll catch a glimpse of the city.
It is monsoon season in Malaysia and it will rain soon. But by the time that happens, I will be on my way to Cambodia, my next location. I am a digital nomad; I travel freely while working remotely.
According to a recent statistic by two tickets anywhere, there are 35 million of us and if we could form our own country, we would be the 41st biggest country in the world. My job as a software developer for a South African company allows me to work remotely.

How it all begun
Two years after completing my master’s degree studies, my alma mater granted me an opportunity to go for a six months exchange program in Sweden. While there, I took advantage of the Schengen visa to travel all over Europe, visiting about 16 European countries and Russia. This was when the idea of becoming a digital nomad was birthed. After returning home and working remotely from the coast for a couple of months, I started my international trips in August 2021. I went back to Rwanda (where I had first made a solo trip) and travelled to West Africa, Southern Africa and South East Asia. So far, I have been to 34 countries (including Cambodia where I am travelling next) and my aspiration is to visit all the countries.
The Kenyan passport can travel to about 70 countries with visa-free, visa-on-arrival or e-visa options. As such, I have been targeting visa-free destinations as well as e-visa destinations based on diplomatic requirements and proximity to where I am. Even for visa-free countries, it’s not always rosy at the immigration as I have been quizzed multiple times and asked to produce my work contract.
When I travel, I generally stay for two weeks to one month in a particular country depending on factors like cost of living, how many days I am allowed into the country and if there is an event that I need to attend in the next destination. The most expensive country I have stayed in is Singapore while the Philippines and Zambia were reasonably affordable. Across the countries, one thing that I have found hard to maintain is my hair due to the cost and products that don’t work for my hair. I keep my hair natural or wear wigs.

Work
Is my work flexible? No. I am a full-time employee working in the popular 8-5 arrangement. When I started travelling, this was important for me to uphold in my work. I was upfront with my employer from the initial interview that I am a Digital Nomad. I work during the week like any other employee then explore during the weekends and public holidays.
When I travel, I stay at furnished Airbnbs, with home internet. Wi-Fi is the one thing I can’t compromise on. This means that I have to pay a bit more sometimes but at the same time, I am able to work without interruptions.
The most important things for me are my passport, credit card, laptop, my phone and power bank. Other items such as clothes and shoes have started to lose meaning. I started travelling with the largest suitcase, but now I only have a backpack— it fits enough clothes for a week then I wash them as most places have laundromats. I only replace clothes when it's a necessity.
The good and not-so-good of digital nomad life
The good thing is getting to travel to different places, soaking into cultures and meeting new people. Every place always has a unique feature that flutters my heart. So much so that I started a YouTube channel (@travel_with_phil) to inspire people to travel more. I want to show how beautiful the world is and how much knowledge one gains from travelling.
The not-so-good is missing out on events back home as my return home is not structured but largely driven by circumstances. Since I have been away during this festive season, I am planning to spend the Easter holiday at home. I do not have a house back home. I gave away all my stuff before I started travelling so when I visit, I stay at my siblings’ houses.
My parents and siblings, whom I chat with every day, are very understanding and have given me their blessings although they don’t understand why I can’t build a house and buy a car in Nairobi as most of my peers do.
As for friends, inevitably, I lost touch with some friends, but those who are still close, support me and recently a friend told me that my travelling inspired her to follow her goals.
As for dating, as a principle, I don’t do casual dating. I meet people along the way but so far there is no Mr travel_with_phil. I am currently enjoying my singleness and the freedom it brings.
Most of my monthly expenses such as food and rent are almost the same as I would spend in Nairobi. I set aside about five percent of my income for exploration and adventure during the weekends. Depending on where I am going next, I will also save up for the flight. Whenever possible, I take the bus to cross to the next country because it is cheaper.
My monthly expense while in Malaysia
$300— rent which is inclusive of gas, electricity, Wi-Fi and a fully furnished house.
$70— Food.
$100— Exploration and adventure including a weekend trip to a historical city called Melaka 2hrs from Kuala Lumpur.
$72— Transport including taxis within the country.
$40—Insurance
($582) =71,673
Other varying expenses
$88— flight to Cambodia
$30— for the e-visa.
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