When you travel as a digital nomad and constantly immerse yourself in different countries, cultures, and customs, things you once took for granted can sometimes become perplexing and surprisingly challenging. The longer I travel, the more it amazes me how tasks and routines I previously did without even thinking about it have become such a source of confusion. In this blog post, I’ll delve into some of the perils and peculiarities of my everyday life as a digital nomad, sharing some of the small challenges I encounter as I travel to the different corners of the world – from cultural nuances to everyday mishaps.


The Everyday Life of a Digital Nomad

Photo by Kai Nagayama


So many countries, so many customs


When you’re lost in your thoughts while wandering the streets of a new city, even traffic can quickly turn from mundane to downright dangerous or, at the very least, uncomfortable. That’s why I’ve learned to watch the locals closely, as each country has its own unique way of doing things. Take crossing the street, for example. Do you just confidently step onto the road, or do you obediently wait for the red lights to change? Are the cars considerate enough to stop for pedestrians, or are you risking getting run over? And speaking of cars, do they drive on the left or the right? 

And it’s not just the vehicles – which side do you veer towards as a pedestrian when someone’s coming your way? And what’s the protocol for escalators? Is there a specific side you should stand and walk on? What about entering a crowded elevator? Do you mumble a greeting or stay silent? Is eye contact encouraged? Do you smile at others or stare silently past each other? Do you stand in a single line while waiting for the subway or embrace the chaos? And should you keep your valuables hidden, or can you leave them out openly without risk? These are just some of the many questions that arise when I arrive in a new country or even just step out of the door.



Dine and dash


Even in individual countries within Europe, there are significant differences between dining customs, such as the coperto, a cover charge charged in almost all restaurants in Italy. 

But the question that particularly confuses me when I travel is when to pay the bill. Take Australia, for example, where it’s customary to go up to the counter, place your order, and pay right then and there. It took me months to shake off the feeling that I still owed something when leaving a cafe or restaurant. When I returned to Europe after an extended stay in Australia, I was so used to paying upfront that I almost left a restaurant without paying. Now, I always triple-check if I’ve settled the bill or not.

And then there’s the mystery of where to order and pay. I’m always grateful for clear signs indicating “self-service” or the “cashier” because what might be obvious to the locals can be challenging for a tourist or digital nomad. If you’ve ever been to Japan, for example, you might have noticed the vending machines outside some restaurants. You insert money into these machines, select your food (thankfully, there are usually pictures!), receive a ticket, and then hand it over to the staff to prepare your meal.  

No, I certainly haven’t starved anywhere, but dining out is often an adventure in the life of a digital nomad. And there can be even more riddles to solve: Are the prices on display really what I’ll end up paying? Are there any charges or taxes that will be added on top? Is tipping expected or met with a frown? Is there a menu, and if so, will I even be able to read it? Can I linger at the table after finishing my meal, or should I vacate the table immediately? And what’s the secret to handing over money – both hands, just the right one, or perhaps using one while touching the forearm with the other? How am I even supposed to hold my wallet at the same time? Ah yes, so many countries, so many customs…


Open sesame! (or not) 


How do I open the door? You’d think this is a fairly straightforward question. Yet, it’s another example of those small things that used to be so perfectly obvious to me until I became a digital nomad. I never struggled to distinguish my left from my right, but suddenly I am supposed to turn the key the other way, or, even worse, back and forth to open the door? The challenge of opening doors puzzles me so much these days that I’m always relieved when there’s a keycard instead of a key, for instance, when I’m staying in a hotel. You simply hold the card to the reader, and the door opens (fingers crossed). I found it a little creepy, however, when I had to use my fingerprint to open a door once.


The bathroom: a science in itself


And how exactly does the toilet work? It’s a question I never really pondered in my previous life, but now it’s become something I occasionally research before I visit a new country. 

Can you simply flush the toilet paper, or should it be placed in a bin? Is toilet paper even a thing here, and if not, what’s the local alternative? And just when I’ve got the hang of one toilet system, I find myself in another country where everything operates entirely differently. Ah, what’s this? A heated toilet seat? Now that’s interesting! But hold on a minute, what do all those buttons do? I just wanted to flush. I wonder if Google Translate can help me with that. Or does it somehow flush automatically? Wait, is this a sensor? Let me wave my hands around and hope for the best…

While we’re on the subject of bathrooms: is there a separate shower, or is it more common to have it directly above the toilet, turning the whole bathroom into a waterpark? Do I need to change shoes (or slippers) before entering the bathroom? Is there hot water, and where do I find the elusive switch? Countless times I’ve found myself standing in the shower in Malaysia, only to realise that the switch is cunningly located outside in the hallway. 



Shopping made easy? 


Did you know that all shops in Germany close on Sundays? Compared to Germany, shopping is much easier in many countries because there’s almost always a supermarket around the corner that’s open 24/7 or at least for extended hours every day. However, it’s still worth checking the local holidays while travelling. They could explain why the usually empty supermarket is so crowded suddenly. I’ve learned from my past mistakes: if the supermarket is this crowded, there’s probably a reason for it. I’ve had to survive with a nearly empty fridge on more than one occasion because I was oblivious that local shops were closing for celebrations or public holidays.  

But even the question of where to buy what is no longer as self-evident as it used to be. Can you only purchase medication at a pharmacy or also in the supermarkets? Are there any drugstores, or where can I get my contact lens solution? Can I buy alcohol anywhere, anytime, or only in specialised shops or at certain times?

And then there’s the mystery of cafe and restaurant opening hours… In Germany, you’ll struggle to find a cafe open before 9 am, your only option would be a bakery at that time of the day. On the flip side, in Australia, cafes open their doors much earlier, only to somehow close at 3 pm – precisely when I yearn for my coffee the most! In countries like Japan, you often have to hurry for lunch as many restaurants are only open briefly during lunch hours and close for the rest of the afternoon. And while the idea of having dinner before 8 pm might be unfathomable in many countries, outside of the bigger cities in Germany, you can consider yourself lucky if you find a restaurant still serving food at that time, as most kitchens will close by 8 pm.

The opening hours of shops and restaurants often reflect the country’s shared values and customs, which I generally appreciate. For the everyday life of a digital nomad, however, it means constantly adapting and readjusting – or just cooking and enjoying my cup of coffee at home whenever I feel like it.



Small but mighty differences 


More often than not, I find these small differences between the different places I visit endearing and interesting. Although, admittedly, there are times when I’m just annoyed that I can’t unlock the door again or that I accidentally turned on the hot water instead of the cold because I still can’t remember which direction to turn the faucet this week. But above all, these little things constantly remind me of how much I used to take for granted. Travelling truly opens the mind, and sometimes also the door.




Do you ever experience confusing moments like these when you travel? For more insights into my everyday life as a digital nomad and online psychologist, check out my blog and sign up for my monthly newsletter, where I also regularly share tips and exercises for your mental health and well-being.



The Everyday Life of a Digital Nomad

Photo by my VA Charlotte Seibert 

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