One of the hottest buzzwords for the millennial generation is “Digital Nomad”. This phrase represents a highly coveted lifestyle and the embodiment of everything we wish to enjoy in our everyday lives. Our social media channels are flooded with individuals living this dream. Location independent, they post pictures of their ever changing “office” spaces. One day, a quaint coffee shop overlooking a Roman ruin in Italy, the next, a poolside cabana in a Mediterranean location with an accompanying mojito to make the day progress faster.
In his book “The Four Hour Work Week”, Tim Ferris defined us as the new rich. We are individuals who earn wealth through travel experiences and adventures, rather than material things.
Becoming a Digital Nomad has the promise of a flexible schedule, complete control over one’s own workload, and a working environment free from an over zealous boss breathing down your neck every five minutes. Carefully curated Instagram posts will have you believe that this is the perfect life. Being a Digital Nomad myself, I know I’m also guilty of glamorising this way of life. However behind the filters, the wanderlust and the manipulated view, the reality isn’t always so perfect.
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The novelty, the excitement and the danger pull us to new cities. Our lives are almost like a dozen different lifestyles and identities compressed into one person in one lifetime. Many Digital Nomads move in the same circles and occupy the same nomad hotspots around the globe – Chiang Mai, Bangkok, Bali, Cebu.
Of course, we are having fun a lot of the time. The flexibility of schedule and fabulous independence that this lifestyle creates means that you have the freedom to do absolutely anything. Last year I visited 16 countries and lived in three of them. I went from sipping coffee whilst looking out at the Acropolis in Athens, to slurping noodles at a Hawker’s centre in Singapore and trekking in Bhutan all in one week. I am incredibly grateful for the life I lead but indeed, there is no perfect life. All of us are bound by some shackles or another. It’s just that some of us choose better ones.
It’s not difficult to make connections as a Digital Nomad. We do not represent a majority share of the general population but enough that it’s easy to run into a handful of fellow wanderlusting gypsies and online entrepreneurs in major cities around the globe.
As Digital Nomads, we attend events, network with others in the same circles, laugh, drink and enjoy social experiences in the same way as you would at home. The only difference for us is that everything is temporary, everything is transient. Every new hello is paralleled with a goodbye. Nomad friends stick around long enough that you always have someone to catch a movie with on a Friday night, or grab a coffee with when you’re both feeling claustrophobic from working from your Airbnbs.
However ultimately one of you will leave, causing you to repeat the cycle of meeting and befriending others in your next location. The majority of the friendships and relationships that you build are fickle – surface level. After all, how deep can a connection be after just a few weeks or months?
Sure, these people know that you can’t handle your gin, that you love browsing through flea markets and vintage stores, but that’s surface stuff. These relationships have very little depth to them and you miss the connections with people who know you inside and out and have been in your life for years.
Simple, taken for granted pleasures in life are those that you seldom get to experience as a Digital Nomad. Sometimes it feels as though you are more of a spectator than a participant. I remember sitting in a galbi restaurant in Seoul, watching as a family ate Korean BBQ together and thinking about how seldom I saw mine. I remember walking around Athens when I first arrived in Greece and watching groups of friends go out for dinner and having the sudden realisation that I was completely alone, that I was blending into the shadows as I ventured around the city like a ghost.
It’s a strange reality, when those whom you are closest and most connected to are those whom you see so infrequently. My closest friends are scattered across the globe and perhaps I will see them once or twice a year if I’m lucky.
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Your work associates and professional connections may be based at opposite ends of the world and the majority of your day’s conversations are held with anonymous people you’ve never met or seen, aside from through an email avatar or a crackley Skype connection.
The peculiarity of being a Digital Nomad is that for all of its negativity, the way that it impacts your personal life and relationships, and the bouts of loneliness, this lifestyle is difficult to walk away from once you have launched yourself into it.
In a world where you can literally do whatever you want, it becomes difficult to commit – difficult to commit to a base in Italy for example, when you long to see the bright lights of Tokyo, or the chaos of Mexico city, It’s difficult to commit to relationships and people when there is just so much out there. Friendships and relationships become easily replaceable – disposable almost. After all, you will meet a new group of people at the next place. You wonder if becoming a Digital Nomad has drastically changed your perspective on things or whether human interactions have always been so fickle.
You long for a home and a sense of belonging, but staying still is every bit as difficult as packing up, saying goodbye and moving on, and so we continue on with this way of life accepting it for its warts and all because we cannot imagine it any other way – at least not right now. Being a Digital Nomad is an oxymoron almost – we are both free, and trapped as a caged bird simultaneously.