The life of a digital nomad. The things you miss?
The seasons changing. That slow bleed of one thing into another. Growth so slow you can’t see it happening in front of you. Transitions.
In the world of nomadery, everything is episodic. There is no flow.
There are other rhythms that take the place. Comparisons. How winter bites here. What ruddy delights spring brings there. Catching a plane for some polar energy or some equator expansion. But it is not the same.
And the endless summer, there for me, calling to me. I embrace it until the mere fact that I am built from something else demands I steep in other experiences.
I have been a full time nomad for five years. Life becomes increasingly episodic. Each place and its people define the way time is demarcated.
The events that change the course of my life are self-created. The circumstances that arise aren’t like those of the non-nomadic. And so it drives personal evolution. More and more I feel the distance from those that sink their toes into the sand.
“You’re so lucky!” people say.
“I’m jealous!” people say.
They are jealous of the newness, not the constant feeling of loss. They feel luck in the freedom, not the lack of family.
I avoid the term digital nomad. I avoid the digital nomad hotspots. That term didn’t exist when I began my rambling. I prefer to make my own roads, this is why I do this.
My parents ensure that I travel. They do the best that they can to light that fire in me. I have strong memories of early trips to visit family in Massachusetts and Florida, and the beach. The feeling of leaving an ice covered place and stepping off the plane into humid, salty, dusk air. As if you stepped indoors just to have summer come on before you got out again.
But oh weddings, funerals, and births. These markers that make us all feel just a little more human. They tend to happen without the rolling stone.
“Why do you travel?” he asks. All the reasons seem trivial in his timeless, placeless, galaxial gaze. I don’t tell him. I just fill my head with his anticipated judgements and interruptions.
Why do I travel? Because it’s a less fattening addiction than any other I allow myself these days. Can’t seem to get to the gym anymore, but that’s a catch-22. I travel too far and wide for any one gym membership, for any regularity.
“Are you on holiday?” is my least favorite question. I usually growl back “Americans don’t get holidays.”
It’s true, USAmericans do not get holidays the way that Europeans do. The privilege inherent in this question always irks me. I wonder if they ask the same to travelers that are obviously not of US origin.
Mostly this question annoys me though because no, I am not on holiday. This is my life. I live it across many different places. We all need to be understood. Even digital nomads.
I also do not like the term “Global Citizen” – because that’s bullshit. The only thing enabling me to do this is my strong passport. Most people on the planet are incapable of leaving their own country, let alone traveling the entire world.
I am only a citizen of the United States.
Traveling has made me painfully present to geopolitical inequality. The strongest complaint I could have is that I am treated like a walking dollar bill everywhere I go. So what if people see me as money? I am. I’m in the upper percentile. How can I complain when I am a native speaker of Standard American English? The privilege that brings is immeasurable.
But with privilege comes blindness.
The things people who travel a little bit say about travel are untrue. They say it makes the world smaller. That it brings people together. That if you travel, you realize that we are all the same. I say to these who say this: travel more. Tell me that kidnappers in Northern Nigeria have the same motivations and vibrations as fishermen from Åland.
Shallow, broad roots. The truth is that I spend most of my time alone. Alone in my thoughts, my observations, and my experiences. Those close to me are scattered across the world. I have no squad, no posse, no one local I can call if something goes wrong. Or right.
It does mean I have people scattered all across the world, and that’s a beautiful thing. I don’t get stuck into any rigid perspective of a place. I never have to fly too far to feel the love.
During the time of SARS-CoV-2 this lack of fixed perspective stands out as a benefit. From where I sit, many are mired in the thick weeds of a narrative necessary to get their specific government through it. I visit over 25 countries in the first year of the disease, and it teaches me is that there are an infinite number of perspectives. It will take generations for us to see which of them is valid.
Almost everyone I know shudders at the levels of consumption we have on the planet and how that affects other parts of the planet – especially those of us who call our homeland the USA. I used to as well. Now I have a far more complex attitude around the spending of money.
Covid is one of the greatest teachers I have ever known about.
One of the things I have learned is that systems and societies cannot pivot immediately, and even when they seem to, there are ripple effects – many of which are not seen as related to the initial event – that take generations if not millennia to smooth out.
Another thing I have learned is that narrative is more powerful than reality, and that reality doesn’t occur in this plane as observed by humans without narrative.
I don’t like the system globalization has created either, it’s ugly and hard to be a part of. But it is as crucial now as it has ever been to spend money. People are starving.
At the most basic level, the narrative we have around the virus is already causing millions more to starve than would have if we simply told a different story.
I do what I can. Contribute more than most I know. Receive, as well as give. I am “high class homeless”. I have no home base. Most of the time I spend living in other people’s houses. Almost everyone has some apology to make for where they live. To me, every home is amazing and wonderful (except the moldy ones), and they are angels for hosting me. I’m eternally grateful and normally can’t see whatever it is that they are self-conscious about.
Being a constant guest has taught me lessons in and of itself. It’s easy to see it as taking from the people who host me, but that isn’t how it feels. People compete to host me. They want me back. I am fed and clothed and cared for. Anything I forget is provided. I try to give back, but mostly – more and more as I travel and collect experiences to share – it’s my presence alone that people feel as a gift.
“I have always depended on the kindness of strangers” — Blanche DuBois
Trading freedom for comfort. Or is it comfort for freedom?
“An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.” ― G.K. Chesterton.
There is something inherently offensive about my perspective, though. I don’t live a place and am not invested, but I have an outlook. And I share it. I compare places to other places. I talk about regions of the world even when I’m in a small village that can’t possibly see their own context. Got no skin in the game, yet I’m full of opinions. I would be offended if someone like me swooped in to summarize my home. Yet most often people react surprised I’ve picked up so much in so little time.
The things I miss?
Investment. Depth. Intimacy.
I visit cities, because I have a mistrust of rural culture, and I am a fish out of water anywhere else. Cities understand the term “digital nomad”. In some ways all cities are monuments to their former selves in some overly intentional, farcical and fanciful way that they never have actually and naturally existed. In some ways the streets are a museum.
Conversely, nature is the same everywhere. You’ve seen one salt flat you’ve seen them all. Mountains are comparable to other mountains. A beach is a beach. There are few unique landscapes in the world. I know that people who like nature say this about cities, and I will admit that sometimes I need a break from urban life, but still – it’s human culture I adore.
The things I miss?
I miss NOT having a global outlook. I miss being able to sit with my old friends and listen to their conversation and contribute and see eye to eye. Now, their daily lives seem mundane. Their opinions lack perspective and context. Their thoughts smack of privilege. I can’t abide. I can’t spend too much time with people that don’t travel. My closest people are incessant travelers like myself, those that spend their lives reading about other cultures, and those that are forced into expanded perspective by the hypocrisy of their environment. This rarely includes USAmericans.
I find conversations with groups of USAmericans almost unbearable. Want to scream in their face, shake them, implore them. Don’t they know how lucky they are? Is this what they are doing with their USAmerican life?
The things I miss?
You. Your kiss, your touch, your dick, your heart, your mind.