In 2013, entrepreneurs Jason Fried and David Hannson took the tech world by storm with Remote, a convincing book about why remote work is the future.
Thus began my fascination with new breed of free-range humans who call themselves digital nomads.
From Tim Ferriss’ idea of mini retirements to all the Facebook ads promising an independent-location lifestyle, I was sold. Being a digital nomad is undeniably sexy and in vogue, especially with millennials.
But it can also become a distraction from what truly matters to us.
After experiencing life on the road for myself, I’ve decided to give up the digital nomad identity.
Here lies my story, which begins with ice cream. Because brotha loves to eat.
Travel is like ice cream
I have a favorite flavor of ice cream, rum raisin. Yet I don’t feel a compulsion to try every single ice cream flavor that exists.
So why was I doing that to travel?
In my first months-long trip through Latin America, I experienced many cities that were nice enough to visit once, but some that made me want to stay longer.
This gave me an odd sense of guilt – my mental model of being a digital nomad was that I had to keep exploring other cities before returning to my favorites.
I suppose it had something to do with wanting to follow in the footsteps of digital nomad idols like Chris Guillebeau, who has traveled to every country in the world.
Ironically, my identity as a digital nomad didn’t allow me the freedom to truly love one place.
I was relieved with the idea that giving up other cities is okay if it meant spending time in places I actually love.
David Kadavy, writer and traveler, decided to relocate to Medellin because (amongst other benefits) it’s his creative city. If you’re looking for people who gave up the digital nomad lifestyle and are doing pretty damn well, Kadavy is your example.
Seeing another example made me hopeful about building more purpose and depth in my travels, which brings me to the next point…
Building versus exploring
One night in Valparaiso, a bohemian town in Chile, I felt a pang of loneliness as I watched a group of friends happily chatting in a cafe.
Pain is revealing, and it revealed that I care about building a meaningful social circle.
Because the price of overwhelming freedom is often my isolation. – Mark Manson
The digital nomad identity fit me well when I first started traveling. I didn’t know what I didn’t know, so it made sense to wander new lands. To develop my palette, per my eating analogy.
Now that I’m getting older, the novelty of superficial exploration is wearing off. I want to build.
I want to trade novelty for depth in my knowledge, experiences and relationships:
This applies to romance too. I felt the cost of being a digital nomad when a relationship crashed & burned when I traveled too long.
I now better understand what’s required of me to build something worthwhile, and that involves rooting myself deeper in one locale instead of constantly moving.
It’s about presence
There’s a tendency amongst digital nomads to make it known that they’re… digital nomads. Spending inordinate amounts of time pruning images and showing off travels on social media. I know because I’m 100% guilty of this.
I felt this friction between being hyperconnected during travel and the unattached nature of what a nomad is supposed to be.
There are times when I’d be in a new city halfway across the world and was still holed up in my AirBnB doing marathon coaching calls and design sessions. It struck me then, that my location didn’t matter as much as my state of mind.
I can experience life – or not – whether I was in Los Angeles or Bucharest.
My mental model of adventure started shifting from something “out there” to a state of mind “in here” that I can access at any moment.
Moving towards an internal life required that I prioritize my mental state over my physical location.
I don’t have to be a digital nomad to be happy. Every day and moment could be full of magic and adventure if I allow myself to be present.
The part where I seemingly contradict everything I just said
I’m not going to stop traveling.
I think travel is one of the best things we can to do create a kinder, more empathetic world.
If a place doesn’t serve me, I will still move. There can be incredible therapeutic and mental benefits to changing your physical location.
But this is all about living life according to your own values. What do you care about?
For me, the freedom to travel is more important than travel itself.
Being a digital nomad is just one model and way of being.
A starting point, rather than a final destination.