“Digital Nomad” has become such an instagram term these days that I’m starting to wonder if it’s starting to lose all meaning. It’s just another buzzword to add to your bio, yet another unrealistic “aspirational” goal to add to your highlight reel to try and generate likes.
We’re so surrounded by fakeness online now, so used to looking at people’s perfectly-curated dream lives that it’s easy to lose sight of what’s actually real behind all the #laptoplifestyle photos.
It seems too easy for people to assume that this remote-working life is just staged ‘for the ‘gram’ ‘ and that people living the nomad life are just dossing around, doing no work and living off someone else’s money.
I’ll be honest, there probably are some people on instagram who are doing that but, for the most part, every other digital nomad I have met has been running a legit and – more often than not – damn impressive business! We’re just doing it differently in a way that other people find it hard to believe can be a lifestyle.
I’m not going to lie, I’m pretty sick of people thinking I’m just on holiday all the time and doing nothing!
For some reason it seems really difficult to explain to people that I am working. Honestly, if I get back from another stint of travelling and someone asks me how my “holiday” was, I might scream.
But I guess it’s our own faults. We’re so busy portraying this rose-tinted, beach-bumming, world-explorer wanderlust lifestyle that we’ve forgotten to show what’s real.
We’re intentionally trying to make it look effortless and then getting annoyed when people assume we’re not putting any effort in.
Obviously, being able to work remotely and travel as much as possible is amazing, and does kind of sound (and look) like a life that’s too good to be true. But there is a very real side to it too, a side that requires a lot of hard work, sacrifice and some definitely-not-so-instagrammable downsides.
I’ve been exploring this “Nomad” chapter of my life for almost a year now and I definitely go through phases of serious highs and lows. Yes, there are plenty of moments where life does really feel like a dream and I feel on top of the world and blinded by my own luckiness to be able to live this life.
I would trade the downsides for those moments any day, and I choose to, every day.
But there are still those other times. The times where I question everything. When I wonder what the f*ck I’m doing with my life.
There’s a reason it’s called “the path less travelled”. Because there’s not so many people on it. And that can be a lonely way to live.
Sometimes I forget what it really means to be a person who is “different”. Who thinks differently, who lives differently from other people. It basically means coming to terms with the fact that a lot of other people aren’t going to “get” you.
I’ve grown into that, and now it’s one of the things that I like about myself. But I also know that it’s an unavoidable part of who I am, even if I did want to change it.
I’ve tried to live in other ways, I spent most of my life treading the path I was told to tread, or the one I thought I was supposed to. I’ve tried to work the 9 to 5, to settle down, to conform. But it’s only ever lead to discomfort so extreme that I was forced to escape. To inadvertently let life tear me apart until I had no other option but to rebuild myself into something different that didn’t fit the mould.
Living this nomad life is a beautiful adventure but it also means sacrificing the life you had before, and all the lives you might have been heading towards or thought once upon a time that you might have in the future.
The word ‘nomad’ means to have no place and no ties to hold you, so in its very essence choosing this life means you have to untie yourself from everything – and everyone – else in order to live it.
Having nothing to hold you back really just means letting go of everything. Having no home, limited belongings. Going solo.
I’ve had to learn along the way to let go of all the other dreams I thought I might have by now, in order to be living this one. Those other dreams that are so tangled up with what you’re always told you ‘should’ do, how life is ‘supposed to’ work, that you’re not sure whether they’re even your own any more or dreams that someone else painted for you – settling down, finding ‘the one’, getting engaged. The things that in my darker moments I watch everyone else I know doing and wonder if I’ve chosen the wrong path.
One of the hardest things in my low points is the fact that nomad life is so transient. One of the biggest plus sides of travel is the people that you meet and the amazing connections you make along the way. But even the best friends you make, the communities you create, the love you fall into while you’re there….a lot of it is only temporary.
Everyone who’s travelling this road alongside you is there because they’re on their own journey. People live this life because they are the dreamers, the seekers, and in the end, you realise we’re all there because we’re searching for something. And chances are, it’s not each other.
You can bet that sooner or later the people you meet will follow their path wherever it takes them next, merging with yours for a moment and then taking them whichever way they need to go. Just as you will, too.
And what about the other things we don’t mention so much on instagram? Work, mostly. If you’re a digital nomad, you probably work for yourself. And working for yourself can have some serious ups and downs. Long hours spent on your laptop not speaking to anyone. (Yes, some of that time might be spent on your laptop by the beach or in another beautiful location, but not all of it!) Worrying your business won’t make enough money this month to catch your next flight or make it home. These are all classic entrepreneur problems, but just because you’re in a different country doesn’t make them any less real.
There’s also the feeling of homelessness which not-so-surprisingly comes along with not having a home. But I was still surprised when I felt it first. It kicks in right after the phase of liberation and freedom that made you wonder why you ever thought you needed a home in the first place.
Travelling teaches you an amazing ability to belong anywhere – to make friends easily, talk to people unashamedly, to create homes wherever you land. I love that I have a whole handful of places that give me a sense of ‘home’ when I arrive now. But the flip-side is that belonging everywhere is eerily similar to belonging nowhere.
You can arrive home home and find it doesn’t feel that way any more.
And the post-travel depression is real when you arrive back somewhere that you’ve outgrown, a place that has stubbornly stayed the same while every fibre of your being seems to have changed, caught fire, blazed into life.
I can’t help but feel there’s a danger of being addicted to never settling, to always moving on. To the freedom that you begin to crave and tire of in equal measure.
I have to admit there are times where I wonder if I’ll ever find a place to settle. It’s like once you see more of the world, you realise how much choice there is and it makes it even harder choose just one place to be. It’s funny because I’m pretty sure most of us start on this path because we don’t want to belong in just one place, one life. But at times you start to end up longing for belonging.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that, like anything in life, nomad life is a rollercoaster of ups and downs. The reward is that you get some of the highest, most amazing “ups” there are, and that – in my opinion – makes it worth it every time; the freedom, the chance to dream and see the world, the ability to live on your own time, on your own whims. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t downsides too. It’s not all and endless highlight reel of insta-shots in iconic locations and working on your laptop by the poolside.
It takes work, courage, fear, and undeniably times where you feel lonelier and more cut off from everything you know than you’ve probably ever experienced. It’s ‘going it alone’ in every sense. And that’s equally terrifying and liberating. Equally lonely and free.