I Don’t Want To Be a Digital Nomad

It seems that becoming a digital nomad is all the rage these days. For those unfamiliar with the term, a digital nomad is one who tends to live and work remotely. They aren’t tied down to being in a single location for work, which gives them the flexibility to travel often. Many people who identify as digital nomads wind up living in a very flexible situation. Buying an RV is a very common one, but some just travel from place to place, freelancing their way through life and exploring different cultures and areas of the world.

Turning Into a Digital Nomad (How Not To Quit Your Job)

My best friend could be described as a (now kind-of-former) digital nomad. A few years ago he decided to leave his job. Here’s a bit how that conversation went:

[Friday]
Friend: I want to quit.
Boss: No.
Friend: But really, I do.
Boss: Think about it over the weekend and let’s chat on Monday. I’m not accepting your resignation today.

[Monday]
Friend: I want to quit.
Boss: Naaaahhh…
Friend: I want to travel.
Boss: Okay. We’ll keep you part-time, you can work remotely. You can’t quit though.
Friend: Cool.

I wish I could say I was making this up, but it was precisely how that conversation panned out. Not content with driving in to sit in an office for 8 hours a day, my friend wanted to travel the world. He got lucky. His plans were extraordinarily ambitious and he’d saved up money to be able to afford a lifestyle of travel through side gigs, even if he didn’t have a regular income. Having the part-time work at the company he was working at just sweetened the pot.

He has since lived in Bali for 9 weeks while taking a Ruby boot-camp and went to Costa Rica for who knows how long. For a few weeks he couch-surfed (and literally surfed…we held onto his surf board for months, and it’s now at another mutual friend’s house) at our apartment, and wound up in Nashville just for fun. I think he may have taken a trip to Spain or Amsterdam, but I lost track of where he was since he was moving around so much. He’s settled down a bit now, but for a few years he embraced the digital nomad lifestyle and still largely does.

My Life-Changing Move

I went through a similar endeavor with moving, but didn’t plan on ever traveling full-time. When I wanted to move to California four years ago, I decided to have a similar conversation. I was a bit more prepared in how I approached the conversation, and framed it up in a way that let me keep my job. I didn’t have the money saved up, nor income from side-gigs, to pursue this without the support of my employer at the time.

Here’s how my conversation went:

[Monday]
Me: It is May. It just snowed an entire f***ing foot. I’m sick of this weather and I would like to move to California. The company’s already flying me out there twice a month which costs minimum $2000 each trip with all of my expenses. Flying me back up here quarterly would save the company some money and let me live out in California which I’d really like to pursue. What do you think?
Boss: I’m fine with it, but need to run it past my boss. What sort of timeline were you thinking about?
Me: Well, I really want to have another summer up here and I already have a few trips planned. I was thinking at the end of August would be ideal. That’ll give me time to prep the offices I work with out in California and I can tie up loose ends here.
Boss: Okay. Let’s see what my boss says. He ultimately will need to approve it.

[Wednesday]
Boss: So, my boss was fine with it. Do you still want to move? We cannot offer relocation assistance unfortunately.
Me: Yep. If I don’t do it now, I never will. Besides, it’ll be so much easier to work with people out in California. Relocation won’t be a big deal anyway.

I was just happy for the opportunity to keep my decently-paying job when I moved. I packed up all of my stuff into my 2011 Hyundai Sonata. My lease was up at the end of July, so I moved in with two great friends (into a room that has since been relegated to the junk room I’ve been told) and their puppy for the month of August. If you’ve never had to pare down your stuff to what’ll fit into a modestly sized sedan, it’s not exactly the easiest thing. Especially when you end up taking plants with you.

Post-Move

When I moved I had a desk that I used in a nearby office, and later stopped working with those offices and worked primarily from home. I was able to work and then immediately be at home without having to hassle with the California traffic unless I drove out to one of the offices I infrequently worked with. I was living with Kristin just a block and a half from the beach. Life was good.

I’d tried to work in various locations over the three years of working remote. I graced a few local coffee shops every now and then for a change in scenery. But as much as I tried, I could never really get any work done there. I always needed to be more focused, with fewer distractions. My job ended up getting pretty slow toward the end of it (before I switched jobs and moved back to Minnesota) but for quite a while those distractions were impeding on my ability to do my job.

Homesick?

Throughout my time working remote and trying to work in places that weren’t mine (like coffee shops), I realized that I never really wanted that digital nomad lifestyle. I didn’t – and still don’t – like having to go into an office every day any more than the next guy. But it was much less about the work and much more about that feeling of home.

Last week when we were in Seattle I knew I was going to be out two posts (Wednesday and Friday). We had Kristin’s laptop (I really need to get one for myself) with us but I couldn’t bother taking the time to write. There was too much to do, too much to see, and as much as I thought about writing, I just never had the motivation and the time simultaneously to pull it off.

After being gone for almost two weeks, coming back from Seattle was so nice. I missed our small apartment. When I went to shower this weekend I actually forgot how to use our shower. I realized then that as much as I think I like the idea of traveling full-time and not being tied down, it’s not something I’d be truly happy with. For all my love for travel (I studied abroad ten years ago and loved every minute of it), I just don’t want that full-time.

No, the digital nomad life is not for me. I prefer to be a homebody. Weekends are spent at home hanging out – watching movies, writing, playing video games or board games. Sometimes we’ll go out with friends or meet up at one of their houses. It’s calm, relaxing, and inexpensive.

Home Base

Don’t get me wrong – I love to travel. A lot. I just don’t think I could do it full-time. I’d much rather have a home base, somewhere familiar to come back to and escape from the hustle and bustle of traveling to a busy city. Being away for a while makes you appreciate what you have, and being at home for a while makes you appreciate what you don’t. It’s a push-and-pull, but home always wins in my book. Home makes vacation feel like vacation. Vacations make home feel like home. I like having the separation – blending the two, I think, would make vacation feel like home or, worse, like work.

As I think about what our lives will be like as we build a home and put down some serious roots, and what our ideal lives would be if money were not a concern at all, it’s nearly the same as it is now. Except, of course, with a puppy. A bit of travel for leisure – which really means not working – every now and then, and the company of good friends and family. While others pursue the lifestyle of a true digital nomad, I’m perfectly content with a warm cup of coffee in my office. And as long as I’m following what makes me happy, that’s how it should be.

Question:

Are you trying to pursue the life of a digital nomad, or are you already one?

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4 Comments

    1. Totally agree with this Lance. My dad has been self-employed since I was very young and he always said “Being self-employed is great. I can choose which 12 hours of the day I want to work!”

      It has its perks but it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. But I do find that it’s better mentally than having to drive into the office! A 30-minute drive with no traffic each way (which turns into 45 for work hours) adds time that I’d rather spend at home and be productive.

      I keep hearing about companies being less open to employees working from home, too, which is kind of surprising to me. Just read about an IBM’er for example who had been working from home for about 11 years, and then was told he needed to start going into the office which was a 90-minute commute for him. So he retired. 🙂

  1. I agree with this so much, “vacation makes home feel like home, home makes vacation feel like vacation”. There’s just so much to be said for the feeling of home, belonging, comfort, familiarity. Contrasts well with adventure, travel, excitement, and newness. Also a homebase allows other frugal moves, like keeping a pantry, stocking up on good deals, making a lot of things from scratch, frugal entertainment, etc.

    Though I am tempted by the siren song of transitioning to a WFH job for the flexibility and awesome lack of commute, I’m not sure I’d be able to do as much work with all the distractions, like you said… only way to know is find out I guess! Glad you figured out what works and doesn’t work for you. It’s all about the pursuit of balance and happiness.

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