What the heck is a digital nomad? Do you need a yak and a yurt? Well, actually the term is much more prevalent these days and I’m sure most of you know it already. A digital nomad is someone who uses technology to work from anywhere in the world. I guess if you strictly go by that definition, I already am a digital nomad. I’m self employed online and I work from home, coffee shops, and libraries. However, I am mostly doing this from Portland.
When I hear digital nomad, I’m thinking of someone who is blogging/freelancing from Bora Bora or some exotic places like that. For the rest of this article, let’s focus on the nomadic side of the phrase. Digital nomads should be exploring the world so I am not really one, yet.
In my younger days, the nomadic lifestyle would have been very attractive to me. I love exploring new places and cultures. Even when I was working a corporate job, I tried to avoid my cubicle as much as possible and welcomed any chance to get out of that hell hole. I started traveling as soon as I had some money and always used up all my vacation days. Life changes though and the nomadic lifestyle isn’t as attractive now that I’m 40.
1 – Living out of a backpack is a young person’s game
Traveling is a lot of fun, but it is draining to be constantly on the move. In 2003, we went backing packing through Europe for 6 weeks and it was a lot of fun, but very tiring as well. When we got back, I went off to Thailand for 3 more weeks. Mrs. RB40 went back to work after Europe. I was spent by the time I got back home. I don’t know if I can keep moving every few days and live out of a backpack anymore.
Being a digital nomad actually is a bit different than taking a vacation. Digital nomads need good internet connection and stick around in one spot longer.
2 – Life on the road can be lonely
I am terrible at chatting up strangers and I don’t really like going out to bars. Sure, I can shoot the breeze about where I’ve been and where the next destinations are, but conversation generally dries up after that. Some people can form friendship quickly, but that’s not me. I’d rather go on trips with friends and family than travel solo.
3 – Work and vacation don’t mix
I loathe working when I’m on vacation. Many engineers (among other professions) think they are indispensable and like to be in touch at all time. I’m the opposite of that. Please don’t call me when I’m on vacation. The problem can wait a couple of weeks or someone else can work it out. You are all geniuses so why not deal with it. Nobody is going to die when I’m on vacation, I’m not a doctor. Seriously, I knew people who worked when they were on sabbatical. That’s too much dedication. Apparently, they didn’t understand the word ‘sabbatical.’
Anyway, I know being a digital nomad in paradise isn’t the same as vacationing, but I’m pretty sure I won’t get much done if I’m in Bora Bora.
4 – RB40 Jr. needs stability
Mini me has been a pretty good traveler so far. We have been to a few places in California and went camping a couple of times already. He seems to take new things in stride. He probably needs more stability as he get a bit older though. My family moved around a lot when I was a kid and I always felt rootless. It’s hard to make new friends when you’re dropped into a new environment. Education is also a big concern as I wrote last week in Education options for our kid if we move to Thailand.
I would prefer not move around so much after RB40 Jr. starts school. We can travel during summer breaks and take a couple of weeks off here and there.
5 - Mrs. RB40 is not of nomad stock
This is the main reason why I can’t be a digital nomad. Mrs. RB40 is not a nomad at all. She lived in one town when she was growing up. She is still friends with her kindergarten teacher, for goodness sake! When we travel, she’ll unpack her bags and put all her clothes into the hotel’s drawers. That’s a bit strange to me because I never unpacked my bag when I traveled alone. I just leave everything in the bag and have a dirty pile… Yes, I know, men are slobs.
She likes traveling too but I think she likes the coming home part even more. She is very attached to our home. She has a lot of stuff with sentimental value and likes having a place to store them. Even if we became digital nomads, she would want to keep our place. Here is your chance to hear from Mrs. RB40.
Would you consider living a digital nomad lifestyle?
Mrs. RB40> Not anymore. I like traveling, but I also like having a sense of place where I would stay in the same location for an extended period of time. After I left the Peace Corps, I traveled on my own for about 3 months throughout Malaysia and Thailand before coming home to the US. I shipped the bulk of my stuff to my grandparents house, so I only had a small bag with me.
I spent a full week in one location in Penang, Malaysia, which is a long time in one place by nomadic standards, before crossing the border into Southern Thailand. I loved using my hostel as a home base and explored much of the island by foot and chatted with the locals (yes, they spoke English). I feel like I really got to know a place and where things were. I met people who packed up and moved on within a day or two, but they only got a glimpse of a place. I was in a travel office where I ran into a woman who was debating where to go next. She had a ‘been there, done that’ attitude (every place she’d seen was boring), but she’d only had a glimpse of local life in each location before moving on, and I told myself that I never wanted to be like that when I travel. After three months, I was ready to come home.
How about part time digital nomad? What if we live in Chiangmai for 6 months and in Portland for 6 months. After Jr. goes off to college of course.
Mrs. RB40> Yes. I would want to retain our Portland home, which I would be open to renting out for the duration we are gone. We would either rent a place in Chiangmai or stay at the RB40′s condo (currently rented out). This would give me an opportunity to really immerse myself in the Thai language, which I never use in the US, and to use Chiangmai as a base when exploring the surrounding area. I like being able to walk around and explore a place on foot (which the locals think is crazy – locals stay inside where there is air-con) so I can remember where things are. Joe is right — I like to unpack. If I am in a hostel, there is no place to unpack, so I feel like I have to waste time repacking every time I need to find something. But when I unpack, I have things in separate drawers and know where everything is.
What do you think about RB40 and Jr. going off to be a digital nomad for a few months? Maybe the boys can go off during summer breaks and be back in time for school.
Mrs. RB40> The summer break is a great time for the boys to indulge their traveling needs. Three months is a long time to not see Jr. I guess three months is a long time to not see the husband, too. I’d want to meet up with them for a week or two here and there. So if they go somewhere, and end up being in a place for a week, I’ll join them for that week, and then come home.
Nomadic Lifestyle isn’t for everyone
The digital nomad lifestyle certainly sounds very attractive, but I don’t know if it’s for everyone. Some of us like staying put more than moving around all the time. The wandering lifestyle is probably better when you are young as well. When you have a family, things get more complicated. We can probably do it for 3-6 months once Mrs. RB40 retire AND the little guy is out of the house, but for now, we like staying at home. I hope you enjoyed hearing from Mrs. RB40.
photo credit: flickr by canorus