I’m Traveling, Working, and Living Abroad, but Please, Don’t Call me a Digital Nomad

Bali Indonesia where I’ve spent the past month working and training jiujitsu
“Exodus. Movement of the people” — Bob Marely

There’s an exodus from our big cities and our comfy jobs in America. Some people are leaving their 9–5 to travel in vans, others are leaving their McMansions for tiny houses.

In 2015 I did a bit of everything above. Worked at a tech startup in the most expensive city in the US, left the job to travel the Southwest in a VW van, and then spent two months living in a small cabin out in the desert.

In 2016 I decided to take my living experiments to SE Asia where I would travel while doing freelance marketing for a few tech companies.

And while some traditional folks back home think “that’s all crazy talk” there’s a whole movement of self described “digital nomads” who are working while traveling and seeing the world.

There are even a dozen or so digital nomads selling courses on how to become a digital nomads.

So what is a digital nomad?

Digital Nomads are individuals that leverage technology in order to work remotely and live an independent and nomadic lifestyle.

Okay so I guess that sounds like what I’m doing, but this is what I hear when someone talks about digital nomads.

Thousands of overpaid, self absorbed techies wandering around the globe promoting themselves and what they are doing to people who want to be doing the same thing.

Two travelers engage with their phones in a Bali cafe

It sounds like hour after hour of screen time, with no connection to the local community outside of asking, “What’s the wifi password?”

Obviously my judgement and observation of the negative aspects of “digital nomad” lifestyle is an inquiry into my own existence.

I make an attempt to connect and hang out at locally owned establishments. I chat with folks, young and old and make friends with musicians and MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) fighters alike.

Joe and the Peaceful Warriors play in Canggu Beach, Bali

I want local flavor, but I also want to know what the wifi password is for a few hours of work everyday. I volunteer my time to help some locals set up their own blog, work on their English and start a writers’ meet up group to encourage people (and myself) to improve their writing.

Nomad doesn’t feel right to me. How about the opposite?


I want to be someone who says yes to new opportunities and experiences. Someone who says yes to working less hours per week, and says yes to helping others.

Someone who truly feels happy and doesn’t spend my energy trying to publish a perfect looking life on Instagram.

I’ll never forget the conversation I had with a young woman after I told her I was working online.

“Oh God, I used to date one of those social media marketers. His online persona was so perfect, he seemed so incredible, I mean that’s what his job was. But actually when I got to know him he was a really terrible person.”

That sounds like a Digital Nomad.

Someone lost, wandering through a constructed digital fantasy disguised as reality. That’s not what I want to be.

How about a Sustainable Traveler?

I don’t want this to be a temporary escape. Most of the travelers I talk to dread the inevitable return to their homeland.

“I can’t believe I have to go back to a job in 2 weeks. I’ve realized I’m such a miserable person back there.”

This is typically shared during a night of drinking in which I learn they’ve had a few weeks of partying.

Of course not all travelers are like this, and probably fewer of the so called nomads. It just seems a majority of the people traveling are looking for a temporary escape from their life back home, with a different party and a different city every few days.

Looking around at the hostel, I see a group playing beer pong at night and then lying around on their phones half the day. This mindless traveler looks more like a lost “digital nomad” than today’s freelancer working at a coffee shop.

Mindful travel. Maybe that’s what the Eat Pray Love book is about? Who knows. All I know is that I don’t want to be a digital nomad.

Catching a ride in Thailand

I don’t want to dread my return home.

I’m not looking to avoid responsibility.

I just don’t want to work 60 hours a week. (all the time)

I’m not sure if I can survive on two weeks of vacation a year.

I just want to be human.

A happier, more balanced, giving, and loving human.