The Myth of the Perpetual Global Nomad
My latest of many projects in exploring what I’d like to call the “Promise of the Internet” I set out to experience the life as a global nomad in my 40s. The idea is nothing knew, neither to me nor the Internet community, but with the advent of the collaborative economy and many new on-demand, mobile services it offers a different opportunity than when I worked remotely for the first time in 1993 (via a modem and an internal email program), 1995 (when a colleague and I packed our bags to travel around Europe with a heavy laptop, a PCMCIA-card and a big Nokia phone) or when I travelled across the world supporting local Yahoo! offices back in the 90s and early 00s.
Almost on the day a year ago I left the married life to begin anew and felt that I needed to explore old dreams. Since I already travel a lot across the world every year in my recent profession as a learning facilitator I felt that I was in a good place to explore. I decided to divest everything I had down to a few things, pack my bag and check-in at different hotels and AirBnB’s dependent on where I was in the world and for whatever purpose — business, leisure or both. Luckily, it’s mostly both.
I needed a fresh start that included new learnings and explorations. Since I’ve worked in the Silicon Valley tech culture for 20 years I wanted to explore the latest emerging trend — the collaborative economy. Is it possible to live a life on access alone? Could I really survive one year with just a phone, passports (luckily I’ve two nationalities) and a credit card? How would I feel about not having a physical home on my quest in rediscovering myself? Would it be possible to work across the world with big Fortune 500 companies and still just show up with one simple carry-on bag? How would my well-being be affected by continuous jetlag, change of places and no physical home?
I felt scared but was also attracted to the idea of just letting go of my old life and venture into the world redesigning a new. I decided to give it a go and headed off to Dubai for the first workshop in March 2014. I then swung by San Francisco to see the kids for a few days and then headed off again to Orlando to participate in a very progressive personal development course exploring my personal beliefs and behaviours.
I had to rethink how I spent my days, what I ate and how to exercise. I was redesigning my self from the ground up; starting with purpose, culture beliefs and behaviours. I was never in any place longer than a week except for two weeks in Bordeaux studying French. And in-between every trip I ventured back to San Francisco for quality time with the kids. I realise that most “normal” people would have gotten a pad, decorated a new kids room, shut down the pain and kept on keeping on. I couldn’t and decided that I wanted to get back to my old curious, free-thinking and creative side. I already felt so beaten down by the traditional norm and expectations in what to believe and how to behave in a marriage that I decided to let go and follow my own heart.
After San Francisco I went to LA to work on a cultural transformation project, then to Sweden facilitating an undergraduate mobile business class, to Manchester for rapid prototyping workshop, home in San Francisco for a week and then off to LA to work with Apple’s advertising agency, Oslo to run innovation workshops, back to San Francisco for Maker Faire, then workshops in Auckland and Sydney via Tokyo, Singapore and Fiji. July I spent in Paris and Bordeaux learning French. The fall, winter and now spring has been very similar.
It’s been a year of non-stop travels with every second or third week back in San Francisco. I’ve travled 250,000 miles, stayed in hotels, AirBnB’s or with friends for 365+ days and only used cloud-based or on-demand services to survive and thrive. It’s been enormously confident boosting to know that I can live, work and thrive anywhere by leveraging my network, my understanding of technology and my by now genetic startup culture. More importantly, I’ve learned how to make new friends — not couple friends but real friends that are there for me and none else — after a failed long-term relationships.
I’ve been fortunate to be able to take breaks in-between work and family in places like Fiji, Bali, Cap Ferret, Barcelona and Rio de Janeiro. I’ve pushed the envelope as far as I felt was humanely possible until the point a few days ago when a really good friend told me: “Don’t let your fringe experiments prevent you from enjoying the simple everyday things.”
I realised that there were so many things I had missed with not having a place of my own. I love to cook but haven’t had my own kitchen for a year and I missed that. When I stayed at AirBnB’s I could cook but the pots, pans and knives didn’t feel like mine. It felt like using another person’s jeans. I missed spending the occasional weekend in bed without having to either book another 1–2 days via my mobile phone or putting up the Don’t Disturb sign on my hotel room door. I missed the familiarity of the same boring kitchen table. I missed not having to change, adapt or evolve all the time but just relax and exist in the presence of regularity. And I was so fucking tired of my iPhone.
Over the past year I’ve learned so much about myself, my beliefs and my fears and am so appreciative that I’ve the capability of adapting and changing to new cultures, needs and environments. But I’m also glad I have discovered the simple everyday things in this accelerating digital era. I highly recommend anyone to let go off a past that is not you and to venture out in the world for exploration and rediscovery for a shorter or longer time. But in the end of the day there are certain things that don’t have to change: a place to call your own, close family and friends and turning off the phone to drop your laundry in person at the local neighbourhood cleaner.
I’m now getting a new small and modern pad in San Francisco in a vibrant and friendly neighbourhood that I’ll be able to call my own. It will be lightly furnished based on my motto “Fewer, Better Things”. I’m currently working on a list of things to buy — less than 100 I hope. My new pad will be more personal than the best design hotel rooms I’ve stayed at but less cluttered than the normal AirBnB house.
I really like the idea of the global nomad but as with many of things that the Internet has promised I prefer it as an idea than a perpetual way of living.