365 Days as a Global Nomad: Coming Back to Self and The Cartography of Belonging
One year ago this week, I went nomad. July 2, 2015.
Sold off 90% of my possessions.
Emptied a big house in Marin County, California.
And started living, working, and teaching around the world.
Vancouver, Amsterdam, Mumbai, San Francisco, Melbourne, New York City, are just a few of the places I now consider home.
What happens when you downsize possessions and upsize experiences?
When you no longer let the things you surround yourself with tell the story for you?
And instead, learn to live from the presence of your being?
As I celebrate my 1-year nomadiversary and reflect on the journey to date, I wanted to share with you a more personal glimpse into the process and unfolding of one of the most remarkable years of my life.
Being a nomad is a vision I know is dear to many of you, so hopefully in sharing this, I help demystify and inspire you to move closer towards living your own dreams.
I now only travel with what fits in these 2 bags. Including kilos of chocolate. ;)
Context to The Quest and Call to Adventure
As the CEO and founder of Get Storied, I have spent the last 15 years on a path of transformational storytelling, pioneering new practices for corporate innovation, social change, and career reinvention. I’ve served as a story advisor to leading institutions like Google, NASA, and Greenpeace. Unlocked core narratives for 30+ different industries. Developed online courses, virtual summits, conferences, and live workshops that serve tens of thousands. And through it all, I’ve experienced many ups and downs, successes, and failures.
Looking in from the outside you might think I’ve got it all figured out, yet truth of the matter is, I’ve spent far more time in struggle, illness, and financial stress than in a state of joy, contentment or abundance. Perhaps that’s the weight you [often] carry as a pioneer. Desperately seeking, striving, and yearning to see your vision come to fruition, unable to find the patience and pace that is sustainable.
In the past 12 months, I launched #StoryWorldTour and taught in Vancouver, Amsterdam, San Francisco, London, Mumbai, Bangalore, Delhi, New York City, Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, and Auckland. Delivered trainings for Google, Bloomberg, Genentech, General Assembly, Kauffman Fellows, NASDAQ, Vistage, UNSW Business School among others.
In New Zealand, in a grove of California Redwoods, in between live events.
Somehow going nomad, has been the perfect vehicle for finding a deeper sense of grace, flow, and rhythm in the unfolding.
Committing to the process of emptying the cup. Not letting myself be defined by the external, the people, places, and things around me. And instead, laying claim to the internal, the story of my truest authentic self. The immutable part of myself that emerges when I simply show up and serve the moment.
Being a nomad, somehow has given me permission to be more of myself.
To equally give others an easier vehicle to relate to me. Somehow, as a nomad, the shamanic side of me, has even room to be revealed and received.
And most especially to learn from the great unfolding of life. How people are storying themselves into being. What kind of innovation and reinvention is taking shape in places as diverse as India, Australia, Netherlands, Canada, and beyond.
As a storyteller, “going nomad” is the perfect embodiment of a long-standing mythic archetype: The Traveling Bard.
The Scotts called him the Shanachie. In the Indian Vedic tradition he is theSanyasi. In modern times, s/he takes the form of the merchant, diplomat, and missionary. Each of these are shamanic paths in their own right. What’s a shaman?
A shaman is one who travels between the worlds.
Navigating across time, space, and culture. Or more simply, one who can move across one world to another and back — without getting lost. Being able to translate the wisdom, insights, and gifts from one dimension to another. Bringing into sight that which is invisible, unseen, or intangible; the secrets to a life expressed.
The boundaries of what is real, what is possible, and what is acceptable are held in the slipstream of reality — the stories we tell make our world.
To do deep story work is to be in a humble relationship with this great mystery.
In India on pilgrimage to Kayavarohan, the Pashupati path in Gujarat…
What Was The Reason Behind My Great Nomad Leap?
[This wasn’t so easy.]
Going nomad was the dream deferred for 20 years.
Ever since the age of 18, I dreamed of traveling and working around the world. Being raised in Switzerland as a kid, with a father from Zimbabwe, and as the grandson of Jewish refugees — all probably contributed to this deep longing and desire. Not just to see the world, but to figure out my place and home on this shiny blue marble flying through the sky. Especially in this emerging new world order of the 21st century.
In college, I trained as a cultural anthropologist and dreamed of doing ethnographic fieldwork in Tibet, Nepal, and Northern India. I researched and found the perfect program for my junior year abroad. Alas, my health didn’t cooperate. Starting in college I began to suffer from serious illness and chronic blood clots that prevented such a trip. Dream deferred.
For 20 years, dream deferred again and again.
My health. Finances. Divorce. Life partners who couldn’t travel. Career struggles. Fear. And the slow yet steady march of time unfolding. Dream deferred.
Then in November of 2014, I attended a workshop led by my friend Hitch McDermott. The theme was fear and desire. How the greater our dream or the desire, the greater the fear that accompanies it. As I went through the workshop, I stripped myself naked (metaphorically). To discover the fear of death as my greatest fear. Not really the fear of death itself (Reincarnation is a given truth for me). Rather the fear of dying incomplete. Somehow not having fulfilled my potential, squandered the opportunity, and not lived true to my dharma, purpose, or path.
And with that awareness, the dream deferred came flooding back.
Like destiny, patiently waiting for me to finally say YES to what was always truly mine to do. When I examined all the excuses of the past, none of them were any longer true. My Health. Finances. Romantic relationship. Career. None were obstacles any more. In fact, if anything, they all pointed to going nomad as the right true path. To ignore the choice, would be causing more harm than not to.
So I packed up my bags, and set off on the quest…
One of the hardest things to downsize: books. They are like totems of knowledge.
“ Australian Aborigines say that the big stories — the stories worth telling and retelling, the ones in which you may find the meaning of your life — are forever stalking the right teller, sniffing and tracking like predators hunting their prey in the bush.”
— Robert Moss, DreamGates
Within a few weeks I was resolved and gave myself 6 months to prepare.
I also was coming off a year of significant professional turbulence, having evolved Get Storied from a consulting and training company to a more intentional educational startup. That shift was a painful one, as expenses quickly grew and far outstripped income. The company losses soon reached six figures. So the idea of living more lean was the perfect medicine.
Downsizing my possessions was the easy part (relatively speaking). Talking my family, friends, and clients through the change required a bit more time. Especially family. Just because you’re now living a new story, doesn’t mean everyone else does.
Here’s a tip: consider a short trial sprint of a 1–4 week workcation.
Pick a place that’s not that far out of your comfort zone but represents a good and exciting adventure. For example, the first place I went to live as a nomad was Vancouver, Canada. Same time zone as my previous home in Marin County, CA. Thirty percent cheaper currency. An epic 2.5 month summer of love and deep community.
My first hours in Sydney, Australia after 24 hours of travel.
Going Nomad is One of the Great Dreams of our Generation
Being location independent. Digital nomad. Global citizen. That reality is more accessible and less disruptive to many of us than any other time in human history.
How many of you have work and livelihoods that are not geographically bound?
That allow you to conduct business from anywhere, assuming you have a good internet connection, and are somewhat available during business hours for your team and clients.
While Tim Ferriss’ The Four Hour Work Week or Chris Guillbeau’s The Art of Non-Conformity, may have awakened the dream or fueled the flames for many of us, a new generation of remote workers, virtual freelancers, and social media culture only further celebrates a life that transcends the boundaries and limits of old.
Thanks to the Internet, there’s a fast rising ecosystem of services, tools, and communities like Airbnb, Hotels.com, coworking spaces, iPhone apps, social media, and a shared culture found especially in the urban creative centers of the world.
There’s even an ecosystem specific to digital nomads.
From NomadsList to DNX Summit and thousands of personal blogs and resources on the Internet. Natalie Sisson. Sean Aiken. Amber Rae. Chris Guillebeau. Lewis Howes. Eddie Harran. These are just a few of the friends who inspired me towards a more nomadic life. Yet this isn’t a moment just for the young. My friend Michael Lipson took a year to travel the world with his wife and his two kids. I know baby boomers who are selling their homes, and going location independent. Check out LifeReimagined for inspiration if that’s your stage of life.
Many of us are increasingly less defined by the old stories and identity-markers of yesteryear — geography, religion, nationality, ethnicity, gender, and more.
Understandably, I am born of great privilege, a white male American, with more social mobility than most. My friend Max from the Ukraine, a brilliant computer scientist who works for one of the tech giants in Silicon Valley, is held hostage in America, because his Ukrainian passport only allows him visa-free travel to 81 countries around the world (mostly the Caribbean, Latin America, and former Soviet Union). U.S. residency for him is his passport to freedom.
In contrast, as an American, you can travel to 174 countries around the world visa free (or visa upon arrival). There are 196 countries in the world if you’re curious by the way. The significance of this emerging lifestyle is profound for many of us, as we increasingly walk a path of career independence and self-determination.
#StoryWorldTour debuts in Australia. In Sydney, before Adelaide and Melbourne.
365 Days in Chronology At a Glance
- Received a speeding ticket in the first hour of life on the road :(
- Lived for 2.5 months in Vancouver, Canada
- Hosted a Storytelling conference at NASDAQ Center in San Francisco
- Taught in London and Amsterdam in the fall.
- Lived for 2 months in India (and taught in Bangalore, Delhi, Mumbai)
- Completed 24 days of Pancha Karma (Ayurvedic detox) in Kerala, South India
- Woke up to find myself featured on page 6 of the Bangalore Mirror
- Cracked my head open after the first 5 minutes of arriving in Varanasi, India
- Had LASIK eye surgery in Mumbai, India for ⅓ the cost of the U.S.
- Went to LA Lakers game, saw Kobe score 42 points, 1-day back from India
- Taught a room full of 80 venture capitalists how to do storytelling for innovation
- Completed a 12 week intensive teaching tour, teaching 2–3x a week
- Lived for 2 months across Australia and New Zealand
- Currently in San Francisco, working with clients
- On my way to NYC and Europe for the next 3 months
Pancha Karma in India for 24 days. One of the hardest, best things I’ve ever done.
The 5 Things It Takes to Go Nomad
Now I write this for the countless friends and colleagues I know who are (a) single or with family built for the road, (b) have some established professional expertise, and (c) always dreamed of seeing the world.
Going nomad may actually be closer to reality than you realize.
In my experience, if you currently live in a major metropolitan urban hub like New York City, San Francisco, London, etc…and live like the typical urban professional, going nomad will save you 35–40% on your current monthly cost of living.
1. Have a Work Livelihood
You need to have a way to pay the bills or make a living that transcends geographic boundaries. These days many of just need a laptop and a stable wifi to conduct the majority of our work. Whether that is running a tech startup, consulting, teaching, speaking, coaching, design, law, healing, writing, or even bartending at that tropical beach cabana. Even as a global nomad, I do 1-on-1 story coaching with clients across North America, Europe, Australia, and India.
Kauffman Fellows: teaching a leadership development program for venture capitalists
2. Make Lots of Friends
One of things you discover as a nomad is the power of relationships. Being a traveler means being more vulnerable to your local environment. Not knowing your way around. Not having the typical comforts of home, safety, and traditional stability. Friendships are the balm of the nomad.
Making friends is one of the most important skills to have. Learn how to use Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social networks to amplify your circle of friends in any place you plan to travel. I often use my existing network to generate teaching opportunities and host local gatherings in the different cities that I visit.
You’ll be amazed how people rise to occasion and meet you with a generosity of spirit. Again, the archetypal journey of the traveling nomad is one that intrigues many of us. If you are open, kind, and generous of spirit yourself, you will be met in kind.
Band of Brothers with Bob Harvey, in Waitakere, Auckland, New Zealand.
3. Technology is Your Temple
If you’re not willing to up-level your technology street smarts, you’re probably going to find being a nomad to be a painful high friction activity. Two hundred years ago, being a “traveler” meant giving up a lot: your old relations, your culture of origin, your sense of safety, and going out into the great beyond.
Consider a Macbook Air and an iPhone as standard issue gear. You’ll want a local SIM card for each country you’re in. Boise Noise Canceling headphones are the best $300 you’ll resent spending (and then can’t imagine life without). Beyond that, all you need are a few iPhone apps like Uber, Airbnb, Hotels.com, Google Maps, Facebook, Instagram, to rock the casbah.
Now, it helps that I’ve run a virtual business for years. My team and I communicate via email, Slack, Zoom Meeting, Da Pulse, and a bunch of other tools for staying on top of work. Client meetings work great on Zoom Meeting. They are even recorded into the cloud for easy archival and sharing.
This is all of the essential gear, I travel with. That’s it, folks.
4. Build a Digital Presence
Having a strong online identity is a powerful game-changer as a nomad. Remember that relationships are built on trust. And there’s no faster way to accelerate and scale the relational journey from stranger to friend, then by leveraging the internet. From blogging to videos to your About page and LinkedIn profile.
Before anyone signs up for one of my live workshops or events, they are going to Google me. Same is true for you. Especially if you’re offering any kind of teaching, service, product, or offering. Present yourself in a manner that is relevant, intriguing, and accessible. Can people find your story online? Is there something to connect and resonate with? How are you inviting people into relationship?
If you want to learn how to do this, check out my free online mini-course.
If we’re not connected on LinkedIn, send me an invite right now.
5. Strengthen Your Spiritual Practice
This is probably the least discussed or emphasized aspect to being a nomad.
We tend to surround ourselves with lots of things in life to make ourselves feel at home, safe, secure, and grounded. As nomad, you’re taking 90% of that and throwing it out the window. Strip it all away, and you better have a way to feel at home within yourself. So do whatever works for you: meditation, yoga, martial art.
In my case, it’s a set of subtle energy practices called Core Individuation, which I’ve been studying for 15 years. In 10–20 minutes a day, I’m able to maintain energetic hygiene. Anchoring presence. Severing entanglements. Refreshing my electro-magnetic field. As an empath, these practices allow me to be open, expansive, receptive, without having to be guarded or under assault by the world.
3 Questions People Always Ask You as a Nomad
Q1: Ok, but where’s your home, really?
A1: As someone who grew up all around the world, yet deeply afraid of social rejection, being a nomad is teaching me to feel at home no matter where I am. Home is in my heart. And in about 6–8 creative hubs around the world.
Q2: Are you writing/photographing/sharing a lot about it?
A2: I’ve been more focused on “being in the experience” then trying to capture and share out the experience. You can check out my Instagram, for photos of my time in India, Australia, New Zealand, the U.S. and a few places in between. And those who are friends on my personal Facebook, have received periodic updates and occasional anecdotes. This article is the beginning of a new chapter of sharing the story.
Q3: When will you stop? You can’t do this forever? Are you really happy?
A3: Yes. Continuing indefinitely. Being a nomad isn’t something built on a 10-year plan. It’s the practice of serving the moment. Of being present to life unfolding. So whether I make a change in this lifestyle in 2 months or 20 years from now, this isn’t about victory or defeat. It’s about creating the space to experience more of life.
Making friends with the birds, Yarra Valley, Melbourne, Australia
The Long Walk Home…Coming Back to Self
Being a nomad is really about the journey home. Discovering who you really are, as you loosen the bolts of preconceived identity. As you create the space to explore what’s really in your heart, how you can best serve others, and find your true self.
A few closing thoughts about what I’ve learned so far…
Create the life your built for. Our experience of the life is a direct reflection or mirror of our own internal condition. Most people are inherently good. Being a nomad teaches you how to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. I learned this foremost in India, and have carried with me since. Everywhere you go, there’s someone you know. That’s thanks to social media and the way that it magnetizes connection. You find exactly what you’re looking for. Choose wisely who you travel with. Your problems follow you wherever you go. The more you simply, the more you see where your life is still complicated. Live your life as if you’re preparing to die.
I’m still on the path. Finding deep community in a dozen cities around the world.
Slowly conducting a global ethnography of storytelling and innovation. Discovering the universal stories shared by us all and appreciating the gifts of every place and person. What is the anatomy of belonging? What futures are we storying into being.
Enjoyed this post? Please share with your friends
Questions? Comments? There are so many nuances to the nomad life. What do you want me to share more about? Please post them in the comments. If there’s significant interest, it will guide me to share a lot more writings on this inquiry.
In closing, watch this 2 min video, and sign-up for the Red Pill, my free storytelling mini-course for how to take your career story to the next level.