Digital dreams and nomadic reality

It is the pipe dream of many millennials to give up the mundane daily grind of wage slavery, career progression, shopping malls and first world problems for a lifestyle of travel and adventure “living the dream”.

The digital dream

For the first time in history the internet has created the niche opportunity of becoming a global citizen or digital nomad who travels the world indefinitely, constantly delighted and surprised by new places, people and experiences, meanwhile continuously expanding their carbon footprint.

The internet allows the tech savy tourist (or digital nomad) to continuously fund this adventure through methods such as selling advertising on their travel blog, product placement (eg. with this wide angle camera lens I took these amazing photos) or by promoting package deals and resort getaways for specific idyllic, secret secluded locations.

A guide on how to become a digital nomad; by a digital nomad - so many levels of irony/inception. Source:

The attraction of digital nomadacy

Being a digital nomad appeals to millennials such as myself for many reasons, some of which are:

  1. Millenials are all self-interested and only care about ourselves (I know this because the internet told me so via several million memes)
  2. The appeal of rejecting modern materialistic consumer society to return to the supposed utopian simplicity of a nomadic low impact hunter gather lifestyle.
  3. Its sounds easier than working a real job, having a family and paying off a mortgage.

The Instantafamous fallacy

The possibility of becoming a digital nomad, free to travel forever, is based on one of the fundamental premises (lies) of the internet. The idea is that anyone can be discovered, become instantly famous and instantly successful by garnering enough attention and online popularity that their personal life can become an effective marketing tool.

Deficit vs desire: check out the huge number of people viewing these videos - yet the number of people who have achieved their desired level of internet fame is far in deficit of these statistics

For 99% of everyone, becoming instantly internet famous is an illusion. In reality, the only people who bother to read my travel blog are my family (because they feel guiltily obligated), sometimes my friends (if they are bored and are wasting their life on fbook) and the only people who recommends these articles is my mother and mother in law.

The sad statistics of my personal attempts at travel blogging

Reality vs dreams

It only took 8 months of travelling across 9 countries before my nomadic lifestyle caught up with me and my digital dreams were dashed.

It wasn’t missing family and friends (although this is hard), the constant moving from place to place, the sleep deprivation due to crossing time zones, sleeping in strange places/communal dormitories, or the fast approaching milestone of zero funds.

Neither was it the living out of a tent for 5 months (although this really sucks in a thunderstorm – see my earlier post ‘Nomads can’t evacuate’ for details), or being driven crazy by your travelling companions, or hauling the clothing and equipment required to trek and climb across three continents and three seasons everywhere.

No, the straw that broke this nomads wanderlust was the hospitality of a friend (and gelato).

Switzerland is awesome

After 25 continuous days of trekking across Spain, followed by a month of camping and rock climbing in France, we arrived in Switzerland. Thinking to save money in an expensive country (this sort of mercenary attitude becomes necessary when you are an unsuccessful digital nomad) we eagerly accepted the invitation of a friend, from a previous travel experience in Canada, who lived in Burglen.

Burglen is such a common name for a Swiss town that five Berglens pop up when you search for it in google maps. This lead to some confusion as to where it was and discussion (see earlier article “the politics of travel conflict”) about whether the offer was even worth accepting.

It was.

Burglen, Altdorf is the home of William Tell and is located in a large alpine valley in Central/South Switzerland. There is a freshwater lake for swimming and sailing. There are cliffs for rock climbing. There are roads for cycling and trails for mt biking. There are motorways and trains and tunnels 30km long through mountains for transport.

Monument to William Tell (Swiss folk hero) in the town square. Getting a statue of yourself is the 14th century equivalent of becoming instafamous. He also had a hipster beard several hundred years before it became cool.

In Altdorf, mountains rise from the valley floor straight up for thousands of meters, their granite peaks crowned with wisps of passing clouds and their flanks covered in skirts of conifer forest.

Altdorf and surrounding lake/ mountains

The melody of cow bells echoes down from alpine meadows of wild flowers. Gondolas and cable cars allow quick access into the mountains for trekking and every adjacent valley had a chair lift and ski field. The air was crisp and clear while the water was cool and clean.

In the central square at Altdorf is a store selling, hands down, the best gelato I have ever put in my mouth.

Switzerland is awesome, but it was the comforts of our friends hospitality that begun the erosion of my nomadic desires. These were the same comforts I had renounced as unnecessary before travelling for 8months. These were the trappings of a developed country I had decided were surplus to a sustainable life. In fact, these were the very things I had blamed for getting in the way of me experiencing life fully and authentically. They were everything I currently was not able to enjoy and by god how I had missed them.

Luxurious comforts

Our friends had a couch that you could stretch full length on. It was soft, yet firm. It wasn’t itchy like the grass we were used to. It was bliss for an injured back, sore from months of hiking, climbing and sleeping in a tent. They had a double guest bed. It wasn’t hard like the ground. It had a duvee, which wasn’t a sleeping bag.

Bedroom/living room with multi purpose bed and couch. Capacity 1.4 persons

They had a clean shower with good water pressure and temperature. It wasn’t unhygienic, lukewarm or drooling from the shower head. They had a kitchen with shiny knives, non-stick pots and a stove. It was not a single burner gas cooker or jetboil.

Camping kitchen - not for three course meals

They had fast internet, which was not location specific, did not require a log in every time or drop out randomly. There were no insects, there was air conditioning, there were pillows that weren’t my jacket crushed into a drybag. In contrast to our life over the last few month it was luxurious and it was amazing.

On reflection, it was amazing because of its prior absence. When I was lucky enough to experience all these comforts I had missed waking up to birdsong, sleeping under the stars, the smoke of a campfire, the lullaby of (light) rain on a tent fly and the warmth of my sleeping bag when it drops below zero.

Locations like this make being a nomad worthwhile

I missed these things because I didn’t have them, not because they are essentials, but because they are comfortable. Because they make life easier – the good times so much more enjoyable and the hard times so much more bearable. These are comforts I have often taken for granted, yet the majority of the human population aren’t lucky enough to enjoy them. It was fatigue of my nomadic lifestyle and the seduction of these comforts that made me start to question if being a digital nomad was what I really wanted to do.

Perhaps a successful digital nomad would not feel this way. They could afford to enjoy a level of comfort wherever they happened to be. As an unsuccessful (authentic?) digital nomad I felt closer to the nomadic existence of my hunter gather ancestors than the 5 star luxury the internet has promised me.

This was the reality of being a digital nomad - maybe I was taking the nomad aspect too seriously

I put myself in the shoes of my Palaeolithic, nomadic, ancestors (albeit with a goretex jacket, waterproof tent and goose down sleeping bag) who chose to settle down and become farmers approximately 15,000 years ago -What would they choose? Digital dreams? Nomadic freedoms? or luxury and comfort?

After my brief experience as a nomad, seeing the lack of comforts and ‘basic' conditions in which many people live in most developing countries, and the deep desire that exists in these places for consumer goods and higher standards of living - the answer seems obvious.

We all desire comforts and luxury. Luckily, while it took our predecessors millions of years to raise their standards of living, I can just go home.