The labels we self-impose define us to others, but also to ourselves. Before I was a scientist, a biologist, a student, an expat, a bit of a nut and a total geek. I was a rock-climber, a forest cat-owner, a La Pavoni coffee-drinker… I could go on, but suddenly the tune to Ben Harper’s Joker is drowning out my thoughts…
Two and a half weeks ago that all changed: now uprooted and free as a bird – what am I? Right now, I’m a smoothie-drinker, sitting in a cafe in Cambodia, charging up my laptop while I blog and design letterhead.
In a greater sense, a number of new words now apply to me, none of them necessarily flattering: unemployed, unattached, pushing-30, searching, wandering. As a life-long overachiever I’m not accustomed to describing myself this way, so I looked for some euphemism that I could decorate with a positive spin.
At first I thought: vagabond. I’m vagabonding: drifting from one place to another at will, with whimsey but without aim.
While I liked the word it only felt OK. It was reasonably accurate, but it didn’t feel sustainable. It played back into this idea that I am just drifting, waiting for whatever it is that comes next. But I’m not waiting. This is my life, not a break or a gap year or a vacation.
In the last days I have realised vagabonding isn’t right, either. This revelation only materialised when I stumbled upon a term that did fit me. And it is positive. I am a digital nomad. And with these words I can breath a sigh of relief.
I am not actually unemployed. I stopped working at the university, which feels like unemployment since I have been there for the better part of the last decade, but I didn’t stop working. From my laptop, be it at the beach or a mountainside bungalow, I am running my own business. I am a location-independent entrepreneur. And I’m not the only one.
There is a burgeoning community of digital nomads. Our work is through the inter-tubes, and it doesn’t matter if we are sitting at a desk in Seattle or Stockholm – or if we are on the beaches of Indonesia or the hills of Nepal. In fact, the latter localities are preferable because of the cost of living. Though there are some downsides: sand and ants in my keyboard have become a legitimate daily concern.
Start-ups such as Nomad List cater to us – comparing the cost of living and the internet speed in countries around the world. They also offer a venue to connect with others on the same track.
Based on a quick check of my bank statements, last year my (rough) average cost of living in Uppsala, Sweden was $1.850 / month. I am budgeting 2/3 of that amount per month for my nomadic life, with enough in the bank to survive for at least a year without my company turning a profit. So far I am coming up well under budget. For one month in Cambodia my total costs were about $960.
And this price tag could be significantly lower. At the moment I am hopping from place to place every few days, so I have extra costs for transportation. I am paying for hostels and guesthouses instead of renting an apartment or a house, which would make even my $4/night hostel bed look like a splurge.
When I find a place I like I’ll pause – a month or two at a time – meanwhile following the good weather and fast internet. I’ll enjoy the fresh energy of those who are ‘only’ on vacation, and I will connect with those who will never go home.
Digital nomad. It fits well.