The past several years has seen a huge surge of young, precarious twenty-somethings who have left their office jobs to roam the world with shiny Macbook Pros tucked underarm. Hundreds of articles and blog posts now speckle the web with the digital nomad phenomenon, with many proclaiming at the top of their lungs that this is what everyone needs to be doing; some near-cultish communities have formed hailing the ‘hustle’ beyond concrete-and-glass office doors and—dare I say it—furiously stroking their own egos at the same time.
It’s an incredible honour to be able to explore our world, and I try to remind myself of this fact every single day I’m breathing mountain air in Nepal or being jostled around in cigarette-smoke buses in China. To sustainably live and thrive in places my grandparents have never had the chance to see is humbling beyond belief. But it’s not the perfect end-all solution to anything, and continuing to paint this mirage is dangerous.
Most of you probably know me as a photographer from Instagram, documenting and writing about things that I find poignant and alarming and wonderful and tragic. I’m so grateful for all of you I’ve connected to, and to you reading this currently. But long before you knew of me I was (and still am) a user experience designer. My current clients live in Silicon Valley, Australia and Japan.
A year ago I began to freelance and craft my own business and flew to wintery Canada to live with my love. I’m not at all special or unique by doing this; you can do it too if you want. In my opinion, you only need a few things.
That’s sort of it, really.
But it’s not superior to a “traditional” job, like those Instagram selfies of digi-nomads sipping smoothies by the beach on Koh Phi Phi with a caption of “My office today! What’s yours? #nomadlife *heart eyes emoji*” will lead you to believe. It can be frustrating, discouraging, utterly confusing, and most of all, lonely. There are no parameters to objectively judge your success by, so you make up your own. In the very beginning, I wasn’t making any income, so success back then could be literally $5. Working while traveling, on the road, location-independently; whatever you’d like to call it—it’s just a different lifestyle to ye olde 9-5.
Like any lifestyle, there are associated problems. Here are some I’d like you to know about.
Frequently, I find myself struggling to balance the equilibrium of being grateful and keeping shit real. When all is said and done, this lifestyle does incredible things for me because I greatly value being able to roam around at a young age, as well as making big hairy dreams happen, like making short films and collaborating with international creatives.
I have friends who are doing important, world-changing work that is stationed in one city. They are engineers, medical researchers, architects and software developers.
They are building new skyscrapers, making apps for the government, and growing cancer tumour cells for a potential cure. They are creating much more tangible impact than I am. After all, I design stuff that’ll glue you to your phone even more and Instagram.
There will come a day when this won’t make sense anymore, like when I start a company that has its headquarters in one spot, or my love gets sent to Afghanistan by the UN, or my kidlets are too bratty to haul around the world. All of which I am betting on happening. But until then, I am an advocator of location-independent working, whether I like it or not. So, like with all else, I have to tell you the untold.
Loved reading this jenny! It’s refreshing to get such an honesty account of what life is like working on the road, not just the usual ‘Quit your job and you can spend the rest of your life on a laptop on the beach!’ which we all know is very unrealistic!
Thanks so much Anna! <3 I felt like I was doing the whole working while traveling thing wrong in the beginning because it never felt perfect, which says a lot about how much this idealism this lifestyle has been written about.
I am one of those who still has nomad-envy from time to time, generally after reading up on the best ways to trave carry on only and then ending up down the rabbit hole of beaches and laptops and cowork spaces you so accurately described. Great article and I am glad someone out there is at least being a bit honest about it. Good on you for making a go of it though! Safe travels and all the best with everything 🙂
Sorry for the late reply Hamish – thank you so much for your lovely comment! Hahaha, I’m guilty of going down those rabbit holes myself. For someone who is a rather critical of the glorification of this lifestyle, I’m still a lurker in all the online circles of digital nomadism 😛 Your website looks awesome! Safe travels to you too!
Hey very interesting blog!