“Where do you live?” The PR lady looks at me with friendly expectation. This isn’t the first time I have heard that question in the last couple of days but I am still not sure how to answer it.
For all intent and purposes, I live in Germany. I have a bank account here, pay my taxes, and spend so much time with German bureaucracy that it makes me miss the wonderful chaos of South African departments.
But official documents aside, I have probably spent about a month in total in Germany last year and never long enough to properly unpack my suitcase. I don’t have an apartment here and while I have some plates and cutlery they live back in my childhood room in my dad’s house.
I am what they call a digital nomad, a term that seems somewhat vague and nondescript and that this German lady cannot quite grasp when I finally tell her. Neither can I to be honest because I still don’t know how I got here. Not having a home was never the plan and neither was not wearing my beautiful Ann Demeulemeester boots for lack of practicality and space in my suitcase. They have to stay home with the plates.
There seems to be a new trend amongst travel bloggers and it is called “renting an apartment”. And buying furniture. And going on dates with guys from the neighborhood. Last time I tried that we never made it past an initial Whatsapp conversation because the days I spent in Hamburg I spent with my best friend, her kids, and my brother, and the guy was never where I was after that. Not that I could have told him at the time where that would be.
As it is, I have started late with the whole travel blogging trend and so I haven’t caught up yet to the Kates, the Oneikas, and the Emilys. Having a home base is in, yet I am still a full-on digital nomad, love it or hate it.
Thinking of being a digital nomad too? Without too much praise or complaints here are the true ups and downs of being a digital nomad.
It is quite telling that I would mention this first but I am a complete summer person. Anything below 25 degrees Celcius doesn’t count. Throw in 100% humidity and I am happy. Working location independent means that I can go where summer is – all year long.
Another bonus – I can travel off-season, minimizing costs, as I am not bound to a certain number of vacation days and times.
#2 Leaving Germany
I know this might be a tough one to understand for many but I really don’t like Germany very much. The sudden boom of a new right winged party made matters only worse but to be honest I was never a big fan of my country.
That said, I can fully appreciate the privilege my upbringing and my passport give me and yet… there is so much about the German mentality that I don’t get on with.
I know these reasons are highly personal and I don’t even want to spend too much time bashing Germany but I will just say – I become a different person when I leave and one I like a lot better.
#3 Making my own hours
I guess this goes for all freelancers but I love making my own hours. While I am still working on being more disciplined, I am working hard on being productive and consequently have the chance to take time off and explore.
I made some great efforts while I was in Cape Town recently and realized that I have the chance to take a few hours off to spend my nephews birthday on the beach or hike Table Mountain if I sit down before and after to get my shit done.
Honestly, spending 8, 9, 10 hours at an office regardless of workload would drive me crazy these days as does the idea of having set hours.
*Spoken like a true pro while in my PJs, sitting on my brother’s couch to write this.*
#4 Homes away from home
I started to rethink the concept of having a home last year in Sri Lanka and not by choice. I was feeling quite alone and sad but all of a sudden realized that coming home, as in Germany home, wasn’t the solution.
Home is truly where the heart is or sometimes where a good pizza delivery service is or where a single person makes you laugh so hard your tummy hurts or a city like Bangkok that makes your heart beat faster or the smell of alang alang. Or or or… Home is not always a birthplace, doesn’t have to have four walls, and doesn’t mean that everybody needs to know your name.
Or rather lack thereof. This, of course, isn’t the case for all digital nomads but in general working as a freelancer requires a lot more discipline when it comes to spending and looking after your money. And your insurances, your retirement fund, etc.
Being away makes simple things like banking, phone contracts, and all that jazz a lot more difficult too. And don’t even get me started on a health insurance that requires you to send original receipts halfway around the world…
#2 New connections
I am an introvert at heart and I don’t mind it one bit. In fact, it serves me quite well in so many aspects of my digital nomad/ solo traveler life. I crave alone time all the time.
But when you are on the road you need to make new friends once in a while. Or find a coffee date/ one-night-stand/ someone to hold your hair back when the Delhi belly gets you eventually.
For someone who is constantly moving and who doesn’t sit in random bars counting peanuts, this can be quite a curse. One I know I need to break latest when another week has passed by and the only person I have spoken to was the cashier at 7Eleven.
Still working on that one – anyone has any brilliant ideas? I am hoping someone will come up with a dating app for digital nomads yet, one that is not Tinder.
#3 Old connections
Staying in touch with friends and families back home is one of the biggest challenges of being a digital nomad. Try as I might, it is a tricky one. Time difference, which device to use to chat (looking at you, mother with no internet!), and the mere fact that life goes on whether you are close or not.
I have gotten used to missing out. Constantly. When I am in Cape Town I miss out in Germany, when I am in Asia I miss out on my New York friends coming to Europe.
I miss out and always miss someone. Incidentally, I haven’t celebrated my own birthday properly since I left Cape Town as it always falls on ITB dates (a huge travel fair and really important for business) and someone would always be not there.
Honestly this is big enough that it deserves its own bullet point as I realized last year. Traveling is all well and good when you are okay. Having casual acquaintances around is okay too. But whether it is mentally or physically – if the shit hits the fan I too need a) my mum, b) my girlfriends and c) copious amounts of decent red wine.
#5 An actual home
Yes, sometimes I miss having an actual home. If only to unpack my Moroccan plates, to have a closet for those Ann Demeulemeester boots, to finally buy that Berber carpet, to have a wall to hang the picture of Jardin Majorelle my friend got me for my last birthday.
A place to cook with a messy spice drawer and leftover noodles from the last Vietnam trip. A bedroom where I can light incense from India and hang my bathrobe from Bangkok. And a place where other people can send postcards to when they go traveling.
#6 No cat
That one goes without explanation but I really really want to have a cat and can’t have one. That is actually the worst of all the downs for me which may explain why I prefer cities with lots of cats or cat cafes.
You may object that the downs are leading the scoreboard. That is fine because here is the thing, the one argument, the only up that is necessary: nothing will ever make up for the fact that I am free to follow my dreams every single day. And while that may not always be as glamorous or fun as it looks from the outside, I am incredibly grateful that I can do it nonetheless.