“Digital nomad” has become as much a buzzword as “entrepreneur.” Living and working from wherever you desire whilst exploring the world. It sounds amazing, right? But is it really what you need?
A year ago I got rid of all my belongings in New York City and hit the road. I started by driving across six U.S. states and then headed to the Brazilian jungle, Balinese beaches and even experienced a record cold Russian winter.
The main reason I decided to be a nomad was that I realized my creativity, productivity and sense of fulfillment all increased when I traveled and worked at the same time. And let me tell you, my Instagram feed looked amazing. All my friends were certain that I was living the life. And then… out of the blue, I quit the adventure to find my way back to my favorite city in the world.
Here’s what happened.
I had heard about a program that provided the structure for a group of 70 people to live and work in a new place, every month, for an entire year and was immediately drawn to the idea. I had just transitioned from being employed full-time to running a location-independent blogging business and a social media consultancy. The stars aligned. It was perfect.
I sent in my application and started daydreaming about all the places I would visit — Prague, Bogota, Buenos Aires and Lisbon, to name a few. Shortly after, I found out I had passed the initial screening and was invited for a Skype interview.
That’s when my first big life lesson came in. Just before clicking the “schedule interview” button which involved a non-refundable $50 fee, I was paralyzed with fear. It was the familiar fear of commitment that creeps in when I’m about to sign a lease or say yes to a Tinder date (just kidding… not really).
A million horror scenarios were going through my head.
“What if there are cockroaches in every place I live?”
“What if I hate each one of the 70 people on the trip?”
“What if no one books me to blog for them once I leave the U.S.?”
“What if I fall madly in love, decide to stop traveling, and lose the money I’ve put down for the trip?”
“Am I sure this really fits in with my desire to make my own rules and be free from obligations?”
Suddenly all the things that had originally felt so exciting and so right felt daunting.
The funny thing is though, absolutely nothing had changed about my situation. The only thing that had changed was the story I was telling myself.
The only way to move through this was to finally face my fear of commitment.
It was a warm summer night in the West Village. I had just run into my friend Caroline, a therapist, and we were catching up at one of those tiny barely-one-block-long urban parks. Caroline asked me if there were any commitments in my life that I was excited about. Let’s see… I’m definitely excited about my commitment to reading inspiring books for the rest of my life. Even more excited about my commitment to trying new foods and exploring new places for as long as I’m alive.
It was in that moment that something shifted inside me. I was ready.
The next day I passed my Skype interview and put down a substantial, non-refundable deposit for the trip. It was to start in January, which meant I had five months to prep. But I couldn’t wait a day longer to be nomadic so I got rid of everything I owned (thanks, Craigslist) and started my own adventure early.
Does being nomadic really spark joy?
The first question I had to ask myself was how exactly to pack for 16 months all over the world? That’s when the hard decisions of bringing only one of each kind of clothing came in handy. I totally Marie Kondo’d the whole thing and ended up giving away most of my clothes. And let me tell you: it’s one thing to tidy up just because you want to tidy up, and it’s a whole other story to tidy up when you’re on a mission to pack lightly and not have to break the bank on a NYC storage unit.
One of the main draws behind being nomadic was the lightness it would give me. I anticipated not being weighed down by “things” anymore.
Cleaning out my whole apartment made me realize how much space the things I wasn’t even wearing were taking up… and that I could experience some of that lightness and freedom simply by doing a massive cleanout.
When I embarked upon my adventure I left with one suitcase and one carry-on (which eventually turned into two suitcases within the first month) but still, I was much lighter and felt much more free.
Running away won’t lead you anywhere… but being present will.
After four months on the road, the initial high started wearing off. Yes, I did have some incredible experiences — ones I won’t ever forget like drumming in the middle of boundless corn fields and hanging out with alpacas in New Mexico, being flown to Brazil to make a YouTube video about the acai rainforest and feeling awakened during a sacred cacao ceremony in Ubud.
One night in a gorgeous bungalow hotel in the middle of Bali, alone in my hotel room, I started to crave a sense of home. I longed to share these amazing experiences with someone special.
The truth is, I was tired of restlessly moving from one place to another and was ready for what seemed so boring and unimaginable a few months back — a routine and a foundation. A home that would nourish and support my personal and business goals.
I still had a month until the official digital nomad program was to start and I knew I no longer wanted to go. I canceled and went back to the city I called home.
I thought what was drawing me back to New York was business opportunities, but it turned out I was destined to meet the love of my life. A few weeks after settling down on the Upper West Side and collecting a bunch of horror/comedy date stories, I met the man I had journaled and dreamed about.
My lesson? We don’t always need to know the “how” and the “what.” When we focus on our inner guidance, we’re always led to where we need to be — whether it’s in a remote and exotic location, or just around the block.
Since then, I’m even more committed to following what feels right in my heart every day, and not just the things that sound amazing, or look great on Instagram, or those that get a seal of approval from friends or family. Today, I’m joyfully committed to keeping my belongings minimalist and tidy, and to following that gut instinct that’s always guiding me in the right direction, even if it seems against the grain.
Especially, if it is against the grain.