A sunset selfie on the beach in Valencia, Spain. May 2017

My Digital Nomad Anniversary: Change for the Better

Five years ago today, I boarded a flight to Reykjavik with far too much stuff and a computer. From there, I went to London and then on to Thailand, Macau, Singapore, China, Cambodia, India, Dubai, Spain, France, and Italy. Later my travels would take me back to Asia and Europe, onwards to South America and Central America, and of course, to many destinations in the United States and Canada—sometimes with my computer, sometimes without.

I could run through a list of highlights of the last five years—like the four “biggest” Buddhas I’ve lined up to see, or a polar dip in an Icelandic fjord, or a road trip down the NH-66 in Goa, but that reduces my experience into a checklist at best and travel one-upmanship at worst. It also implies that some experiences are more valuable than others, as if the only experiences worth having are the proverbial “swimming with sharks” —and that’s just nonsense.

I’m also not going to gush about foods and art and culture and the generic superlative people in the world. I long ago learned that there are kind and interesting and wise people all over the world, and there are jerks and dorks and douchebags.

I will say that the last five years have changed me more than any other period in my life.

I’ve learned how to make any place my home. I’ve learned to live with others and on my own. I’ve also learned to say no and to speak up about my wishes, wants, and needs. If something matters to me, I speak out. If it doesn’t, I go with the flow. I’ve also learned that SNAFU is a universal norm, that life is what happens when you’re making other plans, and that all the other platitudes about life being messy are true, so there’s no point in crying over spilled milk for more time than it takes to release your emotions and get back on track.

All that internet meme wisdom aside, these years have also changed my relationship to things. Packing and unpacking really teaches us how our things can hold us captive. And living out of a suitcase for months on end demonstrates how little you really need. Today, I’m not too keen on things.

These last five years have also changed my relationship to people. I find I can spot value in people, and see right through them, in a way I never could before. You meet a lot of people on the road. I’ve discovered that you can learn something from every one of them (both good somethings and bad somethings). Finding truly authentic people—the ones who seek genuine connection and who are drawn not to your persona or outward identity but to your own authentic self is one of the joys of travelling the world.

But the most obvious change has been my relationship to work. I’ve gone through phases of boredom over the same old same old and periods of frustration about where my “career” could possibly go. I do consider writing and editing a vocation of sorts, but I don’t live to work, and I don’t want to. Don’t get me wrong, I work hard, and I am very mindful of my economic stability and future. Work is just something I need to do to get by, and I try not to make it my reason for doing anything (expect finding good workspaces).

For years I have put aside my own projects and whims in the name of taking on one more paid project. Now, for the first time in 5 years, I’ve committed real time to my own thing, not in the hopes that it will lead to profit, but because I wanted to do something for fun.

One of my projects is coming to fruition soon—if I can keep myself on task while balancing the needs of my clients, because damn, Toronto, the sticker shock is strong within you, and I gots bills to pay.