Even Digital Nomads Get Homesick
It's totally unavoidable but it does not have to stop you from being happy on your incredible adventure.
Seven months on the road. Seventeen countries visited and yet our “countries that we want to see” list has grown at twice the rate than the “countries where we have been" list. I think that’s normal for travelers, it really is an adventure that has no end.
Life on the road can feel confusing at times. We believe the strengths of being independent and being able to travel alone or solo will make us good digital nomads. We think we should be above loneliness or be able to easily and gratefully handle stretches of alone time.
But I think the characteristics that make me a good digital nomad also make me susceptible to homesickness. I thrive for community, engagement, intentional living and adventure. This is why communal living and intentional communities have become so popular with the digital nomad population. It’s rare to see an advertisement for remote living that is in all actuality remote. Instead, we see advertisements for sunrise group hikes and coliving spaces with communal kitchens. We want adventure, something out of the ordinary and something epic. But that does not mean we want to isolate or be alone.
In a way, the Digita Nomad lifestyle can actually provide more connections and social opportunities than what we experience at our 9-5s in our typical American cities. There it seems that putting ourselves out there and making friendships sounds nearly impossible and totally anxiety provoking. As a therapist in San Francisco, the majority of my clients struggled with “finding their people.” In San Francisco, you want to look like you have your shit together. But, being a digital nomad is kind of like being back in college. Everyone is looking for community. You don’t have to “be vulnerable” because the simple fact that you are thousands of miles from home, in a country that doesn’t speak your language kind of already establishes that fact. You are basically floating out at sea without a life raft. This vulnerability makes you easier to approach and frankly because you don’t have typical coworkers to substitute for actual friendships- your desperation for relationships gives you that extra push to welcome any and all friendship advances with open arms. "Yes person I just met, I’d love to take a ferry to a remote island with you tomorrow and jump from a thirty-foot cliff."
I told my husband the other day- yes I travel with my husband though I have travelled alone in the past- that I felt like I was just drifting. We said goodbye to our apartment in San Francisco in January and our community we had spent years building. We can never get that apartment back and likely that experience again as the cost of living there is becoming out of reach. Our families are spread out geographically. And we will likely choose a place to settle in the new year that is in a different country anyway so drifting may be a long-term feeling at least for the next few years.
But when I think of leaving this life, that alternative sounds worse. Yes, sometimes my laptop gets sand in the keyboard, making it impossible to write any words that begin with a J. Sometimes my wifi is spotty at best. But there is really nowhere else I can identify that sounds better. Where would I go? What I realized is that I’m homesick for a place that does not exist.
I want to live in my San Francisco apartment but I want it to have the view of my grandfather's porch where I grew up in Carmel, New York. I want my four siblings to be in walking distance though they live in 4 different states right now. I want my favorite coffee shop from Bali to be next to the Italian restaurant where my family went to celebrate every family occasion on the East Coast. I want my in-laws to come over to my house every Sunday for Spaghetti dinner- a tradition I grew up with from my parents who live in Florida. I want to trail run the Headlands one day and then run the Appalachian trail the next. I want the house where we pet sitted (pet sat?) in Montenegro to be my house on the beach in New Jersey. I want to visit the wineries in Russian River but have the wine come in Carafes like in Spain. I want to live on the water but be in the mountains. I want to ski and surf in the same day. I want to hear church bells from my widow alternating with the singing from a mosque. I want Otto to visit all of his aunts and uncles and grandparents in the same day, on his birthday.
I think this is where my personal issue with homesickness begins. I so easily feel at home almost anywhere that I get attached quickly and then suffer loss afterwards. I easily miss the things that made me feel at home. And I long to feel that again. But it’s a fantasy to think I will find exactly what I am looking for. That at some point I will be truly fulfilled.
So what is a Digital Nomad to do?
You make friends wherever you are, in the moment you are in. You find people in the same situation and you insist that your conversations go further and deeper than simply “where are you from?” You build relationships even when you know they are temporary. You find coffee bar buddies or coliving spaces. You build in rituals during your day that doesn’t change simply because your time zone does. Spaghetti (or noddles) on Sunday, coffee each morning and bedtime stories with your son. You call home and make time to speak to friends and family. You join groups where you have something in common. Either being from the same country or all trail running. You practice gratitude and remember that this life is a choice and privilege and it does not have to last forever. Then you reflect and clarify your goals and the process in which you will reach them. You continually decide if this life still works for you. You figure out what makes you feel most at home. And you implement those things when everything seems foreign.
For me, I felt "at home" in Bali because our coffee shop gave us a loyalty card! I began a yoga practice and returned with the same teacher for all of the classes while I was there. We stayed at a hostel where all of the employees knew Otto and would hi-five him when he came or went. In New Zealand, we found a weekly kids group where the parents would sit around and converse over tea while the kids played. There are running groups in nearly every city and I can practice the same meditations and stretch series when I awake every morning. We run three times a week, go hiking and walk to coffee shops. We watch master chef and binge watch netflix. On rainy days, we have a "rainy day" and watch movies and make snacks and stay in bed. We continue to write our blog, post on Instagram and message people on Facebook. And though we eat locally wherever we can; yoghurt, tea and bananas do not really change.
And though in a lot of ways I am not fulfilled entirely when I take the time to really thinking about it, clarify my intentions and practice these tips, I feel positively overwhelmed by joy and luckiness and love and adventure. And that keeps me knowing that at least for now this is actually my perfect life, even if I feel a lot of loss when things change.