‘No frontiers, no borders, no limits. You are the beautiful nomads. And our world is your playground’
Advert for Pullman Hotels
‘Now you are under a curse… you will be a restless wanderer on the earth’
Dreaming the dream
I have spent much of my adult life working in rather cheerless modern offices. It was extremely rare for my eyes to rest on anything beautiful or inspiring for 8 whole hours. And often the journey to work would have been slow and torturous. The tubes were crowded, the roads congested and the cycle ride death defying.
I confess that not infrequently I have found myself on holiday enjoying a lake, beach or foreign city and wishing I could transfer my desk from Guildford or South Kensington to the Cote d’Azure or the Italian lakes. Surely, I thought, it would be heaven to work in such amazing surroundings with a latte in hand, a laptop on my knee and a pool to jump in just round the corner?
The digital nomad
Since the Internet and smartphone changed our lives forever the dream of escaping the 9 to 5 tedium of modern office life and combining travel and work has become a reality for some of the more adventurous. A ‘digital nomad’ is someone who can often be spotted on Instagram or Facebook trumpeting the glories of working remotely in exotic locations almost anywhere in the world where they can find good Wi-Fi and somewhere comfortable to kip. For the millions who face the daily commute and sit for 8 hours a day staring at the backs of colleagues in a drab modern office the blogs of famous ‘digital nomads’ like the Dutchman Pieter Levels has become a popular distraction.
After leaving university in 2012 Levels decided to give the nomadic lifestyle a go and started living and working in various cities in Europe, Asia and the Americas. His business took off and he started a popular blog detailing his experiences. He created an online community of fellow nomads. He was living the ultimate millennial dream of making lots of money and enjoying the freedom of constant new experiences and glamorous locations.
But after a few years of living as a nomad he realised that something was wrong. He started to get depressed. He began to wonder who he was and experienced something of an identity crisis. He realised that true identity comes from relationships and being connected to the environment you live in. Flitting around the world without any long-term friendships or a place to call home he started to feel lost and alone. So now he’s back in Amsterdam where he can see his friends and family in the flesh and not just on Skype. He’s reconnecting with people and locality and making a home for himself.
Taking the family
While I was single I certainly found myself fantasising about living and working overseas but the thought of doing it with a family has never occurred to me. Yet I have recently come across blogs and articles where whole families have upped sticks and have settled for a roaming lifestyle, sometimes for many years. Variously called world-schooling, edventuring or life-learning, well-off families with (usually) young children argue that the advantages of cross-cultural experiences outweighs the challenges of home-schooling, travelling, and settling into unfamiliar surroundings.
Yet what is lost seems to me much greater than what is gained. The most glaring issue is the loss of wider community and long-term relationships. As a parent my children really enjoy new experiences and having adventures but what is even more important are the familiar faces of school friends, aunts and grandparents and the security and comfort of having a place called home to come back to. Having constant interaction with one’s immediate family is a wonderful thing but is still no compensation for the regular interaction with those beyond the nuclear family that is vital for emotional health and social development. It takes, as the saying goes, a whole village to raise a child.
On a grey winters morning with a grim commute in front of me I guess it’s still okay to have a twinge of regret about not joining the nomadic hordes. But it’s only a very slight twinge. In many ways it’s the easy option to become a world traveller. It can be simply an escape from the hard work and messiness of relationships. Instead of pushing through the boredom threshold or accepting new responsibilities you can run away and hide in a parallel universe of transitory experiences and undemanding relationships.
Much of my energy as a parent goes into teaching my kids that life is much more than just having fun. I love to see them taking responsibility and reaching beyond their own little games and obsessions. I wonder if the modern nomad isn’t often really the Peter Pan of the Internet age who never wants to grow up?
Staying or going
We are certainly sometimes called to live in foreign or unfamiliar settings. But whether we decide to stay in Acton or fly off to Aspen we can never be there simply to have fun, to explore or even to increase our store of knowledge or experience.
The principle is the same where ever we put down our roots- we lose our souls when we live only for our selves; we find our true selves when we pour ourselves out upon God and others.