Category Archives: Travel

The Costs of the Digital Nomad Lifestyle

The Digital Nomad life is now accessible to more and more as our world gets further connected. We love to follow the romantic blogs and Instagram accounts of happy families who seemingly galavant across the world with hip looking children, drinking coconut water along the way and occasionally cranking out a few hours of work here and there to pay for their travels. They seem so well adjusted and self-actualized. The digital nomad life seems like an ideal lifestyle, and it feels like if you aren’t doing it, there must be something wrong with you.

But there are steep prices to pay for this lifestyle that no one tells you about. 

There are two kinds of global nomads. The first are the ones who do it specifically for the travel, mostly taking it as an extended vacation with some work involved. The goal is to work from a location and observe the local culture, then later return back to home base. This could be the person who travels frequently for work but whose family is rooted in their home culture.

The second variety are who I’m talking about. These are the long term digital nomads who have made it a lifestyle. They either have no home base or have a series of home bases which are not in their home culture. Their family (if they have one) comes with them and they have no plans of “going home” or settling down. They engage the cultures they are in and take root.

What are the long term challenges digital nomads face?

Displacement

The feelings of displacement are very real. Being away from your home culture, extended family, friends and familiar places is extremely taxing, to put it mildly. It sometimes feels like a military assignment without any structure or purpose, and the worst part is, you have no battalion.

The mind can only take so many “unfamiliar” at a time, and is not meant to be constantly readjusted for long, sustained periods. One has to give themselves time to become acclimated and familiar with a new location, set of relationships and way of doing life.

I don’t use the term “displacement” lightly as this term is largely associated with refugee populations.  There is a huge difference between “push” of refugees being forced out of their country and “pull” of the digital nomad life. While the situations are very different, there are some feelings which are common between these two groups. The similarities are in the displacement of starting over, the feelings of confusion and longing for familiarity of one’s homeland.

Losing Yourself

Losing oneself doesn’t happen until you allow yourself to truly be known by the locals. I’m not talking about the digital nomad who roams a different country every three months. This is the digital nomad who finds a place and camps out for an extended time, engages the culture, makes friends and allows themselves to be known deeply by the local people. There is a difference between being an observer in a culture and being an active participant. In becoming an active participant, you give something of yourself. You must loosen some of your roots of your home culture and be willing to let go.

Many nomads travel to “find themselves,” but in order to do that, you must lose yourself first. 

Priorities

In the process of becoming a global citizen, one’s priorities have to be completely undone and reevaluated. In the digital nomad lifestyle, one’s perspective of the world goes from an ant size grass level view to a 30,000 cruising altitude view in a relatively short period of time. The first year of nomadic life, is wildly disorienting. Your family, your identity, what you care about, all gets called into question as you delve into a new way of doing life. What is really important and what is not important, all must be reevaluated in order to learn how to function. And for those who find that sweet spot, things eventually fall into place in an improved order.

Each culture has a grid, a different way of wiring and functioning. At first, you often short circuit in a new culture as you assume the wiring is the same as your culture’s grid. These short circuits can lead to a fire in the grid if one doesn’t let the wires disconnect and be reassembled. That period of disconnecting and ambiguity is highly uncomfortable.  Sometimes in this period, you are barely functioning. Slowly, the discomfort goes away as the new wiring starts to work for you. The old wiring is disconnected and forgotten.  You become an improved and flexible machine. 

Even with the steep costs, living the digital nomad life is worth it. 100% worth every tear, every confusing wakeful night and every piece of lost luggage along the way.

 

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The IKEA Generation 

My grandma’s vaccum cleaner taught me a valuable lesson. I have never seen anything like this. This thing probably weighed 40 pounds and it came with a 25 year warranty. Being a Millennial, I was baffled when my Grandma told me she bought it in the 1970s. How was this thing still working?KirbyVaccuum

Traditionalists/Silent Gen (1927-1945), Baby Boomers (1946-1964) and even Gen Xers (1965-1980) made purchases that were going to last them a lifetime.

Many generations born before 1980 have a “settle and stay” mentality. They buy a house in their 30s and live in it until they retire. The American dream includes buying a long lasting oak bedroom set and matching furniture throughout the house, being careful to include family heirloom pieces.

The older generation bought to last.

Our generation is a mobile one. I know people who don’t even have a vaccum, but just set their Roomba loose while they are at work.  We buy condos to sell them and make a profit. We buy IKEA stuff knowing that we will replace it in 3 years when our job moves us across the country.  We use Netflix instead of buying the collectors set of “Friends” on DVD. We value digital content over hard copies. We are global nomads, spending money on experiences rather than stuff.

There is no question that generations adapt to the times and workforce culture. Our lifestyles have to adjust. But I wonder if these “IKEA” mentality doesn’t have an affect on our relationships?

Do we idolize our lighter lifestyles? Do we think about investing into relationships that are built to last?

The older generations had the expectation that marriage was for life. They desired less change and less adventure. The Traditionalists were children of the Depression, and reached for stability as their highest value. That stability has slid into less of a need with each progressive generation. Nothing is permanent to us.

The relational wisdom of older generations, especially Traditionalists, still matters.

I want to challenge my fellow Millennials and Centennials to learn these important values of commitment, stability and compromise from the older generations. Not everything is disposable, and lets not forget it.

As we reach around the world, let’s keep the values of permanence in relationships intact.

For more on generations, check out The Six Living Generations in America.

DC Metro and Chicago CTA: A Comparison

One thing that a city dweller has in common with any other city-dweller in the world is that we all have the tendency to complain about our city’s public transportation system.  But after experiencing one of the nation’s ‘top’ systems in Washington, DC, I’d like to reflect on how it compares to Chicago’s.

Pros

A far stretching system. The system goes all the way out to the suburbs in many areas! This makes the city accessible to more people and serves the widespread suburban population. While many people might not LIVE downtown, they can access it easily without having to take a bus, a train, then another system train. This was the biggest advantage that I saw over Chicagos multi-train system (CTA for the city and close suburbs, and Metra for the far flung burbs.) For Chicagoans, this can be expensive if you live in the city and work in the suburbs, as you then have to buy monthly passes to both systems.  Looks like in DC, riders just have to buy one.

Very nice busses. The busses in DC (at least that I saw) looked like charter busses. They were clean, freshly painted, and shiny. And even though they service far out areas in the suburbs- they still had people on them. How do they manage to keep ridership that high?

Peak and non-peak times. This incentivizes customers to use the Metro throughout the day—which I know is an issue in Chicago. They are constantly changing the train times to try and figure out when people are using the CTA. Having a system like this would incentivize people to use it other times besides just their morning and evening commute.  This also makes transportation cheaper for people who are students and typically don’t travel during peak hours to get to class.

Zone based fees— This seems more fair. You ride farther, you pay more. Rather than a flat $2.25 (Chicago price), in DC you can pay a pretty penny. I think I saw like a $7.00 fee for one place. But again, you still only have to take ONE system to get far out. So I guess you’d pay that much in Chicago anyway.

Signal underground How did I manage to have an AT&T signal on my phone even in the tunnel?

The self-serve machines take Credit Card. This was great that I didn’t have to have cash to buy a train pass. Big Big help for the out-of-town-traveler.

Friendly staff—I had a man come up to me and help me figure out how to use the machine to buy a card. I feel like this would not happen in Chicago. Apparently, CTA drivers are amongst some of the unhappiest people on the planet and this shows in their behavior towards riders. Thus visitors usually have to fend for themselves.

Cons

Ill placed maps— The maps are on the sides of the train rather than above the doors. See the photo below  to understand why this is a problem of visibility.

Carpets– gives a nice ambiance during the summer, but I can’t imagine how filthy those things get in the winter. Also, if you spill something you’d feel really guilty. In Chicago, at least if you spill a Dunkin Donuts coffee, the liquid slides back and forth to the feet of all the other passengers on the train and spreads out until it becomes a sticky dried layer of brown goo thin enough to air dry.

No vertical poles— This feature does not maximize space. You can’t stand really close to other people, without accidentally touching their shoulder or awkwardly bumping into them when the train sways. There is nothing to hold onto if you’re standing. In Chicago, we like to pack them in, so these intermittently placed poles are necessary.

 

Minimum payment for one time user– In DC, they make you put additional money on the card even if you only need to go $3.50 worth of a ride.  So it actually costs $4.50. I don’t get this.

Incomprehensible announcements—Passengers can’t understand the announcements that the driver is saying. The speakers are very quiet and all you hear is a slight mumble. I seemed to be the only person bothered by this, however.

Those of you who take the DC Metro regularly, please comment. I’d like to hear your thoughts, complaints, or praises on the Metro. Also, feel free to give perspective to any of my one-time observations.

Culture Shock: from Giving to Receiving

If you’ve ever lived overseas for an extended period of time you will realize that culture shock is not a ‘slap you in the face’ one day event. It is a creeping process that grasps you like a slow growing ivy. Before you know it, you are overcome.

An American  friend of mine just shared with me that after a year in foreign culture, she is experiencing culture shock.  You will hear young travels who visit a foreign culture for 3 weeks say “It was awesome! I didn’t experience culture shock at all!”

Of course they didn’t. No one experiences TRUE culture shock without authentic friendships with national people.

One of the most powerful realization moments for me was about one year into my time in a mid size Indian city. I was working for a small IT company and had done my best to immerse myself in the culture by learning the language and spending time with Indian nationals as much as I could. My dad had come from America to visit me for a few days and we had a great time as I showed off my newly acquired language skills, how I knew the town like the back of my hand, and how well I had immersed myself into the local culture. After 2 days of impressing my dad, I dropped him off at the train station and waved goodbye until the train was out of sight, taking him to the airport 5 hours away where he would eventually catch his flight back to the US.

I took the clanky auto rickshaw down the main road and eventually back to my apartment, paid the driver 5 rupees and shuffled slowly down the dusty lane to my apartment.  All of my American colleagues were out of town for the weekend and I didn’t have any plans for the evening.

Then it hit me.  I was alone again. In an obscure town in the middle of India.  No one knew my hometown or had even heard of my state. No one knew or cared that I was the class president in high school or that my favorite food was sushi. The connection to my past and my culture was gone. All I had was the present.

I must have looked disturbed as I walked into our modest apartment complex. I tried to turn sharply and walk up the stairs avoiding any contact with my neighbors who were preparing their evening meal. One particular lady who I often spent time with paused from cooking her mattar paneer and peering through the door she inquired:
“Papa Chelegaye??!” (Did your dad leave?)
I stopped halfway up the stairs.

I stood in silence.
Then, I broke.
I burst into tears and rushed into her arms. She stood there holding me until I all of my hot tears had stained her dupatta. Her vegetables were burning on the stove, but neither of us noticed.

I looked up and saw her eyes filled with tears as well. She felt my pain. She saw that I wasn’t a perfect content super American.  I was sad. I was lonely.  I hated India that day and I missed my family. They knew I was real.
That night she fed me and made me sit and watch a movie with their family instead of sitting alone in my apartment studying. It was her chance to give back to me.

That was a major turning point in my relationship with Indian people as a whole.

I had come to India to serve and to help. I thought of myself as the Giver. I had never learned to RELY on the people surrounding me. I had moved to a deeper relationship. Into a vulnerable position.  I was no longer just the GIVER. I was also the RECEIVER.

3 Tips for overcoming culture shock:

  1. Push through that culture shock and BE PRESENT in the middle of it.  You are in the right place by acknowledging that you are experiencing sadness and discomfort.
  2. Be authentic–It is OK to tell your national friends that you are homesick.
  3. Find support–Other foreigners in your position have been through the same thing! They will most likely tell you their horror stories of times when they broke down and bounced back.

Dealing with the slow creeping culture shock is essential to your survival overseas long term. This is what it takes to really experience a culture. To fall in love with a culture, you have to hate it first.

Musings of Tea

“we await the great Avatar. Meanwhile, let us have a sip of tea.”

-The Book of Tea
In my travels I like to observe the differences in the way people approach life and how food and drink habits indicate that.
In the East you will find people stopping mid day- many times to enjoy a cup of tea.
No good party can be had without tea.
You can’t properly entertain guests without tea.
Everyone from rich and poor families will serve the same tea in their homes.
Chai runs thick in Indian’s blood.

This morning I made a cup of chai carefully mixed with cardamom and ginger for my Indian father in law. As we enjoyed the fresh morning air we chuckled as he mused at the way Canadians drink their coffee in HUGE mugs and drive off to the next destination plopping it in the cupholder.
“Why so much? and why so quickly?” he asks.
Cup holders and to go mugs are unheard of in the East. No one would ever think of having their tea on the run.
Tea is meant to be drunk sitting down.
It is a time to think, relax, converse, and reflect.
Why would anyone sacrifice that experience for a cupholder?

What does this tell about us in the West?
Have we in the West become a big portable mug culture?
Have we mobilized our relaxation? Have we forgotten how to ponder?

“There is a subtle charm in the taste of tea which makes it irresistible and capable of idealization.Western humorists were not slow to mingle the fragrance of their thought with its aroma. It has not the arrogance of wine, the self-consciousness of coffee, nor the simpering innocence of cocoa.”

A Cold Inspirational Start

Last winter I was sitting in my Chicago bungalow, under a blanket with a space heater next to me and a typing on my computer with gloves. It was the biggest storm of the season and I hadn’t left the house for days. But hey…I was still working!

I needed advice. My frozen fingers typed into google ‘work from home’, ‘working from home advice’, ‘Chicago work from home groups’…nothing but a few measly sites that gave me 10 tips which I already discovered myself long before.

Was there anyone else out there who wanted to know hot to be more productive by working from home? Anyone else who was going crazy sitting in their house all day?

One November afternoon during my work day, I contemplated what I’m uniquely good at. As I sat under a tree reading Selling the Invisible in my front yard taking my routine afternoon break from emails, it hit me like an apple allegedly hit Newton on the head- I am an expert on working from home.

I was inspired to start this blog from Andreas Kluth’s Global Nomad article on the Economist which I originally heard about from a favorite podcast of mine Indicast. The article’s point is that “Global Nomadism’ is changing the way we interact with each other. It is changing the way we work. It is changing our productivity. It changes our boundaries between work and personal.

As a lone US based ranger of a company based overseas, I wondered if anyone else was out there who felt like they were at work all the time. I’ve started this blog to create a Global Nomad community and place where other nomads can read funny stories and share thoughts about the advantages and frustrations of working from remote locations

Here are some of the topics I plan on covering:

  • Maximizing your time at work
  • Creative ways to multitask
  • Staying disciplined
  • Keeping productivity up
  • Social Interaction
  • Separating ‘work and personal’
  • Saving money for yourself and your company
  • Connecting with other ‘nomads’
  • Fun travel stories and tips
  • Managing your schedule

Three cheers for a nomadic lifestyle!

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