To be a digital nomad, or a settler?

• 7 min read

Freedom and exploration are two things which resonate strongly with me, and I've come across many INFJs and INFPs who feel the same way. Which is why, on paper, digital nomadism seems like a good fit...

To be a digital nomad, or a settler?

If there's one thing I know about myself, it's that I'm a dreamer who loves sunshine, nature and freedom. I enjoy novelty and I enjoy exploration.

Last year, I dipped my toe into the water by spending a week in Slovenia (an amazing hidden gem), followed by a month at a co-living space in Tenerife (also awesome), with other digital nomads who were able to live and work from anywhere, due to being a freelancer/solopreneur or remote employee. I met folks who were doing it for the first time, more seasoned nomads (like my friend Elizabeth Miner - see Episode 26), and others who fell somewhere in between.

Exploration and freedom are two things which resonate strongly with me, and I've come across many INFJs and INFPs who feel the same way. Which is why, on paper, digital nomadism seems like a good fit...

Whilst my own 'nomad experience' is fairly limited (see above), I've read stories and watched videos online, and spoken to friends about the whole digital nomad thing. I wanted to share with you boh sides of the coin, and then let you know where I currently* stand.

*As will always be the case, circumstances continue to evolve :)

The case for being a nomad 🧭

Just look at any nomad blogs or social media feeds and that'll be enough to awaken the traveller & adventurer, the dreamer inside of you. You get to go anywhere, away from the city or town you grew up in or have been located in for a while... you get to be somewhere warmer, more picturesque, soak up a different culture, feel the history of a place, experience a different way of living and a new language. And especially if you're living in the West, you can experience a cheaper cost-of-living in the likes of South America and Asia (incidentally, two continents on my 'list' for spending some time in before the year took a strange turn). There are now a bunch of well-developed co-live/nomad hotspots all around the world (from Mexico City to Lisbon to Chiang Mai).

Solo travel - or even travel with someone/others - can be a growth experience; an opportunity to learn about yourself, to step outside of your comfort zone, to develop independence. You can set the hours you'd like to work, be in control of your time, and chill when you want to. You can take a week off, or work just a couple of hours in the morning... heck, if you're self-employed you can do what you want and when you want (and if you're employed, you can work smarter and more efficiently, and let's your enjoy the best of both worlds... a secure paycheck and the freedom that comes with remote life.

Being in control of your time and energy is really liberating. That alone is the appeal for me.

Being free to be where I want to be, with all the novelty and exploration and growth that comes from solo (or not solo) travel. I feel like case for doing the digital nomad thing is a pretty straightforward one.

The case for being a settler 🏠

Okay, so you may have just read all of that and now thinking... um, yes, that sounds amazing. "This whole digital nomad thing is a no-brainer..."

Okay, well here's the other side of the coin and the case for being a settler/homebody.

There's a certain beauty, comfort and necessity to stability for me. You can be the most freedom-seeking, rebellious person (#guilty), but I feel that as human beings we all need some semblance of stability. Tbh, that's why I consider myself a slow traveller, and certainly not one to hop around and quickly tick countries off the list. (I could have easily spent more time in Slovenia's small capital of Ljubljana, before I headed to the beautiful Lake Bohinj). When I go somewhere new, even if it's a new co-working spot for the day, I feel a bit disorientated and uprooted for a bit... so when it comes to living in a new place, it can take a little while to get settled in and feel familiar and comfortable in my new environment.

👉 The importance of routine

Loneliness and friendships/relationships
This is a big one that comes up in the 'realities of being a nomad' articles and videos out there, and I can see why. I spent just 4 weeks in Tenerife and had a really great 1st proper nomadic experience, probably about the best I could have hoped for.

People are a big one for me... a nice grouip of people I can connect/vibe with, and yet also have my own space to re-charged those #introvert and #HSP batteries when I need to. And the good thing about Nine was it attracted interesting and like-minded folks, and it was just the right size (not too small to feel too intense, and not too big to feel overwhelming). It ticked the right boxes.

And yet... I'll be honest, towards the end of my time in Tenerife, I felt pretty lonely. I have a feeling that it wasn't quite enough time to really get to know folks (I'm a slow burner). In my experience, it takes some time to build meaningful friendships and deep connections. And possibly even more time when you're someone like me who has to delicately manage my energy.

And in a co-live, folks will come and go so making friends there can be a tricky one (even if you do bond pretty quickly, it's short-lived before you/they move on). At Nine it was lovely to spend the whole month with Nine's "regulars" who were working/volunteering there - shoutout to Eirik, Hannah, Emmanuel, Katya and the lovely host/owner, Anne.

So, friendships can be a tough one when you're somewhere new. And... relationships? That's another ball-game. And if you're like me, it's easy to over-think all of this. As is usually the case for ALL aspects of life, it's probably best to make the decision that feels right, be in the moment and just see what unfolds.

The challenges of being a solopreneur/working remotely
When you go remote for the first time, it can be a real shock to the system. I'm feeling like our highly-sensitive systems become accustomed to whatever environment/reality they're exposed to, so that any change - even if it'll be good for us - takes some getting used to and can be a shock to the system (literally) at first.

It's a whole different mindset, and it's kinda weird to begin with. It can take some adjusting to 'normal life', and feel a bit chaotic. Being in charge of your day is a blessing I've always wanted (#freedom), but you'll often find yourself questioning everything - am I doing this right? Am I working too much/too little? Is this okay?!

So this can be a challenge in and of itself, without throwing travel/living somewhere else into the mix.

Doing your own thing is a complete and utter headf*ck in the beginning. I mean... wow. Ultimately, it was the demise of my 1st business that was 'the straw that broke the camel's back' when it came to my mental health taking a turn for the worse, and me checking into a psychiatrist and then into therapy (thank goodness).

👉 Why I started prioritising my self-care

When I went to Tenerife, what I didn't mention was that I was trying to start another business (freelance writing), from the ground up. As well as living/working from a new place for the first time, the above questions were all ones I had to contend with in addition to the "shock to the system" of being somewhere new and away from the comforts of home.

The illusion of Instagram life
This is one of the reasons I stay off of Instagram. I can't help but absorb the fake "realities" of all the feeds. For my dreamer-self, Instagram and all those pretty pictures are not good. I logically know it's not real, but I can't help but start letting me affect my sense of what's real and what isn't.

Getting sucked into the endless stream of beautiful, perfectly-curated feeds which just.aren't.real. One of the main ways I've seen the whole nomad life being promoted (and showed-off-about) is through Instagram.

I'm pretty much looping back to the beginning hear when I talked about my daydreaming. Working from the beach... not realistic (sand and laptops don't mix, there probably won't be great WiFi/mobile signal, and I wouldn't get much work done from the beach in any case). All play and no work... definitely not realistic. The 'lowlights' don't get a look on Instagram.

It's important for us all - especially the dreamers! - to remind ourselves that this is an exciting reality in so many ways, but Instagram is not an accurate representation of what to expect.

Remember, we only know what things are going to be like from trial and feedback. (Our intuition will let us know).

Okay, so where does this leave me?

Phew, are you still with me?

At this moment in time, it feels mostly healthy for me to have a 'base', and to enjoy some spells of travel. I like my week/two-week vacations, but if I'm travelling/working abroad (UK is slightly different) I wouldn't want to do less than a month, and would probably by tempted by 2-3 months+ someplace I liked (whether someone I've been before, or if I tried somewhere new... if I didn't like it, no worries, I'd return home or try somewhere else). Truth be told, I haven't yet been somewhere I really didn't like, and I'd probably play it 'safer' initially, either travelling in the UK/Europe, or staying at a co-live (or near a small & friendly co-working space at least) somewhere further afield.

Right now, we're still in the middle of a pandemic and, to be honest, I've been thinking a fair bit about travel. I've realised that the UK has lots I've not experienced, and Europe has plenty of places too - places I've been to already, and places on 'the list'.

I may be doing a week or two away in November, with the view to some more nomadic adventures next year. I don't think I'll ever be a hopper-arounder, but it's increasingly feeling like the right time to leave what I've called home (with the family) for most of my life, whether that's just round the corner or a little further afield.

Being a digital nomad vs being a settler aren't mutually exclusive things. Let's not be defined by the labels and fooled into thinking we need to be one or the other.

As with most things, there's a happy medium to be found that's right for you, right now.

For example, my version right now might look like having a London base with sporadic trips here and there, or it might look like spending a year moving around every 2-3 months.

I guess we shall see what the future holds...



photo: Dino Reichmuth

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