writing > Nomad Chronicles > antinomad
Last Updated: 2015
5 minute read

antinomad

The Reluctant Nomad - Part 1

cross-posted: on Medium

In December 2013, I left San Francisco to begin my life as a digital nomad. For the next 2 years, I lived out of airbnb listings, mostly in Asia, while I continued to work remotely for my startup, BitGym.

That time has changed the way I see and interact with cities forever. When I don’t go out much or find the town’s vibe discouraging, I lose my sense of drive and purpose. On the other hand, being in a city filled with life, vigor and passion boosts my motivation, energy and happiness.


I hated traveling growing up. I still do. So how and why did I end up a nomad? And what has come of it?

India - not home

I was born in Thiruvananthapuram, in the fall of 1989. Less than a year old, I boarded my first flight, and was whisked away to the quaint Middle Eastern capital city of Muscat, where I was to spend the next eighteen years of my life.

I have been flying regularly since. Thirteen of the sixteen summers to come I flew back to Kerala with my family. It was home to my parents, but not to me. I was never close to my grandparents – both my grandfathers passed away before I was born, one of my grandmothers suffered acute Alzheimer’s since I can remember, and the other passed away before I had visited her ten times, giving little opportunity to get close to any of them. Uncles, aunts, and cousins came and went before figuring much in my childhood.

Having no emotional bond to my “motherland,” to me these trips were reduced to just being taken along by my parents like a box of local delicacies to be distributed among those they visit. It was just summer after summer of leaving behind my beloved computer, school friends, the air-conditioned, clean house I grew up in, replaced by swarming mosquitoes, occasional food poisoning, constant power cuts, and generally being herded around by my parents to meet boring old people with nothing to entertain me. This is probably how I came to associate travel with constant boredom, physical discomfort and a lack of freedom.

Oman - not home either

As is typical of Indian families relocating to countries where the native language has little overlap with what we speak, we found our bubble communities. I went to an Indian school, surrounded myself with Indian friends, ate Indian food everyday. I read, listened and spoke exclusively English, Malayalam, and sprinklings of Hindi.

Eighteen years and I made not a single Omani friend. Eighteen years and I couldn’t understand more than four words of Arabic, let alone read, write or speak it. Eighteen years and I didn’t know their deeper cultural values or history.

College

I found my first real home in the dorms of Olin College of Engineering, a small school of nerds cohabiting as a family. Based in the grassy hills of Needham, Massachusetts, I was cozy. I loved the diversity of people around me. I spent most of my summer, spring and thanksgiving breaks on campus, and avoided flying back to Asia while I could.

Internal Change

People change. After about the age of 20, we all know logically that we have changed a lot and will continue to do so, yet we don’t internalize this. We project the future based on maintaining the same tastes, preferences, values and ambitions as we have today.

Why do we change? My hypothesis is that we change when things get hard. While things are easy, we have no reason to change as life is good. They get harder when we make mistakes, and we make mistakes when things get harder. We make mistakes when we are in unfamiliar circumstances.

Over these past 2 years, I have constantly been in unfamiliar circumstances. I was constantly exposing myself to potentially making mistakes. And I changed a lot as a result. I became a completely different person from who I used to know, and I had to get reacquainted with myself every so often.

Luckily, that wasn’t so hard because I got to spend a lot of time with me.

Loneliness

Work

  • Remote member of non-remote team > 2 people is difficult. You miss a lot of low-amplitude signals as they are deemed noise.
  • There’s a lot of duplication of work for the colocated people to keep you in the loop.

Willpower is limited

  • Routine is hard when everything changes every 15-30 days
  • Productivity (Motivation/Willpower + Discipline) is hard while remote/alone
  • Dependence on your distractions

Social

  • Overhearing
  • I have made a lot of friends, but I have made few friendships
  • Asia is risk-averse
  • You become more and more like those around you
  • I am not afraid like I used to be
  • I know what I like to do when I’m by myself, which is who I am independent of others.
  • “Two sides to every coin”

Picking a country

  • A predictable environment is stress-free. You don’t want to be constantly worrying about your internet, power or water, whether transit will be operational, whether you will be over charged for something.
  • first-world benefits allow us to do better work (mosquitoes, heat, stability, etc)

Picking a Home

  • Stay near transit
  • Shared rooms are cheap. But watch out for snorers.
  • AirBnB is the easiest to search, pick and book stress-free.

What will I miss?

Whenever I find myself complaining a lot about a certain situation, I make it a habit to keep track of things I will miss

  • Choosing my weather
  • Good, cheap food all around me
  • Having no things. It reduces stress ridiculously (offset by other things stressing me out way more though)
  • Time with “nothing else to do”. A lot of my personal development happened because I would be minorly burned out from working or just plain unable to work (no internet, standing in a bus, etc). Long continuous such periods gave me a lot of time to introspect, reflect, meditate, explore and understand myself that I would never have done (and probably never will) without such constraining circumstances.
  • Amazing internet in many of the cities I loved (Seoul/Tokyo/Osaka)
  • Shallow relationships - so much less social pressure
  • Being honest because I don’t care about being judged
  • Being able to sing at the top of my lungs while I code from my isolated suburban home