writing > Nomad Chronicles > Out of Place
Last Updated: Sept 2014
2 minute read

Out of Place

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.

What makes a city right?

As I have hopped from city to city, I have been thinking about why some cities are better to work out of than others. There are several obvious reasons to favour one city over another related to lifestyle, cost, and infrastructure. I try to keep my eye out more for the subtler yet more powerful reasons. The ones where it’s hard to understand their impact till you feel it. Like a subset of the obvious reasons, these usually have to do with the people you see around you. One such subtle element I talked about last time was the eyes of the crowd around you.

One other such thing is the city understanding or doing what you do.

Certainly you’d feel more at home in a city where other people do what you do — if you’re an artist, you obviously want to be in a city with other artists; if your favourite pastime is clubbing or watching sports and the city has no clubs or sports bars, then of course that sucks. But that’s not what I’m talking about.

It matters even for simpler things. Nothing so central to your life as your career choice or definitive pastimes, but simple lifestyle choices that should technically be okay anywhere. I like to work on public transit and out of cafes. Perhaps you sport a fedora. Maybe like me, you like to greet people at least with a smile when you walk down the street?

And quirky things. I sometimes take out my laptop in the middle of the street, maybe because I had a map buffered on my browser and can’t get data on my phone. Maybe you carry your guitar or skateboard around with you everywhere. Perhaps you buy large bars of chocolate at convenience stores and then eat the whole thing walking down the street, not like me at all…

Going about my day, I feel alienated every time someone gives me that look implying I might be the bad kind of weirdo. And every time I feel alienated, I get less motivated to step outside my private spaces. The less I am outside, the less I get to feed on the energy of the city I’m in for my work.

This happened to me quite regularly in most cities in India. Berkeley was the city that felt the most welcoming to me, quirks and all. Most recently, Hong Kong and Seoul have both been very accommodating of my personality, and make me feel more at home than my “hometowns” of Muscat, Oman or Kochi, India.

The right city for you is one where either everyone is used to people like you, or embraces you despite being different.

Or better still, embraces you because you are different.

cross-posted: on Medium