There’s a trendy little movement being tossed around the blogosphere that encourages people to become a “digital nomad” — a fashionable way of saying, “why not work from your computer rather than an office?” A digital nomad, as we are told by a myriad of blogs, is free to live a spur-of-the-moment lifestyle and is able to travel anywhere in the world as long as she has an internet connection.
I tried this lifestyle a few years ago — before the phrase “digital nomad” became trendy — when I decided to backpack across the Middle East, Asia and Australia. The reality was sorely disappointing. First, it required me to spend all my time in cities large enough to have strong, reliable wi-fi hotspots or high-speed internet cafes. This meant that after flying all the way to Cambodia or Thailand, I couldn’t venture to a remote island that lacks wi-fi but abounds in coral reefs and pristine beaches. I was shackled to large cities with high-speed internet.
Furthermore, I was freelance writing for magazines and still needed to conduct interviews, but the time difference between Thailand and the U.S. required me to Skype those interviews at 4 a.m., leaving me bleary-eyed and grumpy the next day. Regularly, I’d schedule an interview with someone at 3 a.m. or 5 a.m., only to call him at that hour and hear him say, “I’m sorry, I’m stuck in a meeting — can we reschedule for tomorrow?”
After only two weeks of “digital nomading,” I decided the trade-offs were no longer worth it. I gave up trying to work and lived on my savings.
When I returned to the United States, two and a half years later, I realized that my freelance lifestyle was ideal for traveling among major U.S. cities, where high-speed internet is guaranteed and the time change is negligible. I’ve always wanted to spend some time checking out New York, so why not go there for a month?
So I packed my laptop and headed to the Northeast. Here I work for a couple hours everyday from my discount hotel room, across the river in New Jersey. Then I ride into the city on the train and spend every afternoon and evening exploring NYC: browsing shops in SoHo, people-watching in the East Village, marveling at the homes on the Upper East Side.
The best New York experiences have been the free or cheap ones. Most tourists head to the high-dollar attractions: dinner at a fancy restaurant, shopping on 5th Avenue, gaping at the skyline from the top of the Rockefeller Center. I’ve tried some of the traditional tourist traps, but — as the cliche goes — the best things are free, or at least cheap-and-local.
Being here for a month, I’ve found little pockets of New York that most visitors who are only here for a week never find: my favorite used-book stores, vintage shops and bakeries. I’ve found “unknown” rooftop bars with spectacular views where the drinks are cheap(er) and the crowds are sparse.
I’ve even made some new friends, the types of people you’d only meet in New York, including an aspiring actress from the Midwest who came here with a dream of making it big on Broadway. I love how she believes in her dream and is devoting every minute of time to making it come true — and she’s not the type of person I’m likely to meet at home in Atlanta. I love Atlanta, but almost no one moves there with just a few bucks in their wallet and a dream in their eyes.
My dream was never to become a “digital nomad” — but somehow, it happened, and now it would require a major opportunity to convince me to head back to an office.
Then again, I loved the buzz and excitement of the newsroom when I worked there. I miss collaborating with co-workers on stories and features. Perhaps the right office would just be the next big adventure.