I love it when the plane takes off. The whoosh — that's what I call it — the unexpected hurried jilt. And the prospect of going away, far away from home.
Everyone loves freedom. It's not even up for debate. For most people working in the city, vacations offer respite. Suppose there's one thing that the pandemic has robbed us of — the freedom to pack our bags and leave on an impulse. Right on the other end of the spectrum are digital nomads — the ones who hop from one country to another, if not from mountains to beaches. For a fleeting onlooker, the lifestyle of a digital nomad might appear seamless and whimsical. For most of us who cannot pack our stuff in a bag and leave home behind for richer experiences, fully knowing that tomorrow is uncertain, this lifestyle is admirable and no less intrepid.
Tyler345 agrees with me. "Digital nomads are boss because they are their own boss and can get lost and still be ok," he says on Urban Dictionary. Everything I discovered about this lifestyle was through the internet, and I believed the advantage was that you could be in the right place at the right time. A nomad could experience the first bloom of Rhododendron in Sikkim and savour the first rain of the season in Kerala. Of course, there's more and now, I know that.
While writing this piece, I instantly thought of Shivya Nath, who has been living out of her bags for seven years now. On reaching out to her, I asked her what pushed her. "After studying in Singapore, I worked there for a while before quitting and moving to Delhi. I chose Delhi because it was close to the mountains and in a way Delhi pushed me out. I connected with good people here and traveled to the mountains often but the city was too aggressive for me. I thought where else I could move to and since most of my work was online and I wanted to continue traveling, it made no sense for me to be in one place, pay rent, and own things that I didn't need. That's how it began and one night, I decided to leave," she says. A TEDx speaker, a best-selling author who wrote The Shooting Star, and an award-winning travel blogger, Shivya adds, "when I decided to move, I figured after six months, if I wanted to have a base, I'll have one but haven't felt the need in all these years."
Kasia, a programmer from Poland, however, never planned to be a digital nomad. "It was supposed to be a sixth-month (max) trip. But suddenly, after three months of travelling, I didn't want to go back home. I wanted to explore the world and see faraway places," she says. At the moment, she is back home in Poland due to the pandemic, but otherwise she is a full-time digital nomad who has traveled to over 50 countries. "I balance between places I've already been to and want to visit again and new places that I can explore. Also, since I work in a company with employees all across the world, I like to visit my coworkers and meet them in person," she says.
I often wonder what makes one leave the comfort of home and rove into the unknown. Of course, for those who can, home can be found anywhere. It's after-all a feeling, as many claim. In Into The Wild, McCandless says, “Nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.” Several travellers and free-spirited individuals have adopted this lifestyle. As we all know, people like Christopher McCandless, Cheryl Strayed, Aron Ralston have sort of tried co-existing with the wild. We know of these stories because books were written, movies were made. But over the years, more and more millennials are paying no heed to the benchmarks set by the society. This could be for various reasons — trauma-induced past, appetite for wanderlust (a term that has been overused over a period of time that I feel it has overlived its motive), adrenaline rush, or simply because they don't want to settle down.
The question still remains — home, although a feeling — do they not miss it? While a few say they don't, popular blogger-duo of EatTripClick fame, Shagun Segan and Neharika Nath say otherwise. "Every day, we would miss home and it didn't get better with time. Being on the road seems fancy, till you do it for that long. We've had people tell us this was goals and stuff. Out there, both of us would breakdown emotionally almost every week. We would just hold each other and cry it out. Surprisingly, we even got sad about leaving a new place, but that just tells you how much we loved to travel," they say.
Freedom naturally has its own caveats. "Predators are everywhere. Even in one of the safest countries, single women still have to practice caution," says Kasia. For Abhijeet Kashyap, it's a different story altogether. "The winters in Manali were harsh. I managed cheap accommodation in a village. On several days, there were water issues, so I would have to run to various sources. The monsoon too came with its share of challenges; I can never forget a giant spider greeting me when I opened the kitchen door after a week," he says. Kashyap moved here when he was working on his startup, and adds, "I have never been so calm before and the mountains have changed me for good. In September 2017, I was having a tough week with my startup. I was really low and took a long afternoon nap in the backdrop of late monsoon rain. When I woke up and looked outside the window, I was astonished at how beautiful everything looked. I savoured that moment and realized how grateful I should be." Shivya, on the other hand, says"applying for visas is the worst part. Especially when travellers from other parts of the world have so much more flexibility to decide where to go and how long they can stay. Times like those I wonder why my passport is so weak." She laughs away and adds that she has broken away from the demands of the society and finds it truly liberating, despite a few limitations. "Something funny happened," Shagun says, "I got on a cruise in Santorini to keep our luggage and it sailed off without my knowledge. Neharika was left behind without her phone, passport, or money. Some frantic calls were made from the Captain of the cruise to the office in Santorini and we managed to put her on the next boat to Athens. She still hates me for it."
Things took a U-turn with the pandemic that posed a bigger problem for everyone. For the nomads, even more so. While the initial months of the lockdown were spent in a shock, we are still reeling from financial and mental turmoil. With limited work opportunities and closure of hotels and hostels, most have had to head home. However, most people on the internet assert that nature is healing. To travel responsibly alone comes with a great deal of responsibilities. "The pandemic has made us realise that this fast kind of travel where you hop from one place to another is probably not sustainable. And maybe it's better to stay in a place longer and that way, you can experience the place and the local culture better, contribute to the local economy. I hope in the future this becomes more of a norm than an exception, especially for the Indian travellers," says Shivya, who is biding her time in Goa time till it's safe to globetrot again.
With this lifestyle, there are restraints but then there's self-rule. Perhaps, you could work from the mountains or a jungle, as long as you have a decent network connectivity, and if the nature of your work permits. With workplaces embracing a work-from-anywhere culture, this might be the way forward for many who find themselves saying "I'm only a psychopath on the weekdays," like James Franco, from 127 Hours. This opens a dialogue for a sustainable (let's start with travelling locally) and responsible travel. That begins with cleaning up after our own mess, lest you were planning to block the view of Nanda Devi by discarding a water bottle. But for now, that's the only thing on my mind (cleaning, not blocking). Before it's time to walk..into the wild!