If I was in a Starbucks, I’d be the living embodiment of a digital nomad’s wet dream.
But I’m not. I’m currently sitting in a Dunkin Donuts in Ulsan, South Korea, listening to the same shitty half Korean/half English Dunkin theme song, which plays approximately every six minutes. Come on, Dunkin. You ALREADY have me here. I’ve already exchanged $3 for an english muffin so bad that even Guy Fieri hates it, and we’ve established that guy would eat a pizza laced with motor oil. There’s no need to repeat it 14,392 times.
Here is said song if you’re interested. Warning: it will get stuck in your head and you will be tempted to stick a rusty hook into your brain in a misguided attempt to make it stop or kill yourself. As long as there’s silence, it’s all good.
(In the amount of time it took me to find this song on Youtube, IT CAME ON AGAIN. I’m gonna need a longer hook.)
Since showing up in South Korea about 9 months ago, I’ve had some great adventures. I got lost in Seoul, watched several baseball games, done all sorts of things around “home”, went to a cat cafe, and even managed to commit approximately 3.1 million different cultural faux pas. Oh, and I’ve photobombed at least two selfies, because you people are asking for it.
I’ve also made two trips to Japan, and have an upcoming vacation planned to Hong Kong, where I will likely dump at least 30% of my net worth into cheap electronics. COME ON PEOPLE IT’S A LIGHT BULB THAT YOU CAN CONTROL WITH YOUR PHONE. And here I am, using the light switch like a some sort of 20th century commoner. God, I hate myself.
But once you take out the trips, my life here is pretty much the same as home, but crappier. I have very few people to talk to. Many Canadian staples just don’t exist at the grocery store, so we do without. Korean food is mostly terrible; even the good stuff they’ll ruin by spicing the hell out of it. Sure, McDonalds, Subway, and other Western restaurants exist here, but they’re different enough to not quite be right.
At first, this was part of the fun. Go to a baseball game where I don’t know any of the players? Sure! What an odd experience! This is great! But as time has worn on, I crave the normalcy of normal life.
I’m tired of going to coffee shops to work because I don’t have a proper workspace at home.
I’m tired of trying to deal with stuff in the other part of the world but struggling because of time zones.
I’m tired of a million other things too, but I won’t complain too much. Let’s just say I crave the stability of having somewhere permanent to live.
The grass is always greener
I’ve always considered myself an inner scorecard guy. I’ve never owned a flashy car, and I can barely pronounce Gucci. As some of you can attest, I still wear potato chip logo’d polo shirts I got three years ago as a free perk of being a chip guy. I have zero interest in proving to anyone I’m worth listening to by bragging about my net worth. The only reason why I’m tracking part of my portfolio is so I can see whether actively managing it is worth my time or not. If I lose to the index consistently, I’ll stop.
And yet, when it came to the whole digital nomad stuff, I think I got caught up in the hype. I wanted to be that guy, the guy who has a life cool enough to emulate.
I like the idea of having a business where I can take off and go on vacation for a week, taking my laptop with me and working while I’m gone. But what I’ve found is that I’ll fly somewhere for a week and spend 3-4 days of it holed up in a hotel room doing the same stuff I do at home. Sure, the scenery is different once I decide to leave the room, but is this a really good use of my time or money? Or am I just doing this stuff because some of the other bloggers I follow have made it seem a whole lot sexier than it really is?
Kind of like the early retirement argument, the disadvantages of a digital nomad lifestyle are glossed over in favor of tweets that are nothing more than a blatant commercial for the lifestyle. And when selling a lifestyle, there’s no such thing as a disadvantage. It’s all puppies and blow jobs.
You know how when you were 15 and interviewing for your first job and the “what’s your greatest weakness?” question comes up? And because you’re young and stupid, you give a terrible answer like “you might say I work TOO HARD”? Digital nomads talking about the lifestyle are the same way. “What’s wrong with being a digital nomad? Probably that it’s TOO AWESOME.”
Seriously? Kill yourself.
In hindsight, I could have probably scratched this itch with a three week tour of Japan and Korea. That would have given me enough time to show up, get culture shock, and understand enough about the place to tell a good story to my friends back home. It might not have been enough to satisfy me permanently, but it would have been a good start.
What did I learn?
Do I regret my time spent abroad? Yes and no.
I’ve been able to save some serious coin by squatting in my girlfriend’s apartment. And even though most of my year abroad was spent the same way as my years at home — dicking around on the internet, mostly — it’s still much cooler to do it here. Plus, the weather was much nicer than in Alberta.
But if I had life to live over again, I’d probably just take a month long holiday and tour the area that way. This has been an experience, but the digital nomad lifestyle just isn’t for me. I’m looking forward to having some stability.