The limits of digital vagabonding

In the past year I met a few travelers that liked to call themselves “digital nomads”: people who can travel the globe and work remotely from an internet connection, everywhere in the world. However, as I was enjoying some remote mountains and almost missed my weekly deadline, I have a couple things to say about this whole concept of “digital nomadism”. It may work, for sure, as we have seen many successful examples and life stories all over the world. But believe me, it does not work anywhere. It does not work for sure in the mountains of Tajikistan, I guarantee, where it is also difficult for example to find a daily shower or a flush toilet. And it becomes a very excruciating exercise when the speed of the internet connection you are using resembles those dial-up modems I remember using around 1995. It just becomes worst than 8 full hours at the office when outside the sun shines summertime.

When I try to remember such self-proclaimed digital nomads that the world can be slightly wilder than the average location in Thailand or South America, I am generally given a strange look. Kind of like I doubted the universal power of the internet, or I just unknowingly touched a very taboo topic.

Personally, I believe that traveling the world has to be disconnected from the internet. I mean, if we are lucky enough to make some sort of living by leading a nomadic lifestyle, we do not have to limit our movements only to those locations where a good connection is available. Instead, it looks like the internet connectivity may monopolize our movements and make us digital slaves, not nomads. I have seen so many remote places charging deadly high amounts for painstakingly slow connections… so slow it almost hurts to use them. And still, I can see travelers trying to type away at a monitor that never loads, and neither refreshes.

To be able to work and still enjoy traveling to off the beaten path locations the way I want, I generally prepare my writing some weeks before. I schedule the posts thanks to modern technology, and forget about them for a while. However, life is unpredictable and sometimes I am not able to write as much as I would when I have to organize my movements across the badlands of the world. And it is in those cases that I realize that limiting ourselves to the safety net of a fast internet connection is a big mistake. It feels like putting a condom around the travel libido, stopping the opportunities to make great encounters, and just feels plain antiseptic.

Nevertheless, people typing away at fast speed internet points in Buenos Aires or Berlin still like to think they have a different perception of the world, and enjoy some sort of traveling freedom. I certainly do not want to criticize any lifestyle choice, but I feel much luckier when there is scarce electricity, I cannot charge my smartphone, my laptop has a dead battery, and the internet is some sort of invention that still has to reach the part of the world where I am luckily spending my day. Free from the worries of the digital world. Free to make my travel experience the same vibrant moment of incredible enthusiasm that got me out of my hometown first a bunch of years ago.

That feeling still seems to resist when I disconnect from the internet world, and pay more attention to the hidden corners of the real one. What is your opinion?

Posted by | Comments (6)  | August 30, 2012
Category: Notes from the collective travel mind, On The Road, Vagabonding Life

6 Responses to “The limits of digital vagabonding”

  1. Traveler Tim Says:

    The key to making this work is to not be a slave to the internet. If you work ahead and make the most of the times you DO have a fast connection, then you can go off the grid for a week with no worries, even if you are a freelancer beholden to clients. The key is managing expectations and keeping the people paying you informed.

    Where many people get in trouble–especially web publishers/bloggers–is buying the fallacy that they have to be constantly updating their social media feeds and pumping out play-by-play content. On any blog or website with any age to it, at most 10% of your page views are going to come within a month of publishing, much less the first week. So work when you’re working, travel and absorb when you’re traveling. Then you can be a happy digital nomad. And it sure beats being in a cubicle.

  2. DEK Says:

    It is an odd but true thing, that those who travel on business are not really travelers. That those who go on business are not really “there” in the sense that we have understood a traveler to be in a foreign place.

  3. Travelers Says:

    Web acts as a tool for business travelers, because it helps them to increase the work productivity, during traveling, which results in safe journey.

  4. Fred Says:

    For me there does needs to be a seperation and rest between work and travel. The first leg of any travel to me is to work and earn the next leg or two of travel. Therefore, to really travel, one slowly makes the stays longer and the distances traveled shorter.

    Enjoy the Time

  5. bani.amor Says:

    people still call themselves nomads?

  6. LL Says:

    I’m sure you didn’t mean to be, but it’s a little judgmental to imply that people who work while traveling don’t have a “different perception” of the world because they have to occasionally (or often) go online. I agree that there are certain types of business travelers that don’t enjoy the travel experience the same way many of your readers do, but for a lot of us, it just takes a little planning and perspective to get some work done, unplug, and explore. Wifi everywhere might seem to take the charm out of travel, but the reality is it gives us an opportunity that wasn’t there before!