swimming pool

Posted by + & filed under think different.

Lately I’ve started to feel that my hobo lifestyle has created a bit of a trap.

I was in Tokyo recently with Fellow hobo Tynan recording a podcast when it came up that we both couldn’t “go back” to living a conventional life[1]. Much as people quickly get used to new found riches I guess we have got used to, and now take for granted the freedom and rich lifestyle of being international hobos.

I left the UK in 2006 on a one way ticket and since then have lived in Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, Germany and spent time in a variety of other countries. This whole time I’ve seldom had any time or location constraints, I do most my work from cafes, have meetings on the beach and Tuesday is the same as Sunday as far as I’m concerned.

But I’ve realised “going back” is not just about losing freedom or having to kite surfing only at weekends. It’s more in how I understand the world and should exist within it. Whilst I can imagine it’s still possible to enjoy a life with less freedom, I cannot imagine going back to my old way of seeing things. And much more than losing freedom, I would fear being cut off from the many open minded and forward people I’ve met along the way.

The Nomadic and Hobo Quality Index

Mitch, Simina, Laura and I in a Romanian salt mine themepark
In my experience my fellow hobos, nomads and those who have taken a stand against the conventional life are so much richer and developed in how they see the world. Rather than simply swallow the model of reality that has been forced upon them by their peers and society (the blue pill), those who choose the unconventional path (the red pill) must craft their model far more carefully and deliberately. When you stray off the map, you must pay far more attention in order not to get lost.

The attraction of a “digital nomad” lifestyle may initially be the beaches, coconuts and no more commute but for me the bigger prize has been in how I’ve changed and who I’ve met along the way. My unconventional life has brought with it great challenges and learning experiences. From the leap of faith of being self employed, to incorporating in a foreign country, or just simply existing in a way that is so totally off the map compared to everyone else.

But just like Plato’s Allegory of the cave[2], I can’t go back to the way things were before, nor do I fancy my chances of trying to convince too many people of the new perspectives I’ve learned. And to ride further on Plato’s allegory, I think most people are still very much in the cave. But thankfully I’m finding other people who’ve also escaped the cave.

Travel Changes Mindset Irreversibly

Travel and entrepreneurship have got to be two of the most effective ways I know of broadening one’s experience and outlook on the world. Having been immersed in different cultures for a number of years, now when I visit the UK (where I was born) I have the sense it is just another country with it’s own customs and culture – it’s not the “right” culture or particularly where I belong. Travel makes it’s much easier to see beyond one’s own cultural conditioning.

When I first arrived in Japan I was always amazed how often people would ask “when are you going back home?”, it was just assumed that I would go back sometime. Eventually I got used to the same questions, but it’s interesting to see how this happens the world over. When I get questions like this I always get the sense I’m talking with a medieval villager, stood there holding his/her pitch fork. Generally people have a notion that they must have roots, or belong somewhere. We have genes, cultural conditioning and peers that strongly influence our thinking, but the reality is, with enough money or balls we can just uproot and relocate on a whim. Sure I personally may have genes evolved to better cope with a mediterranean climate, but I’d wager my bet that being sat in an office all day, not exercising and eating shitty McDonald’s burgers is far more harmful to me than living most the year in Thailand.

So where’s the catch?

Now, before you think I’m a pretentious ponce complaining about the “problem” of not being able to go back to an office job or go without my privileged travel buddies, I want to get back to the original title – “it’s a trap”.

As I’ve tried to delineate, for me the change in mindset is the real irreversible change, and sometimes this makes me feel trapped. As I’ve overcome numerous challenges and broadened my perspective, I find less and less that I can be blissfully ignorant, be lazy or act without integrity. Rather, I’ve raised the bar and feel compelled to keep above it at all times.

But this sounds like complaining, essentially I think we are all trapped in our own mindsets, and I suppose I choose to be “trapped” in the mindset that seeks to escape the trap. See you outside the cave.

  1. HoboCEO Podcast with Tynan
  2. Plato’s Allegory of the cave: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allegory_of_the_Cave

I wrote this short essay for a new book curated and put together by fellow hobo’s John Bados and Cody Mckibben – The Digital Nomad Imperative. You can download it for FREE here: http://www.thrillingheroics.com/lifetheuniverseandeverything/

3 Responses to “Watch out Digital Nomads, It’s a Trap!”

  1. mhodges

    Hi Chris,

    Had some thoughts already reading your post. Don’t mean to sound overly critical, but in the interesting of share another perspective:

    Tokyo is such a great city though. Honestly when I’m in China, Malaysia, Singapore or Thailand I do miss my life in Japan after a while. I miss the quality of the vegetables, the healthy organic cafes, and my own kitchen tools. I miss my shower, my electronically-controlled tub and my Japanese washing machine. Its also a damn convenient city–trains, buses, and clean taxis; quality shops for every interest; relatively bicycle friendly–and its safe, and people are well mannered.

    One of the worst things about Japan is the cost. Next is perhaps just the cultural isolation. But you guys make it sound like its a living hell to be settle down in one city for any amount of time. Do you really feel that way? If so, can you help me understand on what I’m really missing out on by living here?

    I enjoy travelling and living out of hotels too–especially very nice ones, but the general lifestyle has its downsides don’t you think? Cafes are not always the most comfortable places to work (uncomfortable chairs, too cold air-conditioning.) You can’t exactly travel easily with all your useful possessions, like sports and hobby equipment, or printers and scanners, and all kinds of things.

    Besides unless you are really sleeping in a new place every few weeks, its not truly a nomadic lifestyle is it? If you are “living most the year in Thailand” then the lifestyle is perhaps “episodically itinerant”, like having a summer cottage and or a getaway place by the lake.

    I guess mostly you must just miss your friends, but in a way perhaps that’s a downside of the itinerant lifestyle. Or are you mainly talking about “not being able to go back to an office job”, which is something different entirely i.e. I don’t consider myself a nomad, but I run my own company (and I travel), so I can relate to not wanting to follow someone else’s agenda every day. But that’s not really about being nomadic.

    In a way I feel you are creating a strawman: “being sat in an office all day, not exercising and eating shitty McDonald’s burgers is far more harmful to me than living most the year in Thailand.”

    When in reality you can live in SE Asia, work an office job, get little exercise and eat junk food (look at all the fat Moslems with “KFC VIP Drive-Thru” stickers on their cars in Malaysia.) Or you can live in Tokyo, run your own business, get higher-quality food–with more nutrition–and enjoy more variety of flavors than you’ll find in Thailand, do yoga and swim or play tennis a few times a week and go freediving or hiking on the weekends. To be fair.

    • Chris

      Thanks for your perspective Max, though I think we’re almost on the same page :)

      I think your right about “episodically itinerant”, in reality I probably don’t travel that much more than you. I suppose the key difference is I don’t really have a long term base at the moment. And perhaps I over use the word hobo (it is my branding :D ), because I wouldn’t consider sticking to one city that I loved “living hell”, in fact if Tokyo was cheaper I’d probably be back living in Nakameguro, meeting you for lunch once or twice a week!

      Also we’re both entrepreneurs which is already quite a big jump away from the conventional.

      Anyway the real point of this post is that my mindset has changed having walked this unconventional path – this is the trap, I can’t change back to my old mindset.

  2. Jill

    Well said! I always enjoy reading posts that reinforce the endless benefits and upsides to why we do what we do.

    Granted it can be difficult being away from friends and family (at least it is for me), I wouldn’t change it for the world.

    Besides, each time I go home, I realize that nothing has changed.

    I’ll take the discomforts over the comforts of home any day.


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