Accepting a New Identity Shift: From Digital Nomad to Expat
I used to find comfort in the cycle. But over time, it became self-perpetuating: a ‘prison’ of my own creation. I didn’t realise it until I stopped and broke free from it. I never thought I was using travel as escapism. I wasn’t, but I did become accustomed to always expecting life to be at 95%.
Whenever it wasn’t, whenever I had a low moment where nothing was happening, I felt like I was wasting time. I had to find that high again. Usually, I did it by ‘outdoing’ myself and travelling somewhere that was a little more dangerous, more impressive or challenging than the last country. The reason I began travelling in the first place, an action motivated by freedom, I could never quite reach.
Weaving my way in between countries, with the length of time rarely based on how long I wanted to stay but how long I could stay, this lifestyle started to take its toll. It became the opposite of freedom.
The feeling I got when I reached a new place had become so dilated, so detached from the experience I used to have – a foreigner with wide eyes, looking for every little lesson to grow and expand. It wasn’t that I was unappreciative. Rather, it was like my senses were so overloaded for the past 18 months, that newness didn’t have the same lustre.
It wasn’t the travel itself, though. While that feeling had faded, it was still there. I still get a rush of butterflies when I’m in a plane taking off on the runway. I still pinch myself when I’m writing, looking out to the most majestic volcano or beach. My love for world and using movement as a teacher hasn’t stopped. If anything, I just fell more and more in love with the process of movement, and how I could never quite predict what it would teach me.
I lived happily in this cycle of constant change and newness for 18 months until I started to question it. I started to feel it in the moments in between moments. The times when I’d have some down time, when I was sitting alone in my room, just after a new experience was over or I had to say goodbye to someone. It wasn’t something I could control and I fought it for a few months. I would tell myself to ‘snap out of it’ because I was living the dream. I did believe this, too, because I created my reality from this dream.
So, it continued like that for a few months. I’d live in this high state, then followed the inevitable come down – the goodbyes, the loss, the grief, the detachment, the ‘what’s next’, and subduing my feelings because I was “living the dream.”
But those feelings continued to hit me, harder and harder. I could no longer ignore it or justify it. Instead, I made space for them. I didn’t shut them out or try to occupy my mind in other ways to avoid thinking about it. I sat with it. I let myself feel it, recognise it, and start to process it.
What I discovered was that there were things I was missing out on. While I was receiving lots of other experiences, often in excess, it didn’t make up for the simple pleasures I had lost.
And, I mean the real simple things. Like coming home to the same bed, having access to a kitchen and good food to cook, sharing my birthday with quality friends (not just company), and creating memories with a special someone. It’s not to say you can’t have parts of this on the road, but it’s difficult. I just accepted that I wouldn’t have these things and it was the sacrifice I made for the amazing experiences I did have – faraway places, new cultures, interesting people, incredible landscapes, and moments that can’t be emulated. Ever.
But it’s not sustainable to live like this forever. Me, being the ignored mid twenty-something, I thought I could. Until you live this way though, of course you’re going to idealise it. If I had a dollar for the number of times someone has told me that I have the “dream lifestyle”, I’d be rich. Okay, maybe not, but I’d definitely have a few extra hundred dollars. The more I heard this, though, the more it kept feeding that inner voice telling me to snap out of it. ‘Look how many people aren’t living this way. Why would you give it up…’
I didn’t let that inner dialogue, fuelling the ego, stop the processing. I needed to do. It happened slowly, naturally, and without force (when I stopped fighting it, of course).
But everything changed when I came to New York.
All those reasons that I fell in love with the art of travel, I re-discovered in New York City. No other place moved me, shook me up and made me start flirting with the idea of ‘settling’ quite like New York. It was a melting pot of, well, everything. Cultures, food, art, music, performance, business…
While these things helped, it wasn’t what fascinated me about my relationship with this city. It was the energy. I still can’t completely put my finger on it, but all I know is I was happy, really happy, even when I had nothing. I remember wandering down a cute street in Soho, gazing up at the fire escapes and weaving between the eclectic characters, and thinking, imagine how happy I could be once I do have things here: friends, an apartment, clients, a relationship…
That’s when I knew there was something here. That some things are unexplicable and often, don’t make sense, at all. I had just come from living in places like SE Asia where I would never dream of spending $400 a week on rent. All of the reasons that I shouldn’t be in New York and should continue travelling were just satisfying that inner voice, and resisting change.
I’ve heard stories of travellers exploring the globe for years on end. Their love for movement diluted long ago, but they continue because, well, why not. I wonder whether they just didn’t find their version of ‘New York.’ Maybe some of us never find it.
Through this whole journey of transitioning from freelancer based in Australia, to digital nomad travelling full time for two years and onto expat, one thing has helped me through: following that feeling and accepting the flow. I’ve learned that just because I’m not always in Australia, it doesn’t mean I’m not Australian. Just because I’m not playing country hopscotch, I’m still a traveller. And just because I’ve created a base in New York, it doesn’t mean this is forever, either.
All I know is that time changes us and what we want – an important vehicle to morph us into the best, most actualised person we can become.