I recently had a conversation with a friend of mine, who I met in Bali. At the time we were both living the digital nomad dream; Instagramming our rice-field facing desks, riding our scooters to jungle over-hanging pools or hidden water temples at the weekends, and our chats frequently turned to where we both fancied going to next. Yet a year and a half or so later, and we are both back on our respective home-turfs.
She said something very honest, that stuck with me and circled around my head for the next few days: that she was struggling to hang up her digital nomad label. She said that it was a label that she’d been really proud to wear, and had worked really hard for. For a couple of years she’d defined herself by her strong sense of adventure, and her successful escape from what was expected of her. She also admitted that she missed the social currency of the label, the glamour of it, and how her friends used to envy her. I understood.
I remember when I lived in Bali feeling so sorry for people who had to go home, for whatever reason. It felt like the dream was ending. I was so scared of it, of the idea of being forced back to the UK, and it’s what motivated me to begin freelancing. I never thought that it could be an active choice: choosing to go home. Why go back to rainy ol’ England? One of my friends moved back to the UK from Singapore while I was there, and she said something that at the time I didn’t really understand, but that I found myself saying a few weeks ago: “I really just want to have my feet on the ground for a little while”.
Yet when I moved to Italy last March, it was with the idea that I would stay there for a year, spend Christmas at home, then go back to Bali, and perhaps Byron Bay, via a month or so in India. For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to travel and to explore. And I couldn’t see that urge ending any time soon. It was the whole reason why I was building a location-independent business for myself. Then, in August, while sweating out a god-awful heat wave in Italy, I started to experience unfamiliar feelings. While sitting in my darkened room, with a fan pointing directly at my face, my Google search history changed from researching Ashrams in India and the best way to get to Tibet, to thick wool blankets and copper table lamps. I was tired of feeling like a fish on dry land, of having to put so much effort into just communicating, of living in crappy places, and not having my own space to just be. I was tired of all my energy being taken up with surviving, not leaving anything for thriving. I was tired of not being able to create the things I wanted to create. I wanted to put my energy towards something that had a future, rather than just getting through the day.
I was tired. I craved a home again.
And six, rather difficult months later, I have one. I’m writing this from my own sofa, which is covered with a thick wool blanket (mustard), and my copper table lamp is on order.
Yet it hasn’t been easy. Just like my friend, I’ve struggled with how “normal” my life now looks. I have bills again. A rental agreement. Fairy washing-up liquid and toilet paper on my shopping list. In many ways, it’s been just as scary and required just as much courage as getting on that plane with a one-way ticket was three years ago. I’ve repeatedly questioned my choice, and wondered where my sense of adventure disappeared to so rapidly. Is it just hiding for a few months? Biding its time until I’m fully settled before suddenly jumping out at me, and forcing me to unpick everything I’ve spent the last few months putting together? Friends of mine are setting out on their own big adventures (one friend is about to embark on a cycle-ride to Mongolia, follow her Instagram @grieyere), and I can’t deny that I don’t feel the odd pang when I see their excitement and thrill at it all.
Yet I know that that is just not where I am right now. And settling down somewhere completely new, building a business, a life, is an adventure in its own right, and one that comes with its own set of joys: the morning light flooding my kitchen, coffee just-how-I-like-it in bed, trying new recipes, baking bread, being recognised and waved hello to in the streets, getting into my new king-size bed at night.
And at the end of the day, a label is just that: a label. As my recent domesticity has demonstrated to me, they all come off with hot soapy water anyway. It doesn’t change what’s inside the jar. My friend is no less adventurous for having hung up her backpack for a while. I’m no less brave for wanting a home.
The last three years have been about exploring. Now it’s time to really create something.