Is Nomadic Life Lonely?

One of our biggest challenges being nomadic is maintaining a community. Sure, you can keep yourself busy visiting holy temples, sampling exotic foods or snorkeling colorful coral reefs, but it’s no substitute for hanging out with family and friends.

Michaela, Stephan and Tony on Rabbit Island

Michaela, Stephan and Tony on Rabbit Island

We used to have a big community while living in San Diego. There were “happy hours” with co-workers, dinners with friends, and Survivor and Amazing Race nights with our family. After moving to Berlin, we had to start over, and our community was reduced to a handful of new friends. Now that we have gone completely nomadic, building and maintaining a community has become one of our greatest challenges. But that’s where social media comes into play.

Facebook and Twitter are excellent tools for following other travelers and connecting with them along the way. Tony and I have made it a priority to stay in touch and meet up with people over and over again. There was French Thomas who we met in China and India. We met Jonathan and Rebecca in China, Tibet and Nepal. We encountered Richard and Emma, several times in India. Our latest rendezvous was with Michaela and Stephan, a German couple from my home state of Baden-Wuerttemberg. We first met in India in 2008, saw them in Thailand in 2009, and met up again in 2010 for a few days of island hopping in Southern Cambodia. Speaking my native dialect reconnected me with my home (and drove Tony slightly insane). But it is important to reconnect with your own culture once in a while.

Online chat, Skype and email have all been great instruments to bring home a little closer. But sometimes it’s just not close enough. What do you do if you can’t go back as frequently as you would like to? You convince your friends to visit you on the road, like Lisa and Garrett from San Diego or Beverly, who’ll be traveling with us for a couple of months in Cambodia and Laos.

So to answer the question of whether our lives as nomads have been lonely – absolutely not. Sure, it takes time and effort to stay in touch, but social media has made this process a lot easier. Of course, I want to sit in a cafe with an old friend and laugh until I cry, but I can’t have it all. In the meantime, I satisfy myself with XOXOs, LYs and LOLs.

6 responses to “Is Nomadic Life Lonely?”

  1. avatar Thomas says:

    I wanted to share this email I got from our Swedish friend Carl who we met (along with his girlfriend Emelie) while traveling in India:

    I read your latest post regarding creating and sustaining community while traveling. I have a funny and exiting story connected with that, that I would like to share with you.

    Two months ago I found out about an exiting theory of learning called “Theory U”. It’s a theory constructed by a german guy called Otto Scharmer who is a professor at MIT. He has these cool thoughts regarding the source of creativity and connects being present or being in a meditative state with innovating and creating new ideas (check him up at youtube or google him if you are interested). The main thing here is however not the theory… But I got all exited and started to check the web if anyone in Sweden had used this theory in the academia. After a while I found a bachelor thesis that used this theory. I started reading it and as I saw the name of the author it sounded familiar. Elin Frost. Elin Frost, is that not the girl that Tony and Thomas met, that did this crazy “The Art of Hanging Around”-study… I started to go through her blog and soon I struck gold. A picture of my favorite American-German couple, smiling as always. So I got even more exited and decided to email her. I wrote that we must have much in common since we have the same friends and like the same theories. She replied and a week later we had a long skype-talk. I invited her for a retreat project I was doing on shared learning, but she could not come. But two weeks ago we met at mine and Emelies place, as few people who were invited to this retreat project but were not able to attend had decided to meet. Elin is really a super cool and a super nice person, and its literally thanks to you that I got to know her. So your community is spreading and seems to be living a global life of its own. Thanks for that!

  2. avatar lisanunn says:

    That is a powerful story. It makes me want to meet Elin and Carl and Emelie–and everyone else.

  3. avatar Beverly says:

    Great post, Thomas. I’ve thought about this a lot over the past year and I often come to the same conclusion. When I moved abroad several years ago, it was not only expensive to make a phone call, but the connection was usually so bad that I could barely share more than a few hello-I-love-you’s. Social media has completely transformed this; now I can see what my family and friends did over the weekend, I can pick up my headset and Skype for free or for just a few cents, and I can chat in real-time. It truly feels as though distances have shrunk.

    I also used social media to make new friends when I moved to Costa Rica by myself a couple of years ago. Through one of my online communities, I got to know another writer/traveler. When we met for coffee, we realized that we lived only three blocks from each other! From then on, we started to go to happy hour together and to organize dinner parties.

    Since I’ve been traveling with you and Tony, I’m realizing that social media is also allowing us to catch up in new ways. For example, when you say that a certain place reminds you of X, I’ve often read and seen pics about that place on your blog! This seems to create a new level of connection.

  4. Hey guys! I am a student in Professor Nunn’s class and was fortunate enough to watch the film she put together about your incredible life together this morning. I realize that my 8 AM class wasn’t too long ago, but your story has not left my head. I have to admit, I was totally unaware of the ridiculous sytem that will not allow you two to live in the United States. I’m not sure if I’m extra emotional today, but I as I try to write you a short note, I can’t keep myself together! I might be getting stares in the library. Oh well! We’re all a little crazy. I really just wanted to let you guys know what an inspiration you are. I take for granted the presence of family and friends everyday. To think of you traveling to the places where Survivor films instead of watching it on the couch doesn’t seem all that bad, but when lounging with family isn’t much of an option, the traveling is a little less appealing. I truely admire your ability to make the best of your situation. Also, I’m so glad I checked out your blog because its AWESOME!! I am one of those lucky ones that gets to get on a big ‘ol boat and take classes next semester while traveling all around the world, and your site will be an excellent excellent resource for hot spots!! I will absolutely be in touch, and will spread the word about this gay anti-immigration NONSENSE!

  5. avatar Tony says:

    Hi Jessica,

    It’s great to hear from students in Professor Nunn’s class. We are so excited about the upcoming film and are eager for people to learn more about the struggles of binational couples. Obama’s immigration reform currently includes measures to change these unfair policies. Let’s hope these measures are not removed from the legislation.

    And thanks for the great comments on our blog. Please tell everyone about our site – the more the merrier.

    It sounds like you are doing Semester at Sea. If we happen to cross paths, let us know and we can get together for lunch or something 🙂

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