The price of freedom

Travel, adventure, flexibility, no constraints, no responsibilities or commitments, meeting interesting people in exciting places; many people see only this superficial exterior of the wonderful free life I lead. But my life is not that one dimensional. Even people close to me – very close to me – don’t seem to have a complete picture of the real situation. Maybe that is my own fault; my mission and passion is to trigger people to get out of their comfort zones, to chase/live their dreams. It wouldn’t be so ‘sexy’ if I constantly addressed the less pleasant attributes of freedom. But I do think it is important to paint a complete picture. So here we are: the other side of freedom; the price I – and many other nomads – pay for our wonderful lives…

Nobody to blame

As an entrepreneur, nomad and pioneer I am responsible for my successes, but also for my failures. If I don’t like what is happening in my life, I can’t ‘blame’ it on my boss, the government or anybody else. I have to take full responsibility for every aspect of my life. This is not always easy; sometimes it would be nice if I could just ‘blame’ somebody else for things that don’t go according to (my) plan…

No stability

Nothing is constant, nothing is a given. Most entrepreneurs have a stable home as a base. As a location independent entrepreneur I have no stable haven and no stable income. This creates a lot of insecurities. I have learned to live with them; I know it’s up to me to make things work (see previous point). But do you realize that not even the most basic things -that most people probably never even think about- are taken care of? I am talking about having a washing machine in your house, always having a working internet connection, having a spare bottle of everything in a closet. When you are always on the move, there is no stable base to ‘come home to’. Most of the time you don’t need it: the adventure and inspiration of change is what draws us. But if you are not feeling well (either physically or mentally) then you really need this stable base. Not having it when you need it, makes it even harder to recover from a temporary ‘down’.

You have to be a self starter

If I don’t initiate something, nothing will happen. I also have my ‘off-days’, lacking motivation or energy. When I don’t work, everything comes to a halt. Then when I have a little bit of energy again, I have to get everything moving again. It’s not always easy. When I am in the flow of things, everything seems to go naturally. Yet it is the moments when you don’t feel great, don’t have a lot of energy or motivation, that you realize it’s always up to you, and nobody else.

No fixed income

Most entrepreneurs – location independent or not- will recognize this. You always have to be alert, plan ahead, make sure you have enough income and don’t spend too much money, create a small buffer. At the same time it is essential to not focus too much on money. Scarcity is NOT the right mindset. My experience is that an abundance mindset is the best trigger to not get ‘stuck’ on money issues. But it’s especially hard to do that when finances are tight. “What if I get sick?” for example, is a paralyzing thought. Having said that, the past 6 years were hard for me: after a car accident and whiplash I haven’t been able to work ‘full on’ like I used to be able to. Extra medical expenses, less work, less income, more stress. I just have to deal with it. I have no pension, no insurance, no social security: I have to take care of myself, like I always have and trust that I will be able to continue doing so in the future.

Family and friends

It is getting increasingly hard to ‘catch up’ with old friends. Where to start? Our lives are so fundamentally different. I miss their wedding(anniversaries), birthdays, births of their kids and other important life events. I can’t really relate to their daily life, work, social events, the programs they watch on TV etc. They, in turn, have no clue about my life. “Where have you been and till when are you in the country?” are the most frequently asked questions. “How was your trip” doesn’t even begin to cover it. For most of my Dutch friends, I only ‘exist’ when I am in the country. Making an appointment often has to be done weeks, sometimes months ahead. Friends who have lived abroad or are nomadic themselves, are more flexible. We meet when the opportunity arises, cherishing these last minute get togethers, and if they don’t happen, plan a video call. But those people know only the current ‘me’. I need the balance of ‘old’ and ‘new’ and I do invest time and effort to stay connected to old friends with different life styles who are also part of my life. Not all friendships survive, though…

Relationships

Creating a meaningful relationship is even harder. ‘Normal’ relationships are already difficult. Add an unconventional lifestyle, a strong inner compass and no fixed location and you’re set up for disaster. Meeting other nomads is easy; having a relationship proves a real challenge. Yes, you both travel, but each has their own business, friends, places they regularly visit and a planned ‘route’ and schedule. One spends the winter in Asia, the other is heading for South America… What to do? If one of the two gives up and adapts to the planning of the other, you sacrifice the equality, resulting in an unbalanced relationship. Sure, there are nomad relationships that work, but there are many more that don’t. Having a relationship with a ‘location based’ person provides other challenges. Most ‘location based’ men I meet – however attracted they are by my freedom – end up having a problem with it. They can’t handle being alone when I travel (even though I travel less when I am in a relationship). And if they try to join me in my lifestyle – if their work allows them – they tend to forget that I am about 20 years ahead of them. Either they become discouraged, or jealous, because they cannot live that free life to the extent that I do, or they give in to their loneliness and stray. I can adapt my lifestyle to a certain extent: travel less, try to stay in one place (their place) for a while, but in the end that won’t work either: I am who I am; and I travel. I get depressed staying in one place, no matter how great the guy is. So no solution here: just disappointment and heartbreak, so far…

Driven by passion, sustained by routine….

You probably hate routine as much as I do. Just the idea of doing the same thing, day in, day out; buhhhhh! Routine without any passion often leads to a bore out. However, living purely on adventure and adrenaline is not really an option either. Adrenaline is very useful in a small, stand alone dose; in times gone by it would have helped you to run away from a tiger, nowadays it may save you from being run over by a bus. However, our adrenaline glands don’t know the difference between those life threatening situations and ‘self imposed’ stress situations. If your life is one big adventure, if you are passionate about what you do and you set yourself ‘big hairy goals’, you are in fact recreating such a ‘stress’ situation, prompting your body to produce adrenaline. It feels great: your mind is razor sharp, you can move mountains, concentrate like crazy, you feel alive and you don’t feel fatigue. But our bodies and minds are not meant to be under constant stress and pressure. Jumping from ‘crisis’ to ‘crisis’ or from country to country might feel great for a while, but on the long run it will take its toll. Passion without routine eventually leads to a burnout. So I have tried to create a ‘routine’ in my exciting life… No, it doesn’t have to be boring. It just means that in all the unpredictable chaos of constant travel, you have to build in some sanity checks. You need to find a balance between adventure and security, to make this lifestyle sustainable for more than just a few weeks or months. Since I travel a lot and my environment changes constantly, I try to counter balance it by staying in one place as long as possible (currently maximum 4 weeks). That means not venturing out too much from the place where I am staying. If I spend a month in, say, Chiang Mai, Thailand, I don’t go on excursions or sightseeing. I slowly discover the streets around the airbnb where I am staying and try to keep it ‘small’, to make it feel like home. In stead of seeing all the temples in the city, I discover all the ‘mom & pop’ shops in my street. I visit the same restaurants, I get to know the people, the dogs and the chickens in my area.
When a friend visits me, escaping from their normal life of work and routine, they want to rent a scooter, explore the mountains visible on the horizon, visit temples and other touristy places. They want to eat at all the hip restaurants mentioned online, jump in taxis and tuktuks, walk around in the heat and do as much as possible in one day. That is great if you only have a few days to discover a place that you may never see again. Yet I go here every year for a month. I want to build a sustainable way of living, that I can maintain over years, even decades. So my day will look different from theirs. It may seem like a ‘boring routine’, but this is what makes it possible for me.

And still, we travel.

Having listed the price I/we pay, it is suitable to also give a short summary of the benefits:
Never waking up from an alarm clock (unless I booked an early flight), being flexible, choosing where I want to be, what I want to do and with whom every single day. Freedom to make choices, and to change them when I want. No responsibility. Inspiration. New perspectives. A new adventure is around the corner. Opportunities. Growth. Personal development. These two pictures kind of sum it up.

How about you?

Now it’s time to make your own calculation: what is the price you (would have to) pay for freedom, and is it worth it for you?

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