The fact that I didn’t end up wanting to live as a digital nomad full time surprised me. I like travel. I like efficiency and technology. I like work. I like coffee shops and bars. I like digital nomads; their ethic and their methods make sense to me. Yet I also like creature comforts of an office that are difficult to organize without a home base. So I learned how to make it work.
In 1995 I set off to Europe with a train pass, a backpack, and an almost 7 pound Powerbook laptop. Back then, laptops were heavy, expensive and not in common use like they are today. Everyone advised me against it, but I persisted. I was convinced that I needed a computer. I loved writing on my computer! But I FedExed the laptop home about a week and a half later, wanting to be free of its bulk and the responsibility of hauling it around. I wrote in notebooks on that trip. (Remember film photographs? Saving the rolls of film to develop when you returned home? That too.)
The lessons of that earlier trip were useful on our Cricket adventure and we’ve learned a lot in the last fifteen months about what does really work — How do you live like a digital nomad when you’re not one at heart?
Lesson #1: Go light.
This one’s obvious, right? These days, it’s possible to get everything most people could want technologically in a pretty small package.
For example, Chris just got a new external storage drive that holds a terabyte of data. It’s smaller and has fewer bulky power cords than our old one. For a small cost ($50 to $75) it really increases convenience. You might be surprised at how much small conveniences mean when you’re living on the road.
Lesson #2: Don’t go more high tech than you will enjoy.
There are so many options these days. You can get the equipment and software to be outfitted like a pro for photo and video. This also means that you’ll be spending more time learning how use the features, managing digital media files, and caring for your equipment. Be honest with yourself about what you’ll use and enjoy.
For example: Backpacking in 1995, I didn’t really need the laptop for the kinds of writing I wanted to do. Driving around the country in 2016, I never used a digial SLR and lenses. (I could have left it at home.) I used a small digital camera on the rafting trip, because it was the safest thing to bring on the river. Even though it was a nice piece of equipment in its day (2008 or so), the video quality looks terrible now and so I phased that out. I pretty much only used my iPhone and iPad and I’m super happy with the quality and convenience.
Chris, on the other hand, hardly went anywhere without his digital SLR and possibly an extra lens or tripod. That worked for him.
Lesson #3: If you’re a Mac user, the Notes app is wonderful.
Notes is good on the iPhone for an incidental list or jotting down the name of a book someone suggests you read. More importantly, it also functions quite well for word processing. I use Notes on my laptop because the application doesn’t get sluggish like Microsoft Word does, and because I can then access the file easily (without going into Dropbox), on any of my devices. The Notes app keeps on getting better, too.
Lesson #4: Get your syncing in order.
At home, Chris and I were set up with backups of our mobile devices occurring at night over wifi. If you’re the kind of person who backs your stuff up (and this is important!) you probable have a similar setup.
Living on the road introduces a lot of unknowns about when/where there will be wifi or cell coverage available, whether it will be secure, how fast it will be, and how long you’ll have access to it. We had to reorganize all our auto-sync settings and learned to manually sync everything possible when we were in a good location.
Lesson #5: Headphones help get in the zone.
Distracted by your neighbor’s conversation at a coffee shop? Learning that libraries aren’t always as silent as they are supposed to be? Want to signal to your spouse (or that cute barista) that you aren’t available for chit chat? Headphones help a lot.
The big kind are best; they make it more obvious that you’re in that zone, and they’re better at cancelling out ambient sounds. I listen to a lot of music and ocean sounds. I also use headphones without any music playing, just to muffle the noises around me. It helps.
On our travels, I practiced a lot at slowing down. Decompression was harder than I expected, and the process of slowing down is one I persisted at. Habits that I thought would take a couple of months to slough off were actually much more ingrained. There’s a lot to say about how.
Also: WHY? Here are a few reasons slowing down is helpful.
- Slowing down helps appreciate what is rather than wanting more. Searching for different can become a habit. Checking things off a to-do list can become too much of the point, always looking to the next completion. Even progress has it’s follies. There’s got to be some balance to visionary thinking: the good in the now.
- Slowing down makes it easier to stay in your body, notice what’s happening, and adjust with it. The aches we have in our bodies are often byproducts of tightening in other places. By mid adult life, the ways we hold ourselves is so habitual. Clenching a fist and tightening your jaw can show up later in your shoulder. This happens for me with my toes and neck. Slowing down and noticing these reactions as they happen a the first step to feeling more physically comfortable.
- Slowing down makes it easier to catch a wave of flow. Sometimes immersion also involves a sense of urgency — the mad scientist frantically creating — but that’s not always true. I think flow is also often a slowing down, resulting in more engagement with the moment of making rather than hastening towards execution of the idea. Slow down and enjoy the act of creating.
Adam Gopnik was in town recently with the Salisbury Forum. He called his talk “notes of a reluctant pundit” and opened with a funny story about what he called his first experience with punditry, in the mid 1980’s in New York.
The short version of that story is that Gopnik gave a keynote, with almost no advance notice, to the Pluralism and Individualism Society. He had no idea what the group did but he figured the topic of pluralism and individualism was sufficiently broad to allow him to talk about modern art, which was something he knew about. The conference organizer told Gopnik afterwards that his remarks were healing. I mention this detail because Gopnik had a very similar effect for me.
In the weeks prior, I had been distraught about my relationship with the news media — I wanted to re-engage after our travels, but I couldn’t figure out how or where to do so thoughtfully, especially post-election. My interactions with radio news, newspapers, dinner-table conversation, the writing of friends, and snippets of television went badly. I was, at times, hysterical (and I don’t mean extremely funny).
Writing, thinking, reading, and talking weren’t helping me move through my efforts to re-engage. I was terrified and stuck. With examples from philosophy and history, Gopnik persuaded me that “writing sanely about politics in a less than sane America” is possible. To accomplish this, he cited Camus, Darwin, Lincoln, and many other people, many ideas about irony, (deadly) abstraction, truth, empiricism, tone, and civil society.
I’ve been trying to sum up that “spark” — how and why this moment shifted my thinking — and I’ve concluded it’s not possible to do so in a brief way. It was a long talk, the effect is a sum-of-the-parts. You had to be there. Gopnik did a good job of threading together complex ideas in a coherent and accessible way, and I think it resonated with the audience: they laughed, hmmed and mmmed, and asked questions at the end. His remarks also had personal resonance for me, because of the ways I try to understand the world. That’s all difficult to distill, as are the ideas of thinkers like Camus. In awarding Camus its prize for literature in 1957, the Nobel Prize committee cited his writing’s:
clear-sighted earnestness [that] illuminates the problems of the human conscience in our times.
That’s not too much to want, is it?
Here are my notes.
It’s been almost two months since we’ve ended our travels and already it seems like years ago. Time is strange that way, how it can stretch and elongate itself or compact and shorten depending on the situation. What once seemed distant can suddenly spring forward as memory is sparked from unusual sources. Standing Rock is that spark for me.
I’ve failed several times to write this blog, my first attempt being last spring. It always starts with how our road trip refreshed and further educated me on American history. Crisscrossing such routes as the Oregon Trail, Pony Express Trail and the Old Spanish Trail gave a clearer picture of the challenges and accomplishments our ancestor’s endured. Then there was the Japanese internment camps we passed and nuclear testing grounds, reminders of darker times.
There were many other historical markers we came across but the one we followed most was the Lewis and Clark Trail. This was not an intentional decision, but one of pure accident but perhaps rightfully so. Just like Alexis and me, Lewis and Clark set off to explore the American West and find an easy route to the Pacific Ocean. Like these two adventures, Alexis and I followed parts of the Missouri, Yellowstone, and Columbia river until we reached Cape Disappointment where, just like Lewis and Clark, we set our eyes on the Pacific Ocean for the first time in our travels. These two explores helped open up the West while also starting the long and unfortunate demise of the Native Americans living there.
Having lived both in the West and now East, I find there is a great absence of Native American presence in the East. Other than their casinos like Mohegan Sun, there are few physical things to remind us that other tribal cultures once thrived in our 13 colonies. The majority were pushed west and that is where they have remained. The West is where over 90% of the reservations are and it was the West that reminded me of the tragic relationship between the United States and Native Americans. Actually being in places where Chief Joseph and his 3,000 Nez Perce trekked while fleeing the United States Calvary paints a clearer picture of their hardships and mishaps. Another trail we came across several times is the Long Walk of the Navajo. This was the path used to march over 8,000 Navajo, 300 miles, and have them live on 40 acres of land. We drove through many reservations, catching a glimpse of their lifestyle and circumstances in which they live.
Our history is riddled with such happenings and filled with broken treaties. The relationship between the United States and Native Americans is an unhealed wound, ignored in the hopes that it will go away. It is a situation our government has all but given up on. It’s an embarrassing disgrace that our government and media choose to give little attention to the Native Americans and would rather focus on how other countries mistreat their people.
Our media has diligently covered every tweet Donald Trump made for over a year paving the path to his presidency. Meanwhile, a conflict slowly began brewing between the Sioux and oil industry. Scarcely covered in the news until the shadow of the election seceded, even now this story is barely mentioned. Instead the media would rather listen to the talking heads make assumptions on how Trump will lead this fine country of ours. Ironically, once this peaceful protest finally did get some press, the government decided to shut it down, forcing the thousands of protesters to leave by December 5th.
You would think our government would have some remorse towards the Native Americans, given how much we’ve screwed them. You would think our government would stand up for them and say- hey; we got your back on this one. But just the opposite, once again, America has spit in their face.
Originally, the oil pipeline was to cross the Missouri above Bismarck, ND, a predominantly white city. But Bismarck feared their drinking water could get contaminated and so the pipeline was moved down river next to the Standing Rock reservation. The Sioux have the same concerns as their white neighbors but apparently their concerns are valued less. Why would the oil industry move the pipeline for white Americans and not Native Americans? Why would our government allow this?
Its no wonder the Native Americans have mostly chosen to remain to them selves and not intermingle into our society of racism and inequality. We have proven to them time and again that they are just a nuisance to our own development and will disregard their rights and liberties for the betterment of ourselves. We are not a united nation, far from it.
When Hilary Clinton’s slogan is “Stronger Together”, or Donald Trump’s is “Make America Great Again”, or Obama’s “Change We Can Believe In”, or John McCain’s “Country First”, or George W. Bush’s “Yes, America Can!”, or John Kerry’s “Let America Be America Again”, how much do these campaign slogans resonate with Native Americans? Do politicians even try to win their vote? People like the Sioux, the Navajo and Nez Perce have been swept under our nations rug long ago. They have faded away in the barren and expansive West while the politicians in the East try to forget whose land this was in the first place. As our politicians discuss the rights of muslims, blacks, hispanics, gays, transgender, and women; they turn a blind eye from the Native Americans, the first and last people to suffer discrimination by the United States of America.
How to celebrate Thanksgiving on the road?
Last year we could have been out of cell service, camping at a pullout along route 1 in northern California. We’d been hopscotching up and down this stretch of coast just south of the redwoods for several days. We’d met some hippy kids who were tent camping the same route, and they planned to cook in a fire pit on the beach.
We parked the Cricket on the street in Mendocino and slept there in stealth mode, which means the pop-top was down and the window shades were closed. The days were sunny and sometimes even warm enough to walk barefoot on the beach, but the nights were cold. We slept in hats and jackets, and I woke to find my breath condensing on the wall next to me. Brrr. Our journey down this stretch of coast would have been slower, had the weather been warmer.
We spend months exploring the 750 miles of coast from northern Washington to San Francisco, and still I feel like we haven’t even begun to spend enough time there.
Last year, it happened that we were in Mendocino for Thanksgiving. The town reminds me of Vermont in a way (Victorian wooden homes and an interesting cast of characters in a remote but well visited small town) so it wasn’t a bad place to spend Thanksgiving. We could see a sliver of ocean from our garden-side table. We had thought about being at a mountain lodge, and that would have been nice too.
Please stay here with me in Mendocino,
Where life’s such a groove,
Thanksgiving was our first big holiday on the Cricket adventure. We weren’t sure what to do, disconnected from our annual rotation of being with family in Colorado or Connecticut. It caused us to have some interesting conversations about what the holiday means to us, what we want in a Thanksgiving experience.
Nine years ago Chris and I flew to Japan on Thanksgiving Day. It was a great day to travel. I can’t remember what we ate on the plane; our real Thanksgiving meal had been at home, a week or so prior, when we could schedule it with family.
In the Cricket, Chris and I had each other, the setting was awe inspiring, our days were carefree. I miss it already! (Like, seriously. I think about running away to California. Yesterday, a conservative publication called it “Hillary’s Utopia.” That sounds good to me.)
Last year’s day was awesome, but it still helped us decide to go “home” to Colorado for Christmas. I wrestled a lot with the meaning of Christmas, and it seemed to be the same things we had missed while in Mendocino for Thanksgiving — being with our people, performing familiar rituals. Cooking, drinking, eating, being together. So this year, that’s exactly what we are doing.
This December, these two crickets are the “artists in conversation” at Gallery A3 in Amherst, Massachusetts.
If you’re local, please join us for an evening of photos, stories, snacks, and art! This event is in coordination with A3’s December “small wonders” show.
Travel Tales with the Curious Crickets
Join Chris Nelson and Alexis Fedorjaczenko as they reflect on their fifteen-month road trip exploring the American West. They traversed over 26,000 miles pulling their little Cricket trailer, camping the whole way, living in a variety of natural landscapes.
Where: Gallery A3, 28 Amity Street, Amherst, MA
Contact: 413-256-4250 or email@example.com
When this travel adventure was still largely a fantasy, I wrote about the benefits of getting off your butt and I set a couple of goals related to walking more during my time off. And I did walk. A lot.
I’m not actually an avid “hiker” by which I mean, I avoid big elevation gain. What I do like is to stroll. I also like to walk briskly. I like to listen to music, to daydream, to look around at the landscape. Sometimes I sit for a while. I like walking to get places and, when the landscape doesn’t offer my usual places to get to (like: work, or home), I like making up destinations to get to (like: that big rock, or the ocean). Sometimes I like difficult terrain, when it offers an interesting challenge. Mostly I like to stroll to music.
I like walking because it helps me think. I also like that walking helps me not think. Although it’s possible to ruminate on a walk (and I’ve done it plenty), being out in the landscape can offer something more here-and-now for the soul to come back to.
This week I’ve been listening a lot to Leonard Cohen’s new album, “You Want It Darker.” I love the title track: he sings things that make sense to me, makes sounds that resonate. Evenings are literally getting darker, moods are low, Leonard Cohen is a good poet of shadows and we’ll miss him. And yet what I love about Leonard Cohen’s music is also one thing that’s so good about walking: it makes me feel brighter.
Walking lightens my mood. Movement lightens my mood. Music in triple time lightens my mood, as does beauty of various kinds. Walking is a good, easy example. It’s not just true of walking though: time and time again, I find that movement isn’t just good for my physical body, it’s also good for my spirit.
Sometimes the simplest things that contribute to well being are difficult to do though. Our travel adventure provided so much time and space that I almost had to walk. Now my goal is to keep these routines that I’ve come to love while I add all sorts of other distractions back into my life.
On that note: It’s a sunny bright fall day, and I’m going for a walk.
When humor fails, there’s poetry. This morning after election night, Wislawa Symborska comes to mind, particularly her poem “The End and the Beginning” (to honor copyright, read it in full here; it’s worth it).
There’s also running away. Another of Symborska’s poems, “Consolation,” begins: “Darwin. They say he read novels to relax, but only certain kinds: nothing that ended unhappily.” Darwin’s supposed approach reminds me of my own escapism during this travel adventure. It also reminds me of how I felt at Burning Man.
The awesome XKCD recently tackled that question, and suggests the result would be something like the Salton Sea. Yuck.
We haven’t written about our visit to the Salton Sea yet, but that and Slab City will be a good post-apocalyptic story for … after the election. Yuck.
Go vote today! If you need help voting, check out this resource from another XKCD site.
I write first thing every morning. (To clarify: first thing means after making tea or coffee.)
Most days, I end my morning pages with a list of three things that I am grateful for. This practice helps to keep me positive (not always a simple task for this ever-striving perfectionist). There’s a little bit of science and a lot of anecdotal evidence supporting regular intentional gratitude.
Now that we’re back home, I’m reflecting on themes of our travel adventure. This morning I typed up all of the gratitude notes that I made while on the road. It was pretty amazing to be reminded that even during the most difficult cold and lonely times, even when I was angry at my travel partner, I could find three things to be grateful for every day.
Making word clouds is an awesome way to see patterns in qualitative data. The website wordle analyzes text and creates a graphic that shows word size based on the frequency of the individual words in a text. There are several display settings and other options.
I think the above image speaks for itself.
XO with gratitude,