Being a nomad, or how freedom tastes

By Daniel Nogal*

Saigon. Six in the morning. I get off the night train. I came from Phan Rang, where I admired the Hindu temple of Chams. Everything I travel with fits in my backpack, so I run away from pushy taxi drivers. I’m going for a walk towards the city center.

It was dawn recently, but Saigon had already woken up. Miniature booths with cauldrons of phở appear on the sidewalks. Phở is an icon of Vietnamese cuisine: chicken soup with chili and fish sauce, with meat and vegetables. I sit on one of three plastic chairs put up by a smiling Vietnamese woman. Breakfast time.

Hundreds of scooters around me, not a lot of cars and almost no pedestrians. It is so loud, so chaotic. If the road regulations were inferred from roadside practice, the Vietnamese code should be summarized in one sentence: priority is given to those who are less afraid of death.

Finished my phở so I go on. I pass several cafes. Some are still closed, in others I don’t see a comfortable place to sit with a laptop. Yes, I’m picky. But there is something for me! Next to a large roundabout in the heart of the city, I find an elegant, two-story cafeteria. The staff speaks perfect English, a nice change after Phan Rang, where no one knew foreign languages. Well, Saigon is the most westernized of Vietnamese cities.

With a large latte, I go to the first floor and I sit by the window with a view of the city. Eight o’clock. It’s work time. “On the go” does not mean “on vacation” for me. I take a sip of Vietnamese coffee. It tastes like freedom.

I don’t like sitting in a stationary train. Nor a bus. Nor a plane. But when it starts to move, I feel that everything is back in its proper place. I sometimes remind myself of Steinbeck, who at the beginning of “Travels with Charley in Search of America” wrote about how the sound of a jet or an engine warming up makes him shiver.

There is this word I love: wanderlust! Desire to travel, to discover the world. Desire you can’t resist. Apparently, it may be associated with the “wanderlust gene”, a mutation discovered by scientists that occurs in over a dozen percent of the population, which causes, among other things, aversion to routine. Aversion to being in the same places every day, doing the same things around the same people. It motivates to experience new things and to take greater risks. I think I have it.

But how to fulfill that desire? Let’s face it: there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. Or a free journey. At least usually. So what is the answer? For me, it is digital nomadism.

The term “digital nomad” appeared at the end of the last century. The digital nomad wanders the world with a laptop under his arm, ready to work anywhere. But how? What work can a traveler do? Such questions are still common, despite the ubiquity of modern technologies. Despite the fact that even in a mountain town in the heart of Laos, where they did not see asphalt, they have internet.

Job for a traveler? Let me give you some examples: copywriter, journalist, writer, photographer, programmer, graphic designer, consultant, teacher… And let’s not forget about entrepreneurs who can run their businesses on a mobile basis.

It is estimated that in twenty years half of working people in Europe and America will be remote freelancers. How many of them, I wonder, will decide to use that for travel that is becoming cheaper and easier? I’m sure I’m not the only one thinking that travel is freedom.

When I was a child in the eighties, nothing like that was possible. Firstly, because I was born in a communist country. Secondly, because the internet was in its infancy. Capitalism – though in the poor, stripped form we got in Poland – and the internet that accompanied it brought the freedom I can enjoy today.

And it’s not that I have to be in Saigon or Kuala Lumpur to feel it. I can also just sit in my hometown of Częstochowa. But the awareness that at any time I can buy a ticket online and get ready to travel to almost any corner of Earth… There you have it, this is the first thing that comes to my mind when someone asks me about the impact that liberty has on my life.

And I’m so grateful for that impact!

*Daniel Nogal is from Poland and the winner of our essay contest on “What impact does liberty have in my life?”. He received a full scholarship to attend Liberty Camp in Italy.