Life as digital nomads can sound glamorous and carefree, and to a certain extent, it really is. Working for yourself and taking back the power to make every decision in your life from your daily work schedule to what country you will sleep in next week certainly liberates the soul.
But there is a dark side to this lifestyle, and sometimes I feel we GlobetrotterGirls might suffer an extreme form of this affliction, known, to us at least, as the “near heart attack”. The onset comes after a seemingly innocent question regarding the location of a particular item. The result is blind panic, cold sweat, shortness of breath, total energy drain and sometimes total embarrassment. We must look ridiculous, on the street, in restaurants or wherever this hysteria finds us, two seemingly normal women, patting ourselves down, appearing in total panic and muttering to ourselves as we retrace our last steps.
The standard heart attack-inducing conversation goes:
Where’s the wallet, honey?
I thought you had it?
No, don’t you?
(Look of utter panic now on both our faces)
But I, no…wait…you…
Wait, where did we use it last?
Cue frantically and dramatically throwing belongings out of our bags, stuttering, perhaps some shouting in the middle of the street.
Oh, wait, I found it.
Are you serious?! Where was it?
Right here, in my bag.
Sheepish looks exchanged, hearts pounding as color returns to our faces.
I need to sit down.
Me too, let’s get a coffee.
With no permanent address, item replacement is a pain
We might seem like drama queens here, and we’ll be the first to admit that individually, we both are. Put us together and we are a proverbial panic powder keg waiting for a tiny spark. But there is some validity to our freakouts, as I am sure any long term traveler will agree. Digital nomads are minimalists by design, carrying belongings for years that others may pack for a weekend escape. We diligently pack exactly what we need and every item serves a purpose. This means that almost everything (save for toiletries and most clothes) are an absolute pain to replace.
We risk losing our belongings in transport and through left, but the worst are incidents with lost or stolen credit cards while traveling. This turns into an excruciating experience. First, the freak out that the account will be drained, the travels are over and oh my god, we’ll have no money, we’ll have to get office jobs to pay back charges. Irrational, but a real fear nonetheless. Then there are the countless phone calls with banks, answering a slew of security questions, explaining the situation, making the decision whether or not to cancel the card. But with no real permanent address, where will the next card be delivered to and how to get your irresponsible mitts on it? If halfway across the world, you wake up at odd hours to make very important phone calls whose success depends solely on whether Skype has a good connection today or not.
We have actually lost something…once
Only one time have we actually lost something of value. Early in on our travels, we somehow misplaced an SD card with hundreds of images from what is still one of our most picturesque times – Up and down the Pacific Coast Highway, countless beaches, and wandering through the streets of Los Angeles. This included Hollywood, West Hollywood, Santa Monica and gems from the neighborhood we stayed in filled with gorgeously groomed homes and other off the beaten path images of the City of Angels. We learned an important lesson after that on how to keep our things safe (online storage and backing up daily), but the feeling of loss certainly instilled in us a deep fear of losing anything again.
OMG! The DSRL camera got stolen!
Just a few weeks later, in San Francisco, starving after a long day of sightseeing (including phenomenal street art), we slumped into seats of a diner ready to pig out, then, eyeing the prices, quickly made our escape before ordering. We headed to a sub shop across the street and placed our order before the inevitable conversation began.
Where’s my camera?
What? It was around your neck!
Did somebody cut the strap?!
Where’s the last place we had it?
Go Go Gooo!
She takes off running while I play it cool for the sub girl (or sandwich stylist) waiting for our order and quietly crying inside. Not 30 seconds later, Dani comes toward me clutching her camera, grinning ear to ear.
It was still on the seat. Right where I put it, she says, strangely proud.
It’s pain down my left side that means it’s a heart attack, right? I ask, half sarcastically.
Number 7…your order’s up...says the sub girl.
We’re not even hungry anymore.
Our most embarrassing near heart attack moment ever
Throughout the trip we have experienced these freak-outs on a regular basis, but it was actually just recently in Lisbon that we experienced the most extreme near heart attack ever…
The day had started as any other June day does in Lisbon. The sun was shining and the mercury was rising, so we escaped our non-air-conditioned room and went into the city to work at a cool cafe for the day. We found a very comfortable Starbucks where espressos cost less than $1, and as the cafe is connected to a train station on one side and a five-star hotel on the other, the people watching is priceless. In fact, after just a few minutes here we decide we love this Starbucks and that we want to come work here more often during our three-week stay in Lisbon.
Five hours later we would be leaving that very Starbucks quickly with our heads hanging in shame, never to return again.
Hungry after four hours diligently pounding on our keyboards, we decided to run to the grocery store before heading home for the afternoon. We zip through the store picking up basic salad/sandwich essentials and, as we’re in line at the check out, I notice my backpack feels really light. Too light.
Did you pack my laptop when we left Starbucks? I ask. (I had run to the bathroom before we left, Dani had met me with the bags outside).
Didn’t you?! Dani sort of shrieks.
Before I have time to even think, Dani hurls the peppers and bread she is holding to the floor, pushes past the people in the checkout line and takes off at full sprint down the 500m to Starbucks. A little dazed, my reaction time is slower but before I know it I am slipping after her down the tile sidewalk in sweaty flip flops. A group of shady street characters, still cheering and hootin’ from the scene Dani just made speeding by, turn their hollerin’ on to me as I rock past. I know Dani is in front of me but she is nowhere in sight. By the time I get in to Starbucks, I see she has already nearly roughed up the poor souls who had sat in our seats and has launched a soulful cry-whine on the friendly bilingual barrista, who, when I get to them, is suggesting we go to the police, as there is really nothing they can do.
The police? The police won’t bring back all my work. I’m on deadline for an article and…I…
My whiny whimper trails off and, as heads from all angles turn and lock on us, I tug at the zipper on the backpack. I don’t even have to open it all the way before I realize the netbook was there the whole time.
Before Dani’s gulping of air turns into a dramatic howl, I look at her and manage to growl:
Dani. Outside. Now.
Seeing the sense of relief and embarrassment that has replaced the blind panic on my face, her shoulders sink and she silently follows as we leave the building and never look back. I didn’t even have to tell her I had the computer, she knew. She knew that we gone in to hysteric overdrive, stressed from deadlines and the thought of losing all that work. We hugged and maybe even cried, although that may have been at the thought of never visiting our favorite Lisbon cafe again. Note: our Asus Eee PC Netbooks are actually so light I didn’t feel mine in my bag. At the time, this was no consolation for our utter embarrassment.
The above scenario is by far the nearest we have come to a heart attack on the trip so far, but even the split second freak-outs add up to take their toll.