OK, so we were ‘digital nomads’ long before, decades before, anyone had coined a hipster term for it….when it was a lifestyle few people had dared to try…especially with a family in tow. Don’t forget that these were the days before email, Facebook, social media, guidebooks or tourist infrastructure of any kind.
I have been traveling for business for decades. I was not the ‘original hippie traveler’ but….my career did start in the late 1960’s when I discovered that I could manufacture and transport items for trade in the popular culture from one exotic place to the next and finally sell to the ‘wanna be hipsters’ who couldn’t imagine leaving home for a rugged life ‘on the road’.
My inspiration was Adam Smith’s quote in the 1722 ‘The Wealth of Nations’ …” to transport goods from where they are abundant and cheap to where they are rare and dear’. You had to be very tough, open minded and extremely organized to travel in the days when cities like Bangkok only had one long distance phone line.
Hi-Tech communications back then consisted of the Telex system and telegrams. There was a bulletin board at most American Express offices…but those were few and far between. Letters were sent like ricochets from a distant GPO to another Post Restante where a traveler either had to soldier on…or backtrack for a week or more to pick up a single piece of mail that might have been sent months before.
I started in the jungles of South America manufacturing leather products from cattle butchered, tanned and cured in the swampy no mans land between Columbia and Ecuador. I’ve sold and bartered trade goods from one third world country to the next and traded up until finally I had what I wanted to sell into the west for an enormous profit.
I have traded some odd goods…with some odd people…from fresh mint and blue jeans from India for Lapis Lazuli in Afghanistan to rough cut diamonds in Bangkok to exchange for goldsmiths labour to finish my original design garnet and moonstone jewellery…..a process that sometimes started down a muddy mine shaft in Sri Lanka. This is my 43rd anniversary of first arriving in Thailand…and strange to me…I’m still here and sometimes loving it….other times…not so much.
My genius wife Trish changed things up when she came into my life. I was living in a world that was borderline a thousand or more years years ago. Trisha is a star child…she’s from the future. She was an educator with a beautiful mind at a major university and a computer scientist engineer. Trisha was one of the very first to design functional database technology, and had been recruited away from the university to manage a reorganizing of the worlds largest telecommunications devices manufacturers. At the time they had been communicating between isolated silo’s with post it notes and needed to be brought into the 21st century.
I introduced Trisha to my travel passion within weeks of meeting her. Her first trip was a short hop to get married on the island of Maui where I’d ‘grown up’ stringing naturally produced Puka Shell necklaces from the surfing beaches for tourists in Oahu for ongoing travel money to surf camps along the west coast. She was immediately hooked on the excitement and we began designing a system of personal management and finance for ourselves that would allow us to function as full time travelers.
At the time I thought trading would suffice and keep us ‘on the road’….but I was wrong…there was a new technology and a new way of doing things I hadn’t realized. Apparently I was ‘old school’…and it would be Trisha’s genius that would show us the way to perpetual travel.
Even though we were hi tech digital nomads with electrical equipment that wouldn’t be seen again in some countries for a decade or more…people would refer to us as ‘Gypsies’…because we weren’t ‘dirty hippies’….and we weren’t ‘tourists’….there was no other way to describe us….backpacker tourism hadn’t been seen in many parts of the world…we were something of a hybrid that no one had seen…especially immigration officers.
Trisha would begin to explain the technical specifications of the equipment we carried and that caused the eyes of border officers to roll back as if lapsing into a coma. I had an additional expertise in Emergency Medicine and carried a portable trauma kit and strange medical devices, pharma and antidotes some of the officers hadn’t seen since their days in the military. I was ready to treat anything from snake bite to gun shot. I was described by friends as ‘The Jungle Doctor’. The moniker culture ‘digital nomad’ didn’t exist yet. Our piles of electronic and household equipage including dozens of school books, cables, monitors, transformers and including ‘the kitchen sink’ resembled a humpy back camel caravan moving slowly through the airport.
This transition didn’t happen overnight. We had to save, plan and further educate ourselves for several years before taking the plunge. The budding technology of the internet wasn’t quite ready. Personal and financial organization are as important as the latest gadgets when it comes to really making a go of it as a ‘digital nomad’…..more on that in future installments. Big banks hadn’t yet designed the platforms for us to access our accounts by remote allowing us to maintain our trading business wherever we wanted to be. That would come in time.
We ‘practiced’ the art of perpetual travel for a few years, with long months of ‘elsewhere’ during summer vacations, building our skills, fortifying our financial base, before we took the final leap. First it was Trish and I traveling as a couple beginning twenty eight years ago…and then our son came along and his first trip was to Bali twenty five years ago.
We felt it wise to acclimate ourselves and especially our son, as we would literally ‘leaving it all behind’, including all family and friends and the close social infrastructure of school teachers and personal patterning. There is a certain aspect of culture shock creep in when you’ve been away from home for an extended period of time. Trust me, you’ll start craving, favorite foods and comfortable sights.
I remember the day it turned into reality. We’d sold our house, put everything we owned into a long term storage locker and paid two years in advance….including storage for our car…’The Shadow’….and of we three travelers went to the airport ( by then our son West had come along….I know….naming our son West almost 30 years before Kanye and Kim…we really were ahead of the innovation curve) ) to fly away unencumbered for an undefined travel experience without boundaries. Our first stop was the Coral Coast of Fiji. More about how technological change over next almost 30 years would effect our lives coming soon.
End of Part Two…..next …”Being a Digital Nomad with a child in tow”
the original digital nomads