When you tell people you are going to Hawaii, immediately people think: vacation. Even if you are from Hawaii and now live elsewhere- when you return, people think you are on a break, enjoying your vacation. This trip was not a vacation (though we tried to have some fun – surfing, hiking, eating, etc…). What this trip was really about was family.
When my parents told me they were going to move to Japan, I knew we had the time and flexibility in our schedule to help them. For the last month or so, it has been a full-time job to help them pack, sort through their belongings, donate items, as well as clean and repair their condo (due to unforeseen water damage). My brothers wanted to help more but their jobs wouldn’t allow them to take off the time. It got me thinking how lucky and fortunate we are to have time. What if we had conventional jobs or other commitments that didn’t allow us to take leave? What if my parents needed more help?
When we committed to living this unconventional lifestyle, to become full-time digital nomads, we did so because we knew it would give us two things we valued a lot: time, and the ability to use that time to spend with others. Often when we catch others up with what we are doing, a lot of people tell us they wish they could do something similar but can’t because of time and money.
It makes sense. One of the biggest decisions that led us to our current lives was when we decided not to buy a house. It’s not that we don’t want to at some point. But we realized that owning a home would create a financial commitment, which would become a burden that we didn’t want. In order to keep our house we would have had to both keep working full time. This is not a bad thing. It’s the conventional path. Whereas some might want to set down roots in a community by buying a home, we saw those roots as limiting us from being able to travel and have flexibility with our time and finances.
It doesn’t help that the current American work model does not allow people to spend time with loved ones on a daily basis. We spend more time at work than we do with our family and friends. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Thanks to technology and due to the changing economic climate, there are new, flexible ways to do work. The internet has made it possible to work from home and on the road. It’s also a shame that America has not adopted policies similar to Canada and countries in Europe that are more flexible and generous with leave time. What if a loved one needed extra help that would require you to take more time off than you had vacation or paid-leave for? What would you do? You could lose your job for trying to help.
As we’ve said before, there is no perfect scenario. Though it seems great that we have so much time and flexibility, there are days where I know Michelle and both wish we had a little bit more stability and security with our finances. Also, conventional employment typically offers better health care and even retirement benefits that most entrepreneurs like us struggle to afford. But the trade-off for us is a life that better fits our values of time and relationships. It’s about spending time with loved ones while we can. Michelle and I have treasured the family get togethers, reconnecting with high school and college friends, and also taking the time to enjoy each other’s company. I know a lot of couples wish they had time for that, too.
If anyone asks me what I’ll remember most about our time being “digital nomads,” I’ll say the ability to travel and being available for family.