Why I’m Quitting the Digital Nomad Life and Moving Back to My Hometown

My hometown, Oklahoma City.

After 14 months of living as a digital nomad, running my business completely remotely, and traveling the world, I’m moving to my hometown of Oklahoma City indefinitely. If I wanted to, I could live in Hong Kong, Bali, New York City, or Jamaica. So why am I choosing Oklahoma City? Allow me to explain.

What You Miss When Traveling the World

Here is a picture of me earlier last year taking a vacation in Hong Kong:

hong-kong-digital-nomad

Who do you see on my left? How about on my right?

Being a nomad is an awesome feeling. You get to meet tons of cool people, see incredible places, and do whatever you want to do all the time. But what I learned living the nomad dream was that there is nothing more important in my life than my relationships.

One of the first times this thought really hit me was in my apartment in Saigon with my amazing roommates. I had the best roommates anyone could ask for. These girls taught me so much about life and love. One day, it occurred to me that I was going to have to leave them. Maybe not that month, maybe not that year. But probably sooner than later, and no matter when it was, it would be too soon.

Digital-nomad-saigon

From left to right: Cat, me, Blair, and Van – great friends I met in Saigon

Saigon

Hanging out with Blaire in Saigon

As a nomad, I started to become afraid to get close to anyone. How long would I be there? Wouldn’t this just end in heartache? That’s how the Philippines ended. I was brokenhearted the day I left.

No matter how many incredible people I met while abroad, I always arrived in new countries alone and left them alone. Surely some people are able to handle this. But for me, these were the hardest moments of the last 14 months.

You might argue that I could always stay in Vietnam or elsewhere long-term as an expat: put down roots overseas. Not only would this mean seeing my friends and family less than I do now, but it would open a can of worms for my business. Would I begin doing business with local companies, or continue to work with Western clients remotely? If I started doing business locally, I would be making my work more challenging for myself. Besides that, I’d be putting down roots in one place. Avoiding that was the reason I left the US in the first place. It wasn’t the US I resented: it was a lack of options, and I’d be in the same situation as a more traditional expat.

I considered moving to other locations in the US. What about New York, San Francisco, or Austin, all popular nomad destinations? I plan to outline this in a future blog post. One of the main reasons reason though is that I wanted to be close to my family.

In Hindsight, moving abroad both in 2010 as an English teacher and in 2014 as an entrepreneur were both reactions rather than simply actions. In 2010, I had just graduated from college and I was afraid of getting stuck in a rat race of one kind or another and never being able to travel abroad. I couldn’t bear the thought of that happening, so I went abroad to prove to myself and the world that I wouldn’t forget my love of travel.

I did the same thing in 2014 when I finished graduate school. Again, it was time for me to face “the real world” and I couldn’t bear the thought. The monotonous 9-5, the drudgery about my job, the total lack of freedom and mobility, it all made me ill. So I didn’t just walk in another direction. I ran like hell.

And now, I’m free. I don’t have to fear having a career that I hate or having just 2 weeks a year to see the world. Even with a local presence, I can travel anytime I like. Now that the fear of those life limitations are behind me, I’m realizing it wasn’t having a home base that moved me to the digital nomad life. It was fear of being stuck.

Having a “lifestyle business” doesn’t necessarily mean traveling the world. It means having freedom to do what makes you happy. It means getting to ask yourself a question that most people don’t get to ask themselves: “Of all the options in the world, what would make me truly happy?” And for me, the answer was being near the people I care about and staying in one place long enough to develop friendships that I could fully explore.

Accidentally Falling in Love with Business

The other reason I am moving back to the US is to grow my business bigger and faster than I did in 2014 and 2015. To understand how and why this works, you have to understand more about the lifestyle business philosophy.

There are very few cases in which a location independent entrepreneur is living nomadically because he or she can make more money doing so. Often it’s quite the opposite: digital nomads can often make just as much money living abroad, and sometimes forfeit potential revenue in exchange for mobility. This is more true for services businesses like mine than it is for businesses selling products, as products are often easier to offer from anywhere. In my case, going abroad definitely made it more difficult to do business.

When I first announced I was leaving the country in 2014, lots of people were critical of my decision to start my business overseas. “You could make much more money in the States!”

I knew they were right.

But I didn’t care.

As I told a friend recently, I’d rather make $40K/year and be able to go wherever I want than make $80K/year and have no mobility or freedom. I expect I might be doing a portion of my business locally in the future, but now I’m willing to do it much more than I was when I got started.

Business was merely a vehicle for me in the beginning. Just like when I taught English abroad in 2010-2011: I wasn’t passionate about teaching. I was passionate about travel and teaching was the vehicle to let me do that.

But with business, something happened that I didn’t anticipate: I fell in love with it. As a holder of two music degrees and a person with no prior business experience to speak of, I did not expect that to happen.

I was like a young man who’s not interested in being in a serious relationship. He just wants to meet interesting people and have fun. But then he meets a woman who changes his mind. Now he’s ready to commit because he’s met a person that’s right for him and therefore, someone worth committing to.

Before, I was not willing to sacrifice anything for my business. I set the terms, and if the business could do better under different terms, too bad. Now, my business is my passion. I’m now more likely to succumb to these changing terms if it means growing the business in a healthy and profitable way. If doing business in the US will allow Charm House to grow, then I’m all in because I’ve found something I love. It doesn’t mean that I won’t still travel substantially more than I’d be able to if I was traditionally employed.

Traditional Business Is a Good Fit for Me

Working as a digital nomad definitely sounds glamourous. And it is. (When we have those extra glamorous moments, we’re sure to share them on Instagram.)

Taking a leisurely walk on the #beach between work sessions.

A photo posted by Anna Wickham (@aewickham) on

The truth is that much of my time in the Philippines and Saigon was spent hunched over a computer, working alone. For business, my communication consisted of Skype calls, Slack, and email. Maybe I was communicating with real people, but I was still all alone in a room, huddled up with my computer.

In October, I attended the annual DC conference, DCBKK, and had the opportunity to host a meetup and network with entrepreneurs from all over the world. Being around other business owners IRL – how most normal people do business – gave me a feeling that I’d been missing for a year. I felt completely invigorated, like I’d just taken a long drink of cool water on a hot day.

Not only did it bring me joy, but it proved to be a more effective means of driving business: a win-win. That was when I knew that coming home would not only be better for me, but it would be better for Charm House as well.

Tropical MBA DC

Are Generation 1 Digital Nomads Choosing to Settle Down?

There has been a growing trend among digital nomad pioneers to leave the land of the “coconut cowboy,” as it has come to be known. Elisa Doucette wrote about traveling back to the US and finding that she no longer desired to live in the “Wild, Wild West” of Southeast Asia.

Recently, “The Suitcase Entrepreneur,” Natalie Sisson, moved back to her hometown after being a nomad for 5 years. Like me, Natalie can live anywhere in the world. She can live in San Francisco or Hollywood or Paris. But she chooses her hometown of Wellington, New Zealand. Why? Because it has something that the most appealing cities in the world can’t offer: the people she cares about.

The Tropical MBA broached this topic recently in an episode called “How to Embrace Changing Priorities” – all about making decisions based on your values and the kind of lifestyle you desire, even if that lifestyle isn’t to be a digital nomad.

While the nomad movement is growing and plenty of entrepreneurs still trot the globe, I am not the first location independent entrepreneur to change priorities and realize the many benefits of having a home base.

Do What Makes You Happy

I’ve been writing a lot about following your intuition. And at the end of the day, as I laid in bed back in Saigon, right before falling asleep, it was undeniable what I really longed for: to be close to my family and to build relationships that I wouldn’t have to eventually abandon. I fought it for awhile, but eventually the desire was so strong I felt as if I didn’t even have a choice. Who knows what the future will bring or what I’ll want to do in 2 years or 5 years or 10 years. But for now, I’m doing what makes me happy.

 

I hope I can encourage you to do whatever makes you happy. It may not be what you had pictured for yourself. It might not even be what others pictured for you. Whatever your heart is telling you to do, I hope you make that your mission. The payoff is worth it.

Featured image via Flickr user jgoge123

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  • Luisa Depta

    Love this post! Thanks for sharing and best of luck in your “new” home!

    • http://www.theworldlyblend.com Anna Wickham – TheWorldlyBlend

      Thanks, Luisa! 😀

  • http://www.tropicalmba.com/ Dan Andrews

    great stuff Anna I don’t expect your life to be any less exciting…) i’m curious as well to see how you use the mobility you trained on to grow your business, some examples might be hitting up more conferences, retreats, or maybe even just using your extra time to have fun. traveling is time expensive! also you guys got a killer bball team 😛 client visits?!

    • http://www.theworldlyblend.com Anna Wickham – TheWorldlyBlend

      Hey Dan, thanks so much! :) I’ve come to realize that the entrepreneurship life is very full, even without adding nomad-ing to the list! Already planning some speaking engagements and conference trips in 2016. If you ever happen to be passing through OKC during basketball season, my family has a Thunder ticket with your name on it! (Totally being serious)

  • http://WPCurve.com/ Kyle Gray

    Hey Anna, I feel you on this one. As someone who has bounced back and fourth between the states and abroad, I can see big benefits to having a home base.

    I got into business for similar reasons that you started teaching English. As a means to continue traveling and exploring. Also like you, I am starting to fall in love with the craft and the processes of business and I find it is a similar source of growth like what travel was for me when I first started.

    Right now, I like spending some of the year abroad and some in my hometown (Salt Lake). But as my business and brand continue to grow I wonder if I will start leaning toward a settling into the states again.

    I feel I have changed a great deal while my friends have changed too, but in other ways. They don’t really understand “entrepreneurship” and I’m sure that when I say the word “business” they think of people in blue starched suits posing for a stock photo (*gag). Surely friends add more value to life than business opportunities, but it is nice to be around people that understand.
    Have experienced this in returning to your hometown as well?

    • http://www.theworldlyblend.com Anna Wickham – TheWorldlyBlend

      Great insights, thanks so much for sharing, Kyle. This was probably my biggest worry about coming home. I have yet to see if it’s valid as I am still meeting people. I expect that process to take time (which is basically why I decided, “well, better get started!”). I can’t speak for other places or other individuals, but in my case, I think I was looking at it the wrong way. Everyone has an awesome story to tell. I was personally looking to meet others telling my same story, when maybe a better way of looking at it is to instead listen to the stories of others and find people who share my broader priorities of being passionate, always learning, and always exploring. :)

  • http://learnappmaking.com Reinder de Vries

    Great writeup Anna. It’s important to always ask yourself: “Is this what I want?” Digital nomads often see themselves as rebels, as counterculture, as those who defy cubicles. It’s not the sea, the sand and a laptop that makes a digital nomad, it’s making and creating your life the way you want it to be. Otherwise, you might as well put a ton of sand in your cubicle and pour seawater over your coworkers…

    • http://www.theworldlyblend.com Anna Wickham – TheWorldlyBlend

      Hahaha thanks Reinder, your comment made me laugh out loud! The funny thing about being “counter culture” is that I feel like moving to my hometown is the most rebellious thing I’ve ever done! Thanks for sharing :)

  • Kiri Masters

    Good for you, Anna!
    I’ve rarely pined for a truly nomadic lifestyle, mostly because my the “working holidays” sound exactly like your glamorous nomadic workdays:
    “The truth is that much of my time in the Philippines and Saigon was spent hunched over a computer, working alone.”
    Whether or not being a nomad is your preferred M.O., the whole point of a lifestyle business is to be in a position to make a true-to-yourself choice…. and you’ve exercised your choice. And you can choose again to change your lifestyle whenever the hell you want to, because you’re truly free :)

    • http://www.theworldlyblend.com Anna Wickham – TheWorldlyBlend

      Thanks for sharing, Kiri! It actually is interesting to hear the non-nomadic location independent entrepreneur point of view. I wish more people would share about it like you have :) Thanks for the encouragement, and have a wild ride no matter what “your MO” is!

  • Dario Cannizzaro

    Great article. I have been a nomad for years (even though just in Europe) and am thinking of expanding to SE Asia and US for 5 more… then we’ll see!

    • http://www.theworldlyblend.com Anna Wickham – TheWorldlyBlend

      Thanks Dario! That’s right, we can all change our minds anytime, that’s the best part :) Best of luck to you!

  • http://www.greenbelly.co Chris Cage

    Think about this a lot! Nice write up Anna.

    • http://www.theworldlyblend.com Anna Wickham – TheWorldlyBlend

      Thanks, Chris! 😀

  • http://www.thesearchengineshop.com/ Brendan Tully

    Resonate completely with this, I’m heading back to my hometown in Australia this year for the same reasons.

    Also, very tough to beat the power of a single good in person handshake deal, no matter what way you slice it, doing business in person still beats doing it online.

    • http://www.theworldlyblend.com Anna Wickham – TheWorldlyBlend

      Hey Brendan, thanks for sharing. I’m surprised to hear you say that (because you’ve been nomadic for awhile, right?), but not at all unfamiliar with the benefits and your reasons. Yes, I didn’t go into that much in the above article, but sales is a huge reason. You do business with those you know, like, and trust. And that was natural at DCBKK. For me, it’s time to build similar networks in the US.

      Best of luck! :)

      • http://www.thesearchengineshop.com/ Brendan Tully

        Haha I strongly dislike being called a “digital nomad”….to mean me means “backpacker with a laptop, will compromise soul to make $1-2k month and live in asia” :-)

        Yeah family thing is a big one, my sister is having a baby here and I also miss my dog. You’re spot on re the product based businesses being easier to run remotely than services and I think part of that is the size of the sale. There isn’t much required in terms of trust to sell a $100 or $500 product but when you start asking for $$$ above $500-$1k people want to talk to you and especially when you’re doing 5 or 6 figure deals, telling people you’re in Asia becomes a problem.

        Also comes a point where the novelty of working from hotel rooms wears off and you crave a nice space to work, with fast reliable internet that you can close the door on when you’re done and forget about the laptop. Very tough to do when your timezone is out of sync with customers or your schedule is all over the place because your juggling life and the biz

        • http://www.theworldlyblend.com Anna Wickham – TheWorldlyBlend

          Absolutely right: when a business is spending a lot of money, they want to know who they are dealing with, and something about living in Asia just comes across as shady even when it’s not. It’s also unfortunately all too common for contractors for businesses to go MIA, and that’s much easier from overseas. it’s all about priorities.

          Once I realized around October that in-person > video chat > phone > email for sales, I started doing a LOT more time on the phone, and that meant keeping very weird and exhausting hours: staying up late to take calls, going to bed, and getting up really early for more calls. At that time I’d already decided that was just going to be temporary. I’ll have to write again in a few months about how things have gone back home :)

  • http://taylorpearson.me/ Taylor Pearson

    Soo good! Resonate on so many levels. Did the English teacher thing, did the SE Asia thing, back in the U.S. now :).

    • http://www.theworldlyblend.com Anna Wickham – TheWorldlyBlend

      Oh, crazy, I didn’t know you were an English teacher as well! Very similar path indeed. Thanks for reading, Taylor! :)

  • http://salesability.co Damian Thompson

    Homebase is VASTLY under-valued in much of our circle. The majority of people I know building the businesses I aspire to are settled into a single location for most of the year. That’s what we are doing in NZ (my long-time spiritual home & now physical home as well).

    • http://www.theworldlyblend.com Anna Wickham – TheWorldlyBlend

      I’m absolutely on board. I thought of those who were very successful and whom I wanted to emulate, like Jacob Puhl. And he has publicly credited his success to being based in one place.

      I think another part of it is that many LI entrepreneur types are allergic to: office spaces (I love coworking spaces but I find that few digital nomads take advantage of them), working during the hours of 9 and 5, and anything else that might even slightly resemble a normal work routine. And they have that freedom to work how they wish, but I found it limited my business.

      • http://salesability.co Damian Thompson

        Agreed! I LOVE working out of a coworking office. Helps me separate my home/work life to be TRULY present in both halves of my life.

  • http://danfries.net Dan Fries

    +1 Anna. Final destination: friends and family, wherever they are.

    • http://www.theworldlyblend.com Anna Wickham – TheWorldlyBlend

      Totally :) Thanks for reading, Danny!

  • Mads Singers Sorensen

    Awesome post Anna.

    I don’t naturally have the same emotional attachment to people and places… I guess that’s a personality thing.

    Since I was around 15 where I left home, I have always done what i call slow traveling. To me that means spending 3-5 years in a place before I move on to the next, most people laugh and I find it a bit funny as well, but for me it’s a choice, I love settling in, getting to know local people and make a difference in the local community wherever i am, sometimes this have been with different jobs and every move since the first one have always been to a different country.

    i love building business and this time again I have given myself 3-5 years to get that done here in Davao, now about 1½ years into it, I’m loving it, but I for sure see myself go somewhere else some day.

    The one thing I like about moving, is that it gives you an opportunity to… let me put it in computer language, “update yourself” – When i go back to the place I lived all my childhood, I dont really feel like me, I feel like me 15-20 years ago… every time i move somewhere new, I get to “reinvent” myself, finding new friends, but each time, my friendship circle is different based on how I developed since my last move.

    Staying in the same place for an extended amount of time 10+years, I know I would fall into to comfortable habits and not be able to develop myself as quickly as I would like. Some people might be able to do that in one place, but I know I’m not.

    I posted something on FB the other day that relates pretty well and again perhaps because of my personality I have the complete opposite view on making friends and getting to know people that might be gone tomorrow:

    “I have traveled a ton, I have worked with 1000’s of people and I have meet so many awesome people in my life – and reality is I have run away from all of them again… (Hey if you are awesome, you might be one of them!)

    Most importantly I regret nothing. I always give every situation, every opportunity and every person everything I have… I don’t stop and say “Wait a minute, tomorrow this person will be somewhere else”

    I have a secret to tell you – forever does NOT exist… we are all here for a limited period of time, and getting the most out of every opportunity makes you stronger and more ready for the next challenges ahead of you.”

    Anyways, I love your openness here, you have an amazing personality and reality is you will be successfully wherever you are. If you tell yourself being a nomad will grow your business faster, it will – if you tell yourself being in US will grow your business faster, it will! Go make it happen!

    Mads

    • http://www.theworldlyblend.com Anna Wickham – TheWorldlyBlend

      Hi Mads, thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. I love the various perspectives I’ve heard after posting this. A few thoughts on what you said:

      – Yes, it is totally a personality thing. Just the fact that some people have been nomadic for many years is proof of that for me, because I know (and have known from the time I left the US as a nomad) that that would not be an option for me.

      – I’m surprised that no one before you has made the point that “forever does not exist,” because that is absolutely correct. I’m glad it doesn’t, because then I wouldn’t have met as many people along the way. Like you, I don’t have regrets about having been all over in the last 10 years (through travel, school, and various aspects of my life). you’re right that staying in one place and moving to my hometown does not mean that I won’t be saying goodbye to people.

      – I have also been attracted to the ability to “upgrade” myself and be a different person. This is a huge advantage in my opinion if you can tolerate the constant change of scenery. But “normal folks” (non crazy nomad types) upgrade where they are. And that works too.

      “Nomading” is magical for sure. I’m grateful to have both lifestyles in some ways.

      Thanks again for reading and sharing your thoughts, Mads!

  • Munly Leong

    LOL as you know I’m not truly a nomad but just trying to set up homebase anywhere but Australia! but that’s always been it for me. I actually don’t mind being away from friends and I keep in touch with everyone on Facebook. If anything having the nomad life set up means that you have the freedom and flexibility to visit them more often.

    I’ve always felt the main constraints you do. putting down roots and investing into a place and its community. Being there for your customers and the people you care about and for me that means Americans so using Panama as my own personal 51st state is the next best thing which is also why at the same time I don’t want to waste any more time setting up the base first *before* something like Badladz. The best thing to do is have travel *and* work be a choice.

    • http://www.theworldlyblend.com Anna Wickham – TheWorldlyBlend

      Totally. Love your contributions, Munly! Very thoughtful. It’s funny because no nomads were in S America/C America a few years ago, but timezones are one of the greatest benefits of being there over Asia. That was a killer for me: sales calls at 6am and 10pm weren’t sustainable and took away from my social life in Asia too. It’s great to see the nomad movement evolving and getting more complex than just a beach in Thailand, and that includes people making the choice like me to move home.

  • http://lifewithdebt.co Life…With Debt

    Thanks for this post, Anna! Since I left the US two year ago to travel (and even before that – when I left my home in Minneapolis for Los Angeles), I’ve been torn between wanting to explore cities around the globe and spending time with friends and family who I love.

    For me, I’ve found that slow-travel works… at least right now. Rather than darting back and forth between different cities and countries, I spend 3 or 4 or 5 or 6 months in one place, building relationships and focusing on work (rather than seeing the sights EVERY day). Like you, I hate leaving good friends behind each time I move locations, but I LOVE that I have good friends to revisit all over the world.

    Good for you for determining what you want and what works best for YOU! I just started following your blog and I look forward to reading more!

    • http://www.theworldlyblend.com Anna Wickham – TheWorldlyBlend

      Hey there, thanks for sharing your perspective on this. :) I have enjoyed reading all the different points of views that readers have from all over the world. I was also doing slow travel, and I’ve actually been doing it nearly every time I traveled for the last 8 years. It was definitely hard to leave people, especially those I became very close to. But the hardest thing was just not having a “homebase” group to come back to. I know I’ll still be traveling in the future, and for more than a couple of weeks here and there, but having a home (both in a more literal sense and a figurative sense) to come back to is going to make the difference for me. Great that you are finding what works for you as well! Thanks for reading, and I hope you’ll share your perspective again on future posts :)

  • http://www.journeyingbeyond.net Hana

    This is great… kudos to you for having the courage to make that decision! I’ve been torn between the pulls of wanderlust and family for the past 10 years, and made a choice a few months ago to return to family for a season (although only for a few months!!) and know how difficult it was to get to that point and return to my hometown. But it’s been the best few months and I’m sure your decision will be equally rewarding :) Cheers!

    • http://www.theworldlyblend.com Anna Wickham – TheWorldlyBlend

      Hi Hana, thanks for sharing your personal experience. I have had the opportunity to hear so many different experiences from writing this post, which has been awesome. It turns out the thing that I thought I was the only one feeling is also felt by nearly everyone. But the answer, what you should do, is different for everyone. Good for you for finding the right choice for you and the best of both worlds :) Best of luck!

  • Loi Villanueva

    Thought provoking article, I am a slow one 3-10 years, I like building business whereever I am and make it my base for few years until it’s time to go. I am wrapping up my business in London and will move to Spain for 2-3 years, then finally will put my base in Puerto Galera. Yes, family and relationships matters and it is good you are settling, take your time and enjoy the journey.

    • http://www.theworldlyblend.com Anna Wickham – TheWorldlyBlend

      Cool path — London, Spain, PG. It’s different for everyone, so not trying to say it’s the right choice for everyone, but it is working really well for me. :) Sounds like you have a great strategy too that works for you!

  • https://ninjaoutreach.com/ Dave Schneider

    Yes I can relate to this. Running a business abroad is really sub optimal, no one wants to admit it though! Obviously there is benefit in being able to see somewhere new etc, but like you said quite a lot of time is still spent working so it’s not quite as enjoyable as people assume. Good call!

    • http://www.theworldlyblend.com Anna Wickham – TheWorldlyBlend

      Thanks Dave! Appreciate your perspective on this. Digital nomads definitely like to highlight all the advantages of the lifestyle instead of talking about the disadvantages. But I do think most DNs know it is sub-optimal as I said in the article, but don’t care. That was totally me. Until I started caring. haha. In OKC, I’m getting 50mbps internet speed every single day and meeting face to face with prospects. I keep thinking, “business-wise, you just can’t beat this.”