It’s 6pm and we’re huddled around the TV watching the UK’s daily briefing on the COVID-19 coronavirus.
“Now is the time for everyone to stop non-essential contact and to stop all unnecessary travel” announces Boris Johnson, the UK’s prime minister.
It is not a surprise. And it is clear that the suggestion will soon turn into law as the world progressively shuts down to try and stop the virus.
Toby, our current host and best man at my wedding, shift uncomfortably where he sits, “you can always stay with us?” he offers.
Here’s the thing and why Toby is suddenly squirming in his seat. Toby has a home. And I don’t.
Emma, my wife, and I are digital nomads. We have no home but constantly travel, earning a living wherever there’s an internet connection. Normally you can find us somewhere cheap and with a high quality of life, like Southeast Asia. But at the moment we’re travelling around the UK visiting friends and family.
Toby means his offer and is sincere. But it’s really the last thing he wants. Thirty-something married couples aren’t meant to come and crash on your sofa for what could be months on end.
But he’s worried about us. We have no home and nowhere to go. We’re nomads who can’t nomad.
My phone is buzzing. First my mother, “what are you going to do?! You can come stay here”. Then friends, “we’re thinking about you and your travels, are you ok? Where are you?!”.
The only people not worried about us. Is… well… us. Because our lack of home doesn’t give us fewer options but more.
If you could be anywhere in the world with anyone you want during a global pandemic, where would you choose and who would you be there with? That’s not a hypothetical question. That’s exactly what we had to ask.
We chose London, but all across the world our friends are doing what nomads do. Moving. Placing their bets. From penthouse apartments in Vietnam to villas on the now tourist-free island of Bali. Isolated mountains huts in Montana. Caravans in the Australian outback.
And placing their bets on who they want to be with. As full-time travellers, we well know the strain of having someone in our space 24-hours a day.
By the time Boris tells us all to socially isolate the writing is very clearly on the wall and 90% of digital nomads have already made their bets and moved.
Back at Toby’s house I thank him, decline the offer and start flicking through Airbnb for somewhere we can move the next day. The prices have tumbled. Normally when we stay in London we’re in a studio apartment or a crystal healer’s spare room somewhere far out on the edge of safety. But not today.
The whole of London lights up with options in our price range. Titles such as “70% off”, “Coronavirus special” jump out. Emma’s favourite place in London is Covent Garden, so why not there? We’d never be able to afford to live there any other time.
The next day we move into a large 2-bed apartment with two TVs, a well-stocked kitchen, plenty of toilet paper and a PlayStation 4. 80% cheaper than normal.
And that’s where we are now. Apart from the upgrade to accommodation, life isn’t that different to normal. Today we’ll do what we normally do: work from home, go for a walk through the now-deserted tourist spots, and spend our evening planning where to go once this is all over.
Being a digital nomad is not about needing to travel all the time or only being able to afford to live in third-world countries. It is about flexibility. Being able to work from anywhere. And choosing where that anywhere is.
Now you might say moving to London was a bad choice (see why we chose it in this post). But it was a choice. This is a rubbish situation for everyone, but us digital nomads probably have it best.