March 2, 2017

We didn’t expect to buy horses when we arrived to the Mongolian capitol city of Ulaanbatar, and we certainly weren’t equipped to travel with them unguided. My buddy Aidan had ridden a horse less than a handful of times, and at most I saddled up at a birthday party once when I was a kid.

As was the case with our motorcycle journey, we didn’t let that stop us.

We spent two full days procuring horses that wouldn't buck us and saddles that suited our sensitive Western butts, along with trappings, saddlebags, ropes, maps, and a carefully curated set of survival essentials.

We suited up in our traditional deel attire and set off with Attila the Horse and Houdini for three weeks on the Steppe. We had enough food for two or three emergency meals, relying entirely on the kindness of strangers to invite us into their gers (yurt tents), feed us, and allow us to camp beside them.

Of course, we spoke no Mongolian, which made our communication mostly gestural and heavily dependent on the primordial communicative skills that accompany copious amounts of vodka as we sat around the fire at night. The only Mongolian phrase we ever learned was “nohoi horio” – ‘hold the dogs,’ an incredibly important phrase if you don’t want to be attacked every time you approach a camp.

It was an incredible adventure across the gorgeous, sweeping terrain of the Mongolian Steppe, while putting us in touch with people who had little to no contact with outsiders.

The grid-dependence of location independence

This was all seven years ago.

What really strikes me now is that this trip would have been nearly impossible in my current lifestyle as a web developer/digital nomad. We literally didn’t come across an electrical outlet - let alone an internet connection - for the entire three weeks of our trip. Even if we did, we wouldn’t have had room for computers and adapters in our saddlebags that were already crammed full of survival essentials.

When you become a location-independent digital nomad, you arguably become more grid-dependent than those who work the normal 9-to-5. For the vast majority of us who run or participate in online businesses, it’s simply not prudent to be away from the reach of emergency situations involving clients, colleagues, websites, or products. Even living the 4-Hour Workweek dream, there isn’t room for an absolute zero-hour workweek.

Digital nomads sacrifice traditional vacations of binging on activities, relaxation, and disconnectedness in favor of "slow travel" and working on our own terms, where and when we want. I never really have a vacation in the traditional sense anymore; I just spread my vacation activities throughout my week-to-week life.

I certainly wouldn’t trade away my location-independent lifestyle for a desk job and a boss. But reflecting on experiences like this one makes me grateful that I’ve had it both ways.