Day 53: Ulaanbaatar , The secret life of a digital nomad

Magazine article about hiking in the Bogd Khan mountains, and rafting and kayaking on the Tuul River.
The hiking, rafting & kayaking nomad.

For a start, there’s no-one to bounce ideas off.

When I inevitably hit a mental block, I have five options:

  1. play some music, lie on my bed, or look out the window
  2. go to the toilet
  3. go downstairs to the common room, drink some tea, peruse magazine and map – get inspired – then feel frustrated that I’m not actually travelling
  4. or, talk to someone in the common room, who will inevitably be just about to leave on their own tour – feel frustrated and lonely
  5. go for a walk, which will inevitably be cold, then invariably spend some money trying to warm myself up afterwards

Experience tells me that the last option, going for a walk, is the best solution. But it feels unproductive to go for a walk every time I get stuck.

The second best solution is talking to someone. The process of explaining a problem usually yields a solution long before the other party has a chance to respond. But this is not a hostel of digital nomads, it’s a hostel of travellers. Moaning is the last thing anyone wants to hear, especially when it’s about work.

Then there’s the solitary work space.

I initially thought that I’d split my work between my room and the common room. But for the reasons above, working in the shared space seems really inappropriate. It’s fine to take a laptop down there and casually surf the web, but real work requires real focus – and that means blocking people out. A hostel thrives on people talking and sharing ideas and experiences, so staring at your laptop intently almost feels like an act of aggression.

So I don’t do that anymore. Instead, I stay in my room.

I’m glad to have my own room, but it is just one room. One third is devoted to sleeping, one third to gear and the final third to my office.

The office third is always visible. So, when I’m in bed, I’m also in the office, and when I’m sorting out my gear I’m still in the office.

The office is really just a small desk propped up by four fruit cans, itself propping up a tiny 11″ Macbook Air laptop and a few sticky notes.

The laptop is both my unique travel diary and my stock development environment. It’s my creative outlet and my nagging TODO list. It gives me freedom from a real office desk, but it tethers me to this one. And anyone that has ever suffered from the stiff neck that I have now, can attest to the fact that a laptop is not actually designed for use on your desk, let alone your lap.

It’s both absolute freedom and a dull, lonely cage.

The life of a digital nomad is supposed to be wonderful. But it seems that, when you’re working from home, you only succeed in making your home into a work place.

With so much inspiration at my frustrated fingertips, I’ve been struggling to decide where to ride to next month.

Fiddling about with map data only gets you so far, so I’m appreciative when the hostel owner steps in with some real life advice.

In response, I’ve decided to forego the interesting Altai / Kazakh Olgii region in the west and focus on south Gobi instead. It will definitely be preferable to have some time up my sleeve in case I encounter any week-long sand storms, or legendary death worms.

I’m still really keen to ride the mountains in the west and the steppes in the east, but I think these are best done in spring or summer, when the lush greenery is in full effect and I don’t have to worry so much about encountering deep snow.