• home
  • blog
  • credits

An accidental nomad

I left Boston with two carry-on bags and a suitcase, intending to live in London for six months before returning home.

Four years and twelve countries later, I’m in Portugal, still living out of those bags…minus the suitcase. This arc of my life had a very defined beginning, but so far has had no definite ending.

This is the story of my past 1500 days.

*  *  *

I remember that moment only vaguely now, much of the color blurred and faded by the days since, though fragments of my mind are recorded in my journals. There was a slowly mounting excitement that I didn’t let myself fully feel until my feet touched the ground in London: the thrill of embarking, the pale anxiety of travel, the eager trepidation of diving into an unknown. There was also a large amount of lingering frustration with my employer, who had pushed back more than I expected when I told them I needed permission to work from London for the next year (they only granted me a six-month allowance, in the end, for tax reasons I now understand much better).

I remember missing Summer. We had been apart for I think two months or so by that point, which was the longest time we’d spent apart from each other’s daily lives since we’d first met seven years prior. She had gone on to London while I stayed behind to finish out our apartment lease, and I spent those first few weeks apart with a potent sense of something missing, something being forgotten or misplaced; I remember getting home from work and lying on my bed in the dark, staring at the ceiling for what felt like hours, trying to imagine something to do now that I was home. That summer away from Summer was my first real experience living alone: I’d always lived with family or roommates, and I was supremely unaccustomed to not needing to negotiate my own space within the space of others every day.

Eventually I began to hear myself better, started exploring new ways of using my time and new rhythms to move to. I would go on bike rides at night when the world was quieter, like I used to do when I was a kid, and these rides would last for hours: I was never going anywhere but home, and I tried to find the longest and most unfamiliar routes. I drank more, but never what I considered excessively: I would go down to this TexMex place in Harvard square and eat chips and salsa while reading and enjoying a few margaritas (they had the cheapest margaritas around, and to my developing palette they were tasty). I started exploring podcasts, and would spend the late night hours drinking a bottle of wine and listening to people talk. I frequented the Saloon more often than before: it was this little underground speakeasy, a whiskey and cocktail bar not far from where I lived; I would go there a few nights a week, and I began to develop the casually intimate slice-of-life relationship with the crew that is the sole purview of regulars. My first real bartender was called Luke. My first week in London, I bought him a small notebook, wrote him a letter, and mailed them to him at the Saloon; he texted me a photo a few weeks later.

I had to close out our apartment before shipping off to London. We were expecting to be gone from the city for six months, and so I decided to purge a few things and put the rest of the apartment into storage for when we came back. Every once in a while I give myself a pat on the back for going out of my way to find the cheapest unit I could, even though it ended up being about a 45-minute drive from where we planned to return to: That stuff is still in that storage unit. When I left Boston, I left with two backpacks and a suitcase; four years later, and I’m still living out of those three bags.

London was lonely. Summer and I shared a tiny studio flat in Queensway, a corner of northwest central London inhabited mostly by students, traveling businessmen, and a smattering of tourists. She’d found us a good deal on the place, but a ‘good deal’ for central London meant a $2000/mo closet. It was cramped, but we made do by simply avoiding being there: it was a place to sleep, poop, and occasionally eat together. Summer spent most days and nights at school: I would frequently cook dinner and take it to her, and we’d share it in the campus dining area. For my part, I’d spend my days working out of cafés and evenings out of pubs, and on nights when I wasn’t dining with Summer, I’d look for things to do until she planned to go home to sleep, and then I’d join her. Usually, that meant finding a place to read, write, and drink. I didn’t have a community outside of the service staff I interacted with regularly. Six months in London, and I never made a friend. My company had two offices in London, one of which was their sales office and one of which was an engineering office from a small UK company they’d recently acquired. I went to the sales office once, and the engineering office a few times a month; there were a handful of office socials I attended, but honestly it was my first time experiencing what it was like to have coworkers with no strings attached. My real connections were, once again, the strangely intimate relationships you form with the people who serve you regularly. There was a speakeasy in Soho called The Vault, in the cellar of a thousand-year-old Scotch whisky bar, accessed through a hidden entrance in the back. It was a place of proper shadow and drink, and the lads behind the bar were like beacons in the night of my gray London winter: Akeel, Jack, and Ritch. All of them were working on my last night at The Vault that first time to London, and I closed down the bar with them: Jack refused to let me pay, and instead wrote “FUCK YOU DAN” inside a heart on my check. Only Jack and Akeel were still there when I eventually returned to London, but it was Akeel’s last week, and Jack was soon to follow.

At the end of those six months, I was excited to leave and sad to separate. I wanted to ‘return to my life’; I remember thinking those words. I had arrived in London in September of 2019: it was now the first week of March 2020. Over the last few weeks, Summer and I had been hearing news of a new so-called ‘China virus’ beginning to spread, and the day before I returned to Boston, some authority (can’t recall which) had begun recommending that all international travelers ‘self-quarantine’ for at least a week upon arrival. I wasn’t very informed (who could say they were, those first few weeks?) and so I decided to play it safe: the day I got back to Boston, I emailed my department head and told him I wasn’t going to come back to the office for another week, just to be safe. He didn’t like that; I remember his reply coming off as if it were meant to be mildly intimidating or chastising, but without directly saying I couldn’t do it. I didn’t really care. By that point our relationship had fallen into disrepair: he’d advocated on my behalf to our employer to get me a work visa sponsorship, and so I was grateful, but he’d never given me the sense that he actually supported me in that move. I think he was very pro butt-in-seat: I recall my manager telling me that he forced him to commute two hours one-way to the San Francisco office every day, even though he didn’t work directly with anyone there. But anywho. I spent that first week in a very casual self-quarantine. I was subletting for someone in south Medford who was leaving Boston to go walk the Appalachian Trail for the next six months. I’d never lived in Medford, but it was within long-walking distance from Davis Square, where I had been living prior to leaving, and so I spent that week getting acquainted with my new housemate and the general ‘just moved in’ sort of things. I signed up for ZipCar (I’d sold my car prior to moving to London the previous year) and made a trip out to my storage unit to collect a few apartment essentials, like my bed and books and art supplies.

The following Monday, I went back to my office for the first time in six months, and it would prove to be the last time I’d ever work from there: it shut down the next day.

Enter COVID-19.

*  *  *

This is part of a longer reflection.

  • Part II
~ Daniel.
a month ago