Location matters. Community matters.

We’ve met a few “location-independent” people on our travels—usually singles, though there’s an occasional family—that doesn’t live anywhere in particular. They live where the wind takes them. Their work is done online, so they’re able to live out of their backpacks and move about the cabin indefinitely.

Essentially, they do what we’re doing for the next few months, except this is their permanent way of life. Literally everything they own is in their backpacks, and they stay put in one place for a few weeks or months, then pack up and trek on elsewhere. Rinse and repeat indefinitely. (Digital nomad is another popular term for this sort of lifestyle.)

There’s a certain appeal to it, I think. Traveling light, both literally and figuratively, means being where it’s best for you and your family at the moment without being encumbered by outside stuff. The emphasis is more on experiences than in collecting things—and of course I’m all about that. And you have more freedom to meet new people and enjoy them in the present, before you or they move on in their journey.

But that last part, for me, is where the rubber meets the road. and where I’ve decided that as much as I love travel, I just can’t be location-independent as a permanent way of life. It might be good for some people, but it’s not best for our family.

Here’s why: because for us, location matters. It doesn’t matter simply as the setting descriptor for this particular act (Act III: The streets of Thailand, a city set in a lush northern rainforest). She’s a major character in our play. She’s one we draw from, who changes us, who we dialog with by relating to her seasons, her quirks, her blessings and curses.

doi suthep
Doi Suthep, Thailand

Where we think of Home Base ultimately has to do with where we put our things, yes, but it’s deeper than that—it’s about where we find our earthly center, from where we draw our main community lifeline. For our family, we need a permanent place. And that makes us happy.

Being in community is about doing fun stuff together, sure, but in my opinion, the real roll-up-your-sleeves-and-share life happens with each other in the mundane. In the everydayness of life. When it’s hard, and you’ve got to collectively power through the rough stuff. Or even when it’s plain old boring.

Yes, we meet lots of people while we travel. But then they move on, and so do we. The kind of community we crave is a permanent one, one that, quite frankly, is steeped more in regular life than in adventure. That’s the life-sharing and the vulnerability and the realness we crave. We love to travel, but we personally have a finish line. We will return to a home base, where we will put our few things and we will welcome neighbors and old friends into our lives once more.

What’s been your experience with community—how long do you feel like you need to stay in a place before you find it? Have you ever had to start over? And could you do a location-independent lifestyle?

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34 Comments

  1. Guest

    Yes! The network vs. community article you posted has been going over and over in my mind. I’m very independent yet I NEED community. Need a tribe. I moved quite a bit in my 20s to different states and traveled a great deal in Europe but I have virtually no wanderlust at this point. I have kids and I want them to have the deep roots I grew up with because those roots are a big part of what kept me grounded during those moves and all the travel. We are steadily marking off each of the states in our family travels and at some point will travel outside the U.S. We are very happy with living life in a community we invest in and they, in us.

    • Tsh

      I totally get this.

    • Jessica

      I agree that roots are life sustaining, without cultivating the roots one looses his or her identity. I’ve learned though through my “tribe” searching that if we travel or live far away from our roots we can truly see its beauty. Somehow, I feel we need to travel and go away to be able to truly come home one day!

  2. Mama Rachael

    I’m going to take a slightly controversial stance, and propose that we are *created* for community. Yes, created, designed. We see this through out history. Nomads worked in tribes (yes, I read the network vs community post from AOM… so good), towns spring up, villages… Its only in the past 50 to 100 years that we started moving around like we do on the scale we do. Few people did what the Ingalls family did and move every few years (yes, reading those books now…). To flourish in the way we are designed, to become as we were created, requires community… the ugly, grating, irritating, character building, supporting way of community. When we live so independently, its so easy to have your private selfishness. I was just short of 29 when I got married, and I never thought I had any of those selfish idiosyncrasies, but I did. I’d been a missionary, a grad student, doing lots of ‘good’, but there it is. Of course, when little man came along he become the mirror of all my attributes good or bad. but it really takes other people for us to fully develop, I believe this strongly.

    Now, not to say that you can live the digital nomad life and not have community, but, I think, you’ll have to work harder at it. I guess that location is secondary, and is a result of the intentional pursuit of community and might be done away with at times. But that is truly the odd one out. (I’m less sure of this paragraph)

    I love Chiang Mai and northern Thailand. I miss hand pulled noodles (which I got while living in China). :::Sigh:::

    • Tsh

      I wouldn’t say that’s controversial, I would say that’s CORRECT. 😉 I think we’re made for community, too. We weren’t meant to function as autonomously-operating bodies brushing shoulders with each other as we pass by.

      • Mama Rachael

        Its the ‘created’ part that many will argue with. You’ve got to accept some kind of intelligent design to go there, really.

        Thanks for the quote on facebook. That kind of made my day. I preach community often to those who are in my community here, and I’m trying to live it.

        • Mama Rachael

          wait… I mean it *totally* made my day. All the way.

  3. Breanne

    Community matters. And I would say that location matters as well. We’ve moved a lot and as a result of friends all over the world but for the nitty-gritty sharing and the supporting and the meeting a friend for coffee- that needs time and location.
    We’ve toyed with the idea of moving more but the pull of community is our biggest concern. It takes time, years to build community and trust within that community.

    • Tsh

      It does take years, doesn’t it? When we left for this trip we had been in Bend for three years, and it was about 6 months before that that we just started feeling like we had found real community. Hoping to go back to that….

      • Fiona

        I get that Tsh. We were told it takes 2 years to settle in a new place – whether it is across states or across oceans…and that’s been our experience. In 6 weeks we’re moving to our home country, after being away for nearly 6 years (in two different countries). It is going to be interesting to see how we find it, as although it is ‘home’, we’ll be in a completely different part of the city and it will almost be like starting all over, again. But not, because our ‘community’ our closest friends will be there.

  4. Steph

    Community and location definitely matter. We’ve lived in 5 different cities in the last 11 years – in 3 different regions of the country. We find it takes a good year to start feeling settled into friendships and community with others.The first couple of times we moved, developing community took longer. Now we’re much more intentional about putting ourselves out there and making it happen.

    We’ve been in our current location for just over a year and I think we feel more connected in this amount of time than we ever have before. I’m hoping this will be our home base for a long time and we can do more traveling while we’re at it. But I don’t think I could ever have a location-independent lifestyle. Even a year would be too much for me…but I love following along on your journey!

  5. Rach

    Yes yes and yes!!! My community means the world to me! And jet setting has its appeal, but the real life stuff is where I see so much love!

  6. Amanda Espinoza

    My husband and I talk about this all the time. We tell people we travel in a star pattern. We leave for 1 to 2 months, but then we come home for a few months before we leave again. I just wrote a post about living in community when you keep leaving all the time: http://lifewithamission.com/5-ways-connect-at-home/ We feel like a few months out and then a few months home is the right balance for our family!

    • Tsh

      “Star pattern” – that’s a fun way to put it. And that’s a great post—good truth there. Thanks for sharing.

  7. susan nc price

    One can certainly draw support from a virtual community. I have some very good friends I’ve never–or only rarely–met in person but have corresponded with for [in a few cases] more than a decade, all met through on-line activities.

    However, if I were to go location-independent, I would want to plan for in-person meetups with whichever friend(s) would be in the places I planned to visit. Because face-to-face gives different kinds of connection rewards than the rewards from online conversations such as this comment thread or email or texting or … whatever other text-based communication can offer. And even video conferencing, while more interactive than phone, cannot offer the tactile reinforcement of actually touching another person.

    Short version: I love travel, but I love having a [more-or-less/relatively permanent] base of operations, too.

    • Tsh

      It totally does! We’ve done that on a small scale and so far, those meetups have been the highlight of our trip. When you ask the kids about a favorite memory, they usually have more to do with meeting other kids than seeing some famous landmark.

  8. Jen Norris

    My love for community started when and where I was born and raised over 40 years ago. There was a group of five families that lived on our street, and we held holiday parties, attended birthdays, the parents played cards, we celebrated the Superbowl, had pool parties, put out luminaries during the winter months, and hosted rollerskating musicals in each others’ garages, and ran wildly across our front and back yards for freeze tag and whatever else we could imagine.

    It was a great combination of food, play, and community, which in essence provided a larger and stronger foundation of “FAMILY” for me. In fact, the original families, kids and now grandkids still get together to this day.

    This community concept has played a major role in my life, and I now strive to provide my family with the same opportunities I had. While I love to travel, what I love more is returning to home base to get grounded in love and sink in my roots to soak it all up.

  9. Alysa

    I think this is where I am feeling stuck in our current lifestyle. As much as I love traveling for baseball, we don’t really have that permanent home base to come back to yet. After traveling this summer, I realized how much I am craving that home base community. Now to figure out where that will be…

    • Tsh

      The answer is “Bend, Oregon.” 😉

  10. Megan

    This is a really interesting topic. I am learning that while I naturally gravitate toward a more independent and transient lifestyle, what I really need (personally) comes from sticking it out over time and being committed to a more permanent community. Good thoughts on something I’m currently experiencing and working through myself!

  11. Alissa

    Roots matter! Not so much the particulars of a location, but the roots you put down in that place. For me, community is what creates a sense of being “known” – being able to have a conversation that goes deeper. Having people you can turn to that will speak truth when your compass is having a hard time finding direction. Those roots can be built with time, but sometimes they are built faster by circumstance.

    We’re approaching 3 years in our new city and just starting to get that sense of being known. It’s taken a lot of time to dig our roots, and we’re still very much in the stage of consciously building relationships and seeking connections. We spent the weekend in our old town – the one where our roots run deep from messy life lived in community. I got to sit around a table with my gals and know that the history between us has already broken down the walls. There is such great comfort in being KNOWN.

    • Tsh

      Yes to the being known—I think that’s what we’re all craving, deep-down, when we talk about community. And yeah, in my experience, it really does take about three years.

  12. Julia @ Swirls and Spice

    We have moved every few years since 2000, so I have a hard time hanging pictures on the walls when I am not sure how long we will stay. To follow God’s call, it seems we have had to sacrifice deep roots, though we do believe in investing in our local community wherever we are planted for a time.

    It is not easy to start over though. I definitely feel a kinship with military families, who have even less of a choice in the matter than we do.

    • Sharon

      Oh, I am right there with you, Julia, and have thought about the similarities with military families often.

  13. Sharon

    I crave community. Real community- the share you real life, your stuff, the nitty-gritty. We’ve had these types of communities twice and sadly, have needed to move across the country both times away from them. I’ve been pondering this a lot recently as moving a lot has taken a lot “out” of me, but we still have dreams that would require relocating internationally. And 5 growing children. Hhhm. So much to consider- thank you for this.

    • Tsh

      You’re welcome—and we can talk about it more on the blog here, if enough people are interested in it, because I could talk all day about community and travel.

      I’ll also add that I’ve heard from “experts” in travel and raising third-culture kids that there’s a certain magic age when it’s easier to dig up roots and move abroad, and that after that age it gets considerably harder (there’s not a hard number here—different for each kid). And that if you force a move on a kid who really and truly doesn’t want to or can’t easily move cross-culturally, you might inadvertently cause long-term relationship damage between you (kid + parents). It’s something we’ve thought of long and hard, believe me…

      • LiisaR

        I would love more dialogue on this topic — I am deeply torn between community and travel/living abroad. No kiddos yet but my husband and I talk about this regularly. And about how this balances out with “Following the Wild Goose” (aka Holy Spirit/God’s leading). 🙂

  14. Michelle C

    I agree with you, Tsh. My husband and I left for Peace Corps in 2012. Ever since we completed our assignment this past Spring, we’ve become Digital Nomads. We love travel and the simplicity of being nomadic. We don’t have a finish line yet but we’re pretty sure we’ll eventually center ourselves somewhere. It’s because we crave community. Right now, travel affords us the chance to see a greater number of our family and friends who are spread around the country (and world), but we are missing the opportunity to dig into a community, have consistent relationships, and make a bigger impact somewhere. I don’t know when we’ll reach the “tipping point” to let go of full-time travel and finally settle down- hopefully we’ll still be able to keep long-term travel in our lives in other ways- but I hear you.

    • Tsh

      Yes. In some ways, the blessing of travel has meant we know a broad stroke group of people, scattered worldwide and full of variance in all the best ways. It makes for great traveling experiences. But at the same time, you can’t really “gather” these people in to one living, breathing community anywhere else but Facebook (or online in general). And that’s where the rubber meets the road, isn’t it?

  15. Laura

    I think that community is what we all want deep down. I was in the military, and when I think of the best friends I ever had, I think of my military family. The article “Network vs. Community” makes me realize why all the old veterans love to head on down to the VWF. Maybe we all need to become champions of camraderie. I think we can all make it happen. I guess it just involves putting ourselves out there. As adults do we become shy about conjuring up community? Why aren’t we making it happen, especially if it’s something that I think a lot of us want?

  16. Alana

    I agree, it does matter. I’ve spent my life moving around, in some pretty beautiful, great places. And I thought that born a nomad (aka military brat), I would always be a nomad. But now that I am older with two kids, I”m really feeling the pull to put down roots. We start over every 2-3 years with my husband’s job – it seems to take about 2 years for a place to begin to feel like home. John Taylor Gatto in Dumbing Us Down talks about the network vs. community difference, and he makes the point the only way to have community is over time in the same place. To miss being part of community, he also says, is to not be fully human.

  17. Jamie

    I’ve realized this truth recently as we’ve just relocated to the US from an 8 year stint of living abroad in various locales and moving every year or more during that time. My 7 year old said to me just today that she wants us to buy a house and never move again. She’s had AWESOME experiences in our nomadic state and gained great perspective on life and how differently people live around the globe. But at her core she wants roots. She wants community. Frankly, so do I! Children make you realize how much you really need a Home Base. The older they get the harder it is to uproot and start over and yes, can cause relational difficulties.

    As we’ve settled back into life in the US though, I’ve discovered how hard it is to actually build community here. Overseas, it seemed you could get deep with other expats pretty quickly. Everyone needed those relationships – to connect with others from their home culture or a similar culture. We were family. Here in the US, it seems like we’re living on the surface. I’m praying that will pass and I will discover depth in relationship I’ve never known before!

  18. Deb

    In the Fall of 2011, my husband and I sold our house and all our stuff and decided to travel around the country with our kids. My husband works from home and we homeschool, so why not take advantage of our freedom? We traveled nonstop for 18 months, eventually settling down again. It wasn’t so much a sense of community we missed, as a home base for ourselves (and our stuff, truthfully). We bought a house last spring, and making roots and gaining a sense of community has made me feel very nervous for some reason. I love my friends and I’m glad we came here… but still. It makes me nervous. I don’t know why. We miss traveling desperately, and are hoping to have our cake and eat it too – but it’s nice to know we’ll have a home to come back to.

  19. Sarah

    This is something I’m really working through right now. I grew up far from extended family, and then my husband and I have moved 9 times in 13 years of marriage. I have never lived anywhere more than 5 years. And here I am, 34 years old, and I’m good at making acquaintances, but not sure I know how to make lifelong friends.

    What I’ve always (arrogantly) considered my independent, unattached, I-just-move-when-I-get-bored-somewhere lifestyle is starting to bring consequences now that I’m reaching midlife, and my husband and I are trying to figure out a lot of things about where we go from here (or rather, where we don’t go from here.)

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