Beyond Backpacker: Digital Nomad in Zagreb

(from the journal, September 4th) Backpackers are strewn across the smooth cement of Zagreb’s train station. In between hostels, they consult thick Eastern Europe guide books, munch on chips, jot down memories in tiny journals, smoke cigarettes.

They haul their giant packs from hostel to hostel, paying twelve bucks a night for a bunk, two dollars for a giant slice of pizza, and timing it right for cheap drinks at Happy Hour.

It is a ritual of youth, a summer on the continent after the cloistered confines of school and before the effort to enter the workforce.

A handful of photos from Zagreb, Croatia’s capital city. Yes, that’s a really cool Tolkien café with coffee and a full bar. We went back twice.

Backpackers hold those memories, instilled with the joy and pull and tug of travel. And then life happens, right? Jobs, family, kids, mortgage. Twenty or forty years, or a lifetime, passes, without traveling beyond the family vacation to Mexico or Hawaii or the cruise to Alaska, as may be the case for Americans.

Maybe I’m oversimplifying. Or stereotyping. But I don’t feel like I missed out by not backpacking after graduation. Traveling as a digital nomad is a wonderful thing. We eat fresh fish and vegetables, we drink a carafe of wine, we stay in places with a clean bathroom, a kitchen, a view, a queen bed and not eight bunks.

My concerns are different, I suppose. I need wifi. I have scheduled conference calls at dinnertime. I have deliverables, of all things. I have to explain to potential clients that I am working full-time in Croatia or Serbia or Turkey. That raises an eyebrow or two, I’m sure.

It’s a fair trade. And maybe some of those backpackers will themselves turn out to be digital nomads. It’s a good gig if you can get it, and boy, am I still filled with gratitude.

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