Image of the Refugio coffee shop in Berlin
Experiences,  Places

What does it feel like to be ‘homeless’ as a digital nomad?

Digital nomads work remotely and move to new places every few months. Digital nomads are reinventing the concept of ‘home’, without denying the need to feel at home.

One December day during my “digital nomad” year I was walking in Berlin in my thick coat. It was cold. The trees of the park I was crossing erected their naked brown branches to the grey sky. The atmosphere was calm, peaceful, but also slightly melancholic.

As my feet started becoming cold, I was happy to enter the warm room of the Refugio coffee shop in the Neu Köln area. I learned from the waitress that was volunteering at the place, that the house and coffee shop, are a social project in which 40 refugees live in shared flats together with people from Berlin.

I loved the concept and also realized that I was in a place offering a home to people that had to leave their homes. I was in a Refugio, a word that means shelter in Spanish. Being “welcomed in a shelter” fitted well with my present state of mind: I just had left Spain a few weeks before but had not yet arrived at a new “home”.

The morning I left Tarifa, the Spanish town I stayed for a month, I said good-bye to a friend and exclaimed: “With you, Tarifa feels like home.”. While sitting on the plane flying into the night of Germany I realized that I felt sad, as if I was leaving home.

Image of sky taken from plane showing pink clouds and transition between day and night

I felt like leaving home, but what is a home?

I just stayed in Tarifa, a popular digital nomads spot, for a few weeks, while sleeping in a simple room in a shared flat. I did not have any family members close by. If it was not the house, the infrastructure, nor the physical closeness with relatives that made me feel home, what was it?

A home was not only about the four walls of the room I slept, but it was related to the way I felt connected to the place I stayed in a broader sense. I felt home while walking along the beach accompanied by the continuous sound of the waves breaking on the shore. I felt home in the coffee shops I worked in and in the tiny tapas places of the old town where I met friends.

A home was not about sharing a house with family members by blood, but it was related to feeling connected with people I love. I met friends I knew from former visits in Tarifa and got to know new people in person. But I also talked with my boyfriend and mom by phone regularly, while staying in touch with good friends digitally.

Home is an inner feeling I carried with me

I felt home because I felt safe, as I had a place to rest, food, enough money and was in a secure social environment. But more importantly, I felt home as I was in a place in which I could be completely myself. I felt free, loved and accepted for who I am. I felt connected to myself, to people I loved and the natural environment. I felt nourished by these interactions.

When I started my yearlong “digital nomad” lifestyle experience I gave up my fixed address. I was kind of “homeless”. Nevertheless while living in South Africa, Switzerland, Germany and Spain I always felt at home. Every time I left I felt sad to say goodbye to people I loved and at the same time happy to know that now I had a new place, where I could go back to at any time and meet people I loved.

Sitting in Berlin while sipping a coffee at the Refugio, at the “shelter of people that left their homes” funnily fits well with my present inner state. I did leave a place where I felt at home, but I feel very welcomed in Berlin, though I don’t feel yet at home.

However, reminding myself of the numbers of places I felt at home in the past year makes my feeling of being in “transition” between homes less dramatic. I know that it is up to me to free my mind to feeling completely myself, to finding people to connect with and to cultivate actions driven by love.

Image of graffiti done on the wall of a building in Berlin showing an elefant holding a ballon with the shape of the world