I was a participant on Nomad Cruise 8 – a cruise consisting of mostly location-independent workers. We left from Gran Canaria island and docked in my homebase city Lisbon just last week. I’ve now the chance to decompress after this experience and wanted to distill my notes, takeaways, observations, critique and suggestions here for others who are considering doing the next one.
Rarely do conferences exceed my expectations but NC8 is one that did. To be fair you can’t really classify it as a conference though. It’s more accurately a unique hybrid of a business conference, Barcamp-style unconference platform and personal growth retreat all wrapped into a vacation at sea experience. I’ve been to maybe 40 total conferences in my day and this one ranks up there in the top 5 for sure. Let me tell you why.
Very simply Nomad Cruise is a place where I don’t feel crazy for having the lifestyle I do. I’ve been itinerant for the past three years having done Remote Year as the gateway drug then solo travel then ultimately securing residency in Lisbon. Non-nomads find what we do strange and often don’t understand this lifestyle of continuous global, working travel.
NC8 was like getting let into the tree fort where all the cool kids have been hanging out who understand you. It was a mix of probably 30% veterans and 70% first-timers. If you’re a nomad you may relate to phrases from friends like, “Do you ever work?” “So when are you gonna settle down?” “You’re so lucky – I could never do what you’re doing.” We appear like these strange, rare birds to people back home who lead more traditional, sedentary lifestyles and while it’s fun at first to explain yourself eventually it leaves you feeling largely detached from the mainstream society. I all but stopped posting FB posts because I felt like this practice was having an undesirable alienating effect with my friends. Whether this insecurity was real or imagined it ultimately had the effect of leading me to squelch my postings to avoid being “that guy who always posts travel pics nonstop.”
Fast forward to Nomad Cruise where everyone is literally in the same boat with very similar life trajectories, challenges, priorities, value systems, etc. This is home. I’ve known there are nomad epicenters like Chiang Mai and conferences like Nomad Summit where nomads congregate but the cruise experience was an intense & accelerated eye/heart-opening experience and exercise in bonding with other road warriors.
What made it unique
I’d say only 30% of the experience was actually business-focused, a refreshing change from the traditional conference. There was a workshop led by staff member Bori Vigh early on called “Deep Connections” in which we did a bunch of woo woo hippie kind of exercises that turned out to be an amazing experience. Inspired by ideas from Burning Man it was basically a workshop in vulnerability, breaking discomfort and opening up to others. I don’t typically gravitate to this type stuff but the exercises were powerful (tip: I interviewed Bori for Nomad Podcast and her episode will delve into each of these exercises in detail). By conference standards there were an inordinate number of people hugging each other on Day Two but these weren’t the false hugs of an obligatory, insincere gesture but rather the genuine, heart-felt hugs of people who were fast becoming friends.
The other thing that made the experience unique was that it was a forced digital detox for those of us who didn’t purchase the data package. The last time I unplugged completely was on our Machu Picchu hike back in March of 2017 and I was well overdue for this so I decidedly opted not to buy the data plan and unwire for the duration of the cruise. That of course made it harder to arrange meetings with others but it also led to more chance encounters, less cliques and more spontaneous conversations with strangers.
Steve Jobs deliberately designed Apple office environments to prompt what he called “casual collisions” that would cause people of different departments to come in contact randomly with one another by design. The floorpan of the boat is such that you’re always criss-crossing and running into people in hallways and stairwells. And stairwells, from past conference experiences, are where the best conversations happen. Steve would have been proud of this setup.
With 222 nomads on the boat it was an ideal size where you could still meet new people every day and never fully have met everyone by the end but not feel so completely overwhelmed like you do in a conference such as SXSW.
A weird thought I had: I have to wonder if there’s some unifying effect of people literally being on the same wavelength. We got used to the rocking of the boat on the ocean and there was one night on the dance floor where it looked like a choreographed musical with one side advancing and then retreating as the other side advanced purely out of self-interest trying to stay upright amidst the waves.
I know primates are evolved to adapt and bond in miraculous and subtle ways in tribal settings with things like having similar gut bacteria from eating the same foods, women getting on the same menstrual cycles when in proximity over time, etc. I wonder if some component of the bonding experience of the boat was that everyone’s brain was simultaneously habituating the movement of the boat and that this shared experience itself became a piece of common ground consciousness that accelerated our bonding. BTW we learned that “disembarkation syndrome” (ie land-sickness) is a real thing and far more disorienting than being on the rocking boat.
My key takeaways
First off here is my Evernote from the cruise that was a catchall for raw notes. I only attended maybe 1/2 the talks & workshops and some of them I didn’t take notes because they were remedial and just edifying ideas I already hold. I also participated in two of the special events, the talent show and the “Piraña Tank” pitch event. Here are my performances at both:
Video credit Helen Simkins
Video credit Andres Piñeiro
These two events were particularly powerful for me because they awakened two dormant passions of mine that have been shelved for awhile: performing my original music live and moving the Charity Makeover initiative forward. It also gave me some surface area to connect with others for whom these resonated. I’m a weird breed of intro/extrovert – I have no problem being on stage but I’m terrible at making small talk to open up a conversation initially. Kiting up your visibility by doing a special event is a great hack to compensate if you share this deficiency.
My takeaway for others from having participated in those two special events where you put yourself out there is that the cruise is what you make of it. It’s a platform much in the same way Remote Year was a platform for self-discovery and self-expression. Ask the question: “what would you do if you had one of the most supportive crowds imaginable and knew you could not fail as a performer?” Answer: bag a small win on stage and see what momentum that can create for you afterwards.
I was able to record a number of interviews for the Nomad Podcast on the boat and after with cruisers and will be resuming that effort over the next few weeks. This Nomad Prep / Nomad Podcast effort is my other side hustle outside of my full-time work for Pagely. Being surrounded by so many inspiring nomads reminded me why I invested so much time in creating the ecourse I did to help others transition to this lifestyle. Shameless plug: if you know others who are seeking to make the leap but haven’t yet, please have them signup for my Nomad Prep program (the site you’re on now) as it’s helped a number of folks make it happen. There’s a reason Remote Year now distributes it to their prospects: it is the perfect concoction of inspiration and education to help you make the leap. If you’re a nomad with a following I have the beta version of the affiliate program available now. Talk to me if you want to rep it to your followers as I’m working with a handful of people doing so now and it’s a way to help others make the leap while earning some side cash on each student. But I digress….
Critique and recommendations
Here is some unsolicited feedback for the folks running the cruise on how to make it even better.
1. Consider standardizing on a p2p mobile chat app like Firechat and encouraging participants to download ahead of time. That would yield the best of both worlds in terms of enabling the digital detox (not to mention saving €70 from not purchasing the data package) while still enabling a localized chat network. There may be a way to run something that uses the local connectivity of the boat’s wifi routers that doesn’t require buying the data plan but I think the p2p chat app would be the simplest, self-contained solution.
2. It would be useful to have a shared group calendar as a single source of truth for knowing what’s going on. There was a useful Google Sheet for the events on the boat each day and that made perfect sense when there were multiple tracks but for things like organic meetups and NC-sponsored events but I think a pair of shared Google Cals would make a ton of sense for events before and after the cruise itself. This is exactly what Remote Year does with all their groups (official read-only consumable cal and an unofficial read/write cal participants to which can add events). Please consider this. I only learned about the Facebook chat a few days after we docked so I was constantly amazed how people were coordinating on things but even with chat it’s a firehose of info that is perpetually washing away whatever important event info was recently posted. And while some of this winds it’s way into FB events in the group, a shared cal would be a huge step forward in terms of centralizing this stuff IMO.
3. Six days was not enough. I recognize that is just an inherent limitation of choosing a shorter cruise but I felt like 10 days should be the minimum length to be able to really dig in, get to know people and have enough surface area to expose enough of the brilliant experience that’s there in everyone’s respective heads. I suppose there will always be people with differing opinions on this subject and you can’t please everyone but I would look at making even the shortest cruises more than six days going forward.
Those are my main suggestions.
I cannot say enough good things about this experience. Highly encourage anyone who is considering it to apply for the next one. They truly walk the walk in terms of practicing their 7 operating principles. I believe they should be announcing the destinations & dates shortly and you can enter your email on their site to get notified once registration is open.
If you want to hear some of the amazing interviews I captured from the boat I invite you to subscribe to the Nomad Podcast via iTunes or your favorite podcasting platform (link in header). If you read this far thanks for reading my ramblings and hopefully some of this is useful. Check out the links in the Evernote for some gems of tools and resources that I discovered from fellow cruisers. David Vu’s eCourse workshop was worth the price of admission alone. Find professional photos from the cruise here as shot by amazing photographers Shelly, Stephan and Michelle. See you on the next one.
PS. Here’s an amazing video trailer that was shot on the last cruise (NC7) and gives a great feel for the vibe of the boat: