Dominic Barton’s black overnight bag has travelled hundreds of thousands of miles. Inside a zippered pocket are odds and ends: Letters from his mother, family pictures, and other small presents. He finds it funny when, once in a while, the airport workers screening his luggage look at him with a strange face. And, when he has the chance of staying in the same hotel for a few nights, he takes those items out and places them on a shelf or bedside table. The objects Barton carries around are his way of feeling at home while away.
And Barton travels a lot: As global managing partner of McKinsey & Company, he was on the road 300 nights in 2017. Running a firm and being constantly on the move is a lifestyle that many young people desire. For some, it is a status symbol, and a way to merge work with adventure. The spread of the Internet and the decreasing cost of transportation have allowed many entrepreneurs and “creatives” to become digital nomads. But how does this change the meaning of home? Is it a sustainable way to live?
Flights are a means to an end
Headquarters in London, staff in Barcelona, wife in New York, family in Milan, and a company active in 113 countries: Brian Pallas, CEO of Opportunity Network, likes to say he lives on a plane. In the last year, he took over 300 flights. Roughly, that works out to six flights a week.
When he wakes up, the first thing Pallas asks is: “Am I on a plane or a bed?” For him, flying is amazing. His phone does not constantly ring while in the air. He rarely sees take-offs and landings, since he is usually asleep. He travels light, with only a backpack. He says it all comes down to loving what you do. “That way travelling is worthwhile because of what it achieves,” he says. Flights are a means to an end, and not the other way around.”
Not everybody thinks in such practical terms. Yumna Al-Arashi is an American artist based in London. She travels a lot, first to shoot her films and then to present them in festivals. She sees the possibility of moving around almost as an act of protest. Half Yemeni and half Egyptian, she is aware of the privileges her US passport gives her. Most of her family can’t leave the Middle East.
“The younger version of me would say ‘Oh my God! How cool, how exciting!’” Al-Arashi says. “But, you know, it kind of loses its magic after a while.” For her, moving around is not sustainable in the long-term. Not for her body, not for the environment, and not for her mental health.