Documentary feature explores digital nomad freedom
Updated: Feb 2
Digital nomads love to talk about freedom. Particularly the freedom to travel and work whether they like in the world. A new documentary exploring digital nomad freedom directed by award winning film director Lena Leonhardt has been released worldwide. Her film Roamers - Follow Your Likes tells four astonishing stories of nomads combining travel, work and chronicling their adventures on social media.
The film’s main character is Nuseir Yassin – or Nas Daily as he is known to his followers, because he made a one-minute film everyday for 1,000 days while traveling. At the start of the movie he is seen on a stage, urging his audience not to waste their lives: “I worked as a software engineer for PayPal but I hated my job and I hated my life.”,Yassin wears a T-shirt with an infographic showing his life as 33% used-up. “I had this revelation,” he explains. “I am one-third dead with my life.” The rest of the film documents how he and other nomads turned their ordinary lives into something “fricking fantastic”.
Nuseir Yassin, the main character in the film Roamers. Photograph: Lena Leonhardt, The Royal Film Company
Freedom for everyone?
Yet the digital nomad lifestyle is much harder if you don’t travel with a “strong” passport that allows visa-free travel. If you are an African woman, for example, nomadic travel can be difficult and hostile.
Agnes Nyamwange, who also features in the film, has a Kenyan passport. Before the pandemic, she was based in the US and “nomaded” in South America from there. Nyamwange explained that holding a Kenyan passport made visas more expensive, as visa-free travel is much less available to holders of many African passports.
Since the pandemic, travelling to the US or Europe has become almost impossible for her. “I wanted to go to Europe when they opened up, but the embassies here said it was closed for Africans. Recently I just had the US Embassy telling me they don’t have any appointments available until 2024.”
In the film, Nyamwange memorably proclaims: “We are a generation of people who believe in superheroes.” She talks about the healing power of travel. But when I caught up with her earlier this year, she revealed the underbelly of nomadism to me:
It’s a cultish type thing. It’s not sustainable. It’s good to travel from place to place to place to place, but you kind of have to have a sustainable lifestyle for it to be healthy … 15% of it was real, the other 85% is complete junk.
Nyamwange added that it is all about “selling the dream”: Once you get into the digital nomad lifestyle, you start understanding Instagram, Snapchat and all these social media systems very well. But most people who portray and tell those stories don’t really live the lives that they’re selling.
Agnes Nyamwange: ‘85% of this lifestyle is complete junk.’ Photograph: Lena Leonhardt, The Royal Film Company
Despite all the barriers, Nyamwange is still drawn to what she sees as the therapeutic aspects of work and travel. For now though, she travels locally in Africa, because traveling further “is such a headache”.
I worked with Lena Leonhardt to help her develop the ideas in the film, and we recently discussed where digital nomadism may be going. Leonhardt thinks the digital nomad lifestyle may have spiritual or religious qualities: “Many people feel ‘I only have this life and a very short time, so I have to make sure this life is worth something’.”
Yet for many digital nomadism offers a hard road, but it is a spiritual path many still refuse to give up on. Yet for the moment at least, this type of freedom is a privilege which largely depends on your place of birth, long-term place of residence, and economic circumstances. Or put another way, your given nationality.