The question I dread

Since we try to engage with the people and culture around us we often face the same questions.

We often get asked where we are from, this is an easy question to answer. But the funny part is they'll follow up with 'what state?' When we say Michigan they kinda look at us funny. Most visitors to the Philippines are from California it seems and Michigan is somewhere else, it's like me telling you I'm headed to Luzon Philippines you'd have no idea where that is.

But that's an easy question. It gets asked every time we meet someone new and is similar to asking the graduate at an open house, 'so what school are you going to?'

It's as if they don't know what to talk to us about so they ask the obvious questions. And for the most part it makes a ton of sense... We've yet to form really deep relationships with locals so conversations haven't gone past these initial 'hi who are you?' questions.

So I'm not upset that people ask us these questions, it makes sense to me. But there is one of these questions that I dread.

It's not the askers fault.

They're not trying to be a challenge. And in fact they're fully expecting a simple answer.

However the true answer is far from simple.

The thread tends to go like this:

Where are you from?
United States.
What state?
(Blank stare)
(After some time)
Where do you stay? (Aka where are you living right now?)
Villa Josefina near Matina Crossing.
Are all these kids yours?
Yes, all four of them. (I've dreamt of responding, no they just follow me around cause I'm white)
Oh, (awkward pause) how long are you here for?
Well we've been here almost 4 weeks and we fly out on Tuesday.
Oh back to the states?
Nope. On to Thailand.
(Mix of confused looks bordering on "did I hear you right" and "is that a state in the us?")

And then comes the question I dread.

I see it coming from kilometers away. It's inevitable. And I've been asked it a few dozen times but I still cannot figure out how to answer it.

Can you guess what their next question is?

The question I dread is "Oh, are you here on vacation?"


This has been a great vacation if it were a vacation, however this is life. This is travel as a lifestyle.

The tourism industry has ingrained in all humans that traveling is a vacation and you go somewhere, maybe even multiple places and then come home.

But we're not on vacation.

We're doing travel as a lifestyle.

And that's a difficult concept to explain to Americans who believe that you should buy a house and settle down. Ya know, the "American dream."

I knew when we started this travel as a lifestyle concept we'd have to explain it to our friends and family.

However, I didn't predict that I'd have to explain it to every local we meet within the first 3 minutes of our conversation.

Locals here are not extremely poor but in general they eat the money they made that day in food. There is a middle class and an upper class but we find ourselves talking with the lower middle class most often.

And the concept of travel as a lifestyle is more foreign to them than it is to Americans.

So how should I answer the crazy looks we get after saying we're not on a vacation?

Do they think we're independently rich and can just fly around wherever whenever?

They're not expecting us to be that way cause we're standing in line at a grocery store, we're taking a taxi, or we're walking through a middle class neighborhood. Frankly we don't wear linen suits and have town cars taking us everywhere.

So do we let them think that we're stupid rich?


But why the Philippines? Specifically why davao city and not Boracay or one of the other white sand beaches?

Are you here on business? Well yes kinda, I have no customers here or employees (anymore, unfortunately I has to let her go shortly before we got here).

And technically we're not here on a business visa so it's kinda strange to say we're here on business.

We end up saying that I have business contacts here in Davao City and I'm here to meet with them, Becky and the kids get to come with me.

So perhaps this is my third culture problem (as opposed to a first world problem) but it's just a frustrating part of the conversation that happens every time I leave the house here.

And typically it ends the conversation. They just don't know what to say next.

Some brave souls ask what I do for business. When I pick up that they're about to ask that the look on my face probably communicates: "oh please don't do this, you have no idea what you're getting yourself into.

But when they do ask I respond with a variation of: "digital marketing", or "marketing online", or "SEO for medium to large businesses" makes their eyes glaze over even more than they were before.

So I cannot explain why we're here, or what I do to make money.

Yet we don't own a yacht. (Therefore I'm not a drug dealer or doing something illegal)

I can only guess at what they're thinking because the conversation is over at that point.

I will have to face this for 9+ months. What happens if we move to a country semi permanently. How in the world are we going to explain that one?

Paul Kortman

Dad of 4, husband, blogger, digital marketer, follower of Jesus. I podcast at and own We're on this crazy journey to travel the world as a lifestyle. Looking for help in how to live as a digital nomad family? Join this Facebook Group!

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  1. Dan Andrews

    I feel ya on this, I’ve begun to calibrate answers to create something fun or interesting or relevant, but most importantly simple. So in the Fils you can say you are in IT or that you are there on a long vacation to see if it might be a nice play to live someday etc… This isn’t really any different from the types of shorthand we use for the other stuff… It’s also kind of a fun challenge to tell a story that makes sense to any audience

    • namtrok

      Thanks for the tip! I’ve reframed it in my mind as a conversion optimization test… what can I say that will keep the conversation going… telling the part of the story that would be easy to digest/make sense. — See what kind of conversion rates I’ll get ;)

  2. Nathan Bills

    After listening to travel podcasts and reading travel blogs for several years before hitting Thailand with my family I have been a little suprised to find that we are actually not all that late to the game. I was expecting this place to be crawling with digital nomad families. I am plesantly surprised that they are not all that common. Glad to see another out there. As for what you do for a living. . . Keep them guessing. My daughter has a freind with a Columbian father, she has 3 sisters, they are all very pretty. I asked the father how he handles 4 beautiful daughters. His response. . . “Nathan, I am a Columbian butcher, I don’t have any problems with the boys.”

    • namtrok

      Awesome Nathan! — I’m in Chiang Mai now, would love to connect up (haven’t met any other families doing this yet!)

      *changes job title to Logger* ;)


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