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How Being a Digital Nomad Destroyed my Feet

The hazards of being a digital nomad.

A traveler’s feet are everything, it’s their prime vehicle of locomotion. You can lose an arm, an ear, some fingers, a testicle and you may look like a monster, but it’s not really going to impact your ability to move form one place to another. But as soon as your lower extremities start failing you’re in for some rough times on the road. As with most things that go awry, I didn’t fully understand this when I needed to.

I have two shifts: A) I travel, visit places, interview people, take photos, make videos, climb mountains, ride a bicycle for hundreds of miles, go and check out the things I read news stories about, and B) I sit in front of a computer writing it all up and publishing. For a stint in winter of early 2010 I was stuck in B mode, nailed to my keyboard. I didn’t move for a week. I sat in an upright wooden chair in Maine, in the cold, and my feet sat idle in a thin pair of socks on a frozen hardwood floor.

My feet froze. My toes swelled up, sprouted big red welts which subsequently burst open kind of like the falling action of a blister. They were sore and stiff and numb, but easy to ignore while in a fury of work. I wasn’t going to whine about my poor little toes — or, apparently, take care of them.

When I left Maine for the Dominican Republic my foot problem cleared up, and I forgot about it. But the problem was to occur again three times over the following three years, always in winter climates, always when locked in a prolonged bout of computer work. There was a clear connection between whatever was happening to my feet, cold, and idleness, but I didn’t worry about it too much, as whenever I’d shift into travel gear or departed from the cold climate my toes would deflate and go back to normal. I thought the issue was simply blisters, and wrote some tips about assuaging them.

More on Vagabond Journey: How to Care for Your Feet When Traveling

Now my toes have ballooned up again. This time I figured I would find out what was causing it.

Chilblains; also known as pernio and perniosis is a medical condition that is often confused with frostbite and trench foot. Chilblains are a tissue injury that occurs when a predisposed individual is exposed to cold and humidity. The cold exposure damages capillary beds in the skin, which in turn can cause redness, itching, blisters, and inflammation. Chilblains can be prevented by keeping the feet and hands warm in cold weather. Chilblains can be idiopathic but may also be a manifestation of a serious medical condition that needs to be investigated.

chilblainsI looked at the images on the page. I looked down at my toes. It was a pretty exact match: chilblains.

What causes Chilblains?

The exact reason chilblains occur is unknown. They may be an abnormal reaction of your body to cold exposure followed by rewarming. Rewarming of cold skin can cause small blood vessels under the skin to expand more quickly than nearby larger blood vessels can handle, resulting in a “bottleneck” effect and the blood leaking into nearby tissues.

As with many problems this could have been easily avoided. Warm socks, slippers, stepping away from the work and taking care of myself . . . There are not many hazards inherent to the computer work phase of being a digital nomad, you just sit around in a room typing, but this, apparently, is a hazard in and of itself.

Yet another reason to keep moving.

More on Vagabond Journey: The Security of Perpetual Travel is the Ability to Leave

Filed under: Digital Nomad, Health, Travel Problems

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 90 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3548 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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Wade Shepard is currently in: Astoria, New York

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  • mc bob March 2, 2014, 8:35 pm

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    • VagabondJourney March 2, 2014, 9:41 pm

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