The past decade has seen the rise – and rise – of the digital nomads, those who have turned their back on the conventional 9-5 and leverage technology to perform their work duties wherever and whenever they like. If moving somewhere sunny and sussing out a way of earning an income sounds appealing, then check out Kaye Holland’s tips on how to successfully live, work and play around the world…
Hands up if you’re reading this after yet another expensive and frustrating commute to the office, and wondering whether working in a cubicle for the rest of your life is it?
If the answer is yes and you’re sick to the teeth of being sat in a management meeting trying to look like you give two hoots, then perhaps it’s time to join the growing band of digital nomads making the world their office.
Digital nomads – for those of you who have been living under a rock for the last few years – refers to those you see buried behind MacBooks in cafes across the world, tapping frantically away while simultaneously Face-timing friends and family back home.
They’re writers, journalists, graphic designers, IT consultants, personal assistants, Amazon shop owners, online teachers, small business owners – basically anyone who, thanks to the rise of the digital office, can earn an income just as easily in Borneo as in Britain.
And if they can do it, why can’t you? That was the realisation that dawned on me circa New Year’s Day 2015 having experienced a wave of dread at the thought of starting yet another year, stuck in a sterile office slaving away for someone else.
The notion lodged itself firmly in my brain and refused to leave. Fast forward four weeks – a whirlwind of planning, packing, sorting injections and insurance (turns out most annual travel insurance policies are only valid for trips of up to 60 days, who knew?) – and I found myself boarding a plane to Buenos Aires, Argentina’s charismatic capital, with a certain amount of excitement mingled with fear and trepidation in my heart.
It turned out to be the best decision I’ve ever made. Since embracing the digital nomad lifestyle back in February 2015, I’ve lived and worked as a freelance writer in Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Colombia, America, Hungary, Hawaii, Lisbon and London. And, for the most part, I’ve loved every minute having managed to escape the daily grind, keep my career and, crucially, satisfy my insatiable wanderlust.
Of course – despite what my social media feed may suggest – there are downsides to living a life less ordinary.
Make no mistake: being a digital nomad can – cue the violins – be exhausting. Sleeping in strange homes doesn’t always equate with a good night’s sleep and, feeling super tired, when you have a pile of work to tackle is anything but glamorous.
What’s more Wi-Fi can be unreliable when you’re living in a volatile country like Argentina or on a commune in Hawaii and it’s hard, as a digital nomad, to put down deep roots as you’re never based permanently in one place. Rather those of us who live nomadic lives become accustomed to forging friendships – and then bidding painful goodbyes to new friends who have become family when it’s time to move on.
On the plus side, however, I now have a network of friends all over the world ready to welcome me into their homes, in the same way as I like to lay out the welcome mat for them in London.
It’s thanks to these friendships with kindred spirits – and modern technology which makes keeping in touch so much easier – that I rarely feel lonely when on the road.
Of course the digital nomad lifestyle isn’t for everyone but if you don’t give it a go, you’ll never know. Here’s a few tips to help get you started…
Create a schedule so as to ensure you hit deadlines and targets. It’s all too easy to underestimate the skills, determination and motivation needed to succeed as a digital nomad. Without a boss breathing down your neck, there’s a constant temptation to become sidetracked by sunshine and social invitations.
Back to basics
Back all your work up to iCloud or another device that you can access from anywhere – so that your work isn’t lost even if your electronics are. This is especially important if you’re working from a MacBook in a country like Argentina, where Apple stores are non-existent.
Be social media savvy
Is social media an important part of your career? Then be sure to schedule social media posts to appear professional and committed – even when you’re climbing that (literal and metaphorical) mountain.
Become part of the community
Find a sedate work space
It’s nigh on impossible to work in a place that is loud and chaotic – as I discovered to my peril when living on a lively commune in Hawaii – so you’ll want to source somewhere you can work that is quiet and relatively free from distraction.
Keep track of time zones
It isn’t exactly a walk in the park to work for clients and customers in the UK when you’re in a different time zone, but it isn’t impossible either. You’ll just have to be prepared to move your work day on occasions in order to be available when your clients/employers are. Case in point? When in Hawaii, I grew accustomed to spending my day surfing and sunbathing and starting work in the evening, when the UK was waking up.
Some digital nomads like to travel fast, but personally I would advise against doing do so. If you’re always on the move, you’ll feel permanently exhausted and won’t be able to work to a professional standard. What’s more if you’re lucky enough to be travelling the world, you need to be wide awake so as to see and experience all its wonders…
Build a capsule wardrobe
“Travel like Ghandi, with simple clothes, open eyes and an uncluttered mind.” So said Rick Steves – an American author and television personality, passionate about travel. Rick is right.
Pack light but smart – think shirts that don’t crease, in neutral colours, and a decent pair of shoes. A bulging backpack isn’t going to ‘make’ your trip. Quite the opposite: more stuff, simply equals more stress. And if you do find that you’re missing material possessions, you can probably pick them up for a snip of what you’d pay back home.
Wherever you’re staying – be it in an Airbnb abode or a hostel – ask for a room near the Wi-Fi router. This is where the internet – essential for digital nomads – will be strongest.
Don’t rough it too much
You’re not a grubby backpacker – you’re a working professional – and will want some creature comforts. Check out organisations like Roam – a company offering an international network of communal living spaces in locations ranging from Miami to Madrid – specifically for digital nomads.
Consider a digital nomad initiative
If you’re serious about using your skills to pursue a life that suits you but concerned about going solo, research projects such as Remote Year (www.remoteyear.com). These guys bring together 75 entrepreneurs, who then spend one year living, working and travelling in 12 different cities together. More than that, Remote Year takes care of everything from flights to accommodation meaning you’re free to focus on making memories. Other options include Surf Office (www.thesurfoffice.com) and Nomad Cruise (www.nomadcruise.com)
Keep in mind that the digital nomad lifestyle isn’t for everyone. For some it lasts for a few months at most, for others a lifetime. However, if travel and freedom are important to you, then I definitely recommend giving the digital nomad lifestyle a try. In the words of Mark Twain: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”