Do you long to leave the 9-5 cubicle world behind? Want to post pictures of yourself in exotic locales? Need a fresh start? Become a digital nomad.
Summer is almost over, sigh. Soon the languid days will be behind us and we will have untold months of cold, darkness, and obligations to look forward to. It’s enough to make anyone think about chucking it all for a less structured life, even fleetingly.
But the thought doesn’t have to be fleeting. Millions of people travel all year, chasing the sun, the snow (weirdos), and avoiding a life that feels like a grind. If any of this sounds good to you, listen up! We’re going to talk about life as a digital nomad.
However, this is not one of those articles that will tell you anyone can do this. Not all jobs can be done with nothing other than a laptop and solid Wifi connection. I’m talking to those among us who already have jobs that can be done with just those two things but have never considered going nomad.
What Is A Digital Nomad?
A digital nomad is someone who does have a job that can be done with just a laptop and Wifi and is of no fixed abode. They can work from pretty much anywhere. A lot of them post photos of themselves working on sandy beaches but that’s just showing off.
The beach is a terrible place to work, it’s hot, it’s sandy, people keep bringing you alcoholic libations in a hollowed out coconut. Not a recipe for productivity.
What Do They Do?
Lots of things. The famous ones all have glamour jobs like travel writer, travel credit card reward blogger, food critic. Most digital nomads have decidedly less glamorous jobs. A lot of them are consultants or freelancers of some variety. Many people who want a bit of travel and adventure teach English abroad, not technically digital, but still fits in with the lifestyle.
Even if you are in what seems to you to be a typical “brick and mortar” job, that doesn’t mean it has to be. Could you do what you currently do for your one employer for lots of different employers? If the answer is yes, you can become a consultant or freelancer.
You’ll have to hustle harder than you do in a conventional job and that’s not easy, but the trade offs might be worth it to you.
Where Will I Live?
Almost anywhere you want! Choose a country and check the travel requirements. Some places will require a Visa, some nothing more than a Passport. All countries will vary as far as how long you can stay at a time without any government paper work requirements but that shouldn’t matter to a true nomad. You can move on before that ever becomes a problem.
Where Will I Stay?
Lots of options for this too. Most nomads don’t make enough to stay in a hotel for weeks or months at a time and where is the fun in that anyway? Part of the appeal of being a nomad is to live like a temporary local. The locals don’t live in hotels.
My favorite solution is to stay in some kind of work exchange situation. There are services like Help Exchange or Work Away that connect you with local people who are looking for about twenty hours a week of work in a variety of situations.
You can cook and clean at a bed and breakfast in Tuscany or work on a lavender farm in Provence. In exchange for your twenty or so hours a week, you get free room and board! You also get an authentic experience, tour guides on the ground, and will meet new people, maybe make new friends.
These options are especially good if you’re just starting out so aren’t yet making a ton of money. You won’t really have any living expenses but will have time to work and grow your business.
You can also use a service like AirBnB if you choose a place with a low cost of living like Central America or Southeast Asia. You’ll have a whole house to yourself and probably for a lot less than you would pay to stay in a hotel.
Leaving everything and everyone behind is scary. What if you arrive in your destination and can’t seem to meet anyone? There are lots of digital nomad communities. Find A Nomad can help connect you with others in your chosen area.
You can always look for ex-pat communities too. You aren’t the first to start this journey. Lots of people have come before you and are there to help. These are good ways to not only make a few friends but also to make contacts that can help you find work.
The obvious ones are adventure and freedom. No more waking up to what seems like the same day in the same place over and over. If you don’t like a place, you can just do a little planning (finding a place to stay) and move on. You don’t have to pack more than your suitcase.
Working for more than one boss also gives a little more variety to your day. You will still have deadlines of course but the work won’t seem like it’s always the same. One day you might be consulting for a restaurant and the next day a bed and breakfast. Variety is the spice of life.
Cost of living would be another. If you choose a place with a low cost of living, half your paycheck won’t be going to rent. You can also reduce your tax burden to almost nothing if you know what you’re doing. We did an episode about that very thing.
And everyone you know will be jealous!
Being a nomad seems exotic and exciting, and it can be but there are down sides too. If you were a military kid, you remember how hard it was always having to make new friends. That will be true of this lifestyle too. Constantly moving doesn’t really do much to foster long term relationships. It’s easier now with things like Skype, but digital friendships are no substitute for a real world ones.
There is a lot of uncertainty to this way of life. Where to live, where to eat, where do they sell Windex in this country? You’re charting new territory every time you change location.
You will miss out on a lot of stuff back home. Birthdays, weddings, holidays, maybe even funerals if you have a bad month. You might live in Seattle while your family lives in Texas, but that is still a shorter and cheaper flight than flying back from Thailand. Of course, maybe everyone will be dying to come visit you in whatever far flung place you happen to be and you’ll see them more than when you lived in Seattle! But you can’t count on that.
Is It For You?
I wrote this partly to try and talk myself into doing it next year. Even if I just do it for a few months and hate it, I’ll know that I hate it. But at least I gave it a shot. And the same is true for you. Maybe we’ll love it and never come back! But we won’t know unless we try.
So if any of you have done or are doing this, let the rest of us still teetering on the fence what you think.
Featured Image Photo Credit: “boy at work” by Giorgio Montersino on Flickr