Internet is everywhere, so why should work be confined to an office? A growing number of professionals are escaping their cubicles and becoming “digital nomads” — traveling the world while earning income.
- Tom and Jenny started a company developing apps for kids with autism, working everywhere from New Orleans, Louisiana to Phong-Nha, Vietnam.
- Mel and Armando travel Europe in a Westfalia van named “Mork” while freelancing.
- My husband and I started freelancing our way through the Americas last year, doing conference calls over Skype in the jungle of Costa Rica.
Want to live the dream, too?
Being a digital nomad is a lot of fun, but can be harder than your current lifestyle. The office worker’s routine is instinctual in our culture: commutes, cubicles, conference calls, coffee, comp time. To break that mold and become a digital nomad, you have to be creative, flexible, and tenacious.
If you’re thinking of taking the leap, here’s what current income-earning globetrotters have to say about making it work.
1. Consider self-employment if your current job isn’t location-independent.
Most knowledge-based work can take place online, from graphic design and business consulting to telehealth and online education. While some employers hire location-independent workers, many digital nomads are self-employed or freelancers. The flexible schedule helps when traveling.
“If we have a deadline, we might be in a beautiful place, but we’ll work 11 hours to deliver. Some days we just don’t feel like working — and we don’t have to.”
Look at your skills and research your options. Armando is a freelance videographer and video editor, and Mel is a freelance writer and social media manager. “Our clients are worldwide, from Mauritius to Oslo to New York,” says Mel. When you’re location-independent, your clients can be too — opening even more doors.
2. Practice hunting for Wi-Fi and workspace.
You’ll need Internet to work while traveling. Armando and Mel travel by van, so their portable Wi-Fi hotspot keeps them online while solar panels charge their devices. Tom and Jenny rent places on Airbnb or serve as house-sitters so they have a private space to work.
Fortunately, there are lots of options: coffee shops, public libraries, Internet cafes, smartphones, public hotspots, co-working spaces, city parks, and guest internet at your accommodations. Reliability can be an issue — we’ve all kicked ourselves when the Wi-Fi is down and we’ve already paid for our coffee — so it’s good to have a backup, like tethering your laptop to your smartphone.
If you’re not clocking in somewhere, you must be (f)unemployed, they think. It’s up to you to handle those misconceptions.
3. Find your own work-life-travel balance.
Balancing work and life is challenging; now, add travel to the mix. Give yourself time to adjust to your new life, and don’t be discouraged if things feel a little chaotic in the beginning. It takes practice to prioritize your work tasks and give yourself permission to get off the grid for, say, a hike in the mountains.
Some days you’ll work, some days you’ll sightsee, some days you’ll do both. As Mel explains: “If we have a deadline, we might be in a beautiful place, but we’ll work 11 hours to deliver. Some days we just don’t feel like working — and we don’t have to.” Eventually, you’ll find the balance that works for you.
4. Travel slowly.
Slow travel — spending more time in fewer places — helps with work-life-travel balance tremendously. It will also help you save money while traveling full time.“We try to stay places longer so we can see things on our own schedule and have work days as well,” says Jenny. “We also prefer just living in a place and getting the feel for it instead of rushing around doing a lot of sightseeing.”
Remember, you’re living — not vacationing, trying to cover as much ground as possible in one week. Give yourself the opportunity to live like a local and you’ll have a richer experience.
If you’re nervous, that’s normal — just don’t let it stop you.
5. Prepare for misconceptions about your life.
“Everyone you meet, and even people you know well, assumes you are on a perma-vacation,” says Jenny. A lot of people still have traditional ideas about work. If you’re not clocking in somewhere, you must be (f)unemployed, they think. It’s up to you to handle those misconceptions gently but firmly, especially if they come from potential clients. Talk about your travels and your work projects with friends and family; prepare to be extra-responsive if a client is worried about your availability.
On the other hand, some might think you’re a workaholic who can’t stop checking email on vacation. “We were staying at a small hotel and every time we tried to work in the dining area, the owner would good-naturedly nag us to put away the computers and go enjoy the town,” Jenny recalls. Be patient and polite, and remember they’re just trying to help!
6. Embrace the uncertain, and remember things always work out for the best.
If you’re considering the digital nomad lifestyle, you probably have a higher tolerance for risk than the average person. Still, making a life change of this magnitude can be scary. If you’re nervous, that’s normal — just don’t let it stop you. “Be willing to take a chance,” Mel encourages. “Security is boring. The world is at your fingertips, especially with the technology we have today.”
Experiencing new places and the rush of getting outside your comfort zone will make you a stronger, more fulfilled person. Remember, you can always come back and find a job if you have to, but you’ll probably be hooked on the new life you’ve built for yourself.
“Stop thinking about it and do it!” Jenny says. “Trust that things will work out. They always do one way or another.”
Do you have questions about what it’s like to be a digital nomad? Let me know in the comments and I’m happy to help!
Tamara Murray (@tamaramurray) is a social-change communications consultant, full-time traveler, and author of Awesome Supervisory Skills: Seven Lessons for Young, First-Time Managers. She and her husband are traveling across North America in a minivan-turned-camper while freelancing. She blogs about career breaks, lifestyle design, and awesome people.
Originally published on LinkedIn.
Published in Startups, Wanderlust, and Life Hacking