The digital nomad lifestyle fascinates me.
Of course I’m living it, and I’ve known and been around other travel bloggers who are too for years now, but just recently I’ve been learning more about all the different types of laptop travellers. People who’ve managed to achieve freedom from the 9-5 and are making the most of it all over the world.
– Just a little ‘sea break’ in between work
Basically, if you haven’t heard the phrase ‘digital nomad’ or you have and don’t quite get it, it just means you travel nomadically and work online, digitally, to pay for your flights, accommodation and pad Thai / pho / ceviche in whatever country you’re in. The ‘working online’ could mean working for your own business, for clients, for a boss you’ve managed to convince to let you work remotely or a mixture of the three.
Digital nomad hubs are popping up all over the world – Chang Mai in Thailand was one of the first, especially for travel bloggers, but other popular places include Medellin in Colombia, Ubud in Bali, Saigon in Vietnam, Berlin in Germany and, the place I visited most recently, Tarifa in Spain.
Digital nomads flock to these destinations for their high speed internet, decent infrastructure, cheap living and start up prices and possibly most importantly, ingrained digital nomad community. See that’s the biggest downside to this digital nomad life – long term friendships, your own established community and solid relationships, but more on that next week.
The Digital Nomad Community
From the Digital Nomad Exchange (DNX) conference I went to in Berlin in August to the week I spent in Tarifa last week I’ve met so many inspiring and awesome digital nomads. People who are so passionate about what they’re trying to achieve with their work they’re willing to leave their jobs, sacrifice their possessions and comforts and move to a cheap destination away from friends and family to help them afford to chase their dreams. I love a good tale of determination, meeting new nomads, hearing what they’re working on and their stories of how they got there.
– Photo courtesy of Alisa on the right, who’s working on a brilliant, top secret project, soon to be revealed
In Berlin and Tarifa I met software developers, bloggers, musicians, language experts, product developers and more – all with an entrepreneurial spirit and the balls to make some attempt to follow it through, rather than sit around talking about maybe, possibly, one day, giving their dream a go.
In Tarifa last week there was no one directly related to the travel blogging world, and that was part of the fun and the learning, and one of the whole points of going. I went to a three-hour mastermind class and within my group of five we shared ideas, concepts, learnings and knowledge and all of us came away with a lot of plans and ideas to action. So interesting, so useful and so generous of everyone to join in.
The digital nomad community I’ve been involved in is awesome. I love the sharing, I love the caring, I love the fact that even though we’d only met in the Tarifa Digital Nomads Facebook group before, suddenly we were all going out for tapas, cocktails and beers to learn from each other. On arrival I had 10+ new friends. I plan to go back to Tarifa in May next year, for our reunion.
Travel bloggers as digital nomads
– Photo courtesy of Or Kaplan, in Israel
From Tarifa I flew to see some friends a little closer to my travel blogging world. My buddy Cailin from FreeCandie.com – who I was in the Adirondacks with and at Oktoberfest for a day – had a villa in Mallorca and invited me over to join her, Candice from FreeCandie.com and Kate from AdventurousKate.com for a chilled week of work and sun.
So that’s where I am now. We’ve spent the past few days walking in Pollenca, eating all the tapas in the town, drinking all the wine, but, for most of the time, chilling in the villa and working on our projects. As I wrote about in The Detachment of Being a Travel Blogger sometimes when you’re the only one travelling and working in the hostel it can be a little isolating.
The more travel bloggers and digital nomads I befriend I know that I’m building up this awesome network of people around the world who have the same work / play life outlook as me, and the same means and ways to get them there. Just like in a regular office it’s so good to get together now and then just to work side by side and learn from each other and have some fun too.
‘Vicky No Job’
– Just casually working on my site, captured by Or Kaplan
As a digital nomad myself I know the scepticism. My best mates’ family call me ‘Vicky No Job’, in jest, kind of. They think I just fly around the world having fun and drinking with people I’ve only known a few days. And they’re right. What they don’t see is the hours of work that go into this site in between, and into client work, and my projects on the side and into making sure I’m laying the foundations to live this life forever.
I still work about 10-60 hours per week, depending on what I’m up to in the world. The difference is I can do it when I want.
If I don’t work, I don’t get paid. Turn the life view around and to me it looks like all those people on a salary who can rock up and get by looking busy making tea and faffing with the printer all day and still get paid are the ones who don’t work.
My digital nomad inspiration
– Cafe del Mar, where I worked from last week in Tarifa
I think I was meant to live this way, as a digital nomad, but I just didn’t know the term or the concept before. Reading The 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferris in 2012 changed my life. It was then that I realised this was ‘a thing’. I read that book nodding along with all he said about productivity, the unfairness of the 9-5 and how work should fit around life, not the other way round.
I’ve been made redundant twice, I’ve had to be a manager at a time when my staff were being made redundant – all 3 occasions when the company was not doing well through no fault of my own or my staff – I’ve freelanced at companies, I’ve worked 5 years on a till in Boots and I’ve worked some pretty shitty jobs. All this has instilled a work ethic in me that knows that to keep on living the awesome life I’ve made for myself now, I have to get on with it.
It’s instilled a complete distrust in employers who by hiring you have taken on the responsibility of paying you, only to cut you loose when they can with a short and final meeting and a complete lack of sympathy or respect for all the work you’ve done for them thrown in.
It’s also cemented my number one life goal of never going back to work for someone else on their terms. I’m my own boss until the end now.
Making it as a digital nomad
Living as a digital nomad isn’t a pass to lie ins, all day PJs and afternoon movies. If anyone thinks that they’re not going to last long.
The people who make it as digital nomads are the ones who are up and ready to work. The people who have worked their ass off to find and retain regular clients and who stay innovative in their field, and keep an eye on other people’s to see where they can insert themselves in the system, before doing the same again to work out how they can be indispensable. They need endless self-motivation to avoid all the temptations of a freer life – sunbathing at the beach all day, drinking at noon or sitting around chewing the fat – because no one’s going to tell you off if you do. Slowly and surely though, you will lose your ‘job’ and all the brilliant privileges it offers.
– The view in San Pedro, a trip financed by my travel writing work
Life as a digital nomad is awesome though and well worth all the effort to strive to achieve. Depending on your travel style there can be a lot of admin and logistics to sort out – having a second passport can be a good idea if you’re moving around a lot for example.
The freedom of the lifestyle being a digital nomad is just incredible though…
After the mastermind session I mentioned in Tarifa a group of us walked the hour back along the beach watching the kitesurfers as we went. We reached the other end and decided to siesta before heading back to the co working hostel we were at for an afternoon of inspiring work that we actually wanted to do. That night we headed out for a group dinner at a delicious vegetarian restaurant. For me, that was the perfect working day.
The people I met at DNX, the people I met in Tarifa and all my travel blogger mates will remain friends, thanks to the groups I’m in on Facebook and the nature of our work, I’d predict forever.
There are challenges of course – relationships, finances, moving around, family life, where to go next (!) – but with practice, compromise, Skype and an emphasis on learning about every part of your business there’s definitely a way to progress.
Life as a digital nomad
Digital nomads design their own lives. Most don’t care about possessions, houses, security, mortgages and materialistic consumerism. There are bigger things to think about. Many will travel to follow their passion – in Tarifa it was kitesurfing, in Bali it would most likely be yoga and in Saigon, I’m guessing it’s the food. They can locate themselves wherever suits them and their lifestyle best.
The digital nomad life isn’t for everyone. For some people it lasts a few years and for others it’s a lifetime. But if you have the motivation, the means, the savings, the ideas and the passion, I’d definitely recommend you give it a try.
I’m going to write more on the digital nomad lifestyle over the next few weeks – relationships, the future, where to go, what to do – make sure to sign up to my RSS feed or monthly newsletter to catch the posts!