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The Secret Lives of 7 Digital Nomads

Imagine a lifestyle that allowed you to travel endlessly around your favourite parts of the world. A lifestyle that filled your pockets with notes and coins, while spoiling you with the riches of the freedom to roam.

Imagine a lifestyle that shunned a daily commute, and that gave you ultimate control over how much you earned that week, or next. Hammocks and balconies replace your desk and chair; workmates become your inspiration, and that aching yearn for a much-needed-break, is quenched in an instant.

Is the lifestyle of a 'digital nomad' for you?

Behold, the lifestyle of ‘digital nomads’; a new wave of entrepreneurs and freelancers who have begun booting up along back-streets and boulevards right around the world.

Their global mantra is “just do it”. I should know, I used to drift with them on the thin thread of a freelancer’s salary. I’ve dropped my backpack in dozens of towns and cities around the world, to stop a while and fulfil writing contracts, and all the paper trails that buzz around them.

Before you pick up your passport and laptop, be warned, the lifestyle of the digital nomad certainly doesn’t suit everyone. Your salary is often at the mercy of an internet connection, and while I made some great business connections (which continue to serve me well) on the road, there’s a stark reality that nothing is ever guaranteed, which can bring you back to earth with a bump.

However the spoils are there, and if, like me, you find yourself at a crossroads in life where you have nothing to lose — and skills that can be transferred to a nomadic way of life — then why not? Throw yourself at the mercy of the planet and its ethernet cables.

To give you some more insight into the life and times of modern day digital nomads, I recently got talking with seven British travellers, to tackle them about their personal experience of eking out a living from their chosen hills and hollows.

If you’re looking for a few clues about how you can make this lifestyle your own, you’ve come to the right place.


How to be a Digital Nomad

You’re about to get a light-hearted run-through of the ways these seven people have approached transferring their lifestyles onto the road.

If you have any questions after reading today’s post, throw them in the comments below. I’m sure these experts can help clear up any questions you have, about following in their footsteps.

Victoria & Steve, currently in Ecuador

Before leaving London, I (Victoria) worked full-time as a writer, and Steve was setting up a film company and freelance editing.

We’ve now taken those careers on the road. Steve’s working on the company’s first feature-length documentary, and I’m freelance writing and setting up a Vegetarian Travel Guide. We both write about our travels and lives as digital nomads on our blog, Bridges and Balloons.

Victoria and Steve of Bridges and Balloons

We chose this lifestyle because we felt claustrophobic in our lives in London. We’re not suited to an office lifestyle and have huge amounts of wanderlust.

One of the misconceptions about our life is that we’re on a permanent vacation, when in reality we work longer hours than we ever did in London. The up-shot of this is that, during our time off, we get to explore incredible parts of the world.

We wouldn’t change this lifestyle for anything, but I don’t think it’s for everyone. The income is uncertain, the hours are long, and it lacks security. But it’s also liberating and enormous fun. Just don’t do it thinking it’s a route to an endless holiday!

Chris, currently in Thailand

I run www.BackpackerBanter.com — a travel blog documenting my RTW trip, as well as reviewing trips/accommodation, and passing on advice I pick up along the way. I also freelance as a photographer and writer for a few print and online magazines.

Chris of Backpacker Banter

I’m currently kicking back in the Thai islands on Phi Phi (possibly the most beautiful place I’ve visited so far) but this trip has taken me to Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands, Peru, Laos, Thailand and Bali so far.

I’m going onwards to Australia, NZ and Fiji… no idea where after that! I’ve also travelled parts of Europe, Morocco and the USA, and of course my year long working holiday visa in Australia.

I was always planning to hit the road ASAP after my return from Australia, luckily I scored an epic job at STA Travel, made some good money and, more importantly, gained loads of info on places I wanted to travel to, while making some great contacts in the travel industry. But I got offered my dream job surf coaching in South America, which I couldn’t turn down.

Blog wise, the whole thing started as a personal diary and I saw the opportunity for it to fund my life on the road. It hasn’t been an easy process, and it’s hard work, but definitely worth the effort in the end.

Becki, currently in China

I’m Becki from www.backpackerbecki.com. I left my home town of London in July to travel the world indefinitely.

In short, I want to make a full-time living from my main passion in life – travel. My website is about solo female travel, but ultimately about seeking out the interesting, quirky and off-the-beaten-track adventures and also where I can travel differently and with purpose, so volunteering is a huge part of my travels.

Becki of Backpacker Becki

My blog is only 7 months young and essentially I’m constantly working, except that it’s work that I absolutely love.

Combining travel with a passion for writing is what I love the most, although the ‘work’ side of things is actually the networking and trying to build an income source more than the writing itself.

My main aim is to build solid relationships with travel companies and tourism boards, to work with them on promoting specific regions, excursions and new developments. Of course, these have to fit with the backpacking theme and ethical standards on my blog – I’m not keen on being a blogger who takes just anything and everything. Editorial integrity for my readers always remains a priority.

Other than that I work with advertisers who want to link or place something of value on my site. Again, this has to be a good fit — for example, I won’t place articles about places I have never been to.

Building my Facebook fan page and Twitter is key, ensuring I have regular content and updates for my readers. In between blog posts I upload images and throughout my travels Instagram is my next best friend after my SLR camera. The only downside for me is countries with limited internet access. I started my round the world adventures in Mongolia, where I had no internet access.

In between my time in China, where I am currently living with restricted and very slow internet, I was in North Korea for a week. My phone was confiscated and the internet doesn’t exist. For a blogger, internet is like oxygen. Without it you are nothing. But overall, when you can tell others about something amazing, and inspire people to fulfil their travel dreams, those little frustrations are totally worth it.

Erin & Simon, currently in Italy

We spent 2008 travelling around the world and experienced more in a year than we had in the previous ten. On our return to the UK, we found it very difficult to adjust — having experienced the vastness of the world and all of the opportunity out there, we struggled to fit back into the routine that we’d left behind. So we decided to sell everything we owned, and in March 2010 we left the UK to travel forever.

Erin and Simon of Never Ending Voyage

We had savings to keep us going while we built up an income from Simon’s web design business, and our travel website neverendingvoyage.com. Two and a half years later we are addicted to the freedom that this lifestyle gives us — we can work when we want, anywhere we want.

One of the biggest problems of life as a digital nomad is balancing work and travel. We’ve found the best way is to travel slowly — we love to rent an apartment in a city for a month or two, which allows us to have time for work and exploring. Some of our favourite places to do this so far are Chiang Mai, Buenos Aires, Lisbon and the Thai island, Koh Lanta.

Victoria, currently in Portugal

I’m Victoria, a British girl travelling solo around the world. In 2008 I graduated with a degree in Broadcast Journalism and wasn’t sure what to do next.

Victoria of Pommie Travels

I saved up some money to go travelling, but on returning home I knew I just couldn’t do the 9 to 5. I decided to move to Bali and figure out a way to make an income online, which is when I set up my travel blog Pommie Travels. Everything just grew from there.

I’m now a full time travel blogger and I make most of my income from my travel websites through advertising. I also do some freelance writing for online publications, and I handle the media and PR for individual clients.

I love the fact that I’m my own boss and I have the freedom to travel. My advice for any would-be digital nomads is to promote yourself as much as you can; be consistent and you will see the rewards. My next goal is to visit South America — I feel like there is less written about this part of the world. The hardest part about being a digital nomad is the reliance on technology — even in this day and age, finding Wi-Fi can be a pain!

How’s that for food-for-thought? Remember, all of the digital nomads had one thing in common; they took charge, and just did it. Is this a lifestyle you could see yourself enjoying? Or perhaps you prefer your current approach? Let us know below!
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Showing 58 Comments

  1. Chandni Jorge

    I would love this! how do I go about doing this? Just finished uni and looking to travel the world.

    1884 days ago
  2. Lara Dakers

    This is really inspiring. I want to marry my love if travel, photography and film so seeing that it is possible to make a living and through this see the world. I’m on it! This is getting planned an researched RIGHT NOW!

    1884 days ago
    • Good for you, Lara. Be sure to let us know how it goes; if you have any advice from your research, I’m sure others would love to hear it, too.

      1883 days ago
      • Photography and Film are some great skills to have if you want to become a digital nomad – so you’re on a promising path!

        Best bet is probably to talk to other people who have done the same thing and have experience (drop me an email if you like, I’d be more than happy to help where I can!) and get round to setting up a blog as soon as you can.

        You’ll want to start creating content and blogging as soon as you can – even if you don’t plan to graduate for a year or so. It’s best to start establishing your blog and yourself as soon as possible!

        I would research a little bit – but basically just get going and get started. You’ll learn way faster that way and your writing is at least getting published. Even if no one is reading it at first! :)

        Good luck!

        1528 days ago
  3. Abbi Rose King

    I’m dying to do this once I’ve finished my Archaeology degree, but I have no idea how to get my foot in the door, any advice?? It’s my dream, I have such a passion for travelling and culture, and music and archaeology… I’m sure I could combine it all!

    1884 days ago
    • If you have passion, anything is possible Abbi. Search around for people who share similar interests, and are travelling the world, and simply ask them. You’ll find people very receptive to sharing their experiences with you. Twitter is a great platform for engaging with people.

      1883 days ago
  4. Rabbi

    It seems a wonderful life to me since I love travelling and photography…I was always wondering if they would pay me for wandering around the globe…it’s kind a dream job for me…can anybody tell me please where can I start from?….

    1884 days ago
    • Paul

      The bus stop

      1883 days ago
    • Get yourself a free wordpress website, build it, and start networking and promoting yourself through social media forums. Facebook and Twitter will allow you not only to share your work but learn and interact with others. It’s a great start, but always bear in mind that it takes time to build your profile. Good luck! :)

      1881 days ago
  5. Chris Ord

    This is the most depressing blog post in history.

    1884 days ago
    • Look on the bright side, Chris! You could achieve this, too.

      1883 days ago
  6. We’ve just started building a life as digital nomads in Thailand and like most of the guys say above. Its no easy ride. But the benefits outway the troubles by a longshot and we hope to be living this way for a very long time! Shame we missed out on being featured on this post though. Maybe next time.

    1883 days ago
  7. I agree with Ant guys….if you’re willing to put the work in and share your stories with the world you can make it happen too!
    It takes a while to get setup but it’s well worth it in the end!

    I’d recommend getting started on a free wordpress site and going from there – good luck!

    1883 days ago
  8. mjs

    I’m really interested in finding out how a personal diary can fund my love of travelling. Becki mentioned a few ways (thank you!) But I am still having trouble finding a ‘DEFINITIVE AND TRUSTWORTHY’ guide LOL. Could any of you point me to any good guides to increasing blog and website revenues and traffic THAT YOU HAVE USED OR WRITTEN please? BTW, Well done for proving that its possible! Thank you

    1882 days ago
  9. As Chris mentioned above, it certainly takes some time (a LOT of time) – I’m still learning! As for a definitive guide and a right answer, there isn’t really one. We all learn from each other and are part of a very supportive community – any question is answered and each blogger has a speciality or skill to exchange. For example, I’m a former PR so offer advice on that front and seek information on web design, wordpress issues etc from others. I think one of the ley points is having a unique selling point or a new or unique story. It’s a very saturated market and finding a way to stand out is one of the biggest challenges. Also, you won’t make money straight away which is a mistake most people make when they first set up… it’s all slog, hard work, blood, sweat and tears… and then it rolls from there :)

    1881 days ago
  10. I hope that this will be me one day pretty soon!! I’m saving up for next year’s RTW trip, and my blog is already enjoying moderate success! Thanks for this post – it’s certainly inspired me :)

    1880 days ago
  11. Love to be featured in a follow up article ;) 3 years and counting on the road from little ol’ New Zealand!

    1880 days ago
    • Nice one, Cole — one question: are you a Brit?

      1870 days ago
  12. I’m pleased so many of you found our stories inspiring. I think the key thing is to know that being a digital nomad is very different to simply travelling. You’ll often be that person in the hostel who’s tied to their laptop while others go out to explore. Of course, there’s time for that too, but you do have to work a lot. I’m definitely not trying to put anyone off – I love this life. I just see a lot of people who think they can simply write a few blog posts every now and then, and the money will magically come. Sadly, it’s not so and success takes a lot of time to build. Like any job, it’s something you have to work hard at. It also lacks security, which is something lots of people find difficult. However, in my opinion the benefits are definitely worth it. Feel free to get in touch if you have any questions. Also, Never Ending Voyage have lots of good posts on digital nomad living. They were one of the first blogs that inspired me and Steve. Good luck with all your endeavours and happy travels!

    1876 days ago
  13. I agree with Victoria. I’ve had comments from people in hostels like “we were going to ask you to join but we saw you were really busy on your computer”. It’s finding the right balance but realising that you are ALWAYS working, whether that’s thinking of a good story when you visit certain sites and destinations, or finding the time to not only write your posts but share, guest post, network and build your business. I think being on the road helps you to work out if this balance of travel vs work is for you. But it can happen if you want it to :)

    1867 days ago
  14. Alex Mendoza

    I’m a 16 year old, junior in high school, and just like everyone else in my grade, i’m thinking about what i really want to do. I want to travel. i did some research and come across digital nomad, which so far, is sounding like a dream job. As a 16 year old, is there anything i could do now to start? what are the very first steps, and i mean, VERY first steps. any requirements? It would help a bunch, thanks

    1866 days ago
    • Being a Digital Nomad isn’t a job, Alex, it’s a lifestyle. You should still consider what job you would like to do, while being a digital nomad.

      For example, if you’d like to be a nomadic graphic designer, you should start learning about that. If you think you might like to be a nomadic travel writer, you should start exploring the skills and contacts needed to accomplish that.

      What do others’ think?

      1863 days ago
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  16. Liz

    I found Becki’s section particularly interesting as she gives some good tips and clearly points out that this sort of life style means you still have to work hard. There are so many people selling courses and books about how to achieve the ‘dream’ with slogans of ‘earn more and work less’, but in reality most things takes hard work to set up.

    1674 days ago
  17. Abbi

    All of these stories are very inspiring to read and I hope some day I have a chance to travel and collect memories on the way as you do. However, I’m an a-level student at college and I wish to travel the world as my future…. travelling has always been my dream.
    I would probably go down the freelance photography route to earn a living when I travel after uni, although I am a bit confused on how I would make a living if I was interested in photography?
    My life goal is to have a vw camper van and just admire the world as I travel the road, therefore, I am in desperate need of advice and guidance in how photography can make me a living when I’m constantly on the road?
    Thank you.

    1659 days ago
    • Hi Abbi,

      I made money whilst traveling by reviewing hotels and attractions and taking high quality images of my experiences. It was the high quality images that were the selling point for these brands – so it is a promising way of making money whilst being a digital nomad – if you have the talent to back it up.

      Wedding photography is another great option if you plan on living places for more than a couple of months at a time. Go and give a hotel your details, and if they host weddings and recommend you as a photographer – offer to give them commission.

      I would start off by setting up a website or blog for your photography and somewhere you can showcase your work, then start networking and social interacting with other people and brands who are related to what you do, or in the locations you hope to live.

      Most important thing is to showcase your work and network though :)

      Drop me an email if you want anymore help! Contact details are on my website :) xx

      1528 days ago
  18. LauraLou

    This is my absolute dream lifestyle. I’ve just finished my degree in English, Creative Writing and Media Studies, I’m about to spend the next 3 months working and travelling in America and come February I will have (hopefully)obtained all my journalism qualifications. I would love to put my passions for travel and writing together like this! Do you think I would be able to get my foot in the door somehow??

    1641 days ago
    • Hi LauraLou,

      So the first thing I would do if I were you, is set up a blog. WordPress is great and free. When you’ve done that – I would blog every second of your trip to America. Fill your blog with great content, get networking with others in the travel blogging-sphere and work on growing your brand.

      You’ll need to have lots of great content already published on your own blog before you can start writing for other travel and lifestyle websites.

      You’ll want to really encourage other people’s efforts as well as your own, and you’ll find that people are always happy to help and give advice in the online industry.

      Look out for meet-ups too in the UK (and whilst you’re in the US) where travel communities get together and network. This is a great way of getting to know other bloggers and learning lots too.

      Good luck!

      Ellie xx

      1528 days ago
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  20. My Girlfriend and I met traveling over 3 years ago and had been trying to figure out how to make a life of living on the road. Over a year ago she created a website which was not primarily meant to make money but was something she was passionate about and could draw on over 5 years of travel experience. Her hard work and determination is paying off and she can live the life of a digital nomad, however be warned its not all white sand and blue seas. In order to remain successful she has to put in ALOT more hours per week than you may think. Destinations can be dictated by how strong the wifi signal is, or we have to stay an extra day in order to get that $300 reply email. At times it does take away from the ‘travel’ experience. Does she mind the long hours writing and upkeep of a travel blog? Not if it means she gets to dive with mantas one day and see komodo dragons the next, plus I’m proud that she is doing it not just to make money, but to help fellow travelers (and believe me its not just girls that ask for her advice)

    1528 days ago
  21. Lynny

    How do any of these people fund these expeditions? I’ve been working as a qualified Architect for almost 10 years and still don’t earn enough to go on holiday, let alone travel indefinately. Correct me if I am wrong but these people seem to start off on a very well funded footing and backup plan to allow them to eat!?!

    1528 days ago
    • Hi Lynny,

      There is no magic to this or any mystery – just hard work. I travelled and worked my way around the world for a year with my boyfriend, and the secret to our continued expeditions and adventures was simply making sure we scheduled time to work as well as play.

      We would make sure we made time to do our freelance work along the way, and that sometimes meant staying by the laptops all day – rather than getting out and exploring. But that’s what you have to do :) and the hard work is worth it.

      We saved for 6 months prior to leaving (when we were working as professionals in London) but that’s the only savings we had, everything else was topped up by us as we went by working and freelancing.

      Holidays and travelling as a digital nomad are two very different things, as I’m sure anyone in this article would tell you. When travelling long term, you spend much longer in destinations, you tend to stop in apartments and hostels rather than hotels (so it’s cheaper) and you don’t tend to eat out every night like you would if on holiday.

      Hope this helps you understand the lifestyle more :) And how people can afford to do it! :) xx

      1528 days ago
      • For the past four years, I’ve been a non-digital nomad. And for most of that time, I’ve been jealous of all of you who have fguired out how to be location independent/digital nomads/lifestyle designers or whatever else the title of the day is. Only recently, have I come to the conclusion that I’m not sure I have it in me to be that, and that’s ok. I’m a physical therapist and for a long time worked short term travel contracts in the states so I could take weeks or months off at a time between contracts. Now, I’m stopped in Portland for a while, but still work a pretty flexible schedule that allows me to only work days/weeks/months I choose. Sure, there are days where I wish I didn’t have to show up and work 9-5, but then I realize I only have to work from 9-5. I never take work home with me, and when I travel, I get to enjoy every minute and never have to feel guilty for not taking time out to work on my website/projects/blogs. It’s not an option for everyone, and it’s not always perfect, but what is? Not to mention, it makes me feel better that I’m using that degree I paid for when I see that student loan payment on my bank statement every month!

        977 days ago
  22. To anyone who is thinking of doing this and has just left college/uni, my advice would be to go ahead and do it! I settled down straight out of uni, mortgage etc (thankfully no kids) and realised when I hit 30 that I wanted to travel. So I left my partner (who was so not interested) and went travelling. Only for 5 months and I’m now totally hooked. I’m in the process of doing a photography course, and with the help of a friend I’ve part bought a flat (which she will buy me out of in two years time). I’m working the 9 to 5 during those next two years with the view to giving it all up and using the buy out money go travelling indefinitely, and hopefully scraping a living out of it along the way. The posts above are so positive and the case studies are great, well done for making a go of it. JUST DO IT!

    1528 days ago
  23. Great article. I’ve been reading Erin & Simon’s blog for a while now, and they’ve actually inspired me to start my own travel blog, as my husband and I are about to move to Thailand and begin a life of travel.

    I like the idea of earning money online via a website and writing content for others but I’m surprised there aren’t more examples of the different ways you can work and travel the world. For example we’re going to begin by teaching English as this will give us a more stable income whilst we build up our online presence. Another idea might be working on a cruise ship.

    These case studies are great, and I admire them for what they’re doing, but I just wanted to say that you can still have some stability whilst you begin to build your websites and earning money online, if the idea of just diving in without a safety net puts you off.

    1524 days ago
  24. I love that so many people are inspired to live this lifestyle. Also big kudos to those who are making it happen for themselves. It takes a lot of self-belief and hard work.

    It’s great that this focuses on what you can do while you travel, but I’d have to emphasise how it can still be frustrating to work freelance sometimes, even if you are sitting on a beach or hanging out in a cool new city! A client deadline is a client deadline, wherever you are in the world.

    I wrote a reality check piece for anyone who’s serious about what it takes to go location-independent, with my real hours on a week’s trip from Auckland to Rome. It’s just a taste of how I worked it on that short stint.

    http://krisemery.com/what-its-really-like-to-be-a-location-independent-freelance-writer-part-1-auckland-to-kl/

    I’ll be writing a much bigger 6-month series when I do my next trip in 2014.

    1516 days ago
  25. Jo

    I am in my late twenties and went backpacking for the first time last winter, I loved it and couldn’t settle back down when I came back to the UK. I got my first book published this year and love the idea of travelling and writing together. If some other writers could give me some tips of where to start regarding blogs etc, I would be very grateful! When I was travelling I loved it, but I wanted to work as well, so travelling and writing would combine my two greatest passions in life

    1515 days ago
  26. Caroline

    I’ve been back in London 1 year and 3 months after a year travelling solo through; Asia, Malaysia, Indonesia & Australia. I tried to get work in Australia to fund the rest of my trip to get to South America, but wasn’t so lucky – hence being back in London. So if I could freelance (im a Graphic Designer), take my Macbook and travel – even if it means doing more hours than I do now *imagines the ever changing scenery as you glance up from your laptop* that would be the best thing ever!

    1513 days ago
  27. andros

    I’ve been interested in making passive a passive income online from a blog for years.. so far iv made 3 or 4 althought not on travel. It seems really hard to make enough money to live off and travel just from a blogging.

    Google ads, and earning small commissions promoting simply don’t seem to pay enough these days..

    I’ld really like to know how much exactly these guys are making from their blogs alone…

    Freelancing, and the photography side has to be where most of their money is coming in..

    1513 days ago
  28. Im on it, check it out. Traveling S E Asia and blogging in blog form, via the medium of blog… blog.

    1512 days ago
  29. Emma

    I would love to be a travel writer and am planning my gap year (including India, South East Asia, Japan, Indonesia and South Africa) at the moment. I’ve got offers to study History at good universities but would I need a degree for this sort of work,and to make a living from it?
    Would it be so bad if I skipped the degree?

    1381 days ago
  30. kristalsoldier

    Hi…

    It is interesting to read accounts of what it means to be a “digital nomad”. It is particularly interesting to see how this term – digital nomad – is being used. As per some of the accounts that I have read here, but also elsewhere, digital nomadism is fundamentally a question of travel plus some activity that generates funds to keep body and soul together. The question is whether that combination is actually representative of a nomadic lifestyle in the so-called Digital Age. Perhaps – in an extended and informal sense – it is, but I suspect, social (and some cultural) anthropologists would not be very happy!

    I also detect – and this may just be me – that there is an air of romanticism associated with concept of digital nomadism. Quite often, this air of romanticism is expressed in terms of a sense of freedom (of the ability to travel, from the constraints of what Weber would refer to as the “iron cage” of life and work in an Industrial/ Post-Industrial Age); the ability to “marry” desire with necessity, among other things. But I also wonder – given that I too travel a lot and the fact that I do take the trouble to observe places, things and people and how they fit (or not) with each other – whether this is – considered in the long-term context – a sustainable lifestyle.

    I have seen in my travels – in India, Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines (not so much any more), China, Vietnam, Italy, the Nordic countries etc. – people who I suspect are trying to live like digital nomads. But, frankly, I don’t like what I see. Not because I object to what they are striving to do, but because – and this is solely based on my perception – of the average conditions in which they seem to be doing what they do. As some of the authors on this blog point out, it can be a hard life and much of it is not very pretty. And, I have also noticed that there is an age-related issue that is almost always at play. I have found – again, I stress, by observation only – that usually the majority of such folk are “young”. By “young”, I mean, they are in their 20s. I have also noticed that they are also primarily, but not always, Caucasian. This last observation is important because it gives me an idea of the kind of passports they carry. This is the key in many ways, isn’t it? More often than not, the passport one carries allows one much more flexibility to travel.

    But I have also come across another type of “digital nomad” (if we stick with the provisional definition that I mentioned earlier). This group are usually in their 40s and 50s and they are, for the most part, inactive on the blogosphere. Let me give you an example.

    Recently, I was in India for a short work-related visit. My organization – as is their norm – had booked me in a very luxurious hotel (and I mean luxurious in every sense of the term!). One day, over breakfast, I got into a conversation with a very nice couple. After the initial exchange of pleasantries, we started discussing about work and what each of us do. To my surprise, I found that they were digital nomads! One was a roving strategy consultant in the aviation business. Another was a technical consultant in the oil and natural gas industry. I learnt that they had both given up highly paid jobs and had decided to strike out independently. Based on what they shared with me, it appears that they don’t spend more than a few months in any single country. In fact, the only time when they spend any significant time in a country (or place) is when they need to meet with their clients in person. The rest of the time, they live wherever they feel like – but they insisted that they don’t compromise on the kind of places they stay in – and exploit digital technologies to get their work done. Now, since I am interested in how people use digital technologies, I probed further. It turns out that they usually carry three devices – a very good laptop (in their case they both use ThinkPads), a tablet (both had iPads), and a smart phone (they seemed to prefer dual SIM phones, which I found interesting). They also told me that when they visit a place/ country to meet a client, they always stay in the best of hotels. And, when they live elsewhere, they prefer to rent a house (preferring short-term agreements). They insisted that they travel with nothing more than a suitcase and a backpack (naturally, I could not verify this!). What I also found interesting is that they insist that they always bring one set of clothes less than what they need. On my querying further, they asserted that this allows them to buy a set of clothes (formals, usually) if the situation demands it.

    What do they do with their stuff? By stuff, I mean, extra clothes etc.? According to them, they do have a base of operations – London, it so happens – where they have nothing but a storage place, where they dump their stuff twice a year. Do they buy books, I asked. To this they resoundingly answered in the affirmative but clarified that they preferred electronic versions of books (something that I can easily related to given that my personal collection of digital books – fiction and otherwise – now numbers around 2500, which is just around my physical collection of books!).

    When I asked them about their long-term plans, they responded that they were in the process of buying a small house in a Swiss Canton which they would use as a base of operations. Clarifying further, they said that they would most likely rent the place out for most of the year (which would add to their income, no doubt), but it would also replace London (a city which they appeared not to like very much) where they could keep their stuff.

    To the extent that I could gauge, the couple seemed to be earning a good amount of money. By their own account, they work for not more than 6-8 months a year. They clarified that they needed the rest of the year off to be able to keep up with their individual professions (understandable!) and that they were having a whale of a time (more power to them!). They admitted that whatever savings they have – aside from a contingency fund – they are investing in their small house in Switzerland and while they are not saving a lot of money, they are not hard-up either.

    Interestingly, both are also writing books – one on the nature of family-run businesses in Asia and the role of the strategy consultant in that sphere of business, the other, intriguingly, a work of science fiction!

    I asked them whether they participate in the blogosphere of digital nomads. At first, they did not seem to understand the meaning of the phrase. On my explaining to them what I meant, they seemed a bit taken aback by the concept – which I found amusing given that they seemed to be doing the same thing, albeit at a different register. But they said that they did not participate in that world. On my pressing them further, they said that they felt that the notion of backpacking around the world armed with a laptop and doing travel writing and seeking to monetize blogs, websites, was, ultimately, not a sustainable business model. According to them, the life-style is good as something do as a “gap year”, but not as something on a long-term basis though they did say that niche competencies always do exist, but one has to be careful given that the global conditions (by which I presume they meant the economic and technological conditions) are very fluid and the situation can only be expected to intensify in the medium-term.

    All this being said, I now ask myself, could I become a digital nomad? I would like to, but I am also aware of the fact that sustaining such a life-style would not be easy, nor would it be comfortable. Of course, if I do sell that fantastic debut novel (which I have yet to start!) and get a massive advance for my second novel (which still lies in the future), I may be able to. Perhaps, I better get cracking on that project!

    Cheers!

    1316 days ago
    • carlos

      very much enjoyed reading your comment and from the fluidity of your writing you probably make a good writer.

      1184 days ago
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