Live, work, travel. The motto of modern nomads – professionals who, carrying a laptop and a mobile, are able to do their work from almost any place in the world.
Places the others only dream about are suddenly and practically within reach of mobile professionals. Most nomads use a computer for their work: graphic and web designers, developers, copywriters, translators, etc. So thanks to globalization, cheap flights and the internet they can move from one country to another and yet continue working for their clients at home.
Independent professionals tend to have a different attitude to business than other entrepreneurs. A travelling professional may not get rich, but sees quite a bit of the world and all kinds of people out there. They are enriched by experience and new friendships. Freelancing may become the unique accelerator of one’s own personal growth.
Teleworking from distant parts of the world was precisely predicted 50 years ago by technological visionary Arthur C. Clarke. During the last decade it has grown into a worldwide phenomenon. To become a digital nomad is both dangerously attractive and easy.
Type 1: Casual Nomads
Basically, all you need to do is to pack up your stuff, set out for a journey and work for a few weeks from abroad. This is the best and the easiest way to begin. It suits even those who otherwise can’t leave their country for too long.
These sojourns can be perfectly merged with holidays, thus working less and have more leisure time than at home. Some people prefer to drive from place to place, but the danger is you’ll get tired sooner, spend more money and befriend fewer locals. It pays to stay on one place.
Example: Last holidays we rented a neat summer apartment in the centre of Barcelona for €2,300. The four of us stayed for a whole month as digital nomads and 7 other people came for shorter visits. We did a chunk of work, had a lot of fun with new friends, enjoyed the city unlike any tourist, but also blogged, resisted pickpockets, shopped and admired Gaudi’s buildings.
Type 2: Perpetual Nomads
To become a nomad for several months or even years constitutes a much greater challenge. It’s not a holiday, it’s not work-and-travel, it’s a completely different way of life. To undertake such a project you need to exert much effort and overcome a number of obstacles.
You may run into diverse complications. Although nomads are not immigrants nor do they sell services on the local market, there is no legislation that covers this kind of work. Not to mention the challenges of travelling with kids!
Example: In 2010 Belgian nomads Ine Dehandschutter and Catherine Van Holder travelled to South Africa, Thailand and Argentina, setting foot in 10 countries. They have created an excellent slide presentation about their trip called Don’t Be Rich, Live Rich, including drawbacks and practical advice for future nomads:
The Pitfalls of Nomadic Life
The problems being faced by most nomads could be divided into three main categories:
- Organizing your work – If you procrastinate and fail at time management at home, you won’t find it easier when abroad; in fact, it’s quite the contrary. Despite many temptations of seeing new places and meeting new people, above all you must concentrate on your work, e.g. keeping in touch with clients, taking phone calls. You’re working abroad and although it may seem to some like a holiday, it’s not. The fun must wait, maybe until the weekend. The great challenge is also to create optimal working conditions in a foreign environment.
- Finance and budget – If you travel to a more expensive country than yours, it may lower your quality of life. On the other hand, cheaper countries are favourable. Nomadic life is not about money, but you must be in credit. You will also need a larger money reserve in proportion to the higher exposure to unpredictable risks.
- Risk prevention – Even problems that are pretty easy to solve at home (i.e. losing your passport, ID or credit card) might give you a pretty big headache abroad. You need to pay extra attention to the prevention of risks related to your health, family, possessions or business in general. Sometimes the only solution is to get back home as quickly as possible – the retreat strategy.
It is safer to begin close to home and venture to more distant destinations later after collecting some experience. Nomading into less developed and culturally different countries, across language barriers, is harder to plan, but not impossible!
Surprisingly, the hardest challenge in becoming a digital nomad is to take a mental leap and start thinking about it as a real project within your business.
The next step is to evaluate the present state of your business and start removing the remaining obstacles. The good news is that nomads almost never lose their clients because of their departure, especially if they inform them in advance and remain reliable during the journey.
The next phase is preparation and planning. For a longer stay, it may take weeks or months depending on the itinerary. Critically, the importance of preparation should not be underestimated – setting off without considering pitfalls may seriously threaten the continuity of your business.
A few more tips:
- Language – Travelling to countries with few English-speakers without knowing the local language is very hard and is a limitation for meeting people. If possible, begin studying at home.
- Accommodation – Experienced nomads use CouchSurfing or other short-time options to look for cheap accommodation on the spot. Nevertheless, beginners and larger groups are much better off booking in advance with HomeAway, Airbnb, Craigslist or local agencies.
- Insurance – Health and travel insurance covering your damage liability is indispensable. If you are leaving for long time, check out if you can save some money on your insurance at home.
- Laptop – Be practical and get ready for the higher risk of damage and theft (encryption, backup, extra drive). Buy quality earphones to cut off the surrounding noise (possibly also some minispeaker to hold a party).
- Cellular and internet – The costs of roaming international phone calls and data transfers may be very high, especially in some countries. Ask your provider for special rates and get Skype and/or VoIP.
- Cheap flights – Every country has different options to get really cheap tickets, so ask your friends who fly often for tips. You may also check the Skyscanner search engine or software like Azuon.
- Budget planning – It’s challenging to organize and plan your stay in a foreign country. To keep your expenses under control, record your outgoings and refrain from spending too much. And avoid tourist-traps, as these are notoriously expensive.
The Journey Starts Right under Your Feet
Sharing more of my own experience, I am becoming a nomad twice a year – during summer holidays and at the end of the winter, when I have less work to do. I stay in a beautiful spot in the mountains and although I am not tempted to stay abroad too long, I’m pleased for others who do it.
The future will show whether the digital nomads are the pioneers of an upcoming global trend which could eventually transform most IT professions and help to fight poverty. No matter what, it has already turned the freelancing life into an exotic adventure. All you need is to stop dreaming and start doing it…
So What Do You Say?
Have you ever lived as a digital nomad, even for a short while?
If not – do you like the idea?
If you’re an experienced digital nomad – any tips for the rest of us?