Digital nomads. You’ve probably seen them on Instagram. They love posting pictures of themselves working from beaches in Thailand or typing away in some cute cafe in Barcelona (as you seethe with jealousy from your cold cubicle office). Armed with laptops and WIFI, these lucky workers — known as digital nomads — jump from country to country as they use the world as their global office. Sure, it all sounds a little too good to be true, but thanks to technology, it’s becoming more common.
“I think the desire to travel and work has always been there, but the ability to work and travel is something that is quite new,” Jonathan Kalan, co-founder of Unsettled, told Knew Money. “Fifteen years ago, you couldn’t go to Bali and find a great Internet connection. Now, you go to Bali and you have several co-working spaces to choose from and pretty fast Internet.”
Kalan’s company is part of a rising trend of work-tourism businesses providing accommodation, co-working space and group activities to digital nomads. These co-created retreats allow people to work from exotic cities like Medellín, Bueno Aires and Tuscany, to name a few, for one month. While there, participants get their own private room, a designated table at a co-working space, access to weekly lunch workshops and daily activities with a group of like-minded individuals.
For people who despise the typical 9-5 daily grind — or those who simply want a change of scenery — traveling while working offers opportunities that an office just can’t provide. While traveling, remote workers can explore new surroundings, learn new experiences and make international business contacts while still earning a living.
According to a 2017 Gallup study, 43 percent of Americans spend some time working remotely, a 39 percent increase from 2012. And, according to a survey by Buffer, 90 percent of remote workers have no desire to ever return to the office. After all, why willingly waltz back into the world of cubicles and fluorescent lighting when you have the beaches of Bali? It makes sense why the numbers are growing, particularly amongst millennials.
“You travel for inspiration, not just to see new places but to discover who we are and discover what matters to us,” Kalan said. “I think when it comes to our work lives, especially for people who work in creative services, working from a place like Bali or Thailand or South America, the perception you get is incredibly inspiring, and I think that adds value to people’s work lives and personal lives.”
For digital nomad Tekisha Harvey, a brand and marketing strategist, she had similar reasons for why she left the corporate world to focus on being a globetrotting solopreneur.
“I’ve found that traveling the world and putting myself in new environments is my greatest source of inspiration, motivation and freedom that I’ve ever experienced,” she told Knew Money. “Moreover, I’ve found a tribe of people all over the world. We meet, discuss our businesses, support each other and even meet up in other countries.”
Harvey, who participated in Unsettled twice, said that networking and making connections with fellow remote workers — either through co-living spaces or curated monthly retreats — is the perfect way to combat the biggest hurdle of nomadism: loneliness.
“It definitely takes more discipline to work when you have lots of curated experiences along with amazing people to hang out within a new city,” she said. “However, people do it! I had to learn to say ‘no’ to some invites and book out times to work.”
But for the cynics out there who scoff at the notion that working from a hammock in Bali can’t be “real work,” or that the trend is only for 25-year-olds with rich parents, Kalan says it’s a popular misconception.
“I think there’s a stigma around digital nomads as being a privileged term. I think, in many ways, it is. You do tend to see digital nomads as people who are more affluent from Western economies because, you know, someone from India or Pakistan can’t get access to visas the way someone from the U.S. or Canada can.”
Despite the advantage that Westerners have, Kalan said most participants aren’t “25-year-old techies from San Francisco,” but are people from all ages and from all over the world. “From South Africa to Lebanon.”
If you’re thinking of jumping into the world of digital nomadism, first do the research and understand what you’re really getting into. It’s not easy, especially if you’re planning to just surf the whole time.
“Understand why you’re doing it,” Kalan advised. “If you’re doing it just to travel, realize that you’re actually gonna have to work.”
But, how can you be productive when you’re being constantly distracted by beaches and sightseeing? Although the nomad life seems like paradise, it’s important to set realistic expectations on what you can and cannot accomplish, which requires planning and lots of discipline.
“Since I know my goal isn’t to be on vacation, but rather to simply work from a new location, I prioritize the things I need first — good WiFi and options on places to work,” Harvey said. “I also can plan activities and events around deadlines. For example, with my last trip to Bali, two other friends met me there for vacation. When we planned our day tours or other events, I could input on what days worked best for my schedule. If I have a deadline, I simply hunker down at a café or workspace and knock it out.”
She added, “Traveling is fun, but so is getting paid. It’s a great incentive to stay productive!”
Fortunately, the demand for the digital nomad life has created lots of resources online for remote workers. There’s Nomad List, a website that ranks cities by how accessible they are to remote workers. There are also community hubs like CoNomads and Digital Nomads Forum. Although making the jump can be a radical and risky move, for some, it’s worth the risk.
“The world is a big (and sometimes small) place, and staying in one place limits your viewpoint and your comprehension of what’s possible,” Harvey said. “That’s been my biggest lesson. Besides, you can always go home when you’re ready!”
Lead image via Getty
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