Ever thought about chucking in the 9-5, the grinding commute, the deadly office politics, and going to open a bar on a beach in Mexico?
You’re not alone.
But whilst in times past the majority of us would just dream about it, in this world of easy travel, reliable and consistent wifi, and knowledge work, it’s become more than just a dream for many.
A new way of working
These brave and unusual individuals have been called ‘Digital Nomads’ (DN) – those who take their work with them wherever they go, use a laptop to create wealth, and combine work and play in a completely new way.
In fact, the lines between work and play are blurred or even erased as Digital Nomads work on a laptop by the pool in Bali, with pina coladas on the beach in Thailand, or, as some of the Digital Nomads I know were doing recently, get their work done around matches in the World Cup in Brazil.
The genesis of this sought-after lifestyle can in part be traced back to the hugely popular book, The Four-Hour Work Week, where, amongst other ideas, Tim Ferris outlined the holy grail of all DNs: passive income. Essentially, this is income where the work is in the setting up of the system, and then after that, the money just rolls in with a minimum of effort. Examples might be the creation of a knowledge product, an online course, software or an app, where once the upfront ‘hard work’ of creation is complete, the product can be sold many times without additional work or cost.
Not the easy option
Whilst this is certainly possible, my experience of meeting many DNs on my own travels in South East Asia is that they are generally much too focused to take too much of a break from their work.
Often entrepreneurs, this new breed are highly independent and crave autonomy, but this autonomy doesn’t stop them driving themselves hard, and setting themselves lofty goals. They are also incredibly motivated to be successful.
And by successful, I don’t – necessarily – mean someone who makes huge amounts of cash as they travel. Many DNs have redefined what success looks like to them as part of their day-to-day.
- For some, like John Bardos, it can mean a life of simplicity and minimalism, and setting up businesses to create connection and contribution to society.
- For others, like my friend Caroline Leon, it can mean a life supporting others to overcome their own fears and live a more inspiring life.
- The couple (a graphic designer and a web developer) I worked with on this site, Further Bound, build websites in order to travel around the world, experiencing new cultures.
In fact for many, this lifelong dream of continuous travel, roaming new lands and meeting new peoples, is what drives them to make the move.
I should confess at this point I’m now mostly a DN. I don’t work entirely remotely – some of the consulting I do is face-to-face work, but I’m flexible about where I do that consulting, and there are a number of projects that I can do with my laptop from anywhere. Right now I’m based in Thailand, but I’ve also visited or worked in Dubai, China, Malaysia, Singapore, France and the UK this year alone…
Personality traits of the Digital Nomad
Before I started my own travels, I had never even heard of this type of lifestyle. I thought that ‘world travellers’ didn’t have jobs, and moved from hostel to hostel, partying or in search of a spiritual guru (I’d read both The Beach and Eat, Pray, Love).
Having been splitting my time between countries for the last 20 months, I’ve met many people who would reasonably fit the definition. I’ve noticed that they tend to be independent, self-contained types, and whether introvert or extrovert, they can go for long periods focused on their own goals without any special need for others’ company or approval. They are often unconventional in their beliefs, and are prepared to buck society’s ‘norms‘ in order to create a life that works for them. There are many online communities and blogs where they find their support, and indeed, many of them are bloggers themselves with strong online presences.
Coffee tends to be an integral part of their lives as they spend time working in cafes, though anywhere with wifi will do at a pinch. But they’ll be able to tell you the download speed of their preferred places, and it will be one of the criteria on which they judge a new home. Certain cities are favoured, such as Chiang Mai in Thailand, Buenos Aires (Argentina), Ho Chi Minh (Vietnam) and Berlin (Germany). These are usually places with low living costs and good wifi, that perhaps aren’t quite as full of ‘regular’ tourists as the usual.
Digital Nomads are confident using the web to make friends on and offline, and won’t be put off meeting someone they’ve only ever talked to previously online, when they meet them again IRL (in real life) in a country that neither of them calls their own.
I mention these personality traits because although I think it’s a lifestyle that is achievable on one level for a lot more people than one might think, I also think that it wouldn’t suit everyone. Some people would get bored, others lonely. Others might not have the drive or interest in learning new skills to keep developing, keep trying new things, or even just get to know a new place every time they move. Or having family and friends far away, and being without a deeply rooted personal network.
And it can be exhausting.
It can also be liberating, freeing, and help you to focus much more on the things that are really important to you. A Digital Nomad life is one that’s stripped down to its essentials, where possessions are kept to a minimum, and you and your friends have to make an effort to stay in touch. It helps you filter those you thought were your friends by people who take the time to send you an email – and those to whom you actually take the time to send emails in return.
It pushes you to slim your wardrobe down to the stuff you really love, as there’s no room for freeloaders in a 20kg suitcase. And it opens your eyes to a world filled with fascinating cultures, peoples, ideas and views.
Are you a potential Digital Nomad?
Would I recommend it? It depends. As an Occupational Psychologist, I’d say that just like any other ‘job’, some of you out there would be a perfect fit, and others might need to reconsider their preferences and style against the criteria.
Wanted: Digital Nomad
- Independent, unconventional, creative, commercially-minded individual, who’s happy to set own (demanding) schedule
- Needs to be equally at ease going for days without human company, and making friends with strangers, building connections and networks at every opportunity
- Comfortable talking to (or communicating through language barriers with) people at all levels as equals
- Extremely likely to be spending most of their time with people from other cultures
- Required to relinquish the majority of what they are familiar with (including possessions), and re-orient themselves at regular opportunities
- Autonomy and the ability to make a decision on limited information vital
- Must be highly productive, though also encouraged to find relevant work and life ‘hacks’ to make themselves more efficient in work and life
- Online skills essential, comfortable with using the internet to source information through relevant communities and websites
What do you think?
Would you be a good Digital Nomad?
Let us know in the comments below whether you’d ‘apply’ for the job!