Meet the roamers

By | Category: Travel rumblings

More and more people are moving from country to country for both personal and professional pursuits. JAT reports on the rise of the roamers

Picture the scene. It’s a warm summer’s night in Buenos Aires – Argentina’s charismatic capital – and a group of gregarious friends are strolling the cobbled streets of Palermo (a popular barrio packed with chi chi boutiques, buzzy bars and restaurants and gorgeous green parks) on their way to an asado (Argentine barbecue).

Some things never change – but some things do.

At the asado – a celebration of seared meat and flame, washed down with Malbec and Fernet and coke that’s easily the most popular social gathering in Argentina – there’s Maria, Mati, Cande and Javier, all born and bred Portenos. But besides them there’s also Terrie, an Irish hairdresser who swapped Belfast for Buenos a decade ago, Fabian, a divorced father of three from Edinburgh and Joanna from Geneva who decided, aged 37 and three quarters, to step off the Swiss treadmill and leave her banker boyfriend behind for a new life in BA.

Asado in Argentina


Then there’s Tucker – an extroverted American graduate who has decided to base himself in BA for a year because his native Tennessee just got “dull’ (something that even Buenos Aires naysayers could NEVER accuse the city of being) – Brittany, a dance teacher from San Diego who came to Argentina on holiday and never left, and James, a Brit based in BA.

Listening to the lively conversation, it’s clear that where the members of this group are from is not where they’re at.

Roamers in Argentina

They don’t class themselves as expats – so 20th century – though. Rather they refer to themselves as roamers or digital nomads; those who have turned their back on the conventional 9-5 and leverage technology to perform their work duties wherever and whenever they like.

Unlike expats or immigrants who tend to have ties to a particular country, digital nomads are happy to hop from country to country. Some will take advantage of technology and an era of cheap  flights to bounce across continents for a few months, others for years on end.

Regardless of whether they roam for a short time or until a very late age, digital nomads tend to be open minded, creative, independent, resilient risk takers who enjoy a challenge, are travel obsessed and don’t feel like they fit into regular life – something Colleen, a regular roamer, can attest to.

Colleen – who your correspondent for this piece – met in Colombia circa May 2015, moved away from Mississippi because she felt like a square hole in a round peg. “All my American friends and family led identikit lives and were single-mindedly focused on marriage, motherhood and mortgages but, try as I might, I couldn’t share their excitement. The idea of owning and living in one home with the same person for 20 years filled with me horror.”

Coffee time in Colombia’s capital

Subsequently Colleen now divides her year between Bogota – the colourful Colombian capital that’s often called the Athens of South America – and the sun lashed islands of Hawaii and is happier for it. “I could have forced myself to follow in the footsteps of my childhood friends and family,” she shares “but I’m hungry for life and travel.”

Hawaiian nights

Terrie – who tried to relocate back to Belfast, without success – is in agreement. “Like caffeine or nicotine, roaming becomes an addiction. I’m obsessed with living in a destination that isn’t home,” says Terrie who is based – for now – in Madrid. “Being faced with new challenges and adventures makes me feel alive.”

Of course there are downsides – despite what digital nomads’ social media feeds may suggest – to living a life less ordinary.

Roaming the world can – cue the violins – be  downright exhausting. Sleeping in strange homes doesn’t always equate with a good night’s sleep and, feeling super tired, when you have a pile of work to tackle is anything but glamorous.

Buenos Aires street life

What’s more Wi-Fi can be unreliable when you’re living in a volatile country like Argentina or on a commune in Hawaii and it’s hard, as a digital nomad, to put down deep roots as you’re never based permanently in one place.

Rather those who live nomadic lives become accustomed to forging friendships and relationships – and then bidding painful goodbyes when it’s time to move on.

Not that it prevents them from packing their bags and taking to the skies. For Colleen and co, roaming is where the heart is…

ARE YOU A ROAMER?

Amanda – a roamer who splits her time between Asheville, Bangkok and Shanghai

A stranger is
a) a danger
b) a potential friend

You live in
a) your home town, close to your school friends and family
b) Japan – you’ve moved there ahead of the Olympics Game, when the rest of the world will arrive

You see your family
a) for lunch every Sunday
b) on Skype, WiFi permitting

Next year you plan to
a) buy a new car and complete the extension on the family home
b) move to either Madrid or Medellin

Life revolves around
a) security and home comforts
b) challenges and new adventures

Answered all A’s?, You’re a hometown girl/guy.
Mostly Bs? You’re probably already living the digital nomad life. To paraphrase Paul Young, you’re “the type who is always on the roam. Wherever [you] lay your hat that’s [your] home.”

Geisha girls (Kyoto, Japan)

Got what it takes to give roaming a go? Here’s a few tips to help get you started…

Be disciplined
Create a schedule so as to ensure you hit deadlines and targets. It’s all too easy to underestimate the skills, determination and motivation needed to succeed as a digital nomad.

Back to basics
Back all your work up to iCloud or another device that you can access from anywhere – so that your work isn’t lost even if your electronics are.

Don’t travel too fast
If you’re always on the move you’ll feel permanently exhausted and won’t be able to work to a professional standard.

Build a capsule wardrobe
Pack light but smart- think shirts that don’t crease, in neutral colours, and a decent pair of shoes

Join groups

WiFi rules
Wherever you’re staying – be it in an Airbnb abode or a hostel – ask for a room near the WiFi router. This is where the internet – essential for digital nomads – will be strongest

Become part of the community
Join groups – JAT can recommend Internations (www.internations.org) and A Small World (www.asmallworld.com) – and meet the locals and expats, a sure-fire way of really getting to know a new place.

Keep track of time zones
It isn’t easy to work for clients in the UK when you’re in a different time zone, but it isn’t impossible either. You’ll just have to be prepared to move your work day on occasions in order to be available when your clients/employers are.

Don’t rough it too much
You’re not a grubby backpacker- you’re a working, albeit roaming, professional – and will want some creature comforts

Consider a digital nomad initiative
If you’re serious about using your skills to pursue a life that suits you but concerned about going solo, research projects such as Remote Year (www.remoteyear.com). These guys bring together 75 entrepreneurs, who then spend one year living, working and travelling in 12 different cities together. More than that, Remote Year takes care of everything from flights to accommodation meaning you’re free to focus on making memories. Other options include Surf Office (www.thesurfoffice.com) and Nomad Cruise (www.nomadcruise.com)

Last word
Keep in mind that roaming isn’t for everyone. However, if travel and freedom are important to you, then JAT definitely recommends giving the digital nomad lifestyle a try. In the words of Mark Twain:
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

Words and pictures: Kaye Holland

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