The rise of the digital nomads

By | Category: Travel tips & opinions

Do you dream of travelling and living in different countries, without giving up your career or sacrificing your savings? It’s time to join the growing band of digital nomads making the world their office. Kaye Holland explains how it’s done

It’s been 10 years since Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Eat, Pray, Love  topped bestseller lists around the world.

The memoir of the thirty-something American writer’s year long journey to Italy (eat), India (pray) and Indonesia (love) in search of self discovery, clearly resonated with readers. To date, the tome has spent more than 200 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and, in 2010, was turned into a successful film starring Julia Roberts and Javier Bardem.

But the fact of the matter is that very few of us are in the financial position to follow in Gilbert’s footsteps and flee to foreign lands for 12 months, to “find ourselves”. And even if we could, do we really want to sacrifice the careers we have worked so hard to carve out?

Craving adventure but lacking the cash to fund my incurable wanderlust, I made the decision in January 2015 to become a digital nomad. “A what?” you might well ask…

Enjoying an asado in Argentina

Enjoying an asado in Argentina

Forbes magazine famously defined digital nomads as “individuals who leverage technology to perform their work duties and conduct their lifestyle in a nomadic manner.”

Translation? In layman terms, digital nomads refers to those of us you see buried behind MacBooks in cafes across the world, tapping frantically away while simultaneously Face-timing friends and family back home.


Work time

Work time

We’re writers, graphic designers, IT consultants, personal assistants, teachers, hairdressers, business owners – basically anyone who, thanks to the rise of the digital office, can earn an income just as easily in Laos or Lhasa as they can at home in London or Los Angeles. We’re the tribe who want to work, while still having the freedom to pack our bags and fly away wherever, whenever.


Saturday night salsa in Bogota

Saturday night salsa in Bogota, Colombia


And it’s a group that’s growing fast, as even a cursory glance at your Instagram or Twitter feed will tell you: the hashtag #digitalnomad is one of the most popular of 2016.

The rise of digital nomads hasn’t gone unnoticed by companies like Roam – a start up offering an international network of communal living spaces in locations including Miami, Madrid and Bali and – Surf Office. The latter provides workspace, accommodation and, as the name suggests surf tips, in Lisbon and Gran Canaria for those who prefer a location- independent lifestyle.

Sounds super glamorous? So I’m always being told. “You’re living the dream” is the comment that usually floods my inbox from former colleagues in London, sick to the teeth of their 9 to 6 (if you’re lucky) office cubicle and long, eye-wateringly expensive commute into the capital.


Hiking in Asheville, North Carolina

Hiking in Asheville, North Carolina

But being a digital nomad can be exhausting too. Case in point? I am currently living in O’ahu, Hawaii, on a commune in a rainforest. It’s an adventure all right, but sharing space with students and the semi homeless (Hawaii has a huge homeless problem) in the tropics doesn’t exactly equate to a good night’s sleep. And feeling wiped out when facing tonnes of deadlines, isn’t fun. Elsewhere Wifi connection can be flaky at best, requiring a good deal of discipline – and a degree of flexibility when approaching work.

Of course when I am feeling stressed or simply overwhelmed, I just wander to Waikiki. And after catching some waves in the warm, crystal clear water, I feel calm again and ready to continue… I may not be Hawaiian but when I am riding the waves with the sun beating down on my back, I can pretend that I am.

Can I keep up this lifestyle for ever? That’s the question on my Mum’s lips and, if I am honest, it’s probably on mine too. The truth is it’s too early to ascertain whether I’ll be a digital nomad long-term but what I do know is this: I am enjoying ‘the today’ – something I never did in London, where the shatter-day/shun-day phenomenon is in full swing.


Taking a break in Buenos Aires with fellow digital nomads

Taking a break in Buenos Aires with fellow digital nomads

Come the weekend, Londoners’ energy is invariably so sapped by work and the miserable weather that all they want to do is hunker down at home and start planning their next adventure.

As a digital nomad, I have – to paraphrase author and entrepreneur Seth Goddin – stopped “wondering when [my] next vacation is [and] set up a life [I] don’t need to escape from.”

I haven’t had a ‘holiday’ per se since September 2014 (four days in Tel Aviv, if you’re interested) because, put simply, I don’t need to take a break. As a digital nomad, I have the best of all worlds: I get to avoid the daily grind, keep my career and, crucially, satisfy my wanderlust.

Since embracing the digital nomad lifestyle 18 months ago, I’ve lived and worked in Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Colombia, America, Hungary, Hawaii and yes, my home-town, London. And for the most part, I’ve loved every minute.


Hawaiian nights

Hawaiian nights


Sure bidding goodbye to new friends who become like family, when it’s time to move on, isn’t easy but I became accustomed to saying farewell to folks I had grown to love during my five year stint as a twenty something expat in Dubai, Beijing and the Cayman Islands. And, on the plus side, I now have a network of friends all over the world ready to welcome me into their homes, in the same way as I like to lay out the welcome mat for them in London.

It’s thanks to these friendships with kindred spirits – and modern technology which makes keeping in touch so much easier – that I rarely feel lonely as I did when I was based permanently in Britain. Or as the late, great Robin Williams once said:  “I used to think the worst thing in life is to end up alone. The worst thing in life is to end up with people who make you feel alone.”

Arguably the biggest draw-back to life as a digital nomad is missing family obligations – my cousin’s wedding springs to mind – back in Blighty but, at this stage in my life, I think it’s important to treat yourself too. And hopefully everyone at home will understand that I need to feed my passion – or at least that’s what I like to tell myself…


Tango time in Buenos Aires


• Back everything up to iCloud – especially if you’re working from a Macbook in a country like Argentina, where Apple stores are non existent

• Schedule social media posts to appear professional and committed – even when you’re climbing that (literal and metaphorical) mountain

• 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

• 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

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

• The digital nomad lifestyle isn’t for everyone but if you don’t give it a go, you’ll never know. You can always catch a plane home if things don’t go according to plan. But don’t just take my word for it:

“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.”
Mark Twain


Surf's up in Hawaii

Surf’s up in Hawaii

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